2009 has been one helluva year for me and music. The sheer number of killer albums and shows (Neurosis!) has been overwhelming, making the 29th year of my life my best yet as a music fan. Secondly, getting to join this site as a staff member has been beyond tits, and I have a feeling this is only the beginning of a long and fruitful chapter in my life as a fan of metal and all music. So to the Matts and the rest of the staff, cheers, and thanks for having me boys!
Now, onto the reason you clicked on that fancy yellow link: my personal favorites of the year. The battle between numbers one and two came down to the final play, but number three was cemented from the beginning. So without further ramblings on, the Top 10.
1. Wodensthrone – Loss
Each time I relive this album I am reminded why it deserves the #1 spot. From it’s subtle beginnings to the aggression and battles of the middle, through to the melancholy and reflective finale, Loss is a clinic of album structure, flow, and holistic value. But Wodensthrone have achieved far more than writing an album framework. The have successfully pulled the best traits from the entire history of black metal and forged them together into something that isn’t necessarily new, but very, very fresh. Few debut albums have struck me so instantly (maybe the band in my #5 spot), and I will await Wodensthrone’s next move on the edge of my seat. That’s it, this is getting spun next on the ol’ ipod (and it did).
2. Giant Squid – The Ichthyologist
Otherworldly. The Ichthyologist drew me in from the beginning, but it took a while for me to buy into the hype. One by one, each song began to sink in on different levels. Giant Squid manage to avoid cliche in their use of alternate instrumentation, female vocals, non-European melody, and a very left field songwriting approach. It’s weird, catchy, intriguing, and as original as it gets these days. This album is a masterpiece, make no arguments about it, but I truly think their best work is ahead of them. God help us if I’m right. Final word: do believe the hype.
3. Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue with the Stars
The title suggested it, but none expected how well Blut Aus Nord would mix the black metal of their first Memoria Vetusta album with the creepy industrial approach bronzed on The Work Which Transforms God. I may be alone here, but I personally think they topped both albums, if only because this is a tad easier to listen to repeatedly than the demented Work. Further, I am in LOVE with the production and guitar tone here; how they did it I don’t know, but I WANTS it.
4. Drudkh – Microcosmos
If trees could be used as amplifiers, the sound they would make would be a lot like Drudkh’s guitar tone. Despite this being very metal music, the folk and naturalistic sides dominate the mood, moving the closed-eyed listener through ancient forests on a bed of damp leaves. Each of Microcosmos‘ songs ranks well in the band’s history, but “Ars Poetica” is among their finest all-time compositions. Also, I would like to personally thank Season of Mist for finally getting these Ukrainian fellows proper distribution America-side.
5. Ahab – The Divinity of Oceans
In all likelihood the new Ahab was my most anticipated album of 2009. The Call of the Wretched Sea floored me like few other albums have been able to do upon initial listen. Instead of attempting to top their monstrous debut, they chose to release an album equal in quality but very different in approach. It’s still funeral doom, without a doubt, but instead of focusing on the oppressive weight of the ocean, they channeled their gorgeous music through the despair and hopelessness of the seas. This earns the “listen to while reading” award of the year.
6. While Heaven Wept – Vast Oceans Lachrymose
Normally I would give a band flack for an album being front-heavy, but when the front is as perfect as the 15 minute “The Furthest Shore,” I hold my complaints. This album and band perfectly illustrate how this website has made me a better, and more varied, appreciator of music. Majesty and grace are words that don’t even begin to do justice to While Heaven Wept’s music, and I feel lucky that I’m surrounded by a group of fellow headbangers (staff members and non-staff members alike) that constantly keep me searching and discovering new things.
7. The Chasm – Farseeing the Paranormal Abysm
Place in the “why the hell wasn’t I listening to this band years ago?” file. Epic death metal? Progressive? Visionary. That’s the word. The Chasm have a vision, and they execute with precision and tact, using the palette of death metal in ways most band wouldn’t even consider but will ultimately envy. John Ray gave this album a perfect score in his review. While it isn’t quite my personal favorite of the year, arguing with that verdict is impossible. Now I have a serious task ahead of me with The Chasm’s six previous long players…
8. Between The Buried & Me – The Great Misdirect
Boy did I pick the right time to get back into BTBAM. After being thrilled and subsequently bored by Alaska back in 2005, I completely ignored Colors. Mistake. Thankfully, I was practically ordered to give that album it’s due, and I got addicted to it not long before they dropped this particular slab of prog mastery. They have somehow managed to become real songwriters (quite accomplished songwriters in fact) without losing any of their scatterbrained charm. Dragonforce can take off, this is the current shape of virtuoso metal.
9. Devin Townsend Project – Addicted
I have been on fanboy overload with this crazy sumbitch for years, and what does he do? He goes and brings in the incomparable Anneke van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering of course) to help out on Addicted. Fanboy bonus! Hearing those two together is like some dream that I never even imagined, and the results run the gamut from fun as hell to emotionally mountainous. Too bad the radio world is in complete shambles, because this is pop metal bliss. The rest of the world be damned, Addicted will get enough time in my car to make up for the time it misses in others.
10. Amorphis – Skyforger
The best album of new-era Amorphis, and my personal #3 in their entire catalog. They continue to prove why 1998 through 2003 can generally be dropped from memory. Although I rated this quite well upon its release, it has shown even further value to me since, being their most consistent set of songs since Elegy. I still have no idea how to categorize their music, I just know that Skyforger is an absolutely killer set of accessible, musical, and very classy metal songs. Tomi Joutsen is one of my favorite current vocalists, and he improves on each release.
The Rest of My Top 20:
11. Slough Feg – Ape Uprising
12. Klabautamann – Merkur
13. Mastodon – Crack the Skye
14. Napalm Death – Time Waits for No Slave
15. Nile – Those Whom the Gods Detest
16. Isis – Wavering Radiant
17. Megadeth – Endgame (Happy Fanboy award)
18. Suffocation – Blood Oath
19. Argus – Argus
20. Katatonia – Night is the New Day
VERY Honorable Mentions:
Lye By Mistake, Vreid, Absu, Shrinebuilder, Ulcerate, Krallice, DTP-Ki, Immortal, Wino, Novembers Doom, YOB, Porcupine Tree, Hypocrisy.
EP of the Year:
Fischel’s Beast – Commencement
Non-Metal Albums of the Year:
Pearl Jam – Backspacer (Happy Fanboy award #2)
Clutch – Strange Cousins from the West
Turd-Burner of the Year:
Slayer – World Painted Blood – proving they’re NOT going to follow suit with Metallica, Megadeth, Overkill, Kreator, Testament, and (for a while at least) Exodus in showing some grace in their old age. Oh well, at least they still have Anthrax to keep them company in the arena of veteran mediocrity…