Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Best Albums of 2015: Number One

number one

If one album, one artist, can be credited with me coming back to heavy music it's the one at the top of my list. Once I heard this album, I couldn't stop and I kept trying to find other bands that would come close to what I loved about this. This is doomy and heavy but it's not just that. There's a range and more than that, it is deeply personal and moving in unexpected ways. It reminds me of specific things I loved about metal as a kid, is clearly influenced by those things, and yet not frozen in that time. It's Crooked Doors by Royal Thunder and as far as I'm concerned, it's really a masterpiece of an album.

Back in 7th grade, early on in the year that a bunch of kids from other elementary schools filtered in to my tiny world, I met a guy that let me borrow an album by an artist that I'd certainly heard of, in urban legends and warnings, mostly, but had never actually listened to. That cassette tape of Ozzy Osbourne's Bark at the Moon opened my ears and mind to a world of darkness that would speak to me very closely for the next few years of outcast pubescent confusion (new album?). The internal turmoil and mental anguish about the world that was captured more by the tension of the music itself than by any specific lyric, and manifested in a black catharsis (another album?), is exactly what I was going to need and that moment is a major turning point in my life. All of this is what Crooked Doors brings to something you wouldn't necessarily think of at first: the break-up album. And that's basically what this is about - the end of a marriage, specifically between singer/bassist Mlny Parsonz and guitarist Josh Weaver - though it also includes some explorations into breaking away from cults and brainwashing, which come to think of it, is kind of the same thing.

royal thunder

This album has an overwhelming emotional cohesion to it that only reveals itself with more listens. The opening track "Time Machine" sets up the entire journey of regret, resentment and rebirth in a beautifully bittersweet way. "I'm looking for a time machine, but I can not go back and change one single thing, it's staying all intact," sings Parsonz, using the more vulnerable side of her commanding vocal range, over a tune that slowly builds into a power ballad with so much power that there are moments you forget the ballad part completely. But it's toward the middle of this seven minute wound baring that the song goes into a certain free fall motif that will be repeated several times and in different forms throughout this album, firmly gluing the entire thing together as a whole. And then it builds towards a solo from Weaver that would demand full blown torches be held up by the audience. And this is just the first song!

The story of Parsonz and Weaver includes a stint in a cult, which they left long ago, but it informs several songs on this album, particularly "Floor" which is about a specific "ritual" Mlny was put through at this church. Not only do you get the sense that this time in her life is important to the issues of the relationship and the break-up, but it is an incredibly apt subject to include in this context, regardless. "I can feel him fall me, I can feel him fall on me, I am trembling, what is happening to me, white wash this memory," she wails at one point and she could be talking about some god, some cult leader or her husband. And then there's "this is such a mess, I know that there's something more, something tells me this is over, now open these doors," which really requires no further comment. The point here is this is a person at a major crossroads in her life and that comes with realizations, repercussions and resignations that are overwhelming, freeing and melancholy. The fact they continue to play music together speaks volumes about their friendship and commitment to their art, but I'm sure there's a cost and these songs are like the beautiful scars that remain. And not only do her lyrics convey this in both direct and indirect ways, but the music always supports it.

That free falling motif I mentioned earlier comes through most in the slightly more ballady "Forgive Me, Karma" which opens with several falling guitar runs before going into a what is just a slight tease of Parsonz sweetest singing. Evan Diprima's drums particularly stand out to me during the quieter moments of this song, providing what could be the backbeat to the cosmos itself. By the time we get to the double farewell punch of closers "The Bear I" and "The Bear II" you should feel somewhat exhausted, and these two straight up ballads got your back. But they might tear you up with heartache.

I really can't say enough how great Parsonz is vocally, lyrically and emotionally. There are moments where you hear her strain for a note that maybe someone trying to achieve perfection, rather than honesty, would avoid. But strain she does, and she doesn't care if you hear it. That strain that shows up every so often is a huge part of what pushed this album to my top spot. That last song, "The Bear II" featuring Parsonz singing over piano and strings, in anyone else's hands might come across as too syrupy or overdone, but when she sings "and I wish I had the heart to move on, but I am not, no I am not that strong," it's like an invasion of privacy on our part instead of an exploitation of emotion on hers. And to have gone through an entire album where her voice is mostly about power and loudness, and end on this note of broken vulnerability is the bravest thing she could do and ultimately the biggest demonstration of her power.

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