January 2, 2011

Top 20 Albums of 2010

Yes, it's that time again. The end of the year is upon us, which means it's time to roll out what albums made this year amazing for me. However, there are some people that have pointed out something about my past year-end lists, so let me make a quick disclaimer before I start this shindig:

I listen to a LOT of music. I have a 160 GB iPod that is maxed out with music, and I intend to get another one in the future and max it out as well. My music is my life. That said, I did not get to every album that was released this year in the rock and metal world. In fact, I didn't get to nearly as many as I wanted. I will listen to the albums I missed in the future though. At that time, if I determine that one of those albums is good enough, I will adjust my rankings to accommodate it. Thus, this list may change in the future. If you are not okay with that, I am sorry, but they are my rankings, not yours. I do my best to remain consistent, but that isn't always possible. Unlike last year, when my choices were extremely clear-cut for me, I spent hours agonizing over this list, trying to find a way to order it and decide which albums meant the most to me. It's been reordered and reconsidered more times than I can remember, and as I said, the chance exists that it will be redone again in the future. About the only thing I can promise is that my top three will always stay the same. For everything beyond that, I'm standing by the order that I have listed here for the foreseeable future.

Now that that's out of the way, we can move on to the list itself. As I just stated, I listened to significantly less music this year than I did last year. There are multiple things that factored into that, most of them having to do with the fact that I actually write about the music I listen to now instead of just listening. Either way, if you remember last year's top 200 list and were hoping for something similar, I must unfortunately (unfortunate for me, at least) announce that I will not be reaching that milestone. Hell, I have a long way to go before I get to even half of that. However, to make up for that fact and my lack of reviews for several weeks, I will give you an extended best-of list for this year.

2010 was a rough year for rock and metal. Legends passed on from our world, key bands announced break-ups, and accidents/near-misses seemed never more than a heartbeat away. Yet, our music lived on. As always, here are my honorable mentions first:

40. When Will We Surrender by Hundredth
39. The Guessing Game by Cathedral
38. We Are the Void by Dark Tranquillity
37. Eternal by War of Ages
36. Audio Secrecy by Stone Sour
35. Starve for the Devil by Arsis
34. Days of Defiance by Firewind
33. The Powerless Rise by As I Lay Dying
32. Threnody by Woe of Tyrants
31. Relentless Retribution by Death Angel
30. Revenants by Conducting from the Grave
29. Reptilian by Keep of Kalessin
28. Enemy Unbound by The Absence
27. Poetry for the Poisoned by Kamelot
26. Asylum by Disturbed
25. The Conscious Sedation by System Divide
24. Exiled to Earth by Bonded by Blood
23. Mechanize by Fear Factory
22. Blood in the Gears by The Showdown
21. Forging the Eclipse by Neaera

And now, without further ado, here it is - my Top 20 Albums of 2010.

20. Coat of Arms by Sabaton - Sabaton has been slowly gaining steam in the power metal world, but they sadly remain one of the most unknown and underrated bands in their genre. It's a travesty, especially with an album as astounding as Coat of Arms on their résumé. This is the fourth album from the Swedish group dealing with World War II and historical topics, and it follows the trend of others by being even better than its predecessor. Sabaton just keeps getting better, and more people need to listen to them.

19. Beyond the Gate by Wretched - As the American melodic death metal scene continues to define itself, a few bands have rushed forward to claim the spotlights, for better or for worse. Wretched is one of the sleeper bands, with less name recognition than their counterparts in Woe of Tyrants, Within the Ruins, and Conducting from the Grave. But Wretched is clearly the most forward-thinking and innovative band in their scene. This album screams of progression and intricacy amidst the technical riffs and brutal atmosphere. Wretched is one of my recommended bands to watch for the next year. They could become one of the biggest successes in their scene with this level of quality.

18. The Obsidian Conspiracy by Nevermore - Speaking of quality, has Nevermore ever released a bad album? I can't think of any that could even be dubbed mediocre. Their musical output is continuously awesome, with Warrel Dane's inimitable vocals and Jeff Loomis' guitar wizardry. The Obsidian Conspiracy takes some risks, as Nevermore is wont to do, but overall, this album just perpetuates the infinite slow evolution of their sound. And it still sounds amazing from start to finish.

17. Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa by Cradle of Filth - I've finally figured out my stance on this band: if you hate them, it's your loss. This album is even more well-done than Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder, thanks to a greater sense of brevity while utilizing a broader approach to the idea of a concept. It just provides further proof that Cradle of Filth is truly among the innovators in extreme metal, and that other bands follow where they lead, even if those same bands are loathe to admit it. In truth, this album cements Cradle of Filth as an architect of extreme metal philosophy and vision for every band to follow.

16. 12 Gauge by Kalmah - Kalmah should be the flag-bearer of the Finnish melodic death metal scene, in my opinion. They've never stooped to the levels that some of their countrymen have to attract attention, nor have they ever compromised their musical integrity and sound for the sake of expanding their audience. 12 Gauge is yet another phenomenal album from Kalmah, on the same level as 2008's outstanding For the Revolution. Give this band a listen if you want to find a Finnish band that takes their music as seriously as their fans do.

15. The Final Frontier by Iron Maiden - After three decades of making music, one might think that Steve Harris would run out of ideas. The Final Frontier is Harris' way of laughing at that thought and beckoning for another three decades to test him further. This album is one of the best that Iron Maiden has ever released, on par with Piece of Mind and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, and just barely falling short of The Number of the Beast and Powerslave in my book. Bruce Dickinson sounds like he's 25 again instead of 52, and the entire band sounds reinvigorated on every note of this album. Iron Maiden isn't going anywhere soon, and everyone can be very thankful for that.

14. Periphery by Periphery - How do I even categorize Periphery? Their sound is so experimental and technical, crossing over too many subgenres to count within the confines of single songs. Misha Mansoor is the next big thing among guitarists, mark my words. He plays with the speed and precision of legends twice his age, and he makes it look easy too. If Alexi Laiho and Gus G. were the guitar kings of the previous decade, then Mansoor is the new face on the throne for the decade to come.

13. Love is Gone by Dommin - If you're looking for passion and intense emotions in your music, then Dommin is your new favorite band. These guys know how to channel every possible feeling into their music, evoking brooding sadness, surprising joy, inexplicable rage, and so much more through their lyrics. Their take on the gothic rock/metal sound is also fresh and exciting, utilizing keyboards at the forefront of the sound for a very unique, vintage feeling. Kristofer Dommin's voice is a force unto itself, uniting the entire sound and enhancing its power exponentially. Love is Gone is just the beginning of what is sure to be a long and exciting career for this quartet.

12. Universal by Borknagar - I'm convinced that you have to have a proven genius-level IQ in order to play in Borknagar. That is the only plausible explanation for how intricate and progressive their music is. Universal is a dark and twisted journey into uncharted territories of black metal and progressive metal, exploring unions and attempting compositions that most bands could never dream of. I've said it before, and I will say it again: If Borknagar doesn't already own the title of being "the thinking person's metal band", they need to own it now, because this album will have you deep in thought and consideration through many repeat listens.

11. Sons of the System by Mnemic - How does a band re-unite their fanbase after releasing an album that split it in half? If you're Mnemic, you release an album that's so damn catchy, it becomes required listening material every time you get in a car, go to the gym, or engage in any task where you normally listen to music. The riffs and song structures on this album are addictive, melding industrial with groove in an effortless way. This is an album that will stick with you for a long time.

10. A Thousand Suns by Linkin Park - This isn't exactly close to metal, but DAMN, this album is mind-blowingly good. There are more than enough detractors of Linkin Park's sound changes, especially concerning this album, but I will stand by A Thousand Suns and its progressive tone. I admire risk-takers, and this album is the riskiest composition I've heard in a long time. An album-length unbroken composition from a mainstream rock stalwart is difficult to pull off, at best. But Linkin Park has done it so well, I can hardly believe my ears. This is not the same group of musicians that galvanized a generation with the hormonal fury of Hybrid Theory, and surprisingly enough, I'm content with that.

9. Cold Day Memory by Sevendust - I enjoyed Sevendust's albums with Sonny Mayo on guitar, but one listen to this album is all it took to convince me that Clint Lowery is the true brain of Sevendust, just as much as Lajon Witherspoon is the heart. Cold Day Memory is Sevendust's best album since 2001's stellar Animosity, putting them back at the top of the heap of alt-metal bands that have persisted through the past decade. The music is heavy, but melodic. The lyrics are heartfelt and passionate in every word. Nobody can accuse Sevendust of ever doing anything except what felt right to them at the time, and this album is direct proof of that. They are among the most genuine and honest bands in the world, and that's why they've lasted so long and will continue to last for years to come.

8. Psalms of Conscious Martyrdom by Stigmata - Most of you probably haven't heard of this power-prog group from Sri Lanka (not one of the many other Stigmatas out there), but they're one of the most interesting groups I've discovered in recent years. Much of Stigmata's material makes some of the biggest prog bands sound like their songs were composed on a Casio children's keyboard. If you want to hear something fresh and exciting from the power-prog underground, then Stigmata is what you're looking for.

7. The Panic Broadcast by Soilwork - What Clint Lowery is to Sevendust, Peter Wichers is to Soilwork. 2007's Sworn to a Great Divide was a pretty good album, but The Panic Broadcast absolutely blows it out of the water. Wichers is one of the best songwriters in all of modern metal, as evidenced by this diverse album. Utilizing thrash, groove, and technical death metal elements to expand their sound, The Panic Broadcast is the most varied and interesting album of Soilwork's career, as well as a career milestone for Wichers. And by combining his songwriting skills with the stunning vocal talents of Björn "Speed" Strid, Soilwork is virtually unstoppable.

6. Ironbound by Overkill - In my opinion, the Big Four have been getting outclassed by many of their supposedly "lesser" peers for many years now. In 2008, it was Testament. Last year, it was Kreator. This year, Overkill delivers a simply monumental thrash album that is the best of their thirty-year history. From the first notes of "The Green and Black" to the final riffs of "The SRC", Ironbound is the purest essence of thrash quality. It's fast, it's raw, it's unrelenting, and best of all, it has the grandiose atmosphere and tone of the biggest thrash albums of the '80s.

5. Eparistera Daimones by Triptykon - Celtic what? Tom Warrior still has what it takes, and this album proves that. With his new project, one of the greatest minds in metal history has once again raised the bar for every extreme and avant-garde metal band to follow in his footsteps. Celtic Frost rarely sounded as strong as Triptykon does for the entirety of this album. Combined with the essential Shatter EP as a companion piece, Eparistera Daimones is a mind-warping trip through musical ingenuity.

4. For Aeons Past by Solution .45 - Two years ago, Christian Älvestam parted ways with Scar Symmetry amidst a small amount of controversy. He moved on to a couple of side projects, but none elicited the same reaction from fans looking to hear the full extent of his vocal prowess. However, in 2010, Älvestam has returned with a new band that sounds a lot like Scar Symmetry, except that Solution .45 is even better. This group utilizes some of the most subtle compositional nuances in metal that make huge differences, especially with the focus on melody and form. These elements also highlight the best parts of Älvestam's vocals, primarily using his outstanding clean singing while also allowing for his distinctive growls and screams. Simply put, For Aeons Past is a breathtaking album in every possible way.

3. The World is a Thorn by Demon Hunter - I view Demon Hunter as one of the most underrated bands in all of modern metal. For me, they are one of the rare groups that simply gets better with every album. The World is a Thorn is no exception, featuring absolutely phenomenal songwriting from Ryan Clark and highlighted by exceptional guest appearances from Strid, Älvestam, and Throwdown's Dave Peters. This album goes beyond the melodic focus of Storm the Gates of Hell, melding it with the straightforward aggression of their early albums to create the most even balance in their sound that they've ever had. I've said it after every other Demon Hunter album, and I'll say it again here - I don't know how Demon Hunter can get any better than this. But I still hope they prove me wrong yet again on their next album.

2. Invictus (Iconoclast III) by Heaven Shall Burn - Based on a lot of the reviews I read, most metal albums are usually judged by the quality of the music, often only taking lyrics into account when they are bad. I'm taking the opposite approach here, because Invictus is the best lyrical album I have EVER heard, hands down. Marcus Bischoff is poetic, uncompromising, vicious, and succinct - in short, a true lyrical genius. With historical calamities, current atrocities, and deeply personal struggles all laid bare, Invictus is obviously my choice as top lyrical album of the year. It also gets my picks for having the best cover of the year, with a beastly rendition of "Nowhere" by Therapy?, and the best guest appearance of the year, with Sabine Weniger of Deadlock performing a heart-stoppingly beautiful duet with Bischoff on "Given in Death".

1. Mutiny Within by Mutiny Within - For a band to resuscitate a dying genre and give it a completely new life, it takes quite a lot of talent, innovation, and luck. Mutiny Within had all three of those factors working in their favor with their self-titled debut. Because of this album, metalcore now has a new face, a new life, and a new direction that could turn legions of haters into fans. The influence is already showing, as technical and progressive metalcore bands are now appearing all over the place. Not only is this my favorite overall album of the year and my top compositional album, the album also opens with my top song of the year, the flawless "Awake". The sky is the limit for this group, literally…if you're discussing Chris Clancy's vocal range, at least.

With that, the book on 2010 is closed. I may do a genre breakdown similar to Part 2 of last year's review, depending on time. Either way, Happy New Year to all, and as always, HORNS UP!

\m/ -_- \m/

1 comment:

Sarah said...

No Deftones or The Dillinger Escape Plan?! I also really dug Trophy Wife, Death First, Touche Amore, and Orphan this year. Check them out!