Of course a top 10 is completely subjective about the albums I enjoyed the most over the past year. There have been many more fine records released this year, and I’ve compiled a list of another 30 that you should all check out and enjoy. Some I have reviewed here before, others I have just been alerted to, some I forgot altogether while putting together the previous list. But these should hopefully whet your appetite for more metal:
Torche – Meanderthal,
Soulfly – Conquer,
Slipknot – All Hope is Gone,
Esoteric – The Maniacal Vale,
Deicide – Till Death Do Us Part,
Arsis – We Are the Nightmare,
Toxic Holocaust – An Overdose of Death,
AC/DC – Black Ice,
5ive – Hesperus,
Amon Amarth – Twilight of the Thunder God,
Annotations of an Autopsy – Before the Throne of Infection,
Hail of Bullets – ..of Frost and War,
Misery Index – Traitors,
Cynic – Traced in Air,
Satyricon – The Age of Nero,
Darkthrone – Dark Thrones and Black Flags,
Nachtmystium – Assassins: Black Meddle Pt.1,
Origin – Antithesis,
Grand Magus – Iron Will,
Unearth – The March,
Bloodbath – The Fathomless Mastery,
Kiuas – The New Dark Age,
Cult of Luna – Eternal Kingdom,
Coffins – Buried Death,
Testament – The Formation of Damnation,
Children of Bodom – Blooddrunk,
Behexen – My Soul for His Glory,
Trivium – Shogun,
Iced Earth – The Crucible of Man,
Septic Flesh – Communion
All of those are definitely excellent albums that were released last year, and are all worth a couple of spins.
Now I know I’m a bit late in this, my internet connection wasn’t set up properly during December so I have only finally been able to compile this list, but I think its still something I wanted to do. There was a LOT of quality releases in 2008, from death metal through grindcore, black and progressive and I got to hear a lot of them. Anything I have missed though, please advise me on them so I can go listen.
My top 10 are as follows:
1. Boris: Smile – One of my favourite bands, Boris managed to equal the power fuzz rock of predecessor ‘Pink’ with yet another collection of stomping psychedelic rock, drone and ambience. Guest appearaces from psychedelic guitarist Michio Kurihara and SunnO)))’s Stephen O’Malley only heightened the aural pleasure. The most deceptively complex album of the year.
2. Metallica: Death Magnetic – The thrash titans returned to their glory days with the best release since the Black Album. ‘Death Magnetic’ runs roughshod over the majority of thrash releases for the year with its mature songwriting, excellent arrangements and the overpowering confidence that is finally back in Metallica’s camp. A triumph.
3. Enslaved: Vertebrae – If there was any band that may top Enslaved’s previous efforts, ‘RUUN’ and ‘Isa’, it could only be the band who wrote them. Enslaved have reached even higher levels of dexterity, quality and innovation. Picked as Terrorizer’s album of the year, ‘Vertebrae’ is the best black metal album of the year, the best progressive album of the year, and if it wasn’t for my personal love for the top two bands, probably would have won the day. Blackened prog never sounded anything like as good.
4. Earth: The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull – Drone titans Earth started the year off early with the release of their latest magnum opus, and what a challenger it has been. An excellent example of the power of minimalism, their repetitive country riffs, played at snail’s pace never lacked emotion or intensity. One of the best relaxation albums you will hear for a long time.
5. Asva: What We Don’t Know is Frontier – The album that gave this blog its name, Asva’s latest release showed how to create massive soundscapes without sabotaging the balance between crushing heaviness and delicate minimalism. Drone and doom have never sounded so good, unpredictable and ultimately rewarding.
6. Meshuggah: Obzen – Sweden’s finest mind benders returned to their more thrash roots with Obzen, following the twisting, labyrinthean Catch 33. The title track is possibly the best metal track of the year, and Meshuggah show all and sundry how to write truly complex and polyrhythmic music without losing any of the head caving heaviness. Almost embarassingly good.7. Warrel Dane: Praises to the War Machine – Being a big fan of Nevermore, I waited in huge anticipation of this release all year, and I was not disappointed. Dane proves why he has one of the best and most versatile voices in metal, and also one of the most coherent and thought provoking lyrical minds. Nevermore lite it may seem, but the quality is there for all to see.
8. Nortt: Galgenfrist – An expert example of how depressing funeral doom and black metal can be when combined. This is possibly the most uneasy album of the year; it is bleak, harsh and terrifying nihilistic. A lesson to all other one man black metal acts, this is how you create the truly despairing. Designed for solitude and darkness.
9. Gojira: The Way of All Flesh- French death metal titans return with an album that may even top their own magnificent ‘From Mars to Sirius’. One of last year’s heaviest releases, the technicality is excellent and the riff writing is top notch. Their pairing of Morbid Angel riffing with Devin Townsend esque grandiosity is awe inspiring, and ‘The Way of All Flesh’ is the most headbanging death metal release of the year.
10. Opeth: Watershed- Can this band ever stop improving? I didn’t think any Opeth release could top the wonder that was Ghost Reveries, and yet there goes Mikael Akerfeldt andco ruining that notion. ‘Watershed’ showcases all of Akerfeldt’s more obtuse influences, and mixes them in with inspired death metal riffing to create another Opeth masterpiece. It may get boring one day to keep rating their stuff so highly!
Now a lot of black metal ‘kvltists’ don’t like Dimmu Borgir. They use a huge symphonic production, their albums never sound as if they’ve been produced in a forest and they’ve become almost mainstream; unthinkable for black metal ideology. But I’ve always been a big fan of the band, ever since a friend thrust ‘Death Cult Armageddon’ into my hand and said ‘LISTEN!!’I first enjoyed symphonic black metal with Emperor’s ‘Prometheus’ album, followed by Cradle of Filth’s ‘Cruelty and the Beast’. Both albums are very powerful and complex in their sound, which drew me more into the black metal scene. I am now much more into the more minimalist, raw black metal of early Darkthrone, Mayhem, Burzum etc than I was, but I am still a big fan of this kind of thing. I’m a fan of bands being able to use instruments outside your general guitar, drums, bass, keyboards effectively, and Dimmu Borgir for me have always managed to pull this kinda thing off expertly.
Spiritual Black Dimensions, for me, is Dimmu Borgir’s best album. It may not contain my favourite tracks (‘Puritania’ and ‘Progenies of the Great Apocalypse’ take the prize there) but it contains Dimmu’s most consistently well written songs contained on one release. The bombastic power of ‘The Insight & the Cartharsis’ shows most symphonic black metal bands how to do it properly, while the steamrolling ‘Behind the Curtains of Night: Phantasmagoria’ displays the more black metal edge; less drama and more buzzsaw riffing. ‘Dreamside Dominions’ and ‘The Promised Future Aeons’ are great examples about how putting melody into black metal doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to be less aggressive, and the opening scream of ‘Grotesquery Conceiled’ and subsequent blasting show that the rawer, more extreme element has not left the band.
A personal highlight is the memorable ‘Blazing Monoliths of Defiance’, and the ominous, slow burning ‘Arcane Lifeforce Mysteria’, building from an atmospheric, clean intro into a full blown blast. With the tracks here, Dimmu Borgir show that keyboards and synth/orchestra parts only benefit a piece if the music is properly arranged and the band shine through here. Each song is arranged to give the full power of each instrument its place. Shagrath’s vocal work is also exceptional. He has an excellent raw black metal rasp that compliments the music but the clean vocals also fit in well with the more symphonic elements
A complex, well written work of quality of symphonic black metal, essential for fans of Emperor and Cradle of Filth.
In preparation for CC’s new album, Evisceration Plague, (due out on 3rd of February 2009) and hopefully going to see them support Children of Bodom on Valentine’s Day, I began listening through my Cannibal Corpse albums again for the first time in a while. And I suddenly remembered that their previous release was one of my favourite death metal albums ever. Simply entitled Kill, this record saw Cannibal Corpse hone their sound into a razor blade sharp maelstorm of death.
From the howl of “Kill!!” that opens the album to the closing instrumental ‘Infinite Misery’, that sways and groans like classic Immolation, the band totally nailed it. Produced by Erik Rutan (Hate Eternal), the album is clear as a bell, never losing Corpsegrinder’s vocals under the instruments and even pulling off a great Hate Eternal impression on ‘Purification by Fire’, their producer’s work obviously influencing it. Corpsegrinder’s vocals have an uncanny ability to be seriously brutal and yet mostly decipherable, a rare talent in the world of ‘vokills’. As much as I love and respect the quality of the Chris Barnes era Cannibal, I am much more a fan of Corpsegrinder’s vocal style; it is more versatile than just low end grunts and growls.
But it is the early pairing of ‘Necrosadistic Warning’ and ‘Five Nails Through the Neck’ that are technically the most impressive tracks on the record. Both contain probably the most technical riffs the band have ever produced, and show that the band aren’t just a full steam ahead gore machine. We all know that Cannibal Corpse have been producing top quality brutal death since their debut, but ‘Kill’ is a perfect example of how they have evolved and improved since the raw days of Butchered at Birth and Eaten Back to Life. The catchy ‘MakeThem Suffer’, dark and evil ‘Death Walking Terror’ and the brilliantly named ‘Submerged in Boiling Flesh’ are my personal highlights but most death metal fans couldn’t argue with the rest of this album
There are almost no flaws with this album,parts of it are possibly overly technical and lose a bit of catchiness but with far too many highlights it is a hollow complaint. Essential.
Belgian brutal death mob Aborted have crafted a solid career out of reliably brutal, precise death metal. Their last release, ‘Slaughter and Apparatus’ was well received and, while not quite as good as earlier devastations like ‘Goremageddon’ or ‘The Purity Of Perversions’, was still a cracking death metal release. However, with ‘Strychnine.213’, fans of the band will noticed a marked increase in melodic leads and a lack of the goregrind attackthat punctuated their earlier material.
The new album has appeared relatively quickly after the release of ‘ Slaughter…’; less than a year and a half, and that shows. The resurgence of the band away from death/grind into more technical death metal grounds with that added melodic flair will (and has, judging by some reviews online) alienate and discourage fans of the band from enjoying this album. However it is important to look at the album subjectively as well as objectively. As a solid technical death album, ‘Strychnine.213’ is an impressive piece. It still contains brutal breakdowns, although is now punctuated by fluid melodic breaks (like the many that break through Pestiferous Subterfuge), and excellent moments of technicality that doesn’t become too head spinning. There are some good chugging groove moments in ‘A Murmur of Decrepit Wits’, and a solid rumbling groove to the mid section of ‘Enterrement of an Idol’, which opens into a thick, heavy expansive section about two minutes in.
The appearance of melody in a previously brutal death metal band is always a sign that hardcore fans will disown them as being ‘commercial’, ‘trendy’ or whatever new derogatory term they can come up with to describe progression they do not approve of. But the band are simply attempting to step out of their death/grind background and appeal to newer fans, which this album certainly should. But up the brutality next time and we might be onto a complete winner. All in all however, a pretty solid brutal release, some good flashes of melody but definitely nowhere near a disaster.
This is the third release from Chilean thrashers Ancienterror; after two rehearsal demos, they have now released this 6 track EP called Arguments for Aggression. They have quite a solid sound, reminiscient of Schizophrenia or Beneath the Remains era Sepultura with a number of European thrash influences and even a dash of Slayer in there. Opening track ‘Burning Jerusalem’ and ‘Second Coming’ show off an impressive speed attack, but the band are capable of slowing it down a bit to augment the power of their material. Wielding a mainly anti-religion and anti-capitalist lyrical slant, the band have actually created quite an impressive little mini album here. For being self produced, it is crisp and clean, allowing the riffs to breathe. The slower pace on ‘Terminal’ is a perfect example of how thrash does not need to be as fast as possible, replacing tempo with an assured groove. I have to say I am pretty impressed with the EP and think that some record label should pick these guys up because they definitely have a quality full length in there somewhere. Check them out on Myspace if you can.
How to review the new album by one of rock’s most famous and best bands without comparison to older material is like trying to make any Western nation truly care about African poverty; nigh on impossible. So let me get that off the bat straight away by saying that Black Ice isn’t as good as Back in Black or Highway to Hell. For one, it’s an unfair comparison since those works are so highly revered by hard rock fans that even if it was, Black Ice wouldn’t ever get the credit. But what Black Ice is, is a rampant return to the top of Rock Mountain by the kings of bluesy rock and roll. AC/DC can write this kind of music in their sleep (and I would think Angus Young probably only dreams about his guitar), but the fact that even now they can release a record that is, for all intensive purposes, the same formula as they’ve done to death and still sound essential is nothing short of staggering. The opening riff of Rock N’ Roll Train is pure AC/DC gold, and I challenge anyone to get to the chorus and not be tapping their foot. And that’s always been the appeal of AC/DC; the hardy punch of their rock and roll has never been pretentious, never have they gone for anything less than good time rock. It is a triumphant return for brawny riffing, raunchy lyrical subjects and emotional soloing of a style that only Angus Young can do. Brian Johnson’s gravelly yelp is still firmly in place, and he gives a great performance here, boisterously encouraging all and sundry to rock out with the band. But the essential part of an AC/DC album for me is the road trip song, the one that you feel as if you should be in a massive Cadillac roaring down an American highway with it blaring on your stereo. Back in Black had You Shook Me All Night Long, Highway to Hell had that iconic title track and Black Ice has Big Jack, a rock and roll stomper perfect for any road tripping. The double highlights are the ballady Rock and Roll Dream where Johnson actually sings well, and the hair metal esque Anything Goes, two prime examples of how AC/DC can change it up successfully. A triumphant return for the best rock and roll band that has ever walked the face of the Earth.
Inspired by the Terrorizer 40 albums of the year poll, I was inspired to compile a set of reviews of the albums they deemed to be the best of the last year. And so I begin with Meanderthal, a sludgy tour de force that rocks hard and is one of the heaviest sounding records of the year. Buried well inside its swampy appeal is a spectacular blend of catchy rock and roll tunes and the same type of low end bass and drumming approach that makes the average metal fan enjoy Mastodon and High on Fire so much. The tracks aren’t particularly long, but so infectious in their almost pop rock melodies that you will listen to them repeatedly, instantly tripling the length of the album (once you’ve heard Grenades, you’ll understand my point). Steve Brooks, founder and vocalist for Torche has been quoted saying that he likes putting an idea down and getting it done with without trying to drag it on for 20 minutes. Meanderthal is the perfect representation of this idea, with tiny epic Little Champion lasting only an essential 35 seconds before the next track comes in. The lively Healer and simple thunder of Across the Shields are particular highlights of an album that continually impresses in scope and simplicity, and the 6 minute Mastodon aping Amnesian is an essential entry into the stoner/sludge/doom canon. But ultimately it is the low end rumbling thunder of the title track that swings it for me. That the band have managed to marry this heaviness to such infectious pop choruses and verses is just excellent, and long may Torche continue this into further releases.