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LION KING WINGERSCHMIDT’S TOP TEN (AND THEN SOME) OF TWO THOUSAND TEN

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Funny that both of my parents are Leos but I end up being the lion…..ROOOAAAR.
It’s your creepy Uncle Wingerschmidt, back once again to make you feel uncomfortable in all the right ways… What a year huh? We laughed, we cried, we ate, we drank, we fucked, we rocked, we rolled, we smoked, we toked… Life got real and adventurous once again and at the end of the day we’re all simultaneously better and worse off whether we realize it or not. I can only imagine what 2011 has in store…

I have repeatedly voiced my opinion to Axl that this whole “Top 15” shiz is pure poppycock — don’t the merits of a “best-of-the-year” list largely derive from the whiddling down of it? Thus this lion has compiled a TOP TEN canon for 2010 (along with five honorable mentions for team spirit’s sake, the album of the year to get stoned to, and my fave non-metal record of the year).

Shall we?

THE CANON:

mantric - the descent10) MANTRIC The Descent

This band is difficult to classify, and admittedly that’s one of the things I enjoy most about them. Yes, the sound is mainly progressive metal, but there are several hardcore-ish outbursts and the conflicted, damaged vibe of a lot of the vocals are a welcome departure from so many bands’ pristine, pitch-perfect clean singing. Although there are plenty of beautifully sung parts as well — this album keeps you guessing throughout, another major strength. Norway’s Mantric seems unafraid to capitalize on musing moments that rightfully deserve to be slightly rough-around-the-edges and thus make the sound more real, but don’t let that distract you from how damn tight they can be as well. The first of hopefully many releases from an extremely intriguing band.


9) NORMA JEANMeridional

Way back when, I found myself quite taken with a couple of old Norma Jean albums – Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child and O God, The Aftermath. But something dreadful happened after those records — the band got terrible for a minute! Thankfully those craysee Christians bounced back this year with a strong return to form. Meridional offers a diverse blend of chaotic hardcore, chugging prog metal riffs, and throaty emo melodic sections to create a fiery blend of bubblegum brutality. This Jew approves.

8) KARNIVOOLSound Awake

These heartfelt Aussies put on a great live show, and whilst revisiting the songs in recorded form it’s hard not to get swept up in the layered, atmospheric, melodious earnestness of the music. There are chugging odd-time moments that certainly warrant a “progressive” tag, but it’s the candor and passion of the vocals that set the mood and really keep each song grounded. Similarly to the way that the strong melodic voice up front works for fellow contemporary emotional prog-rockers Dredg, Karnivool have found a strong recipe for connecting with a widespread crossover audience, and if their next offering continues on an upward trajectory they could be poised to break out hugely in the near future.

7) DEFTONESDiamond Eyes

I have never been a big Deftones fan, mostly due to lack of familiarity, but when I got a chance to see them live a couple months ago I markedly decided that I actively disliked an abundance of what the band does. HAVING SAID THAT, I had so enjoyed the couple tracks I had heard from this year’s release that in my end-of-the-year catch-up frenzy/cram session I felt like I had to give it a spin from start to finish. And immediately I was hooked – dark, moody chord progressions backed by a crispy rhythm section and unexpected vocal melodies floating above that aren’t afraid to get artfully atonal….this album is a stark, precious gem amongst the ruffage of 2010.

6) SONS OF AURELIUS self-titled

Throughout 2010, it didn’t get tighter than Santa Cruz, California’s Sons of Aurelius. Well….so to speak. Ahem. This group just busted out and their debut offering is truly mind-blowing. Tech-death with heart and fire and plenty of zippy-doo shreddy-poos to boot. And the songs purposefully go somewhere! I was hooked from the very first alternating bars of 7 & 9-patterned progression. Slightly video-game-ish at times but never overbearingly so. The key word here is toit, and if tech-death is your game, this aural sensation will not disappoint, son!

ihsahn - after5) IHSAHNAfter

Maybe it’s unfair to lump Norway’s Ihsahn into the amorphous category of fusion-metal simply because the meditative wailing/shredding of a saxomophone is doused sporadically throughout. But you can’t just refer to this music as any particular subsection of straight-up metal….much more is going on here, sonically, conceptually, and downright creatively. This album creates a distinct mood like none other this year.

4) & 3) THE OCEANHeliocentric / Anthropocentric

Any year that The Ocean has a release (or more specifically TWO releases the last two times around for them) could accurately be called the year of the ocean in my book. The sheer magnitude of this collective’s ambition both musically and lyrically is quite a force to be reckoned with, and although none of their albums consistently wow me straight through from start to finish, their many magnificent songs (and the scope of which in particular) cannot be denied.

the ocean heliocentricHeliocentric comes on strong out of the gates with one of the year’s best songs, and then takes a sharp turn into cheesyville with a couple sappy numbers, only to triumphantly return to the strength (and brutality) and finish big with a double doozy. The unevenness of this album had many of us questioning whether it was worth the wait, but I have found upon several spins that the collection of songs herein is undoubtedly among the best of the year, if only misordered a bit. And frankly a few misplaced maudlin yet engaging numbers do not offer enough of a reason to hate on a release with such strength throughout. There’s only one song that I think really screws up the pacing of this record; unfortunately it comes early on. Thankfully the subsequent tunes redeem it tenfold.

I have found Anthropocentric a bit more difficult to put my finger in. The “heavy” companion to the earlier-released, deliberately-paced (and downright heavy as well if we’re being candid here) Heliocentric, Anthropocentric contains some of the most kickass and unstoppable tunes The Ocean has ever made. But the album as a whole feels misdirected. A few of the tunes are kind of boring in places, and even a lot of the winning material can get a bit ADD. However, it is The Ocean we’re talking about here — you’re guaranteed a fascinating, uncompromising ride through a repeatedly unexpected musical odyssey NO MATTER WHAT. These are among the heaviest, forward-thinking riffs of 2010. Even though lions don’t typically swim, I am proud to proclaim I am a committed warrior of The Ocean.

2) THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLANOption Paralysis

Despite my affinity for boundary-pushing music-nerdtacular groups, admittedly I, like many others, have long been overly perplexed by the music of The Dillinger Escape Plan. Spastic math-core only begins to describe how maddening, technical, cerebral, and visceral this band’s style is. Punishing as all hell, and in the most confusing of ways. Abrasive and unrelenting. Time changes that would flabbergast Chronos himself. The couple times I’ve seen them live I’ve been at a loss for words (a rare occurrence for this guy), pretty much like “what the fuck just happened?” But I think I’m finally starting to pick up what the DEP boys are putting down. And it may have taken this album, which infuses a fair amount of melodic, clean singing throughout and which I believe to be quite a bit more palatable than the band’s previous releases, to show me the light and make me a believer.

east of the wall - ressentiment1) EAST OF THE WALLRessentiment

From the first note until the very last, there is not a single element of this album that doesn’t seem to fit perfectly. Ever the consistently giving, stimulating, and challenging musical journey, Ressentiment continues to surprise and enlighten with every spin. If the world is a just place, East of the Wall will be opening for Cynic and BTBAM and Mastodon within the next couple years. These young turks from smelly NJ are fascinating artists who deserve everything good that’s coming for them. Also, a swift kick in their collective nuts.

Intronaut - Valley of Smoke2010 ALBUM OF THE YEAR TO GET STONED TO: INTRONAUTValley of Smoke

Since they busted out, Intronaut has been on a mission of thunderous progressive odd-time riffage, and have managed to undertake such a currently common task on in a truly original and autonomous way. I may not unconditionally love every release this band has created, but I can certainly say that each recording, song, even chord progression feels very linked to this band’s style alone….a massive feat in our oft-overrun community. Some of their albums legitimately changed my life, some left me wanting more, but as with the path of any true artist there are ups and downs, near-success and near-failures, and of course the sought-after holy grail of hitting it right on the mark. Valley of Smoke achieves everything Intronaut’s best previous releases did, and so much more. One can hear the evolution in songwriting as well as style (technique they had down pat from the get-go), and opening up the band’s sound to robust singing has added another welcome dimension to an already-mature bag of tricks. What’s that, Sacha? This album is not about the ganj? In any case, I rather do enjoy getting stoned to it, and somehow I suspect you’d approve.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

SHIPPING NEWS – One Less Heartless to Fear

I have seriously hearted this band for quite some time now. No, I was not on the original bandwagon when they first hit the scene in the 90s, but once I became aware of their presence (along with mastermind Jeff Mueller’s amazing other previous bands, Rodan and June of 44), I was hooked. Angular heavy indie rock with progressive leanings and a stark vocal sensibility that creates a haunting sound you can’t help but trust. Like a dark security blanket that eerily keeps you warm at night. A creepy uncle, if you will. But Shipping News offer so much more than just mood; fluid, intricate guitarwork, starkly monotone vocals, and complex songwriting kept simple has always been at the forefront of the band’s career, and this album is no different. The music feels like it’s from a lost era, back before the next generation of posturing indie rockers decided to try to be cool. Silly kids — don’t you know you just have to BE cool? There is no try. Take a listen, and keep it simple.

ENSLAVEDAxioma Ethica Odini

I’m no fan of black metal, typically opting to go grey instead. But there’s something about Enslaved that really resonates with me. Maybe it’s the expansive, atmospheric quality of this group’s sound, or the subtly unique choices in almost every song, or the general vibe or whatever, but there is a certain special je ne sais quoi about these dirty rat bastards that really hits me where the sun don’t shine. An indefinable evolution of an grim sub-genre that makes me want to call Enslaved “post-black metal”. Any takers? My nomination for post-apocalyptic album of the year.

SHININGBlackjazz

Did we really get two Norwegian fusion-metal albums this year?!? Part industrial keyboard shrillfest, part free jazz freakout, part thick riffage fiesta…..totally insane. I find a lot of this album to be quite grating and taxing to listen to, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that this release is carving new territory for genre crossover.

KVELERTAKself-titled

I’m still not sold on this album as a whole, but a few of the songs are so good that it seems hard not to mention. There’s something about some of these gems that grooves so classic rock-hard it’s difficult to avoid their kinetic energy. But I also have to point out that the less-exciting tunes (ironically the ones with some of the heaviest parts) feel sorta bonehead-ish, with too many of the chord progressions sounding way too derivative. Derrrr……make a more consistent album next time and I will be fully on board.

DAWNBRINGERPendulum

This epic progressive power thrash record comes on strong like a locomotive of debaucherous yet refined good times….the steam falls a little flat in the middle due to repetition, but in the band’s defense what they are repeating is decidedly kickass. Triumphant twin guitar leads that remind of the summer you spent in the Shire fighting dragons and banging hobbit chicks, a lead singer who skates the line between gruff and heroic, and a rhythm section that simply will not quit, even after thirty-nine beers each. These elements and more make for a winning recipe. Plus, any album that rocks for a solid two minutes and forty-five seconds before the vocals casually kick in as if nothing happened is A-ok in my book.

FAVE NON-METAL ALBUM OF THE YEAR:

SUFJAN STEVENSThe Age of Adz

How big is my man-crush on Sufjan Stevens? It’s huuuuge. Ever since the perfectly gorgeous Seven Swans, this guy has continually and deservedly evolved into the indie world’s critical darling and fan favorite. And he’s certainly had the music to back up the hype, over and over again. This time around, everything changes once more and Stevens’ sound is given the electronic treatment: whirrs and whistles, sequenced cracks and pops, and fragmented thumpy dance beats join the acoustic guitars, trombones, lush vocal harmonies…..it sounds like someone just got his first computer yaayyyy!! This is far from my favorite of his albums — honestly a lot of the electronic additions, although certainly interesting and welcome and appreciated, tend to distract from the power of his sublime melodies. I’m just sayin’. But like I mentioned above about The Ocean, with an artist of this caliber you are essentially guaranteed a worthwhile listening experience.

H A P P Y  H O L I D A Z E, Y’ALL ——————–> :-)

-KW

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