DAVID BEE ROTH’S TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2008
This was a masterpiece from the very first time it came out of the shrink-wrap and spun in my buddy’s car to right now when I can’t go a week without listening to the “Seasick” trilogy. From a combination of the growing maturity of the band and zealous label support this is an innovative piece of music that will stand as the new watermark for the possibilities of black metal. Assassins was an honest, organic approach at musical experimentation that became both a loving tribute to the heroic Pink Floyd and a ballsy transcendence of closed-minded scene thinking. The wide accessibility of the new Nachtmystium sound shows that they can only increase in popularity and esteem in the metal community and beyond it. My prediction is that by the time they’re ready to meddle again, everyone will know who the true kings of American black metal are.
Best Tracks: “Ghosts of Grace,” “Seasick” Parts 1 – 3
So Neur-Isis both came out with new albums last year and like many people my first gut instinct in the face of an atmospheric-sludge drought was to look farther down the band ladder. Until this year this is where Cult of Luna had firmly remained. Then on the recommendation of a friend and with a…hmm…organic sonic enhancer in hand The Eternal Kingdom showed me how much they’ve improved. After the more progressive and layered work of Somewhere around the Highway, The Eternal Kingdom was refreshingly stripped down and unburdened by reckless experimentation. It seems like Cult of Luna aren’t trying as hard anymore to stick out by spoiling the brew with too many ingredients. Instead what we have is a delicious, sexy, groovy, and needless to say heavy album. In 2008, Cult of Luna made the mouth harp cool again.
Best Tracks: “Ghost Trail,” “Eternal Kingdom”
I’m sure nobody saw this one coming because this had to be one of the most limited releases of the year with a wopping 1000 copies of their debut. What was originally planned to be a one-man project from touring Gorgoroth guitarist Sykelig soon exploded into a True Norwegian super group. Some of the best and most underrated musicians in the Norwegian scene came together from bands like DHG, 1349 and Gehenna. Taking their name and inspiration from the cult post-black experimentalists Ved Buens Ende, this is the greatest affirmation of Norwegian relevance in black metal today. Half the tracks are dark metal dirge and the other half are strange sample arrangements that manage to capture the atmosphere promised from the album title so well: “Beer, darkness and depression.” Listen to the haunting trumpet calls of “Drikke ens Skål” and the downward spiral of its resolving outro and tell me that you can’t feel your head getting cloudy. Tell me you can’t smell the cigarettes and feel the darkness. The grim icing on this frostbitten cake was the inclusion of Niklas Kvarforth of the legendary Swedish band Shining whose diverse mix of tonal mourning howls and vicious snarl have helped to make him one of the greatest, most honest metal vocalist of his time.
Do whatever you can to get a hold of this. Look forward to another album in 2009 let it never be said that Norwegian metal should be forgotten.
Best Tracks: “Drikke ens Skål,” “Jag ar Den Fallna”
No year end list would be complete without this addition. Everything was set in Gojira’s favor to make use of the popularity they gained after From Mars to Sirius. With The Way of All Flesh they went beyond all expectations and delivered this hooky, heavy monster. The hard hitting grooves, the catchy guitar licks combined with overwhelmingly positive lyrical content about overcoming the influence of a doomed world gone mad to seek out peace as an individual. This is death metal to save the world to and everyone needs to be familiar with it. This is a release that will make it into the great metal lexicon.
Best Tracks: “Oroborus,” “Esoteric Surgery”
I’ve already shown my enthusiasm for this album before and let me say that several months later, I’ve only grown to love it more. Though we’ve often talked about the folly of bands reuniting to record new material, the time must have just been right for Cynic. Even if they had had no intention of continuing after this release they could never have asked for a better way to tie up the legacy of Focus. They proved with Traced In Air that they always had it in them to do even better. Lets hope it won’t be another 15 years before the next one.
Best Tracks: “King of Those Who Know,” “Evolutionary Sleeper”
The best way I ever heard to explain the diversity and many faces of Boris was this obtuse analogy which I take no credit for: Listening to Boris is like having a psychedelic out of body experience, drifting across a skyline that’s every shade of the color spectrum, introspecting into the private corners of your consciousness and then waking up at a Motorhead concert. With such variety of influences and styles we generally know Boris for being anything but predictable and yet it’s hard to argue that Smile isn’t a straightforward continuation of 2006’s Pink. There’s the high-octane speed metal and rowdy punk jams interspersed with lighter pieces rife with atmosphere and of course some of that hypnotic drone we’ve come to love from anything released by Southern Lord. While there is perhaps a bit of apprehension in listening to a Boris album that didn’t come at you from left-field for once, the intention from their side seems obvious: Smile! Have fun! Enjoy a heavy fucking album that you can understand! The crowning jewel is the very last track “Untitled”. Despite how much you might have rocked out getting there, it’s hard not to feel a little fuzzy and special inside at the prettiest drone song you’ll ever hear Stephen O’Malley playing on. This record and the amazing tour in support of it have shown the world that it can no longer ignore Japan’s best band.
Best Tracks: “Untitled,” “Flower Sun Rain”
Though the initial title track is little more than samples of speeches and some feedback, the very first thing you’ll hear on “Night Terrors” is a blown-out scream and a blast-beat. Of course there’s going to be some troubled sleep, Cursed are the loudest fucking band in Canada! People should be able to hear this record from Nunavut. It’s the filthiest cocktail of sludge, hardcore punk and grind you’re likely to hear, recommend strongly for fans of Converge and Eyehatgod. The production is clear enough but everything sounds like its been turned to 11 with the intention of fucking your speakers. Cursed III is vicious, politically outraged record and, while primitively written, it sure has a lot of heart. From the Rage-like vocal hook of “Friends in the Music Business” to the heavy droning dirge of the second title track “III,” straight through to the ending layered guitar work of “Gutters” it doesn’t seem reasonable that one band can launch such a diverse heavy attack on its listeners. So hopeless and hateful you’ll never think Canadians are polite again!
Best Tracks: “Unnecessary Person,” “Gutters”
Best Tracks: “American Idolatry,” “Thrown into the Sun”
Listen to “Reveal the Essence of Suffering.” Don’t think, just do it. The dynamics of this song propel you right into this extreme metal maelstrom, involve your attention and build-up your expectations into one of the most rewarding, savory climactic riffs of the year that’ll have you reaching for your smokes afterwards. The attention these Georgian giants put into the progressive structures of their songs makes their Prosthetic Records debut Folie Circulaire an adventure to listen to. Fuck trying to place them into a subgenre though, Withered is Withered and terms like black metal and death metal can’t describe half of the new found power sound of these southern innovators.
Best Tracks: “Purification of Ignorance,” “Reveal the Essence of Suffering”
No one needs to be reminded of all the colossal blunders that have occurred when self-indulgent metal bands go to the extravagant lengths of including a full orchestra on an album. Along comes Septicflesh’s seventh album to give a new lesson in how this unwieldy musical accompaniment can be used tastefully. These Greeks show so much restraint in their orchestrations, weaving them harmoniously between and into their doomy, epic death metal. The shimmer of choirs, trumpets and strings add so much depth into their sound while amounting to so much more than pointless ego masturbation. This will be the record that any orchestral metal band should study for an important lesson in less-is-more.
Best Tracks: “Babel’s Gate,” “Sangreal”
One Sentence Short List and Honorable Mentions:
Nortt – Galgenfrist: Psychedelic atmospheric black noise best endured on stormy nights and Halloween.
Book of Black Earth – Horoskopus: Refreshing anti-religious death metal, another great release for Prosthetic.
Menace Ruine – Cult of Ruins/The Die is Cast: This French-Canadian blackened noise duo managed to release not one but two albums this year that sound nothing like each other or anything else in your collection for that matter.
Dub Trio – Another Sound is Dying: A cross-genre romp of groovy metal and blunt-smokin’ dub that includes a brief vocal appearance of Mike Patton on “No Flag”.
Coffins – Buried Death: Japan knows how I like my death metal: stripped down, slow and dirty.
Enslaved – Vertebrae: Second best Norwegian metal album of the year and it pains me that I didn’t have space for it in the Top Ten.
Dismember – Dismember: 20 years and these legends still know how to deliver the dirty goods and now with 20% more Iron Maiden harmonies.
Opeth – Watershed: Any year with an Opeth release is a good one and while its not their best record some of these songs can still excite me sexually.
Ihsahn – angL: I’m a slut for anything even remotely related to Emperor so this was a no-brainer.
Intronaut – Prehistoricisms: Trippy and bass-heavy jazz-jams that could’ve used a little more metal in between but definitely worth listening to.
Nadja – Desire in Uneasiness: Canadian drone-doom for dark nights in bed and studying.