Ok, this is getting fucking ridiculous. It’s actually kind of ironic that this has taken as long as it has to get me to the place where I’m putting up the Record(s) o’ the Month for March at the very end of April, because March 2015 is probably the best month for music that I can think of in ages. The quality of records released in March of 2015 could practically produce half of my Top 10(ish) of 2015, and that’s not even a joke. Going even further, this is one of the most difficult choices that I have had to make for Record(s) o’ the Month, because the best albums of the month are really close. And while indecision is not the reason this took so long—you can blame my job for that, it gives zero fucks what you think—it certainly played a minor role. So without further ado, I present to you the Record o’ the Month for March, 2015.
Steven Wilson‘s Hand. Cannot. Erase. is simply a masterpiece. Subtle, smart, and beautiful, I keep coming back to this album with a sense of awe and respect. Built in three acts, Hand. Cannot. Erase. gets darker as it goes along, with a bittersweet tone that spans a variety of musical styles while still feeling like Wilson’s own, unique sound. The emotional depth—coupled with audiophile production quality and amazing musical performances—make this record one of the best you’ll hear all year. Not to repeat myself, but “my biggest complaint about Hand. Cannot. Erase. is the state of existential sadness that it leaves me in every time I listen to it.” Top it all off with amazing art, a heart-wrenching story and high-def FLAC available for sale online, and this is a complete package. I love what Wilson is accomplishing these days, and look forward to his next release.
Not giving The Gentle Storm the top spot was hard. The Diary is also tremendous release, which shows how Arjen Lucassen continues to develop and mature in his craft. Gentle is mind-blowing, particularly with the vinyl mix being so airy and gorgeous, with so many textures and little details. The story, complemented by Lucassen’s trademark melodies and Anneke’s dynamic and beautiful vocal performance, is marvelous. The whole package is excellent, with gorgeous art, and great material. As I gushed in my review, “The Gentle Storm is a resounding success, and one of the finest records that you’re going to hear this year. While I have loved Arjen’s other material in the last few years, this is as close to the adoration I felt for Guilt Machine since 2009. The combination of Anneke’s beautiful vocals and excellent performance with Arjen’s writing and a huge cast of musicians has resulted in something that I imagine they’re all truly proud to have been involved in, and that is truly unique.” The one drawback for me is that the LP mix I reviewed is not the CD mix that most people are buying. The LP’s airy mastering job isn’t available anywhere but on the vinyl, and that’s a shame.
Barren Earth has done everything in their power to get back in my good graces, after becoming aware that they had slighted me in the process of looking for their new vocalist. I was humbled to have received a personal note from the excellent Jón Aldará telling me that he had personally shamed the band for not having given me a shot. And not only that, but the band apologized publicly and even let me listen to the LP mix for their newest masterpiece! With a DR9 copy of the album, I am even more convinced that this is a record I’ll be listening to for a long, long time. Given more room, some of the most oppressive moments on the album shine. Where I previously got lost, I no longer experience the same fatigue. And while DR9 is still pretty compressed for an LP master—I suspect it means that it’s not so much a “dedicated” master, as it is a backed-off version of the CD master for vinyl—it still does give the music a lot more room to breathe and works to show off On Lonely Towers‘ masterful approach to melodic metal. I haven’t fawned this much over a record with 10 minute songs in ages, and I was fawning before they even started apologizing!
Around the AMG offices there has been a buzz about Imperial Triumphant that even I, busy as fuck and not having had to review the thing myself, couldn’t help but check them out. Chaotic and brutal, Abyssal Gods‘ unsettling, French approach to black metal makes the skin crawl and the spine tingle in discomfort. Even with ragtime ukulele and a few other little curve balls, Grymm was in full-on fawning fanboy mode over this one: “Imperial Triumphant [has] put out the best French black metal album of recent history. For as good as Goliath was, [it’s] dwarfed by the sheer lunacy and onslaught that Abyssal Gods delivers.” With the bar declared raised, and new masters apparently appointed (don’t tell Manowar), it behooves the humble reader of the blog to let your ears be violated by the triumphant cultural appropriating imperialism of Imperial Triumphant‘s Abyssal Gods. First person to call them ImpTri is fucking fired.