[EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, we’ve got three posts devoted to year-end lists; the first two — part 2 of Andy Synn’s year-in-review and NCS co-founder IntoTheDarkness’ Top 25 — are below this one. In this post, our Midwestern contributor BadWolf gives you his list of the Top 10 “most listenable” metal albums of the year. There’s one album on the list that made our eyes bug out. See if you can guess which one it is. Later on we’ll have BadWolf’s “10 best” list.]
The following is my list of ten records that completely subjugated my listening behavior patterns in 2010, and ten that nearly made it. All of these records are at least good, but this is not to say they take my opinion as the greatest works of metal as art in 2010—that’s the next list. Any albums that appear on both lists would constitute an unranked objective best albums of 2010 list.
In summary, for the lazy these are the trends: deathcore/neo thrash out. Blackened anything and retro-doom in. Sludge stays put.
Because I feel the purpose of top 10 lists is to expand taste, spur discussion, and examine contemporary metal music I have not included any ‘legacy’ acts—sorry Accept, Iron Maiden, Immolation, Blind Guardian et. al., but you don’t need me.
Honorable Mentions, unordered:
The Sword – Warp Riders
Ludicra – The Tenant
The Ocean – Heliocentric/Anthropocentric
Black Tusk – Taste the Sin
Holy Grail – Crisis in Utopia
Dawnbringer – Nucleus
Enslaved – Axioma Ethica Odini
Atheist – Jupiter
Lair of the Minotaur – Evil Power
Christian Mistress – Agony and Opium
(BadWolf’s list of the 10 “most listenable” comes after the jump, with his comments about the choices . . .)
BADWOLF’S TOP 10 MOST LISTENABLE METAL RECORDS OF 2010
10) Melechesh – The Epigenesis
Forests? Fjords? Frost? Fuck you. Melechesh need none of these, and once again find twisted black metal magic inspiration from the exotic sounds of the desert. The middle-eastern elements are the most integrated they’ve ever been on The Epigenesis, even if they do lose me with two extended instrumental jams. No matter, the melodies are as infectious as they are infernal, and Ashmedi’s vocals have never sounded better. The highlight of Melechesh’s sound is the twin guitar team of Ashmedi and Moloch, who have secured themselves in my mind as a guitar duo on par with Downing and Tipton. The guitar tone on this record is pure midrange gnarl that is somehow clean enough to bite just that much harder. This is definitely the guitar record of the year. Maybe if I’d gotten my hands on this sooner, or if it didn’t lose focus on the instrumental interludes, it would be higher on the list.
9) Kylesa – Spiral Shadow
Keep moving. Don’t look back. Keep moving. Don’t look back. Keep moving. Don’t look back. Keep moving. Don’t look back. Keep moving. Don’t look back…
Ok, so there’s more to love about the album than just that one song, like Kylesa’s uniquely serpentine sense of textured melody. How about their intensely tight songwriting (the damn thing’s barely 40 minutes long), or open love for 80’s indie. Take your pick. I saw Kylesa live, loved it, and then hated every record they made before this one. This one hit me—hard. It hit me so hard that it’s made me look back on Static Tensions and like it more. Like bittersweet candy this record has a nostalgic and emotional bite—this year’s metal breakup record, look out Jane Doe (just kidding). What I said about hearing Melechesh earlier goes double for Spiral Shadow. Keep moving. Don’t look. Back.
(8) Ghost – Opus Eponymous
To the rest of 2010’s crop of fantastic neo-traditional metal bands (those honorably aforementioned), A for effort and thanks for coming. Now sit down because Ghost is showing everyone how it’s done. If more metal bands had clean singers this good maybe we’d change the name of the damn website. This band is the soundtrack to every good horror movie never made, and their debut makes me feel as if Christopher Lee could leap from my closet wearing a grimmrobe at any waking moment. Less abstract moment ahead: There is an instant during ‘Death Knell’ when Ghost is riding a saccharine Sabbath-meets-Trouble groove one second, and then a minute later perfectly evoke Slayer. Not thrash Slayer—slow melodic and terrifying Slayer; secret weapon Slayer, but with a Hammond organ. Expect huge things from this band.
7) Shining – Blackjazz
Three tracks in and this record has three of the most gnarled and wonderfully hooky metal riffs of recent memory. This beast is an avant-garde blend of black metal, jazz and industrial rock, but wisely pulls mainly from the most immediately pleasing elements of all three as well as their more dissonant elements and blends the two about 50/50 so for every extended blast of atonal noise there is a tasty and danceable slice of riff waiting to shatter the placidity (or chaos). Even in its long fragmented instrumental passages Blackjazz carries the listener away with its flow and inertia—it has balls to match its brains. It’s the rare find—a record that is equally enjoyable reclining in a leather chair or pumping iron. I’m very much looking forward to these guys touring the states so I can trip out on my tonal-composition induced existential crisis and thrash in the pit.
6) Eyes Set to Kill – Broken Frames
I wish I could put this record lower on the list. I wish I could ignore it. I cannot—this is female fronted pop-metalcore of the most pedestrian and commercial variety, but I love it. Every vocal line, lyric and melody, has at one point or another completely captivated my mind. When I’d rather be listening to King Crimson, Alexia Rodriguez’s siren voice creeps from my subconscious and whispers ‘play me—enjoy the basic-yet-satisfying grooves, the affecting ballads, the jagged guitar licks, the effective post-hardcore atmospherics and the palpable emotion in my voice. Come, play me.’ Still, if I had a teenage daughter I’d much prefer she listen to this record than anything by The Donnas, Flyleaf or Evanescence. So why am I listening? Because there’s something present here that reminds me of Joan Jett, Pat Benatar and early No Doubt filtered through a membrane of Killswitch Engage and Glassjaw. This is not krieg, kvlt, or very metal at all and it probably sounds like absolute crap—but It’s the best pop-metalcore record I’ve heard in years.
5) Nachtmystium – Black Meddle part II: Addicts
At first I disliked Addicts. I wanted to love it so much that I found the surface of the project—shiny synth-covered industrial black metal with hypersimplistic lyrics—completely unsatisfying. Addicts never strayed far from my car stereo, though. After a few listens it began to absorb me. I found things that really affected me, such as how well the album actually taps into my fear of substance addiction (heroin is more frightening than Satan ever will be). I began to understand that the record is on the surface a massive cock-off: a middle finger to not only black metal fans but hipsters, music journalists, and bloggers who love part I. This is only a black metal/dancepop fusion on the surface. Underneath this record cashes the check that Blake Judd wrote with the Worldfall EP. The strongest tracks explore the post-metal textures he experimented with on the Twilight record, but the real standout here is Judd’s solos. Every solo on this record is bright, mournful, and expressive. He has developed his own style, and I can now discern his style just as I can discern a Zakk Wylde or Kirk Hammett solo. Now I’m a fan—I just wish the lyrics were better. As Judd himself sings “I want it all.”
4) Watain – Lawless Darkness
This is the sort of record that takes a band from the underground to the relative mainstream, and possibly takes a genre from obscurity to popularity. I’ve written about Waitain before HERE, but this is the summation of my thoughts: These Swedes could very well be the next Dimmu Borgir or Cradle of Filth, and I can’t imagine a greater band to do so; Satan is strong with them. The essential mechanism of Lawless Darkness is that it takes the anthemic black metal formula they perfected on 2007’s (still superior) Sworn to the Dark and re-casts it in a Metallica-meets-Bathory thrash context, so the songs on the whole follow a much more predictable verse-chorus-verse structure. Some of the results are focused mosh-friendly numbers like ‘Four Thrones’ and ‘Total Funeral,’ some of the results are melodic anthems like ‘Malfeitor’ and ‘Rabid Death’s Curse,’ but the standouts are the gorgeous instrumental title track and the epics ‘Wolves Curse,’ and ‘Waters of Ain.’
3) High on Fire – Snakes for the Divine
From the sidewinding ‘Thunderstruck’ guitar intro of the title track all the way to the biker riff that ends ‘Holy Flames of the Fire Spitter’ this record rips. Snakes for the Divine is not High on Fire’s best record, but it is their most lean, precise, and aggressive work to date. This record makes a statement—Matt Pike will not make anything other than killer D-beat sludge, even with major label backing, and if he’s going to follow the psychedelic footsteps of his peers in Mastodon and Baroness he will do so within the framework of High on Fire’s style. This is not a sell-out, but it does pay off. For the first time Matt Pike’s comrades are firing on all cylinders at the same time as our beer-bellied hero. At the same time, Pike shows some restraint on ‘Bastard Samurai,’ and proves that he can be as effective when weaving atmospheres as barnstormers. These songs are so well put-together that finally Pike’s epics seem long by composition, not to allow more room for solos. This is High on Fire, not Matt Pike and the High on Fires.
2) Arsis – Starve for the Devil
Do you believe in love at first sight? What about headbanging at first riff? This record is that girl at your office or in your school that walks the walk in six inch stilettos. All that and a tortured dark past—Starve for the Devil is a confessional album about James Malone’s struggle with anorexia. Skinny or not, this woman is irresistible. The riffs are just that tasty. It truly does force you to rock. For years James Malone and Arsis have been struggling to compete with the melodic tech-death competition as well as top their opus A Diamond for Disease. This record is not a greater artistic achievement, but is the most fun technical death metal record of recent memory—the subtle injection of 80’s hard rock and a renewed focus on powerful choruses and expressive solos makes this the first Arsis record I can listen to front-to-back, which I do frequently. Some people find the tongue-in-cheek and self-referential nature of the lyrics glib, but I disagree. Humor in the face of something as serious as an album about eating disorders truly fits the spirit of the music itself, which is fun-loving, aggressive, and free—all the wonderful things metal makes me feel.
1) Kvelertak – Kvelertak
The most compulsively listenable record released this year, period, end of story. Never before has a record made me scream lyrics in a language I do not understand, something I have not done since I was a young teenager and I was exposed to ‘Du Hast.’ This record is a rolling juggernaut of booze-and-rawk fueled hooks that make me want to perform all manner of illicit sexual and illegal acts—just like Judas Priest’s ‘Breaking the Law.’ These Norwegian newcomers display their influences (80’s hardcore, southern fried metalcore, first- and second-wave black metal, NWOBHM, 70’s rock) almost too proudly, but keep the turns sharp and exciting. This is not art, but it is 11 perfect metal anthems that absolutely anyone of any age, male or female, with any background in remotely heavy music, can love. This not only deserves the hype, it eclipses it.