(As Mr. Synn will soon explain, the following list is something other than what you might expect from the title of the post, but lots of good music nonetheless awaits you.)
The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that the word “Best” is in scare-quotes in the heading, and there’s a reason for this… that title is a bald-faced lie.
Hell, it’s hard enough doing a “Best” list every year (and I purposefully dodge that with my split Critical/Personal lists), so the idea that I, or anyone, would be able to provide anything NEAR a definitive list of the ten (seriously, just ten?) best albums of the last decade is pretty ludicrous.
I’m not even sure where I’d start? Probably After? Vertikal? List? Maybe Death Mask or Vile Luxury? Definitely The Destroyers of All and Kwintessens, at least. And then there’s Bilateral, Ode to the Flame, On Strange Loops… actually now that I’ve gotten started this might have been easier than I thought…
Anyway, all this preamble is just a long-winded way to say that I’ve decided to go in a slightly different direction for this article, and pick out ten albums from the last decade – one per year – which I think deserved far more attention.
Think of it more as a selection of some of the more “unsung” or underappreciated bands/albums of the last ten years.
2010 – THE FUNERAL PYRE – VULTURES AT DAWN
While American Black Metal often gets sneered at by the so-called “true” Black Metal legions, Vultures at Dawn – all skin-stripping blastbeats, gritty, galloping riffs, and oppressive, doom-laden atmosphere – is as raw and ravenous and as gloriously grim as anything from the old world.
What really makes this album stand out, however, is that it doesn’t attempt to simply emulate the frostbitten sound of its forebears but instead conjures a seething soundscape of barren, burning deserts and endless, empty skies, exchanging the ghostly gloom of frozen soil and starless nights for the blazing intensity of radiant sands and an oppressive, unyielding sun.
Not only is it a blistering listen, it’s also an incredibly hypnotic one, and it’s far too easy to just let go – particularly during the broken glass crawl of “Monolith” or the whirling, wounded dervish of “Clarity of Time” – and lose yourself for long periods of time in this record.
2011 – JUNIUS – REPORTS FROM THE THRESHOLD OF DEATH
The fact that this album wasn’t a huge success and didn’t make Junius a major household name is not only a major tragedy but also incontrovertible proof that there is no god.
Ok, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but seriously, this is a practically flawless record, front to back, brimming with emotion and atmosphere and bleak, brooding melody, all built on an ever-shifting dynamic of light and shade, calm and catharsis.
Not only is it a brilliantly multi-layered and deeply immersive album, but while Reports from the Threshold of Death may be the least “Metal” album here it still possesses real weight, real depth, and a sublime, subtle power all of its own.
This really is the sort of album you just need to let yourself sink into, and let sink into you, to get the most out of it. Yet it rewards your patience and attention with a truly mesmerising musical experience, one that I doubt you’ll forget any time soon.
2012 – NIDINGR – GREATEST OF DECEIVERS
Greatest of Deceivers was, quite possibly, the best Black Metal album of 2012. And the reason for this is simple… riffs. Ravenous, bone-grinding, tooth-gnashing, blood boiling riffs. Riffs that twist and turn, chug and churn, blaze and burn… stabbing, slicing, scything their way through every track with reckless abandon, bristling with evil energy and hellishly addictive hooks.
Of course there are lots of other great things about this album too. The songwriting is equal parts proggy, thrashy, and straight-up nasty. The drums are both punishingly intense yet rhythmically creative. The bass plays a prominent and important role too, winding its way in and out of the riveting riff work with slithering, sinuous malevolence.
It’s the vocals of Estrella Grasa which add the real icing to the cake, however, eschewing the genre’s traditional cadaverous croak in favour of a gnarlier, punkier snarl of pure fury and disdain.
Make no mistake about it, every single track here is a monster (and some are even more monstrous than others), making this one of the most caustic, cathartic albums of the last decade.
2013 – OBSCURE SPHINX – VOID MOTHER
While Cult of Luna may have (quite understandably) gobbled up most of the accolades and attention in 2013, underrated Polish underdogs Obscure Sphinx also put out one of the year’s finest Post-Metal albums, one which still resonates with me as strongly today as it did then.
It’s a huge sounding record, from the juddering, bone-jarring riffs of opener “Lunar Caustic” through to the devastatingly dark finale of titanic closer “The Presence of Goddess”, with a cinematic streak a mile wide, gifting every single track with a dramatic, doom-laden dynamic and sense of ominous, oppressive atmosphere whose sheer weight is practically palpable and almost physical in nature.
And while the visceral, versatile, hauntingly vivid vocals of frontwoman Zofia Fraś are often portrayed as the album’s not-so-secret weapon, what really makes Void Mother such a spellbinding listen is the band’s willingness to give every track, and every moment, from the most soothing to the most stunning, the necessary space and time to breathe and develop to its fullest.
2014 – AGELESS OBLIVION – PENTHOS
I couldn’t put together a list like this without mentioning Penthos, as it’s still pretty much “the gold standard” against which I measure everything we do in Beyond Grace (and, no, I don’t think we’ve come anywhere near matching it… yet).
Suffice it to say that Penthos is a mini-masterpiece of Progressive/Atmospheric Death Metal, melding scathing dissonance, dark, moody melody, and catastrophic, claustrophobia-inducing heaviness, into one riveting package that’s equal parts Ulcerate, Neurosis, and Gojira.
Of course, like all the best albums (and this is definitely one of the best albums of the last ten years), Penthos is more than just the mere sum of its parts and influences. It’s bigger, bolder, and more bombastic than that. More experimental too, as while Ageless Oblivion clearly appreciate and pay tribute to their forefathers, they’re also just as clearly not beholden to their way of doing things, and demonstrate this by pushing and stretching the boundaries of form and structure as far as they can.
For all this high-minded, high-falutin’ talk, though, Penthos is still very much a Death Metal album at heart, and balances out its more atmospheric and progressive inclinations with a backbone of pure, unadulterated heaviness that grants each and every track an instantaneous, unforgettable impact.
2015 – TURBID NORTH – EYES ALIVE
Another release which should, by all rights, have taken the Metal world by storm, the second album from Texan (by way of Alaska and Ireland) trio Turbid North has been one of my all-time favourites ever since it was released, combining as it does the very best parts of Misery Index, Mastodon, and Crowbar, into one singularly crushing, superbly creative, concept album about (no spoilers) the end of the world.
Every song possesses a massive array of heavyweight riffs, headbanging hooks, and truly gargantuan grooves, while the band’s penchant for splicing in as much spaced-out, progged-up melody as they can (in between blasts of punishing percussion and eruptions of growling fury) occasionally makes them sound like a cross between Pink Floyd and Pantera (in the best possible way).
And, even though it’s a huge-sounding album, with an impressively ambitious concept and overarching storyline, at a lean, mean 45 minutes it’s also extremely listenable too, and really is one of those albums that deserves (nay, demands) to be listened to in full time and time again.
You may have missed this one when it was first released, but I urge you not to do so now.
2016 – PHANTOM WINTER – SUNDOWN PLEASURES
Ugly, abrasive music for ugly, abrasive times, the blistering Blackened Sludge-Doom of Sundown Pleasures is as vicious and as violent as it is virulently infectious, and Phantom Winter (whose third album was released last year) deserve to be getting mentioned in the same breath as artists like Lord Mantis, Dragged Into Sunlight, etc, as one of the most vile and visceral bands on the planet.
The band’s rage is as intense and incandescent as their music is aggressive and asphyxiating, and fuelled by a seething sense of righteous indignation and sickening disgust at the way of the world, which manifests itself in the polemical fury of tracks like “Sundown Pleasures” (a scorching assault on the comforting lies offered by religion) and the throat-shredding assault on misogyny that is “Bombing the Witches”.
Goddamn, this is a nasty record. And every time I listen to it I’m reminded of how grim and horrible life can be. But it’s also horrendously catchy too, and as haunting and harrowing as it can be I always find it incredibly hard to put down once I’ve picked it up. Hopefully you’ll feel the same.
2017 – DVNE – ASHERAN
Mesmerising Prog-Metal of the highest order, this is one of those albums which should have been absolutely massive, and Dvne are a band whose name should be on everybody’s lips by now.
Sadly, of course, life doesn’t always work out the way it should do… but here at least is an opportunity to set right what once went wrong.
Perhaps the most obvious touchstones for comparison would be post-Crack the Skye era Mastodon and early Baroness, but these references paint an incomplete (there’s also a hefty helping of Isis-level intensity) and arguably misleading picture of the band’s overall sound and aesthetic.
Asheran, you see, is just uniquely Dvne through and through, and every single track sees the band weaving together a multitude of metallic elements and influences, heavy in both riveting riffs, majestic melody, and conceptual creativity, into one scintillating, sci-fi-influenced soundscape.
This really is one of the most captivating albums of the last decade (and beyond), and the very definition of an underground gem. It’s an album that somehow manages to shine even brighter every time I listen to it, and one which I hope, one day, will finally receive all the fame and adoration it deserves.
2018 – BARÚS – DROWNED
Another act who deserve ten times the attention and acclaim they’ve received (though that’s true for every band on this list), Drowned is the debut album from France’s Barús, and provides a perfect showcase for the band’s incredibly dense, atmospherically intense, brand of grim, gut-churning Death Metal.
The sheer sonic weight of tracks like “Descry”, “Dissever”, and “Forsake” (which, respectively represent the beginning, middle, and end of the record) shouldn’t be underestimated. In fact, quite frankly, the pure, pulverising power of all of these songs is hard to properly describe to someone who hasn’t heard it for themselves.
The riffs are these neck-wrecking patterns of roiling, rhythmic chuggery – somewhere between Meshuggah and Triptykon in terms of bone-crunching heaviness and booming, brooding weight – while the splashes of dissonant melody and eerie ambience are amongst the darkest and most desolate you’re likely to have heard this decade.
The drums are this hypnotic whirl of pummelling percussion, while the vocals are this anguished, gravel-throated growl of primal pain and fury. And the entire prodigious package balances calculated chaos and doom-laden (dis)order in a manner which doesn’t sound exactly like anyone else out there at the moment.
2019 – HEROD – SOMBRE DESSEIN
Choosing just one album from this year was a daunting task. After all, I’ve only just finished listing several hundred of them, and they’re still all extremely fresh in my mind, and yet to fully settle into their final configuration. Who knows which ones are going to have the biggest impact or make the most long-lasting impression going forwards?
Well, I’m going to put my money on Sombre Dessein as being one of them.
Straddling the line between Sludge and Death Metal – think early The Ocean with an even more gargantuan guitar tone– the music on offer here is truly a riff-lover’s delight, all underpinned by a plethora of humongous hooks and punishing polyrhythmic percussive patterns, and topped off with a lung-bursting performance from new vocalist Mike Pilat (whose presence here is another reason why this record reminds me of early The Ocean, aka, the best era of The Ocean).
And while the sound of Sombre Dessein has been compared in some quarters to current UK Metal darlings Conjurer (albeit with an even stronger grasp of the light/shade dynamic), I would actually say that Herod ultimately sound more like a heavier, more angular version of much-loved, much-missed (and highly underrated) Prog/Post Metal pioneers Burst… and if you know how highly I rate that band you’ll know just how much of a compliment that is.
Mark my words, this is an album that, given chance, will leave a lasting mark on your music taste.
And there you have it… ten albums which, although you’re unlikely to see them mentioned in any of the other “Best of the Decade” lists out there, I firmly believe deserve your consideration far more than many of the more predictable, “crowd pleasing” selections I’ve already seen making the rounds. After all, just because something is more popular, and more marketable, doesn’t make it “better”, and often it’s the hidden gems which prove the most satisfying.
Now, this won’t be my final piece of the year (I’ve still got the December edition of The Synn Report to write), but I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has visited our humble site this year, everyone who’s taken the time to comment, to share our articles, to recommend new bands and new albums which we’ve covered to their friends, and who’ve directly supported various artists in response to what we’ve written.
I’d especially like to thank those of you who’ve stuck with us for the entirety of the last decade. Here’s to another ten years!