This section is "arty metal/metalgaze/Hydrahead/Southern Lord" -- if you've read this blog, you'd probably know exactly which bands.
When I saw Isis in concert this year, I mostly didn't know any of the songs I was hearing, due to the fact that I hadn't bought Wavering Radiant beforehand (I was planning on buying it at the show; it was sold out). I deeply regretted waiting so long, both because the show would have been more enjoyable and because the album is fantastic. Now, my track record with this band shows that I pretty much like anything they do, but WR surprised me in some ways. I think it's one of the band's most cohesive albums, but still every track is interesting and different. The most significant change seems to be that the keyboards are given greater presence, which ends up making the band sound sort of retro and a bit proggy, which I like a lot. Every time I hear the keyboard riff on "Stone To Wake A Serpent," I feel like I've been transported back in time to some hippie jam band's show. It's a fun little fantasy. I'm not so sure what direction Isis will take in the future (if they don't break up), but if WR is any indication, I'm sure I'll be pleased.
I've been following Pelican's music for a long time, and I was obviously excited to hear their contributions to music this year. The Ephemeral EP indicated to me that they were heading into some very interesting territory. They were getting heavier again and writing slower, longer songs. What We All Come To Need followed up on the promise of the EP (though I like the EP version of "Ephemeral" better), though some songs get a bit too fast at times ("Glimmer" in particular). I would call this Pelican's most moody and alt-rockin' record. They definitely veer out of "metal" territory, but they don't completely abandon elements from older records. WWACTN is yet another shade of any already multi-faceted band, but it's a route that you could easily imagine Pelican taking. The band does something new on each album, carrying over certain elements of their previous incarnations while dropping others. They seem to accumulate elements and work through them, mixing and matching, but still finding a specific, fresh direction on each album. A real surprise on WWACTN is The First Pelican Track To Feature Vocals at the end of the album and I was impressed that it turned out so well. Wisely, the vocals are low in the mix and the overall mood is somber and reserved. The vocals are perfectly integrated into the song, not feeling like some last-minute add-on. I wouldn't be bothered if they experiemented more with vocals in the future, though I don't want to hear a whole album with vocals.
You might think, that being a fan of a band that is constantly pushing forward, I would get used to, or even anticipate their latest album sounding completely unlike their previous albums, but I haven't. Sunn O)))'s Monoliths And Dimensions (very appropriately named, by the way) blew me away. The band hasn't done anything like this before. This album moves so far away from their Earthen roots and outside the metal realm. I'm not surprised that it has had a degree of crossover success. Who could have predicted the choirs of "Big Church" or the Godspeedian "Alice"? The band sounds so majestic, all while retaining their signature drone guitars and dark atmosphere. It seems like a logical step for the band, though certainly an unpredictable one. If I were making a traditional list, there's no way I could have left this album off of it.
There's not a lot to say about the latest Jesu EP, Opiate Sun. It's sounds a lot like Conqueror, and I loved that album, so the EP is right up my alley. It seems to be just another release in the already extensive Jesu catalogue, pretty much a "for fans only" thing. Still good songs, though.