SATAN ROSENBLOOM’S TOP FIFTEEN METAL ALBUMS OF 2010
1. Ludicra, The Tenant (Profound Lore)
While I’ve been impressed with every record that Ludrica has released, none of them was so evocative as The Tenant. Maybe it’s because for the first time, the band has forged a black metal that feels rooted in a reality I can understand — there are no forest rituals, mythical realms, or battles between good and evil, just five people’s poetic struggle against the spiritual deadness of city life. Or perhaps it’s because the dry production feels just as bleak as the outlook. Mostly it’s the songs, with their ornate yet perfectly balanced arrangements, a combination of austerity and energy that you don’t hear a lot in this genre.
This music was made for me. Mind-bogglingly limber and disgustingly heavy at the same time, Swiss quintet Knut defy common sense and gravity and good taste all at once. It just tickles me there. A lot of critics decry Knut’s post-metal leanings (there’s less of the Isis here than on previous albums), but they’re wrong. Knut do everything well, and that means the atmospheric Slintisms of “If We Can’t Fly There, We’ll Take the Boat,” the fucked-up jitterbug thrash of “Damned Extroverts” and the untethered, unfairly heavy mindfuck of “Fast Forward Bastard.” Sixteen years into a very non-prolific career, and nobody sounds like Knut.
3. Intronaut, Valley of Smoke (Century Media)
We all have music in our collection that we could classify as “friend rock,” that overarching genre that transcends the importance of style and quality because you just have to be supportive of your brodudes no matter what. I am proud to qualify Intronaut’s Valley of Smoke as “friend rock,” as I get to brag about how I know one of the few metal bands in the world that has yet to put out something less than stellar. Granted, I would even adore Valley of Smoke if I hated Intronaut’s guts as people. The band has made huge strides in terms of harmony and texture, and Joe Lester and Danny Walker, the best rhythm section in metal, just keep getting better. Sacha Dunable and Dave Timnick’s glorious vocal harmonies (who knew?) slide right in where they could have been really embarrassing. And amazingly, even though Valley of Smoke contains some of Intronaut’s softest, sunniest moments, it does nothing to sand down the monster riffs on “Miasma” and “Sunderance.” Intronaut’s still doing everything right.
4. Celeste, Morte(s) Nee(s) (Denovali Records)
This was the only album that I knew was going to be on my year-end list from the first chord. The overwhelmingness of black metal, the in-your-face rage of screamo, and perpetual crush. I would not be surprised if I found out that Celeste has a hundred people in it. Plus, they offer up everything for free. If you do not download this, die.
5. Lantlos, .neon (Prophecy Productions)
There were a lot of good French albums this year in that loosely defined “post-black” subgenre — Celestia, Les Discrets, and Alcest’s releases come to mind, in addition to Lantlos’s sophomore disc, .neon. It’s no surprise that Avignon’s native son Neige has connections to all four groups, but as wonderful and varied his vocals are on .neon, this is really a victory for guitarist/bassist Herbst. The dude unites the ‘gaziest of guitar textures with melody-drenched black metal beatdowns like they were just two points on the same spectrum of expression (which of course they are). “These NIghts Were Ours” and “Coma” are so stupidly beautiful that I bet even a devoted melody-phile would be able to take it. And I don’t even wanna talk about “Pulse/Surreal.” Play it for your girlfriend or boyfriend and if you don’t get laid, dump him or her.
6. Contaigeon, Death at the Gates of Delirium (Works of Ein)
I was never into the re-thrash movement, but I got way into all the new bands playing old-school death metal this past year, and Contaigeon’s debut for internet-only, free-download-only label Works of Ein was one of my favorites. The songs are good in that scuzzy, atonal Incantation way, but it’s the mortiferous guitar tone and sepulchral vibe that sets this one apart. Just listen to “Those in the Soil” or “The Day the Earth Stood Dead” and tell me that you’re not a little less alive than you were before.
7. Immolation, Majesty & Decay (Nuclear Blast)
When the toxic dust settles, Immolation may be remembered as the most inimitable band in US death metal history. While their buddies in Suffocation, Morbid Angel and Deicide have spawned hordes of copycats, nobody accurately captures indomitable terror quite like Immolation. And Majesty & Decay is their best since Close to a World Below, perhaps ever. Immolation’s signature repetitive crush riffs are in fine form, yielding some absolute classics in “A Token of Malice” and “The Rapture of Ghosts.” Bob Vigna’s signature clawing solos and Steve Shalaty’s signature skittering drum style are better recorded than ever. Ross Dolan’s signature hair is there, too, as is some signature Pär Olofsson cover art. Everything about this album is signature.
8. Sailors With Wax Wings, s/t (Angel Oven)
R. Loren intrigued and befuddled me in his Pyramids incarnation. His Sailors with Wax Wings project is less wobbly WTF?-ness, with plenty of richly-layered purtiness and gorrrrrrrrgeous vocals and guest spots from a bazillion guests. It’s one of those records that’s made up of a million tiny parts but really only reveals itself when the whole is taken in. Kinda like the night sky, eh? As evidenced by our recent interview with him, R. Loren is one intelligent bastard. But he and producer Colin Marston put together a heart-intensive headphone album here.
9. Decrepit Birth, Polarity (Nuclear Blast)
Once a font of straightforward brutality, Decrepit Birth are a different band on Polarity. It shows in how fluidly they balance their keen tech/prog instincts with airtight death metal flagellation. But it’s also about the startling harmonic palette that guitarist/songwriter Matt Sotelo is painting with these days — not since the days of Chuck Schuldiner has a death metal riff writer done so much with guitar harmonization. The one constant is vocalist Bill Robinson, who’s also had his third eye open, and his scorched throat barking about metaphysics. Strange how such an aggressive sound can come across as so non-aggressive, and maintain its total face-ruleage.
10. Weapon, From the Devil’s Tomb (Ajna Offensive)
Go ahead and smoke Watain’s goathead-topped pole all you want. To my ears, Weapon’s second full-length is the better Satanic black metal release of the two, and one of the kickingest albums of the year. From the Devil’s Tomb is straight up momentum the whole way through, and we’re not just talking blastbeats — this shit is suprisingly dynamic, fluid even, for a style that’s known more for relentlessness than listenability. It’s smart, fast, melodic and surprisingly heavy in parts. It’s Weapon, and it fucking rules.
11. High on Fire, Snakes for the Divine (E1 Music)
High on Fire are a band that I dug so much that I took them for granted. Always dependable for a fine album or live gig, they were so obviously good that I never felt the need to listen to them. So the first time I heard Snakes for the Divine, it felt like I was being reintroduced to a childhood female friend I used to pal around with that turned super-hot and smart and funny since I last saw her. The barbarian vibe marauds from song to song, riding atop drummer Des Kensel’s locomotive-engine rumble, helped in no small part by Greg Fidelman’s dirty-but-accurate production. And Snakes for the Divine showcases some of Pike’s most inspired riffing. Witness the opening riff of “Bastard Samurai” and the thrash section of “Ghost Neck” for proof that this band is not to be fucked with, or taken for granted. EVER.
12. Lightning Swords of Death, The Extra-Dimensional Wound (Metal Blade)
I was stoked when Lightning Swords of Death got a record deal, especially with a label that’s never been known for its black metal offerings. It makes sense ot me that Metal Blade would take a chance on these guys — the live show is killer, and this album imbues its natural, almost steampunk-crusty sound with a deadly strain of hookiness. And I don’t mean Cradle of Filth style hooks. I mean more like the clever little logo on the bottom of the tank that you’ll remember after it runs over you.
13. Murder Construct, Murder Construct EP (Relapse)
All y’all heard this album when MetalSucks streamed it in mid-November, right? If not, you fucked up. Leon del Muerte wasted ten years of his life frittering away his time with Exhumed, Impaled, Phobia, Intronaut, and Artificium Sanguis and NOT recording this album. I guess it was worth it — it’s a hell of a lot of fun hearing Danny Walker (Intronaut/Uphill Battle/Jesu) apply his monstrous technique to grind (he does it in Phobia too), and Cattle Decapitation’s Travis Ryan has one of the most formidable barks in all of extreme music. It’s the songs that take center stage here though, and Del Muerte delivers the most intricate, memorable grind I heard all year. But come one man, all you can come up with in a decade is eighteen minutes of music?
14. East of the Wall, Ressentiment (Translation Loss)
I’m not the only MetalSucks writer to profess his love of East of the Wall, and for good reason. If I were writing this list ten years ago, it would be #1 on my list. But I’m no longer in the middle of my King Crimson/Gentle Giant phase, so the advanced guitar/drum counterpoint and time signature fuckery found all over Ressentiment no longer impresses like it did. But that’s okay, because East of the Wall’s prog wows gently, with tasteful singing and a dedication to detailed melodies and compositions that make them as listenable as they are tech-intensive.
15. Pyrrhon, Fever Kingdoms EP (The Path Less Traveled)
Where the fuck did these guys come from???? Their wacked-out death metal stylings remind me of some of my most neglected faves, like Gorguts, Coroner and Disincarnate. Totally boss stuff, and vocalist Doug Moore apparently shares my alma mater. GO QUAKERS!!! The EP sounds like a vintage 90s Morrisound release, too. Of course it was mixed and mastered by Colin Marston (Krallice, Dysrhythmia, Gorguts). Typical. Is there anything that dude can’t do? Anyhoo, can’t wait to hear a full-length from these guys, because I can never get enough of out-of-the-box death metal. More please.