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SAMMY O’HAGAR’S TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2008

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The year in metal had plenty of bad and good in it, as does every year. While hipsters tried to co-opt black metal and death metal became something for Hatebreed fans to devour, as a whole, metal proved itself as still vital, perhaps one of the only outlets those disgusted with iPod-commercial indie rock and auto-tuned hip hop could escape to. In a year almost more plastic and contrived than others, metal’s best paid little attention to convention and trend, instead focusing on the unrelenting. It was a breath of fresh air before returning to the land of The Hills, Sarah Palin, and yet another Britney Spears comeback. There was plenty to be angry about in 2008; in fact, most of it was a cause for anger. Though maybe a good-not-great year for it, metal was still a vital commodity for those wishing to look past Deerhunter, She and Him, or TV on the Radio to something a little more… interesting. My top 10 for the year?


10. Gojira – The Way of All Flesh (Prosthetic/Listenable)
Whereas Gojira’s tight prog-metal-by-way-of-Meshuggah triumph From Mars to Sirius was their Rage Against the Machine, this year’s The Way of All Flesh was their Evil Empire. While Flesh was a wildly uneven album, the good songs convey a complex, unrelenting heaviness that only unwrapped itself more on repeat listens. If Gojira’s next record can be a collection of songs with the focused, riff heavy intensity like “Yama’s Messengers,” “Toxic Garbage Island,” and “The Art of Dying” (the latter being possibly the best metal song by any band this year, or at least certainly in the running), they’ll be unstoppable.

9. Disfear – Live the Storm (Relapse)
Live the Storm turned Disfear into a well oiled punk/metal machine as opposed to just that D-beat band with the dude from At the Gates. With new addition Uffe Cederlund providing depth to the band’s throwback hardcore guitars, they became diverse enough to maintain attention despite the sole drumbeat D-beat is known for. And Lindberg, closing out his second decade in metal, sounds just as raspy and damaged as ever. Disfear did what all great punk bands eventually do – take a silly thing and make it serious. And you’d be hard pressed to find a more effective no-bullshit record than Live the Storm this year.

american me - heat8. American Me – Heat (Rise)
Getting a healthy dose of metallic breakdowns this year meant going to Bury Your Dead (who spent 2008 making the sad shift to mallcore) or the increasing crop of deathcore bands (if you didn’t mind wading through the most boring parts of death and core). American Me, however, cut right to the chase, eschewing the dopiness and calls for unity of run-of-the-mill hardcore and distilled it to a potent essence of slow motion mosh parts and jagged shards of other genres. Perhaps considered a guilty pleasure to some, Heat proved that maybe the seemingly desolate landscape of hardcore still has some lights in the distance.

7. Enslaved – Vertebrae (Candlelight)
It’s cliché to be impressed that Enslaved have released another good album this late in their career. While many of their blackened brethren are either too old or dead to be putting out anything but slight variations on their old material, Enslaved are releasing their best albums right now, with Vertebrae being a smart, subtle, beautiful and devastating album all at once. Not slighting the late-career highlights of Mayhem, Darkthrone, and Emperor’s Ihsahn and Samoth, but Enslaved may be the model for evolution in black metal, proving that you can leave your angry, lanky, corpse-painted teenage self behind when you discover the greatness of Pink Floyd and Yes.

6. Krallice – Krallice (Profound Lore)
The year’s biggest black metal surprise, though, came from two Brooklyn dudes with tech-grind pedigrees with a Jewish Burzum fan as a drummer. Krallice’s debut succeeded due to its simplicity, but more so because of its subtle melodies and well-constructed crescendos than the sound of two of metal’s biggest wankers holding back. By balancing adherence to the old school with genuinely new perspectives on the genre (check out the almost-Pinback style bellowing, and not to mention the very un-BM production), Krallice breathed new life into music that thrives on reveling in the past. Though a bit of a grower, their debut will eventually take permanent residence under your skin.

torche - meanderthal5. Torche – Meanderthal (Hydra Head)
Though it pains me to put this in the company of metal records, Torche’s latest schooled many of their doom and stoner metal peers by not being metal at all. Though flourishes of doom still float up to the surface, Meanderthal was exceptional because of its brilliant vocal melodies and tight song construction, like how the Foo Fighters would sound if David Geffen wasn’t breathing down their necks. If you like metal and at least admire well written pop – and yes, it is possible to appreciate both – Meanderthal spent at least a little time in your current rotation, or at least it should have. I can’t think of a better or more solid rock record that came out this year, and the fact that this wasn’t all over the place speaks volumes about rock radio.

4. Cult of Luna – Eternal Kingdom (Earache)
Mighty, epic, warm, crushing, and lush, Eternal Kingdom is the record Cult of Luna have been meaning to get around to making, but apparently had other things to do up until 2008. Complex but not overwrought, CoL fill the void left by the slowly diminishing returns from Isis and the fact that Neurosis have day jobs that keep them from putting out records every year. A true work of beauty and heaviness all at once, with none of it belabored or meaninglessly sentimental.

3. Cynic – Traced in Air (Season of Mist)
While Indiana Jones failed to meet our long-lingering expectations this year, Cynic’s almost-as-long-awaited return to the present tense was a master stroke on par with their sole full length, if not its superior. A perfect balance of prog musicianship and songwriting, Traced in Air is a complex listen that’s enjoyable both technically and viscerally. Clocking in just around a half an hour, the album is admirably concise, avoiding filler or intro tracks and just focusing on one phenomenal song after another. Sweet Jesus, let it be 16 years less next time around.

obzen.jpg2. Meshuggah – obZen (Nuclear Blast)
After a two album foray into weirdness (I being a success, Catch Thirty-Three being… let’s move on), Meshuggah finally make good on the promise they made on Nothing: the crushing, downtuned technicality of their early work balanced with an attention to buried melodies and ambience. obZen may even be Nothing‘s superior (though time will tell, obviously), with guitars rumbling within the surgical drumming of Tomas Haake the same as before, yet sounding fresh and unique. It’s commendable that Meshuggah have been keeping this thing going as long as they have; the fact that they’ve been doing it well is staggering.

1. Nachtmystium – Assassins: Black Meddle Part 1 (Century)
The misty darkness and energy of Nachtmystium’s latest went unmatched this year, even with the six months of catch-up bands had to play. Once the RIDICULOUS hype faded, Assassins revealed itself as the brilliant metal record that could, reimagining black metal in the American vernacular. The psychedelic cloud that wrapped itself around the album was far from a gimmick, and felt simply like a natural extension of Blake Judd’s nightmarish visions. Were it a “true” black metal record, it’d be black metal record of the year. But since Nachtmystium’s BM status has been reduced to only a portion of their sound, I suppose they’ll have to settle with just record of the year.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Made Out of Babies for finally finding a worthwhile outlet for (arguably) metal’s best female singer, Julie Christmas, on The Ruiner.

Darkthrone for making another Darkthrone record that does the once unspeakable or unthinkable task of making black metal fun.

Amon Amarth for not changing a thing.

Averse Sefira and Leviathan making the thick, near impenetrable walls of blackened noise that more than made up for the lack of a new Deathspell Omega CD this year.

Dead Covenant for reminding us about how fucking evil death metal can be. Still!

Neuraxis for releasing a solid CD of Decapitated worship, which, while lacking the romantic virtuosity of Origin or Arsis, probably stands as the technical death metal record I listened to the most.

Psycroptic for managing to make a place for themselves despite the unusually numerous technical death metal records released this year.

Hate Eternal for taking a string of bad luck and turning it into brilliantly unrelenting death metal.

Guns N’ Roses for taking seventeen years to make a record with no regard for the band’s past that somehow wound up being more interesting than Metallica’s attempt to reclaim theirs.

-SO

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