Top 5 EPs of 2012

5. Thee Silver Mount Zion- The West Will Rise Again

The West Will Rise Again makes for an interesting follow-up to 2010’s phenomenal Kollaps Tradixionales. The production is very lo-fi –even more so than prior releases—and goes straight to the heart like a strong liquor. The only effects are on Efrim’s vocals, which are dubbed and looped, creating echoing choruses that pump up the epic spirit of the music. Per usual, the other band members provide delicious backing vocals throughout. The highlight is the eleven minute “What we Loved Was not Enough,” one of the most beautiful and inspiring tracks Silver Mount Zion has ever recorded. Is life dragging you down? Do you feel like nothing good will ever happen again? This song will pick you up by the bootstraps. Lyrics of loss and failure are contrasted with sweeping gusts of inspired violin and guitars. Efrim’s cries of loss are more accepting then they are lamenting. The song dances its way over two sides of the record, twisting through some nice guitar solos before shifting into to the angelic ending. As Efrim chants “pick yourself up and start again” Jessica and Sophie provide a heavenly lullaby, soothingly repeating “and the day will come when we no longer feel.”

 

4. Chelsea Wolfe- Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs

Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs is a compilation of acoustic pieces that Wolfe has stockpiled over the past few years. Like her masterful Ἀποκάλυψις, Unknown Rooms displays a wide range of sounds, styles and emotions. “Flatlands” is a gentle, melancholic folk piece for guitar and strings that swells with Wolfe’s pained but relenting voice. “The Way We Used to” is a smoky waltz performed on standup bass, drums and strings. Wolfe displays her excellence in the high range during the icy chorus, where her voice flutters upward like a ginkgo leaf in a gentle breeze. “Boyfriend” is gloomy yet heartfelt; Wolfe’s muted, frail vocals sound as if they belong to a ghost spilling its heart out to an empty room. “Sunstorm” is arguably the highlight of the EP, a nostalgic ditty whose glassy piano tone and jittery progressions recall darkwave icons Black Tape for a Blue Girl. Start to finish, Wolfe delivers captivating melodies, interesting arrangements and chilling vocals.

 

3. Laster- Wijsgeer ende Narreman

Wijsgeer & Narreman consists of three rich and emotional pieces of melodic black metal. The most obvious inspiration here is early Drudkh. The guitars have the same dense and fuzzy tone while the drums are played in a similarly loose and sprightly style. The melodies waver between depressive and cathartic moods, at times managing to express both sensations at once. The vocals are high pitched shrieks a la early Burzum. There is a subtle post rock/metal influence here as well, though it’s seamlessly integrated into the blackened soundscape. The production is excellent; all the instruments sound rich and full and everything is well balanced. It’s hard to think of Wijsgeer & Narreman as a demo. Between the excellent performance, stellar production and the holistic flow of the recording, it feels more like an EP released by an established band than a debut recording.

2. Agalloch- Faustian Echoes 

Faustian Echoes is a sprawling twenty-one minute epic of emotionally charged black metal. The song is structured like a valley, with massive opening and closing passages embedding a soft and gentle middle section. The opening and closing passages vacillate between harsh, bleak riffs and glorious, vibrant riffs, both of which are littered with Don Anderson’s imperious solos. The EP is packed to the brim with fluttering leads that will send your spirit soaring. The highlight is the closing solo, which is full of piercingly bright notes that tear apart the album’s dark atmosphere like sunlight cutting through clouds. The production is perfect. The sound is stripped down but yet every instrument is perfectly audible. This is an exquisite piece of epic black metal from a band that is in top form.

 

1. Deathspell Omega- Drought

Deathspell Omega perfected its smoldering brand of progressive technical black metal on its previous two full lengths FAS – Ite, Maledicti, in ignem Aeternum and Paracletus. On Drought, Deathspell Omega further explores the possibilities of its highly developed sound. This EP is a highly cohesive work that flows more like a single composition than as a set of songs. The composition creates a sense of constriction, similar to what one would feel while dying of thirst. Deathspell Omega annihilates your eardrums with a battery of contorted atonal riffs that never sit still, accompanied by some of the most monstrous vocals in all of extreme metal. The dizzying percussion is a brilliant hybrid of jazz and extreme metal techniques. Speaking of jazz, Drought is splattered with softer moments of demented avant-garde jazz (i.e. the opener “Swallow Vision”) that work as moments of agonized reflection between overwhelming stretches of torture. Staggering, as always.

 

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