Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 - Year in Review and Best Of

The time has come to call 2014 to a close. It may not seem like a lot, but 2014 was my first year really diving into writing and I do have quite a bit to show for it. For my blog here – this was its first full year online - I wrote three really great essays. The TSIDMZ album Ungern von Sternberg Khan essay kicked the year off really strong and I got to meet a lot of new people because of it. Afterwards came my Allerseelen Pedra CD essay which I am very proud of, seeing as how many of the songs on it are now getting re-releases and more attention as they rightly deserve. I’d like to think that just maybe, I played a tiny role in that. And finally my Changes portion of the Changes / Andrew King split album, as my on going Terra Fria retrospective tries to take shape. Like the Allerseelen essay, I like to think I really spotlighted a forgotten album.

I’ll confess to have bitten off more than I can chew, and I am writing three essays simultaneously for publications here: Ex Libris by Verney 1826, Blood is the Food of the Gods by MARS and Ride the Tiger by Changes. My hope is to complete these as early as possible in 2015. The bibliography I am consulting for these CDs is vast, so writing them will be challenging, but in the end I think very academic. I am hoping to learn a lot from these essays too.

Outside of my Heilige Tod blog, I just got published in a true academic anthology. I wrote an essay called “Permission to Kill: Exploring Italy’s 1960s Eurospy Phenomenon, Impact and Legacy” that was included in the book James Bond and Popular Culture: Essays on the Influence of the Fictional Superspy published by McFarland. I have now experienced the feeling of getting published and I am bloodthirsty for more. I also had an academic review published in the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics about the book Drawn of Dangerous: Italian Comics of the 1970s and 1980s. More information about my essay can be found at my official website at and my review can be previewed here: .

So to end this blog for 2014, I’ll take a cue from many other pop culture webzines and blogs by highlighting this past year. Many music-oriented websites offer a “best of
 for a year, which can most certainly be fun, so I’ll follow suit with this article, but I’m going to do things slightly differently for this….

Heilige Tod – 2014 Music In Review

In 2014, no different than any other year, I bought a lot of music. I’d like to homage all the releases that were actually released in 2014 in this review and highlight something positive for each one. In the end I’ll spotlight what I feel were the best three releases of 2014.

However, there are some things that need to be illuminated. As stated, I bought (or in some cases was gifted) a lot of music in 2014, and many of them were albums released years prior. Although I can’t include them as part of this line up, I do want to give praise to them since they were truly amazing albums and I discovered new bands and new friends with them:

Andrew King – Deus Ignotus (2011)
AWEN – The Bells Before Dawn (2010)
Changes – A Ripple in Time (2013)
Changes – Ride the Tiger (2013)
David E. Williams – Trust No Scaffold Built of This Bone (2013)
Har Belex – Time Does not Forgive (2013)
Honey Ltd. – The Complete LHI Recordings (2013)
Verney 1826 – Ex Libris (2013)

These by far are my favourite acquisitions from prior years procured this year and I want to acknowledge their greatness. I also must note I just ordered AWEN’s Grim King of the Ghosts, which will not make it in time for this article, but if The Bells Before Dawn is any indication, I know it will be amazing.

For albums, vinyls, EPs, etc. actually released in 2014, I have twenty one. This includes releases outside the genre this blog focuses on – including technical death metal, adult pop, EBM, etc. If I excluded such releases, I’d probably only have 10 releases and that simply isn’t substantial enough for an article here.

All of my CDs/Records/Cassettes from 2014

For the twenty one releases, I’ll group into broad genre categories. Within each category, I’ll name the release and highlight positives aspects or particular songs from each I like. Finally, I’ll end the article with my top three favourite releases of 2014 from that pool of 21. I know Heilgie Tod is still really new, lacking a real body of work and ergo it hasn’t quite established itself as a credible resource for music quite yet, but I do hope this recap does its duty to highlight and give some accolades to the releases of 2014.

Black Ambient, Black Metal, Dungeon Synth, Tech Metal

Guardians of the Rings, autographed by Alex (Uruk-Hai), Jaron (Ringbearer) and Elliott (Onyx)

Guardians of the Rings is an ambitious 2 disc set showcasing 4 bands from the black ambient, black metal, and dungeon-synth genres: Uruk-Hai, Onyx, Ringbearer, and Black Jade, united under a Tolkien theme.

Uruk-Hai is the veteran band of the four, bringing some marquee value to this 4-way split album. Uruk-Hai has perfected the Tolkien black ambient/black metal sound for years, and their 4 songs on this split showcase the formula perfectly. “Ring of Water” is one of the standout tracks, with a nice magical, crystalline feel to it, but “Gothmog” brings up the more cavernous and adventurous sound. Great music to run a Dungeons and Dragons campaign to.

Black Jade is a band I was not familiar with, so the songs here where my first exposure to the project. The male vocals are not 100% my thing, being the growling vocals common in black metal, but the presence of some bit-pop/chiptune elements and female vocals on “Awake!” are an expected but awesome surprise. The music itself is really nice, bordering on adventure metal, but the black metal vocals will definitely win that crowd over.

The Canadian Ringbearer project, headed by Jaron Evil of Archspire and Funeral Fornication, is present and continues to evolve their Tolkien sound that they began to showcase on their album The Way is Shut. Ringbearer also brings four tracks to the album, with some great production values, with “The People of Numenor” being the best of the lot with a grandiose sound with “Shards of Narsil” being their second best track.

Onyx is the newcomer band to the scene, having just started in 2013, flirting with a dungeon-synth sound. The songs a bit more minimal than the other three bands, emulating some of classic video game soundtracks of which the project draws much inspiration from. For example, I’m really drawn to “Leaves on the Forest Floor”, it has a hypnotic quality to it that sounds like temple music from a JRPG (I am thinking Raja’s Temple from Phantasy Star IV). Legend of the Master Ring also sounds like epic fantasy music with a hint of video game RPG touches to it, and comes off sounding well executed.

Onyx - III and Warcraft

Aside from appearing on Guardians of the Rings, Onyx also had two other albums released on Cassette, III and Warcraft. Warcraft I want to underscore because, not only does it overtly contain the video game themes I eluded to above, but it also has photography on the cassette sleeve done by my girlfriend Michele, and both Jaron Evil and I appear on the song “Kalimdor”. I was a nice opportunity to write some Warcraft inspired lyrics and do them spoken word style for this release, and the end result sounds really cool. I’m really proud and grateful to be asked to contribute and keep hoping Onyx finds more and more success.

Archspire - The Lucid Collective
Jaron Evil from Ringbear is actually involved in a more mainstream project, the technical death metal band Archspire. I had never dove into the world of technical death metal, but after listening to this album and a few others of a similar ilk (listening to Suffocation’s Effigy of the Forgotten off YouTube), the genre is intense! The vocals are of the growling variety, much like black metal, so not 100% my thing, but the music proper of The Lucid Collective, is insane. The music is very fast and almost video game sounding. The drums sound like machine guns going off. Vocal non-withstanding, I really dig the music, and the song “Join Us Beyond” being my favourite track off the album. The album definitely makes me want to check out even more technical death metal bands.

Neofolk and Dark Folk

Backsaddling, autographed by Lloyd James

Lloyd James’ Naevus project was strong this year, with a few concert appearances and released, including this beautiful 7” vinyl, Backsaddling. Naevus releases always stand out due to their artwork, done by Lloyd himself in an abstract and fun style. The 7” gatefold sleave with lyrics and pictures, this was a well to do effort. The vinyl has 4 tracks, and fans of Lloyd’s spoken word pieces on Kirlian Camera’s Black Summer Choirs will love the opening track “Up a Hill”. However the two best tracks are “Aria/Acqua” and “Ego” which highlight Lloyd’s trademark serious voice but with accompanying neofolk-pop music that Naevus has perfected over the years.

Blood is the Food of the Gods, autographed by Marcus S.

Blood is the Food of the Gods is one of the MARS releases in 2014 and it’s epic. Think of the sounds of the American act Lux Interna, but make the words more repetitive/ritualistic and way less etheral and a more darker edge, and you’ll have Blood is the Food of the Gods. Effort was put into packaging for this release – a nice digipack with custom artwork from the artist Nadine and plenty of lyrics to follow along. This album will be covered more extensively in a future article on this blog, but I wanted to highlight my favourite song off of it, “The Cyclic Law”. This song is dark, brooding and epic – it recalls “Electricity” by Blood Axis in its powerful delivery.

Novemthree's Renewing

Novemthree’s Renewing is a curio of a release, as this is a re-release from 2012 and the project was taken monies for it years ago to have it come out – a Kickstarter without the Kickstarter. I had nearly forgotten about this release until it randomly arrived in the mail. The packing is unique, a thick paperstock with pockets to hold the CD, a cool patch and an insert. The music is of the forest-folk variety, along the In Gowan Ring style, with natural noises present, such as chirping birds. “Autumn Procession” is a good song that recalls the original Wicker Man and has a ritualistic feeling to it. The best song though is “Sing of Beauty” which has the best vocal delivery and a good folk sound.

Neoclassical and Military Pop

Ordo Fratrum Minorum - signed by Lionel to both my girlfriend and I

Hot on the heels of Verney 1826’s elegant album Ex Libris last year, (stay tuned to this blog for a write up on its literary tropes), comes a single, Ordo Fratrum Minorum – The Remixes, probably the most humbling and serious CD I received this year. The song, “Ordo Fratrum Minorum” is about the Polish friar Maximilian Kolbe, who while imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp, volunteered to take the place of a prisoner that was being sent to be starved. This song is Verney 1826’s tribute to the self sacrificing priest, and this single has many remixes of the song from such popular acts as MARS, Schattenspiel, and The Victim’s Ball. The “Dave Foreman Remix” gives the song a dancy quality, while the female vocals on the “Starchasm Version” give it a new age, almost Enigma-like sound.

The Lupi Gladius album, also autographed to me

Lupi Gladius, a side project of many members of the Italian electro-band Hidden Place, releases their official debut album proper with Veritas, and showcases a much better sound than they presented on their prior EP, Lucania. The album is less “minimal-military” pop and instead has a higher production value and more complex sounds and more instruments, such as accordions and violins. This has parallels to that of Derniere Volonte, which went from a minimal-military pop to the more robust outfit it is now. One of my favourite tracks is “Nel Vento”, which trades the martial sounds for a neofolk sound, and adds the lush vocals of Sara Lux in a guest appearance.

Eurasian Artists Association

Barbarossa Umtrunk and Sonnenkind

While I do not agree with the politics, philosophies or the various anti-Western/Zionism/globalism/democracy/etc-etc. of the Eurasian Artists Association, the movement has generated some talented and noteworthy artists and releases. For 2014 I got copies of La Fosse De Babel by the French martial project Barbarossa Umtrunk and Eulenspiegels Wiederkehr by the German folk project Sonnenkind. Umtrunk brings their heavy martial might combined with their trademark usage of political speeches and rallies. The haunting rhythm and beautiful female vocals of “In Bashar We Trust” makes this the best song on this album, with “Syria” and its samples of protesters a close second. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Sonnenkind brings a more romantic approach to the neofolk scene. The majority of the songs on their album sound both serene and wistful, with “Goldener Herbst” and “Der Wunsch Des Alten” being my favourites off the album.

Die Neue Runde

The limited edition version of Fahl's The Halls of the Dead

The Eurasian Artists were not the only collective hard at work in 2014, as the German Die Neue Runde collective saw two new releases as well. Scene staple Sagittarius released an extremely limited CD called Fragmente IV: Abraxas. This release was to commemorate a rare live performance of Sagittarius on August 30th in Leipzig this past summer. The other DNR project, Fahl, released their second album The Halls of the Dead in both limited and unlimited version on Lichterklang. Fahl unfortunately went the Der Blutharsch route, and didn’t give any of their tracks titles. The album is a well done in the spoken word style, with ominious, dark and brooding ambient soundscapes in the background. However, the greatest event to happen with the relation to the DNR circle is the return of Marcel P. to music making. Marcel, who has been somewhat out of commission for a while now, has been making a triumphant comeback with his presence on both of these albums.

Electronic, EBM, Pop

Lost Inside a Dream dedicated to me by Miss Kitty

There are two newcomers to the music scene within these genres, Shaena Stabler with her Stay EP and Miss Kitty with her Lost Inside a Dream EP.

For Miss Kitty, this EP is not only her debut release, but also the debut release of the new S.P.Q.R. MMXIV label ran by Lionel Verney of Verney 1826 and Sven Phalanx of Schattenspiel. Lost Inside a Dream highlights prior released material that Miss Kitty had appeared on, tracks for both Schattenspiel and Verney 1826, such as the masterfully composed dark-pop song “Good Morning Sick World” which had originally appeared on the Schattenspiel album Aus Dem Dunkel… However for new and exclusive tracks, “Seelenschmerz” takes the prize as a great club-friendly track that is good for boot stomping and butt shaking. It wish my wish that both Miss Kitty and this new label find even more success in 2015.

Tourdeforce is a project by Chris R. from the Italian duo Porta Vittoria. While PV focuses on their particular brand of Mediterranean-pop, Tourdeforce takes a more electronic approach, with forays into synthpop and futurepop. Their album, Jedem Das Seine, has some incredible catchy and dancy numbers, such as “History is Written by the Winners”. On “Adolf Hitler Platz”, Lisa P., also from Porta Vittoria, makes an appearance and adds an emotive, feminine charm to the song. The best song on the album is “Human Geometries”, which has a great BPM and is a frequent song I listen to while jogging. Of special note for this album, I am listed as a music consultant in the credits (I only did spelling and grammar checking!), but I am very humbled to be included and it is a personal highlight for sure.

Tourdeforce and Perturbator

The French dark-synth project Perturbator has really taken off and I totally caught that train. Their album Dangerous Days is nearly perfect. The cover artwork captures perfectly what many horror films of the 80s that flirted with occult-computers (Evilspeak anyone?) tried to do. The imagery is both techno-denomic and sexy, but it pales in comparison to the music which is superb, which is a great blend of dark-synth and 80ies inspired underground techno. Another way to put it, this is the album that synth musicians in the 80s, if given today’s technology and know-how, would’ve have aspired to make.

Noise and Sounds

Orlandini's Annullamento

Valerio Orlandini is an Italian music composer that flirts with noise, industrial and ambient noises. I had first come across his music via his appearance on the TSIDMZ album Ungern von Sternberg Khan, which he allowed me to ask him questions for. He released a limited number of physical copies of his Annullamento album in the spring time which I plucked up. The songs are very much in the vein harsh-ambient vein, and there are rhythmic charms on tracks such as “Rituale Della Nascite” and my favourite track which sounds like the backgound of a spooky video game, “Crasi Di Corpi”

Nylon Crimes surrounded by artifacts from my personal collection

Another Italian act is Macelleria Mobile Di Mezzanotte (aka MMM), who released the vinyl album Nylon Crimes this year. Nylon Crimes is their homage to various Italian noise acts of the 1990s, with covers of bands such as Atrax Morgue and Sado Vision. The sexy stocking clad legs on the cover drew me to the release, but the presence of Lisa P. from Porta Vittoria on the track “High Heels Inside my Throat” solidified my desire to procure the album. The success of this album surely must have promoted Dwight Holly of MMM to start his own label, Signora Ward records, which focuses on hard and brutal noise combined with the imagery of stockings and nylons – an endeavor I whole heartily support!

Lacrimae Mundi, autographed by Miljenko Rajakovic. 

The best release of this genre in 2014, hands down, is Lacrimae Mundi by the Croatian band Tehôm. I had heard of this album from my friend Thor who had written the linear notes to the album’s digipack. Because of his involvement, I decided to get a copy of the album directly from Miljenko himself, and I am glad I did. The cover art is spooky and ominious and matches the music well. This is dark and atompshereic ambient at its finest – the linear notes, the sounds, and the imagery all go hand in hand for a surreal aurual experience. The music is unnerving, and songs like “Modality of Cosmic Matter” gives one goosebumps just listening to it.

Top Three Albums of 2014

Those were the twenty one albums of 2014, so of that lot, what do I consider my top three picks of this past year? This is hard, since each album (as shown above) is meritable in their own right, but also over the past year(s) I’ve made friends with many of these folks, so I must make sure not to let that affect my judgment. With that in consideration, what follows is my top 3 releases of this past year, three releases I want to underscore and give praise and accolades to.

#3 – Sagittarius – Fragment IV: Abraxas

Fragment IV: Abraxas

Cornelius Walder’s Sagittarius project is one of the hardest working projects in the neofolk/neoclassical scene and Fragment IV: Abraxas is testament to the project’s longevity. The CD may not contain an album’s worth of material, but it’s a welcome release to bridge the gap between Sagittarius’ last album The Kingdom Come in 2012, and their upcoming spoken word album Diaspora in 2015.

The EP starts off with an intro track, piano keys played by Cornelius’ cat Satako. It’s an amusing track, giving smiles to cat lovers like myself. The rest of the EP however is pure piano-driven bliss, the neoclassical sound that Sagittarius has honed and perfected. The piano-cello combination on “Im Morgen-taun” is a slower, sombre piece while the following track, “Runde Wolke Treibt Im Blauen”, picks up speed with a more lush sounding piano. It’s easily the best track on the EP.

“Invticus” is a reading of imfamous William Ernest Henley poem, with precise, powerful spoken words that still flows with a rhythm with the music. It’s a great interpreation of the poem, and my hope deep down is that Sagittarius someday will do a reading of a different William Ernest Henley poem (and my favourite of his), “Villon’s Straight Tip to All Cross Coves”. The EP finishes off with an excellent piano instrumental called “Rites of Love”.

This EP, not only is a testament of Sagittaruis, but also (as stated above), to the resolve of Marcel P., one of the biggest, but rarely awknowledged, pillars of the neofolk scene. I hope this EP is a triumph to both.

#2 – Shaena Stabler – Stay

Stay autographed by Shaena

Catching me completely off guard as this EP is way outside my genre, Stay by Shaena Stabler is an extremely guilty pleasure that I happened upon this year. I had discovered Shaena quite by accident on Facebook, as a mutual friend had liked her music (a note to all the folks out there who need more proof that social media is a good way to get your music out). I took a random chance to watch/listen to her music video for “Run Away” and was immediately smitten. Her debut was just released in September this year, which I plucked up immediately. I was hooked on the adult-pop sounds of her EP, which were both emotive and catchy, with my favourite song being “Children of the Night”, but “Stay” and “Run Away” being contenders for my second favourite track.

I would go on to see Shaena perform twice over the next few months at the Hotel Café in LA and at the Mozambique in Laguna, and it was refreshing to be able to go to a concert without some negative foible happening, as my last concert had been to see ROME perform in Riverside in the boiling basement under a Yoga studio. The production values of the EP are no doubt due to the presence of Ken Caillat, known for his work with Fleedwood Mac, an important note since Stevie Nicks has an influence on Shaena.

It may not be neofolk or industrial, but it’s a damn fine release and I am looking forward to Shaena’s sophomore release. We all have guilty pleasures, and I am not ashamed to say this one is mine.

#1 – MARS – MARS Presents the Trail

The Trail, autographed by Marcus S. 

2014 was a prolific year for MARS, with the release of their Blood is the Food of the Gods album, numerous concert appearances, their remix on the Verney 1826 Ordo Fratrum Minorum single, and finally this concept album, MARS Presents: The Trail.

The Trail is quite simply phenomenal. The packaging is a hardcover digipack with original artwork from the artist Nadine and photos of Marcus and Oli. The lyrical songs are decent, with the best vocal track being their rendition of the traditional song “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”. However the true powerhouse of this album are the numerous instrumental, non-vocal tracks: “Salt Lake”, “the Scavengers”, “Redemption”, “Sand Creek”, The Plains”, “Canyon Passage”, “One Knot of Grass” and “Blood Meridian III”.

The presence of all the instrumentals is elaborated in the linear notes for the album, that The Trail was born out of the idea of creating a soundtrack to the Cormac McCarthy book Blood Meridian, with numerous influences from spaghetti westerns, in particular the music of Ennio Morricone. If capturing these sounds was the intent, it was not only succeeded in spades, but went above in beyond. To me, the album recalls the many, many nights I spent playing the video game Red Dead Redemption, and the many hours spent ingame on horse back wandering the countryside. The full night sky, the coyotes, the Joshua Trees; the game was extremely submersive, and in a true videogame fashion, I as the player am submerged. The Trail, though it draws its cinema tropes, actually succeeds in this endeavor as well. Alone with my headphones on listening to The Trail, I am just as submerged in the created western world. Both Read Dead Redemption and The Trail succeed at making the player/listener their own protagonist in a neo-noir-western setting.

Neo-noir-western is an apt term to describe the sounds of The Trail. The ritual sounds from MARS’ previous album, Blood is the Food of the Gods, is present, but subdued. The western sounds here are not the classic cowboys and Indians of the John Wayne era, but of a darker, brooding variety. These are the feelings one would get watching the noir-western Unforgiven or the more contemporary neo-noir-western No Country For Old Men, also by McCarthy.

This isn’t just an album. It’s also a collector’s item, a journey and an experience.