Sunday morning. Again. I might have been prepping myself up for Control ALT Delete’s Metalfest. But I’m compelled to be home this weekend. So instead I chose a viable alternative in writing about some of the finest metal I’ve heard in recent times. I make this a tribute to the 3 young men who put in their money and loads of time and effort in making Control ALT Delete happen year after year (this is the first time they’re doing a metal edition). They’ve shown incredible commitment to music and to fans by keeping it a pay-what-you-want gig and dividing any ‘profit’ (sadly that doesn’t happen often but I hope things change soon) equally among the bands. Sure, they get quite some help from their friends and well-wishers who volunteer and help crowd-fund the event. But really it wouldn’t happen without the drive and passion of Rishu, Nikhil and Himanshu. This one’s for you guys.
With the amount of music being produced these days it’s quite easy to miss many great albums. Even so, I was surprised and saddened that The Ocean’s “Pelagial” didn’t make it to most year-end lists in 2013. The more I hear it, the more I think its boundary extends far beyond just last year. I think it’s one of the best metal albums of all time. The Ocean (it used to be The Ocean Collective with guitarist Robin Staps as the mainstay and an array of musicians floating in and out of the unit) is known for producing strong ‘concept’ albums with great melodic content yet without sacrificing the aggression and power that metal is known for. That it still stands out among those says a lot for the quality of “Pelagial”. Metal music singers are split into the world of growlers and ‘clean’ vocalists. Loic Rosetti copped a lot of flak from fans when he stepped in for vocal duties on ‘Heliocentric’ but the last 3 albums have seen him firmly established as someone whose singing conveys both the melodic and the dark, murky intent of the band’s music. The album title refers to the different depth levels of the ocean and the music, which is composed as a single piece without breaks, uses the names of these levels as markers to shifts in mood and density of the music. You will also find phrases from earlier parts of the album making a re-appearance, creating cohesion without sacrificing the mood of the current part of the music. As a result, it’s an album that insists on being heard in its entirety making for an intense and deeply satisfying experience. And a rarity in these times of half-a-minute attention spans. Still, I’ll attempt to provide an example of the multiple sonic layers as well as the binding links in the music with these 2 samples – “Mesopelagic: Into The Uncanny” and “Abyssopelagic I: Boundless Vasts”. In what may seem a placatory gesture to fans who hate Loic Rosetti or an extension of the vast ambition of this album, there’s a completely instrumental version of the tracks too. Me, I enjoy both.
I thought I had found a pot of gold with “Pelagial” but Agalloch’s “The Serpent And The Sphere” (click the album name to stream the album from Bandcamp) released last month makes me think I’ve found a fat, rich, long vein of it. Beautiful. Not a term that one normally associates with this genre. But that’s exactly how I found the album’s opening track “Birth And Death Of The Pillars Of Creation” when I heard it the first time. Agalloch is one of those bands that has pushed the frontiers of what metal can be by melding folk into it to create an alloy of rare excellence. This quartet is not one that’s afraid of changing the pace or the rules of the genre. Amidst the fury of “Celestial Effigy” and “Plateau Of The Ages”, you’ll find the calm of “(serpens caput)” and “Cor Serpentis (The Sphere)”. The album-closer “(serpens cauda)” completes the trio of acoustic guitar pieces almost classical in nature that still manage to fit perfectly into the album. I did mention the ‘growlers’ and the ‘clean’ singers among metal vocalists, right? There are those and then there is John Haughm. His voice is more like a heavily amped-up whisper and it adds a stunning texture to Agalloch’s music. Nine exceptional songs.
I think the greatness of these two albums lies in the fact that they’ve opened up the ears of people who’ve thus far detested the genre. Everyone that I’ve got listening (and I’ve been very persevering) to these is now willing to give metal a listen. I couldn’t ask for more.
P.S.: Thursday evening. Delayed post. Again. I need to get out of this new habit of leaving the last bit to another date. But it’s still better than not writing at all.