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VINCE NEILSTEIN’S TOP 15 METAL ALBUMS OF 2010

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vince neilstein

No one reads these intro paragraphs, right?

You just skip to the list to look at our choices, definitely don’t read the descriptions we’ve written for each choice, and most of you just scroll down to see what’s been named #1.

Well, wait until you see what my #1 pick for 2010 is. Cries of “false metal” reverberating from around the country will be heard at the gates of the MetalSucks Mansion for days. Bring it on, fuckers.

15. Periphery – s/t (Sumerian)

Like lots of other folks, I was less than thrilled when Periphery ditched Chris Barretto for Spencer Sotelo. Sotelo is a good singer, to be sure, but there’s just that little emo tinge to his voice when he gets into his upper register. Either way, a vocalist does not a metal band make, especially with Periphery, a band created by a kid in his bedroom that helped spawn an entire generation of bands and now a second generation of copycats. Misha Mansoor is as talented as anyone in metal today, and heaps of credit are due for what will certainly be recognized by future generations as one of the crucial djent releases of all-time.

sevendust cold day memory14. Sevendust – Cold Day Memory (Warner Bros.)

Poo-poo me all you want, but Sevendust have always been a cut above most of their nu-metal peers (Doc Coyle and Robb Flynn agree with me too!). That was all thanks to Clint Lowery, a gifted songwriter and arranger. Much was made of Lowery’s return to the band last year after a three album absence, and for good reason; from the opening notes of “Splinter,” the album’s first track, it’s obvious just how much of a difference the presence of one dude makes for this band. It’s night and day. The arrangements are tighter, the songs are better (and more varied), the vocal harmonies are beyond sick and we even get a bunch of guitar solos courtesy of Lowery. Definitely the best Sevendust record since Animosity or Seasons.

mutiny within13. Mutiny Within – s/t (Roadrunner)

Mutiny Within’s brand of Euro-power-Bodom-meets-American-metalcore is about 5 years too late to catapult them into the big time, but that doesn’t diminish the quality of the record they wrote. Some of the songs on this record are so fucking good it hurts; there’s no doubt in my mind that had this record come out in 2004 or 2005 instead of 2010 songs like “Images,” “Falling Forever” and “Undone” would’ve been massive hits instead of, say, “When Darkness Falls” or “The End of Heartache.” It’ll be interesting to see where these guys go with their next release, if they decide to continue despite all the lineup problems that have plagued them, or even if Roadrunner will give them another record.

iron thrones - the wretched sun12. Iron Thrones – The Wretched Sun (Scion)

Iron Thrones proved that indeed No Label is Needed to put out an awesome album following their Scion battle-of-the-bands-on-the-Internet style contest victory. Of course, Scion funded the whole thing and basically acted as a record label, making the title of the contest moot, but the fact remains that The Wretched Sun is a fantastic album. Highlighted by artsy Opethian highs and low and Iron Thrones’ own sense of proggy composition, The Wretched Sun is a fine work of art that stands as one of the year’s most compelling releases. Can’t wait to hear what these guys come out with next. And for fuck’s sake, will some label sign this band already??

ludicra - the tenant11. Ludicra – The Tenant (Profound Lore)

A lot’s been made of the lyrical content of The Tenant; I trust my esteemed colleague Sir Rosenbloom and Invisible Oranges’ Alee Karim that the story The Tenant tells is indeed arresting, but I haven’t gotten there myself and probably never will, as quite frankly I don’t ever listen to lyrics in metal. But Ludicra have both sides of the performance spectrum covered, and it’s their delicate, ornate but no less energetic arrangements that really grabbed me. Ludicra have a unique approach to putting notes together that’s distinctly Ludicra; the patterns that John Cobbett and Christy Cather write and play are mesmerizing, their cliche-free black metal roots showing in all the right places.

keep of kalessin - reptilian10. Keep of Kalessin – Reptilian (Nuclear Blast)

I’d hesitate to call Keep of Kalessin “symphonic” black metal because that label seems to have negative connotations these days. Instead, let’s call them orchestral black metal. Their songs are arranged with a skill and poise rarely found in black metal — one that calls classical music to mind in ways beyond the superficiality of the fact that yes, there are keyboards mimicking symphonies — and with Reptilian they’ve only gotten even better than they were on 2008’s very good Kolossus. And since these Norwegians delight in knowing how to play their instruments and knowing how to craft an epic song there are plenty of progressive elements too. If you’re usually not a fan of black metal because of its lo-fi aesthetic and lack of complexity, give this record a shot.

9. Iron Maiden – The Final Frontier (EMI / UMe)

The second half of this album — Side B, if you will — is alone worth the price of admission. I’ve listened to the scintillating passage from “Isle of Avalon” through “When the Wild Wind Blows” countless times, and though the proverbial Side A is good too , the 2010 version of Iron Maiden is all about the longform epics. The melodies are as strong as anything the band’s done in the re-Bruce era; I’d say The Final Frontier is easily Maiden’s best record since Brave New World. Unlike so many of their peers, Maiden still have it. They retain every right to be putting out new material after more than 30 years as a band, and to the chagrin of many “greatest hits” bandwagon hoppers, retain the right to play the new stuff live too.

shining - blackjazz8. Shining – Blackjazz (The End)

One of the more “outside of the box” records I’ve heard in a long while, Blackjazz‘s name is actually a bit misleading. Industriojazz might be more fitting, as these Norwegians wrap a searing, sharp industrial backbone with a jazzy outer shell. It’s definitely a path that hasn’t been explored before, and Shining blaze the trail with flying colors. Not for listeners who are looking for something simple and easy to digest.

holy grail - crisis in utopia7. Holy Grail – Crisis in Utopia (Prosthetic)

From the moment this album starts you know it’s gonna be a fucking ripper. Twin-lead guitar madness, constant double bass pounding, soaring vocals! For the love of God, yes, it’s on! These White Wizzard cast-offs reigned supreme in the Great Trad Metal Battle of 2010 by releasing a much more consistent album than their ex-bandmate (although the High Speed GTO EP is a different story); the energy never lets up. These guys bring it to the max. Exactly what a trad metal album in 2010 should be; enough old-school references to pay homage to the band’s influences, but firmly rooted in the present too.

Intronaut - Valley of Smoke6. Intronaut – Valley of Smoke (Century Media)

This one caught me by surprise. Not because I didn’t think Sacha and the Introdudes weren’t superbly talented, but because I wasn’t feeling their prior album Prehistoricisms as much as their earlier material. But holy cow, did they deliver with Valley of Smoke. The arrangements are more varied, the textures more subtle, the playing more out there and the production and mixing are just the right amount of crisp and clear to highlight all of these qualities perfectly. Intronaut really hit the right balance of chops and songs on this one, too.

mantric - the descent5. Mantric – The Descent (Prosthetic)

Everything I had to say about Mantric I pretty much already said here, but in a nutshell Mantric are one of those rare bands who are truly unique in their musicality. That they’re proggy and weird helps too. The Descent is a challenging listen that’ll reveal literal and metaphorical layer upon layer upon layer with each repeated listen.

4. The Acacia Strain – Wormwood (Prosthetic)

I’m no Acacia Strain expert; in fact, before Wormwood I’d barely paid attention to them. But in talking to other folks whose taste in metal I trust — and from digging back into the band’s catalogue and doing a little research of my own — it seems like they really stepped up their game on Wormwood. The grooves are so. fucking. deep. and the guitars so crushingly heavy. If anyone ever asks me for an example of breakdowns done right instead of as a gimmicky songwriting crutch I’d point them in the direction of Wormwood. This album absolutely crushes, smokes, destroys, slams, and insert superlative heres.

east of the wall - ressentiment3. East of the Wall – Ressentiment (Translation Loss)

Our own Satan Rosenbloom put it perfectly in a review of Ressentiment he wrote for Deci-schmuck magazine: “Put simply, East of the Wall have written a minor prog-metal masterpiece without being assholes about it.” Ressentiment is proggy, heavy and artsy in all the right measures, but lots of bands I listen to have those qualities. What makes this record stand out is the uniqueness of the players and the sounds they bring to the table; put another way, their East of the Wall-ness. Truly one of a kind.

ihsahn - after2. Ihsahn – After (Candlelight)

Our own Dave Mustein, who ranked this record as his #1 of the year, already said all the things about it that I would’ve: “unusual and epic orchestrations (sax solos), catchy melodies and riffs, fast-paced, brutal guitar work, and awesome vocals. You know this is a phenomenal album because I don’t even like Emperor… ” Agreed on all counts, good sir. I’d like to place extra emphasis on the “catchy melodies” part because that’s what kept me coming back to this album time and time again all year long; it’s rare that you find musical orchestrations and arrangements with such character and flavor without losing emphasis on the songs, but Ihsahn has done just that.

1. Ratt – Infestation (Roadrunner / Loud & Proud)

What can I say? Infestation is easily my most listened-to album of 2010, and what’s a favorite album if not the one you listened to the most? Infestation is the album that every band supposedly past their prime wants to make but never can; somehow these hair metal progenitors summoned the energy that made their early albums good and captured it in one perfectly constructed masterpiece of an album. Warren DeMartini and Stephen Pearcy, with the addition of the very talented newcomer/journeyman Carlos Cavazo, have written bonafide modern day rock anthems; “Eat Me Up Alive” and “Best of Me” can easily hang with the band’s greatest hits and are some of their strongest songs ever. Give producer Michael “Elvis” Baskette some credit too; guy did a knockout production job and the tones sound phenomenal. No one expected this record to even be worth a listen; instead, according to my iTunes library play count, it ended up being worth more than 30.

Happy Ratturday, motherfuckers!

-VN

Honorable Mention:

Nachtmsytium – Addicts: Black Meddle Part II (Century Media): I feel bad not including this album because it really is good, even if it didn’t grab me the same way Assassins: Black Meddle Part I did two years ago. But Nachtmystium deserve a hearty golf clap for not only writing another good album, but daring to take musical chances that stoked the ire of many in the metal community. A job well done indeed.

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