1999 was such a great year. Not only because Judgement came out, but because there were all those excellent albums and new genres that were born. It was also a year that NATO bombed Serbia and the first time I was really scared for my life. That was also when I started to write some of my own songs, putting ideas on tape and gathered some friends to form band(s) - one of them will later become Amaranth.
So, Anathema. Duncan Patterson left the band so the bass playing wasn't that prominent on this one. But the songs were. They got back to the Eternity style of putting a couple of songs in a row, something I loved. The first four tracks (Deep, Pitiless, Forgotten Hopes, Destiny Is Dead) were great openers and the band guided the listener from kicking hard to pure melancholia in barely fifteen minutes. Those led to the centerpiece, which were One Last Goodbye and Parisienne Moonlight, the two most heart-wrecking pieces the Cavanagh brothers ever wrote.
They managed to do it again. And I was so glad. They topped all the lists and all the people who loved them through Alternative 4 loved them even more with Judgement.
I was lucky to find a digipack version that contained a bonus track, Transacoustic. Another instrumental from the album, 2000 & Gone was so nice, warm and a close track in style of guitar playing I even felt, while listening to it, that it sounded like something I could even come up with myself. The guitar riffs were back again loud and the band enjoyed it. The rest of the world seemed to enjoy it too and listened in awe.
This was one of the greatest surprises ever. I already fell in love with Discouraged Ones several months before getting this, but I could never imagine how good would this follow-up be. Neither could the rest of the world.
The cover art was the most beautiful I've ever seen. Every song and lyric were followed by a photo and everything was so picturesque in a bleak and moody way and fitted so good one with the other you simply couldn't listen to the songs without visualizing those photos (after seeing them only once while listening to the music).
For My Demons, I Am Nothing, A Darkness Coming - all highlights. This Punishment was this perfect miniature that reminded of both Jeff and Tim Buckley, on some Portishead trip with a Gilmouresque touch on that Anders' Gibson lead with phaser pedal turned on.
Tonight's Decision was often described as the Sweden's answer to The Cure, but to me it was just pure liquid melancholy at its finest. Plus I had another favorite band to follow.
Wow. This album really fucked me up.
It was impossible to imagine what would these Norwegian weirdos come up with, especially after masterpiece that Omnio was. This was a difficult record. Not only for the band but for the audience as well. Everything was deeper and heavier than the last time. Long gone were the washes of distorted guitars - not that they were gone completely, but they reformed from waves into blasts on this one. Strange In Stereo had the intimacy that Omnio couldn't have. If the Omnio was a teenager growing to an adolescent era, then the Stereo was this serious man being fucked every day by his job he didn't like, wife he didn't have and emotions he couldn't hide.
Jan Transit's voice was something truly unique. Synne Soprana's voice followed. The lyrics were probably the best I ever read, considering those battles of hate, self-pity and yearnings to be loved, that were blooming in the insides within a man.
I got shivers whenever I put Closing In. In fact, I still do. Cell and Basement Corridors were those experimental pieces with cello, background noise (piano?) and Synne Soprana's strong soprano yell drowned in cigarette smoke. That was the first time I actually payed attention to the background noise and how the emptiness of a room, the no-sound if you like, could create the specific sound too. (what is addiction in the absence of drug / what is grey without the presence of white?)
The monumental highlight of the album was Generally More Worried Than Married, marrying (sic) My Dying Bride kind of wailing leads, Anathema-like clean guitars, the overall atmosphere of the good old prog and uncomfortable presence of comets in the attic (that would be Jan Transit's voice).
Strange In Stereo was a record so special you'd be able to both love it and hate it at the same time, but quite sure you could never ever feel indifferent to it. They say the same thing about geniuses as well.
4. Tiamat - Skeleton Skeletron (Century Media)
I was a bit shocked when this one came out. I loved Tiamat so much but I wasn't prepared for this one.
Not that Skeleton was a bad record, cause it wasn't. It was great in its own way, but the shift they made was very unexpected. I guess they got fed up so much with the experimental stuff they did in the past, they must have stopped doing mushrooms, only to discover alcohol. It was cheaper I guess and more easy to get. The music got more straightforward and the lead guitarist Thomas Petersson (who played on The Astral Sleep, Clouds and A Deeper Kind Of Slumber) was out of the band, making Tiamat only a three-piece.
The band's imagery got a bit weird too, as they left the Inca style body-paint-glowing-in-the-dark (they were wearing it at the Dynamo '97 and it looked great. Not that I was there but saw some clips) and changed it for some Germany approved PVC. Ugh.
The music got more guitar-based, the songs lost the experimental edge and got more focus on the verse/chorus style. The gothic-ness of Sisters Of Mercy I never liked but it seemed it was working for Tiamat, as the first single Brighter Than The Sun was an awesome track. The simplicity of the songs worked in some weird way too, as it was interesting to hear what was the core of this band after abandoning all the effects, layers of stuff the previous two albums were swimming in. To Have And Have Not, For Her Pleasure and Best Friend Money Can Buy were my favourites, although the closing Lucy was not only about acid and/or the prostitute, it was one of the darker Tiamat songs ever made as well (resembling a bit of Undressed and A Deeper Kind Of Slumber).
This was still Tiamat after all and being a fanboy as I were, I could only bow to them once again. I was also completely puzzled about what could they possibly do after this. Well, the patience was the mother of all wisdom, they said.
Another wow. Wow-wow! I didn't expect this. This was the kind of record I always wanted to hear - music played on acoustic guitars with nylon strings. With a dark imagery of some kind.
There's a funny story about this album also. You know that feeling when you discover a new album you love so much, you have to tell everybody about it and share it with everyone. Well, I was in high school and I wanted to introduce a friend to Anathema. He was into Type O Negative at the time, so we swapped tapes. He brought me Bloody Kisses and I brought him a dubbed tape with Alternative 4 on it. However, the B side of the tape had Where At Night The Wood Grouse Plays on it. The next day we were on the break in school and I asked him, so how did you like Anathema?, and he was all like MAAAAAAAAAAAAN this Empyrium is the best stuff I ever heard in my entire life!!!!
This album could be described as acoustic folk, with some touches of goth. Pastoral themes and paganish vibe could be noticed too. They even went far enough in their nature loving by putting the save the planet - kill yourself! statement in the booklet and printing it on recycled paper. That didn't lower the quality of the music though. The title track, Dying Brokenhearted and Many Moons Ago were the obvious highlights, although the instrumental parts such as Wehmut and Abendrot were my favourites too. The acoustic guitars were accompanied by the choir and occasional flute. Where At Night The Wood Grouse Plays was a great record, the only pity was that it lasted for barely thirty-two minutes.
This was such a lovely record. After discovering Empyrium I was checking out all the other bands on Prophecy label because they all kind of shared the same (or rather similar) vision/ideology. Tenhi were next on the list.
When I heard Empyrium were doing this acoustic record I imagined it to sound exactly like this. But Empyrium were stripped down to acoustics and the vocals only and Tenhi had the drums, the bass, both acoustic guitars, violin and a piano.
The cover was also one of the most beautiful there was. The music was so warm and cold at the same time; the warmness of the songs provided some tears being shed only to be left frozen right away like those thousand hundreds of foggy lakes of Finland's December.
Huomen (Morrow) and Lauluni Sinulle (Mavourneen's Song) were the best examples, although all eight tracks were masterpieces of their own. This was the ultimate acoustic/ambient record with these guys singing in their native Finnish, something that made Kauan more exotic and secretly distant. This was the ultimate December/January record for all the fans of dark ambient music, who loved In The Woods' Heart Of The Ages and Ulver's Kveldssanger.
I loved this one. They evolved so much from their previous one, and not only Juhani learned to sing in tune - he sang perfectly. There was no doubt that Plaintive Scenes was much influenced by Arcturus' La Masquerade Infernale, though the interesting thing was that Arcturus had black metal roots incorporated in their vision of prog and avantgarde, and Yearning came from the doom milieu.
All eight songs were highlights and I liked the weirdness and the solemnity of the record so much I lent this album to all my friends. Soon enough everybody seemed to enjoy it as well - Yeqy, Milan, Lazar and the people around Consecration.
Naïveté was the opener and the doomiest track as well. Unwritten was pure prog with lots of Jethro Tull moments and twisted harmonies sang. Soliloquy II had this amazing drunk-vocal-solo that Yeqy and myself were always singing when bored while traveling to some venue to play. The guitar effects were also nice to discover because there were so many.
Too bad they went to more straightforward gothic metal after this one because the prog skills this band had were the one to watch. Juhani died in May this year (2010) and this album will remain his best work to date and the legacy that showed doom and goth music could also be progressive as hell if the mastermind was creative enough.
8. Opeth - Still Life (Peaceville)
This was the third Opeth record I got in barely nine months. Maybe it was a bit too much at the time, though I loved this one as well.
The progression this band was making was incredible. With this one they sort of established the sound they would cherish in the future. So, this was a landmark album. But then again, it was only the beginning of this much loved Opeth style, so not everything fell completely into place on Still Life. The production and the arrangements weren't one hundred per cent awesome but the ideas... The ideas were amazing and everybody started wondering if Mikael was sleeping at all and where the hell would he find time to make up all those mighty riffs and delightful harmonies. Year after year Opeth showed with new albums that would always finish upping many metalheads' playlists at the end of the year and that wasn't an easy task at all.
Benighted and Face Of Melinda were those jazzy kind of ballads that everybody loved. But the riffs of Moonlapse Vertigo, The Moor and Serenity Painted Death were so convincing that Opeth were gaining fans all over the world. Finally. The guitar work of Mikael Akerfeldt got so complex and healthy at the same time I could only try to play some of the songs on my own. What a fail. I managed to play the first couple of bars of Benighted though...
I love Mike Patton. Everybody who knows me should know that by now, but after this year's Faith No More show at the Exit festival, it's become official.
Mr. Bungle was always Trey Spruance's and Patton's baby long before Mike was recruited from this band to Faith No More. Bill Gould (of Faith No More fame) and Mike both visited Serbia occasionally (there's a rumour that Mike's been in Belgrade in 1996-1997 during the students' protests but it was never confirmed) and they wrote the song Pristina (off Album Of The Year) while being on road trip through the Balkans.
Trey Spruance, Mr. Bungle's guitarist and mastermind, visited Belgrade this May while being on tour with Secret Chiefs 3. He loved it here and told us fanboys lots of Mr. Bungle/Faith No More insider stuff that we more than just enjoyed. Yup, we even drank rakija.
Trey told us it was funny that Warner Bros. even agreed to release this album and gave them budget for it, since the previous mindfuck of an album, Disco Volante, didn't sell as much as Warner wanted and was released four years prior to this one. They recorded California on tapes and three times twenty-four tracks were used in total. That would be seventy-two tracks. Wow! The funny thing was that it was in and cool to have a remix track at that time for the charts, so some Warner-something-executive came to the studio while they were doing mixdowns for Retrovertigo. The guy wanted to take the unfinished mix, only to give it to some DJ to do a remix it, but only someone who was hot at that time, at the charts during that week. It was nonsense, especially concerning band like Mr. Bungle. Trey was like, you know what, this song isn't even finished yet and once we put a final mixdown for this, we'd never connect three mixing consoles, tapes and everything, there's no way we'd connect/line all that again for your shitty remix thing. Thank God there wasn't any dance remix to Retrovertigo. Then again, the perverted side of me would just love to hear something like that. Oh well.
Patton and the crew liked Serbian traditional music long before Faith No More played Ajde Jano at this year's Exit festival. They proved it on this very album by doing such masterpiece track such as Ars Moriendi. That track was also a newborn seed for some sick ideas Patton would use later in Fantomas. It was the highlight of the album with infected yet uncountable rhythms and harmonic thrillers Mr. Bungle were always loved for. Other songs were great as well - you simply couldn't but not end up loving every track there was on California.
There was this great evening maybe a year ago when Sana, Matija and I were coming back from a pub. We were heavily drunk on whatever alcohol and Sana at some point just played California from her mobile. Soon enough we found some fucked up chair standing in the middle of the street, so we used it as a stool for the mobile. We sang (well, yelled) from the bottom of our lungs all the lyrics, all three of us at two in the morning. Song after song it was not just singing - there were air guitars, air drums and all the unusual sounds used on the album sang/voiced by the three of us. It was after that so fulfilled evening (during the morning hangover actually) I realized how great this record's impact was, not on just only me, but on all of us friends.
So the next year's plan would be to travel to San Francisco to meet all the guys we met at that Secret Chiefs 3 show, only to party... For all eternity.
This was a motherfucker of a record. I knew the band for some time already, since my brother got Souls At Zero on vinyl couple of years earlier. But Terrorizer writers had this one voted #1 on 1999 list, so I was curious to check out where did the band go/evolve from the last time I heard them.
I was never into hardcore stuff or anything similar. This wasn't hardcore in any way, although some of the roots could still be audible on Times Of Grace. Neurosis were never kind of band that abandoned their roots - quite the contrary. This was a mix of everything crushing, be it metal, hardcore, psychedelic industrial, whatever. There was so much fire on this record I thought Steve Albini was lucky enough those bastards didn't torch his whole studio to the ground. Yup, the anger of this record was that convincing.
The Doorway remained a favourite to this day, although End Of The Harvest was also a strong one with the triple vocal attack of Steve Von Till, Scott Kelly, and the bassist Dave. I have to say I'd rate this album much higher in the list before, yet for all the nostalgic reasons I have, the other albums went higher instead. Neurosis got some more masterpieces after this one, that would affect me stronger, and on Times Of Grace they were only showing glimpses of what would come later and all the stuff that was just waiting to get unleashed.
11. My Dying Bride - The Light At The End Of The World (Peaceville)
12. Arcturus - Disguised Masters (Jester)
Such a great album and such underrated band. I found out about this weird Norwegian combo a couple of years later actually. They started showing up with names such as Katatonia, My Dying Bride or Ulver, making an alternative kind of transition from doom band with trombone to a Swans-like band with jazzy Morphine-like atmosphere... And a trombone. I heard the Cigarette first on some Peaceville sampler I got with one of the Terrorizer issues. Not exactly sure what was the thing that charmed me so much. When I met Pera couple of years later I found out he was a fan and he lent me the whole album.
The atmosphere was melancholic and magical and the voice resembled Michael Gira a bit. The minimalism and the looseness of the instruments had a great impact on the album as a whole. What I also liked a lot was the moment when I discovered that a distorted guitar lead with tremolo and delay in the ending chorus of Certain Qualities sounded exactly like a lead off The Gathering's How To Measure A Planet - it is always nice knowing you and the band you're listening to do like the same bands. Electric Sulking Machine was a rare diamond and too bad it was so unnoticed.