With the orgy of freshly-purged best-of thoughts and back-slapping still ringing in my e-ears (i.e., the ears I use to ‘listen’ to the Internet – try to keep up), I thought I’d take a little time to highlight some of those albums that passed me by, like two ships passing in the night, except one of those ships is just some dude with opinions, and the rest of the ships are (mostly) noisy heavy metal albums. Me, I like to take my metaphors and reeeeeeally stretch ’em out further than is probably wise.
My failure in regard to most of these albums is that I didn’t hear them until much too late in the year for them to figure into my various end-of-year endeavors (in case you missed ’em, that’s here for my end-of-year wrap-up for Metal Review, and here, here, here, and here for my four pieces for this blog you are currently drinking in with your e-ears). With a couple of them, though, I acquired them in a reasonable enough time, but just never gave them a frequent-enough listen to allow their charms to be revealed. With these ones, I was like the father in some maudlin biopic, always too busy to go outside and throw the ball around with my son.
So here’s a belated apology to 2010’s music: You were pretty fucking great, but I let some of you down. Hopefully you won’t find yourself coping with bizarre father issues in your adult sex life, ’cause therapy’s expensive.
Blut Aus Nord, What Once Was… Liber I
Yet another profoundly disorienting trip from the masters of fucked-up French blackness, this one both comes as a surprise and makes perfect sense following the cosmic beauty of their last proper full-length, 2009’s Memoria Vetusta II. This first volume in what I’ve heard is intended to be an ongoing series of (relatively) more straight-ahead metal from Blut Aus Nord plays like the grafting of the hideous black prismatics of MoRT onto the more driving frame of Odinist or even The Work Which Transforms God. The whole thing sounds deceptively straightforward, until you actually sit and try to follow those careening shards of guitar leads off into the hidden corners of music-space, only to find them re-entering the field of perception from a completely new angle. Really great stuff, and a shame I came to it too late.
The Wounded Kings, The Shadow Over Atlantis
This one was released way back at the beginning of 2010, but I didn’t get my hands on a copy until late fall after having reviewed their wonderful split with Virginia doomheads Cough (full review here). None of the individual songs here speak to me quite as clearly as their half of that excellent split, but taken as a whole, the album is a wonderfully hazy trip down an idiosyncratically British style of esoteric doom. Never too heavy, but always textured and unobtrusively psychedelic, this one worms its way a little deeper into my heart every time I hear it.
Damn, what a mesmerizing black trip this album is. This Finnish band has been kicking around with various demos and underground rumblings for the better part of a few decades, and while I think I had heard one of their demos several years back, I totally missed out on the news of the finally-realized debut full-length. It’s still pretty tough to categorize, as it drinks deeply from the wells of all sorts of black metal styles, but proceeds with a calculated sense of pacing, drama, and emotional impact. Sometimes buzzing, sometime blurring, sometimes just plain beautiful – the underground is alive and well, if this is any indication.
Ghost, Opus Eponymous
Neither as brilliant as its slavish promoters would have it, nor as derivative and lightweight as its myriad detractors claim, this Ghost record ought to just be taken for what it is: a really fun, insanely catchy ride of well-crafted doom/rock pop songs. “Ritual” and “Elisabeth” are probably the immediate stand-outs, but the whole album is a devilishly smooth experience, with buoyant instrumentalism, obviously-King-Diamond-derived falsetto vocals, and bewitching organ snarls. I think I heard Metal Blade picked it up for a U.S.-distribution, so although I already got my copy at a somewhat reasonable non-import price, hopefully this quaint, somewhat subdued gem will be available for all hungry ears soon enough.
Ellen Allien, Dust
Ellen Allien’s smooth, generally melodic take on German electronica is right up my alley, and after the vocally-overloaded Thrills and the minimalistic, nocturnal Sool, Dust is a great return to the shimmering melodicism and forward drive of Berlinette, long since my favorite of Allien’s albums. Her stealthy, breathy robot vocals are still a titillating highlight, but there are some wonderful songs throughout the album, particularly “Sun the Rain” and “Should We Go Home.” Allien can whisper these ass-shaking paeans to gleaming futurism directly into my ear any damn time she wants.
Royal Thunder, Royal Thunder
Okay, so in all honesty, I don’t necessarily think that I let this record down – I’ve been trying to pimp the shit out of it ever since I reviewed it for Metal Review (read the full piece here). I’m tempted to say that Relapse let me down with this one, not putting it out until just a couple days before Christmas. I know, I know, this is just a reissue of the band’s self-recorded and self-released debut EP (though at 34 minutes, it could easily qualify as a full-length – don’t even get me started on trying to pass off Nails’ Unsilent Death as an LP…), and maybe Relapse is just testing the waters with a new act, but this band is already writing and performing at an astonishing level of quality and depth for such a young act. If you’ve found yourself digging the sultry sounds of Jex Thoth, The Devil’s Blood, Black Math Horseman, or any other blues/rock/doom conglomeration lately, you owe it to yourself to get this NOW. It really is that good.
Kill The Client, Set For Extinction
I didn’t listen to too much grindcore in 2010, and that’s my bad. There was plenty in the way of grind/death/hardcore hybrids, with great albums from Early Graves, The Secret, Nails, Black Breath, and so, but Kill The Client’s third album was one of the best platters of straight-up, pissed-off, throw-a-dining-room-chair-at-your-cousin’s-nose grindcore. My bad, then, dudes. A handy one to have in the pocket for the next time you’re just flaming angry and need to spend some twenty-odd minutes of your day fuming and yelling and breaking shit.
I missed out on Lantlôs’s debut album, and nearly missed this one, too, only coming around to it in the last week or two of the year just gone. Still haven’t given it enough time to know whether it would have displaced any of my other top 30 picks, but it is a strikingly confident post-black metal album, which I choose not to imbue with any of the typical whining and baggage that accompanies a tag like ‘post-black metal’. Sure, there are strains of the French romanticism of Alcest and Amesoeurs, the stern, patrician melodic rigor of Drudkh or Hate Forest, and the barely-contained menace of the German black metal vanguard of bands like Secrets of the Moon, Dark Fortress, and so forth. More important than that, though, as with most albums that resonate almost immediately with me, is that the sounds within present a singularity of musical vision that succeeds because of, rather than in spite of, its stylistic hodge-podge.
Solefald, Norrøn Livskunst
I’ll be blunt about it: Solefald’s last two records (the companion pieces Red for Fire and Black for Death) bored me to tears. They seemed to rein in the free-flowing experimentalism of early Solefald (like, first two albums early) without also delivering the great melodies and stately grandeur of Pills… and In Harmonia Universali. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, I hadn’t even realized that Solefald had a new album out until I read a few positive write-ups of it and decided to swallow my recent disappointment with the band. And hell, am I ever glad I did. Solefald sounds absolutely reinvigorated on this album, regaining their sense of playfulness while simultaneously kicking more heavy metal ass than they’ve probably done since all the way back at their debut, The Linear Scaffold. Cornelius even dispenses somewhat with the ‘bored old man’ croak of his vocals, and if you haven’t heard it yet, “Tittentattenteksti” is the most absurdly grin-inducing song I’ve heard in heavy metal outside of Devin Townsend’s extensive catalog. Welcome back, friends.
So, which albums did YOU come to a bit too late in the game for proper 2010 consideration? What foul, dank creatures are still lurking on the margins of availability, clamoring desperately for our collective attention? It’s a great wide world out there, folks; let’s explore it together.