2013 has been a rather ridiculous year for Irish records, with a slew of releases coming out over the last 12 months that all deserve some place on this list but alas, it’s restricted to the number six. Honourable mentions must go out to debuts, full-length albums that lived up to expectations such as Zhora’s compelling prog-sludge behemoth Almaz; Atheos and Okus delivered the goods respectively, meanwhile releases from Abbotoir and Nomadic Rituals showed us that Ireland’s doom pastures are the healthiest they’ve been in some time. Then there are new arrivals like the angular BM of Krawwl, who released their demo tape and the heaving grunge-inflection riffage of Lurch.
The picture being painted is a positive one, in other words, but the following six releases stood out from the pack for various reasons.
Number Six Malthusian – MMXIII Demo
Malthusian just about squeeze their way into this list, having only released their demo tape at the end of November. The hullabaloo online over this demo has been undeniable. From a distance it may seem perplexing for a debut but when you factor in the band members’ respective other bands – Wreck of the Hesperus, Altar of Plagues, Mourning Beloveth, On Pain of Death – it becomes a little more clear. For the uninitiated, Malthusian is death metal with an allegiance to sounds of yore but still with a markedly modern feel, where the crushing DM of the likes of Dead Congregation has been doused with the occasional flavours of death doom and the cold atmosphere of black metal; and it’s all been executed seamlessly.
Number Five Refraction – Helixian EP
Refraction released their first self-titled album in 2011 and it was stellar effort from the instrumental band but it wasn’t until early this year that a follow-up emerged in the shape of this EP, Helixian. Obviously, it’s shorter but it exhibits some new shades, including the addition of vocals, albeit minimally. ‘(T)hymine’ utilises coarse and guttural vocals meanwhile, final track ‘(G)uanine’ is the perfect representation of the EP with gorgeously melodic guitars scaling to a crescendo topped by near-BM shriek that feels like a natural conclusion, rather than tacked on at the end.
Number Four Rest – I Hold The Wolf
Cork’s Rest had em… rested a while and I Hold The Wolf was a long awaited return for the instrumental four-piece and it’s proven to be worth the wait, delivering a near hour-long cosmic foray into tastefully technical musicianship that’s dense in atmosphere but also rife with hooks.
The monolithic riffs of ‘Babylon – Constructing the Cosmos’ and the buzzsaw guitars of ‘Descent With Modification’ more than prove this, all the while ‘The Waters Withdraw’ and ‘Sol-Luna-Astra’ are lush textured compositions of serene melody. I Hold The Wolf has more to offer with each listen.
Number Three: Slidhr – Deluge
Good things come to those who wait and this is no truer than with Slidhr. Deluge is the first full-length from the largely-mysterious black metal entity, having made his presence felt with the Ex Nihilio split with Rebirth of Nefast in 2008. Not only is it one of the very best black metal records to come out of Ireland this year but certainly one of the most interesting and compelling BM records in general, in a year that’s seen releases from Castevet and Skagos. Deluge is soaked in oppressive atmosphere while not being afraid to tinker with melody, creating an altogether “epic” black metal excursion, just without the clichés. With a new album already penned in for 2014 as well as long awaited live dates, Deluge only feels like the beginning of something much bigger.
Number Two: Mourning Beloveth – Formless
Speaking of bigger. It’s the only apt way to describe Mourning Beloveth’s sprawling double album Formless. The death/doom stalwarts’ latest record spent quite some time in gestation, following up 2008’s A Disease for the Ages. The band described Formless, in the lead up to its release, as being a step in a new direction and while that’s certainly true in many elements, the record maintains their essence and is still distinctly Mourning Beloveth, just now with added layers. Tracks like ‘Theories of Old Bones’ is rife with the traditional guttural vocals and deathblow heaviness of the guitars but injected with a new sense of eerie melody, while ‘Old Rope’ is an experiment of sorts. At a mere four minutes and 50 seconds (a brief breeze by MB standards), the track moves through an uncharacteristic guitar trudge and new vocal approaches. However, the shimmering jewel in the crown is ‘Nothing Has A Centre’, a 15 minute expanse where Mourning Beloveth exploit their melodic tendencies to the fullest and the closing five minute crescendo is a sound to behold.
Number One: Altar of Plagues – Teethed Glory and Injury
Surprised? Probably not. Teethed Glory and Injury is popping up everywhere on End of Year lists to no one’s shock, though little did we know upon its release that the album would be their swansong with Altar of Plagues calling it day during the summer. They’ve left behind a startling body of work for what is only three albums (and a number of EPs and a split) and while each record has marked an important step in their evolution, Teethed Glory and Injury is an entirely different beast than Mammal.
Beast is perhaps the most pertinent word for this record. Meshing visceral strains of black metal with more overt levels of electronics than ever before, which are both ambient and discomfiting, Teethed Glory and Injury is primal but also nuanced, and near-violent at times, but never once becomes pastiche or relies on “brutality” in making its point. What’s most important is its cathartic nature with a vibrant sense of release exuding from the searing first track proper ‘God Alone’ until the hair raising final moments of ‘Reflection Pulse Remains’ – Quite the epitaph to leave behind.