Saturday, February 12, 2011

My 40 Favourite Albums of 2010: 20-11

*DISCLAIMER! All rankings are based on 3 major factors. 1. I actually have to like the album. Nothing is included because it's on everyone else's list or because I think it would make my list look better. 2. I can listen to it no matter what I am in the mood for. 3. Overall play count/I actually paid money for it.  Remember, this is my opinion. It's not overly analytical. Most, if not all, rankings are VERY fluid. Don't get your panties in a bunch because your favourite band is lower than "that fucking piece of shit band!"*
As I get in to the Top 20, the reasoning changes slightly. There is usually some element that vaults the album in to this higher ranking. It could be that it's just really, really, really good, or a leap forward, or a comeback/return to form, or there is just something really unique about it. Enjoy the best of 2010.
#20.  Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier (ENG, EMI):  I got in to Iron Maiden in a weird way. It was A Matter of Life and Death that made me appreciate them. Before that, Dickinson's vocal style didn't appeal to me. I had a copy of Number Of The Beast back in high school (got it in a Columbia House metal grab bag with some weird Hendrix disc, The Best of Slaughter, a Varga (!) CD and something else) and sold it to a pawn shop. Then I got a used copy of Piece of Mind on cassette back in '09 and I was hooked. The Final Frontier may not be an all time Maiden classic but it's damn close. Dickinson, Steve Harris and the boys sure know how to write epic songs! There isn't a dud to be found here. I may have listened to this album more than any other last year. Thanks in large part to the fact that I could play it anywhere, in any company and it wouldn't scare anyone. (Unlike #19) It amazes me that a band can still be this good over 30 years into their career. Standout track "Where the Wild Wind Blows"
#19. Unearthly Trance - V (USA, Relapse):  For some reason I had Unearthly Trance confused as far as what style of metal they were. I thought they were operatic like Katatonia or Dark Tranquility or some other band I haven't given the time of day to. Or even the My Dying Bride kind of doom. I don't know where I got that idea from but motherfucker was I wrong! This is fucking DOOOOOOOOM! From the pits of Hell, the world is ending, beasts unleashed upon creation, fucking DOOM! I made a comment before and referred to V as "bowel evacuatingly heavy". I stand by that. They put the power in power trio with their earthquake inducing, thunderous riffs. At times, guitarist/vocalist Ryan Lypinsky reminds me of Floater vocalist Robert Wynia (Glyph remains one of my all time favourite albums). But most of the time his unearthly (hehe) screams sound like his voice is made of pure disgust for the human race. Vocals can make or break an album for me and these beastly bellows are a big reason V landed in my Top 20. Standout track: "Into a Chasm"
#18.  Ludicra - The Tenant (USA, Profound Lore):  This year's list has more black metal on it than ever before. Part of my growing interest in BM is due in large part to Ludicra, among others (as you will see). They opened my eyes to a bigger part of what black metal could be. Before listening to The Tenant I thought all black metal was bleak, monotonous, lo-fi Norwegian BM or keyboard laden, symphonic BM like Dimmu or CoF. (Neither of which you will find on this list) What's more, vocalist
Laurie Sue Shanaman made me reconsider what female vocals in metal were all about. ( I just thought Angela Gossow was a freak) Where traditional black metal (to me) feels like it's being bombarded by the wind, and is forced to endure it, Ludicra embrace the wind and use it to soar above the world full of sorrow and ugliness. The Tenant is an incredibly dynamic album that can go from beautiful to downright nasty on a dime. It earns #18 based largely on The Sickest Riff Of The Year on standout track "In Stable".
#17.  Watain - Lawless Darkness (SWE, Season of Mist):  To this point the black metal releases on my list haven't been necessarily "troo" or "kvlt". (The definition of those terms differs greatly depending on who you ask) And none of them have been from Norway. Neither is Watain, but there is no doubt that they are as Black Metal as they come. To Watain, BM isn't just a style. It's a lifestyle. Their conviction to their art is truly admirable.  All the trappings of "typical" black metal are present. Corpsepaint, altars, severed goat heads and real (not human) blood. Dudes don't fuck around. They certainly don't fuck around when it comes to delivering blistering black metal. Vocalist Erik Danielson's bile-spewn vitriol is the stuff of legend. Lawless Darkness doesn't have that lo-fi production that some people tend to "require" for BM (see kvlt reference above) but the HQ production gives the album some bombast. It makes it sound huge and powerful. I originally had this ranked much lower but I listened to it again and I realized that just wasn't fair. I can totally understand why Decibel Magazine ranked Lawless Darkness #2.  Honestly, if I'd listened to it more (I should have) it could easily have made #2 on the KoN list too. Standout track: (It is truly outstanding) "Reaping Death"

#16.  Salome - Terminal (USA, Profound Lore):  Almost every year on my list there ends up being a band that is just unbelievably heavy. I mean Atlas-can't-handle-that-shit heavy. This year it's Salome. Every note feels like a concussion grenade exploding right above you, driving you down into the ground. This isn't just a doom record though. It has some diversity as far as tempo and speed are concerned. Yes, it can plod along like molasses in January (as my mom used to say) but at times it can be almost grind. Speaking of grind, vocalist "Kat" Katz (also of grindsters Agoraphobic Nosebleed) gives the Vocal Performance Of The Year on Terminal. She is just unreal. It's not even human. Her capacity to induce terror with her voice is indescribable. I guess the only complaint I would have about this album is the track "An Accident of History" really pushes my tolerance for noise. (That's why Abominable Iron Sloth didn't make it. The noise track on The Id Will Overcome was too much for me) Good thing is, the rest of the album goes beyond redemption. Standout track: "Epidemic"
#15.  Hooded Menace - Never Cross The Dead (FIN, Profound Lore):  A dark castle looms on the horizon. It may only be illusion, but it appears to swallow light. Like a black hole sitting on a forested hilltop. The mere sight of it induces trepidation, yet I am inexplicably and irresistibly drawn to it. My sense of dread accelerates as I see ghostly shadows among the ramparts. Yet, my feet, seemingly of their accord, draw me closer still to the gates. The gates creak open as I approach. And now, a deathly force pulls me within the walls. As I stand amid the gloom, I hear music. An unholy music and in it I can sense my doom. I descend into the bowels of the castle, searching for the source. The air grows heavy and damp. The music grows louder. My need to hear it becomes insatiable. Further into the pits I go, desperate to escape yet powerless to do so. I can hear screaming now. Guttural and demonic. It's the sound of nightmares. In the darkest recesses of the lowest dungeons, terrified beyond all knowing,  I come face to face with the sounds of death.  Lit by a single candle, it is....Hooded Menace. Standout track: "Terror Castle"
#14. Jucifer - Throned in Blood (USA, Nomadic Fortress):  I'm gonna get lazy on this one and cut and paste the review I wrote when the album came out. Here ya go.  Jucifer releases have never been thought of as "light and airy" but there has always been a balance of the loud grind/death stuff and the lighter tunes. Not so on Throned in Blood. With the exception of closer, "Armageddon", there is no light and airy. Even it's not happy go lucky. It's all dark and claustrophobic. Not claustrophobic in the sense that there is too much going on and nothing has room. No, in the sense that it sounds like it was recorded in a basement. (Or their van) But really fucking cool.  Like they just set a couple mics on the floor and hit record. You can hear the hum of the amps and everything. Mind you, with Amber's backline, you can hear the hum 3 blocks away. The whole album has a very stripped down, DIY, personal feel that is lacking from modern metal anymore. It's all super-produced-cookie-cutter-for-the-masses-metal, where every note is planned and every mistake corrected.  Throned in Blood sounds raw and off-the-cuff. Sometimes I think that the whole thing is just a big jam session. Edgar and Amber have such great chemistry that I wouldn't be surprised if they could pull that off.  Jucifer are Jucifer for the music's sake. And that really comes through on Throned in Blood. You won't hear it plastered on mainstream radio, or see them opening for The Rolling Stones. You'll hear it on your stereo and in your head over and over again. And you'll see them in any venue that'll take 'em. And I can't wait.
#13. Kvelertak - Kvelertak (NOR, Indie):  First of all, this album features artwork from John Dyer Baizley. I don't know him personally, but I don't imagine he does art for just anyone. You have to earn it. Well, Kvelertak are more than worthy. The first time I listened to this I composed a tweet. "Hey #Kvelertak! WTF?!" It took me some time to wrap my head around. I thought it sounded like power-pop punk with black metal vocals. Yeah, weird. I'll admit, I own the first Billy Talent album but every time I listened to it, I screamed the vocals. Somewhere between black and death style. That's not really far off from Kvelertak. Don't get me wrong, I'm not putting them in the same category as Billy Talent. It's just that they have quite catchy riffs and most of the time it's more of a rock/punk record than a metal one. But you throw those vocals in and it's a whole other story. Apparently, they're singing about Norse mythology but it's all sung in Norwegian so they could be singing about shaving a dog's ass and I would be none the wiser. This album has so much energy, it's impossible to stop moving. Just an incredible mix of punk metal and black metal. (Some songs are quite black metal though) It swings, it bounces, it rocks. Do yourself a favour and check this out! Standout track: "Sultans of Satan" (and not because it's only title I can spell)
#12. Burzum - Belus (NOR, Byelobog):  Say what you will about Varg Vikernes but when he dons the Count Grishnackh persona for Burzum, dude can make some pretty awesome tunes. Like Kvelertak above, I have no idea what he's talking about. I don't care either. It's all about mood. On Belus, the mood is pretty dark and sinister. Unlike some of the other "black metal" releases I've discussed so far, there is no questioning whether or not this is Black Metal. Varg's been there from the beginning and I know I wouldn't want to question him. The record gives me a sense of movement. By which I mean, the record never stands still. There is always something going on and that something is flying across the landscape. I also can hear some industrial undertones. I don't know if it's the instruments themselves or just the way they are used. It can be quite hypnotic. For being my first actual experience with Burzum, I was quite impressed. It's actually opened my mind a little in exploring that style. And it's even found its way into my writing as well. Hey, I just might paint my face, hole up in the basement and go all Black Metal. Minus the hate, murder and church burnings. And the paint. I'm not doing that. Standout track: "Morgenroede"
#11. Norma Jean - Meridional (USA, Razor & Tie):  Let's get one thing straight. I am not a "metalcore" fan. But I am a Norma Jean fan. I wouldn't even call this metalcore. Killswitch Engage is metalcore. Not this. Metal-to-the-core maybe. Anyway, this record is pretty darn vicious and hard hitting. With a softer side. But that soft side has been hurt and now it's pissed off. Vocalist Cory Brandon puts it all out there. I missed the opportunity to see them live (stupid flu) but I really would like to have seen all that pain and aggression come barrelling out on stage. I've listened to this record a LOT. I had it on repeat for a good week straight. I don't do that. The lyrics and themes are of a very personal nature and there were some things going on around me that really connected with what I was hearing. It was causing me a lot of anxiety but I was able to get it all out by identifying with and screaming along to the songs on Meridional. I think that's part of the appeal for many people. The songs are real and real people can "get it". Pigeonhole Norma Jean into what ever sub-genre you want but these guys are above all that. I feel they are metal at heart but aren't afraid to write about life and how shitty it can be. Plus, they have some long ass songs. That's pretty metal. I had a really, really hard time not including this in my Top 10. For a time it was, but this was sort of a last minute bump. #10 was just too good. Meridional is exceptional. Buy it. Standout track: "Deathbed Atheist"

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