What a year… I don’t know if I just paid more attention in 2010 due to free time or if this much stuff really did blow me away, but I never remember listening to and devouring this much metal within a 12 month period. For me, this year saw lots of black metal and related styles clawing at my cranium, but also some unexpected surprises from legends of the past and present. There were so many albums and EPs that rocked me that I’m stuffing this feature with honorable mentions. Sound like cheating to you? I don’t give a shit, it’s my party bitches. An odd part of my year was that I made it to very few shows, but the ones I did (Rust In Peace) really stood out as all-timers. I have high hopes for 2011 in terms of both albums (Zeitgeister hordes, Vreid, Motörhead, Devy, Opeth, Moonsorrow, Blut Aus Nord, etc.) and shows (IMMORTAL), so as usual I don’t expect anything in my metal-lovin’-life to let up in the slightest. As we say here ’round these parts, onward and upward.
On to the main attraction, my favorites. And for the record, those top three are so goddamn close in my mind that I almost gave them a three-way tie. Almost.
1. ENSLAVED – AXIOMA ETHICA ODINI
I’d be the first to admit that I’m a massive, MASSIVE Enslaved fanboy, but I still approach each album with a touch of trepidation and fear that they’ll one day make a misstep. Axioma Ethica Odini is no misstep, it’s the opposite: an epic, majestic, and commanding restatement of purpose. Some complain that it’s a constant plateau with no dynamics. What?!Listen more, be absorbed, quit attempting to dislike it to be different (I truly think it’s a victim of that). I listened to this album probably 30 times before finally laying down that review, but I was even more addicted after I turned off my critical ear and just let it go. Eleven albums in and better than ever (?), long live our Bergen warriors.
2. AGALLOCH – MARROW OF THE SPIRIT
Marrow of the Spirit does not rock; it doesn’t hit with the weight of planets or crush faces or anything of that nature; it grips. For Agalloch, atmosphere and mood are as important as songwriting tools as riffs and chords. A music instructor once told me to “play the rests,” to give purpose to the empty or nearly-empty spaces in music. Agalloch used this skill to turn the 17-minute and largely minimalistic “Black Lake Nidstång” into possibly the song of 2010. By simultaneously expanding their sound backwards (raw blackened material) and forwards (subtle nods to The White), they have given The Mantle a true spiritual successor.
Months into 2010 and I thought this album would go wire-to-wire like my 1990 Cincinnati Reds, but those two albums above it barely squeaked by. After is the album that justifies Ihsahn‘s solo career, surpassing the two previous albums (and the Peccatum work) to stand strongly alongside the Emperor classics of the 90s. “Undercurrent” is among the year’s best, “A Grave Inversed” the year’s most twisted, and Jørgen Munkeby’s sax performance is quite possibly the best ever heard in heavy metal. Simply wild this one.
While more often than not a warm and embracing adventure, Écailles de Lune also finds time to reveal Neige’s colder black metal side as well. In doing so Alcest has honed in on their sound by branching out. I flat refuse to refer to this stuff as “blackgaze” or “post/black metal” or whatever, because those terms often imply an effects-ridden, minimalist approach, and Neige only adds these things after writing songs teeming with riffs, lush chord progressions, and gorgeous vocal work. After all, no one ever calls Bergtatt post-anything, and this owes far more to Garm’s classic than to My Bloody Valentine. Oh, and that bridge in “Solar Song”… wowie.
Best. Iron Maiden album. Since. Seventh Son.
No doubt in my mind. Who cares if it’s a bit long, if that intro is pointless, or if the production doesn’t quite have the punch of other post-millennial Maiden. The songs carry it; many listens in and I’m still discovering new favorite tracks. Early on it was the introspective ballad “Coming Home” and epic “The Talisman.” Later it became the monstrous “Isle of Avalon” and “The Man Who Would Be King.” Always extra special when an all-time favorite releases something far better than just “good for a band their age.”
The last main point of my Alcest blurb also applies here, which makes sense as Les Discrets belong to that same artful family of serene metal acts. After that, a slightly-adapted quote from The Shawshank Redemption should do the trick:
“I have no idea to this day what [that French guy was] singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think [he was] singing about something so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it.”
“Biggest Surprise of 2010” award. I anticipated this album cautiously, not knowing whether media-whore-murderer Varg Vikernes had any riffs left in him. Well I didn’t expect this. Hypnotic, phenomenally produced, and featuring some of his best songs to date (“Glemselens Elv” for example), Belus may actually be the most complete Burzum release. Considering that even Filosofem found time to wander, this might not be a huge selling point for non-fans, but for those of us who have come to grips with the moral compromises of being a Varg fan, this will do just fine. Amongst my most consistently-listened to albums this year, no question.
I’m going to say it: Woe is more American than any other black metal band located in the United States. As much as I love some of the others, they owe so much to either Scandinavia or Eastern Europe that they lose what an American can uniquely identify with. Our own Reverend Campbell has made the comparison of Woe being like a punk-fueled In the Nightside Eclipse, and I couldn’t agree more. It’s classic black metal injected with so much underground rage and unrest that only a country as socially confused as these United States could produce it. Something here just feels like it will stay fresh to my ears for years on end. Oh, and the riffs. RIFFS.
Biggest surprise after Belus, but really more of a relief. After the most recent Pestilence and the (enjoyable) whimper of Traced In Air, comebacks by the technical elite were looking a mite slim. Jupiter changes all that. Let’s face it, no one in the technical/fusion metal world quite brings out the rock like Kelly Shaefer, and nothing has changed in the seventeen (!!!!) years since Elements. While the balls-out riffs, seamless songwriting, and smartass vocal delivery are all fully intact, nothing was missed more than the face-shredding lead style, which Jupiter has in spades. Welcome back boys, now stick around.
My god do I ever love me some thrash. Warms my heart to see Overkill getting in on the veteran renaissance that Testament, Kreator, Exodus, Megadeth, and even Metallica are giving us. Everything about Ironbound just sounds alive and rejuvenated in a way the band hasn’t since the very early 90s, especially those legendary Blitz vocals. While there isn’t a clunker on the disc, songs such as the title track and “Bring Me the Night” really stand out. But it’s the swaggeriffic “Give A Little” that really makes Ironbound one for the ages.
NUMEROS 11 THROUGH 20
11. Nevermore – The Obsidian Conspiracy
12. Darkthrone – Circle the Wagons
13. Nightbringer – Apocalypse Sun
14. Weapon – From the Devil’s Tomb
15. Valborg – Crown of Sorrow
16. Blut Aus Nord – What Once Was… Liber I
17. Griftegård – Solemn, Sacred, Severe
19. Negura Bunget – Vîrstele Pamîntului
20. High On Fire – Snakes for the Divine
EPS OF THE YEAR
1. Mouth of the Architect – The Violence Beneath
2. Boris & Ian Astbury – BXI
3. Corsair – Alpha Centauri
4. Island – Enigma of the Stars
MASSIVELY Honorable Mentions (and a few awards):
An Autumn for Crippled Children, Angst Skvadron (“Piggy Would Be Proud” award), Arsis, The Dead (“Brutality of 2010” award), Decrepit Birth, Devils of Belgrade, Fear Factory, Grand Magus, Horseback, Immolation, Imperium Dekadenz, Negura Bunget (the other one), Nomad Son, Orphaned Land, THE Lord Weird Slough Feg, StarGazer, The Sword (“Coming of Age” award), The Wounded Kings.
Albums I Failed
The following bands released albums in 2010 that I wholly enjoy but simply did not spend enough time with prior to compiling my list. So apologies to… Blood Revolt, Dawnbringer, Deathspell Omega, Jumalhämärä, Sorgeldom, Ufomammut, Svart Crown.
1. Cathedral – The Guessing Game (what a mess…)
2. Drudkh – Handful of Stars (I enjoy it, but it’s a massive let down after Microcosmos)
A special nod to 2009 metal that absolutely ruled my 2010. Albums by The Ruins of Beverast and Vreid were not only probably my most listened-to albums during this year, but would likely have topped my 2009 list had I given them ample time. Alas, there just isn’t enough time to hear everything, but we can sure as shit try. Oh, and those 2009 albums by Code, Glorior Belli, Johann Wolfgang Pozoj and Vektor weren’t too shabby either.