Albums of the Year 2020

Well, what a year that was… Trying for all, but at least music is always there for us. We’ve picked some of our personal favourites from 2020 below, with a track from each in the Spotify playlist, too. Please enjoy this – it was painful.

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Nick – Guitar

It was very considerate of music to continue being excellent in spite of that bug that’s been going round. I managed quite a lot of new albums this year and found making this list as difficult as ever. As such this isn’t a definitive top 10 for me, and many are interchangeable with others that I haven’t mentioned, but I wanted to include some albums that maybe didn’t get as much recognition as they deserved alongside some albums which definitely got plenty of recognition.

10. Respire – Black Line

Respire – 'Black Line'

A late cat thrown amongst the pigeons. Having pretty much decided on the ten albums I wanted to talk about, I then listened to this album in mid-December and had to reconsider my decision. This is what post-metal is all about. It sounds like absolutely nothing else, the use of orchestral instrumentation is inspired and a driving aspect of their songwriting, and the emotional rawness is truly biting. A one of a kind album.

9. Loathe – I Let It In And It Took Everything

Loathe: I Let It In and It Took Everything Album Review | Pitchfork

Without doubt my most repeated album of the year. This record combines the best of noisy prog-metalcore and passive, post-Deftones daydreaming. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the future belongs to bands like this, and I will be dumbfounded if we don’t see them at forefront of modern metal in years to come.

8. Charli XCX – How I’m Feeling Now

Charli XCX: How I'm Feeling Now – Review Corner

It’s like she somehow distilled the very essence of insomnia and cabin fever into a neon-pop wonderland. I’ve loved everything Charli has released since Pop2 and as far as I’m concerned, she is going from strength to strength.

7. clipping. – Visions of Bodies Being Burned

clipping.: Visions of Bodies Being Burned Album Review | Pitchfork

I listened to this album twice in a row and I think I’m going to go and listen to it now. In fact I think I’ve listened to this album nearly every time I’ve been reminded of its existence. Their brand of experimental hip-hop is dark, scary, and magnetically illustrative, and each track feels like you’re trapped in a short horror film.

6. Envy – The Fallen Crimson

The Fallen Crimson | Envy

This is an album that brought me back to emo. Emotionally devastating, The Fallen Crimson is a panoramic collection of angst, wistful rumination, aggressive noise, and some of the best riffs to come out of this sordid year.

5. Motorpsycho – The All Is One

All Is One: Amazon.co.uk: Music

What a journey this album is. It truly fits the stereotype of psychedelic prog that rapidly gets out of hand to the point at which you don’t know how long you’ve been listening to it or indeed what day it is. I mean that in the best possible way. Having only begun listening to this band earlier this year, I was simultaneously ecstatic and horrified to discover how much excellent music this band has released that I’m now going to have to listen to. Having too much good music really is the best problem one can have.

4. Relic Point – Self Punishment

Oh boy, if someone asked me what an amalgamation of Primitive Man and Car Bomb would sound like I couldn’t tell them, but I would want to know, and now I do know, and it is good.

3. Demersal – Less

My chaotic, sludgy screamo album of the year. It’s the sound of grief in a hornets nest. It’s the sound of death made of out of a thousand broken bottles. It makes me feel cold and empty and like I want to attack things with sandpaper.

2. Run The Jewels – RTJ4

Run The Jewels - RTJ4 Lyrics and Tracklist | Genius

What can I say about this album that hasn’t already been said? This is a defining album, perhaps THE defining album of modern solidarity. History will remember it as a phenomenal hip-hop album, and a tragic commentary on 21st century racism.

1. Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin Kynsi

Oranssi Pazuzu, “Mestarin Kynsi” | Bandcamp Daily

I echo the sentiment I previously made regarding the Motorpsycho album. By the end I had little memory of the past hour beyond a hazy black void that felt like the fabric of the universe was being fed through a paper shredder. But again, in a good way.

richard-influences

Richard – Bass

In 2020 I listened to 77 new albums, which is a record for me and one I’m pretty proud of, especially as someone who doesn’t really use streaming services. Of that number, there are honestly about 30 that could have made my top ten, but the ones that came closest were Kelly Lee Owens, Craven Faults, Sunken, Purity Ring, Calligram, Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou, Sons of a Wanted Man, Hum, Ocoeur, naisian and Bosphorous. Yes, I am aware that list itself is more than ten – I am an indecisive bastard.

10. Julianna Barwick – Healing is a Miracle

Julianna Barwick: Healing Is a Miracle Album Review | Pitchfork

The first of several artists in my top ten who were actually new to me in 2020 entirely, Barwick’s trade is in reverb-soaked, ambient-adjacent chamber folk, and this new album is rife with gorgeous atmosphere and an enveloping lushness that is truly beautiful. There are even a few electronic beats this time round, and it’s all otherworldly.

9. clipping. – Visions of Bodies Being Burned

clipping.: Visions of Bodies Being Burned Album Review | Pitchfork

clipping. are now an unstoppable force in experimental hip-hop, and their rising status among music fans of all stripes could hardly be more deserved. Probably more abrasive and built on more disturbing and noisy samples than 2019’s equally brilliant outing, this is hip-hop pushed to its outer limits whilst still heaping on loads of dark grooves and sick flows.

8. Wren – Groundswells

GROUNDSWELLS | Wren

Despite being aware of them for ages, 2020 was the first year I invested any time into listening to Wren, following our gig with them in January and then them signing with our friends Gizeh Records. Their sound comes largely from the doomiest pages of the Cult of Luna post metal playbook, but they’re driven forwards by powerful (and audible) basslines and inventive drumming, plus a deadly crush of tone.

7. A.A. Williams – Forever Blue

Forever Blue | A.A. Williams

Whilst I enjoyed the 2019 self-titled EP, this album really surprised me with how much I loved it. It takes the despondent singer-songwriter-meets-shoegazey-post-rock vibe from that first release and adds some climactic moments of truly dense metal weight, some subtle Radiohead-like moments of sparse and beguiling melody, and wraps it all up with a wonderful ear for a downbeat but catchy hook.

6. Vile Creature – Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm!

Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm! | Vile Creature

Vile Creature are another band I took a long overdue first dive into during 2020, and even in my limited experience this feels like their crowning achievement to date. They already had their suffocatingly heavy, tectonic doom groove nailed before this record, but the inclusion of choral vocals in the latter half and more guitar layers than you can shake a stick at lend this a much more majestic and even liturgical feel.

5. Grimes – Miss Anthropocene

Miss Anthropocene - Wikipedia

Combining the more overtly pop-focused sounds of the still admittedly offbeat Art Angels album and reintroducing more of the trademark idiosyncrasies from her previous work, Grimes managed to put out one of her finest works whilst also taking up a lot of space in the music press for many reasons over the course of the year. The biggest bangers here have her cleanest production yet, but it’s all shot through with endearing darkness and a sense of the futility of fighting our technocratic future.

4. Kairon; IRSE! – Polysomn

KAIRON; IRSE! Polysomn reviews

Spoiler: the Oranssi Pazuzu camp really knocked it out of the park in 2020. Kairon; IRSE!, their prog/psych/shoegaze offshoot, seemed to come back to earth at least little bit after the exuberant 70s worship of their previous album. The heavier, more dense guitar layers from their earlier work are back, combining with some continuing joyful experimentation and a dizzying world of sound that is all their own.

3. Svalbard – When I Die, Will I Get Better?

ALBUM REVIEW: When I Die, Will I Get Better? - Svalbard - Distorted Sound  Magazine

Svalbard are another band I shamefully only paid proper attention to in 2020, despite having seen them live twice at festivals – I know, what was I thinking? Still based in the mixed hardcore, black metal and post metal elements they were already known for, this new album sees a marked increase in dreamy, melodic post rock passages a-la Alcest, which suits them perfectly and adds an almost regal quality to these already powerful songs. Add that to a reliably direct and wholly justified lyrical vitriol towards misogyny and other social injustice and you have a guaranteed winner that will get you riled for all the right reasons.

2. Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin Kynsi

Oranssi Pazuzu, “Mestarin Kynsi” | Bandcamp Daily

A lot has been said about this album since it’s release, but it’s all true – it really is that good. They’ve pushed all their psychedelic and kraut-y tendencies to new extremes and their patented vortex of swirling black metal and bad trip vibes has never been so compelling.

1. Farer – Monad

Monad | Farer | Tartarus Records

A very late surprise discovery for me, thanks to a post from our friends at 9hz, I only listened to this album just before Christmas when I thought I had my list near completion. After two spins, however, this shook me to the core and felt custom made for me. With no guitars and two basses, this is a slow motion, molten creation of low-end rumble, filthy noise, and building-levelling riffs. Topped off with a harrowing shriek, it’s like someone injected Amenra with heroin and stole all their ‘clean’ channel switches. Utterly devastating and a new favourite band.

luke-influences

Luke – Drums

So my list might be a bit different to Nick and Richard’s because after going through my music I can only find 7 albums which I’ve listened to which came out this year, so clearly I need to up my game next year but I still probably won’t! I’ve given a nice big blurb for the top 3 and then a smaller bleugh for the other 4. ENJOY!

7. Nightwish – Human. :||: Nature

Album: Nightwish – Human II: Nature

I do have a soft spot for Nightwish and orchestral music in general and this was their release this year. It doesn’t quite tickle the spot that Imaginareum, Dark Passion Play, or Endless Forms Most Beautiful did, but it is still a beautifully composed bit of orchestral metal.

6. Ensiferum – Thalassic

Ensiferum reveals details for new album, 'Thalassic' | Metal Blade Records

This is a great album which honestly I haven’t given the amount of time it deserves. Ensiferum have come back with an absolute belter of heavy, Finnish Folk metal.

5. Jack Gardiner – Escapades

Escapades | Jack Gardiner

Similar to Plini this is another vituosic guitar player writing groovy, funky, instrumental tracks which I am just totally down with.

4. Plini – Impulse Voices

Impulse Voices | Plini

This album is relatively new for me so I’m still absorbing it but Plini is just incredible and this album continues to prove it.

3. Arch Echo – Story I

Story I | Arch Echo

Arch Echo also happen to be one of the last bands I saw live in the ‘before time’…. and over lockdown I even bagged myself a spot on one of the drummers masterclass sessions! But to get to the point: this EP is just what I’d expect from Arch Echo. Another amazing selection of instrumental, djenty, groovy, funky-ass tracks (not to be confused with funky ass-tracks). This band have never disappointed me since I discovered them at TechFest many years ago now and immediately fell in love with them. Their music, talent, joy, and energy is so palpable and I just can’t get enough of it.

2. Dirty Loops – Phoenix

Dirty Loops - "Phoenix"

Again, this band have come up for me in the Ba’al monthly musings very frequently, and deservingly. With this EP the trio yet again manage to blow my mind with musicianship and pure talent. In particular, the track “World on Fire” has what I would be confident to describe as the best bass solo I’ve ever heard in a song. But the other aspects of the music are by no means overshadowed by this, and they all pull together to create the incredible jazz, fusion, pop sound that just will not let you be sad!

1. Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion

Spirituality and Distortion | Igorrr

Honestly I’ve listened through this album so much and know it so well by now that I was shocked to be reminded that it only came out this March. I’ve also been blabbering on about it on the Ba’al Monthly listenings! But this album is such an amazing musical journey through varying tones, timbres, and time signatures. For me it contains some of the best elements of djent, orchestral, electronic, operatic, and progressive music in a continuously evolving and flowing masterpiece.

Monthly Playlist: December 2020

Before this strange year comes to a close, we thought we’d put together one more playlist showing what some of us have been listening to recently. Check out our picks on the Spotify playlist and our words below.

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Nick – Guitar

Sleep Token – The Night Does Not Belong To God

This is a case of immediately falling in love with a newfound band. Vessel’s voice is one of the best in modern metal and focussing everything around that is a masterstroke. The only problem is that I won’t be truly satisfied until I know their identities.

Vola – Head Mounted Sideways

Urgh, this is such a tank of a song and it’s got everything that I already love about VOLA. The production pushes this track beyond anything they’ve already done, the chorus is huge but we really need to talk about the frankly scandalous breakdown at the end. That kind of filth should not be allowed without adult supervision.

Loyle Carner – Yesterday

Loyle is the wholesome vibe that 2020 so desperately needs. The production on this is wonderful and classy, and Loyle is on top of his flow game, I just want more. The prospect of more music in the future is getting me through this shitting pandemic.

Clown Core – Flat Earth

I don’t think there’s anything that I can really say about this that is even slightly representative of the intangible nature of Clown Core. They make funny noises and I like it.

Chiasmata – Foreboding

These sound like a fully formed prog-metal band on a relatively big label, and the fact they haven’t yet attained that level of success is somewhat baffling to me. They have all the qualities of big names in this style so I won’t be the least bit surprised if they do receive the recognition they deserve. It doth djent.

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Richard – Bass

Bring Me The Horizon – Teardrops

Having hated BMTH on principle as a teen, I came full circle last year and absolutely loved Amo, the first album of theirs I invested any time into. Now they’ve pushed things even further, and alongside the pop and electronic elements, they now have no shame in fully embracing the Linkin Park sound of old. Rather than a cheap rip off, it feels like true reverence for a sound very close to my heart and I can’t get enough.

Black Wreath – The Black Holes of Your Mind

Funereal doom metal from the guy behind neofolk act Of The Wand and the Moon. Black Wreath’s one and only album is a heady mix of crushingly emotive riffs and strangely catchy sadboi hooks and synths.

Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou – Monolith

I was looking forward to this collaborative release for a long time, as I love ERR and find that Thou are at their best when working with other leftfield artists. It’s like the two acts not only combined their disparate styles, but also decided to pretend to be a 90s grunge band from Seattle, and it’s everything I hoped it would be.

Remember – ストリップの明るいライト Bright Lights of the Strip

Now many years into exploring the ambient end of vaporwave music, this album by Remember is the closest in spirit to the untouchable urban isolation encapsulated by genre kings 2814. Top tier atmosphere.

Strapping Young Lad – All Hail the New Flesh

After listening to Devin Townsend break down his albums one by one in massive detail on his podcast over this year, I’ve been on a massive SYL binge, reminding myself that at their best, this band were so fucking good that it is frightening.

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Luke – Drums

Turisas – Stand Up and Fight

Nice bit of battle metal this month! Definitely listened to Turisas a fair bit this month and this track is a solid sing-a-long classic with some nice drums to jam along with.

Judas Priest – Painkiller

Oldie, goldie, bloody hell it’s fun to jam to-ie. Been listening to a fair bit of the old Priest this month too, with this track being most memorable. It shouldn’t need much introduction, but this song is a powerhouse of shredding guitars, catchy riffs, dazzling drums, and amazing vocals.

Dirty Loops – World on Fire

This incredible funky 3-piece has been releasing a bunch of new singles and this stands out as a completely jaw dropping display of technical and musical ability. The intro drum fill is completely nuts. The bass riffs are amazingly mad, but nothing compared to the bass solo. And the vocalist/keyboard player provides beautiful harmonies and melodies. And from the music video – is the bassist really using all of those mics?

Jack Gardiner – 1993

Here’s a lovely instrumental track by a super talented guitar player. The guitar groove, pulsing atmosphere and funky backbeat are such an enticing combination. Ooooh yeah baby.

Snoop Dog – The Just Eat song

Okay hear me out…. I keep getting played this advert on YouTube and honestly this track has been stuck in my head more than anything else this month. That said, the last Chinese I got from Just Eat could be convicted for crimes against food…

Gear Talk: Pedals – Nick’s Pedalboard

Finally we come to the end of our current run of gear posts, and we turn to the pedals currently on Nick’s board and how they came to be used on Ellipsism. Oh, and which ones he broke, obviously.

(Note from Richard: Please ignore the bit where he says he’s not good at guitar solos – he’s lying.)

Nordell Audio Power Core

Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner

Electro-Harmonix Micro Pog

Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive

Electro-Harmonix Small Stone

Dunlop Crybaby Wah

Boss DD-500 Delay

X-Vive Maxverb

Pro Co Rat

Those of you who read my entry in our amp episodes will already be aware of my tendency to break my equipment, and pedals are no different.

Starting with tuners, I’d been using a Behringer pedal which was a clone of the reliable old Boss TU series, and it was serviceable, if flimsy, contraption. So flimsy in fact, that it fully disintegrated in my hand, moments before our set at a gig in Manchester, purely under the stress of my superhuman strength and the Velcro with which it was attached to my board. Naturally, it was now an unsalvageable handful of detritus, so I replaced it with an aforementioned Boss TU-3, which has been reliable ever since. Nice shade of white too.

Next in my chain is the Elecro-Harmonix Micro-Pog. I remember in the early days of Ba’al, our old guitarist Craig found one of these in our old practice room (I think he actually claimed it and may still have it) and the sound blew me away. I’ve always loved that lower octave sound, it adds so much girth to big, monophonic, bottom string riffs and I’ve never heard a pedal do it this well. Over time I’ve come to appreciate the upper octave setting more and more as well, especially as a little organ simulator. In truth, I actually barely used this on Ellipsism, mostly just as a means of adding ‘umph’ to some of the muddiest riffs. Nice shade of red too.

So, the majority of my distortion sounds come from the overdrive channel of my JCM which is, by all accounts, excellent. I use the SD-1 (which I bought off Tom for the price of a bus ticket) as more of a tube screamer, adding a little more frostbite to my tone which allows it to cut to through a little more. I rarely have the drive setting higher than 1, so the effect is subtle but definitely audible. It’s also great to use as a drive by itself to give clean chordy passages some grungy emo vibes as well, there are a couple of moments on the album that I made use of this, but not many. Nice shade of yellow too.

Now then, there’s a running joke between myself and Richard – the only remaining member who remembers the early days of Ba’al in which I would use a Joyo phase pedal on basically every track. Often more than once. Since replacing the Joyo (which obviously broke) with the EHX Small Stone, I’ve toned that tendency down somewhat. That being said, I simply cannot understate the satisfaction I get out of whacking this baby on during the second rotation of a beatdown style passage to give it some wub. You can hear it in action in particular towards the end of ‘Jouska’. Nice shade of orange too.

The crybaby wah is actually the first pedal I ever got, as a present from my dad. This was in my secondary school days when I wanted to do shredding guitar solos with the wind blowing my long hair through the air, like a milkmaid’s frock on a washing line. Those days are behind me though. I have short hair now, and guitar solos have lost a lot of appeal to me (mostly because I’m not that good at them). Nevertheless this pedal has a short feature in one short section in ‘Rosalia’, which is the closest thing you’ll get to a guitar solo you’ll get from me from now on. Nice shade of black too.

Now we’re talking. I bought the Boss DD-500 only a short time before we recorded Ellipsism, so my knowledge of the pedal’s capacities were sadly somewhat limited. In the time since however, I’ve spent a lot of time exploring this pedal and I have to say it’s my favourite that I own. The sheer scope for effects you can get out of this thing are bewildering. I bought it off a guy in France who’s saved effects banks are just mind boggling and I’m enjoying getting some bonkers, and beautiful, sounds out of the thing. Expect a lot more trippy delay weirdness on whatever we record next. Nice shade of cream too.

Ah yes, the Maxverb was an emergency purchase before a gig in which I was using a backup amp which didn’t have a built in reverb (yeah my usual amp broke, who saw that coming?). This thing has 3 settings; plate, spring, and hall. I’ve only ever used the hall setting because I simply don’t like the other 2, but for big washy reverb, it does the trick very nicely. As an added level of nonsense, the LED works approximately 4% of the time, so I have to constantly remember if it’s on or not, which is more difficult that you might think. I should really just buy another, better reverb pedal really. Regardless, I use reverb and delay an awful lot on this album. Most clean sections have one or both, all my lead parts use one or both, and I often use them to give the washy blackgaze sections more g a z e. Nice shade of blue too.

The Rat doesn’t normally sit on my board that much anymore since I started using the amp gain, but I do often like to use it in the studio for some of the bigger and more shrieky doom sections where there doesn’t need to be that much precision. It’s a raucous little thing, which I may use more in the future. Nice shade of black too.

And that’s my board. I used a few pedals that belong to Joe Clayton to add some little inflections to the album, but I largely stick to a fairly limited pool of sounds on this album.

-Nick

Gear Talk: Pedals – Richard’s Pedalboard

To wrap up our gear chat for the time being, before we release our debut album next week, we thought we’d talk through Richard and Nick’s pedal set ups that were used for the writing and recording of the record. First up it’s Richard’s fairly chaotic, multi-purpose board used for the bass and even some of the viola…

Caline 5 Power Supply

Boss TU-3

Mooer Pure Octave

Boss LS-2

Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini

Vox Trike

Boss ODB-3

EHX Key9

Mooer Shimverb

Boss DD3

Starting at the start of the chain… I actually picked up the TU-3 very recently, as my old Behringer tuner has always been a bit hit-and-miss with actually picking up my lowest string first time. We used Nick’s TU-3 in the studio and it had no trouble, so I grabbed one second hand post-haste.

The little brown Pure Octave pedal has a lot packed into such a small unit. You can go 1 or 2 octaves in each direction, and a little knob lets you pick any combination of -1, -2, +1 and +2 at the same time. On Ellipsism I just use the standard -1 setting on one of my higher bass lines at the end of ‘Long Live’, but I’ve been messing around with getting some weirder sounds out of the other settings more recently.

I should say at this point that despite the dusty, tangled mess that my board often is, it’s laid out the way that it is for the purely practical reason that I play bass in Ba’al and guitar in another band, and I don’t want to have to keep switching things around every week for practice. This board serves both purposes, and as such some of the pedals were obtained primarily for one band/instrument or the other. However, in many cases I’ve found that something I bought for one ends up getting used extensively for both.

The LS-2 line selector is up next, which has two loops of other pedals hooked into it, which I can switch between, making transitions between sounds a hell of a lot easier on the fly, and meaning that I can switch some things on or off in advance of needing them, without the sound being affected until necessary.

Loop A continues along the chain to the bottom left corner with my overdrives and distortion. As you might expect, the Tubescreamer was bought with guitar in mind, and the ODB-3 for bass. The ODB is the basis of my main heavy sound in Ba’al, and is on almost all of the loud parts of the album. This particular one I’ve actually had since I was a teenager first learning bass. I will sometimes throw the Tubescreamer on top of it to boost the frosty high end and cut through a blasting section, particularly if I’m playing in a higher register. This happens a few times on ‘Long Live’ and also ‘An Orchestra of Flies’.

The big orange pedal is a guitar distortion pedal by Vox – the Trike – which I did actually buy second hand in the early days of Ba’al specifically for bass. It has a + and – octave option, but mainly it just causes absolute filth to happen. It’s got an incredibly nasty, buzzing drone quality to it (particularly with the octave up layered subtly in the mix), and when combined with the ODB it can rumble and disgust people for miles around until you tell it to stop. I tend to deploy this secret weapon only in the slowest, most crushing riffs, as well as if I want to get some nasty feedback going. It’s used on the most funereal of the riffs on ‘Jouska’, the intro and outro drones of ‘Father, the Sea, the Moon’, and the noisy outro of ‘Tarred and Feathered’.

Loop B coming from the line selector contains just one pedal: the Electro-Harmonix Key9. This is part of EHX’s stunning range of organ/keyboard emulating pedals, along with the likes of the B9 and the C9. The Key9 focuses on making your instrument sound like one of various keyboards and electric pianos, like the Wurlitzer and Rhodes, plus some other organs and some wildcards, like a pretty hilarious steel drum setting. This was a prize purchase made for my other band, but some of the more textural settings have found their way onto each of the main Ba’al releases thus far. On Ellipsism, the section in the middle of ‘Long Live’ with the odd time signature has me impersonating an organ. It’s in it’s own loop partially so that I can switch from it straight to my overdrives, but also because it creates it’s very own special brand of weird digital noise when not in use. The scrap of yellow tape in the corner reminds my dumb brain that it is in loop B, which has a yellowish LED on the line selector.

Coming out of the line selector entirely, my chain ends with a Mooer Shimverb reverb pedal and a Boss delay, which are used quite sparingly in this band, pretty much just in the drone/ambient parts. The DD3 is there very sparingly on some of the clean sections throughout the album, and Tom also used it some of his cleans when he needed something more simple than his massive arsenal of more complicated delays would allow. The ‘shimmer’ setting on the Shimverb adds an eerie 7th above the note you’re playing (as well as the reverb), and this feature gets its moment during the drone section of ‘Long Live’.

Speaking of that section, you may or may not be able to pick up a few viola lines layered in there. Those were also run through my pedal board, specifically into the Vox Trike, for a scratchy and unnerving sound.

My power supply is a very cheap one that was recommended by my other band, and it does the job with almost enough supplies for all my pedals; technically I’m one short, but thankfully the Boss LS-2 has an extra power output that I use to supply the Shimverb.

You’ll also notice a few extra loose bits and bobs in the top right of the board. These are my emergency gig supplies: spare patch cables for when things go suddenly dead onstage (let’s be honest, I usually keep them on hand for Nick rather than myself); a pair of shitty rubber earplugs in case I forget my normal, fancy ones; a small pack of hairbands in case I forget to bring one and I need to get my sweaty hair out of my face after a set so I can see where I’m loading my gear to. All essential.

-Richard

Gear Talk: Amps – Nick’s Marshall

Returning to our ‘Gear Talk’ series, it’s now time for Nick to share his potted history with amp breakage, and spill the secrets of his Marshall head, used extensively on Ellipsism.

Anyone who knows me personally in a musical capacity will be aware of my magnetism towards things that break. In my 4 years a member of Ba’al I have had exploding valves, melted transistors and disintegrated pedal chassis on a regular enough basis that it became a running joke and a recurring source of gig related anxiety. You name it, I’ve broken it, and often just by looking at it.

Before I joined Ba’al I had been using an old, and funnily enough broken, Marshall combo amp. The thing was so decrepit I could hear the poor thing wheezing with each turn off a knob. With that I mind I bought a reasonably priced Bugera head and cab. I forget the exact model but it was a 5150 clone and it cost me about £300, needless to say this 19 year old student was beyond thrilled with the acquisition. The wise amongst you will probably have already guessed that this amp’s life expectancy was relatively short and, true to form, it broke several times and eventually found itself sent to the amplifier knackers yard, aka Tom’s spare parts cabinet.

And so the heavens (well, eBay) saw fit to bless me with a Marshall JCM 2000 DSL and since the day I bought it, it has performed admirably. At 100 watts it carries plenty of punch but leaves plenty of headroom for more delicate clean parts. I’m a huge fan of bands like Alcest and Deafheaven and the versatility of this amp means I can switch from sweet shoegazey passages to full on Primitive Man level filth with just a couple of stompboxes. It’s beautifully clear and the built in spring reverb sounds quite excellent too. Owen from Hundred Year Old Man also uses one and if you’ve heard HYOM you’ll understand why that alone is enough reason to want to buy one (although his is green and looks marginally cuter than mine). The amp has been around the block a bit but neither I nor the previous owner have ever encountered a problem with it (or so he says) which is a relief given my past tendencies. Again I acquired this amp for the paltry sum of 300 imperial credits of the realm and I can’t imagine myself looking for anything else for a while. Reliable, versatile and a direct line to the TONE ZONE, this amp is basically everything I’ve ever really wanted.

-Nick

Gear Talk: Amps – Richard’s Darkglass

Continuing our gear talk series, we now turn to some of the amp heads used on the upcoming album Ellipsism, starting with Richard’s Darkglass Microtubes 900, which is still pretty new to the Ba’al family.

As I mentioned in my blog about my bass, I’m the absolute opposite of a gear nerd and know next to nothing about anything technical unless guided by copious online research and advice from knowledgeable friends. So if you’re looking for a spec sheet, this isn’t the place to come I’m afraid…

When I joined Ba’al in 2016, I hadn’t been regularly playing bass for several years (I play guitar in another band), and all I had amp-wise was a Laney RB3 combo. After one practice it was abundantly clear that this was not anywhere close to cutting the mustard in this band, and our then-guitarist helped me out in finding some good deals on something better.

This led me to getting a very cheap 300W Behringer Ultrabass head, which is about the dimensions of a small VCR and about a quarter of the weight. It was incredibly convenient, sounded surprisingly decent, and was so light that we could literally throw it to eachother during loading. Unfortunately, this also meant it was very likely to vibrate it’s way onto the floor during live shows…

As our sound evolved, I found that the beloved Ultrabass was once again not quite providing enough heft, so I next I borrowed an old Ampeg head (I forget the model) from our ex-guitarist Tom, which was definitely a step up in sound. I used this for a good few years (both the Behringer and the Ampeg feature in combination on our first EP), until eventually it developed a fatal fault which was never identified and I went back to the Ultrabass for a while – including our last gig to date in January 2020.

As is often the way I do things, the imminent studio time for the Ellipsism sessions kicked me into gear and got me thinking I should probably up my game again, so I started researching online and taking suggestions from nearby gear heads for a new head. Having tried out a Gallian-Krueger that belongs to the bassist in my other band, their MB500 fusion model was in the running, as was the EBS Reidmar 502. However, with the reputation that Darkglass have been gaining in recent times, and the sound I’d heard coming from them at other bands’ shows (Archelon and Wren being two examples that come to mind), I was mainly drawn to their Microtubes 500 model. Then I was alerted to an alarmingly good second hand deal on Facebook for it’s older brother, the Microtubes 900, and one very awkward trip to the post office later I was sorted.

After my favourable experience with the lighter-than-Nick’s-entire-body Ultrabass, I was keen to stick with something easily portable, and the Microtubes definitely fits that bill, coming in a handy small carry case which also fits all the cables inside. The main thing, though, is that upon switching it on and plugging in, I was immediately about 500% happier with my sound than I had ever been before. The extra headroom and power that I get with 900W immediately fixed niggling issues I’d always had with getting my tone to stay consistent and beefy at the high volumes needed to keep up in this band. I don’t think I’ve needed to go above about 10 o’clock on the master volume yet, and that’s given me a lot more space to play with sounds.

It takes unbelievably well to the various overdrives, distortions and other weird effects I throw at it and, as if that’s not enough, it’s got two of Darkglass’ very own overdrive units (the B3K and the VMT) built into it, with a footswitch to control them, as well as an inbuilt preamp that lots of people have in pedal form. I’ve honestly barely scratched the surface of all the sound possibilities in this little unit.

As you can see from all the knobs, you can really get into the nitty gritty of EQing different frequencies, which I find really helpful in such a bottom-heavy, low tuned environment as Ba’al; cutting through whilst still keeping the aggressive low-end is really important for me, and at long last I have no problems doing so.

Having only got this amp this year (sadly after the one gig we played pre-COVID), it’s only seen use thus far in the practice room – writing and rehearsing the album tracks – and then in the studio, where it truly shone and made my tracking at No Studio an absolute dream. The bass on the album sounds infinitely bigger, clearer and heavier than on any of our other releases, and this amp really carries it. I truly cannot wait to vibrate people with its power when we can finally play live again.

-Richard