Another year in heavy metal…and what a year it was. It seems like every band on the planet released something in 2009; when Immortal, Absu, and Destroyer 666 all emerge from hibernation at once, it’s a sign that things are things are getting ridiculous. We were practically overwhelmed with killer shit this year. This deluge of material made this compilation quite difficult to assemble, especially with that “I’m surely missing something” gnat buzzing around in the back of my head. (And I still haven’t gotten around to hearing Foulest Semen of a Sheltered Elite, which is nearly unforgivable in of light its placement in our Top 25.)
Albums that could’ve topped lists in previous years (Crack the Skye) were pushed out of my top ten, and solid albums from longtime favorites (Night is the New Day) failed to make the cut entirely. All told, 2009 was a great year for heavy metal, and 2010 is shaping up quite nicely. This is a great time to be a metalhead, and don’t let the cynical bastards tell you otherwise. Here are the twenty albums that floored me in 2009:
1. SÓLSTAFIR – KÖLD
Criminally overlooked; partially due to Spikefarm’s complete shunning of North America, and partially due to the album’s unclassifiable oddness. Regardless, this is both the year’s most fiercely original work, as well as its most deeply engaging. Bold, theatrical, and provocative, Köld is a lengthy journey that will never grow tiresome.
2. BLUT AUS NORD – MEMORIA VETUSTA II: DIALOGUE WITH THE STARS
Honestly, what more can be said? The melodic fluidity of this twilight-drenched epic has floored nearly everyone that it has touched. MVII is testament to Blut aus Nord’s remarkable scope; their metallic versatility is practically unheard of. It’s ridiculously easy to lose oneself in these soundscapes. It’s impossible to count the number of times I’ve stared at my iPod in disbelief and frustration after the conclusion of “Elevation.” (Well, not really, but why the fuck would anyone keep track of something like that?)
3. WOODS OF YPRES – WOODS IV: THE GREEN ALBUM
David Gold isn’t making black metal anymore. Contrary to instinct, this is a good thing. A tenfold improvement over the transitional (and often clunky) Woods III, The Green Album (ooooh…I bet Baroness is pissed) fully establishes the band’s metamorphosis. Wrapped in a doomy, earthen, semi-gothic vibe, this is an instant underdog classic. Gold’s textured vocals and engrossing lyrics are the driving force, but musical nods to Agalloch and Crimson-era Sentenced run rampant, as does a serious World Coming Down fetish. The tributes are expertly self-contained, though, as this is a brutally honest and individualistic achievement of heavy metal songcraft. Mad props for the oboe, too.
4. DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT – ADDICTED
Admittedly, this is a total Dev-nerd exhibition. SYL devotees are likely waiting–quite impatiently–for Deconstruction, but the freewheeling joy that permeates from Addicted, is, well, fucking addicting. Get up and dance, you crabby bastards.
5. ANAAL NATHRAKH – IN THE CONSTELLATION OF THE BLACK WIDOW
The culmination of the now-trademark sound that was blueprinted on Eschaton. Nothing–nothing–torches the foundations like an all-cylinders-firing Anaal Nathrakh. “Blood Eagles Carved on the Backs of Innocents” is fucking godly.
6. MAN MUST DIE – NO TOLERANCE FOR IMPERFECTION
Polished, pounding brutality, chock-full of crackpot quirk and precision dynamics. “Kill It, Skin It, Wear It” is stadium death metal at it’s finest, and “This Day is Black” is a microcosm of modern awesomeness. Deathcore poseurs can only dream of such DM domination.
7. IMMORTAL – ALL SHALL FALL
More fluid than SoND, more frigid than Between Two Worlds–this is exactly what I wanted (and expected) from Immortal’s return. Paying tribute to both Motorhead and Bathory in their wholly unique way, Abbath and Horgh scratch an itch that only they can reach. All Shall Fall delivers, and proves that few–if any–bring the complete package like Immortal.
8. RAZOR OF OCCAM – HOMAGE TO MARTYRS
A meat-and-potatoes blackened thrash beast, made all the more menacing in the wake of the colossal flop that was D666‘s Defiance. The beauty of Homage to Martyrs‘ savagery lies in their songcraft. Whereas inferior acts tend to front-load with flashy, adrenalizing intros only to leave the rest of the song dangling in the wind, Razor of Occam‘s compositions grow stronger and more furious with each passing second, until they finally explode in a firestorm of skull-smoking leads and neck-wrecking riffery. The band’s pointed, fist-smashing aggression is all too rare in this age of heavier-than-thou jackassery, and their phenomenal execution makes this the metal-up-your-fucking-ass album of the year.
9. HYPOCRISY – A TASTE OF EXTREME DIVINITY
Token nostalgia pick, but one that’s far from unwarranted. I first discovered Hypocrisy about ten years ago with the release of their self-titled masterpiece. Stunned, I promptly devoured their back catalog with glee. Unfortunately, nothing they’ve released since then–including the overrated Virus–has matched the quality and spark of their late 90’s output. Until now. A Taste of Extreme Divinity combines the aesthetics of The Final Chapter and the hallowed self-titled, and the result is ultra-satisfying. Basically, it’s just a Hypocrisy record…but it’s a really, really fucking good Hypocrisy record. These guys are back in full-force, and I couldn’t be happier. One of the most important and iconic acts in the history of melodic death metal has returned to supremacy.
10. DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT – KI
I can almost hear the collective groan, but hear me out. I know Ki isn’t metal. And, yeah, I know it’s really fuckin’ cheesedick of me to have two albums by the same dude in my top ten, especially since I just went off about the massive quantity of insanely good albums that were released this year. But, I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t give my most-listened to album of 2009 the respect it deserves. Is Ki‘s status as ‘JC’s Most Played’ due to its wife-friendly nature? Partially. Probably. But it has also proved itself to be a beautiful oasis in my typical desert of ugliness. “Terminal” still brings a tear to my eye every time it soaks in. Denying such impact would be criminal, or at the very least, dishonest.
….AND THE REST OF THE BEST:
11. Mastodon – Crack the Skye
12. Krallice – Dimensional Bleedthrough
13. Slough Feg – Ape Uprising!
14. Absu – Absu
15. God Dethroned – Passiondale
16. The Chasm – Farseeing the Paranormal Abysm
17. Goatwhore – Carving Out the Eyes of God
18. Memory Driven – Relative Obscurity
19. Process of Guilt – Erosion
20. Cormorant – Metazoa
There were some serious letdowns this year: the aforementioned Destroyer 666, Amesoeurs, The Project Hate, Pantheon I, Secrets of the Moon, etc. But nothing left me scratching my head like Blue Record. After seeing these dudes perform the songs from Red Album live last year, I was convinced that they were the greatest rock band in America. Then they dropped this slightly obnoxious piece of Teflon. There are some cool songs on here, don’t get me wrong, but this should’ve been so much better.
Disappointments were few and far between, however. All in all, it was a good year. An exciting year. One of my best, quite truthfully. The kickass metal was just a bonus.
To the MR legions: thanks for reading, and Happy New Year.