November 26, 2010

Top 10 Metal Albums of 2010

Brutal Tunes

Eluveitie - Everything Remains as it Never Was

Back in June, I wrote a list of my choice of the Top 10 Metal Albums of 2010 … so far. I said I’d be revising the list at the end of the year, so here it is.

Accept – Blood of the Nation

Accept - Blood of the nation

Accept – Blood of the Nation

If I had to choose, from all these brilliant albums, my absolute favorite of 2010, Blood of the Nation would be it. A comeback album for the German metal terrors, and what a fucking comeback. Mark Tomillo’s gruff, Brian-Johnsonesque vocals gel so perfectly with the rest of the band, you’d hardly believe he hadn’t been there from the start. To replace a singer as charismatic as Udo and pull off an album THIS good? Millions have tried. Only the Germans could pull it off.

Balls to the Wall and Restless and Wild were such classic albums, you automatically expect any comeback to be mediocre. What Accept have done, and a brilliant job they’ve done too, is recreate the magic of those 80s albums for those of us who missed out. This will be a classic, an album I’ll play to my children and say “You should have been there”.

If you’re staring at the screen in doubt and sauing “Fuck off. It’s a comeback album. It’s Accept without Udo. It can’t be that good,” then go and listen to “Teutonic Terror” and tell me it’s not fucking brilliant. Did you hear the backing vocals? Who does killer backing vocals like Accept? No one, that’s who.

Blind Guardian – At the Edge of Time

Blind Guardian - At the Edge of TIme

Blind Guardian – At the Edge of TIme

After A Twist in the Myth, over four years ago (and a mediocre album by BG standards) fans expected to be blown away, and, of course the bards don’t disappoint. There’s not much to say, except that every element – vocals, guitar, bass, drums, choirs, orchestration, composition – come together in a feast of musical delight so typical of Blind Guardian. “Sacred Worlds” and “Tanelorn” will be festival classics, for sure. I love the classic speed metal sound of “Ride Into Obsession” and the classic, unforgettable Blind Guardian sound of “Wheel of Time.”

In terms of lyrical themes (always important with BG) you’ve got a smorgesboard of literary genius, from George R R Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire (“War of the Thrones” and “A Voice in the Dark”) to Michael Moorcock (“Tanelorn”) to Milton (“Curse My Name”, “Control Divine”) and Robert Jordan’s wordy epic (“Ride into Obsession”, “Wheel of Time”).

I’ve never read the Wheel of Time books, and don’t intend to begin (I look at them all lined up, and think of everyone I know who’s read them saying “Oh, they’re good until the sixth one …” and I just can’t be bothered) but Blind Guardian make them sound cool.

Blind Guardian – making book nerds awesome since 1986.

Shining – Blackjazz

Shining - Blackjazz

Shining – Blackjazz

I wrote about this album extensively on my previous list. I still think it’s incredible, and worthy to remain. Essentially, you’ve got some avant-garde Norwegians with a keen interest in seeing what happens when you mix black metal and free jazz.

Here’s what I said in June:

It’s like the soundtrack from some future science-fiction jungle jazzhall, space-junkie Fear and Loathing in Los Vagas. It’s not headbanging music .. it’s almost fit for a dance club. A dance club of your nightmares. Vocalist Jørgen Munkeby channels Frank Zappa. There’s a saxaphone. There’s a cover of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schitzoid Man” that you won’t believe. You’ll either love Blackjazz or hate it, but you can’t argue – it’s bloody unique.

Ihsahn - After

Ihsahn – After

Ihsahn – After

I’ve never really been a Ihsahn fan. Not sure why. Emperor has never been one of my favorite BM bands, and the only solo album I heard was Prometheus, which was, quite frankly, bland. I’m told it’s one of his weaker efforts, and now I see that’s true.

Not so After, an album that reminds us why the word “metal” is in prog metal. Maybe it’s the 8 string – deep and thundering. Maybe it’s the drums, carrying these songs in great charges. Maybe it’s the dark jazz infusion from that ever present saxaphone, sounding like no sax you’d ever known. Maybe it’s the fact this sounds like an Opeth album if Opeth grew some giant testicles. His growls sound so natural, so focused. His clean vocals draw you in, leave you spinning, and that sax … what is it doing there? It’s being awesome, is what.

Best tracks – if I had to pick them (it’s one of those albums that’s particularly good in one, solid chunk) – would be “Undercurrent” and “Frozen Lakes on Mars”.

Orphaned Land – The Never Ending Way of ORWarriOR

Orphaned Land - The Never Ending Way of ORWarriOR

Orphaned Land – The Never Ending Way of ORWarriOR

This is an album that grows on you, month after month. I pull it out now and I still discover new facets of it. You’ll notice most albums on this list utelize instruments outside of the usual “vocals, guitar, bass, drums” metal standard, and Orphaned Land take this a step further with the use of a bunch of traditional Jewish instruments I can’t even pronounce!

If you’re still not sure, listen to “Codeword: Uprising”. I particularly love the drums in this track.

Cynic – Retraced (EP)

Cynic - RE-Traced

Cynic – RE-Traced

Yep, still love this. The US-prog-death dudes we all know and love showed us how one can reinterpret one’s own songs without losing the essence of the song itself. Considerably mellower than most Cynic records, and probably not a favorite of a die-hard Cynic fan out of loyalty for Traced to Air, but yeah, 6 months on and I still love it.

Burzum – Belus

Burzum - Belus

Burzum – Belus

Still one of the best three Burzum albums to date.

Eluveitie – Everything Remains as it Never Was

Eluveitie - Everything Remains as it Never Was

Eluveitie – Everything Remains as it Never Was

Another album that’s really been growing on me in recent months. Yes, Everything Remains ... cannot compete with the ferocity of Slania and Spirit, but I think that’s because we know what to expect from Eluveitie now. They haven’t broken any formulas, forged any new territory here, but they’re still rocking on with their same “Dark Tranquility meets Celtic rock” sound. “Thousandfold” is the standout track here (which yours truly can now nearly play on the whistle).

Krokus – Hoodoo

Krokus - Hoodoo

Krokus – Hoodoo

Here’s what I said last time:

nt with a group of friends to a metal tribute night and a bunch of guys in the pit started heckling the band. “Play some Krokus!” they would yell over and over. Of course, the chant was taken up by most of the venue, since Krokus is such a silly name, and of course the band didn’t know any Krokus, so after every song they would say “and that was Krokus’ ‘Enter Sandman’”, and “From Krokus’ seminal record Chaos AD …” It was great fun, and I had to look up Krokus when I got home.
I own a couple of albums, and they are mediocre. I think that was the joke. I expected Hoodoo to be the same, but it’s actually quite good. The original lineup are back after a 20 year hiatus and are kicking the ass of the Swiss music charts. If you’re looking for a record blazing with pure old-school rock’n’roll, ala ACDC, with a little metal thrown in, Hoodoo is it for 2010. They cover “Born to be Wild”, which I think is a little overdone – especially when they don’t exactly wow you with their rendition, but ignore it and listen to the rest of the album. The best song is definitely “Hoodoo Woman” with a little jungle vibe with the drums and sliding guitars. Yeah, its an AC/DC knock-off, but don’t let that spoil an otherwise enjoyable album.

“Hoodoo Woman” is still on my gym playlist, so I’m keeping Krokus on my top ten list.

Angantyr – Svig

Angantyr - Svig

Angantyr – Svig

I’ll say right up front that Svig (“fraud” in Danish) is not a perfect album. But for me, it still remains one of my favorites of the year. I think it’s the way so many elements have been thrown together, swirled around, cut and chopped and layered to create six compositions of glorious folk-infused black metal. You might know Angantyr from Holmgang, Make a Change … Kill Yourself, and Zahrim, but you’ll know him a lot better after listening to Svig, an album as fraught with emotion as it is with overblown violin sequences.

Six beautiful, haunting compositions, the elements layered one atop the other in a veritable cacophony of melody and counter-melody. Not a guaranteed classic, but an interesting and unique black metal album.

I know each and every one of you will have a completely different list in mind, so throw it up in the comments and let’s debate! Last time I did this list I learned about so many other amazing releases of 2010, so lets here your favorites.

Live long and Metal On

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