This mostly refers to music, as I try to keep up, but even people who make that their full-time addiction do it with great difficulty. For a great compendium of this year in metal, go check out Brandon Stosuy's "Show No Mercy" column at Pitchfork. I don't generally follow that site, but SNM is worth keeping tabs on (in this "Best of '08" he got some lists from players themselves). What follows are some of the things that either completely passed right by my broken radar or things I didn't get to say enough about earlier in the year.
Krallice. Local Brooklyn supergroup makes epic "transcendental" black metal. It has been noted elsewhere that American black metal bands tend to be much more experimental with their compositions. There's a good dose of truth to this, as they're not bogged down with the need to be "trve" or "cvlt" in a manner that hinders European outfits. I was fortunate enough to see these guys at Silent Barn in April and it was, literally, jaw-dropping. The album, which I only recently got my hands on, has rightfully made a bunch of "Best of '09" lists and is phenomenally beyond words. Here's video of them from September, when they played an empty lot in Bushwick right around the corner from my apartment (while I was at work, of course).
Nachtmystium. Speaking of American black metal, I never got around to doing a proper review when Assassins came out earlier this year. I began one and apparently forgot to finish, because I just found the unfinished and unpublished post while looking for my own link. Mea maxima culpa. When I heard Instinct:Decay I thought that was progressive for the genre, but for sheer out-of-the-box thinking their latest album surpasses that effort by quite a margin. Assassins makes no bones about being a Pink Floyd-inspired work where, in a few tracks those psychedelic overtones lead toward Kylesa territory: sludgy yet vaguely anthemic. In the final reckoning the Chicagoans produced one of the most intruiging albums I've (and others) heard in quite a while.
Enslaved. While my head was focused on books (where it's spent a great deal of the latter part of this year), Norwegian viking-prog-metal geniuses Enslaved put out Vertebrae. Very little of what these guys do nowadays could be even remotely considered "black metal" other than some vocal passages. But as far as being a progressive metal powerhouse is concerned, few outfits can match their combination of awe-inspiring harmonic beauty and intricate rhythmic changes with sheer head-banging rockness. Generally when people say a band "is maturing as songwriters" said band is just getting old and lame. Instead, Enslaved are perfecting the methods mastered by Unwound, though hopefully they continue to make amazing albums into the forseeable future. Vertebrae hasn't made the same immediate impact on me that Ruun did, but it's still a new listen and my affection is growing by the listen.
Torche. I don't think I need to say much more than what I already said here. Now you can use the time you would have spent reading to watch this live video of them that happened to be shot on my birthday. And then watch more.
Mouth of the Architect. I didn't realize it until this past week, but MOTA's album Quietly was released this year. When I got my hands on it a couple months ago I thought, for whatever reason, that it had come out last year. Not realizing how recent and relevant it was I failed to write up a proper review. These Ohioans have taken the path I wish Isis would have taken after Oceanic and may have just claimed the heavy-ambient-metal genre all for themselves (Pelican is crap and can suck it). This band is criminally underknown and deserve far more attention than I've seen them receive.
Melvins. In the grand scheme of things, as awesome as Nude With Boots is, it may not stack up as one of the best albums of the year. Then again, just because it failed to make most lists doesn't mean it wasn't awesome. I've realized lately that a good number of noteworthy albums were released this year, more than I had initially remembered. Then again, I had noted in my review Buzz's lament that this album would be overlooked as just another great Melvins record. I fear his take was all too prescient. Regardless, the ferocious 1-2 of Melvins/Big Business live continued to demolish all comers, so there's that at least.
So that's my shortlist of awesome things that happened in 2008. Here are a few other notables worth remembering:
• Dinosaur Jr live. I finally got to see my favorite band.
• At The Gates reunion tour. Incredible.
• Metallica released a pretty good album and it only took 20 years.
• Made Out Of Babies released The Ruiner which was a damn fine album.
Now I have a mission to go get a bunch of new releases that I've yet to hear and have a listening party with myself. These bands also released new stuff in 2008: Jesu, Boris, Earth, Harvey Milk, Mogwai, Electric Wizard, and Meshuggah (which most everyone says is awesome).
Here's to everyone that put out great music in 2008 and hoping for an even better crop in 2009 (Mastodon, I'm looking at you).
Happy New Year, everyone!