Monthly Playlist: February 2020

New year, same monthly playlist post… New drummer. As usual, we’ve all picked 5 tracks – including our new drummer, whose identity is yet to be revealed. Guesses on a postcard please.

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Nick – Guitar

Under – Traitor’s Gate

You can file this one under ‘simple riffs that slap so hard that you really wish you’d written’. There is also plenty of the sort of off kilter affair you’d expect from Under. Looking forward to whatever weird-as-shit metal they release next.

Max Cooper – Perpetual Motion

I have Richard to thank for this one. Only started listening to Max on his recommendation but I’m glad I did. Minimalist techno that is nonetheless vividly illustrative and euphoric. To draw his music would be to draw a massively intricate landscape.

Michelle Branch – Everywhere

Classic early 2000s pop-rock anthem. Unfortunately Michelle is no longer a household name it seems but The Spirit Room nonetheless is still an absolutely stellar album. They don’t write pop songs like this anymore.

Frigoris – Aurora Stirbt

A potential early contender for album of the year. Beautiful German post-black metal with an anti-NSBM stance. What is there not to love?

Allie X – Science

I’m picking the stripped back ‘analog’ version she released last year purely for the ridiculous pitch her voice reaches towards the end. Regardless listen to the original too. The phattest sounding dark synth pop with astounding production.

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Tom – Guitar

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Sleep

And we used to sleep on the beach here, sleep overnight.
They don’t do that anymore.
Things changed…
You see
They don’t sleep anymore on the beach

Jesu – Christmas

Waves of electronics and guitars crash over eachother in ways that are instantly recognisable as Broaderick’s work. A twisted combination of industrial and shoegaze.

65daysofstatic – Safe Passage

The synth swells and blooms are glorious. Emotive and uplifting that always makes the hairs standup on my arms.

Nails – You Will Never Be One of Us

Just absolute savagery commited to tape. A gloriously nihilistic way to open an album and a statement of intent.

Neurosis – Stones From the Sky

Bleak, hypnotic, no frills simplicity. Neurosis at their absolute crushing best.

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Joe – Vocals

Les Discrets – Le Mouvement Perpetuel

Pleasant yet haunting post black metal from Alcest’s bezzie mates. Actually quite soothing.

Fen – The Gibbet Elms

One if the UK’s finest atmospheric black metal bands. Oozes malevolence.

Drakonis – Let Us Pray

Northern Irish black metallers who have a full length album on the way. Traditional and catchy.

Monstrosity – Remnants of Divination

Best known for being the training ground for musicians to join bigger death metal bands. But this track is a tech-death banger.

Slipknot – Eyeless

Classic track that was a highlight when I recently saw them live for the fourth time. YOU CAN’T SEE CALIFORNIA WITHOUT MARLON BRANDOS EYES!!!

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Richard – Bass

Ashbringer – Solace

This album, Yūgen, made a bit of an underground splash when it came out a few years ago. Brilliant atmospheric black metal, with some powerful harmonies and masterful acoustic passages. It’s a bit like Wolves in the Throne Room meets Mike Oldfield.

Jesu – Silver

As is often the case, I’m very slowly filling gaps in my knowledge with artists I definitely should be more familiar with… After just one listen, the title track on this EP has shot up to amongst my very favourite Jesu tracks. Heartwrenching, reverberating, heavy and so distinctive.

Steve Hauschildt – The World is Too Much with Us

I recently came across this Berlin-School-influenced electronic artist via a BandCamp reccomendation email, and then found out he’s playing in Sheffield next month – double winner. His work is like a blend of simplistic synth-based soundscapes with Jon Hopkins-like hooks and sound, and this one is just great and textured ambience.

E-L-R – Above the Mountains There is Light

Though they didn’t make it into my albums of 2019 list, seeing them live in December with Hundred Year Old Man (twice, including playing with them once) has kept E-L-R in my mind. This track – featuring Colin from Amenra – is the pinnacle of the album for me, reaching some brilliant, chordy heights.

Thy Catafalque – Vashegyek

This is a band I’m really only just properly investing time into, having had them on my radar for a long time. There’s some truly nasty, deathly sludge riffs on display here, alongside influence from Hungarian folk and electronica, and you could also argue there’s some of the SOAD brand of melody in there too. Can’t wait to get stuck into more of their albums.

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??? – Drums

Twilight Force – Hydra

Soooo, I like cheesy power metal and have a big ole soft spot for orchestral elements in metal. This is an absolute belter off Twilight Force’s latest album, which is sure to lighten up any day!

Fleshgod Apocalypse – Monnalisa

Following on the orchestral theme, Fleshgod Apocalypse’s Monnalisa comes in from the heavier end still with a fantastic combination of musicality, epicness, and looming ominous tones.

Arch Echo – MukDuk

This instrumental prog/mathsy band bring the grooooooovvvveeeeeee to extreme proportions. Great fun talented band with amazing energy.

Devin Townsend – Borderlands

It’s Devin… Need I say more? I see this as a brilliant example of all the stuff that makes Devin Devin. It’s got heavy, silliness, proggy stuff, a crying child… IT’S GOOD.

VOLA – Whaler

VOLA were my most recent love at first sight band, and this song off their latest album is a beautiful comination of heavy and with the beautiful loveliness which makes VOLA one of my favourite bands.

Albums of the Year 2019

Last year was a big one for music, sounds and noises. Below you’ll find Nick, Richard, Tom and Joe’s picks of the bunch, after hours and hours of pain in stripping the lists down to a measly 5. We’ve also got one track on from each release in a handy little Spotify playlist…

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Nick – Guitar

This was a very strong year and putting this list together was very difficult (isn’t it always?). I only undertook the voyage into 2019’s back catalogue in mid-November, so I’m pleased I managed to squeeze around 140 in before the year was out. Several honourable mentions this year including Alcest, Cult of Luna, Cranial, Violet Cold, Mizmor, Ultar, Oh Sees, The Grey, Skepta, Seizures, Rorcal, Anderson Paak, Billie Eilish, Boris, Charli XCX, Hannah Diamond, Herod, Hobo Johnson and the list goes on and on. Here’s the five I wanted to mention in particular.

5. Norma Jean – All Hail

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A slightly tongue in cheek album title perhaps? Regardless of intention, it’s an apt name for a now legendary metalcore band showing us how it’s done.

4. James Blake – Assume Form

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A typically strong outing from the James the Blake with consistently compelling features. Considerably more pastel coloured than his previous releases (he’s not miserable as fuck anymore) and with that it’s one of the most interesting alt-pop records of recent years.

3. Sūrya – Solastalgia

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This one took pole in my very tight post-metal round-up. Cult of Luna, Alcest and Cranial all came close but none of them drew my undivided attention quite like this. Essential listening for any fan of the aforementioned bands and the wider post-metal world.

2. 65daysofstatic – replicr, 2019

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A bleak Orwellian nightmare is the perfect soundtrack for the future, now that we live in a bleak Orwellian nightmare under the fat blonde goblin.

1. Lankum – The Livelong Day

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Incredible follow up to their similarly incredible second album. It’s difficult for me to describe this album, as I make no claim to being a connoisseur of Irish folk. What I can say is that there is a brooding intensity to this album, a grim foreboding the likes of which you might otherwise hear on a Sunn O))) album. In a pinch I’d say this is my album of the year.

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Richard – Bass

I’m notoriously useless at keeping up with new music, and spend far more of my time digging into old things I’ve missed over the years, but this list was a fun excercise in trying to catch up. Although it’s nothing on Nick’s total, I managed 30 albums from 2019, which is loads for me. About 15-20 of them could have made the top 5, but ones that came especially close were Cult of Luna, HANA, Max Cooper, N/UM, New Ghost, Earth & Pillars, A-Sun Amissa, Mic Reckless and White Ward.

5. Earth Moves – Human Intricacy

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Ever since I first saw them in 2017, Earth Moves have been one of my favourite UK heavy bands, and their second album near enough manages the seemingly impossible task of matching the quality of their first. No one else dares to get so rawly emotional and dynamic with post metal, and if anything there’s more variety and power this time around.

4. Archivist – Triumvirate

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A massive step up from the second record which was a bit of a mis-step in my opinion, Archivist have returned to doing post-black metal better than almost anyone else. Two vocalists (with both clean and harsh vocals), lush chord progressions and, crucially, plenty of straight-up battery, all topped off with frontman Alex CF’s brilliant artwork. In truth, you need to check out the full trilogy.

3. FKA Twigs – Magdalene

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It took me ages to get around to this one after both Nick and my girlfriend told me for months that I’d love it – they weren’t wrong. This is pop music twisted into bizarre shapes, retaining the hooks and beats that keep you plugged in. It’s one of those records that reveals more every time. Highly recommended.

2. Lingua Ignota – Caligula

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Speaking of twisting things into painful shapes, Lingua Ignota’s voice is just something else. There’s a lot more to digest here than on her first outing, but once you put in the time, it’s incredibly powerful. Classical meets noise meets drone meets metal meets liturgical music meets abject pain meets fear of god meets brutal revenge on all those who have wronged you. See her live, you won’t be the same afterwards.

1. Dizraeli – The Unmaster

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Continuing to prove himself a totally unique voice in UK hip-hop (/folk/experimental/spoken word/something/everything), this one caught me totally by surprise with how much I loved it. It’s so eclectic, personal and powerful, whilst also being full of danceable bangers. Dizraeli’s own flow is only getting stronger with time, and it sits at the centre of a wild symphony of electronic and acoustic instruments, plus some totally out there vocal performances.

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Tom – Guitar

There were many that could have been on this list and a few that were very close, including Cave In… As much as I love ‘Final Transmission’, you can’t help the feeling that it could have been so much more if it wasn’t for the sad passing of Caleb. Russian Circles, Torche, Iggy Pop and A-Sun Amissa were all standouts and in that order would round out a top 10, but these are the 5 that really grabbed me this time round.

5. Boris – LφVE & EVφL

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Walls of fuzz and noise collide with a surprising dash of calm and quiet. What’s not to love.

4. Cult of Luna – A Dawn to Fear

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Monolithic riffs combine with atmospheric passages in ways nobody else can manage.

3. Mono – Nowhere Now Here

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A masterpiece of soundscape, texture and expression, with a depth lost on so many other bands of their ilk over the years. Spanning fragile to bombastic walls of sound effortlessly.

2. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Ghosteen

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Stripped bare compared to early Bad Seeds material and continuing on from the last couple of releases this is as beautiful as it is dark and haunted by loss. Was my album of the year for a long time until…

1 . 65daysofstatic – Replicr, 2019

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I don’t really know how to describe this record. Each and every time it gives up a bit more from the vast soundscapes within that feel more like one vast piece than individual tracks. Just stunning.

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Joe – Vocals

I’ve been a bit out of the loop on newer music this year; most of what I’ve heard has been random bits of obscure black metal performed in deep, dark Siberian woodland, recorded onto a potato by hedgehogs that probably have unconfirmed but potentially troubling political ideaologies…. So instead of trawling through reems of spikey logo’d bands that sound like dense atmospheres within a tub of particularly evil marmalade, I’ve picked out the stuff that others may have actually heard of. Honourable mentions go to Mayhem’s album ‘Daemon’ for being better than expected and Slipknot’s ‘We Are Not Your Kind’ for it’s grade D at GCSE graphics artwork and, despite being aggravatingly underwhelming, still supplying me with an adequate coaster for my mug of fancy pants coffee.

5. Cattle Decapitation – Death Atlas
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The best album since the game changing Monolith of Inhumanity. Further experimentation, diversity and even a sense of emotion rarely experienced in tech death.

4. Mgla – Age of Excuse
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Released to almost zero fanfare this album just turned up one day. A powerful follow up the the masterpiece that was “Exercises in Futility”.

3. Veldes – Flameless
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More spectacular atmosphere from Slovenias workhorse black metallers.

2. Blut Aus Nord – Hallucinogen
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Coming somewhat out of left field this album is a mind bending experience that demonstrates Blut Aus Nords progression along with their spacey cosmic trademark.

1. Grima – Will of the Primordial

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Extremely cold atmospheric black metal that truly resonates a sense of eternal winter.

Gear Talk: Guitars – Nick’s Ibanez

We continue our dive into our guitar collections with Nick’s mystery antique…

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My main guitar at the moment is an Ibanez PF155 which is a Les Paul shape from 1978 or 1979. I actually took a chance on this guitar after seeing it in an antique shop in Buxton. I’d seen it several months prior and couldn’t afford it at the time, then after a while I came back and checked to see if it was still for sale out of curiosity more than anything, and it was, and I had some money. I did a bit of research on the spot but I found next to nothing about the model and the seller had no information either. I had a little play on it in the shop and it played very nicely; and on advice from Tom, we thought it was worth the punt as it would retain its value if I fell out with it, so I took the plunge.

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I still know very little about it to be honest, other than it being the best guitar that I own. I know it comes from that era when Japanese companies were making budget versions of American guitars, in this case a Gibson Les Paul. That being said it doesn’t play like a ‘budget’ guitar. It feels very comfortable and there is a much fuller sound to it than anything else I’m currently playing. As far as I’m aware it still has the same humbuckers it had when it was built and there is a real vibrancy and life to them which I haven’t experienced with the more modern guitars I’m used to. As for what it’s made of, I can only assume it’s some sort of wood and the hardware is metal of some kind (I don’t have a clue about either, nor what difference the materials would make if I did). It is a nice shade of orange though, which is something I can tell you.

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I’ve been using D’Addario EXL 110-7 XL strings, which is actually a 7 string set, for a while now. We’re generally tuned to a variation of B standard or Drop A so having strings that can handle low tunings is ideal. It also means that the G string (or D string in this case) is wound so I don’t have to worry about it being difficult. They sound the fullest and last the longest of all the strings I’ve ever used in lower tunings so I definitely recommend. At some point I will give baritone strings a try but for now I’m happy with just having lots of spare high E strings knocking about at home.

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I really like this guitar, and unless a white Flying V crops up at a reasonable price, this will likely be my main guitar for a while.

-Nick

Gear Talk: Guitars – Tom’s Greco

As the first entry in the ‘gear’ category of our blog, and the first in a mini-series on our guitars, we thought it made sense to let our resident gear nerd run wild to set the tone…

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So begins the diary of a gear nerd.

My current main is a violin burst 1984 Greco EG600 (it could also be a 68-80… Trying to pin model numbers down is difficult. The serial number says its an ’84 and the month but no more detail), made in Japan at the Fugi-Gen factory.

When I first joined Ba’al I was playing an old Gibson RD Custom from 1978 which was all maple with the moog active boards in it. It sounded great and the longer scale was great for the low tuning we use. However, it being old and the electronics being something of voodoo and hard to repair or get parts for, it got retired from use before I broke it.

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Photo by 9barsofgold

For a while I had another Gibson (a Firebrand ES-335s which was, again, all maple) but that was replaced with the Greco, as the mahogany-maple combo sounds darker than the all maple construction of the Gibsons I had been using until then. Plus I’ve always had a soft spot for the Les Paul shape, especially the Custom, but the real thing is way beyond my bank balance and the Grecos more than do the job, along with destroying my shoulder.

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The stock pickups are long long gone (before I got it). Currently in there are Seymour Duncans: an SH-5 Custom in the bridge and a ’59 in the neck. The Custom being ceramic has more bite and punch than the more mellow ’59 in the neck, which gives a nice balance and means flicking from the neck to the bridge I can go from warm and mellower to something with more bite and cut easily.

The neck was refretted and the radius changed before I got it, with the fingerboard now being slightly flatter than normal and fitted with jumbo frets. I don’t like thin shred style necks and this has more of a big vintage Gibson profile to it, so it suits me to the ground. The bridge has been swapped for a Gotoh Tune-o-matic and the pots are all CTS. The tuners I believe are the stock still (not much is on this otherwise these days), and the straplocks are DiMarzio clip locks.

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String gauge wise this is currently strung with D’Addario Baritone Lights 13-62, and tuned to B (or A) E A D F# A. I’ve used D’Addario for best part of 15 years and they just seem to work best for me. They settle well, are stable, last a long time and are not excessively bright when new – which is good because I’m terrible for leaving strings on for ages until they start to flatspot. These take all the punishment (I’m very heavy handed and dig in hard) with no issues.

Lastly, the sparkling green basset hound sticker…. The tone is in the hound.

-Tom