This December marks the end of a long, tiring and treacherous year. Most unfortunate were the deaths of many of our favorite musicians, as well as an abnormal amount of tragic events that happened to many individual members of the Metal Review staff. If anything, these events only brought us closer together as we filled our ears with the most appropriate sounds we could find to help us cope with the change. Fortunately, the final quarter of this year was filled an insane amount of great material. If there’s one thing that all of my top albums have in common, it’s that they display a completely unique style of extreme music. I believe that music is one of the absolute highest forms of communication we have. Since we, as humans, are evolving; it would only make sense that our methods of communication are as well. I guess more than anything, this list is further proof that paths are being forged into new boundaries. Pushing boundaries is what metal has been doing since the beginning, isn’t it? The only difference today is that the genre seems to be much more comfortable with itself. Twenty years ago, extreme music mainly showed the tough, callous shell of the individuals who were creating it…A front, if you will. Today, it’s starting to become obvious even to those completely ignorant to metal that many more beautiful intricacies lie beneath the outer layer.
If I were to comprise a list of my top 20 favorite albums from all genres this year, I don’t think it would be much different than the one you are about to read. Being a person who keeps up to date with many genres of music, I can honestly say that extreme metal is the most advanced, the most intense and the most intricate. That being said, I wholeheartedly recommend the following albums to both metalheads and non-metalheads alike. I’m honored and humbled to be a part of this team and the entire Metal Review community. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see y’all next year.
1. AGALLOCH – MARROW OF THE SPIRIT
Although Agalloch seems to reinvent themselves with each new release, I can’t help but feel that Marrow of the Spirit was meant to be a culmination of everything the band has produced to date. Being that this was one of only two albums that I felt deserved a perfect score this year (see #2), it should be of absolutely zero surprise that Marrow found its way at the top of my list. If Agalloch is too humble to bask in the spotlight, I hope that its members are quietly reaping the well-deserved rewards of their efforts somewhere in the quiet, forgotten landscapes of Portland, Oregon.
2. IHSAHN – AFTER
It takes a powerful album to stick with a listener throughout the entire year. Unfortunately, few artists have big enough balls not to release their albums all in the year’s final quarter. Ihsahn, however, must have an enormous pair. After marks the completion of Ihsahn’s solo trilogy, and is by far the most innovative of the three. Although Ihsahn wasn’t the first black metal musician to incorporate the sax into his art (Nachtmystium’s “Lost at Sea Pt. II comes immediately to mind), he has certainly set the standard for working new elements into his music. After is, in my opinion, Ihsahn’s finest work since Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk. I have absolutely no idea where he will go next, but I am now fully confident that Ihsahn will be albe to wield just about any instrument into his future efforts.
3. LES DISCRETS – SEPTEMBRE ET SES DERNIERES PENSEES
Fursy Teyssier provides his listeners with the proof it’s not always the notes that are being played, but how the notes are played that help channel into the listener’s emotions. The ebb and flow of this album is more graceful than anything I’ve ever heard and has constantly grown on me with each listen. Metal Review’s John Ray summed up this album as one that helped the listener come to terms with three things: Life, Love and Loss. I came to the exact same concluson…and the fact that neither one of us can understand a lick of French is a powerful reminder of just how moving this music is. Septembre Et Ses Dernières Pensées is brilliance in its most simple, yet carefully constructed from.
4. ALCEST – ÉCAILLES DE LUNE
Neige certainly knows how to captivate his listeners and bring them into another world. It’s incredible how one man can take music and create an entire outerworldly aquatic adventure with it. For me, this album was more than an adventure. When everything in my life was going straight to shit, Écailles served as my escape to a fantastic, surreal world that I could revisit time and time again before falling asleep. If there’s one thing special about Écailles De Lune, it’s that it will bring out the innocent, curious child inside all of us…a child who is at times frightened of its unfamiliar surroundings…and a child who is in desperate need of comfort, preferably from a beautiful, enchanting mermaid.
5. SORGELDOM – INNER RECEIVINGS
Of all the bands who have attempted to incorporate the etherial atmosphere of shoegaze into black metal, nobody does it better than Sorgeldom. The production of Inner Receivings is absolutely marvelous. The mix of keyboards and guitar distortion on this album is an example of genre blending at its pinnacle. Shoegaze and black metal are both delicate and complex art forms. Before hearing this album, I would have thought achieving a perfect balance between the two of them would have been flat out impossible. Provided that Jodöden and co. continue to use the same process that went into the immaculate songwriting and production of Inner Receivings, the only impossibility will be Sorgeldom’s obscurity.
6. JUMALHÄMÄRÄ – RESIGNAATIO
Apparently, this is what you get when a band waits fifteen years to release a full-length. Resignaatio is pure, unadulterated, minimalist Black Metal. With unimaginable amounts of carefully layered feedback and other very bizarre techniques, Jumalhämärä has created quite the resilient atmosphere for their *cough* debut release. What’s even more interesting is that the band’s members play all the instruments at random (what?). Resignaatio seems to have been created haphazardly — but there’s nothing wrong with throwing a bunch of random ingredients into a recipe if it happens to actually turn out okay. Let’s just hope Jumalhämärä wrote them all down, and that we don’t have to wait another fifteen years until the band does it again.
7. BURZUM – BELUS
If there’s one musician who knows how to put a smile on my face, it’s Kristian Vikernes. [:D] Although the album wasn’t over-hyped (thankfully), a lot of metalheads (even those who HATE the man) waited a long time to see if Varg’s songwriting ability could stand the test of time…and prison. Although many disagree with his ideologies and others blindly follow them, it’s hard to argue that Burzum hasn’t helped shape the heavy metal underground in an enormous way. Although not groundbreaking, Belus shows the lighter, more sensitive and (hopefully) rehabilitated side of a highly-misunderstood and complex mind.
8. UFOMAMMUT – EVE
Italian space rock that sounds like psychedelic satellites colliding with cosmic interplanetary laser beams…or something. That’s how I would describe Ufomammut. It’s the type of metal one can meditate to. But watch out for the shit ton of bricks that’ll be dropped on your head during the meditation session. Underneath Eve’s heaviness are also some fine melodies and sound effects that actually do make the listener feel like they’re visiting another planet. Typically, albums this innovative are a bit difficult to digest — most listeners lackadaisically throw them into the “avant garde” category and forget about them until the sound becomes trendy. But Ufomammut, on the other hand, took a complex theme, put it to accessible music and made it very understandable and enjoyable right out of the starting blocks. More than anything, Eve represents rebellion in its most delightfully tasteful form.
9. DEATHSPELL OMEGA – PARACLETUS
When it comes to Deathspell Omega, I am a complete fence walker. This is a rarity for both me and the band. With each new release, DsO seems to become more loved and more hated by everyone. I tend to view the situation objectively. Many who dislike the band have good reasons for doing so. In the past, DsO has showed us that they aren’t always going to release, you know, actual songs on their albums. In this instance, however, I’ve chosen to side with fans of these overly mysterious Frenchmen. A friend (and non-fan) summed it up best one night as we were driving into the French Quarter playing Fas: “I’m not really feeling the band’s style per se, but FUCK MAN…this is some pretty insane shit that they’re attempting to pull off.” The bottom line is that I feel obligated to give this band credit for that very reason. Fas was just as groundbreaking as it was overly esoteric. Paracletus, however, continues to break new ground, but also shows that Deathspell Omega hasn’t forgotten how to write monstrous songs.
10. HIGH ON FIRE – SNAKES FOR THE DIVINE
Nothing put a smile on my face like one of Matt Pike’s youtube interviews this year. Now I’ve never met Matt Pike, but I’ll be damned if he isn’t the most fun loving, nicest, and most hilarious character in heavy metal these days. I’m not sure if this dude still tends bar, but if I’m ever on the West Coast I will sure as hell be stopping by Eli’s Mile High Club to see if he’s there. In a year where some artists have proven themselves to be pretentious, self-absorbed pricks; Matt Pike is a beacon of hope for all fans of metal. As for the album…it fucking rips. It’s fun, snazzy, catchy and cool…just like Matt himself. There’s only one thing left to say about this: “Geddy Lee rules, bro!”
The Rest of the Best:
11. Enslaved – Axioma Ethica Odini
12. Mar De Grises – Streams Inwards
13. Electric Wizard – Black Masses
14. Negura Bunget – Vîrstele Pamîntului
15. Rotting Christ – Aealo
16. Finntroll – Nifelvind
17. Imperium Dekadenz – Procella Vadens
18. Watain – Lawless Darkness
19. A Forest Of Stars – Opportunistic Thieves of Spring
20. First Blood – Silence Is Betrayal
Cynic – Re-Traced
With all the mediocre indie rock that has been plaguing the masses, it’s nice to see a metal band prove that they’re far superior than any of the mundane, pasty, suburban nonsense topping the Pitchfork charts these days. Normally, remakes can be a bit boring and are only used to sell more merchandise to the die hard fans. The brilliance of Re-Traced is in the way Cynic chose to re-record its songs off of the beloved Traced In Air. Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert have added plenty of additional instrumentation and new melodies; they’ve changed the time signatures significantly and they’ve proven that Paul’s voice doesn’t need to have robotic distortion in order to be beautiful. A great compliment to one of the most important comeback albums in the history of heavy metal…and a great way to get your friends to stop talking so much about Deerhunter — Re-Traced is as good an introduction into the world of heavy metal as any.
Opeth – In Live Concert At The Royal Albert Hall
Opeth, in its most delicately recorded concert to date, has absolutely outdone itself here. Mikael Åkerfeldt’s voice and lead solos sound even better than the damn studio albums for crying out loud. Not only did Opeth play Blackwater Park (which is, in my opinion, the most important album of the naughties) in its entirety, but they followed it up with one classic song from each of their additional eight studio full-lengths. Åkerfeldt is truly the Robert Plant/Steve Harris of our day. If you’d like proof of that, you need look no further than this wonderful 2XDVD (3XCD) box set. Incredible.
Best Non-Metal Album From A Metal Band:
Anathema – We’re Here Because We’re Here
Anathema thoroughly impressed me with 2008’s Hindsight, which was a compilation filled with emotional re-recordings of songs from the band’s latter efforts. Although once a doom favorite, Anathema has shown that it is exponentially continuing to broaden its musical horizons. Hindsight, although atypically soft, still displayed many of the depressing sentiments contained in its songs when they were originally recorded…perhaps even more so. We’re Here Because We’re Here is just as soft, but it serves as a warm, confident, positive response in perfect contrast to its predecessor. As far as serene yet emotional music goes, I can’t think of anything better than Anathema’s latest effort.
Best Non-Metal Album From A Non-Metal Band:
Rome – Nos Chants Perdus
This. Album. Has. Legs. Jerome Reuter of Luxembourg plays all of the many instruments featured on Nos Chants Perdus himself. Although Rome has absolutely nothing to do with the world of heavy metal, I can’t help but automatically draw parallels between its music and some of the other artists that are occupying various other “best of” lists on Metal Review this year. This album is impossible not to adore if you claim to have any taste in music whatsoever. It’s dark, emotional atmosphere encompasses the wonderful neofolk passages that serve as the foundation for the entire album. To add to that, Reuter is also quite the lyrical genius. I can’t help but hope this gem will one day be used as the soundtrack to an incredible movie. Maybe then will Nos Chants Perdus, as well as all of Rome’s other fine albums, finally receive the justice they deserve.
Norse – Hellstorm
Did you really think I wouldn’t have at least one death metal album on my list this year? Well…it’s blackened death…but still…I tried [:P]. Hellstorm‘s terrifyingly brutal approach to death metal is that of thousands of innocent civilians being mercilessly slaughtered by Roman centurion soldiers. And the riffs, man. Whoa. I’m actually a bit nervous to see what these Australian punishers produce the next go-around. I must say that the Hetfield-esque clean vocals were a turn off for me personally, but other than that I have no complaints about the album. If you were searching for something to fill the void of Amon Amarth not releasing an album this year and are still depressed about Jon Nödtveidt’s suicide…go ahead and try this on for size. It will bring out the warrior in you…I promise.
Ov Hell – The Underworld Regime
Aside from being the biggest let down in 2010 by a long shot, The Underworld Regime is also the biggest piece of shit I’ve heard this entire year. My admiration for Gorgoroth begins and ends with the monster that was Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam. Without King and Gaahl, Gorgoroth is about as boring as Carpathian Forest or early Darkthrone (that’s right…I said it). However, when King and Gaahl began fighting with Infernus, I thought that they would continue to produce the magic they created on their final album together, without Infernus to hold them down. Well…that sure as shit didn’t happen. Gaahl decided to come out of the closet and quit playing metal (not sure if those two events were somehow related), and King went off and tried to form yet another powerhouse. It was like watching each of the Seinfeld members’ individual sitcoms collapse one by one all over again. The fact that Tom Visnes–AKA King Ov Hell–desperately tries to look scary and pretends to believe in Satan was something I was willing to overlook…so long as he was creating angry, hate-filled music. Well not anymore, buddy. You thought you would get the best of me when you deleted me from Facebook…buahahahaha. You were wrong. Keep wearing your clown makeup and selling CDs to 13 year old Norwegian girls…because I doubt your songwriting abilities will be improving anytime soon without your other half. Seriously though…I’ve never seen anyone play Mafia Wars as much as you do. Give it a fucking rest and put some effort into your music.
1349 – Demonoir
I am a huge fan of 1349’s first three albums. While every other black metal band is so focused on emptiness and the dark and dreary landscapes of winter, Frost (heh) and the rest of the band were burning holes in my eardrums with devouring flames from hell. When Tjalve left the band in 2006, I figured they were doomed. Sure enough,Revelations of the Black Flame turned out to be an absolute catastrophe three years later. Do I need to even discuss the odds of a band who was certainly failing due to the loss of one of their founding members being able to make this kind of a comeback? Well…not even a year went by before 1349 decided to show everyone who was boss. Demonoir was easily one of the finest black metal releases this year. Congrats to all of the members of 1349 past and present for an outstanding comeback.
“The Heavens” Award:
It’s strange having the opportunity to see one of the world’s best lyricists perform live, only to read via his mother’s Facebook post that he tragically passed away a few months later. A lot has been said about metal icon Ronnie James Dio, among other famous musicians who died this year, including hip-hop icon Guru. Not enough has been said about Eyedea. Although young, he made a huge impact on the hip-hop community at large — from Highland Park Senior High School in Saint Paul, Minnesota where he grew up, all the way to sharing the stage with Ol’ Dirty Bastard for his final performance. Eyedea was one of few artists who honestly utilized his seemingly limitless talent. From freestyling in the studio, to making music videos to winning the most valued competition in hip-hop, he was the true definition of what it means to be a Master of Ceremony. Anyone who has ever held a microphone in their hand cannot deny the raw power that Eyedea possessed. Your life wasn’t long, but you won’t ever be forgotten. Rest in Power, Mikey.