So, 2010 sucked ass. 2011 isn’t starting off much better, and I finally figured out why. The year may have ended, but I never pounded the final nail into its coffin by publishing my year-end best-of list. Hey, you can have your theories, and I’ll have mine. This procrastination has worked out well, as I always planned to put this out with as little fanfare as possible, and I think I just might have achieved that.
Just a some quick notes before we get into it. There was a considerable amount of good music released this year, but a lot of it either just washed over me or passed me by completely. On the former, expected no-brainers failed to live up to expectations (to varying degrees), but were balanced out by several surprises. The latter, you will notice that many of the albums appearing on the lists of my fellow staffers are absent. Some I just didn’t connect with the same way (Enslaved, Ihsahn, Darkthrone); others never found their way into my listening pile (Agalloch, Deathspell Omega, Twilight). Such is life. My loss, right? Maybe it was because my year/excitement for music ended on May 16th with the passing of Ronnie James Dio (not to mention the April 14th passing of Peter Steele). For the longest time, the only music that brought me much joy was that of Mr. Dio. It only recently subsided enough for me to focus on this list, and in turn, a review of the past year.
Now, without further ado, here are my top picks for 2010. Nothing more, nothing less. Thanks for reading.
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1. HIGH ON FIRE – SNAKES FOR THE DIVINE
I’ve been somewhat lukewarm on High on Fire over the years. It took me finally seeing them live during the Blessed Black Wings tour cycle that I came to realize their mightiness and the crushing power of that album. Death Is this Communion may not have lived up to that, but Snakes For The Divine sure did, and may have even eclipsed it. Just an incredible, dense batch of jams without a single weak spot. No album in 2010 hit me as hard on the first listen and continued to do so as the spin count increased.
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2. OVERKILL – IRONBOUND
Following a run of decent if not unimpressive albums (Killbox 13, ReliXIV, and Immortalis), Overkill delivered their best work since 2000’s Bloodletting, and eclipsed the usually deadly Exodus and Death Angel‘s lackluster efforts to create the thrash album of 2010. After wrecking necks for over 30 years, they can still bring it better than most, and show no signs of slowing down – even as vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth turned 51 years old (with bassist D.D. Verni not too far behind).
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3. FLOTSAM & JETSAM – THE COLD
A lot of people probably didn’t even know that Flotsam & Jetsam put out an album this year, and even I had to be reminded more than once. That’s a shame, because The Cold is probably their heaviest, most consistent album in years. With memorable riffs and the alternately personal and confrontational lyrics (even the almost cringe-worthy “K.Y.A.”) delivered by the vastly underrated Erik A.K., The Cold will take up residence inside your head and stay there as long as it damn well pleases.
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4. HELLOWEEN – 7 SINNERS
After the ill-conceived reimaginings that comprised Unarmed, 7 Sinners was welcomed as proof that Helloween had not gone completely off their collective rocker. Lots of signature Helloween here, from “Who Is Mr. Madman?” to “World of Fantasy” to “You Stupid Mankind.” Plus, they summed up how many of us feel about metal with the simply titled, “Are You Metal?”: “Call me insane, call me hard wired / But it’s the only noise I like / Believe in loud and fast and higher / I can tell the sound of wrong or right.”
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5. GRAVE DIGGER – THE CLANS WILL RISE AGAIN
Although the previous year’s Ballads of a Hangman was their best work in years, that wasn’t saying much. This time, they revisIted the Scottish themes explored on Tunes of War and produced what I can genuinely call their best work since The Grave Digger. The songwriting and track sequencing give this one a nice epic feel that may make you think that you’re out there with William Wallace and his men. Or maybe I just like metal albums with bagpipes.
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6. CRADLE OF FILTH – DARKLY DARKLY VENUS AVERSA
Rebounding from the ho-hum Godspeed on the Devil’s Thunder, Cradle of Filth delivered quite an epic work in 2010. Musically, a subtle yet somehow discernible thread ties these tracks together as they tell the fictionalized story of the demon Lilith’s (first wife of Adam) return to Earth as a deity, while Dani Filth croaks, grunts, screams, and shrieks his way through the proceedings while new female vocalist Lucy Atkins ably fills the role previously filled by Sarah Jezebel Deva. Glorious in all of it’s orchestrated, over-the-top – and yes, sometimes cheesy – glory.
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7. BLIND GUARDIAN – AT THE EDGE OF TIME
This is a good album, yes, but it is entirely possible that this placement is largely a fanboy decision, especially considering that my work on this list began shortly after seeing the band live. Whatever the case is, no matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t not include it. This had a bit more of an epic feel to it a la A Night at the Opera, as opposed to its more immediate predecessor A Twist in the Myth. Their choruses and harmonized vocals continue to be some of the best in the genre – even if it is just Hansi Kursch accompanying himself.
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8. FEAR FACTORY – MECHANIZE
A friend of mine recently said, “If you had told me ten years ago that Fear Factory would top one of my future lists, I would have told you that you were full of shit.” That fairly closely mirrors my feelings considering the relative-to-absolute dreck that followed Obsolete. I figured the re-revamped lineup of Bell/Cazares/Stroud/Hoglan would produce an acceptable album at best, never imagining they would release a proper follow up to the landmark Demanufacture album. But that’s exactly what they did, and suddenly the name Fear Factory was relevant again.
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9. ACCEPT – BLOOD OF THE NATIONS
Like many of you, I didn’t think Accept could make it without frontman Udo Dirkschneider, and that their recruitment of new vocalist Mark Tornillo would ultimately prove to be another example of a band that maybe should have left well enough alone. So it was with much humility that I professed their return a triumphant one. Tornillo gave us just enough Udo-isms mixed with his own powerful pipes to silence anyone who didn’t think Accept belonged in the 21st century.
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10. HAIL OF BULLETS – ON DIVINE WINDS
I wasn’t as excited as some of my colleagues for the release of Hail of Bullets‘s second album, and in retrospect, I’m not sure why. They play death metal just the way I like it: direct and to the point. No gratuitous, overly virtuosic passages; no over-the-top satanic gore. Just straight-up, riff-laden heaviness with a keen growler. One shouldn’t expect anything less from a crew of veterans like this. Plus, you can hardly go wrong with songs about war. On Divine Winds is less like a hail of bullets and more like a pinpoint, strategic airstrike.
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- Cathedral – The Guessing Game
- Finntroll – Nifelvind
- Forbidden – Omega Wave
- The Showdown – Blood in the Gears
- James Labrie – Static Impulse
- Black Label Society – Order of the Black
- The Crinn – Dreaming Saturn
- Istapp – Blekinge
- Jaldaboath – The Rise of Heraldic Beasts
- Krieg – The Isolationist
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BEST NON-METAL ALBUMS OF 2010
- Airbourne – No Guts, No Glory
- Neil Young – Le Noise
- Grinderman – Grinderman 2
- Jackyl – When Moonshine and Dynamite Collide
- Molly Hatchet – Justice
- Merle Haggard – I Am What I Am
- Johnny Cash – Ain’t No Grave
- Dax Riggs – Say Goodnight to the World
- Hank Williams III – Rebel Within
- Mondo Cane – S/T