“GRIM KIM” KELLY’S TOP FIFTEEN METAL ALBUMS OF 2010
I’m only an occasional contributor to this fine website, but when Vince sounded the call for year-end lists, I couldn’t resist chiming in with my two (extremely opinionated) cents. It’s pretty apparent what kind of tunes I’ve been digging this year – decrepit death metal, orthodox black metal, miserable doom, and the prettier side of grimness. The list that follows is probably a little more weighted towards the obscure and/or extreme than a lot of the other lists I’ve come across so far, but fuck it – those are the kinds of albums that keep extreme metal interesting, dangerous, and, at their best, honest. Those are qualities that, in my not-so-humble opinion, a vast amount of modern metal seems to lack. Give the bands below a shot, and if you like what they’re doing, dig deeper; check out their back catalogues and influences and contemporaries and ideas. If not, go buy the new Veil of Maya or something – no skin off my back either way, though I do hope I open a few eyes with this’n.
1. Ludicra, The Tenant (Profound Lore)
Ludicra are a very, very special band – always have been, and undoubtedly always will. Thanks to this year’s The Tenant, as well as a few high-profile gigs and bouts of touring, it seems as though their profile has been raised tremendously. The urban blight and startling shards of beauty that infuse The Tenant’s seven chapters are as entrancing as they are unsettling, and are rendered even more powerful against a backdrop of progressive-minded black metal, forceful drumming from one Aesop Dekker, and the dual-vocal approach of Laurie Sue Shanaman, who’s range cuts from a furious rasp to sublime singing in the space of a couple chords. Though their back catalogue is rich in merit and creative sparks, The Tenant pinpoints the moment when Ludicra really arrived, ready to take their rightful place amongst USBM’s most respected oddballs.
2. The Wounded Kings, The Shadow Over Atlantis (I Hate)
England’s dark moors, stately strands of oak, and bloodied past have always provided ample inspiration for its more melancholy souls to ply their trade. Blighty gave us My Dying Bride, Anathema, Witchfinder General, and of course, the immortal Black Sabbath, and, in recent times, has seen fit to grace us with a new crop of doomed souls. Chief among them are Dartmoor’s The Wounded Kings, who harness the traditional strengths of the genre – funereal pacing, waiting vocals, an atmosphere drenched in the occult, and the power of the almighty riff – to create something deeply affecting and incredibly addictive. On The Shadow Over Atlantis, The Wounded Kings prove that traditional doom is more alive than ever.
3. Dispirit, Rehearsal at Oboroten
For several months before this tape surfaced, rumors swirled throughout the underground that John Gossard (Asunder, Weakling, The Gault) had formed a new black metal project. Once Dispirit’s Rehearsal at Oboroten finally saw the light, fans of Gossard’s previous blackened endeavor (the incredibly influential and still-underrated Weakling) pressed “play” with bated breath, hoping hard that this new effort would stand up to his other work. Happily for us, it did – and still does. The half hour of music contained on this rough rehearsal demo takes its listener on a journey through mountains of ice and valleys of the damned – an uber-raw production buries hypnotic riffs and hoarse cries under layers of fuzz and distortion, allowing only the faintest hints of light and atmosphere to bleed through alongside a simple message: “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.”
4. Salome, Terminal (Profound Lore)
Salome are a force to be reckoned with. Their 2008 debut and ensuing split with Baton Rouge heavyweights Thou set the stage, a bevy of live dates and festival appearances focused the spotlight, and now, with Terminal, all eyes on finally on Salome for what they are – an immensely talented and utterly uncompromising beast of a band. It has also made even more apparent what they are not – a one-trick pony, a hipster band, or a gimmick. Yes, Salome’s vocalist is female, but it is her femininity that gives her performances such strength – her banshee shrieks and cacodeamon growls balance out her very human fragility, and that of all who watch. Kat is an incredibly talented vocalist, and is joined by her equally talented cohorts – Rob Moore on guitar, and the indomitable Aaron Deal on drums, whose blood-flecked skins underline just how seriously he takes this “extreme doom” business. Heavy as a broken heart and just as malicious, Terminal marries the neck-snapping groove and inescapable riffs of their earlier work with a more experimental bent that introduces faster parts and pure fucking noise. Challenging, but so worth it.
5. Satanic Warmaster, Nachzehrer (Moribund)
Sweden claims its bloody roots, Norway gave rise to its first murderous breaths, but Finland gave black metal its rotten core. Satanic Warmaster’s last full-length, 2005’s Carelian Satanist Madness, is regarded as a modern classic within certain circles, and its eventual follow-up, Nachzehrer, follows in its grimy footsteps. Werwolf is a master of Finnish filth, and this record is a completely logical and wholly satisfying extension of the nasty grooves, raw punk beats, freezing cold atmosphere and barely-contained chaos that made his earlier work so great. Ugly, mean, and grim as fuck.
6. Grave Miasma, Realm of Evoked Doom (Nuclear Winter)
Formerly known as Goat Molestor, this UK death metal horde have been making waves with their ritualistic treatment of entombed Incantation riffs. This is old-school death metal taken very, very seriously – as it should be. The stench of Autopsy, Demigod, and even Slayer emanates from this young quartet, but never overpowers their own devastatingly savage assault. You will be hearing a lot more about this band in the coming year – trust me.
7. Altar of Plagues, Tides (Burning World)
This Irish collective seem incapable of releasing a sub-par recording; last year’s White Tomb LP was nothing short of breath-taking, and judging by Tides’ nearly forty minutes of brilliance, their upcoming full-length will be yet another triumph. “Atlantic Light” and “The Weight of All” showcase the band’s grey-tinged aesthetic over nearly forty minutes of constant evolution. There is no black or white in Altar of Plagues’ world – they are far too aware of their surroundings and themselves to allow for such simplicity. Cathartic, sprawling black metal epics, tinged with the beautiful meandering of post-rock and droning ambience, are narrated by a raw-throated vocalist who seems on the verge of collapse. Emotional, and emotionally draining.
8. Coffinworm, When All Became None (Profound Lore)
Hideous music for angry people. Sludge, tortured doom, snarling black metal knuckle-dragging death metal and a few handfuls of crusted-over punk meld together into one of the nastiest, most misanthropic, more wonderfully ugly albums you’ll ever hear.
9. Sabbath Assembly, Restored to One (Ajna Offensive)
Sabbath Assembly perverts the perverted by taking the hymns held dear to the apocalyptic cult known as The Process Church of the Final Judgment and reworking them in their own modern vision. What results is an intoxicating union of psychedelic rock and gospel that at first appears soothing and almost conventional, but upon further listens and a closer examination of what vocal mistress Jex Thoth is actually singing, will unnerve, unsettle and intrigue. A gorgeously strange release that isn’t exactly metal but manages to send more shivers down your spine than Watain on Easter Sunday.
The wolf’s return was heralded with great anticipation and morbid curiosity, and for good reason – given that the last we’d heard of Varg Vikernes was during his prison-spurred “Casio era,” Burzum fans were a bit nervous, to say the least. Fortunately for those who enjoyed his earlier, landmark releases (no matter what you think of the man’s clearly ridiculous views on well, everything, you can not fuck with Filosofem), Belus delivered exactly what was promised – a return to vintage Burzum. Given that a handful of the album’s tracks had been written back in Burzum’s glory days, it makes sense that they retain some of the old magic; however, the newer songs are just as strong, and together make up a thoroughly worthy addition to Vikernes’ discography. Let’s see if he keeps this up.
11. Agalloch, Marrow of the Spirit (Profound Lore)
Dark, complex, and effortlessly beautiful, Marrow of the Spirit is one of Agalloch’s most dynamic and experimental albums, and may just be their best yet. An intricate, immaculately composed release from America’s greatest metal band.
12. Profanatica, Disgusting Blasphemies Against God
The title says it all – filthy, low-fi, perverse, barbaric black metal spewed from a whore’s cunt and bathed in the blood of the righteous. If you don’t know Profanatica, you don’t know shit.
13. Alcest, Ecailles De Lune (Prophecy)
Gorgeous, ethereal post-rock with the slightest tinge of black metal and otherwordly atmosphere galore. French black metal magnate Neige’s loveliest offering yet, and the strongest of this particular micro-scene of “post-black” metal.
14. Encoffination, Ritual Ascension Beyond Flesh (Ritual Death)
Sepulchral, death-worshipping old-school death done right. Slow as a dying man’s crawl and buried under six feet of musty earth, with hollow, impossibly low vocals, Encoffination’s debut LP is a masterful example of disgusting, hateful, creeping death metal, and is damn near essential for anyone who’s been riding the current wave of Hooded Menace and Decrepitaph-inspired OSDM nastiness.
15. Blasphemophagher, …Chaos, Obscurity, and Desolation… (Nuclear War Now!)
This Italian black/death metal horde are the quintessential Nuclear War Now! band – and I mean that in the best possible way. Raw, Blasphemy-worshipping, bestial war metal that follows through on the murderous rampage they began with 2008’s Nuclear Empire of Apocalypse and launches an even deadlier onslaught. A godless wall of black grinding noise – fucking sick!
Black Tusk, Taste the Sin – Because they’re fun as hell.
The Body, All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood – Because they’re heavy as fuck.
Christian Mistress, Agony & Opium – Because they made traditional metal sound fresh.
Maniac Butcher, Masakr – Because they do old-school black metal right.
Darkthrone, Circle the Wagons – Because fuck you.
Kim Kelly (or Grim Kim, if we’re being formal) scribbles for a number of sweet metal publications (Terrorizer, Brooklyn Vegan, Invisible Oranges, Hails & Horns, and tons more), promotes wicked records with Catharsis PR, and road dogs for your favorite bands. Keep up with her exploits & numerous band recommendations on Twitter, or peep her blog Ravishing Grimness.