Farewell, 2009: Jimmy’s Top 10

2009 was such a good year for metal. So good, the whole online community can’t seem to settle on which albums were the best. Just looking around at all the “best of” lists around the internets, one can see that every list is different from the last. Sure, there are some albums here and there that seem to consistently land on these lists. If it were a shitty year, then the lists would definitely look like carbon copies of each other.

So, here I am today with a new list. I have to say, however, that the list is pretty much arbitrary. Depending on my mood and overall level of excitement, this list could be all over the place, save for the top two or three, which were the only ones with a position set in stone.

Without further bullshitting, here we go.

10. Converge – Axe To Fall

Before Axe To Fall, I think it’s safe to say I didn’t care about Converge in the least. But there was so much hype surrounding this record that I couldn’t ignore it. Axe To Fall is a beastly album. The drums are unrelenting and the guitar work is dazzling. The vocal performances are intense as well, although I’m still not too fond of Jacob Bannon’s barking vocals. With Axe To Fall, Converge take a step into progressive metal territory here and there, and take chances, particularly on the last two tracks, Cruel Bloom (sounds like Converge wrote a song with the ghost of Johnny Cash) and Wretched World, featuring Genghis Tron. The album still has some downfalls, in that the middle tracks seem to blend together seemlessly, and tend to run together. Once when I was listening, I had gone through three or four tracks without noticing I had been listening to different songs. Luckily, Axe To Fall is a grower.

9. Enfold Darkness – Our Cursed Rapture

Newcomers Enfold Darkness attempt to make their name known with their Sumerian debut, Our Cursed Rapture.  Technical, brutal, and melodic at the same time. Blackened Death Metal has never sounded so good. One might have a hard time getting past the high screeching vocal performance, but it is easy to get used to with repeated listens. Turns out, this album was produced by Jamie King, who also produced all of Between The Buried And Me’s albums. You can’t really tell either. Jamie does a good job as far as having the band sound like themselves.

8. Devin Townsend Project – Ki

Okay, technically Ki isn’t metal for a majority of the album. But it’s Devin Townsend, so fuck it. It’s going here anyway. This was a great start to the Devin Townsend Project. Devin takes easy listening and ambient music and throws his own twist on it, creating something relatively fresh to the metal scene. Ki is a calming listen, evidently serving as therapy for Devin himself. Devin also takes a brief stroll through rockabilly territory on “Trainfire”. Ki is the musical embodiment of restraint (with minimal indulgence, of course).

7. Architects – Hollow Crown

There’s actually not much I can say about Hollow Crown. It sounds like Dillinger Escape Plan meets 30 Seconds To Mars; Both technical and catchy as hell, Architects combine mathcore with soaring vocal choruses. One could say that Architects are a more straightforward and less-spastic SikTh. This album’s beautiful and heartfelt choruses will definitely stick with you. This is also the best use of gang vocals I’ve heard in some time. Hollow Crown may be off-putting to people on either side of the metal spectrum, but it finds a middle ground and sits there comfortably.

6. Agoraphobic Nosebleed –  Agorapocalypse

I never cared much for Agoraphobic Nosebleed before this record. Grindcore typically isn’t my thing, as the norm includes super-short songs and muddy production. However, Agorapocalypse features a sleek production and the songs have decent length. The music is violent, but in a very satisfying way. I can’t seem to put my finger on it, but the album just seems full. With three vocalists (with vocalist Richard Johnson pulling crunchy bass duty), a guitarist, and a drum machine, there’s just a lot going on. Agorapocalypse is the type of record you should play when you get pissed, and just let it go. The instrumentation is fantastic, with a brilliantly programmed drum solo on “Question of Integrity”.

5. The Number Twelve Looks Like You – Worse Than Alone

The Number Twelve Looks Like You were a strange sort of band that combined elements of jazz, hardcore, and progressive to create their own version of technically astounding music. With Worse Than Alone, The Number Twelve really branched out into new territory and became somewhat more experimental and had a moment or two of genre crossovers (just listen to the the wonderfully different “The Garden’s All Nighters”, which invokes visions of a beachfront getaway, coconut drinks with the little umbrellas and all). Worse Than Alone became an unintentional swan song for The Number Twelve, who broke up later this year. What a way to go out on top of your game. RIP Number Twelve. You will be missed.

4. Mastodon – Crack The Skye

Unlike my friend Mitch, I thought Crack The Skye was an excellent and outstanding album. Mastodon really changed things up on Crack The Skye, with slower songs and a classic prog rock feel, which would upset some fans of Mastodon’s older work. But you know what? This album simply rocks and it works. The songwriting is superb and the album flows naturally throughout. Crack The Skye is an epic journey. This is how prog should feel, and it feels good. The faster section in “The Czar”? Just try to not get into it. I’m already pumped up just thinking about it.

3. Arsonists Get All The Girls – Portals

I’m so glad I gave Arsonists Get All The Girls a decent shot this year. Their name threw me off, as I expected something shitty like The Devil Wears Prada. Boy, was I mistaken. With Portals, AGATG get more serious and write an excellent album that fits right in with the “Sumeriancore” movement going on right now, and yet standing out and sounding like none other. A sticker on the front of the the CD said Portals was “a genre bending masterpiece for fans of Between The Buried And Me, Mr. Bungle and Dillinger Escape Plan.” This is the truest statement I’ve ever seen on one of those stickers. If you like mathcore and progressive metal, this album is right up your alley.

2. Devin Townsend Project – Addicted

It’s always fun to talk about the Devin Townsend Project to someone who doesn’t know enough about metal to understand the back story. After writing a rock opera featuring a coffee-drinking alien puppet, a bipolar, middle aged, drug addicted metal head gets clean, shaves off his hair, and writes what is more or less a pop record. Seeing the puzzled looks on their faces is priceless. Out of context, it makes no sense. But in reality, it’s the perfect evolution. Addicted wasn’t the most technically proficient or progressive record in metal this year, but it was certainly one of the most fun records I’ve heard in a while. Ever wonder what it would be like if Meshuggah wrote a song with ABBA? I couldn’t imagine Addicted being too far off. Devin can write the catchiest music around. This proves, with no surprise, that metal can do pop better than pop can.

1. Between The Buried And Me – The Great Misdirect

On the very first listen, I knew this album would be the best of the year. Although it doesn’t quite capture that feeling of overall epic journey that Colors had, to say Colors was better isn’t fair; The Great Misdirect is an entirely different monster. Between The Buried And Me are one of the best progressive bands out there, and they are at the top of their game. I’m positive that BTBAM are the only band that could keep me thoroughly entertained through an 18 minute track. If BTBAM were the soundtrack to eternity, it wouldn’t be so bad to sit through. After all, where else can you hear death metal, dream pop, black metal, and southern rock happen in the course of ten minutes? This is a masterpiece. No doubt about it. And unlike Mitch, I think the western-style ballad Desert Of Song is an excellent track. The Great Misdirect attests that Between The Buried And Me can pull off anything they want to try their hands at. I can’t wait to hear what they have in store next.

Well that’s all I got. Ball’s in your court, 2010. Pig Destroyer and Dillinger Escape Plan are ready and waiting.

– JR

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