[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Part 2 of our UK contributor Andy Synn‘s “year in review” piece. Yesterday, we featured Andy’s list of “the greatest” albums he heard in 2010. In Part 2, he lists and discusses albums that failed to make “the greatest” list but were still good.]
Andy Synn’s List Of Albums From 2010 That Can All Be Variably Classed As “Good” Albums
Each of these albums is, to my ears, objectively good in its own right. Each band is clearly playing from the heart and has composed and performed their songs with a clear passion for the music. Whilst we have seen some bands take 2010 as a year to consolidate the gains of the past few years, others have attempted to expand their remit somewhat, resulting in some experiments which, whilst not always fully successful, have been welcomed by many as a way of progressing each band’s sound and sense of identity.
Kudos to all the bands on the list, young and old.
Abigail Williams – In The Absence Of Light
Aborted – Coronary Reconstruction EP
Amorphis – Magic And Mayhem
Arsis – Starve For The Devil
As I Lay Dying – The Powerless Rise
Barren Earth – Curse Of The Red River
Beneath The Massacre – Maree Noire
The Binary Code – Priest EP
Bleeding Through – Bleeding Through
Carnifex – Hell Chose Me
Conducting From The Grave – Revenants
Daath – Daath
Deathspell Omega – Paracletus
Demon Hunter – This World Is A Thorn
Dimmu Borgir – Abrahadabra
(the balance of Andy’s “good” list follows the jump, along with his commentary on the choices . . .)
Eluveitie – Everything Remains (As It Never Was)
Engel – Threnody
Fear Factory – Mechanize
Heaven Shall Burn– Invictus
High On Fire – Snakes For The Divine
The Man-Eating Tree – Vine
Misery Index – Heirs To Thievery
The Ocean – Anthropocentric
Setherial – Ekpyrosis
The Showdown – Blood In The Gears
Soilwork – The Panic Broadcast
Sunna – Two Minute Terror
Tesseract – Concealing Fate EP
Witchery – Witchkrieg
This year saw a slew of high quality albums from a number of deathcore/metalcore bands. As I Lay Dying and Bleeding Through (considered also-rans of the movement by many) both produced extremely good records. The former’s album is most likely the highlight of their career, whilst the latter’s is good but not quite as strong as their previous release “Declaration”. Both Beneath The Massacre and Carnifex produced solid releases this year, “Maree Noire” suffering only due to its unfortunately brief running time, whilst “Hell Chose Me” shows Carnifex moving more organically towards honest Death Metal, albeit still slightly in thrall to the limitations of their original genre.
The Binary Code and Conducting From The Grave both continue to impress with their song-writing and technical abilities. The “Priest EP” showcases a slight shift in direction for The Binary Code, echoing elements of both Cult Of Luna and Gojira, whilst “Revenants” demonstrates CFTG moving in a more solidly “metal” direction. Their tiny, but powerful, new vocalist is also a definite plus for them.
Speaking of vocalists, ex-Marduk man Legion has wrangled himself a new job fronting Witchery, who produced a vicious slab of death-thrash, replete with numerous guest solos, in new album “Witchkrieg”, whilst Tuomas Tuominen (ex-Fall Of The Leafe) has found himself a role as singer of The Man-Eating Tree, a band with a nice line in melancholic rock/metal that recalls a more upbeat Katatonia. “Anthropocentric” the second album by The Ocean to feature new singer Loic Rosetti is a far stronger offering than its predecessor – with Loic’s voice, confidence and delivery having all improved dramatically. Unfortunately, due to perhaps the curse of the “Double Album”, the more proggy pieces on this record seem slightly underdeveloped in comparison to the rest of the songs.
Arsis front-man James Malone returned from his unfortunate battle with anorexia with the aptly named “Starve For The Devil”, a divisive record that, ignoring the sometimes forced sense of humour, is still packed with great riffs and great songs. The man does have a knack for making death-metal Motley Crue stadium anthems and making it look easy. Whether that particular description is a good thing of course is subject to your own personal views – I enjoy it immensely, whilst at the same time realising they’re diverging far from their original path. But hell, at least they’re doing it well and on their own terms! And Mike Van Dyne is back, which is thoroughly welcome news.
Another band beloved by many, with a front-man of similarly endless riff-crafting talent, is High On Fire. Now although I found “Snakes For The Divine” to be a bit of a disappointment at first (not enough to go in the *Disappointing* category though) it has to be said that the quality of the album is still extremely high. My main gripe is that it doesn’t improve upon their sound or direction at all, and as such comes as a bit of a step down from “Death Is This Communion”, which was a phenomenal record. However it’s only a slight step down and still holds its head high in the yearly accolades of many. Also, a High On Fire/Arsis tour would be nice sometime, please?
Some old favourites returned this year, striving to recapture past glories and, by and large, succeeding. Dimmu Borgir’s latest album serves as a far more honest statement of intent than the forced metal of “In Sorte Diaboli”. It seems the band have this time honestly decided to ignore the critics and simply produce an album’s worth of music dear to their own black hearts and vision, replete with shifting moods and a greater sense of depth. Soilwork have also done a good deal toward regaining some of the credibility they lost with the patchy “Stabbing The Drama” and the altogether woeful “Sworn To A Great Divide”, the band finally relaxing into their own signature sound again, with an energy and vigour that has been lacking for years.
Fear Factory have also taken the first step toward reclaiming some of their lost legacy, “Mechanize” providing a fine mix of old-school FF-moments with some much needed updates to their sound. And having Gene Hoglan on drums never hurt anyone either. The latest release by Amorphis is an awesome little record, re-recording (and occasionally re-working) some of their classic material with a more modern production and a far superior vocal performance by ultra-talented singer Tomi Joutsen. The only thing that keeps it out of my *Great* list is the fact that it is after all a collection of old material, re-working aside.
On the heavier end of the scale there were a few Black and Death metal bands who were almost there, but not quite, in terms of greatness. Both Abigail Williams and Barren Earth produced solid records, with some stellar songs – however, the overwhelming feeling for both is that they are still too clearly in thrall to their influences to craft an absolute classic as of yet. Whilst Barren Earth potentially have the easier job in convincing people of their calibre and integrity, they have yet to really break out into their own entity, too much of their sound coming directly from the Opeth/Amorphis school of song-writing.
By contrast, Abigail Williams will perhaps always struggle to escape the criticisms of their detractors, yet it seems clear to me that with the thoroughly uncommercial “In The Absence Of Light” the band have demonstrated their very real commitment to their own particular form of Black Metal. If they are able to craft more songs more purely in their own image, escaping from the shadows of their progenitors in the process, I feel that their knack for writing interesting, technical riffs could see them stand out from the pack in the future.
Three bright lights for the future of Death Metal – Aborted, Daath and Trigger The Bloodshed – all proved themselves capable not only of extreme intensity and technicality but of being able to write actual songs which consistently capture the attention of the listener. Aborted’s “Coronary Reconstruction” EP was a great taste of the new line-up, losing the more average melo-death elements which had been creeping in and replacing them with an almost grindcore level of extremity. A very good stop-gap EP overall, hamstrung only by a surprisingly average cover of Entombed’s “Left Hand Path”.
Whilst Daath’s self-titled record took a few listens to grow on me its only major flaw is that, perhaps due to being over-long, the quality is occasionally a little inconsistent. However, the relative stability of their recent line-up has clearly had a positive effect, the band finally beginning to grow into and flesh out their full potential, mixing some very catchy hooks with their distinctive and progressively-tinged guitar work. The third album by UK death metal merchants Trigger The Bloodshed also came as a welcome surprise this year, mixing some clever ideas into their particular take on the death metal sound, succeeding admirably at forging their own particular identity, aided and abetted by former Aborted drummer Dan Wilding.
In more blackened realms, both Deathspell Omega and Setherial continued along their traditionally blackened paths, summoning a chilling and ravenous sense of darkness whilst also maintaining a surprisingly technical edge. The only downside is that both records fail to reach the heights achieved by their predecessors. “Paracletus” seems to be missing that x-factor that made both “Fas – Ite…” and “Si Monumentum” sound both dangerous and compelling at the same time, whilst “Ekpyrosis” sees Setherial moving further from the realms of unholy/satanic Black Metal and more towards their own particular brand of cosmic misanthropy, where steely-cold, clinical production and technically proficient guitar work are as important as bleak tremolo-picked melodies and rasping snarls of despair. It’s only a shame that not every song is as strong as those found on the modern master-work that was “Death Triumphant”. Still, a definite attempt at a defining step forwards.
The latest albums by Eluveitie and Misery Index see both bands choosing to consolidate their sounds, rather than really attempt much further progression (although the increased use of female vocals in Eluveitie adds a welcome touch of contrast). The former is the most culpable in terms of repeating elements from the previous album, good though they might be, whilst the latter at times comes across as a good, but slightly less balanced, cousin to the career defining “Traitors”. “Heirs To Thievery” is not as strongly tied together as “Traitors” and lacks some of the gusto that was such a shock to many ears, perhaps exactly because we’d all been effectively spoiled by the superior goods offered up by “Traitors”.
Potentially superior to both, however, is the latest release from Heaven Shall Burn – “Invictus”. The overall incorporation of electronic elements feels nicely organic to the development of their sound, and the band is clearly firing on all cylinders. However, a few too many songs simply repeat the formulas honed to perfection on previous album “Iconoclast”. They repeat them well, but still fall prey to the same minor faults that limited both Eluveitie and Misery Index. The stand-out tracks exhibit both the traditional power and aural assault associated with the band, along with a newly developed interest in overall atmospherics and subtle nuances, whilst the lesser tracks are simply those which fail to capitalise on this effectively. Oh, and the Therapy? cover isn’t worth anyone’s time or money either.
A number of other albums by a number of disparate artists were also worth a high-grade in this year’s line-up. “This World Is A Thorn” shows Demon Hunter’s sound maturing far more naturally into a more overtly metal direction, incorporating a variety of different vocals styles as well as some welcome guest appearances. Engel’s sophomore release “Threnody” is a good record for around 75% of it’s length, and a great record for the remaining 25%. It successfully mixes catchy and melodic guitar work with a semi-industrialised crunch in a far more natural manner than both their own debut record and the latest output from In Flames.
“Blood In The Gears” by The Showdown is a rare gem; a band influenced directly by Pantera that manages not to be boring, derivative tripe. For all its Southern groove and swing it retains a passionate sense of energy and direction, rather than the impotent aggression so prevalent in so many other bands of this ilk.
Two UK-based bands also produced extremely good records this year, however only one of them is particularly well-known and receiving any kind of press for it. Tesseract’s “Concealing Fate” EP has been a long time coming and lived up to its hype, the band performing with assurance and maturity, never trying to be “heavy” but simply to progress their own music. The fact that it IS often heavy is simply a testament to their writing ability.
The criminally under-rated Sunna also produced a new record this year, their second album entitled “Two Minute Terror”. It’s a strange beast, ostensibly a metallic, twisted take on the trip-hop sound, that manages to be both unsettling and enthralling at the same time. I urge you all to go and give the band a try, just for a taste of something quite odd and extremely distinctive!