SATAN ROSENBLOOM’S TOP TWENTY METAL ALBUMS OF 2009
1. Dreaming Dead – Within One (Ibex Moon)
These guys have a leg up on the competition because they’re L.A. natives like me, but this terrific death metal album swept me away like no other this year. Chock-full of haunting riffs, expressive guitar shredding and real songs, it’s as close to a Death album as we’re gonna get in this post-Schuldiner world. Elizabeth Elliott takes her place as one of the great female guitarists in metal; Mike Caffell ain’t far behind with drums.
2. Bergraven – Till Makabert Väsen (Hydra Head)
The weirdest, most uncategorizable record of the year happens to be one of the most unforgettable, too. Pär Gustafsson played pretty much everything other than drums by himself, and it shows – this is too fucked up a sound to be the result of anything but way too much time alone.
3. Necrophobic – Death To All (Regain)
Twenty years in and this blackened death metal band from Sweden has made arguably their greatest record. The songs are hooky without sacrificing an iota of Satanic power. The most quotable album of 2009.
4. Converge – Axe to Fall (Epitaph)
I’d probably put this one higher if I had more time to let it percolate. We always knew Converge could get by on in-the-red, crackling energy. Here, they match feral ferocity with a massive scope. Converge albums always leave us bruised and scabby. This one just might leave you in tears.
5. Obscura – Cosmogenesis (Relapse)
Tech metal this tech oughta feel sterile. Instead, Cosmogenesis is fluid and colorful, the product of four master instrumentalists transcending straight wankery and achieving music that uses virtuosity as a springboard for songwriting ideas that less talented bands simply couldn’t have. Jeroen Paul Thesseling’s fretless playing is reason enough to give it a listen.
6. Struck by Lightning – Serpents (Translation Loss)
Struck By Lightning sound like Mastodon and High on Fire’s d-beat-crazy lovechild. Except when you’re listening to their debut record Serpents, you don’t think about the influences – you think about what a fucking kick-ass record it is. Hardcore’s rage, sludge’s bottom-end and metal’s momentum all combine for a remarkably self-assured debut.
7. Church of Misery – Houses of the Unholy (Rise Above/Metal Blade)
Sludge-boogies, acid-fried guitar solos and serial killers. What could possibly go wrong? Three Japanese dudes and one gaijin have a hell of a lot of fun making the loudest, bluesiest racket imaginable about the most heinous criminals imaginable.
Makes sense that Absu went with the self-titling option on this album, since it defines what’s so great about the band. Under drummer/vocalist Proscriptor McGovern’s evil eye, this group of mythological occult metallers stay tight and focused on groove, making this one their catchiest record yet. The quirky Arabian asides and references to Mesopotamian gods just make their colorful black metal all the more endearing.
9. Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue With the Stars (Candlelight)
In which U2 make a black metal record. The album’s liquidy guitar tones are meant to ring throughout stadiums, canyons, universes. Truly beautiful stuff, and a fascinating progression from their claustrophobic previous records.
10. Nile – Those Whom the Gods Detest (Nuclear Blast)
Man, did Nile ever return from the ho-hum Ithyphallic. The fast songs feel invigorating and varied; the slow songs feel like collapsing pyramids; the production is airy and regal. And lordy, there are hooks! Nile still stand alone as one of the most creative bands in metal’s pantheon. And in the song “Hittite Dung Incantation,” they’ve proven that even shit is worth praying for. It’s nice to have you back boys.
11. Revocation – Existence is Futile (Relapse)
These dudes were trumpeted in the blogosphere long before Relapse snapped ‘em up, and for good reason. There’s raw talent on display on Existence Is Futile, a great record of no-frills, thrashy death metal. Actually there are a lot of frills in guitarist/vocalist David Davidson’s soloing, which approaches Dimebag Darrell levels of soul amidst some boner-inducing shreddery. It takes a special rhythm section to hold it down during Davidson’s solos without a second guitarist, and Revocation’s got one. This is a band to watch.
12. Amesoeurs – Amesoeurs (Profound Lore)
The slate grey, urban counterpart to Frenchman Neige’s pastoral black metal project Alcest, Amesoeurs splits its time between The Cure/Joy Division-style post-punk and throat-shredding black metal. And even though it ain’t completely seamless, it works! There’s bleakness and raw emotion in both sides of this rusted coin, and screamer Neige and singer Audrey Sylvain are perfect vocal foils. An excellent disc for rainy days and navel-gazing. Too bad the band split not long after its release.
13. Shrinebuilder – Shrinebuilder (Neurot)
This is the first supergroup since Down that lived up to the promise of its constituent members – in this case, Scott Kelly of Neurosis, Wino from St. Vitus/The Obsessed, Al Cisneros of Om/Sleep and Dale Crover of The Melvins. Simultaneously groovy, sexy and ungodly heavy, Shrinebuilder showcases four dudes at the top of their game, pushing one another to take said game to the proverbial “next level,” and doing just that.
14. Saros – Acrid Plains (Profound Lore)
These San Franciscans bring an autumnal beauty to their metallic crunch, incorporating acoustic instruments within a doleful progressive metal framework. Some of it sounds like …And Justice For All, some of it sounds like Agalloch, and all of it sounds wonderful. There’s grace to be found in death metal.
15. Oranssi Pazuzu – Muukalainen Puhuu (Violent Journey)
In the same year that Bergraven released a totally alien-sounding black metal record, Finnish band Oranssi Pazuzu made a record that sounded like aliens translating Bergraven into the language of garage rock. Out-there cosmic psychedelia, creepshow keyboards and black metal rasping yield one of the most peculiar “extreme” releases of the year. The vibe on this one is unreal.
16. Sunn0))) – Monoliths and Dimensions (Southern Lord)
In which Sunn0))) become genuinely interesting. At the core, these are the same repetitive, bottom-feeding drones that have left the beardos with irritable bowel syndrome for a decade. But the accoutrements blossomed on Monoliths and Dimensions, which features brass sections and a full-on choir in addition to Sunn0)))’s standard bevy of extra singers, guitarists and noisemakers. It’s modern art music more than it’s metal. But there’s this portentous pregnant feeling that shrouds it…we’re listening to worlds being birthed. That’s heavy.
17. Liturgy – Renihilation (20 Buck Spin)
Brooklyn’s got no lack of upstart black metal bands (see Krallice and Black Anvil, both of which released terrific albums this year). But Liturgy’s at the top of the heap, if only because of drummer Greg Fox, whose “burst beat” technique – deployed on a tiny drumkit — comes close to approximating the unbridled chaos of free jazz. Ringleader Hunter Hunt-Hendrix uses black metal as a conduit for transcendence, and if his verbose philosophizing rubs some the wrong way, it’s tough not to respond to the bristling energy of Renihilation.
18. Baroness – Blue Album (Relapse)
Everyone adores this album. I certainly admire it, but have a difficult time separating the record from the pedestal on which it’s been set. Still, even if Blue Album feels a little cold to me, I recognize it as an important record for the continued development of metal, and the gradual expansion of its core audience. For the love of the game, I’m gonna keep giving it chances to win me over.
19. Séance – Awakening of the Gods (Pulverised)
I haven’t had a serious conversation about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in sixteen years, and I bet if someone all of a sudden brought them up today, I’d forget everything I once knew about Krang and Splinter and April O’ Neil. So it’s extra special that Séance’s first album in sixteen years is such a cockpunching statement of death metal supremacy. Groove and songwriting are at a premium here, just like they were in the halcyon days of Swedish death metal. But there’s also a new-school emphasis on cold brutality, which suffuses the vicious guitar tone and vocalist Johan Larsson’s brittle rasp. This was yet another terrific release adding up to one of death metal’s best years in ages.
20. Secrets of the Moon – Privilegivm (Lupus Lounge)
While German band Secrets of the Moon does occasionally approach the speed of standard black metal, Privilegivm is all about the slower tracks. This shit pounds and bleeds black all over its 70+ minute length, slipping a foreboding doom mickey into its potent, blackened brew. You wouldn’t think an album this oppressively bleak could be so damnably catchy. But just like its predecessor Antithesis, Privilegivm is loaded with hellish hooks aplenty.