We checked in with with a handful of the artists that were contained in our own contributors' end-of-year lists to see what was in theirs and to find out how they’d each been doing throughout this insane year of 2020.
Words by Rohan (@manvsplaylist):
Read on below to discover what’s been keeping Aaron Turner (SUMAC), Max Kohane (FACELESS BURIAL), Shane McCarthy (WAYFARER), Carl Skildum (INEXORUM), Andrew Lee (RIPPED TO SHREDS) and Stan Liszewski (TERMINAL NATION) afloat throughout the year.
Starting off with Aaron Turner – we were fortunate enough to speak at length just before the release of SUMAC’s latest album, and we took the chance at that time to pick his brain on some of the albums he’s been enjoying the most this year.
Turner (SUMAC): My music consumption is all over the place stylistically but also in terms of eras. So there’s some things that I’ve acquired this year that are definitely not from this year or maybe they were released this year but are unearthed or archival recordings or re-performances of old works. This list may be a mish-mash of all those things!
I just traded records with my friend Tashi Dorji, who’s also been a tourmate of Sumac, he has a new record that is coming out next week ('Stateless'). It’s solo guitar music, it is all improvised, it is acoustic only on this particular record, and much of it has parallels to what I believe Sumac is trying to do at times – which is spontaneous composition and the purposeful creation and maintenance of meditative rhythm and coupling that with a desire to and an action of willfully destroying that. So, I hear a lot of that in this new record by Tashi. There are these passages that are very rhythmic and very steady and hypnotic in a meditative way and then those things can give way to, either through slow dissolution or very jarring transition, these completely fractured and fragmented percussive and volatile passages of playing that are atonal or at very least very dissonant, and that kind of juxtaposition of ideas is really intriguing to me.
Next, there’s a woman who operates under an assumed name Mabe Fratti, she’s a Mexican artist. A friend of mine posted the album cover ('Pies Sobre la Tierra') on Instagram, and the cover alone was intriguing enough that I ended up checking it out, and that record has gotten heavy, heavy play in our household. It doesn’t sound anything like what I do, but it does utilize a lot of the same things that I find interesting, like traversing territories that are sort of non-musical or at the very least mostly oriented around texture and atmosphere and to much more identifiable structures. But the form that her music takes is very beautiful, its highly melodic, largely structured around strings and voice, and I have found it both soothing and inspirational. I think this is a time where I am oscillating between wanting music that is really tense and destructive and music that is really immersive in a soothing way. So, her record has really provided that soothing end of the spectrum in a good way. I am also a sucker for a good melodic hook, and her album has a lot of that in there.
On the more metal end of the spectrum, I tend to try to seek out things that are obscure, not for the sake of obscurity but because I feel like often at the edges of the more visible things lie the more adventurous, and that’s always been my interest as a listener is people who are pushing the boundaries. That said, Oranssi Pazuzu is a band I have followed for quite some time and rather than becoming more streamlined and glossy I feel like they’ve gotten more adventurous and their new record is one that I have been returning to frequently. I marvel at their ideas every time. There’s a great balance between tension, control and ferocity and they’re very adept at being able to inhabit those things simultaneously.
The most recent Moor Mother record has been on pretty steady repeat for me. I can’t remember if that came out last year or this year, but it’s called 'Analog Fluids of Solid Black Holes' (2019) – that record is just devastating. It is also very relevant to the current moment. She says so much as a very vocally political artist but in a way that is precise and meaningful and avoids some of the pitfalls that are occasionally troublesome with political music where it goes well beyond dogma and mono-dimensional statements into something that is deep and speaks both from a deeply personal perspective but also to a much more global dimension and subjects. My interest in things in music is tied to a factor of heaviness, and that goes for me well outside of genre lines, and her record is the one I’m speaking of here, and is just so much heavier than 99% of the metal records I can think of. It really just gets me in the gut every time I hear it.
Finally, the last thing I’ll mention is a Morton Feldman boxset that came out late last year of solo piano works. His music for me is very technical. One of the things I love so much about this work is how much space there is in it, and how he is re-using particular motifs but in a way in which he writes makes those motifs remain elusive in a certain way. His note choices and the way the pieces are constructed gives you a sense that there are recurrent themes but doesn’t give you enough that you can hold on to and really sink into them or become lulled by them. It’s this constant reiteration of uncomfortable figures and an uncomfortable space that keep you engaged with the work. I find it simultaneously unsettling AND soothing.
What have been your top albums of the year, spanning any genre or style?
Max Kohane (FACELESS BURIAL): I might have forgotten some stuff, but here goes:
Grace Ferguson – “Voler”
Hallas – “Conundrum”
Necrot – “Mortal”
Gorephilia – “In The Eye of Nothing”
Leo Takami – “Felis Catus and Silence”
Funeral Leech – “Death Meditation”
Defeated Sanity – “The Sanguinary Impetus”
Malokarpatan – “Krupinske Ohne”
Westside Gunn – “Who Made The Sunshine”
Okkyung Lee – “Yeo-Neun”
Caustic Wound – “Death Posture”
Septage – “Septic Decadence EP”
Freddie Gibbs/Alchemist – “Alfredo”
Cauldron Black Ram – “Slaver”
Beatrice Dilllon – “Workaround”
Krallice – “Mass Cathexis”
Rawhead/Blue Holocaust/Active Stenosis/Raw Addict CD
Black Curse – “Endless Wound”
Shane McCarthy (WAYFARER): This has actually been a great year for metal releases, so metal wise I think my top 10 for heavy releases would be (in alphabetical order):
Black Curse – “Endless Wound”
BleakHeart – “Dream Griever”
Enslaved – “Utgard”
Esoctrilihum – “Eternity of Shaog”
Eternal Champion – “Ravening Iron”
Havukruunu – “Uinuos Syomein Sota”
Malokarpatan – “Krupinske Ohne”
Molasses – “Through the Hollow”
Oranssi Pazuzu – “Mestarin Kynsi”
Primitive Man – “Immersion”
Outside of metal there have been some standouts as well - like the Apollo Brown / Che Noir album “As God Intended” and Carpenter Brut’s “Blood Machines” soundtrack, but that would be too much too compile into one list, heh.
Carl Skildum (INEXORUM): Writing this in mid-October, I know that there are a couple albums that I’m anticipating that still aren’t out yet, but I’ve been really enjoying the following:
The Holy Flesh – “Emissary and Vessel”
Grimah – “Intricacies of Bowed Wisdom”
Run The Jewels – “RTJ4”
Paysage d’Hiver – “Im Wald”
Vampire – “Rex”
Jonathan Hultén – “Chants from Another Place”
Havukruunu – “Uinuos Syömein Sota”
Unleash the Archers – “Abyss”
Ages – “Uncrown”
Necrophobic – “Dawn of the Damned”
Andrew Lee (RIPPED TO SHREDS): My top 5 this year so far are:
Cystgurgle – “Ubi pus, ibi ferment”
Gulch – “Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress”
Kruelty – “A Dying Truth”
Stygian Crown – “s/t”
Siege Column – “Darkside Legion”
I’ve been super checked out this year, it’s been really hard to concentrate on anything given all the shit that’s been going on in the world. Cystgurgle is just beyond punishing and the rest all have a perfect sweet spot of riffs and vibe/atmosphere.
Stan Liszewski (TERMINAL NATION): There has been an absolutely unreal amount of quality music that’s come out in 2020. It’s honestly difficult to narrow it down, but without putting a crazy amount of thought into it I would go with:
Spirit Adrift – “Enlightened in Eternity”
Nothing – “The Great Dismal”
Undeath – “Lesions of a Different Kind”
Eternal Champion – “Ravening Iron"
Vile Creature – “Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm!”
Skeleton – “S/T”
Pallbearer – “Forgotten Days”
Internal Rot – “Grieving Birth”
SUMAC – “May You Be Held”
Faceless Burial – “Speciation”
What are some older albums or artists that you’ve spent more time with, either deliberately or haphazardly?
Kohane (FACELESS BURIAL): I’ve been revisiting a lot this year:
Dawn – “Slaughtersun”
Masters Hammer – “Ritual”
Blood Incantation – “HHOTHR” (never really left turntable since release!)
Roc Marciano - Reloaded (Masterpiece!!)
Engorged – “S/T”
Discordance Axis albums paired with early Noisear and The Kill.
McCarthy (WAYFARER): With all the varying moods the year has brought, I seem to have spent the most time either re-immersing myself in Fields of the Nephilim and Nick Cave, or stadium metal like Scorpions or Priest. A lot of soundtracks too, with a little bit of 2001 era Dimmu Borgir for good measure. It’s been a weird one.
Skildum (INEXORUM): I’ve been obsessed with a medieval music group called Evo and their lone album 'Eva' from 2012. After discovering it last winter, I’ve gone back to it over and over again whenever I’ve felt unmoored by the events of this year. It’s just breathtakingly beautiful.
It had been a long time since I sat down and listened to Van Halen but with Eddie’s death earlier this month I went back and listened to the first 7 albums. Eddie was my first guitar hero as a kid so it was bittersweet to revisit.
Lee (RIPPED TO SHREDS): Hmm…I guess Last Days of Humanity; I used to only be into the meme-tier pots and pans production of "Putrefaction in Progress", but I’ve given "Hymns of Indigestible Suppuration" another go, after hearing the demo versions on the unreleased ‘98 album, and I'm super into it now.
Liszewski (TERMINAL NATION): In the last couple of months I have really been on a big Death kick. 'Spiritual Healing', 'Leprosy', and 'Scream Bloody Gore' are albums that stuck with me the most for years and I think by clinging to those records, I neglected much of the other stuff. In the last couple of months, I have really grown an appreciation for all of their material and just how ground breaking that band really was. Also, Dystopia, Tragedy, His Hero is Gone are 3 bands that used to be some of my favorites but I haven’t really listened to much in about 10 years or so, which is really kind of weird because those bands and bands of that ilk still have a huge influence on my writing, even now. I have revisited all of their albums and fallen in love with those bands all over again, and I think the timing is perfect because it feels like they fit the vibe of the world right now.
How have your own listening habits or practices changed this year compared to your own typical routine?
Kohane (FACELESS BURIAL): More listening at home. Less at work as I’m not able to open my shop (record store).
McCarthy (WAYFARER): Well, a lot more listening at home I suppose. Working full time and spending a lot of time playing music with my bandmates on top of social functions normally leaves little time to actually sit with records at home. So this year has been good for that.
Skildum (INEXORUM): I used to primarily listen to new music in two places – on my commute to work and at the gym. Both of those activities seem like distant memories as I work (and work out) at home now and for the foreseeable future. For the first time ever, I have a backlog of music that I’ve purchased from Bandcamp or physical formats that I haven’t been able to get to yet. I can’t usually listen as actively when working and tend to go with more ambient background music, so I’m sure I’m missing plenty of releases from this year that I will eventually go on to really love.
Lee (RIPPED TO SHREDS): Now that I’m remote working (I do software), I no longer commute to work every day. That’s where I put in most of my music listening time, on the drive to and from work, so I’ve spent a lot less time with new music. On the other hand, I have more energy and time, so I’ve put more time behind the kit, and have a bunch of stuff where I do drums in the works.
Liszewski (TERMINAL NATION): I really have to say, I feel like 2020 was the year I fell back in love with music. I say that only half joking. Maybe it’s because of everything going on, but this year I have purchased more music than I have in a long time, it’s been a coping mechanism of sorts. I’ve always turned to music as an escape, but this year it just hits a little different. Also, the amount of consistently great releases certainly helps. Working from home has it’s challenges but has allowed me to really just vibe out with music, especially in the mornings as like a wake up routine.
What has been your favorite new discovery this year (band, record label, book, movie, TV series, podcast, YouTube channel, magazine…)?
Kohane (FACELESS BURIAL): Raised By Wolves TV Show. Heavy Hole Podcast has been putting up heaps of good interviews and content. Musically, I discovered Malokarpatan’s catalog, which I think is very good.
McCarthy (WAYFARER): Oh - with all the time on our hands, there has been so many, heh! I did a lot of deep diving into documentaries about film and music, with standouts like the “Lost Soul” documentary about Richard Stanley, and the 4.5 hour “In Search of Darkness” chronicling the 1980s as a golden age of Horror. Those go along with some of my favorites like “Not Quite Hollywood” about Australian exploitation flicks and “Jodorowsky’s Dune”.
I also dove back into comic/graphic novel stuff this year to see what’s going on these days, as well as revisiting so much of the golden era of Vertigo stuff from the early 90s-00s. My favorite find there has been this Indian writer named Ram V who seems to be a real rising star in the medium, at least for what I like. He wrote these two graphic novels recently that I really dug called “These Savage Shores” which is about vampires and colonialism in India, and “Blue In Green”, which is a crazy psychological horror story about Jazz. It’s an underrated medium for art and storytelling I think.
Otherwise, I’ve enjoyed a lot of reading, music, watching Shudder’s throwback “Creepshow” series, and “The Last Dance” on ESPN, which I think regardless of interest or lack thereof in sports is recommended viewing for anyone who’s ever really wanted to do anything.
Skildum (INEXORUM): I finally got to watch both Schitt’s Creek and Veep. Being able to laugh for a half hour at a time has been good. On the other side of the spectrum, I’ve been listening to The End of the World with Josh Clark, a podcast about all the different potential existential risks facing humanity and possible ways to avoid them. I’m not sure what that says about my mental state at this point.
Lee (RIPPED TO SHREDS): Easily Cystgurgle: incredible gorenoise from Thailand, I wrote a review for Decibel on their new album from P2 Loggia. Polwach is easily a top 5 modern grindcore drummer. Hella looking forward to the upcoming Sulfuric Cautery/Cystgurgle split!
Liszewski (TERMINAL NATION): It’s almost embarrassing, but this is the first time I have watched the entire Sopranos series. I have wanted to for a long time, just never gotten around to it. I love movies of that adjacent style and have seen a few episodes over the years, but this year, I binged it in a few weeks. It’s incredible.
How have your own creative processes changed this year? In what ways? Do you think this will turn out to be a period of relatively higher productivity than your own typical routine?
Kohane (FACELESS BURIAL): Being unable to be in the same room as people and having all our plans cancelled has made productivity ebb and flow. Faceless Burial was on it’s way to finishing our next record but the follow up to 'Speciation' might be delayed further then we would have hoped. Same goes for Internal Rot’s plans…So I would say for me it’s been pretty shit in terms of being productive - It’s hard to work towards a goal that might not exist.
McCarthy (WAYFARER): Our album (“A Romance With Violence”) was definitely directly affected, we were initially scheduled to fly to New York to record at Colin Marston’s studio again at the end of March, and obviously that was put on the rocks. But we did use the extra time to really dive in and fine tune elements of the record. We then recorded in Colorado with Pete deBoer instead, having Colin mix abroad - which was a different studio approach that we enjoyed exploring.
In terms of productivity - while it does invite a lot of lethargy, it definitely has been beneficial having the time that would normally be taken by touring to write and record music. A couple of our auxiliary projects that myself, Isaac and James are in have been working on albums for other projects like Lykotonon that are coming together a lot faster with all this time to work on them. So in terms of output, absolutely. In one project or another, myself and those two guys are on track to record 3 full length albums in the span of a calendar year.
Skildum (INEXORUM): I’ve had more time to work on music, for sure. The lack of a work commute means that I can pick up a guitar within minutes of logging out of work for the day. I’ve been doing a lot of session work for friends on a bunch of cool projects that I’m really excited about. And I’ve jumped into working on the next Inexorum LP, which I’m pretty close to the halfway mark on already.
Lee (RIPPED TO SHREDS): No commute means I do have more time in the day to work on stuff, but I think it’s been more difficult for me to concentrate and think creatively. I’ve still managed to finish a couple of projects though, so I guess it’s been about as productive as any other year for me.
Liszewski (TERMINAL NATION): On the surface, one might think that it would be far easier to be productive right now, with everything going on in the world just being way too much to deal with, I think many creative minds might benefit from taking some time just to breathe. Terminal Nation hasn’t been practicing consistently, I miss shows but I think the time off is helping us recharge. We have a whole lot of parts for songs that aren’t complete songs yet, but I think soon we’re going to focus on LP number two. In the interim, I think we are enjoying our time away and just trying to keep sane in the world around us.
Live streams – are you a fan? Do you think they have a place going forward? Which ones have you seen / enjoyed? Do you have one on the horizon?
Kohane (FACELESS BURIAL): Not against it, just not for me. I haven’t watched any and hope they don’t have a place in the future.
McCarthy (WAYFARER): I definitely think it’s a good thing that people have found a way to adapt as best they can and keep performance alive in a new avenue in this unprecedented situation. Personally - I don’t watch many of them as I feel they really require a unique spin and/or high production value to add much beyond just listening to an album - which is hard for bands to pull off especially when they are difficult to generate money from. I did enjoy the Enslaved show for “Roadburn”, and thought what Behemoth did with theirs was very cool even though they may not be my favorite band. But those bands have the budgets to pull something like that off, where I feel bands of our level are stuck with glorified rehearsal videos in most cases. If the right opportunity presents itself where we can do something of value, we would absolutely be into doing one. But until then, I think we just bide our time and await a return to the stage.
Liszewski (TERMINAL NATION): I think live streams are cool. Obviously, they can’t replace the actual live music experience, but I think everyone knows that. We have done one and will do a couple more soon. It’s definitely a challenge, especially for a band like us that brings a level of aggression that’s optimally experienced in a live setting. It’s a new layer of creativity. Considering the cards that we have all been dealt, it really doesn’t seem like live music (as we used to know it) will return anytime soon, so in the interim, this is fine.
Skildum (INEXORUM): I think they are a solid idea for now. When our summer festival plans with Obsequiae fell apart, we talked about trying it before the logistics of getting all the members together from around the country to do that were too much. Livestreams have a different energy without the audience, but there’s also a level of intimacy with the music and a lack of other distractions that I appreciate. I’ve enjoyed livestreams from Enslaved, Vampire and Hive in particular.
Lee (RIPPED TO SHREDS): I can’t say I’m a huge fan of livestreamed shows unless I was already such a fan of a band that I’d be consuming any practice/rehearsal/etc videos. I think they will inevitably be a significant part of any band’s output as long as we have this pandemic happening, but I’m personally not really interested in watching or performing one.
Aaron, you mentioned Oranssi Pazuzu earlier – did you happen to catch their livestream performance? And what are your thoughts on the livestreaming experience?
Turner (SUMAC): I didn’t. For one thing I don’t have my computer connected to a decent sound system but the other thing is most of the time I just don’t have time to just sit down to watch and listen to something. Typically I’m either listening to music as I’m working or I’m listening to music as I’m hanging out with our son or if I do have time at night to do something I don’t want to look at a screen, I just want to sit and write. As much as I’ve been supporting other peoples’ musical efforts it has not tuned into watching peoples livestream performances. I don’t know…maybe there’s a factor to it too where I don’t want to admit that that’s where we are right now!? I have heard that as far as livestreams go that the Oranssi performance was one of the more satisfying ones.
I think the only music video I have watched in the last few months has been some of the Miles Davis stuff from the early ‘70s. I had just recently got turned on to those records and was just blown away by them, and they’re such otherworldly records that I wanted to see what the people that were making them were doing and understand more of the mechanics. Watching those videos was inspiring in that way, just to see how everybody was interacting and how Miles was conducting the band and seeing the way in which they pulled everything together on a moment by moment basis.
That same era of Miles was inspiring for this new Sumac record too, specifically “Get Up With It” (1974). The way that record opens was a direct inspiration and kind of served as a guide for our improvisation which became the last song on our new record (“Laughter and Silence”). The space in that song and the way things emerge and dissipate back to silence and the simultaneous drive of it but also the sense that everything is just hanging on the precipice of being there and could evaporate at any minute. Which again is a good parallel to our current state of existence!!
How have you stayed active & focused during this year (physically, creatively, emotionally, and intellectually)?
Kohane (FACELESS BURIAL): Trying to concentrate on my job, my animals and the people close to me.
Turner (SUMAC): As a father of young children, you can certainly appreciate how much energy that takes just to do what’s right by them. Just running around the house after them probably equates to around 2,000 steps! Not to mention the days when we have been able to go outside. We’re fortunate to live in an area where there is a lot of natural stuff around that we can access. The whole area we live is mostly dense woodlands so we go out into the forest a lot. We do have some accessible areas to the shoreline, they’re not soft sandy beaches or anything like that but we do go out and play on it nonetheless. I’ve found that immersing my body in water has been very helpful for maintaining sanity. And then also just trying to do some kind of exercise. Prior to this very smoky period we’re in now, running a few days a week has been really helpful for my mental well-being and I think it’s been necessary. I don’t really have the choice of being sedentary because we have a child and he’s very active, but even if we didn’t I think I’d do my best to try and get up out of a chair and be as active as possible.
McCarthy (WAYFARER): Music has gotten me through for sure. Having something to focus on working on, focus on releasing, focusing on writing for other projects, etc. That has kept me sane. That and my girlfriend, Kelly Schilling, who has been doing the same with her bands. Other than that, it's just read, dive into art as a consumer and creator, try to stay in shape and not get too down, and look toward the future.
Skildum (INEXORUM): So many walks around the neighborhood with my wife. We live in the city but there are still parks and pockets of nature in walking distance, and it has also just been nice to see people out and about even if it is from a distance. And we’ve done some more serious nature hiking further out from the city too.
Lee (RIPPED TO SHREDS): I haven’t! Focus has been awful but I stay active because I stick to a routine. I’m slow to change my routine, but at least it affords me some kind of stability and I can try and not get too distracted from making more sick and disgusting music.
Liszewski (TERMINAL NATION): It’s been difficult, but I have tried focusing on my mental health. In the past couple of months, I have adjusted some medication to help deal with anxiety and focus issues that I have dealt with for years. I am in a transitional period in regards to that, but taking the steps to feel better, rather than just ignoring the issues, is the first step. Beyond that, when quarantine first hit, I stocked up on weight lifting gear for the house. I’ve been lifting more weight and being more active than I have in years, which has been another huge positive to come out of this year.
Finally, try and give me one positive that you’ve taken from 2020?
Turner (SUMAC): There’s been a lot of positives for me, and that’s not to discount everything that’s going on in the world because I’m very aware of those things and doing my best to contribute as meaningfully as I can. One of the things I’ve definitely felt during this whole period is that with how precarious everything is at this current moment, I have an increased appreciation of every moment of the day, almost without exception. I’ll often find myself at the end of the day feeling very thankful that we have had another day. So, you know, this has increased my gratitude for life. The other biggest factor for me that has been overwhelming positive is not going on tour, and not because I don’t love touring, but I have been touring consistently (if not a great length) since my child was born, and there is part of me that kid of assumed that because he was so young that it wouldn’t matter that much and also because I don’t go for more than 2-3 weeks at a time most of the time. But, I have seen just how much has been gained in our relationship since my being grounded at home. So in that way, this has been the best year for me with our child since he’s been born because I have been with him so consistently day to day. I also think that coincides with where he is developmentally as well. He’s almost four now and he’s entering the phase where going out into the world is more important to him and he’s not so biologically disposed to his momma, so I’m the parent who takes him to the beach or the skatepark or in to the woods and that’s been invaluable to me and hopefully to him as well.
McCarthy (WAYFARER): I think the biggest silver lining is learning not to take things for granted. Music is a great example, we all get so used to shows always happening and jaded to the constant outpour of music from everywhere. But this year has reminded just how important it is, and what it's like to not have it, in the same way anyway. So now, I think we go forward really recognizing how cool it is that we all get to enjoy this, and from the band's perspective, that we get to spend a portion of our lives going out and doing it.
Kohane (FACELESS BURIAL): Faceless Burial and Internal Rot released our albums.
Skildum (INEXORUM): I’ve had so many conversations with friends about mental health this year. I know that I’ve struggled this year with both the general state of things as well as losing my father over the summer. Everyone is carrying so much right now but even before 2020, it wasn’t like everything was just perfect either. So being able to talk more openly about how we are really doing has been one good thing that I hope we (in my own life and in the broader collective) can carry forward even after this year is over.
Lee (RIPPED TO SHREDS): Things can always be worse, so if it seems like it sucks now, it’s probably not the worst it could be :)
Liszewski (TERMINAL NATION): I think the drive to push myself to be stronger. Physically, mentally, as a family member, as a partner, as a friend, etc. It’s been work in progress of course but all things seem to be on the right track.