Greetings time travellers. We are but days away from the year 2011, which is apparently the penultimate year of the world’s existence if a thousand year-old Mayan calendar is to be believed. More terrifying is what humanity will name this decade: I was born in the eighties, grew up in the nineties, and trolled my way through the noughties, but what the fuck we will name this – the ‘teenage’ decade – both scares and confuses me.
This, however, is not a look forward to the coming year and all its horrors, but a retrospective of the last twelve months – specifically in the world of heavy.
We all know why we’re here, but I’d like to take a step back for a minute: to pass judgement on the year seems incredibly arrogant, don’t you think? I mean, who the fuck am I; what are my credentials that I, for all my grace, charm and good looks, should be granted the platform to pontificate on the creative output of others, above others?
Because I filled out that damn application, that’s why. Shut yer cake ‘ole or get the shit out of my office.
As it seems every blogger feels the need to compile, be it on the subject of music or film, art or television, this is my list of the ten best albums in metal, progressive rock, and all offshoots thereof. It almost seems contrived now, to chronicle our preferences as if anyone cares, but I digress; maybe (and hopefully) you do.
All that being said, I like to think that, at the year’s end, as we prepare to embrace the music of the next twelve months, that this may be seen as more of an homage to records that will henceforth be simply remembered rather be current news; that will be milestones on the road already travelled, rather than beacons on the horizon.
These choices of mine are based not on technicality, on brutality, nor on any sort of elitism. These are honestly the ten records (and not necessarily albums) that best represent my musical year; that gave me a certain feeling, and that I have come back to again and again, and will continue to do so long into 2011.
SALLY FORTH THE LIST!
10. Periphery – Periphery
Another high-placing debut, Periphery’s self-titled djent masterpiece earns its place for sheer ingenuity and hard work. This has certainly been the year of the chug, both good and bad, but I’m happy that this particular sub-section – an offshoot of Meshuggah’s signature sound – is flourishing with a multitude of bedroom and bedroom-started acts.
One of the most impressive things about this album is that it is just that – ‘bedroom’ produced. Guitarist Misha Mansoor mixed the whole thing himself and he should be damn proud. The whole affair sounds crisp, but not over-layered as it very well could have been given this style. Although a turn-off for many, I actually quite like Spencer Sotelo’s vocals. I can see why they might bug some, but the inflection on certain lines in songs like ‘Icarus Lives!‘ really does it for me.
As with a number of records on this list, there is a certain groove that carries throughout the whole album. Some metal takes itself too seriously, and I’m glad to have heard a record at least one record this year that doesn’t.
09. TesseracT – Concealing Fate
TesseracT took me completely by surprise this year. I actually heard about them fairly early on in the year when they were due to headline Cyclamen’s first gig, but that unfortunately fell through. Following that I heard their name mentioned in the same circles as Fellsilent, and then finally about a month ahead of the release of Concealing Fate. I’d given a couple of tracks a passing listen, but didn’t really engage with it.
It wasn’t until I was due to see them (again, with Cyclamen) that I really gave them the time of day – and I’m glad I did. What I found was an infectious EP that withstood multiple same-day listens, later cemented by an absolutely outstanding live performance in front of a crowd that clearly loved them – despite missing their singer.
The EP is only really metal in its guitar tone and a few vocal passages. For the most part it is an ambient ride carried by smooth, djenty rhythms and Dan Tomkins’ soaring voice. It has catchy lyrics, a steady and beautifully accented beat, and is groovy like you wouldn’t believe. I can’t wait for the debut full-length next year.
08. Devil Sold His Soul – Blessed & Cursed
Devil Sold His Soul are absolute lords of ambient metal. I’ll admit that I wasn’t totally sold on this, their first full-length since 2007′s A Fragile Hope, but I have often found myself with that certain hankering you get when an album sticks in your head and you just have to listen to it. This has happened an obscene amount with Blessed & Cursed since its release – even now, which is impressive given that release was in early July.
It’s this quality – present on all of the albums in my list – that has contributed to the decision to raise my review score to a healthy 4.5/5. If you an album doesn’t draw you back in, how can it hope to last beyond the end of the year?
The album is much slower in pace than its predecessor, but it’s still packed with some phenomenal tunes. I mentioned ‘The Disappointment‘ in my review, but ‘Drowning/Sinking‘, ‘Callous Heart‘ and ‘Crane Lake‘ all deserve mentions. Absolutely cracking, and a perfect accompaniment for the winter months.
07. The Ocean – Heliocentric
I was a herald for The Ocean around these parts long before the release of Heliocentric, the first of two abums this remarkable band have released this year. I though Precambrian was an excellent release – particlarly the second disc – but Heliocentric converted any doubters I came across almost immediately. It displays a maturity of songwriting that many bands struggle to achieve; all the more impressive given the fact that The Ocean have managed ittwice this year.
Stylistically, I think Heliocentric is the stronger of the two. It opens with the cracking ‘Firmament’, which is based around undoubtedly one of the best riffs of the year. What follows is an exceptional bunch of songs, including Heavy Blog favourite ‘Ptolemy Was Wrong’, which showcases the versatility of a band at their peak.
06. The Chariot – Long Live
This year, The Chariot have accomplished the unprecedented: I actually liked their album within the space of two listens – something that usually takes me five or more. I love their albums eventually, and they’re an absolute blast live – so I always persist – but Long Live bore no period of indifference; just one reason why it gets a spot here.
True to form, the record is a composite of feedback, jumbled riffs and the unmistakable roaring of Josh Scogin. The consistency in their sound – being the founder and only remaining original member – is testament to his vision.
I’m aware this is a controversial choice. Many will never get past that initial disdain, and it’s a damn shame. Long Live is an album that has energy, attitude and a little something – a ‘je ne ces quoi’ if you will – that elevates it above the mire of contemporary metalcore.
05. Orbs – Asleep Next To Science
I almost expected Orbs to be some kind of metal supergroup, what with its members coming from such groups as Between the Buried and Me, Abigail Williams and Fear Before – but that they aren’t isn’t to say that Asleep Next To Science doesn’t deserve a place on this year’s best-of list. Clearly it does.
This album claims the prize for ‘curve-ball’ of the year. Whilst all of the entries have something unique, Asleep Next To Science is a whole other world of different. It ain’t even that heavy; its proggier elements are what bring me back to it time and time again.
It tells some cracking stories, which piques my interest no end. Sociopathic children, delusional preachers and an almost literal (teddy) bear’s picnic are just a few of the lyrical curios on offer.
04. The Ocean – Anthropocentric
Then Anthropocentric came along and made us blow a collective wad all over again. It’s so much bigger, riffier, and heavier than its predecessor. Not that
I’ve had a real struggle deciding which of the two albums places higher, but it has all come down to a feeling; and that feeling is that, whilst Heliocentric is a fine piece of work, I would eight times out of ten choose to listen to Anthropocentric.
03. Deftones – Diamond Eyes
With the tragedy surrounding bassist Chi Cheng’s automotive accident and subsequent comatose state, it was an incredibly brave move by Deftones to shelve all of the material they wrote with him for their next album and start from scratch – and not only from a financial perspective. Writing without one of your best buddies must have been hard and at time distressing.
Well fuck a motorboat, did they ever turn a crappy situation into pure gold. I’ve always thought that White Pony was the pinnacle of their catalogue, but Diamond Eyes has achieved the difficult task of surpassing it with style and grace.
The whole band works as a cohesive unit; despite needing to draft in a stand-in for the low-end duties. Stephen Carpenter’s riffs are simple yet effective. Moreno’s vocal performance is stronger than ever.
I can think of no better adjective to describe Diamond Eyes than ‘sexy’. Multiple songs ooze an undeniably sensual groove, whilst others – ‘CMND/CTRL‘ and ‘Rocket Skates‘ to name but two – are some of the heaviest stuff they have written. The whole affair screams ‘well crafted’, and I’m proud to include this album in my collection – I’ll be recommending it a lot in the years to come, that’s for sure.
02. The Dillinger Escape Plan – Option Paralysis
The first album of the year that I was truly excited about, Option Paralysis did not disappoint. I felt that they recaptured the more furious aspect that some felt, although a fantastic album in its own right, Ire Works did not have, with tracks like ‘Good Neighbour’ and ‘Crystal Morning‘ as a close a return to their old form as Calculating Infinity-era purists are going to get.
From the outset it accomplishes style, a perfectly measured level of restraint, melody, and above all the measured technicality that sets them apart from many of their contemporaries. Tracks like ‘Widower‘ show a maturity in songwriting, but still feel like Dillinger. My only gripes with the album were with some of the lyrics, but you forget these woes when Greg Puciato is shouting them right in your face, and you find yourself singing them back with abandon.
01. Iron Thrones – The Wretched Sun
As far as my year has been concerned, there have actually been two Iron Thrones albums this year. I came across Visions of Light just as the band won the No Label Needed contest, when a glorious summer was just kicking in, and I would spin it three, four times a day easy. Unfortunately I cannot include it in my list as it was technically released in 2008. Even the re-release was last year, so no dice.
The Wretched Sun, however, is a different kettle of metal altogether – and I think it’s even better. I stated in my review that I thought they had evolved into the musical equivalent of a Charizard, and I stand by that. Visions of Light was good – really good – but the elements the band added to their sound with The Wretched Sun – in particular Steve Henningsgard’s clean delicately-used vocal sections – (forgive the pun) made them truly shine.
So why does The Wretched Sun get the top spot above all of these other fantastic albums? In short, it’s because 2010 will always be the year that I found Iron Thrones. They sum up my year in music, and for me that’s the best reason to grant them the gold medal.
Clearly that wasn’t everything I thought was stunning this year. There are a bunch of non-metal albums I’d recommend to you wholeheartedly (check back later!), but also a few that, despite not making the final cut, deserve mentions nonetheless:
Cloudkicker – Beacons
Straight out of the bedroom of one Ben Sharp, I only became aware of Cloudkicker with the release of Beacons. Part of a growing trend of one-man writing/recording/producing projects, Cloudkicker sits at the top for me. This is not to say that he is any more accomplished in his art than Heavy Blog favourites Drewsif Stalin or Tre Watson, but stylistically he speaks to me the best.
Although completely instrumental, the album has a strong character; formed in part by the ‘interesting’ track titles. Remarkably, that it is 100% DIY detracts not one bit from its quality, and the album could stand up against any of its studio-recorded contemporaries.
Envy – Recitation
Whilst it breaks no new ground, it’s an absolutely beautiful release. I struggled to strictly classify it as heavy – despite the bands raucous history – and for these reasons it doesn’t quite make the cut. Still, if any of you are also fans of post-rock, this should be an essential addition to your collection.
Hunab Ku – The Rewiring Process
This one has slipped under a lot of radars, I’m sure. Hunab Ku have had a trying year – losing master guitarist Luke Jaeger, who they’re having a hard time replacing – but still managed to put out this phenomenal EP.
Mixing brutality, technicality, and an astounding vocal performance from Mike Gilmore – who is at time reminiscent of Mike Patton in terms of sheer range (this guy can do amazing things with his voice, and change it at the drop of a hat) – this deserves at least a cursory glance, if for nothing else to appreciate the skill of what they’re doing. Go take a look at the video for ‘The Other I‘ and tell me they don’t deserve commendation.
Julie Christmas – The Bad Wife
Striking out on her own this year from the excellent Made Out of Babies, the talented Miss Christmas has nevertheless crafted an album on par with her past work. The Bad Wife is probably the most honest, the most personal and definitely the scariest album I have heard in 2010.
As ever, it’s her voice that carries the work – she can strum your heartstrings like a ’40s blues singer or make you crap your pants with banshee-like screaming. She’s diverse and she’s wonderful, and has held her own against a deluge of meatier, manlier albums, showing that vaginas do have a place in metal.
Kvelertak – Kvelertak
This being an Every Time I Die ‘off year’, I was missing my fix of upbeat, catchy, southern-infused metalcore – that is until I got my teeth into Kvelertak’s self-titled debut effort. Being entirely in Norwegian doesn’t matter a badger’s nadgers; in fact, as we all know metal is most at home in Scandinavia, so the cap fits.
What marks Kvelertak as different is their singer. He’s straight-up, ‘from-the-hood’ black metal. His shrieks could curdle a new mother’s milk mid-feed, and are as disgusting as that image you now have in your head.
It’s just a really fun album that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and for these reasons it at least deserves and honorary mention. Roll on the next album!