December 31, 2009

The 50 Most Significant Albums of the Decade

Let me clarify one point very quickly: this list is NOT my favorite albums of the decade. This list is the albums that I think are most important to hard rock and heavy metal for this decade. You may, as always, state your opinions as you wish.

And now, I give you, the 50 Most Significant Albums in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal of the Decade!

#50-43: The Prophets of Metalcore

50. The Poison by Bullet for My Valentine
49. Waking the Fallen by Avenged Sevenfold
48. The Way of the Fist by Five Finger Death Punch
47. The Impossibility of Reason by Chimaira
46. The War Within by Shadows Fall
45. The Fury of Our Maker’s Hand by DevilDriver
44. The Fall of Ideals by All That Remains
43. Ascendancy by Trivium

These eight albums are responsible for pushing the boundaries of metalcore and popularizing it to the degree that it is today. Released between 2003 and 2007, these albums all take the basic structure of metalcore and make it unique in their own way. All eight albums are excellent compositions and worthy of multiple listens.

42. The Incurable Tragedy by Into Eternity

One of the best concept albums to be released this decade, The Incurable Tragedy is an album that speaks purely from the heart. I have always liked albums that talk about real-world issues and deliver thought-provoking lyrical content, and this album absolutely does. For anyone who has ever been touched in their life by cancer, this album is gut-wrenchingly real. Not an easy listen by any means, but still an amazing album.

41. Awaken the Dreamers by All Shall Perish

This album is the absolute archetype for any deathcore band ever. Everything about it is the essence of the genre. Pummeling guitar riffs, lightning-fast drums, and the most assaultive vocal delivery known to music are what you will find here. There are many fans who would disagree, but those within the genre and metal purists alike know that Awaken the Dreamers is the genre-defining album that deathcore needed and didn’t have for the first five years of its existence.

40. Vigilance by Threat Signal

Another genre-defining album, Vigilance is the new standard of industrial metal. Fear Factory’s glory days are long over, and the new kings have finally arrived. Threat Signal doesn’t need keyboards or samples to deliver the same brutal onslaught that their mentors did. Guitar effects and the excellent vocals of Jon Howard are all that’s necessary to make you feel like you’re listening to Demanufacture all over again. This album positively slays.

39. Colors by Between the Buried and Me

Words can’t even begin to describe the beautiful intricacies of this album. I could go on forever about how amazing this album is. But rather than do that and confuse you all with a lot of music theory terminology that only 1% of you would understand, I’ll just direct you instead to listen to the song “White Walls,” the last track on the album. Come back to me after you’ve heard that song and tell me how you feel.

38. Alien by Strapping Young Lad

The “wall of sound” production style has been around for quite some time. But only one album has ever utilized it perfectly, and that is Alien. Devin Townsend shows us the true depths of both his genius and his insanity with this album. Every song is a towering monster of musical composition. Trying to tab a Strapping Young Lad song is probably one of the most difficult undertakings a person can attempt. The best part of the album is its diversity. No one can touch Devin Townsend in that category. He draws from so many different styles, it’s damn near impossible to tell what he will do next.

37. Miasma by The Black Dahlia Murder

This album is the genesis of America’s second generation of death metal. Playing faster and heavier than anyone else had attempted to do in years, The Black Dahlia Murder crafted an album that can only be described as violent. Bruising tracks like “I’m Charming” and “Statutory Ape” incite moshing like Cannibal Corpse and Deicide did in the early 90’s. That is probably the best part about this album – you can tell that The Black Dahlia Murder know their roots, and they know how to build on them as well.

36. Souls to Deny by Suffocation

A resurrection of old-school death metal and a breath of fresh air into that area of the scene, Suffocation brought the first generation of American death metal back into relevance with this album. Souls to Deny recalls Suffocation’s glory days, while at the same time modernizing their sound to reflect the new methods of production that exist. Bringing back Mike Smith on drums is what makes this album one of Suffocation’s best. His drumming is the best of anyone in the death metal scene worldwide.

35. Fiction by Dark Tranquillity

Fiction is a reminder to everyone that the Gothenburg scene is not dead. This album features all the musical elements that made the scene as popular as it was in the early part of the decade, and also shows the diversity that is possible within the melodic death metal genre. Dark Tranquillity display more than just musicianship on this album. They show the rarest and most important characteristic that a band almost two decades old can show: growth. This album indicates that Dark Tranquillity are going to still be around making amazing melodic death metal for many years to come.

34. obZen by Meshuggah

Undoubtedly the biggest album of Meshuggah’s career, obZen has everything that math metal should have and nothing that it should not. The drumming is where it all begins. Drummers worldwide will be attempting (and failing more often than not) to play Tomas Haake’s parts from this album for years to come. There are drums sections, and in some cases, entire songs on this album that leave composers and tabulators baffled. If you are looking for the standard by which technical and math metal will be judged for the next 20 years, this album is it.

33. The Black Halo by Kamelot

Traditional power metal is quickly fading away in favor of the power-prog amalgamation that Kamelot, Symphony X, and other bands brought into style during this decade. The Black Halo is Kamelot’s best album for me because they play both styles on this album. The traditional speed-laden power metal of their roots is very present, and the power-prog songs are some of the best compositions within the newer genre. Also, the story of this concept album is quite enjoyable, making the entire album a good listen.

32. Animosity by Sevendust

Many critics will give you a list of albums that killed nu-metal. However, I believe that Sevendust’s Animosity is the one that began the killing process. This album, coming from a band that rode the tide of nu-metal to popularity, is almost the antithesis of nu-metal. With the gorgeous compositions and unbridled aggression that these songs carry, this album doesn’t need any of the nu-metal gimmicks that so many albums by their peers used. The album is straightforward and heartfelt, and no other album in the scene at that point could say both of those things. Sevendust killed their own genre with this album, signifying that they were ready for more.

31. Natural Born Chaos by Soilwork

When people talk about albums that define the Gothenburg scene, there are three that are always named: Slaughter of the Soul by At the Gates, and The Jester Race and Colony by In Flames. I believe Natural Born Chaos belongs in this group as well. When this album was released in 2002, At the Gates were defunct and In Flames were changing their sound. Soilwork, on the other hand, perfected their sound on this album. With amazing production by Devin Townsend and totally unique compositions by the band, this album is the pinnacle of Soilwork’s career. To me, this album defines the melodic half of the melodic death metal genre perfectly.

30. Storm the Gates of Hell by Demon Hunter

This album appears here for two reasons. The first is because Demon Hunter, much like the first eight albums on my list, helped push the boundaries of metalcore with this album. Storm the Gates of Hell, however, employed melody and brutality in equal measure to expand in both directions, rather than just one or the other. The second reason is because Demon Hunter delivered an album with hard-hitting lyrics that covered real-life topics that their fans could relate to. Their previous album, The Triptych, also had powerful lyrics, but Storm the Gates of Hell delivered both musically and lyrically, something that is quite rare in today’s metal scene.

29. Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia by Dimmu Borgir

When discussing Dimmu Borgir, fans often argue that their best albums are either the two preceding this one (Enthrone Darkness Triumphant and Spiritual Black Dimensions) or the two following this one (Death Cult Armageddon and In Sorte Diaboli). For me, though, Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia is the pinnacle of Dimmu’s career, for several reasons. One, it features one of their best lineups. The only lineup that is better for me has Hellhammer on drums. Two, the musical balance of the album is perfect, with equal parts melody and brutality. Three, this album really puts the right emphasis on the symphonic part of symphonic black metal. It’s not neglected and not overdone, putting the perfect accentuation on the rest of the music. Definitely one of the best black metal albums of the decade overall.

28. The Great Misdirect by Between the Buried and Me

My reaction after finishing listening to this album from beginning to end the first time went something like this: “Holy crap! Are you serious? A prog album that actually has the feel of a full album experience? Like you used to get from Pink Floyd and Rush back in the 70’s? This still exists? No way! I can’t believe it!” Well, believe it. Between the Buried and Me managed to create an album where all the songs come together to create an album-long musical experience similar to what you’d get with The Wall or 2112. Granted, this is nowhere near as powerful as those two albums are, but still, The Great Misdirect changes the whole realm of progressive metal. It is phenomenal.

27. Follow the Reaper by Children of Bodom

Fans and critics have often said that Children of Bodom is unclassifiable genre-wise. This album is the reason why. Follow the Reaper is equal parts death metal, black metal, symphonic metal, thrash metal, progressive metal, and metalcore. And since “symphonic progressive blackened death thrash metalcore” would never catch on, it’s easier to just say the band is unclassifiable. That is the beauty of this album. Nothing is predictable, and everything sounds totally unique. You really need to listen to the whole album to appreciate its musical aesthetics. No other album by Children of Bodom comes close to Follow the Reaper in that category.

26. A Matter of Life and Death by Iron Maiden

For a band that has been around for almost four decades, Iron Maiden still know how to put together amazing albums. A Matter of Life and Death is the best of their three releases this decade because it displays just how much the band has grown over the course of their careers. They started out composing short, punk rock-influenced metal tunes and have grown to create songs that truly deserve the description of “epic.” With an average song length of around seven minutes, A Matter of Life and Death is a complex album that deserves full attention. It ranks with The Number of the Beast and Powerslave as one of Iron Maiden’s best overall albums of their career.

25. Phantom Limb by Pig Destroyer

In the late 80’s, grindcore started with Napalm Death. It continued in the 90’s with Terrorizer and Brutal Truth. Now, the grindcore scene is led by Pig Destroyer. Phantom Limb is an absolute beast of an album, laying waste with furious blastbeats and guitars down-tuned beyond all reasonable measure. The best parts of this album sound like Scum-era Napalm Death sped up to about 6000 bpm. There is plenty of diversity here, also, with songs like “The Machete Twins” channeling Discharge and other grindcore forefathers. The whole grindcore scene now follows where Pig Destroyer leads. It’s good to be on top.

24. Nymphetamine by Cradle of Filth

No one saw Nymphetamine coming. Not the critics, not the fans, and definitely not the legions of people who have peppered Cradle of Filth with insults and scorn throughout their career. This album towers high and above everything else the band has done, because it just has more. More brutality, more symphony, more melody, more quiet, more speed, and most importantly of all, more evil. And honestly, what other band could possibly get away with having a song called “Gilded Cunt” AND have it be one of the most popular tracks of their live set?

#23-22: The Comedy of Metal

23. The Dethalbum by Dethklok
22. Total Brutal by Austrian Death Machine

These two albums go together because they are proof that metal is not all about being angry and hating the world. Metal can be fun, enjoyable, and even make you laugh. The Dethalbum is great because it could be a legitimately awesome death/black metal album if not for two reasons. First, the lyrics are beyond ridiculous. Second, the band is a cartoon! As I said, though, it’s a great album musically, and the fact that it’s a fun listen is a nice touch. Total Brutal is even better, though, because the music is the most over-the-top thrash metal you’ll ever hear, combined with singing and commentary by The Governator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger (not really, but it’s a damn good impression). If you ever want to experience headbanging and laughing at the same time, listen to either of these albums. Metal needs more albums like this.

21. Toxicity by System of a Down

The next three albums are the ones most responsible for hard rock and heavy metal entering the mainstream to the degree that they have now. Toxicity is easily the most popular of the three because of how catchy and fun it is to listen to. However, it is also the album that has the most powerful, insightful commentary on society today, both here in America and worldwide. Who would have guessed upon hearing “Chop Suey!” for the first time that the song was about domestic abuse and teen suicide? System of a Down are The Beatles of my generation, lyrically speaking. No other band has spoken for an entire generation so universally on issues of government, war, family, relationships, and life since The Beatles, and that is quite a place of honor to hold.

20. Iowa by Slipknot

Iowa is by far Slipknot’s heaviest record, and while Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses might have garnered Slipknot more fans, Iowa is the record that still shows just how far this band was willing to push the line of acceptance. Nu-metal still was trying to adjust to the precedent set by the band’s self-titled album when Iowa showed up, and when “People = Shit” came blasting through the speakers the first time, no one knew how to react. This album is one of the most violent, angry, aggressive, and hateful pieces ever put to record, and it became an outlet for millions to express their outrage at the state of the world. Iowa is, above all, unapologetic, and that is how it should be.

19. The Sickness by Disturbed

Every hard rock band that has made it onto the radio today can include Disturbed in their thank you section of the liner notes, because if not for The Sickness, we would not have a scene as diverse and popular as it is today. If not for “Stupefy” and “Down With the Sickness” becoming the biggest songs of the year 2000, no hard rock band would even attempt to mix rock and metal styles the way that Disturbed did. If not for massive touring on Ozzfest and the band’s own Music as a Weapon tour, hard rock bands would not be headlining stadium tours and music festivals the world over. Disturbed are the ones who made that possible, and The Sickness is the beginning of that story.

18. Ghost Reveries by Opeth

Opeth are musical juggernauts because of Mikael Åkerfeldt. The man is a songwriting genius, putting together 10-minute epics that cross multiple genres and display technicality beyond what most bands can dream of, while making it all look effortless with a smile and a few shy words of thanks. Ghost Reveries is the band’s return to form after the Deliverance and Damnation split albums, and what a return it is. This album re-balances the band’s mixture of jazz elements, folk music, and death metal, giving equal emphasis to all three parts. The atmosphere of this album is tremendous and all-encompassing, which is rare on non-concept albums. Credit Per Wiberg’s keyboards for that effect. Ghost Reveries is a strong album and definitely shows how well Opeth can do when they are unified in their goals.

17. Twilight of the Thunder God by Amon Amarth

Viking metal is a tough genre to play because often you are forced to push too deeply into folk metal, and then your music doesn’t convey what you’re looking for. Amon Amarth unlocked the secret, though. Viking metal is all about having the correct lyrical themes matched with appropriately epic compositions. The fact that Amon Amarth manages to do this without delving into folk metal at all is, in itself, impressive. Twilight of the Thunder God is even more amazing, though, because it is an incredibly well-composed melodic death metal album, but for the lyrics. This album is remarkable in its consistency and its attention to detail, especially the guest appearances. Utilizing Apocalyptica for one track makes all the difference in the world.

16. Wintersun by Wintersun

This album is the defining power metal album of the decade. But it’s not just power metal. It’s also folk metal, thrash, symphonic metal, and death metal rolled into a metal wrecking ball that crashes through your speakers like a herd of mammoths. This album is the pinnacle of musical ambition. There are so many things going on in each song, between guitars, bass, keyboards, drums, vocals, and other elements mixed in. And the fact that everything except the drums is done by one person is even more astounding. Now if only Jari Mäenpää could get their second album finished sometime before 2020…

15. The End of Heartache by Killswitch Engage

The End of Heartache is an incredible undertaking because of what Killswitch Engage were going through at that time. They had a new singer, a new drummer, and a huge reputation to maintain. With The End of Heartache, they not only succeeded in maintaining it, but they increased it tenfold. This album has the huge choruses of hair metal’s biggest songs in the 80’s, matched with some of the tightest, most technical musicianship that the metalcore scene has ever put out. This combination is undeniable awesome in every sense, and Killswitch should be proud of themselves for their achievements with this album.

14. Watershed by Opeth

Watershed is Mikael Åkerfeldt paying tribute to every great classic rock artist that has influenced him. But in doing that, he created a musical epic that really showcases the roots of the entire rock and metal scene. With elements of Pink Floyd, Rush, Yes, The Who, The Doors, and so many other classic rock legends heard throughout the album, Watershed is an amazing tour of the 70’s and 80’s in rock music. However, don’t think of this as merely a tribute composition. There’s plenty of Opeth’s amazing brand of progressive death metal to be found here as well. The union of Opeth’s sound with the classic rock elements, though, makes this album a truly special piece of music.

13. As the Palaces Burn by Lamb of God

Normally, I hate albums that don’t have good production. However, As the Palaces Burn is an exception because of how appropriate the raw production is. When combined with Lamb of God’s acidic songs of that time in their career, it’s a perfect fit. This album is grisly and unapologetic to a fault, and unlike its predecessor, New American Gospel, the production is just raw enough so that the lyrics are still distinguishable. This is a good thing, because Randy Blythe’s lyrics are an essential part of Lamb of God’s sound. It’s not the best lyrical performance of his career, but it comes damn close.

12. Mind Tricks by Disarmonia Mundi

The next two albums go together because of how they affected the Gothenburg scene. Mind Tricks is the album that revived the scene from stagnation and reminded everyone what made the Gothenburg sound so popular. This album takes the roots of Swedish melodic death metal and injects them with new life. The songs retain the basic structure, but the melodies are catchier, the choruses are bigger, and the aggression is more unrestrained. This album reinvigorates the whole scene and gives other artists the chance to revisit their roots.

11. Holographic Universe by Scar Symmetry

While Mind Tricks brought the Gothenburg scene back to life, Holographic Universe morphed it into a whole new creature with so many new elements. With soaring vocal melodies, futuristic cyber elements, and intellectual scientific lyrics, Scar Symmetry gave the genre its new prototype with this album. They had been using that sound on their previous two albums as well, but this is the album where they perfect it. Almost all the songs are incredibly catchy while also highly technical and complex. This album is a modern death metal masterpiece.

10. Leviathan by Mastodon

This album is easily the most academic album put out by any band in the past twenty years. How many bands could even attempt to write an entire album about “Moby Dick” and make it sound good? Other bands have attempted concept albums around books, but almost none of them have been about novels. Musically, Leviathan is incredibly ambitious, stringing together riff after riff effortlessly and changing structures without missing a beat. This album is the reason why music critics the world over kiss the ground that Mastodon walks on. Their other albums are great too, but this one is at the top of the heap.

9. Daylight by West Gate

Daylight appears here because of potential. This album has the potential to revolutionize hard rock as we know it. No other band has such a strong sense of musicality, and no other band incorporates as many elements and genre influences into their music. West Gate delivers a phenomenal first album with Daylight, and their music is already influencing many bands in their local scene. With larger exposure, a new wave of rock music will be born.

8. Ashes of the Wake by Lamb of God

The foundation laid by As the Palaces Burn enabled Lamb of God to move forward by leaps and bounds in their ability to deliver metal to large audiences. Thus, they matured in their sound to deliver the titanic Ashes of the Wake, an album that cements Lamb of God as one of the leaders of American metal. The most noticeable difference here is that the production values on Ashes of the Wake are much better than those on As the Palaces Burn, making the music sound much crisper and revealing the technicality therein. The thing that makes Ashes of the Wake so huge, though, is Randy Blythe’s lyrics. Delivering one of the most inflammatory political statements of the decade, Ashes of the Wake is a massive indictment of the American political system. No other band has dared make such a blanket statement, and Lamb of God are still doing it now. Ashes of the Wake is the anthem for those who truly desire change.

7. The All-Star Sessions by Roadrunner United

This is the most ambitious album ever made, hands down. Getting together 55 musicians from 42 different bands is, in and of itself, the largest undertaking ever attempted by any group. The fact that this beginning was achieved is enough to earn this album plenty of recognition. When you throw in the fact that almost every song on the album is breathtakingly excellent, though, you know you have something special in your hands. The All-Star Sessions contains some of the best songs that have resulted from any collaboration of musical minds in metal history. This album will definitely be remembered as one of the greatest ideas ever spawned by a record label.

6. Blackwater Park by Opeth

This album is the most amazing achievement of Opeth’s career. The songs on Blackwater Park are definitely the most intricate compositions that Mikael Åkerfeldt has ever put together, and the band’s performance finally reaches the maturity needed to play those songs. You can’t go wrong with “Bleak,” “The Drapery Falls,” and the title track. The best part about this album is that it flows together brilliantly. Each song transitions into the next one seamlessly, creating no awkwardness or clashing in the atmosphere of the album. Opeth will likely never top this album.

5. Clayman by In Flames

This is the best Gothenburg album released this decade, hands down. Critics often say that Clayman was the start of the band’s descent into mediocrity, but I disagree. Clayman is the album where the band reaches their fullest musical potential, expanding their horizons to the greatest limits they could while remaining true to their sound. Other Gothenburg albums may stay closer to the original Gothenburg sound, but Clayman shows just how diverse the genre is capable of being. Additionally, there are several tracks that are perfect examples of the Gothenburg sound’s essence, such as “Pinball Map,” “Swim,” and the amazing title track, which may be one of the fastest songs In Flames ever recorded. Clayman is the album that shows the world that Gothenburg metal can contain a great deal more than previously thought possible, and it is the album that led so many American metal bands to incorporate the Swedish sound into their music to create metalcore.

4. Lateralus by Tool

How many different ways can you say that your mind has been blown? To determine this, all you need to do is read every review of Lateralus ever written, and you’ll figure it out. This album boggles the mind to even comprehend from a musical standpoint. The compositions and song structures are practically inhuman because they are so atypical and complex. Add in the inherently bewildering nature of the lyrics, and you have the perfect recipe for an album that mystifies everyone that hears it. Lateralus is a powerhouse album that will go down in history as one of the best rock albums ever written.

3. The Blackening by Machine Head

The Blackening redefines metal as we know it for the modern age. This album is the dark, evil spawn of thrash, prog, hardcore, and technical metal all blended perfectly into an opus of pure metal. The Blackening truly has it all: precision drumming, well-crafted bass lines, unique riffs, brain-melting solos, diverse vocal patterns, and thought-provoking lyrics. Critics have given this album every possible accolade in the books, short of a Grammy award, and those accolades are well-deserved. The Blackening is easily one of the best albums in metal history.

2. Alive or Just Breathing by Killswitch Engage

Metalcore exists because of Alive or Just Breathing. This album is the first album to successfully bring together Swedish death metal with American hardcore to create the metalcore sound that immediately was popularized by countless other bands, including several listed here. The thing that makes this album so amazing, though, is that it withstands the test of time. To this day, there are very few albums that measure up with Alive or Just Breathing in terms of being able to successfully and tastefully execute the metalcore sound. Many have tried and failed to follow in this album’s path. The entire genre owes a debt of gratitude to Killswitch Engage for this album’s existence.

1. The Oncoming Storm by Unearth

Everything that a metal fan could ever want is on this album. It has the technical solos and speed of thrash. It has the pure, unbridled aggression of hardcore. It has the intricate compositions and riffs of death metal. It has the powerful, insightful vocals that most lyricists can only dream of writing. The Oncoming Storm delivers metal to its audience in a package that can be enjoyed and repeated effortlessly. This album is the unsung masterpiece of metal, and that fact in and of itself is why it is at the top of my list. There have been many other albums that have received awards, praise, and honor from the critics. The Oncoming Storm has kept its status quiet and let its music speak for itself. That humbleness makes this album more metal than any album receiving any awards anywhere.

There you have it, my friends. My reviews of both 2009 and the past decade are now complete. I hope you have enjoyed my musical insights. Here's to 2010 and the start of another excellent musical decade!

December 26, 2009

The Top 10 Artists of the Decade

So everyone is going nuts about the decade coming to a close and making all their lists of favorite things of the decade. Am I the only one who knows that the new decade didn't technically start until 2001? New decades, centuries, etc. start on the year ending in 1, not 0.

However, since I'm not going to be a total buzzkill, I will indeed make my end-of-decade lists now. I cannot restrict myself to just 10 albums for defining the whole decade, so I'm going to start with 10 artists who made this decade amazing. But first, as I always do, the Honorable Mentions! Here are 10 bands, in no particular order, who had really great decades, as well as my favorite albums by them and why they didn't crack the top 10.

-Parkway Drive - These Aussies have done more to advance metalcore than most bands could ever dream of doing. They barely miss the top 10 because they are so young and they only had two big releases. If they can keep this trend going, though, count on them to deliver hugely in the next five years.
Albums to check out: Killing With a Smile, Horizons

-Soulfly - Soulfly started out the decade with the two weakest releases of their career, Primitive and 3. They got much better with the following three albums, but the stigma of the first two remains. I hope Max Cavalera can stick to his current trends on upcoming albums.
Albums to check out: Dark Ages, Conquer

-Slipknot - Starting off the decade in fine fashion with Iowa, Slipknot went all over the map after that. Their three releases this decade were all good, but their lack of consistency plagues them. Sadly, that's only likely to continue in the future.
Albums to check out: Iowa, All Hope is Gone

-Soilwork - Soilwork definitely set the bar high this decade, with six excellent releases. My only gripe is that the music they put out changed every time their lineup did, which was often. Soilwork couldn't keep a consistent lineup for more than two years at a time this decade. They need to have their style nailed down in lieu of future membership changes.
Albums to check out: A Predator's Portrait, Natural Born Chaos

-Demon Hunter - Yeah, you all expected these guys to make my top 10. Well, I won't deny that Demon Hunter is an excellent band with four great releases this decade. I will, however, say that their lack of touring is the one thing holding them back a lot. I understand that Ryan and Don Clark had a major creative studio to run, but managing only one tour a year (and sometimes not even that) is hard on the fans.
Albums to check out: Summer of Darkness, Storm the Gates of Hell

-Dark Tranquillity - At this point in time, Dark Tranquillity are undoubtedly the best Gothenburg band of the original group of innovators. However, only one of their four albums this decade displayed much growth. While they were all solid releases, a little more innovation would have been nice. I'd love to see them do that in the future.
Albums to check out: Character, Fiction

-DevilDriver - A band that rose from the ashes of nu-metal's wasteland and destroyed all memory of the much-maligned genre for many. DevilDriver is definitely a great band, there's no denying that. There are just others that did more for the genre than they did.
Albums to check out: The Fury of Our Maker's Hand, Pray for Villains

-Tool - Once you all stop screaming at your computer screens, think about this logically for a minute. Two albums in ten years? From one of the biggest rock bands in the world? Tool is definitely a one-of-a-kind band, but they can't just release albums when they feel like it and expect to remain relevant.
Albums to check out: Lateralus, 10,000 Days

-Dimmu Borgir - Without these guys, symphonic black metal would be nowhere near as popular or relevant as it is right now. My sole complaint with Dimmu Borgir stems from the iron hand with which Shagrath and Silenoz rule that band. Shuffling drummers all decade like playing cards, followed by kicking out two of the most important members of the band's creative and musical landscape, does not sit well with me.
Albums to check out: Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia, In Sorte Diaboli

-Between the Buried and Me - It took these kids the better part of the decade to find their direction, but when they did, they turned out some of the best material of any progressive metal band in years. Expect great things from BTBAM in the future.
Albums to check out: Colors, The Great Misdirect

And with that, I now give you my Top 10 Bands of the Decade!

10. Amon Amarth

Being the best at what you do isn't always the easiest position to be in. However, Amon Amarth have been at the top of the Viking metal genre since they first formed, and they stay in that spot with comfort and ease. The past decade has been particularly good for them, as they only got better with time. No matter what they do musically, Amon Amarth seem to do it well, and no one can take that away from them.

Albums to check out: Versus the World, With Oden on Our Side, Twilight of the Thunder God

9. Iron Maiden

With the exception of Judas Priest, no band has maintained relevance in heavy metal like Iron Maiden. And all it took to revitalize their career this decade was bringing back Bruce Dickinson. Their releases now sound just as fresh and powerful as their earliest material, and even with most members approaching the legal age of retirement, the band shows no signs of slowing down. The most influential band in metal history will not go away, and all metal fans can rejoice in that fact.

Albums to check out: Brave New World, Dance of Death, A Matter of Life and Death

8. Unearth

Unearth are the unsung heroes of the Massachusetts metalcore scene. While Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall, and All That Remains have made more prominent moves and caused bigger waves at various times, Unearth have consistently delivered solid metal releases and crushing live performances. What's more, they have done that while dealing with almost non-stop adversity and struggle. Their music has the technicality and brutality to stand beside some of the heaviest death metal bands out today, and they still attain catchiness and melody with ease. Unearth are, to borrow one of their song titles, unstoppable.

Albums to check out: The Oncoming Storm, III: In the Eyes of Fire, The March

7. Machine Head

Machine Head are undoubtedly the comeback story of the decade. After being dropped by the label that had signed them at the start of their career and facing a near break-up, Machine Head came back and delivered two albums that will define metal for years to come. Through the Ashes of Empires and The Blackening are epics on the grandest scale, and thrash will be forever changed by these releases. In all honesty, Machine Head have never released a bad album, but these two albums are essential to anyone who calls themselves a metal fan.

Albums to check out: Supercharger, Through the Ashes of Empires, The Blackening

6. Scar Symmetry

Dragging a dying subgenre back from the brink is usually impossible. But Scar Symmetry did it. Through three amazing releases with one of the best singers ever to come out of Europe, Christian Älvestam, Scar Symmetry reinvented Gothenburg metal and made it something entirely new. And even after Älvestam's firing in 2008, Scar Symmetry were still able to release another amazing album in 2009 with two new singers. The new brand of melodic death metal is here, and the scene is forever changed.

Albums to check out: Pitch Black Progress, Holographic Universe, Dark Matter Dimensions

5. Cradle of Filth

Even after endless criticism for their entire career, Cradle of Filth have never stopped doing what they do best: creating music that is downright evil. This decade has shown that Cradle of Filth have the staying power of legends. They craft and mold the entire black metal scene at their will, and no matter how many other bands attempt to take the throne from them, Cradle of Filth will always be the kings of black metal.

Albums to check out: Damnation and a Day, Nymphetamine, Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder

4. Disturbed

No band has done more for hard rock than Disturbed. From The Sickness all the way to Indestructible, the entire hard rock genre has been revolutionized by this band. David Draiman's harsh vocals and the band's unrelenting musical onslaught are completely unique, and no band will ever be able to replicate their formula for success. Every hard rock band that is popular right now owes a debt of gratitude to Disturbed for making this genre so powerful and diverse.

Albums to check out: The Sickness, Ten Thousand Fists, Indestructible

3. Lamb of God

The spirit of metal lives in Lamb of God. Five hicks from Virginia playing the most assaultive brand of music heard in years? There is pretty much nothing more metal than that. And when you add in their unrelenting lyrical content that stirs the heart of rebellion in everyone, you get a titanic force of music that can't be denied, ignored, or stopped in any way. Lamb of God is the very essence of metal.

Albums to check out: As the Palaces Burn, Ashes of the Wake, Wrath

2. Opeth

Opeth is genius put to music. What else can you call it? There is no other band that has the level of skill and creativity that they do in the progressive metal genre. You won't find such dedication to craftsmanship anywhere else either. Opeth don't write music, they sculpt it. They paint it. Their artistry is immeasurable. And the creations are only getting more beautiful as time goes on.

Albums to check out: Blackwater Park, Ghost Reveries, Watershed

1. Killswitch Engage

What do you do after you've created an album that defines an entire genre? Well, if you're Killswitch Engage, you create another one, except under the forced conditions of a different singer and drummer. And then you do it a third time, distilling the genre to its very essence while simultaneously expanding its boundaries beyond all previous limits. Killswitch Engage have made the metalcore genre into the beast that it is today. And in doing so, they have made metal into a viable genre that cannot be ignored by the public anymore.

Albums to check out: Alive or Just Breathing, The End of Heartache, As Daylight Dies

Okay, that settles that! Next we will move on to my favorite albums of the decade. That will be a very long countdown, I promise you that. Be ready!

December 22, 2009

2009 Top Music Countdown and Review, Part 3

As promised, I give you now the third and final installment of my review of the year in hard rock and heavy metal. When I said at the end of Part 2 that I would deliver the most complete countdown of the year, I meant it. If you are able to read through this entire list, then you are a better person than me, because after making this list, I don't want to read it. It's long, it's comprehensive, and it's the epitome of what most reviewers would call "overdoing it."

DISCLAIMER: You are free, of course, to debate and complain about the ranking/inclusion/exclusion of any particular album on my countdown, as your First Amendment rights afford you. However, I beg you all to PLEASE keep the flame wars to a minimum. Let's face it, we're all going to have differing opinions on what's good and what's bad. Rather than whine and complain about what someone else's opinion is, how about we just state our own and leave it at that? Thank you in advance.

And now, without further ado, I give you the Top 200 Albums in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, as chosen by me, your resident Mad Scientist guy.

1. Daylight by West Gate
2. The Isolation Game and The Restless Memoirs by Disarmonia Mundi
3. Vigilance by Threat Signal
4. Lullabies for the Dormant Mind by The Agonist
5. Hordes of Chaos by Kreator
6. Earthsblood by God Forbid
7. The Great Misdirect by Between the Buried and Me
8. Slaves of the World by Old Man's Child
9. Sound Awake by Karnivool
10. Children of the Dark Waters by Eternal Tears of Sorrow
11. The Infection by Chimaira
12. War is the Answer by Five Finger Death Punch
13. Sot by The Few Against Many
14. Son of the Morning by Oh, Sleeper
15. Design Your Universe by Epica
16. The Mirroring Shadow by Miseration
17. Evangelion by Behemoth
18. When Legends Become Dust by Conducting from the Grave
19. Say Hello to Tragedy by Caliban
20. Across the Dark by Insomnium
21. World Painted Blood by Slayer
22. Daylight Deception by The Bereaved
23. Pray for Villains by DevilDriver
24. Night is the New Day by Katatonia
25. Urban Being by Destrage
26. Endgame by Megadeth
27. Retribution by Shadows Fall
28. Wrath by Lamb of God
29. Dark Matter Dimensions by Scar Symmetry
30. Force Fed Lies by Dirge Within
31. Black Gives Way to Blue by Alice in Chains
32. As Shadows Burn by Echoes of Eternity
33. Skyforger by Amorphis
34. Bringer of Plagues by Divine Heresy
35. Those Whom the Gods Detest by Nile
36. Esoteric by Skyfire
37. Crack the Skye by Mastodon
38. The Slaughter by Incite
39. A Taste of Extreme Divinity by Hypocrisy
40. From Afar by Ensiferum
41. Time Waits for No Slave by Napalm Death
42. Necropolis by Vader
43. Black Clouds & Silver Linings by Dream Theater
44. Hatebreed by Hatebreed
45. Omnicide - Creation Unleashed by Neaera
46. By the Light of the Northern Star by Týr
47. The Incident by Porcupine Tree
48. Ruination by Job for a Cowboy
49. Deathless by Throwdown
50. A Dialogue by Gwen Stacy
51. Deflorate by The Black Dahlia Murder
52. Waking Into Nightmares by Warbringer
53. Old Crows/Young Cardinals by Alexisonfire
54. Passiondale by God Dethroned
55. In Ancient of Days by Thy Will Be Done
56. A-Lex by Sepultura
57. Blue Record by Baroness
58. Quantos Possunt ad Satanitatem Trahunt by Gorgoroth
59. Kingdom of Might by Woe of Tyrants
60. All Shall Fall by Immortal
61. Double Brutal by Austrian Death Machine
62. Fragmentary Evidence by Augury
63. Evisceration Plague by Cannibal Corpse
64. Fed Through the Teeth Machine by The Red Chord
65. Cosmogenesis by Obscura
66. The Eternal Return by Darkest Hour
67. The Days of Grays by Sonata Arctica
68. Order by Maroon
69. Agorapocalypse by Agoraphobic Nosebleed
70. The 13th Floor by Sirenia
71. Romulus by Ex Deo
72. Wormwood by Marduk
73. The Grand Partition and the Abrogation of Idolatry by Success Will Write Apocalypse Across the Sky
74. Wearing a Martyr's Crown by Nightrage
75. Planetary Duality by The Faceless
76. Blood Oath by Suffocation
77. It's All Happening by Iwrestledabearonce
78. Constellations by August Burns Red
79. The Onslaught by Lazarus A.D.
80. Halestorm by Halestorm
81. Infected Nations by Evile
82. The Lustrate Process by The Project Hate MCMXCIX
83. A Higher Place by Born of Osiris
84. Breathing the Fire by Skeletonwitch
85. The Reckoning by Arise
86. Njord by Leaves’ Eyes
87. The Great Stone War by Winds of Plague
88. Acedia by Dark Age
89. New Moon by Swallow the Sun
90. Gather the Faithful by Cain's Offering
91. Descend Into Depravity by Dying Fetus
92. Above by Samael
93. The World Outside by Eyes Set to Kill
94. Endless Echo by Construcdead
95. Spectrum by Starring Janet Leigh
96. Silent Echoes by D Creation
97. The Root of All Evil by Arch Enemy
98. Sleepwalking by Memphis May Fire
99. Attitude by Susperia
100. Mirror of Retribution by Chthonic
101. April Rain by Delain
102. Carver City by CKY
103. Portals by Arsonists Get All the Girls
104. Angelus Exuro Pro Eternus by Dark Funeral
105. Executioner by Mantic Ritual
106. Sci-Fi Crimes by Chevelle
107. Diabolical Figures by Graveworm
108. Mothra by Slowmotion Apocalypse
109. Darkest Day by Obituary
110. Disciples of Doom by Misery Speaks
111. The Dethalbum II by Dethklok
112. Homesick by A Day to Remember
113. My Fatal Kiss by Krypteria
114. Death Domination by Impious
115. Depravity by A Plea for Purging
116. Polaris by Stratovarius
117. Years in the Darkness by Arkaea
118. The Serpent Servant by Impending Doom
119. Faith Divides Us - Death Unites Us by Paradise Lost
120. Until We Surrender by Heartsounds
121. Almost Home by Evergreen Terrace
122. Human Museum by Icon in Me
123. To Die As Kings by The Ascendicate
124. Skeletons in the Closet by Children of Bodom
125. Profugus Mortis by Blackguard
126. Massive Aggressive by Municipal Waste
127. Meet Your Maker by As We Fight
128. With Roots Above and Branches Below by The Devil Wears Prada
129. Crógacht by Suidakra
130. The Tropic Rot by Poison the Well
131. Memories of the Afterlife by Human Error
132. Stone's Reach by Be'lakor
133. Spirit Black by Jorn
134. Carving Out the Eyes of God by Goatwhore
135. Fear No Evil by Doro
136. In the Constellation of the Black Widow by Anaal Nathrakh
137. The Absence by Luna Mortis
138. Awake? by Zao
139. As Silence Breaks by As Silence Breaks
140. Cult of Static by Static-X
141. Relentless by For the Fallen Dreams
142. The Darker Shades of White by Corpus Christi
143. Vae Victis by Enraged by Beauty
144. No Time to Bleed by Suicide Silence
145. Naked and Cold by Advent
146. The Final End Principle by Bloodwork
147. To the Nines by Hatesphere
148. Total World Domination by Sworn Enemy
149. New Junk Aesthetic by Every Time I Die
150. Enemies by Marionette
151. Walpurgis Rites - Hexenwahn by Belphegor
152. Out of Ashes by Dead by Sunrise
153. Static Tensions by Kylesa
154. Phoenix by Agathodaimon
155. Origin of the Storm by The Sorrow
156. Resurrection Through Fire by Burning Human
157. Bury Me Alive by Inhale Exhale
158. The Quietude Plains by Ablaze in Hatred
159. Call of Schizophrenia by Fear of Domination
160. Day of Mourning by Despised Icon
161. Night Storms Hailfire by Arise and Ruin
162. Shallow Life by Lacuna Coil
163. 16.6 (Before the Devil Knows You're Dead) by Primal Fear
164. Ares by Salt the Wound
165. Wars and Rumors of Wars by The Chariot
166. Portraits by For Today
167. Grounded: Chapter Eight by Metalium
168. Dead Harvest by This Ending
169. And Every Knee Shall Bow by The Great Commission
170. Battle Sluts by Destroy Destroy Destroy
171. Ego Anthem by Tracedawn
172. The Echo Verses by The Arusha Accord
173. The Resting Sonata by Rose Funeral
174. Tales from the Grave in Space by Gama Bomb
175. Bones as Armour by Enemy Logic
176. Lividity by It Dies Today
177. Into the Labyrinth by Saxon
178. Hollow Crown by Architects
179. No Sacrifice, No Victory by Hammerfall
180. Messiah by Soulgate’s Dawn
181. Confess by Too Pure to Die
182. Killswitch Engage II by Killswitch Engage
183. Out of Body Experience by Degradead
184. III by Maylene and the Sons of Disaster
185. The Campaign by Into the Moat
186. The End of Tomorrow by Ravage
187. The Great Depression by Trigger the Bloodshed
188. The Everhaunting Past, Chapter IV: A Splendid Retrospection by Fragments of Unbecoming
189. Sons of Thunder by Sleeping Giant
190. Survivalist by ABACABB
191. A Clear Perception by The Eyes of a Traitor
192. Harmony of Discord by The Destro
193. Reflection by As You Drown
194. Depths by Oceano
195. Out of Darkness by In the Midst of Lions
196. Avatar by Avatar
197. Felony by Emmure
198. Karkelo by Korpiklaani
199. Autumnal by Dark Moor
200. Mordium by Mordium

And thus ends my review of the year 2009 in hard rock and heavy metal. If any of you happen to find a list longer than mine, please let me know so I can see what other people are looking at. Long live music!

December 19, 2009

2009 Top Music Countdown and Review, Part 2

Part 2 of my end-of-year review involves a genre-by-genre breakdown of the hard rock and heavy metal scene, covering the best of each area and why one album is better than another. If you would like to know what a particular genre sounds like (or in some cases, should sound like and yet usually doesn't), these are the albums you should check out. Enjoy!

Best Rock Album:
Daylight by West Gate
Really, was there any question about this? This is the best rock album of the decade for me.

Sound Awake by Karnivool
The Incident by Porcupine Tree
Black Gives Way to Blue by Alice in Chains

Best Melodic Death Metal Album:
The Isolation Game by Disarmonia Mundi
This album tells us two things about melodic death metal. One, the Gothenburg sound is far from dead, and can still be executed tastefully without sounding stale and overdone. Two, balance is everything with this genre. Blending the perfect degrees of thrash-infused brutality with beautiful, catchy melodies that stick with you for hours on end, Disarmonia Mundi have succeeded in delivering another masterpiece.

Children of the Dark Waters by Eternal Tears of Sorrow
Sot by The Few Against Many
Across the Dark by Insomnium

Best Metalcore Album:
Lullabies for the Dormant Mind by The Agonist
All three albums listed here are in contention because of how much they don’t sound like typical metalcore. However, The Agonist does it best because they stay true to what they started on their first album. God Forbid and Five Finger Death Punch both venture into new territory sonically, which is good for them, but The Agonist has the most cohesion in their sound, and they’ve put together a solid, complete package.

Earthsblood by God Forbid
War is the Answer by Five Finger Death Punch

Best Black Metal Album:
Slaves of the World by Old Man’s Child
While Gorgoroth were busy finishing their legal battle and Immortal were brushing the dust off their amps, Old Man’s Child were putting together yet another solid, crushing black metal opus. Galder chose the perfect drummer for this album, bringing in Peter Wildoer from Darkane, and the payoff is obvious. One of the best albums of Galder’s career.

Quantos Possunt ad Satanitatem Trahunt by Gorgoroth
All Shall Fall by Immortal

Best Thrash Album:
Hordes of Chaos by Kreator
At this point in time, America’s Big 4 have got nothing on Germany’s Big 3, and if anyone still has lingering doubts about that, Kreator put those doubts to rest with one of the best thrash albums in recent memory. Slayer and Megadeth don’t slouch on their new albums by any sense, but even their renewed metal senses can’t top Kreator’s consistency.

World Painted Blood by Slayer
Endgame by Megadeth
The Slaughter by Incite
Waking Into Nightmares by Warbringer

Best Death Metal Album:
The Mirroring Shadow by Miseration
Behemoth had this spot locked up for quite awhile, but then Miseration decided to release their album a little earlier than previously expected. And thus, everything got thrown into confusion, until Miseration came out on top with one of the most solid straight-up death metal albums of recent memory. Removing much of the melodic influences from their previous album, The Mirroring Shadow sounds like it would fit right into Ceremonial Oath’s discography, with its seamless and brutal death metal sound.

Evangelion by Behemoth
Those Whom the Gods Detest by Nile
A Taste of Extreme Divinity by Hypocrisy

Best Industrial Metal Album:
Vigilance by Threat Signal
Industrial metal is a genre that doesn’t often have a high output of albums from year to year, and thus, the annual output of quality albums is often even smaller. However, this year was an exception, as three excellent industrial metal albums revitalized the genre in many ways. Threat Signal is definitely the best of the group, delivering a brutal onslaught reminiscent of Fear Factory’s glory days. “Through My Eyes” alone is enough to make this album the best of the year for industrial metal.

Daylight Deception by The Bereaved
Urban Being by Destrage

Best Progressive Metal Album:
The Great Misdirect by Between the Buried and Me
This album is ridiculously good in so many ways. As progressive metal bands go, Between the Buried and Me are definitely the most chaotic of the bunch, but this album has a gorgeous flow to it. The song structures are perfect, and all the intricate tidbits taken from music theory make this album a joy for any musically trained person to listen to.

Crack the Skye by Mastodon
Black Clouds & Silver Linings by Dream Theater

Best Groove Metal Album:
The Infection by Chimaira
Chimaira, DevilDriver, and Lamb of God have unknowingly become the chief producers of groove metal on the US scene. All three of their albums this year were good, and none of the bands show any signs of slowing down. However, Chimaira takes the cake here because they delivered an album that none of the fans could have ever anticipated or expected. Their newfound affinity for sludge and grime makes this a totally unique album for them, and it’s a lot of fun to listen to.

Pray for Villains by DevilDriver
Wrath by Lamb of God

Best Gothic Metal Album:
Design Your Universe by Epica
The gothic metal scene may be looking tired and overdone to many, but there are still a plethora of talented bands out there, as well as a ton of new faces showcasing their new style and take on the genre. Epica is part of the former group, and they are miles ahead of the competition in that area. Epica’s releases always deliver something that makes your emotions stir, and on this album, Simone Simons outdoes herself in her vocal performance to deliver the most powerful stirring she can. This album moves in ways previously unseen in the gothic metal scene.

As Shadows Burn by Echoes of Eternity
The 13th Floor by Sirenia

Best Deathcore Album:
When Legends Become Dust by Conducting from the Grave
The deathcore train is starting to run out of gas, but bands are still jumping on like crazy, trying to grab one of those last seats. Conducting from the Grave is a band that managed to snag one, and like many other bands appearing throughout my review of the year, it’s because they did something outside the box. Melding numerous other subgenres into their deathcore foundation, they found a way to not make their music predictable. That puts them miles ahead of most of their peers.

Fed Through the Teeth Machine by The Red Chord
The Great Stone War by Winds of Plague

Best Folk Metal Album:
Esoteric by Skyfire
The only thing that pushes Skyfire ahead of the competition here is the five-year waiting period between Esoteric and its predecessor, Spectral. Were it not for that, this category would be too close to call for me. All three albums are excellent displays of folk metal’s finest characteristics.

From Afar by Ensiferum
By the Light of the Northern Star by Týr

Best Post-Hardcore Album:
A Dialogue by Gwen Stacy
Post-hardcore is, for me, one of the only genres where catchiness can actually turn me off to something. However, Gwen Stacy turned that on its head with this new album. The songs are ridiculously catchy, but the best parts of the songs are the ones that stay with you. Their sense of melody is much more fine-tuned than on their debut, and it shows very clearly.

Old Crows/Young Cardinals by Alexisonfire
The World Outside by Eyes Set to Kill
Sleepwalking by Memphis May Fire

Best Doom Metal Album:
Night is the New Day by Katatonia
Under normal circumstances, doom metal is definitely not my music of choice. However, Katatonia have delivered an album that simply blows my mind. As a band, Katatonia can best be described as Opeth’s Damnation album stretched into an entire band. But Night is the New Day does so much more, delivering a doom metal album that is far outside the box with its progression and outside influences, while still maintaining a bleak and appropriately dark atmosphere.

New Moon by Swallow the Sun

Comeback Album of the Year:
Black Gives Way to Blue by Alice in Chains
The best comeback story in music in years. Layne Staley is looking down on the new Alice in Chains with a smile on his face.

All Shall Fall by Immortal
Carver City by CKY

Best Debut Album:
Daylight by West Gate
Once again, were you really expecting anything else? Come on, this has got to be predictable by now.

Sot by The Few Against Many
When Legends Become Dust by Conducting from the Grave

Song of the Year:
“With Time” by West Gate
If my iPod could only hold two songs, this would be one of them. The other one would be “Zombie Autopilot” by Unearth, which, as everyone knows by this point, is my favorite song ever written. “With Time” is my second favorite, and if after listening to it you don’t understand why, then I pity you, because this song is a masterpiece.

“Flare” by Disarmonia Mundi
“Through My Eyes” by Threat Signal
“24 Years” by Caliban
“Contractor” by Lamb of God
“Ascension Chamber” by Scar Symmetry

There you have it, friends! Keep your eyes peeled for Part 3 of my review...the most complete countdown of the year 2009 in hard rock and heavy metal that you will find ANYWHERE! Be ready!

December 6, 2009

2009 Top Music Countdown and Review, Part 1

Part 1 of my 2009 Top Music Countdown and Review will be my thorough review of what I consider to be the best of the best for this year. But first, as always, for those albums that didn't quite make the Top 10, here are my honorable mentions for the rest of the Top 25:

25. Urban Being by Destrage
24. Night is the New Day by Katatonia
23. Pray for Villains by DevilDriver
22. Daylight Deception by The Bereaved
21. World Painted Blood by Slayer
20. Across the Dark by Insomnium
19. Say Hello to Tragedy by Caliban
18. When Legends Become Dust by Conducting from the Grave
17. Evangelion by Behemoth
16. The Mirroring Shadow by Miseration
15. Design Your Universe by Epica
14. Son of the Morning by Oh, Sleeper
13. Sot by The Few Against Many
12. War is the Answer by Five Finger Death Punch
11. The Infection by Chimaira

And now, the moment we've all been waiting for. I present you with the Top 10(-ish) Albums in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal of 2009, as chosen by me!

10. Children of the Dark Waters by Eternal Tears of Sorrow
Genre: Melodic Death Metal, Symphonic Metal
Origin: Finland

In the world of metal, there are always bands that go unnoticed and are underappreciated. The Finnish melodic death metal scene is the hallmark of this, as seemingly every band that comes from that scene is endlessly compared to Children of Bodom, the only band from the scene to gain a significant worldwide fan base. Thus, bands like Kalmah, Eternal Tears of Sorrow, Mors Principium Est, and many others are never given the chance to excel on a worldwide scale, which is unfortunate, since many of these bands have delivered high-quality releases in the past few years that deserve recognition. Eternal Tears of Sorrow is the latest in that group, with their sixth full-length album, Children of the Dark Waters. This album is undoubtedly EToS’s best to date, because the band have finally perfected their mix of powerful, driving death metal with haunting, doom-laden melodies. There are very few bands that attempt this brand of melodic death metal, and EToS is one of the best.

Recommended Tracks:
#2 Baptized by the Blood of Angels
#4 Summon the Wild
#7 Diary of Demonic Dreams
#9 Nocturne Thule

9. Sound Awake by Karnivool
Genre: Progressive Rock
Origin: Australia

Have you ever experienced the sensation of your brain imploding? Well, I can tell you from personal experience that it’s not as unpleasant as you might think. My brain implosion occurred when I heard Sound Awake by Karnivool, a band that has proven themselves to be among the most promising young talent worldwide. With a refreshing and vibrant new brand of progressive rock, Karnivool are one of the smartest bands I’ve heard in a long time. What separates their variety of progressive rock from others is their willingness to avoid formula. Their songs shy away from repeating passages while still maintaining excellent structure. The shorter songs have just as many elements and intricacies as the longer songs, and the band does things with music that make my head spin. I say music here because this has nothing to do with instruments. The songwriting on this album is absolutely phenomenal. I can guarantee that what you hear from Karnivool on future albums will be similarly mind-blowing.

Recommended Tracks:
#1 Simple Boy
#3 New Day
#4 Set Fire to the Hive
#10 Deadman

8. Slaves of the World by Old Man's Child
Genre: Black Metal, Symphonic Metal
Origin: Norway

If you look at the timeline of black metal, controversy abounds everywhere. Almost every band in the scene has experienced some form of conflict that has brought them negative attention of some form. Even Dimmu Borgir, one of the most stalwart bands in the scene, became entangled in an internal battle, with core members Shagrath, Silenoz, and Galder firing bassist I.C.S. Vortex and keyboardist Mustis, and Mustis then filing legal action against the band. However, Galder’s other band, his solo project Old Man’s Child, is one of the few black metal bands that has consistently released high-quality material while avoiding controversy and drama. Slaves of the World is the latest opus of evil to come from Galder’s twisted mind, and he really raises the bar on this album, creating compositions that rank among the most unique and memorable in the genre. What really sets this album above the rest of the band’s discography is the choice of drummer for the album. Peter Wildoer of Darkane/Pestilence fame really takes this album from solid to astounding with his outstanding skills. Old Man’s Child truly has set the standard for symphonic/melodic black metal with this album.

Recommended Tracks:
#1 Slaves of the World
#4 Unholy Foreign Crusade
#6 The Spawn of Lost Creation
#7 On the Devil’s Throne

7. The Great Misdirect by Between the Buried and Me
Genre: Progressive Metal
Origin: USA

I’ve already talked about the best progressive rock album of the year in my countdown. But now we get into the best progressive ANYTHING album of the year. Between the Buried and Me drew me in with their last album, Colors, which was definitely an enjoyable album and really displayed their skills. But the thing that held the album back for me was that, despite it being a concept album, there was no continuity or flow to it. Well, BTBAM found their continuity with their new album, The Great Misdirect. This album pushes the boundaries of progressive metal further than they’ve been pushed in a long time. With songs changing genres internally and compositions that baffle even the most stalwart music theorist, BTBAM have managed to put together an album that actually feels like a complete album. That is so rare nowadays, and I’m extremely pleased that they pulled it off.

Recommended Tracks:
#2 Obfuscation
#3 Disease, Injury, Madness
#4 Fossil Genera - A Feed from Cloud Mountain
#6 Swim to the Moon

6. Earthsblood by God Forbid
Genre: Metalcore, Thrash Metal
Origin: USA

God Forbid have frequently been described by some of my peers as a “hit-or-miss” band, and while I don’t agree with that statement, I will admit that I didn’t enjoy 2006’s IV: Constitution of Treason as much as I liked 2004’s Gone Forever. However, their new album, Earthsblood, surpasses both of these albums and all their previous work as well. Instead of delivering a full-on concept album like Constitution of Treason, Earthsblood just has an overarching theme built into most of the songs. The thing that makes this album excellent is the expansion of sound that God Forbid have added here. Bringing in influences from progressive metal and upping the thrash content significantly, this album breaks many metalcore boundaries and truly shows just how talented God Forbid are. I hope they continue showing this diversity on future releases.

Recommended tracks:
#3 Empire of the Gun
#4 War of Attrition
#8 Bat the Angels
#9 Earthsblood

5. Hordes of Chaos by Kreator
Genre: Thrash Metal
Origin: Germany

I’m a person who appreciates consistency, and consistency is what makes me think that Germany’s Big 3 of thrash have, at this point, far surpassed America’s Big 4. The number of disappointing thrash releases from America is at least triple what it is from Germany, without a doubt. Of the German Big 3, Kreator have been the most consistent by far, releasing album after album of straightforward, in-your-face thrash that doesn’t compromise on lyrical content. Hordes of Chaos follows the vein of its predecessor, 2005’s Enemy of God, with punishing riffs and solos that melt entire bodies, not just faces. This album is a model of modern thrash that will surely influence the new generation of young thrash bands worldwide. The older thrash bands around the world would also do well to take some lessons from this masterful release.

Recommended Tracks:
#2 Warcurse
#5 Destroy What Destroys You
#6 Radical Resistance
#10 Demon Prince

4. Lullabies for the Dormant Mind by The Agonist
Genre: Metalcore, Technical Metal
Origin: Canada

There are plenty of female-fronted metal bands out there that get a lot of spectacle just because they have a beautiful lead singer. However, The Agonist is one band that deserves more recognition for having a beautiful lead singer AND playing amazing music. Taking cues from their countrymen in Into Eternity, The Agonist have added highly technical elements to their songs, including split-second time changes and intricate polyrhythms. The drumming on this record is some of the best I’ve heard in a long time. Simon McKay really outdoes himself on this album. Alissa White-Gluz’s vocals, though, steal the show here. Easily one of the most talented singers in all of metal, her effortless shifts from guttural rasps to gorgeous singing emphasize different parts of different songs perfectly, and the diversity of her screaming styles give her depth that many singers lack. In short, The Agonist are everything that metalcore should be and so often isn’t. They have originality, brutality, melody, and technicality in equal measure, and no one is even attempting to do what they do right now. That sets this band far above all of their contemporaries.

Recommended Tracks:
#2 …And Their Eulogies Sang Me to Sleep
#5 Waiting Out the Winter
#6 Martyr Art
#9 The Sentient

3. Vigilance by Threat Signal
Genre: Industrial Metal
Origin: Canada

I enjoyed Threat Signal’s debut album, Under Reprisal, and I knew that they had lots of potential. I never expected what I got with Vigilance, though. This album is a genre-definer. In much the same way that Fear Factory’s Demanufacture became the foundation on which all industrial metal albums were built until now, Vigilance sets the standard for all future industrial metal albums. With crushing guitars, tight drums, and Jon Howard’s immensely talented vocal prowess, Vigilance has everything that an industrial metal fan could want and then some. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that legendary ex-Fear Factory bassist/guitarist Christian Olde Wolbers was in the producer’s chair for this album, like he was for Under Reprisal. Regardless of who’s producing, though, Threat Signal are quickly becoming one of the best young metal bands out there, and if they continue to put out albums that are as good as Vigilance, they will surely become one of the best metal bands, period.

Recommended Tracks:
#2 Through My Eyes
#6 Another Source of Light
#8 Severed
#11 In Repair

2. The Restless Memoirs and The Isolation Game by Disarmonia Mundi
Genre: Melodic Death Metal
Origin: Italy

Very few bands have put out two releases in one year that are equal in terms of talent and listener enjoyment. DMX did it in 1998 with his two groundbreaking albums, It’s Dark and Hell is Hot and Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood. System of a Down also managed it in 2005 with Mezmerize and Hypnotize (we’ll put aside the fact that those two albums were actually a double album split in half). And now, in 2009, we have Disarmonia Mundi releasing both an EP, The Restless Memoirs, and their fourth full length album, The Isolation Game. What we learn from these albums, first and foremost, is that Disarmonia Mundi functions just fine without Bjorn “Speed” Strid of Soilwork assisting on vocals. Although Speed does appear on at least one track on The Isolation Game, Claudio Ravinale is the main vocalist on both releases, and he is finally able to come into his own. We also learn that Ettore Rigotti is one of the most talented musicians and composers in all of Europe, although fans of the band probably knew that already. Simply put, Disarmonia Mundi is the best melodic death metal band in the world that almost no one knows about. If The Restless Memoirs was a full-length album, it would occupy its own space on the countdown. But since it’s an EP, both releases take one spot on my list. I know, I'm cheating just a bit, but honestly, both of these releases deserve a spot, so they'll both get one.

Recommended Tracks on The Restless Memoirs:
#1 Across the Burning Surface
#2 Flare
#3 Kneeling on Broken Glass
#4 Spiral Dancer

Recommended Tracks on The Isolation Game:
#1 Cypher Drone
#2 Structural Wound
#5 Stepchild of Laceration
#10 Losing Ground

1. Daylight by West Gate
Genre: Hard Rock
Origin: USA

If you are surprised by this, then you don’t know me at all. I’ve been raving about this album since I knew it was being recorded back in January. My ravings only increased in May after I heard the album in its entirety, two months before its release. And when it was released in July, I listened to it for a month straight. You can call it devotion or insanity, whichever you prefer. The point is, there’s a reason why this is my top album for the year. I defy you to find me a rock album with this level of maturity and skill from a bunch of guys who just graduated college. I will save you a lot of time and tell you that one doesn’t exist. For a band that has only been active for about three years, West Gate already has the musical expertise to take the stage alongside some of the biggest names in rock. If you are a fan of rock music at all, you can’t not like this band. They’re just too good for any rock fan to dislike them. Without a doubt, Daylight is one of my top five favorite albums ever. And things will only get better for West Gate moving forward.

Recommended Tracks:
#1 Bleeding Out
#3 Ordinary
#7 Soul Searching
#10 With Time

And there you have it, folks! Part 2, my categorical awards, and Part 3, the full rankings for 2009, will come later, so keep an eye out for those! In the meantime, if you haven't heard any of the albums listed here, I highly recommend you check them out! If you are a fan of their genres, you won't be disappointed!

December 2, 2009

Lady Gaga, Singing Disgrace and Public Enemy #1 of Music (A Rant)

As many of you know, I am usually very widely accepting of different styles of music. Even if I'm not a big fan of a certain genre, I can tolerate it up to a point. However, Lady Gaga has earned herself a place among the few artists whom I absolutely cannot stand at all. Unfortunately for yours truly, she dominates top 40 radio right now, and I am subjected to her every morning when I work at Target. I have reached my boiling point, and this is the only constructive outlet I have for my frustration.

I now give you my top six reasons why Lady Gaga should lose her publishing rights, her recording capabilities, her touring licenses, and possibly her vocal chords.

1. Lady Gaga is a trend follower and has no originality whatsoever
When I hear Lady Gaga's different songs on the radio, all I hear is her attempting to copy the successful female pop stars who have come before her. Not one single star, mind you. She's trying to copy them ALL. "Poker Face" is her attempt at the bad girl sex songs that made Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera so huge. "Paparazzi" shows her trying to imitate the innocent, good girl styles of Mandy Moore. "Bad Romance" has her trying to be an independent punk chick like Pink or Avril Lavigne. Lady Gaga is trying to become a universal star, picking up every female ear in the 13-18 demographic and increasing her fame that much more. But none of her music is at all original or new. It's just the same old stuff that we've heard before. Why is that entertaining?

2. Lady Gaga is almost totally devoid of singing ability
Those who have only ever heard Lady Gaga on recorded material will, of course, immediately object to this statement, because even I will admit that her voice sounds good on record. However, her horrific performance at the VMA's (which I only watched because I was waiting for an instant replay moment of the Kanye West/Taylor Swift debacle) got me wondering, and I looked up some live performance videos of her on YouTube. The things I saw confirmed my belief that Lady Gaga cannot sing her way out of a pickle barrel. So how does she manage to sound so good on record? Well, she does what many other pop stars do in this age of technology: she overproduces the hell out of her voice. Talk about a raw deal.

3. Lady Gaga's lyrics promote the worst values and stylize completely unrealistic situations
Normally I don't get preachy about this sort of thing, but the things she says in "Poker Face" just horrify the crap out of me. And let's consider the logic of the song "Paparazzi" for a moment. According to that song, stalking a guy will make him fall in love with you. How often do you think that actually happens in the real world? I would say maybe one time in a million, and that one time is because the guy being stalked is a sociopath planning to murder the girl stalking him.

4. Lady Gaga has the worst stage name ever
Seriously, she couldn't just use her real name like 90% of the rest of the female pop stars out there? She had to pick a stage name that not only sounds completely ridiculous, but also makes absolutely no sense? What is the point of that?

5. Lady Gaga is ugly as sin
That's what really makes things ridiculous to me when I consider how successful she is. This isn't even a case where a person can say, "Well, her songs suck, but at least she's easy on the eyes." When I see Lady Gaga, I want to retch. She is disgusting.

6. Lady Gaga is Lady Gaga
For those of you scratching your heads at this, here's the longer sentence I would have used for the title of this point, if it weren't so long: Lady Gaga is yet another pop star perpetuating the cycle of musical mediocrity by cashing in on the trends of the day and using shock value to increase the buzz about her, while creating nothing new or original that contributes positively to society or people's lives. That really just sums all of these points and says what she'd have to do in order for me to have even a modicum of respect for her. I'm not holding my breath on that, though.