AXL ROSENBERG’S TOP FIFTEEN METAL ALBUMS OF 2010
So last year I predicted that whatever Pig Destroyer put out would be the best album of 2010, and then Pig Destroyer decided I should go fuck myself and didn’t release anything this year. Thanks, fellas. So selfish.
Oh, well. It was still a really good year for metal — in fact, I keep hearing people bitch about what a weak year it was, and I wanna spit in their mouths. I struggled pretty intensely with this list, and I could have added another fifteen albums easy. If 2010 seemed lackluster, I think it was only because coming after 2009, when it seemed like there was a goddamn motherfucking masterpiece released every other week, this year was bound to seem a little meh — it’s like last year was Jane Doe and this year was You Fail Me. Not as good, but still in no way something about which to complain. (And by the way, if I’m the sunniest dude in the room, then that room needs some hardcore psychoanalysis, pronto.)
So there are bands and albums that I raved about this year that didn’t make the final cut, and all I can say is, they were given very serious consideration, and these lists are pretty meaningless anyway — they’re just a snapshot of one person’s opinion during a particular time in a particular place. And my opinion during this particular time from this particular place is…
The Insomnium Award for Score to an Epic Movie that Doesn’t Actually Exists goes to these Chilean melodic doomsters, who, in all honesty, I had never even heard of before Vince played me this album back in September. But it’s been a staple of my rotation ever since. Not since Daylight Dies has a band made me feel so fucking depressed and yet so invigorated at the same time. You might think metal’s answer to Braveheart would be, like, Eluveitie or something, but it’s really this — it’s simple but expertly manipulative, and it seems romantic because even though it’s basically an action movie about a dude killing lots and lots of people, he’s killing them in the name of a woman (excuse me, “freedom”). I don’t really know what Mar de Grises are so upset about (WHY ARE YOU SO SAD, MAR DE GRISES?!?), but I hope they never cheer up.
Are my hair metal roots showing? Regular readers will already be aware that I have a sweet tooth for pop metal; this is the only album I heard all year that scratched that particular itch (even with Avenged Sevenfold giving it their all to top their 2007 album, Use Your Illusion III). We’ve already made a big stink about how important it was to get Clint Lowery back in the fold, but holy shit, did Clint come back with a bang. Yeah yeah yeah, a lot of it sounds like classic 7D, but classic Sevendust never had guitar solos — let along guitar solos as righteous as the one on “Nowhere” — or a Gothenburgian riff as superior as the one that kicks off “Better Place.” What separates Sevendust from the seemingly endless parade of truly heinous bands that publicists, label reps, and readers alike send us every day is that none of those bands can write a song even half as catchy as the ones on this album. Cold Day Memory is more infectious than a night in Morgan Rose’s bed.
Some bands stay the same forever and ever and ever (Slayer), some bands devolve into something really awful (Metallica), and some bands evolve into something really beautiful — like DEP have. I’m really baffled by DEP fans who profess no love for Option Paralysis — it’s so angry and so sad and so epic, and there is so nothing wrong with some healthy doses of Faith No More and Nine Inch Nails (What, you feel like there aren’t enough Calculating clones in the world right now?), and if it takes a few listens to get used to, well, I think that’s just because so has every album The Dillinger Escape Plan have ever released. Puciato is fast becoming one of my favorite lyricists — his words aren’t as multilayered as a Guy Kozowyk or a J.R. Hayes, maybe, but his interpretations of the human character are just as on-point.
I’ve really only been aware of this bad boy for a short time, and so mired in the making fun of Slipknot and pontificating upon the assistance of car companies in the creation of metal have I been that I never even found time to write about it; but I fucking love, love, love this record, and something tells me that, given more time with it, it would have appeared even higher up on this list. Right now I feel kinda like it starts more strongly than it ends (“We’re going in. We’re going down.” has to be one of the best riffs of the year — I could seriously listen to that song on repeat for an hour), but I reserve the right to change that opinion in the coming months. And there was really no more inspiring story in 2010 than that of djent — basically a bunch of dudes who realized that, hey, we now exist in a time when you don’t need anyone’s permission to create and distribute great art on a mass scale. I can’t believe Ben Sharp does this as “a hobby.” Someone please give him a hundred million dollars so that he can just do this all the time as he sees fit.
I gotta be honest, I kinda didn’t “get” East of the Wall ’til I saw ’em live — and they are truly SPECTACULAR live. Now I can’t get enough of ’em. Ressentiment is like really complicated surgery performed with the jagged edge of a piece of broken glass; the band’s precision is all in the name of sounding very un-precise. Sometimes I like to get high, play them loud enough to scare the neighbors, and envision a world in which they unite beardos and tech heads. Ressentiment is a truly, truly unique piece of work, and if you’re not now following East of the Wall’s movements with incredible interest, you’re a fool — no one should be surprised if they end up being one of the most important bands of their generation.
This is another one that I suspect would be even higher on the list if I’d had more time with it — I never feel like I can really wrap my head around an Agalloch record after just a few listens. But, then, that’s what makes them so damn rewarding. Marrow of the Spirit is a seamless hodgepodge of vast and sometimes seemingly at-odds influences (think of the contrast between the cold compositional guitars and the more emotional, melodious guitars early on in “Into the Painted Grey”), which might be why it feels so handmade, personal, and somehow casual even as it’s insanely ambitious (think of the dude who keeps getting promoted not because he kisses the boss’ ass, but because he’s just that damn good). I mean, look at that cover art — it’s dreary, but it’s still really beautiful, ’cause it’s just nature being, y’know, natural. And at a first glance, it’s not clear if it’s a photo or a painting. That’s what Marrow of the Spirit is, dude — just artists expressing themselves honestly, erasing the line between artifice and naturalism.
Kip pretty much nailed it right on the head when he named this the best album of the year to get stoned to, but it’s pretty good sober, too. Everyone I know loves Intronaut, and everyone I know still had the same reaction to this record, which was something along of the lines of “WOW, this is way above and beyond what I was expecting.” Does anyone really doubt that every drummer in metal should be worshipping at Danny Walker’s feet? How fucking creative is that dude? He couldn’t play cliché if he tried. The harmonized vocals blow my mind every time I listen to this, and the music is basically the best kind of prog — there are plenty of sharp turns to keep you on your toes, but those turns always seem to grow naturally out of the music, so they never feel forced or show-offy. I haven’t gotten to see these dudes live since they toured with Cynic this past summer, but I’m dying to hear them play more of this new material in a concert setting. Absolutely killer record.
So I guess the cool kids all downloaded this when the band self-released it in 2009, but I, like so many, didn’t get wind of it ’til Earache picked up for distribution. In any case, I now owe Digby Pearson a bottle of champagne and a “I will keep Vince off your back for one week” coupon. There were other awesome grind albums this year which easily could have made this list (Defeatist’s Sixth Extinction comes to mind), but nothing felt quite as furious as Abuse. Rasyid’s guitar tone feels totally unique to grind — his stuff sounds way warmer than that of most of his contemporaries — which might explain why the music feels so full, despite the absence of a bassist. And the riffs have just the right mixture of groove and slit-your-throatiness to make them truly memorable as songs, not just short bursts of bile. The album may have been responsible for the deaths of more MetalSucks Mansion Monkeys than any other this year. I can’t wait to hear what these dudes do next. Not hurting: I was fortunate enough to see them live twice this year, roughly a month apart each time, and while they definitely slayed the first time, they absolutely SLAYED the second time.
7. Salome, Terminal (Profound Lore)
What fucking planet is Salome from? That’s the question I ask myself every time I listen to Terminal. This album is SO HEAVY and SO INTENSE, and not at all mired in the same-old-same-old that seems to bog down so many other doom releases these days. Seriously, I can’t tell most of these doom bands apart, but Salome stand out from the pack. It’s like there’s this half-snake half-elephant thing out in the desert, and it’s been possessed by Satan, and then some schmuck tried to capture it and bring to the city to be in the circus, and then it got loose and now humanity is an endangered species. That’s what Terminal sounds like. If I didn’t have it on good authority that the folks in Salome are all actually really nice people, I’d be genuinely frightened of this band.
“DDDDDDDDIIIIIIIEEEEEE!!!!!” Okay, so first of all, “A Thousand Lies” is the anthem of the year, period. Second of all, fuck Martin Eric Ain. I know that’s harsh, but if he couldn’t hang and we get Triptykon ’cause of his foolishness, well, seriously, fuck him. Every single note of this album is filthy, crushing, and evil — in fact, a lot of it is actually pretty simple, but that simplicity is all in the service of just making, like, the heaviest fucking thing ever. And in a weaker year, it definitely would have cracked the top five. I’ve spent so much time raving about this over the course of 2010 that I almost don’t know what else to say. Did I mention fuck Martin Eric Ain? I did? Okay, good. Celtic Frost is dead. Long live Triptykon.
Look, I really dug High on Fire’s Snakes for the Divine, too, but it couldn’t hold a candle to Dawnbringer’s Nucleus, no way, no how. Every single note of this album is just totally bad-assed. There’s no fat or self-indulgence on this record; it’s just a smooth running, perfect ROCK machine. It’ll make you wanna drink, smoke, fuck, fight, headbang, and grow a funny Hulk Hogan mustache all at once. Anyone who says that rock is dead hasn’t heard Nucleus; I hear they’re now using it on Hinder fans who need to be de-brainwashed.
Enslaved is one of those rare bands I never worry about — they deliver each and every time, without fail. And Axioma Ethica Odini might seriously be my favorite of their offerings yet. The first time I heard this album, I was a little high and I was walking down by the river on a warm summer day, and, yeah, I don’t mind telling you, I actually teared up a little. There was just something about the music and the vocals and the lyrics that hit me all once in just such a way… Enslaved music is just so hypnotic and beautiful, y’know? And Axioma Ethica Odini only gets better with every listen. I don’t even feel like I have to tell you any of this. You already knew all this, right? Right. Good.
The more traditionalist stuff on this album, like “High on Hate,” is actually the stuff I like the least. No no no, it’s when Nachtmystium go out of their way to piss off the tr00 kvltists that they really win big. Was there any other song this year that was more visceral than “Every Last Drop,” possibly metal’s single most moving portrayal of drug abuse since Layne Staley-era Alice in Chains? Anyone hear a lot of other metal that sounded appropriately vitriolic while inducing the uncontrollable need to dance, the way “Nightfall” and “No Funeral” and “Blood Trance Fusion” all do? And how fucking awesome a song is “Then Fires?” Never mind that the guitar melodies and trippy synths are just achingly gorgeous; never mind Blake Judd’s lyrics are twice as inspirational as anything Jamey Jasta has ever penned; but that song features what has to be the best guitar solo of the year. It’s incredibly simple, the polar opposite of shred, but so deeply felt it makes my heart hurt to listen to it. Like we always say, a great guitar solo should tell a story, and that one tells the most engaging story of the year. What a great fucking album.
Dark, dirty, dense, misanthropic, and just plain fucking weird in the best possible way, this is not an album that one can comprehend or in any way digest after just one listen — which explains why I spent so much time listening to it. This is the best drum performance Kevin Talley has given in years, Sean Z. has now taken his throne as one of metal’s most uncompromisingly brutal vocalists, and Levi and Werstler’s time with, well, Levi/Werstler (whose Avalanche of Worms doesn’t appear on this list only because I seem to now be fortunate enough to have this soapbox, and I’m using what little sway I have to try and spread the love a little) seems to have opened them up to a whole new world of songwriting — namely, one in which they do whatever the fuck they want, because they know that whatever they come up, it’s gonna end up being awesome. Few albums this year demand a good pair of headphones the way Dååth does. Remember what I was saying about bands trying to do things just a little bit differently, instead of just rehashing the shit their influences already did? Well, Dååth alread proved on last year’s The Concealers that they’re masters of all the tropes that made us love metal in the first place; now they’re taking those tropes and turning them on their ear. “Double Tap Suicide” and “The Decider” are compact epics, “Destruction/Restoration” is my favorite act of audio terrorism of the year, and “Munfactured Insomnia” has more grooves than a detention room table. Dååth is a challenging record, to be sure — but it’s beyond worth the effort. Now someone should go spray paint “WERSTLER IS GOD” on a wall somewhere.
Okay, so this record is in no way, shape, or form revolutionary — but it is damn near perfect, and that counts for something. It’s pretty rare to describe a metal album as “joyous,” especially when the vocalist has a Lindbergian growl the way Kvelertak’s Erlend Hjelvik does. But I can’t think of any other way to describe this record. It’s just so fun much to listen to, the music makes feel so fucking good and makes me so fucking HAPPY. If Converge made me wanna hug people instead of kill them, they’d be Kvelertak. This was my party soundtrack for 2010; if you and I hung out together this year, I can pretty much guarantee you this is what I was listening to five minutes before we went to go rage. I have friends who don’t even like metal and can’t stand screaming in music who think this album kicks ass — it transcends the boundaries of metal, ultimately revealing itself to be just a great rock n’ roll record, period. Bonus: the lyrics are in Norwegian, so I don’t even have to pretend to care what Hjelvik is screaming. “HEY FOSSEGRIM I JUST GOT HIT BY A CAR!/ DO YOU THOUGHT THAT SHARE THE DEALLLLLLL?!?!” Yeah, that’s probably not right.
Best album of 2011: Still whatever Pig Destroyer puts out.