2015-05-22

Two decades ago: 1995 in retrospect

I always used to look back at 1995 as the year for me when it came to some of my favourite albums released. But how do I view this year now that I'm all grown up and boring? Has some of my favourite albums really aged that well or should I be butt-smashed for my inferior taste? Let's find out...

Anathema - The Silent Enigma
This used to be one my absolute favourite albums and I totally get why. I had just recently discovered this sort of metal but doom was still to slow for my taste. What this album does, is standing with one foot in doom metal and the other being firmly placed in the band's future, with more dreamlike atmosphere and (somewhat) faster pace. Though this is still really slow music and it honestly hasn't aged very well, especially Vincent's vocals which I find tedious at some points, though far from being bad.

Recommended track: When I do spin this album, it's always the first two and the last two tracks that gets any playtime. So I could choose either of those, but right now I'll go for the monumental "A Dying Wish".

Arckanum - Fran Marder
I didn't discover Arckanum until 2008's "Antikosmos", but this is where it all started. This is evil-sounding black metal that still somehow manages to be very nature romantic and atmospheric at the same time. It's very lo-fi (obviously) but intended to sound like that as well, so that's nothing to complain about. Had I heard this back in -95 I would probably have shat my pants in terror. Also, gotta love that album cover.

Recommended track: "Gava Fran Trulen" is a classic of course, but my favourite is easily the mid-tempo paced "Trulmælder" with it's weird female vocals in the chorus.

Arcturus - Aspera Hiems Symfonia
Symphonic black metal it is then. I've always considered this debut album from Arcturus to be more of a youthful reminder of the band's past rather than a real album that fits into the band's avantgarde-discography. Lately I've come to revise that opinion a bit. It sounds very early 90's in it's style and execution and if it weren't for the vocals and the odd Arcturusisms here and there, one could easily mistake this for an early album by Emperor or a later album from Dimmu Borgir. Thankfully Garm's vocals easily beats both Ihsahn's and Shagrath's, that's for sure. Some parts of this album I really like, some I don't. Simple as that.

Recommended track: Although I prefer the re-recorded version from "Disguised Masters" (1999), "Du Nordavind" is still the best track here.

At the Gates - Slaughter of the Soul
If there's just one album that deserves the term classic, it's probably "Slaughter of the Soul". I like the album for what it is, even though the music could have been a bit more varied. But it's a melodic thrash/death-extravaganza with endless smash-hits and it still sounds relevant today. Legendary album is legendary if you know what I mean?

Recommended track: I have to chose only one? Oh, fuck it! Then I'll just go with the title track then. I love that song.


Darkthrone - Panzerfaust
I'm ducking before incoming shitstorms and evil fists as I'm writing these words, but to me, "Panzerfaust" is the epitome in the discography of Darkthrone. Here, all the previous elements came into fruition; sheer aggression, atmosphere, melody and vocal delivery. It is obviously a lo-fi production, but they're thankfully not going all "Transilvanian Hunger" (1994) on us. It's clear that the band had grown up a bit when they recorded "Panzerfaust" compared to the previous albums. If you've never cared particularly for Darkthrone earlier, try this album and it just might change your mind. It sure did for me.

Recommended track: For me, there are three tracks that are outstanding on this album; "En Vind Av Sorg", "The Hordes of Nebulah" and "Hans Siste Vinter" - try them all.

Dissection - Storm of the Light's Bane
Another classic melodic black metal album. It took me years of neglect and scorn before I finally realized just how good of an album "Storm of the Light's Bane" is. Jon might have been a satanic madman and an accomplice to murder, but by Satan how gifted he was when it came to writing memorable melodies and all things considered catchy. Sprinkled by his spitting voice of razor blades, this is album is to melodic black metal what "Slaughter of the Soul" was to melodic death metal - a real classic!

Recommended tracks: All are classics (except for the intro and outro of course), but the one that always makes the hair on my arms stand is "Retribution: Storm of the Light's Bane".

In the Woods... - HEart of the Ages
I never liked this album when I bought it back in the days and I still don't today. The music can best be described as melodic black metal with dreamlike atmospheres, avantgarde-elements and insane screams that really destroys whatever feeling could've been. Except for the title track which I still count as a very good song to this day. This band was so much better when they focused on clean vocals, which they thankfully figured out themselves when they released "Ominio" in 1997. That album is great. This one isn't.

Recommended track: As I wrote, the title track is really all that matters.

Iron Maiden - The X Factor
I'm not actually the best person when it comes to discussing Iron Maiden, especially during the Blaze-era. But hey, it always pisses someone off so why don't take a shot right? To put it blunt, Bruce outsings Blaze in every way possible, but since everybody already knows that, what else should I say? Well, it's a dark album, at least in Maiden-measurements so I get why a vocalist with a lower register than Bruce's was considered for this album. Musically, Iron Maiden has done a shitload of way better albums than this and everyone knows that as well. It's far from a disaster though, I just wonder why anyone in their right mind would rather listen to this than "Piece of Mind" (1983), "Powerslave" (1984) or "Somewhere in Time" (1986)?

Recommended track: Well, the single  "Man on the Edge" has cool melodies but is totally ruined by Blaze's vocal melodies. "Sign of the Cross" is a much better song and has an epic feel to it, but would probably have been better with Bruce anyway.

IsengardHøstmørke
Folk metal in it's purest form, without any flutes or violins. I am pretty sure all the songs here are Darkthrone-leftovers that were considered too melodic for said band. Fenriz's nationalistic vein really shows here, and he is dangerously close to drop over the ledge and go all cartoonish on us. Mostly he manages to balance on the edge and it's great on tracks such as "Neslepaks" and "Over De Syngende Øde Moer", but when his drunken vocals says 'Fuck you all!' over a monotone keyboard in "I Eí Gran Bortí Nordre Åsen", it is difficult to not start laughing out loud. As said, you have to appreciate "bad" vocals and lo-fi production in order to fully be able to digest "Høstmørke". I appreciate those things some days. Some days I just find it plain dumb.

Recommended track: The word "skapelsen" (creation) backwards is spelled "Neslepaks" - so there you go!

My Dying Bride - The Angel and the Dark River
I have listened to this album more times than can be considered healthy and thus, I know it inside out. To me, it certainly is a classic album, but I can understand why some people have a hard time accepting vocalist Aaron's weeping vocals and the lack of growls on a doom/death album. The band had here moved further from pure doom, even though most of the songs still are slow as hell, but they have added so much atmosphere it's almost ridiculous. This album bleeds atmosphere and even though it might sound a little dated today, it's nothing that removes the overall impact it had on me as a young boy. And the bride is still dying...

Recommended track: All songs except the utterly boring "Cry of Mankind" are great, especially the lovely "Two Winters Only" - that song is going to be in my life forever.

Mörk Gryning - Tusen År Har Gått
Another melodic black metal to the reaper. And melody is definitely the word to emphasize here. Mörk Gryning ("Dark Dawn" - yes, it sounds equally silly in Swedish) basically consisted of teenages at this time and it sometimes shows, even though I mostly am impressed by the songwriting quality on this debut album. "Tusen År Har Gått" is a solid work, but there were better melodic black metal albums released this year, for sure.

Recommended track: Sometimes, there's a reason why band's choose a certain track as the opener and this is no exception. "Journey" it is.

Storm - Nordavind
One guy who was exceptionally active in the year of 1995 was good old Fenriz. This is his third album on this retrospective list. Storm is basically a more "serious" version of Isengard, with less emphasis on black metal and even more nature romantic and nationalistic in sound. This is both good and bad, depending on what mood you're in. And why on earth is "Noregsgard" basically a folk-metal copy of Darkthrone's "Quintessence" from the album released the same year? Has no one ever asked Fenriz about this? Also, this album contains the classic anti-christian theme "Oppi Fjellet". Good for giggles.

Recommended track: I like most tracks here but choose "Villemann" if you're into Fenriz' drunkenness and "Langt Borti Lia" if you want to hear more from the beautiful voice of Kari Rueslåtten.

Theatre of Tragedy - Theatre of Tragedy
Once upon a time, I was a real sucker for all things gothic and metal combined and Theatre of Tragedy was a band that could fulfill just that. For one album at least. And I'm of course rambling on about their second album "Velvet Darkness They Fear" (1997) and no this debut. Both albums uses the same formula; male growls vs. weak female vocals (from the most overrated woman in metal) all based on a layer doom metal with loads and loads of keyboards, but the successor managed to take those ingredients and craft solid songs. This one has only two of those...

Recommended track: ...and those are "A Hamlet for a Slothful Vassal" and even more so, "Dying - I Only Feel Apathy".

Therion - Lepaca Kliffoth
This is another album that I was really into as young, but compared to the one just above here, I still listen to "Lepaca Kliffoth" on occasions. Sure, it sounds really dated when you listen to it in 2015, but I cannot deny that there are some really strong songs here. Also, I like this version of Therion the best - when they used keyboards instead of orchestras, when the vocals was a combo of Christoffer's semi-growls and Piotr's deep drunken voice. Some minor orchestrations and soprano vocals are found here, but they blend in so good with the rest of the music that it only adds flavour. This is basically keyboard-driven heavy metal with elements of gothic- and doom metal. Easily this band's best album.

Recommended track: I have loads of favourites here, but the winner has to be "Evocation of Vovin".

Ulver - Bergtatt - Et Eeventyr i 5 Capitler
Another album that is really considered a classic by many people. Not by me I tell you. I don't get that nature romantic feeling that I know they aimed for. To me, this mostly sounds like Dimmu Borgir's "Stormblåst" but with a lot of cringe-worthy clean vocals. It's mid-paced black metal that really isn't something special. At all. Sure, there are parts here and there that gives me hope for a minute or so, but then it's all destroyed by a tedious riff or boring melody. I don't get this album and I don't think that I ever will. Sorry, but Ulver and I will probably never be close friends.

Recommended track: Not really, but at least "Een Stemme Locker" is short, to the point and has beautiful acoustic guitars that reminds me of Empyrium's "Where at Night the Wood Grouse Plays" (1999). Check that album out instead!

Unanimated - Ancient God of Evil
Dissection and Mörk Gryning weren't the only Swedish bands that released melodic black metal albums this year. Naglfar did it as well. Oh, and Unanimated too. In reality, this perhaps borders a bit more on the melodic side of death metal but who cares. If you're familiar with any of the other bands I just wrote, then chances are good that you'll also enjoy "Ancient God of Evil" with it's amusing cover art. This is a quite uneven album in my opinion, with some amazing songs and some tracks that doesn't really feel finished.

Recommended track: "Life Demise" is a fucking classic (dat melody!) and you owe it to yourself to learn the lyrics and sing along. My favourite part is where he's supposed to sing the word 'visions' but end up clearly saying 'wisions'. So many Swedes have trouble with differentiating between v and w.

Okay, I am seriously off-topic now. But was 1995 really such a good album year that I've always considered it? I still have to say yes to that question. Some of the albums listed above are still large favourites for me and add to that Moonspell's amazing "Wolfheart" and Paradise Lost's breakthrough album "Draconian Times" (these two albums are scheduled to be dissected in other sections in the future and therefore wasn't listed here) and I'm even more sure. I thought of adding more albums that are considered classics, such as "Demanufacture" by Fear Factory, "Mandylion" by The Gathering, "Infidel Art" by Sigh and "Amok" by Sentenced, but I felt that I wasn't really qualified enough to write anything on those albums.

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