First, my apologies for being so late with this. Thing is, I spent the last couple of weeks battling an upper respiratory infection and simultaneous nasal staph infection. If you’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing a staph infection, particularly one so kind as to take up residence in your schnoz, let me assure you that it is about as enjoyable as a Brillo colon scrub. Mine had me spewing mucus enough to fill a swimming pool, feverish enough that I shook like a dog shitting a peach seed, and swollen to disfigurement rivaling that of the handsome Jackson gracing the cover of Death’s Leprosy. But, after enough antibiotics to choke a horse, including no fewer than nine hours of IV, and one million hot compresses, I have emerged with horns held high and at least most of my nose fully intact.
So, without any further fucking around, here’s a list and some discussion of the albums that most thoroughly kicked my ass this year.
1. The Chasm – Farseeing the Paranormal Abysm
Of all the places I’d like to one day visit, the weirdest and most wonderful might be the space between Daniel Corchado’s ears. It would likely take a lifetime of steeling my nerves to endure the swirling genius mindswells that gave rise to Farseeing, but I’d give an eye for the chance. This album’s intricately layered and latticed mystical death metal floored me in a way that only a handful of heavy metal records ever have. I haven’t seen enough talk about Farseeing outside of MR and a smattering of niche sites, but in all honesty I don’t really give a shit because, as far as I’m concerned, The Chasm forged this glorious metal monolith for mine ears alone.
2. Los Natas – El Nuevo Orden de la Libertad
My favorite heavy music transports me somewhere and most often this year I’ve chosen to journey with Los Natas. In fact, El Nuevo Orden de la Libertad has become my go-to record when I have the slightest trouble deciding what to listen to. This Argentinean free rock floats my spirit over a dusk black desert sea, ranging to distant purple mountains, their peaks reaching into orange gradient horizon. Nestled within captivating songcraft, the album’s sweet, smoky vocal melodies are finely balanced with fuzzy, insistent stoner rock riffs to create an incredibly rich sound that is heavy like a favorite old quilt on a drizzly November morning.
3. Vreid – Milorg
That’s a Norwegian Milorg officer on the cover, beating the living fuck out of a Nazi. And there you have the perfectly simple, unapologetic premise of this near masterpiece from Vreid. This is an album of intensely proud Norwegian black metal given color by traditional metal ideas and shape within forward thinking structure. Beautifully triumphant and tragic in its ire, Milorg hasn’t released my throat since its first spin way back in January.
4. Porcupine Tree – The Incident
PT’s latest opus is an emotional exposé of the disconnect between the way we see tragedy around us and how we experience it ourselves. Crafted as a series of seemingly unconnected events, the parallel is drawn via the music, progressive, punctuated and poignant. It is Porcupine Tree, so you know what to expect, but this one somehow translates the ingenuity of Steven Wilson and Co. into perhaps the band’s most personal entreaty to the individual listener.
5. Riverside – Anno Domini High Definition
I remember seeing that Riverside had released a new record and thinking to myself that I hoped they’d let up on the PT worship, expand their sound and, above all, rock a little bit, for fucksake. Imagine my surprise to hear on Anno Domini that they had done exactly that. Steeped in a vibrant new take on their classic prog sound, this new one sacrifices none of the band’s songwriting chops, but augments them with a welcome intense heaviness. Most notably, Riverside appears to have developed a fiery love affair with the classic rock sounds of the Hammond organ (and others), adding a rich layer of authenticity to their fierce new duds.
6. Woods of Ypres – Woods IV: The Green Album
I am not a fan of Goth-anything, really. I just don’t buy the shtick. But the doomy, dark despair pitched here is so sincere as to defy the shiny patent leather associated with so much of the sound, and that’s what makes it so appealing. I must have listened to this album 1000 times while I was sick. I smiled just a little every time I heard the refrain, Life is just pain and piss/ It’s nothing that I will miss, knowing that Mr. Gold meant just what he said and, in that moment, I knew just how he felt. This is bona fide gloom in a black trench coat and I love every minute of it.
7. Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue With the Stars
Cascading. That’s the best word I’ve seen used to describe the sound on MVII. It’s just an endless flow of absolutely stunning effervescent riffing. Call it bright black metal, I suppose, because despite its obvious BM genealogy, this music elevates far more than it subjugates. It’s impossible to escape the countless layers of exquisite melody, it’s so utterly hypnotizing. I regularly find myself at the end of the last track wondering where I’ve been the last hour. That tendency to engulf and whisk the listener away is the mark of a superbly crafted record.
8. Crescent Shield – The Stars of Never Seen
Hurtling through space on an intergalactic voyage of discovery is just one of the many compelling metaphors Crescent Shield use to celebrate life’s endless tribulations and triumphs. And, boy, do they nail it. Brimming with inspiration, the band’s second album of power-laced traditional metal is as uplifting as it is expertly crafted. This is a record that takes me back to my youth, filling me again with an unbridled optimism; the sense that, if I always felt the energy that this music generates in me, I could conquer the fucking world. The Stars of Never Seen is a classic manifestation of the spirit of heavy metal.
9. While Heaven Wept – Vast Oceans Lachrymose
Perfect artwork. Perfect sound. Perfect execution of a premise. It engulfs like an epic doom tidal wave, tosses the listener about in a riptorrent of emotional introspection, and ebbs quietly, leaving serenity in its wash. I was a little apprehensive about new singer, Rain Irving, because I am such a fan of the earlier vocals from guitarist Tom Phillips, but Mr. Irving’s ardent execution wasted no time in setting me straight. This is a fantastic album from every angle.
Argus – Argus
I honestly can’t think of a way to succinctly describe the awesomeness of Argus’ brand of doom. Suffice it to say that this monster could very well be the modern representation of the archetype of heavy fucking metal. That is to say, if one were to gather all the greatest aspects of the genre’s foundations and stir them up in a cauldron, the resulting brew could only be this record. Doesn’t matter what I’m doing when I listen to it, Argus pulls me from it and I end up leaned back, eyes closed tightly, mouthing the lyrics and picking my air guitar. Every bit as invigorating as it is addicting.
- OSI – Blood
- The Prophecy – Into the Light
- Between the Buried and Me – The Great Misdirect
- Krallice – Dimensional Bleedthrough
- Slough Feg – Ape Uprising
- Absu – S/T
- Razor of Occam – Homage to Martyrs
- Urna – Iter ad Lucem
- Glorior Belli – Meet Us at the Southern Sign
- The Devin Townsend Project – Addicted!
Some albums that came damn close include offerings from Black Boned Angel, Zoroaster, Weapon, Sinister Realm, Sun of the Blind, The Firstborn, Altar of Plagues, Megadeth, Wino, and on and on and fucking on. Honestly, this list could go on for days. Such was the incredible depth of 2009’s heavy metal crop. Fuckin’ A.
Best EP: Martolea – Gâlmele Întunericului
This is a demo from Alin Drimus, a Romanian dude that contributed wind instrumentation to Negura Bunget’s OM. It’s awesome and it’s free for download at the band’s website. Go get it.
Best Non-Metal Album: El Creepo! – S/T
Biggest Disappointments: Cage – The Science of Annihilation, Deströyer 666 – Defiance
I’d also like to say that it’s been just about a year that I’ve been reviewing with MR and it’s been a truly enriching experience. Between the staff and all the regular forumites, I’ve come to feel as if you all are an extension of my family, complete with all the unconditional support and hilariously Springer-esque dysfunction. Love ya one and all, folks.