I’ve seen a lot of folks talking about how weird 2010 has been. And how shitty. I don’t know how I feel about it yet, except that it went too fucking fast. Or maybe not fast enough. Fuck it. I don’t have a clue. What I’ll remember most about the heavy metal of 2010 is that there was a shit-ton of great stuff and none of it had the individual impact of 2009’s best stuff. I had almost no trouble at all making my top twenty last year (aside from one last minute sneaker) because, as awesome as that year was, the best albums were just that obvious to me. No such luck this year, as I’m not at all confident that my list will look the same next week, much less next year. That is, I haven’t yet decided whether this year merely appears to be less distinct against the glare of its own awesomeness, or if its shine is effectively drowned in the shadow of 2009. As always, time will tell.
Then again, maybe it doesn’t matter. These lists are really sort of self-serving anyway. Maybe you’re just looking for your favorite ’10 releases on here and when you don’t see them you’ll bullshit my list and move on to the next, hoping your faves’ll be there. But my bet is that you’re smarter than that. My hope is that you recognize the value of another metal head’s list as a source of potential greatness from which you might draw. Hell, even the ‘zine staffers can’t keep up with all the kick ass heavy metal comin’ down the pike. I know I look forward to perusing each and every one of these lists, including those bubbling up from the community pool, in order to grow my heavy metal database exponentially.
But for now, under threat of testicular contrituration, here is my extremely fluid and fragile list of the albums I enjoyed most in 2010. …so far.
THE BEST OF 2010
1. IHSAHN – AFTER
Ihsahn’s latest is the only album in 2010 that legitimately amazed me. My favorite metal is almost always progressive in nature and After represents the epitome of the concept in metal for 2010. Yes, the sax is fucking brilliant but its melody and supporting structure coalesce so effectively as to push the record past novel to nonpariel. After resists comparison almost as assuredly as it defies categorization.
2. OVERKILL – IRONBOUND
There’s too many people out there this year trumpeting the return of the mighty Overkill. Really? They can’t be back, because they never went anywhere. They never stopped making records, never quit having fun, never lost their swagger. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all psyched the fuck up over this album myself, but what exactly are we celebrating here at the end of 2010? Yes, Ironbound is a stellar slab o’ thrash, but what makes it undeniably so is that Blitz and the boys have unequivocally, unapologetically rediscovered their “Fuck You!”
3. AIUMEEN BASOA – IRAGANEKO BIDE MALKARTSUTIK
One of the most beautifully elaborated albums of the year. Aiumeen Basoa avoid everything that sucks about folk metal and capitalize on superior songwriting and incredible musicianship. An immaculate fastidiousness allows these Basque troubadours to paint fantastic murals of olde in bold modern hues. At once understated and bombastic, Iraganeko… is the most pleasant surprise of 2010.
4. NEGURA BUNGET – VÎRSTELE PAMÎNTULUI
Lots of trepidation around this one following the confusing and ultimately acrimonious departure of Sol Faur and Hupogrammos. All the Access Transylvania© scoops aside, Negru’s dedication to the sound he helped to found translated to a lush and eons-deep record that rivals the best in their catalog. Maiestrit is a strong record in its own right, and may even be more important given its status as the final (re-)recording of the band proper, but Vîrstele Pamîntului gets the nod as the band’s original recording for 2010.
5. BURZUM – BELUS
Forgetting all the historical debate surrounding its release, Belus is a beautiful record. Its buzzing warmth initially made it a favorite background album for reading, but it’s also very bright and engaging so it would consistently pull me out of the doldrums of work. Engrossing and transcendent and rising confidently from the ashes of Filosofem, Belus is emblematic of rebirth, regardless of how closely Varg intended the album’s arc to reflect his own.
6. BLOOD REVOLT – INDOCTRINE
I really love a heavy metal record that grabs hold of my throat and refuses to release its grip. It’s a much more powerful experience when it’s an album I cannot say I enjoy. Averill’s impassioned voice in simultaneous accord and opposition to underlying chaotic grind makes Indoctrine a difficult but richly rewarding listen. A study in force-fed dogma, it is initially uncomfortable and disconcerting but ultimately empowering, once resistance is quelled.
7. ACCEPT – BLOOD OF THE NATIONS
According to the band, they got together with friend, TT Quick vocalist Mark Tornillo, just to have some fun and kick out some favorite old jams. When the energy from those fuck-around sessions singed the rockers’ eyebrows, they decided they’d discovered lightning that just had to be bottled. Thus inspired, they set about crafting the songs that would become Blood of the Nations. The creative process just doesn’t get more honest than that and that authenticity is evident in every compulsory headbanging moment of this new record.
8. LES DISCRETS – SEPTEMBRE ET SES DERNIÈRES PENSÉES
Septembre… may be the most beautiful heavy record of the year. What I find most appealing is the ability of its artisan, Fursy Teyssier, to draw his work’s beholder into his musical world. There is no effort involved in this regard; he paints his mystical landscape softly with shades of life’s blues and greys so that they engulf the listener, just as long as he or she is merely willing.
9. DRAGONAUTA – CRUZ INVERTIDA
South America seems to have a surplus of awesome stoner bands. Must be something in the bongwater. Dragonauta is Argentina’s premier stoner doom act and they do their smokin’ at the Dark Altar. Their take on occult doom is progressive and experimental (though less so here than on previous offerings), and executed with a psychedelic eye to Satan. Awash in the grainy witch-cult craze of the seventies, Cruz Invertida is both a little frightening for its intrigue and a whole lot of fun for its design.
10. ENSLAVED – AXIOMA ETHICA ODINI
I’m not willing to dub Axioma Ethica Odini the unmitigated triumph that many others have, but I must give it its due. As noted a million times before me, the opener is without a doubt one of the best metal songs of the year, but the also oft noted drop-off following is undeniable. Nonetheless, “Lightening” is the track that came to be my favorite here, representing the perfect storm of the band’s varied styles. In the end, it’s that very amalgamation of all things awesome about modern Enslaved that makes Axioma… so very impressive.
JUST UNDER THE UPPER CRUST:
11. Iron Maiden – The Final Frontier
12. Woe – Quietly, Undramatically
13. Stargazer – A Great Work of Ages / A Work of Great Ages
14. Inquisition – Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm
15. Ludicra – The Tenant
16. Throes of Dawn – The Great Fleet of Echoes
17. Darkthrone – Circle the Wagons
18. Voices From Beyond – The Gates of Madness
19. Weapon – From the Devil’s Tomb
20. Dawnbringer – Nucleus
1. Gallowbraid – Ashes of Eidelon
2. Corsair – Alpha Centauri
3. A Wake A Week – Abandon
4. Boris & Ian Astbury – BXI
5. Heliotropes – III
The following bands all put out really, really good albums, any one of which would have probably made the above list on any other given day. Such is the price of 2010’s ridiculously wide array of awesomeness: Borknagar, Alcest, High on Fire, Zoroaster, Horseback, Blood Cult, The Sequence of Prime, Valborg, Angst Skvadron, Borean Dusk, October Tide
VICTIMS OF TOO LITTLE TIME
Check with me in March to see how many of these will have supplanted something above: Martolea, Furze, God Dethroned, Mirror of Deception, Hail of Bullets, Withered, El Gran Temor, Cloudkicker, Aborym
BIGGEST HEAD SCRATCHER
Ghost – Opus Eponymous (officially hits in mid-January, but the hype machine has been in full gear for weeks already, so…)
Boy, eeeeeverybody’s lovin’ this fucking thing and I can’t figure out why. It’s okay, I guess… Decently executed, obviously derivative occult “death” rock that pales in comparison to its chosen muses, namely the actual King Diamond and the actual Blue Öyster Cult.
1. Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit
Easily my most anticipated release of 2010, Marrow of the Spirit left me flat. All the pieces are there, but the band has put their emphases on very different aspects this time around, becoming “more metal” at the price of what makes them unique. Agalloch is suddenly at once more widely lauded and less special.
2. Grand Magus – Hammer of the North
3. Drudkh – Handful of Stars
FAVORITE NON-METAL ALBUMS
1. Labirinto – Anatema
2. Dax Riggs – Say Goodnight to the World
3. Citay – Dream Get Together
4. Black Swan – Black Swan (In 8 Movements)
5. Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses – Junky Star
6. They Mean Us – For the Stereo Impaired
7. A Broken Consort – Crow Autumn
8. Mugstar – Lime
9. Four Tet – There Is Love In You
10. Theologian – The Further I Get From Your Star, The Less Light I Feel On My Face