ANSO DF’S TOP FIFTEEN METAL ALBUMS OF 2010
15. Forbidden, Omega Wave (Nuclear Blast)
From one angle, it appears that the reactivation of long-dormant and underachieving thrash acts like Forbidden is a welcome trickle-down from Big Four hoopla. But after a few riveted listens to Omega Wave, one has to fight the sensation that this time around, the big guys are hogging the spotlight with unconvincing live sets and creatively bankrupt albums (If an album can even be mustered, huh, Anthrax?). Yet again, this situation might provide the sizable shoulder-chip that leads to artful, well-built outings like Omega Wave. So, yeah, just keep on suckin’, Metallica!
The jam that will hook you: “Swine”
14. Ratt, Infestation (Roadrunner)
All summer, sources both suspect and respectable were hammering me with the idea that tracks from Ratt’s Infestation would fit neatly onto their mega-selling 1986 debut Out Of The Cellar. Nice try, but Ratt 2K jams are way too considered and vanilla to find camouflage amid the raunch rock of Cellar. (Fuck, maybe I’m the only one paying rapt attention to post-‘80s Ratt records? Embarrassing.) Still, Infestation proves that a toothless Ratt can squeak by on charm — even through a saggy middle marked by songs so frustratingly vague, riffless, and monosyllabic that they fail to meet even beer commercial standards of edginess. But Infestation is elsewhere rich in summery, high-volume arena jams propelled by top-flight guitarist Warren DeMartini and new old guy Carlos Cavazo. But in the post-Feel The Steel world, there’s no real excuse for conservative production and dialed-back sleaze. Somebody get these guys some drugs!
The jam that will hook you: “Take Me Home”
13. Crashdiet, Generation Wild (Universal Music Sweden)
Van Halen’s first two post-David Lee Roth albums traumatized me, but I learned an indelible lesson: When a singular act undergoes drastic changes to style and/or personnel, the best thing for the listener is to think of the before and after as totally unrelated bands. See, once you employ this selective denial to liberate 5150 and OU812 from the expectations of the Earth-scorching Van Halen of “I’m the One” and “In a Simple Rhyme,” it’s reasonably easy to enjoy these two of history’s nicest pop records and, in time, also appreciate a new frontman who’d sooner sell you a resort vacation than face-bang your sister. Sweden’s somewhat star-crossed Crashdiet doesn’t require quite so much mental shell-gaming, but over three albums with as many singers, the neo-glam rockers seem doomed to busted momentum and a continuously shifting identity. It’s a sucky situation, especially when you consider that Crashdiet had found the fucking perfect five-tool singer in Dave Lepard, but lost him to suicide following their thunderous (and presciently titled) debut, Rest in Sleaze. And while fans like me go insane wondering what evolutionary heights of awesomeness would’ve been reached by a third Lepard-fronted Crashdiet record (I imagine something like Pissed to the power of Pyromania), for now, we hail singer Simon Cruz’s Crashdiet Mark III and the massively entertaining but hook-impaired Generation Wild. And then we recommence the process of hoping that four years from now, we’ll be discussing this band’s Pissomania.
The jam that will hook you: “Chemical”
12. Arsis, Starve For The Devil (Nuclear Blast)
I considered telling Arsis mainman James Malone that Starve For The Devil shattered the record for longest continuous tenure in my shower radio this year. (Previous title-holder: Blue Murder.) ‘Cuz maybe he’d find it distasteful to imagine the product of his hard work — a pulverizing recovery album, no less — reduced to a soundtrack for sudsy writhing, morning-after moaning, and buttcrack excavation. Or maybe he’d be cool with it. There’s one way to find out: Make him a video.
The jam that will hook you: “Beyond Forlorn”
11. Monster Magnet, Mastermind (Napalm)
One of the most telling moments of the MetalSucks interview with Mastermind mastermind Dave Wyndorf was his statement that it had “been a while since [he] did an overly-aggressive record.” And while it makes creative sense for his Monster Magnet to have ventured into power-pop and snappy radio rock (as on Mastermind’s immediate predecessors), the outsized proportions of Wyndorf — underrated singer, deft lyricist, giga-gifted songwriter — fairly demands the epic. I mean, shit, King Kong is at his best when stomping cars and punting bystanders, even though it’s occasionally novel to watch him attempt a Broadway monologue. And likewise, Mastermind sees a healthy but often heart-broken Wyndorf (again, interview here) wrenching free of his shackles, overturning his pedestal, and sparking a 12-track conflagration in America’s rock-parched streets. Let it burn.
The jam that will hook you: “The Titan Who Cried Like A Baby”
10. Enforcer, Diamonds (Heavy Artillery)
I’m kinda lost up my own ass lately so my opinion might be ill-informed, but to me, opponents of the neo-thrash movement usually center their crosshairs on the wrong target. Their frustration should be with the industry’s decision-makers who so unceasingly pillage the past to fuel contemporary commerce (See: The Big Four, that wanker Rod Stewart). And though I too am angry that this reliance on the familiar retards growth of the art form (Dude, will we never be rid of REO Speedwagon?), I insist that it’s unfair for young bands like Enforcer and Holy Grail to serve as fall guys. It’s not like these little bands are riding nostalgia to relative wealth and fame (cough that’s metalcore), and I especially resent that implication from fans of Metallica, who launched their career as authors of the 100% unoriginal but awesome Kill ‘Em All and then served as accomplices to the premature death of the genre. I mean, really! Okay, sorry for yelling. I know it’s not your fault. Deep breath. What were we even talking about? Oh yeah, fucking Enforcer rules!
The jam that will hook you: “Walk With Me”
9. Overkill, Ironbound (Nuclear Blast)
There’s this neat 1967 book called Hitchcock/Truffaut in which the latter, a budding French New Wave director, exhaustively interviews the former, a titan of cinema in the midst of an overdue period of artistic acclaim. Once I inevitably con a multi-book deal out of Ian Christe, my first submission will be Overkill/Anso DF, in which the latter, an irretrievably vulgar and self-important metal columnist, devotes several hundred pages to Q&Aing the living shit out of the New York thrash outfit that has strung together a Hitchcock-sized library of awesome-to-insanely awesome records in defiance of age, trends, and fluctuating commercial interest (even within the ostensibly reverent metal scene). Okay, that last sentence was too long, but anyway I’m not the first to suggest that it’s almost to their detriment that Overkill so consistently amazes; dudes I know insist that if a conspiracy was hatched to disguise the masterful Ironbound as the work of an upcoming thrash act — a practical impossibility in light of singer Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth’s singular shriek and black, biting wordplay — the result would be greater fan enthusiasm and noisier media coverage. But back in reality, where this virtual Pepsi challenge is a fanciful dream, familiarity breeds contempt; shit man, even superfans might find their Overkill quota surpassed after fifteen goddamn albums. But, as I’ll state in the Overkill/Anso DF epilogue, someday their tired peers’ marketing muscle will atrophy, clever visual presentation will lose its context, and first-wave fans will start to die off; then I bet popular acclaim will catch up with Overkill and Hall of Fame-caliber records like Ironbound. Meet me back here in three decades to discuss! Is May 5, 2041 good for everyone?
The jam that will hook you: “Give A Little”
8. Triptykon, Eparistera Daimones (Century Media)
I spent the first few spins of Electronica Dalmatians giggling at both Tom Gabriel Fischer’s neo-Muppet villain roar and his choice to name his post-Celtic Frost band after the sleepy stuff in Thanksgiving turkey. Then I spent the next 700 spins rocking my goddamn motherfucking ass off.
The jam that will hook you: “A Thousand Lies”
7. Nachtmystium, Addicts: Black Meddle, Part II (Century Media)
No half-assed rock doc is complete without a clip of some fame-humping nobody claiming to have witnessed a band’s “it” moment, i.e., their departure from youthful potential into irrevocable awesomeness. And I hereby call dibs on that segment should Nachtmystium explode into widespread acclaim, as their current trajectory might suggest. I’ll blab animatedly about my brief but planet-tilting backstage chat in 2008 with frontman Blake Judd, during which I congratulated him on a killer set and his vision for Assassins: Black Meddle, Part I. Our hang was over in a minute, but somehow I left the conversation firmly optimistic that Judd, then flush with victory, was gearing up for another genre-busting odyssey. Flash forward to January 2010 and Addicts: I was so right! But now hmmm I can see that that anecdote needs more zing. Oh, I’ll just make like memoirist Dave Mustaine and throw in some unprovable claims of veiled homosexuality and guitar solo coaching. Bam!
The jam that will hook you: “Addicts”
6. Watain, Lawless Darkness (Season of Mist)
I enjoyed day trips into croaky shoegaze suites and babbling-brook black metal, but my long vacation time goes to raging Watain, authors of the serious-as-a-heart-attack classic Lawless Darkness. And though I’m
too chickenshit to interview in awe of head ‘tainer Erik Danielsson, I can tell from mournful mega-epic “Waters of Ain” that he’s just as fearful and confused as the rest of us. Except that he expresses his dispossession with baths in rancid blood and pledges to universal evil. See? Just a regular dude!
The jam that will hook you: “Waters of Ain”
5. Soilwork, The Panic Broadcast (Nuclear Blast)
I confess that after Soilwork’s ho-hum 2007 album Sworn To A Great Divide, my excitement began to drift toward then-ex-guitarist Peter Wichers’ production work and singer Bjorn “Speed” Strid’s announced solo album. But alas, the former would hardly satisfy someone who plans to be cremated with a copy of Stabbing The Drama; the latter has yet to exist, though I have no shortage of patience for a project that aspires to reference Alice Cooper, Kiss, early Aerosmith, Boston, and Steely Dan. Then enter The Panic Broadcast, the return of Wichers and Soilwork’s temporarily misplaced awesomeness (interview here). Don’t tell anyone this, but the album reminds me of an interview I read with that dunderhead singer of Avenged Sevenfold, who marveled that while a listener might not subscribe to a band’s stylistic philosophy — in this case, screamy verses over single-note guitar riffs, then melodic choruses over ringing chords; crispy, needly distortion; evasive bass frequencies — a truly inspired band enables a fair listener to stop caring what it is, and just care about how excellently it’s done. Just like how I hate cole slaw, except for the wild cole slaw at that hamburger place in Manhattan Beach. Yep, that is so Soilwork!
The jam that will hook you with a freakishly amazing keyboard-guitar solo passage: “Epitome”
4. Deftones, Diamond Eyes (Reprise)
It’s funny to think that two albums ago, Deftones music was flabby and slow-moving. ‘Cuz on the other side of 2006’s year-best Saturday Night Wrist, the band sounds lean, direct, and hard-hitting on Diamond Eyes. So a wiseguy might point out that the Deftones (interviews here and here) sound mirrors the physical condition of frontman Chino Moreno yuk yuk yuk. But seriously folks, that suggestion is way implausible and odd, not unlike the strange feeling that at least two Diamond Eyes jams were written for Incubus or something. A wiseguy might also posit that these songs’ inclusion on the record points to a refusal to backseat their poppier tendencies, though the real issue is that one of those stylistic black sheep is of insufficient quality to function as more than a distraction, like a road trip pit stop where no fuel or food are purchased. The good news is that we wiseguys can conquer that usually productive Deftones stubbornness by playing a little Fantasy Producer: Just rotate “Sextape” (a song about Favre?) to a B-side somewhere and promote to the eighth slot their bonus track cover of The Cardigans’ “Do You Believe.” Et voilà: Continuity, momentum, flavor, perfection. Now, seriously, where’s fucking Eros?!
The jam that will hook you: “Royal”
3. The Crown, Doomsday King (Century Media)
It’s proof of The Crown’s paradoxical nature their merely B+ reunion album Doomsday King is still amazinger than all but a few 2010 records. This is the same band that broke up before properly touring for their masterpiece (Possessed 13) and once hired renowned At the Gates screamer Tomas Lindberg only to experience a near-total halt to career momentum. Even weirder, while the metal public consistently fails to herald and nurture these virtually peerless death metallers — damning the band to status as the genre’s XTC or Dandy Warhols — it’s The Crown’s own songwriting core that might be most guilty of underestimating the awesomeness of, uh, The Crown. For one, Doomsday King began its life as a work of Dobermann, the post-Crown project that eventually became The Crown minus longtime vocalist Johan Lindstrand. This fact ,and the album’s near-total lack of daring, suggest an early hesitance to openly trade in the Crownisms that mark their best efforts: the eminently screamable choruses and single-note guitar themes; the bottomless well of winning riffs and dynamic shifts in tempo; the ratcheting and releasing of tension and full grayscale atmospherics; the solos!!! Not to mention album-wide themes of Legosian horror and Corman-esque pulp that serve as all-important anchors to perspective: The listener never got the sad sense that the men of The Crown are participants in their own drama, just its authors. Almost none of that is present in this Crown For Dummies collection, which has more in common with pre-maturity outings like The Burning and Eternal Death than their classics, i.e., more than great for headbanging, but less than heart-stopping. And the whole Doomsday experience pushes into outright discomfort, thanks to well-intentioned but unjustly frothing reviewers who bestow retroactive acclaim on The Crown and Doomsday King in a manner that’s reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s Oscar win for the occasionally fun but mostly absurd crime drama The Departed. Likewise, The Crown (interview here) may have found a capable surrogate for their De Niro (Lindstrand) in DiCaprio (bespectacled new guy Jonas Stålhammar), but judging from masterful album closer “He Who Rises In Might – From Darkness To Light” — Doomsday King’s one unarguable Crown epic — their next outing won’t be indecisive and rote like Shutter Island. More like Paradox City.
The jam that will hook you: “Age of Iron”
2. Atheist, Jupiter (Season of Mist)
Either the year in metal 2010 was defined by the schooling of young know-nothings by veteran metallists or, alternatively, I’ve failed to identify/admit that a midlife crisis has made me indifferent to all but old and old-sounding bands. It really could be either. Possibly both. Huh. Look, we could sit here and microscope this thing to death, but instead let’s just commit to record that I’m an ageless hunk with unimpeachable style and that this year taught us that in music, experience brings invaluable confidence and resourcefulness. Oh, let us also decree that bands like Kelly Shaefer’s Atheist (interview here and here) should never ever ever again be allowed to lapse into a long period of inactivity. Although Shaefer did explain that it was partly his experiences with hard-rockin’ Neurotica that provided Jupiter‘s melodic edge, without which it might’ve played like a tribute to Atheist’s first masterpiece, Unquestionable Presence. Nay, Jupiter has balls of its own from which to swing. Huge, throbbing balls.
The jam that will hook you: “When The Beast”
1. Iron Maiden, The Final Frontier (EMI/UME)
Now that the three-guitared, jumbo jet-propelled, documentary star Iron Maiden is officially larger than life, it would seem that a collection of new material might be a welcome but semi-necessary afterthought. And for some fans, there was another worry related to the diminishing returns of Dance of Death and A Matter Of Life And Death. (In retrospect, I guess the lesson is that Bruce-era Maiden will tip listeners to a record’s mediocrity by using D-words in its title.) And finally, it’s debatable whether producer Kevin Shirley’s free-hand standards capture Maiden energy as often as sub-awesome performances by high-mileage musicians, understandable though it may be to avoid wearing anybody out in the name of laser-precision. But, whew!, those suspicions were obliterated by The Final Frontier. It’s the album most devoted to musicality since Somewhere In Time. It’s the album with the riffs, solos, and cohesion to justify Steve Harris’ uncontrollable fetish for long songs. It’s the album that explodes the claustrophobically narrow comfort zone of post-Brave New World efforts. It’s a motherfucking classic Maiden album, with jams one after another and packed with hummable guitar themes and cool, engaged vocal performances. But now I have a new suspicion — that guitarist Adrian Smith is responsible for the record’s many twists and turns (and probably those killer slide guitar parts on”The Man Who Would Be King”). ‘Cuz, hey, Smith looks motivated and energetic outside of Maiden — November saw announcements of his project with the Sikth guys and a songwriting gig for Michael Hutchence’s replacement in INXS — and, again, considering Final‘s passing resemblance to the Smith-heavy Somewhere In Time, it’s no leap to credit him with Final‘s sophistication, timelessness, and plain old attentive musicianship. I hope I’m right, also, ‘cuz the existence of a powerful Smith faction implies good collaborative health within Maiden, a must since Harris’ bare-minimum songwriting doesn’t cut it at album length and, fuck dude, the rest of Maiden isn’t his goddamn backing band. I know that’s a lot of extrapolation — and probably a bit of projection — so, yeah, sorry if I’m way off. But just in case I’m right, let’s go ahead and tip our hats to Adrian Smith, top five all-time guitarist. I said tiiip theeemmmm!
The jam that will hook you: “Isle of Avalon”