TOP TEN (REALLY ELEVEN) ALBUMS OF 2007 – AXL ROSENBERG’S PICKS
There’s really no unifying theme for my “Best Of” list this year, except, perhaps, that I was genuinely surprised during my initial listen of each of these albums: none of these bands are simply showing “a return to form,” as the saying goes, and none of these bands are just proving for the umpteenth time that they’re very, very good at what they do; obviously some of them got a little crazier than others, but they all tried something new and unexpected, and they all pulled it off.
Consequently, obsessive repeat listens have been very kind to each of these albums, and they’ve all stayed fresh for me whether I first heard them months or mere weeks ago. After the jump, my list.
1. Chimaira, Resurrection (Ferret/Nuclear Blast)
Misanthropic, malicious, and malignant, one of the best bands of the American New Wave miraculously pulls off another brutally great album, the possibilities of which, once again, was only hinted at in all of their prior material. How does this band manage to keep reinventing themselves and making such ginormous leaps and bounds from album to album – all the while distinctly sounding like Chimaira – while so many other bands seem satisfied to just put out variations on the same thing over and over and over again? Adding shades of orchestral black metal (“Empire”) and industrial (“Killing the Beast”) to the mix of their usual anthemic, Panteric melodic deathrash (the title track, “The Flame,” “Worthless,” “Black Heart,” “Needle”) might have been impressive enough, but the fact that the band also stretched themselves as songwriters and musicians also speaks to their determination to remain relevant and surprising: the epic track “Six” is surely my favorite song of the entire year, and I’m consistently surprised by all the nooks and crannies of the song that I still have yet to discover. The fact that I still listen to this album in its entirety at least once a week when I first heard it in fucking January is a testament to its power. Belittle and ignore Chimaira at your own peril, for they will fucking destroy you.
2. Avenged Sevenfold, Avenged Sevenfold (Warner Bros.)
The thing is, I almost want to hate Avenged Sevenfold, because of their politics, because of their idiocy, because of their arrogance, and because they wear their fucking baseball caps sideways. Too bad for me, then, that they just released one of the best collections of aurally rich, musically diverse, supremely catchy hard rock anthems of anything this side of Use Your Illusion. Reaffirming their ability to combine elements of hair metal, thrash, and British New Wave into an awesome amalgamation of pure rock godliness, they proved that they have more than a few tricks still left up their sleeves, adding moody orchestration (“Afterlife,” “Brompton Cocktail”) to the mix and, oh yeah, a fucking Sondheim-as-goth showtune (“A Little Piece of Heaven”). Cooler still: unlike the boys in some of their rival acts (cough, Atreyu, cough, cough), A7X can actually pull this shit off live. Freddy Mercury would be proud.
3. Machine Head, The Blackening (Roadrunner)
I’m not gonna argue with anyone about whether or not this album is better than Burn My Eyes – really, I think only time will be able to answer that question – but come on: this album kills, from start to finish. Anyone who’s been sitting around waiting for Metallica to return to the form of their Master of Puppets and …And Justice for All days and yet somehow doesn’t own this album is a damn fool: Rob Flynn and company just made the soundtrack for this generation’s Heavy Metal Parking Lot, something to slam Jaeger to without ever compromising itself. This album makes me wanna break someone’s fucking jaw, and I love it.
4. At All Cost, Circle of Demons (Century Media)
This is all I have to say to all of you: WHY DON’T YOU OWN THIS FUCKING ALBUM? Clearly crafted with an incredible amount of thought and care, it manages to be catchy, challenging, and diverse in ways we usually associate with old Faith No More; AAC’s MySpace page lists their influences as Iron Maiden, AC/DC, and Daft Punk, and that’s about as accurate a description of the band’s music as you can get using only other bands as a template. Full of huge anthems that will get stuck in your head for days, weeks, months after you first heard them, Circle of Demons proves At All Cost to be the first second-generation American New Wavers to truly live up to the legacy of that trend’s originators. In ten years, they will be considered the unappreciated geniuses of their time.
5. Dillinger Escape Plan, Ire Works (Relapse)
Speaking of Faith No More: yeah yeah yeah, Ire Works has enough killer mathcore to melt your face off and draw in the previously unintiated such as myself (“Fix Your Face,” “Party Smasher”), but it’s the moments where the band assumes the mantle of FNM that really stand out: “Black Bubblegum,” “Milk Lizard,” “Dead as History” and “Mouth of Ghosts” are simple enough to work as pop ditties and layered enough to make sure that they wear out their welcome… well, pretty much never.
6. Pig Destroyer, Phantom Limb (Relapse)
When I wrote about this band as part of my “Angry Music for Angry People” column at Idolator, a commentor known as “Superunison” outlined the joys of Pig Destroyer’s music with such poetic grace, I’m ashamed I didn’t write the following description myself: “Grind and its compatriots are about moments, not hooks… Part of the point of this kind of art is to create a time-dialated landscape that’s more about strange orders of magnitude and novelistic density. Discussing whether or not it gets over the same bar that would be set for American Idol Winner is silly. To extend the metaphor, they’re not really even playing the same sport.” I really could not say it better myself, but I’ll try: this album makes me see – no, feel – the beauty in decay; it makes me want to hurt someone, it makes me want to cry, it makes my fucking gums ache. God willing, its as close as I’ll ever get to understanding what it is like to be truly, irredeemably insane, to stare into the sun to the point of blindness, to be trapped in a tornado and understand what a Higher Power truly is. And that’s about as well as I can put it.
7. Marilyn Manson, Eat Me, Drink Me (Interscope)
Yeah, he’s not shocking anymore, and yeah, he wears make-up and takes himself too seriously, but really – how does that differentiate him from any number of black metal bands out there these days? Teaming with guitarist/bassist/producer Tim Skold and ditching, for the most part, his industrial tendencies altogether, this is the first Manson album where he doesn’t sound like he’s just aping his former mentor, Trent Reznor; instead, these are fairly straight-forward, goth-tinged hard rock numbers, the kind that recall the simple pleasures of bands like Smashing Pumpkins and their ilk back when they were actually, y’know, good. If I was, perhaps, a little too wowed by it upon a first listen, that doesn’t change the fact that Manson made the album that a gazillion of his peers – Reznor, Billy Corgan, and Josh Homme amongst them – failed to offer us this year. Thanks to songs like “Putting Holes in Happiness” and “Evidence,” my faith in the man is now restored.
8. Rwake, Voices of Omens (Relapse)
Rwake make such beautiful, unpretentious noise; they want nothing more than to be the most evil band on the face of the planet, and by golly if they haven’t damn near achieved that goal. Nihilistic, slow, and crusty, these songs are EPIC – not counting the intro and bridge, all but one reaches beyond the seven minute mark – and feel like they might legitimately be summoning forth all the demons from the gates of Hell. But the lyrics are raw, honest-to-whoever acts of soul-bearing poetry, and the spiraling, unraveling music provides this year’s very best songs to get stoned to.
9. Nights Like These, Sunlight at Secondhand (Victory)
Where the fuck does some band with some gay name on some gay label get off releasing the year’s most ferocious, mouthful of tooth-and-blood soup of a post-hardcore album? For that matter, where the fuck do these dudes get off interspersing their more furious moments with ones of floating, visceral beauty? Breakdowns that are actually terrifying intermingle with guitars that make me wanna lay in a field and stare up at the stars, often within mere breaths of one another; “Heart of the Wound,” “Claw Your Way Out” and especially “Samsara” combine melody with vulgar displays of power better than any of 8 trillion metalcore-cum-latelys that tried to pull of the same trick this year; maybe you think they’re just another Converge-lite, but it’s hard for me to imagine that people won’t catch on to what Nights Like These are doing sooner or later.
10. Between the Buried and Me, Colors (Victory)
Right around the time “Foam Born/The Backtrack” turns into a swirling tornado of poppy synths and ELO-esque vocals, I actually felt compelled to yell “HOLY SHIT!” out loud. Colors cements BTBAM as Dream Theater for the deathcore crowd, which is fine: it raises the bar far beyond anything I imagine most of the band’s peers are even remotely capable of. Schizophrenic and ADD-ridden in the best possible way, Colors is what it took to finally convert me to the evils of BTBAM after Vince had spent two years trying to get me to give Alaska its due. Simply brilliant.
11. Through the Eyes of the Dead, Malice (Prosthetic)
I don’t know why, exactly, this album stood out for me above so many other death metal releases this year. Maybe it’s because the band played down the core in favor of the death; it maybe it’s because it doesn’t sag in the middle; maybe it’s because, after 2005’s only so-so Bloodlust, I really just never saw this one coming; maybe it’s just because Erik Rutan is the fucking man, and his production crushes. In any case, this album makes my head throb and my asshole bleed, and it’s probably very dangerous to be around me when I’m listening to it. This album, in other words, is FUCKING BRUTAL.
The runners-up, in alphabetical order:
A Life Once Lost, Iron Gag
Anaal Nathrakh, Hell is Empty and All the Devils Are Here
Arch Enemy, Rise of the Tyrant
Baroness, The Red Album
The Black Dahlia Murder, Nocturnal
Bloodjinn, This Machine Runs On Empty
Cephalic Carnage, Xenosapien
Cerberus, Dispute the Truth
Despised Icon, The Ills of Modern Man
DevilDriver, The Last Kind Words
Down, III: Over the Under
Exodus, The Atrocity Exhibition… Exhibit A
The Hidden Hand, The Resurrection of Whiskey Foot
Moonsorrow, V – Hävitetty
Sigh, Hangman’s Hymn
Throwdown, Venom & Tears
Devin Townsend, Ziltoid the Omniscient
Watain, Sworn to the Dark