You’ve been waiting for it (or maybe you haven’t, you wee attention-span-less mongrels), and I am finally pleased to present – for your epic admiration or disgust – Spinal Tapdance’s picks for the top ten metal albums of this quickly dwindling year. There’s a lot of black metal in there, you’ll notice, but not much Black Metal proper – most of it’s all mixed up and scuzzed around, which is all for the good. Spinal Tapdance: firmly in favor of musical miscegenation. As always, take to your furiously clattering keyboards to let us know what you think – cuss us out, give us e-high-fives, or present us with a 6,000-word exegesis of the secretly fascistic leanings of the new Cee Lo record. Won’t bother us none.
More importantly – thanks to YOU, brave reader, for making these first tentative months of Spinal Tapdance worth the while. 2010 kicked out some massive jams, so be sure to stick around as we swing into 2011, where I’ll strive to keep you up to date on which bold new musical shenanigans you ought to skip, and which you ought to shiv your boss to get the time off work so as to hear. A three-hole punch makes a fair bludgeon, in a pinch.
10. Withered, Dualitas
What a crushing whirlwind of an album this is. In retrospect, their previous album Folie Circulaire was much more about individual songs; now, it’s not that the individual songs suffer on Dualitas, but that the entire album – at a rather tidy 43 minutes – plays like one dusk-hued symphony of resolute negativism and personal striving. Genre tags are thrown about promiscuously in write-ups on Withered, and while there are certainly elements of black, death, doom, grind, and ambient at play throughout the album, the band has forged a unique style that never plays like pastiche. Instead, these songs hit you right in the gut with a balled-up fist of fury, choppering you along with a sullen, desperate forward momentum that you will avoid only at grave personal risk. Feeling down never felt so good.
9. Castevet, Mounds Of Ash
If you were a new band putting out your debut album in metal in 2010, chances are pretty good that you were utterly and thoroughly embarrassed by Castevet (see my full review here). For the band’s first album, Mounds Of Ash is monumentally self-confident as it tears through tense mini-epics and build and burn. Jagged riff shards flit across the spectrum, and hoarse, hardcore-flecked roars assault the thinking part of the brain, while the movement part of the brain is sucked into the brash undertow of brilliantly complex (but never over-busy) drums. This band oozes class from every pore, and if you missed their epic post-black hardcore assault on tradition, check yourself into a clinic to see if they can get a handle on your uncontrollable weeping.
8. Julie Christmas, The Bad Wife
I mean no insult to any of the other musicians involved in this first solo outing from Made Out Of Babies and Battle Of Mice singer Julie Christmas, but anything instrument-related on this record ranks a hugely distant second to Ms. Christmas’s troubled, terrible, tremendous voice. She blows through a huge range of vocal styles throughout this album, projecting intense fragility and instability, as well as righteous, face-melting rage. “Bow,” “If You Go Away,” “When Everything Is Green”; the album is packed with fantastically expressive songs that feature Christmas on the top of her game, backed by angular noise rock riffing and more serene, almost lounge-esque accompaniment. For the open-minded metalhead, then – or, y’know, for fucking everybody.
7. Sargeist, Let The Devil In
What happens when a black metal band plays by absolutely every rule in the black metal playbook? Complete snoozefest, right? Well, maybe in the hands of a band less capable than Sargeist. This album, though, this white-hot fiery blaze of an album, manages to transcend generic trappings simply by pushing those traditional signifiers to their absolute limit. The blasting is the blasting-est, the ruthless tremolo riffs are razor-sharp and wrenchingly melancholy, the tortured vocal manglings of Hoath Torog are none-more-tortured-and-mangling. In short, if you toss around phrases like ‘orthodox black metal’ and ‘avant-garde black metal’ like they mean shit when presented with an ass-walloping like this, Sargeist have got a Darkthrone song to sing to you: Fuck off and die.
6. Rotting Christ, Aealo
Though all music is, in some sense, a reflection of the place that spawned it, few records have seemed as rooted in the earth of its creators’ home as does Rotting Christ’s latest – and best – album. In almost every way a continuation of the seemingly effortless melodic black metal alchemy of Sanctus Diavolos and Theogonia, Aealo stakes out more deeply resonant territory with the addition of a traditional Greek women’s choir – the kind you might expect to play the role of the Furies in Aristophanes or Sophocles, or wailing to oversee the honoring and burying of the dead as Pericles recites his acclaimed funeral oration in Thucydides’s telling. The melodies here are full and aching, spilling over and suffusing the great rhythmic drive of some of Rotting Christ’s finest songs with a real emotional weight. And Diamanda Galás joining the band for a cover of her “Orders From The Dead”? Forget about it – this album owns you, just as equally as it owns the tragedies and overcomings of its own storied past.
5. Christian Mistress, Agony & Opium
Trad metal throwbacks. NWOBHM revivalists. A recently unearthed demo from 1983. Lob whatever snide comment or epithet at this album you like – Christian Mistress’s debut just couldn’t give two shits, and will carry on rocking, licking, driving, and belting its way deep into your subconscious. You will wake up singing these songs; you will go to sleep singing these songs. The production is classically brittle, the dual guitars could be from Lizzy or Priest or Slough Feg, for fuck’s sake, and the gutsy, straightforward and raw husky vocals of (not so) secret weapon Christine Davis glue your ass to your seat. It’s fucking rock and roll, so shut up and listen, you silly asshole.
4. Blood Revolt, Indoctrine
When I reviewed this album some months ago, I predicted that although it’s a jaw-dropping fusion of various threads of extreme metal, it probably wouldn’t be an album I would listen to over and over again. This has turned out to be exactly true, but for the safety and sanity of those around me, it’s probably better this way. Sure, it’s a bit of a stretch, trying to convince you, the metal-listening public, that any metal album can really sound truly and honestly dangerous anymore. Still, Alan Averill’s vocal performance on this album is the closest thing to method acting you’re likely to find in heavy metal, so thoroughly does he inhabit the rapidly unhinging mind of a religious zealot bent on revenge and absolution. This album gave Ross and Read (of Conqueror, Revenge, Axis Of Advance, etc., etc.) the crystal-clear, bone-dry production I’ve been literally aching to hear from them, and they in turn offered up some of their most hellacious performances – drum fills and guitar flashes sound like the report of machine gun fire, and the songs, the songs pull you in and drag you down and ask you – beg you – to watch, and to listen, and to be afraid.
3. Ludicra, The Tenant
Crusty and melodic, urban and desperate, lovely and ugly and terrible and bright. Ludicra’s fourth album is an absolutely superlative work of progressive leaning, sideways-riff-filled black metal. Their songs have an uncanny ability to resonate in one’s chest cavity like a carried weight or a known secret – they play from inside you, using your ribcage as a microphone to hurl these relentless missives into the world and beyond, out to where anyone will hear, and no-one will answer. This ain’t no cosmic bullshit, though. This album will ground you, perhaps too jarringly for the comfort of many listeners. You’ll find yourself swaying in time to a rhythm, a phrase, a riff, the pounding beat, and thinking, with David Byrne, “How did I get here?” Enthralling heavy metal, simply enough.
2. Enslaved, Axioma Ethica Odini
This band is pretty much unstoppable. Continuing the progression they’ve been on since Below The Lights (the two before that began the experimental thrust, sure, but BTL seems, to me, where it started up in earnest), Axioma Ethica Odini takes the more psychedelically-minded direction of Ruun and Vertebrae and grafts it back onto the more aggressive framework of earlier works (even calling to mind, at some of the blastiest, raspiest moments, early career landmark Eld). The one-two punch of openers “Axioma Ethica” and “Raidho” set the tone for the rest of the album, but the hits!, the hits just keep on coming. Clocking in at a far sight longer than their other recent albums, Axioma Ethica Odini pulls the listener along on a sensory journey through infinite shades of light and dark, often finding just as much menace as hope in the pure clean vocals and keys, until finally, inevitably, dropping the listener at the base of a vast mountain in album closer “Lightening.” That the listener is then taken, weightless, on that great melodic ascent, is a mark of the singular nature of Enslaved’s craft – that major progression doesn’t feel cheap, but rather fully and gratifyingly deserved.
1. Agalloch, Marrow Of The Spirit
There’s the hype, then the counter-hype; the expectations, and the attempts at deflation; the sterling quality of the band’s back catalogue, and the nervous sweat of anticipation. But I don’t really want to talk about any of that. I don’t even really want to talk about the actual metal contained within – glorious and blasting and epic and furious and pure as the driven snow though it well may be. I don’t want to talk about the sweeping force of interwoven melodic guitar lines, or the escape from mid-paced purgatory, or the brilliant artwork, or the fact that I’m still typing out all of these stupid ridiculous words for you to read when really all we should be doing – all any of us should be doing – is listening to the music. I want to talk about the album’s bookends, the opening instrumental “They Escaped The Weight Of Darkness,” and the moody, crackling with blissful noise closer of “To Drown.”
Listen to that purling cello in the album’s first few minutes, to the thick scraping descending and slowly-shifting arpeggios. Then find your way through “To Drown,” to when the screeching, wailing, probably screwdrivered guitars sing their harried cascade and loose their electric sheen on your outstretched hands. Can you hear it, that song? Do you find it comes from within, or does that song, that sound which is so familiar like the rushing of your heart’s deep river – does it come from some great collective pantheon of subconscious, shared experience? This is music that dissolves ‘I’ and ‘you’ and ‘us’ and ‘them’ and ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ and ‘nature’ and ‘artifice’. Dwell in the space of that song, and it just will not matter from whence it came – only that it did, and it will, and you are safe.
Well, greatest friends and silentest companions – that’s it. The Top 30 Metal Albums of 2010, by my reckoning. Thanks for coming along for the ride, and please do tell me your stories about the music you love, and about the music that loves you, and about all the foolish and vital spaces in between it all. The year is dead; long live the year.
– danhammerobstkrieg / spinaltapdance