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Posts Tagged ‘2010 Metal’

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.
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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.

Jumalhämärä, Resignaatio

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.

Lantlôs, .neon

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.
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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.

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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.
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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.

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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

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Alright, friends – things are starting to get a bit heavy around here as we continue counting down the year’s best metal albums.  Spinal Tapdance presents here, for your viewing (dis)pleasure, the second of three installments ticking off the 30 best records from across the vast universe of heavy metal.  Let us know where we’ve nailed it, and where we’ve completely fucked up and made you embarrassed to have ever even considered directing your web browser to this sad, shabby piece of disagreeable trash we call a blog.
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20.  StarGazer, A Great Work Of Ages/A Work Of Great Ages

In my review of StarGazer‘s sophomore album, I called A Great Work Of Ages “a seething, lurching, yet surprisingly sprightly beast of a musical journey that assaults the unsuspecting passer-by with dauntingly technical instrumentation that nevertheless resolves into a measured, artfully-meted out accounting of chaos.”  Thing is, that mouthful of overwrought prose makes this album sound like a chore to listen to, which it most definitely (and defiantly) is not.  There’s plenty of off-kilter structure and inventive musicianship to admire and analyze throughout this progressive/technical death metal head-trip, but first and foremost, this is an album to put on, sit back, and just enjoy.  You won’t be singing any choruses or humming along to a repeated bridge, but you will be amazed at the ability of these Aussies to play the shit out of their instruments without overwhelming the listener in a blitzkrieg of claustrophobic production and impenetrable gestures.

19.  Intronaut, Valley Of Smoke

Something about Intronaut had never quite jived with me until this album, but boy does Valley Of Smoke set me right and kick me in my ass for doubting it.  These songs are fluid compositions with impressive range, and despite the increasing prominence of clean vocals and smoothed-out texture, this ain’t no soft-ball half-metal nonsense.  It’s all about finding the right groove and sucking you down into its beguiling depths, down into that great colorful panorama of the album’s cover – whether you are the skeleton, or the iguana, or the loftily-soaring eagles is your own concern.  Valley Of Smoke injects jazz-fusion into rumbly post-metal’s environs, and comes out the other side smelling of roses and roses and roses.

18.  Kvelertak, Kvelertak

Kvelertak’s self-titled debut album is the 2010 equivalent of last year’s phenomenal Darkness Come Alive by Doomriders.  Meaning, this is a gnarly collision of all sorts of ass-kicking, party-inducing music.  You can quibble all you like about whether it’s punk, hardcore, black metal, garage rock, and anything else, but the undeniable fact is that this is just music for an all-around good time.  I simply cannot fathom the ridiculous backlash against this band, because every time I throw on this album, I just want to drink some beers and jump around in a forest on a pogo stick.  I mean, come ON, doesn’t that sound fucking awesome?  Sure, the dudes have got a jokey take on Scandinavian mythology, but honestly, if you’re sitting in a library poring over your Eddas and Kalevalas and waxing poetic about Yggdrasil while frowning at the hooligans making noise in the corridor…  Well, friend, maybe it’s time to hand in your heavy metal ID card.

17.  Nechochwen, Azimuths To The Otherworld

This Nechochwen album was one of the most pleasant surprises I had all year.  Apparently they’ve got one other album besides this one which leans more toward the neo-folk side of things, but Azimuths to the Otherworld, apart from having one of the coolest album titles of the year, strikes a satisfying balance between folky acoustic bits and rich, driving black metal.  The fact that the band pays tribute to the beliefs and histories of American Indians is a refreshing aesthetic, and makes for some different types musical influence showing themselves throughout the album, much like on Tomahawk’s Anonymous album.  The out-and-out metal sections are still relatively few and far between, but the album is all about mood, and the insistent drumming and beautiful acoustic guitar work throughout sustains a very contemplative atmosphere.  Don’t miss out on this one.

16.  Triptykon, Eparistera Daimones

So intense has been the drama surrounding Celtic Frost’s demise, and rebirth, and subsequent re-burial, that one could be forgiven for worrying that the next project of these metal giants would perish under the weight of self-doubt and ridiculous expectations.  But have no fear, friends, for Eparistera Daimones is more than ample proof that Tom G. Warrior is one of heavy metal’s original, and still greatest, alchemists, transmuting sturdy, solid riffs into tortured tales of harrowing emotional journeys.  Just as was Celtic Frost’s Monotheist, Triptykon’s debut is a dark, exhausting listen, but one from which the listener emerges feeling revitalized, having survived the trial by fire of some of the bleakest, most Gothic moments the Warrior has yet thrown her way.

15.  Atlantean Kodex, The Golden Bough

Everything about this album screams ‘epic’.  Perhaps the best thing about Atlantean Kodex’s long-awaited debut album is that one can approach it from a wide range of starting points: from the epic trad metal of Manowar, from the triumphant Viking era of Bathory, from the pagan/black wizardry of Primordial, or from the true doom of Reverend Bizarre.  Take any of these avenues of approach, and you’ll find The Golden Bough waiting for you, patient, resolute, and steadfast.  These are songs in no hurry to get you anywhere other than right in the midst of their stately riffing and clear-voiced hymns to the myths from which we all spring.

14.  Unearthly Trance, V

Unearthly Trance’s fifth album (V, get it?) is another of those that took its time with me.  Far less direct than the band’s previous two (and decidedly more Frost-y) albums, V is an all-encompassing listen that honestly sounds like a planet being slowly torn apart by silent electric storms.  Sounds pretty great, right?  The dual vocal attack of longtime bandleader Ryan Lipynsky and drummer Darren Verni drags bile up from the depths of a city’s fetid sewer system, while riffs lumber in and decay just as soon as they’ve announced themselves.  A much more abstract style of nihilistic doom, which actually gels rather neatly with the occult slant of the lyrics.  Take your time with this album, or it will take its time devouring you.  Or will do so either way.  Whatever; doom on.

13.  Slough Feg, The Animal Spirits

If I had the luxury of titling this album myself, I probably would have called it “So Many Smiles.”  Because, honestly, it’s hard to imagine any fan of classic heavy metal not hearing this album and getting a giant, daffy grin plastered all over her face.  I don’t mean to say that this album is lightweight and unserious, but it knows how to be serious without taking itself seriously, if that makes any sense.  If that doesn’t make sense, well, there’s a whole fistful of songs here to make all the sense that my stupid words can’t: “The 95 Thesis,” “Kon-Tiki,” “Free Market Barbarian,” “Ask the Casket” – these are honestly some of the best, most memorable, and freshest sounding heavy metal songs I’ve come across in ages.  So, seriously, whatchu waiting for?  Get your Slough Feg on, and get your smiles on.  Sooooooo many smiles.

12.  The Meads Of Asphodel, The Murder Of Jesus The Jew

Okay, now here’s a band that probably takes itself too seriously.  Sorry, dudes, but it’s the truth.  Have you read Metatron’s 60,000-word codex?  Have I?  I think we all know the answer to both those questions, friends.  Thing is, no matter how seriously these English blokes take the lyrical subject matter of this concept album which purports to set the historical record straight, mercifully their music is every bit as chaotic and mind-exploding as ever.  Perhaps more so, if it comes down to it.  There’s a little bit of everything thrown in here, though the main strands remain a peculiarly English-smelling bit of crusty punkiness, Hawkwind psych and Floydian prog, plus symphonic black metal with a capital Sigh.  Sounds like a mess, innit?  Well, it works.  At times beautifully.  If you ain’t know the Meads, you ain’t know shit about freak-folk’s distant cousin in medieval black metal played by dudes in chainmail.

11.  Deathspell Omega, Paracletus


Speaking of dudes taking themselves too seriously…  Well, it actually doesn’t bother me with Deathspell Omega.  Completing a supposed trilogy of Lord knows what esoteric and orthodox black metal themes, all that’s ever mattered about this band, to this listener, is the music.  And on that score, I’m chuffed as all shit to report that Paracletus may even best Fas…, if not quite ascending to the madness-provoking heights of DsO’s breakthrough album, Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice.    Paracletus whittles the excesses of previous albums down to a concise 40-ish minutes, over the course of which the listener is plunged into a disorienting maelstorm of churning riffage and refracted shards of black prismatic light.  The guitars are clean and razor-sharp, but what really stood out to me in this album is the great diversity of vocal styles by whoever the fuck in this band does vocals.  There’s the traditional black groan/shriek, but also some clean vocals tossed in, as well as some more gut-level bellowing.  Oof.  Great, powerful, genre-damning stuff.  Stare into their abyss, ye who dare.

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I can hear you all out there, licking your chops for the third and final installment of Spinal Tapdance’s extravagant end of 2010 recitations.  Be patient, gentlefolk, and while you’re at it, how am I doing so far?  Anything egregiously left off the list so far?  Any predictions for the top ten?  Anyone out there find their way to this site, thinking it was some snarky alternative-style tapdancing academy, and now becoming more and more enraged at the incessant talk of things like “riffs” and “metal” and “things and people being taken not enough or too seriously”?  I can hear you too, you shiny, clackety-shoed mouthbreathers.

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After last week’s 25 Honorable Mentions (in haiku!), Spinal Tapdance will now begin counting down the Top 30 Metal Albums of 2010 in three cheeky installments.

30.  Immolation, Majesty & Decay

A pitch-perfect production job (after two great albums somewhat marred by odd, muddy sound) casts the perfect spotlight on some of the sturdiest, most sideways riffs these New York death dealers have spewed forth in their entire career.  Further proof, perhaps, that the greatest heavy metal often comes from the sincerity and hardworking ethos of blue collar, down-to-earth dudes getting together and howling (or grunting, as appropriate) at the moon.  This is truly the sound of giants among us, and if you haven’t hopped on the Immolation train at this point, I’m not sure there’s much else we can say to each other.  Immolation’s craft is patient and deliberate, but will crush you beneath slabs of sparkling granite just the same.

29.  Shining, Blackjazz

Blackjazz was by far one of the gnarliest records of 2010, coming across like nothing less than an invasion by a hostile race of noise-mongering aliens.  2010 may have been a great year for saxophone in metal (Yakuza, Ihsahn, In Lingua Mortua – the latter two acts featuring guest turns by Shining’s own Jørgen Munkeby), but nowhere did that instrument come across as foreign and antisocial as on this album.  It’s not often that extreme metal finds areas of tonality and experimentalism previously unexplored, but Blackjazz may just be that year zero of a brand-new sound.  Open your mind to the cacophony, and bow down to your new woodwind overlords.

28.  Woe, Quietly, Undramatically


It took me a good while to come around to this album, but when it finally clicked – holy shit.  Melodically inventive, excellently structured black metal that frees itself from the generic strictures of its Scandinavian heritage, without needing to wander off into all sorts of widdly faux-avant-garde-isms.  Tack on to these superbly classy songs the satisfying tormented screams of frontman Chris Grigg, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for real excellence and innovation in American black metal.  “A Treatise On Control” is without question one of best songs to claw its way into the world of metal this year.

27.  Melechesh, The Epigenesis

I keep reading and hearing about how people are all sorts of disappointed with The Epigenesis, in response to which I can only assume that said grumblers have somehow misplaced their ears up their asses.  The masters of Eastern-influence thrashing black madness have queued up another disc full of caustic, biting riffage and esoteric tales of magick and doom.  The way that Melechesh grafts some of the traditionalism of black/thrash onto the less common rhythmic patterns of Turkish music is brilliant, and I am absolutely unashamed to report that I have found myself simultaneously belly-dancing and headbanging to this album.  If I hear you complain that it’s too slow, I will slap you in your ridiculous face with a sack of cantaloupes, and then turn up the record and play it over and over until you are forced to agree that the album is not about pure, unadulterated aggression, but about finding that perfect hypnotic groove, that devilish trancing sweet-spot.  You think, once they get you there, they’ll just let go?  Fuck off.

26.  Fukpig, Belief is the Death of Intelligence

If I were trying to be a pithy little asshole about it, I’d just call this Fukpig record Extreme Noise Nathrakh, and call it a day.  Thing is, that description’s not wrong, but if you’ve missed out on this severely pissed-off album of short, sharp blasts of nihilistic fury, then maybe I deserve to be a pithy little asshole at you.  Whatever – these filthy Britons take the grinding black melodicism of Anaal Nathrakh (with whom members are shared) and marry it to crusty, bulldozing grind in the tradition of Extreme Noise Terror, Napalm Death, old Bolt Thrower, and anything else you like.  Song titles like “Britain’s Got Fucking AIDS,” “Sadism in the Name of God,” and the classic “All of You are Cunts and I Hope You Die” should steer you in the right direction, which is, to whichever bastard record store would dare carry this.

25.  Ihsahn, After

Both of Ihsahn’s previous solo outings were excellent in their own terms, though each came off a bit hesitant.  And with good reason: sloughing off the tremendous mantle of “ex-Emperor” was assuredly no small task (perhaps complicated by Emperor’s reforming to do the festival circuit).  From the first melancholy note of “From Barren Lands,” though, After is all self-confidence, all the time, striking a riveting balance between the unshakable traces of black metal (understandable, as the dude’s got one of the most distinctive voices in extreme metal) and clear progressive intentions.  The guest spots by metal-saxophonist supreme Jørgen Munkeby are probably the easiest aspect to focus on, but the entire album flows smoothly from one triumphant riff to another.  As such, this is the first of Ihsahn’s solo albums to seem ballasted only by itself, freed of that imperial weight.

24.  Darkthrone, Circle the Wagons

Modern-day Darkthrone records are a treasure and a gift to heavy metal at large, and the frequency and tossed-off nature of these recordings should not for one minute lead us to take Mssrs Culto and Fenriz for granted.  Metal gods of single-minded regression, they are, and with Circle The Wagons they’ve delivered up another collection of furiously catchy black/punk gems, this time borrowing even more heavily (or paying more reverent homage to, depending on one’s perspective) from traditional heavy metal.  “Those Treasures Will Never Befall You” and the title track are unparalleled sing-a-long nuggets, while “I Am The Graves of the 80s” will surely serve as a rallying cry to all denim-and-leather diehards who refuse to admit anything has happened since 1987.  And fucking good on ’em.

23.  Sabbath Assembly, Restored To One


The most brilliant thing about this Sabbath Assembly record is that one needn’t even know a thing about the bizarre cult-ish back story to get seriously creeped out and enthralled by the occult rock on display.  Jex Thoth’s vocals are mellow and just a little rough in all the right spots, with the band eventually sounding like we’ve taken some contemporary orthodox black metal fans and set them down in 1967 San Francisco to play praise songs.  This is one of those “This shouldn’t work but hot jumping shit does it ever!” kind of albums, and one that sounds like total rubbish when described, but is pure dark rock magic when heard.  “Hymn of Consecration” gives me goosebumps every single time.

22.  Black Breath, Heavy Breathing

2010 was a great year for all manner of that volatile cocktail of death metal, grindcore, crust, d-beat, and all other types of general nastiness.  Witness phenomenal albums from Early Graves, The Secret, Nails, and the like – still, none of them cut this particular listener quite as sharply as the debut full-length from Black Breath.  By far the most Stockholm sounding of the lot, the songwriting nevertheless remains a dangerously careening blend of teeth-gnashing d-beat and grind fury, yet with a sense of melody seen in all the best of black and death metal’s first waves.  Sort of like if Disfear and Entombed circa Clandestine had a kid, and fed that kid nothing but Murder City Devils and Doomriders.  I don’t know, fuck you – it doesn’t sound like any of that; instead, it sounds like it wants to hunt you down and drink your blood.  So let it, yeah?

21.  Krieg, The Isolationist


In which one of U.S. black metal’s long-running concerns returned after a lackluster (and supposedly final) album – Blue Miasma – only to dive headlong into even deeper waters of nihilistic howling and claustrophobic, psychedelic black metal droning.  This is a seriously impressive album, with perhaps no factor more welcome than Imperial’s devastatingly intense, gut-destroying vocals.  Leviathan’s Wrest sits in to provide some gloriously thick bass, and Woe’s Chris Grigg provides the drumming, so it’s really a family affair.  The Isolationist is both straight-forward and unconventional, with just enough flourishes of oppressive noise and ambient flirtations to keep the listener disoriented and humbled before the almighty hammer of an American band at the absolute top of its game.
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That’s it for the bottom third of Spinal Tapdance’s Top 30 of the year.  Be sure to stay tuned for the rest of the best, and be well, friends.

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So, although Spinal Tapdance’s Top 30 Metal Albums of 2010 will post in three installments over the next few weeks (in addition to the Top 20 also appearing at MetalReview), this was such an excellent year for heavy metal that I just couldn’t bear calling it quits at 30.  So, perhaps to whet your appetite for the Real, Official Top 30, I present Spinal Tapdance’s 25-album strong Honorable Mentions list.  This list is only somewhat loosely organized, and in lieu of the traditional straight description of why the album smokes one’s face off, I will instead be penning a haiku for each contender.

The astonishing caliber of heavy metal represented on this list should be some indication of the strength of this year’s output, so read on, and take heart – there’s more yet to come!
—————————–

1.  Alcest, Écailles de Lune


Shoegaze and jangly
black metal is so soothing;
why am I crying?

2.  Horseback, The Invisible Mountain

Slow songs, long songs; songs
ride one groove forever, but
are fucking awesome.

3.  God Dethroned, Under the Sign of the Iron Cross

Faster than last one,
less epic but still rad, Re:
War to end all Wars.

4.  Early Graves, Goner

Fast, short, furious
grinding madness breaks your face –
Hail, fallen comrade.

5.  Ehnahre, Taming the Cannibals

Alien noise and
modem vocals make this one
venomous and odd.

6.  Black Anvil, Triumvirate

No nonsense metal
that gives no shit ’bout genres;
bang your goddamn head.

7.  The Howling Wind, Into the Cryosphere

Ex-Thralldom guru
makes a grim ascent to the
ceiling of the world.

8.  Weapon, From the Devil’s Tomb

So many riffs, so
little time to catch my breath
from so many riffs.

9.  The Secret, Solve et Coagula

Grind and black and doom
and ambient noise from the
most boot-like nation.

10.  Winterfylleth, The Mercian Sphere

Epic black metal
by nationalists, but hey!,
they are from England.

11.  Salome, Terminal

“Let’s play some slow riffs,
then put a tiny demon
on the mic – shit yeah!”

12.  Kylesa, Spiral Shadow


“Hey, ‘member the 90s?”
“Fuck you, this is still metal.”
“‘kay, let’s jam some more!”

13.  Electric Wizard, Black Masses

Like that time you got
stoned and joined a cult but then
fucked and played some doom.

14.  Celestiial, Where Life Springs Eternal

Funeral doom is
more like ambient when it’s
this fuzzed, nature-y.

15.  Vasaeleth, Crypt Born & Tethered to Ruin

You like death metal,
right? So, go live in a swamp
and kick ass at it.

16.  Aborym, Psychogrotesque

Classy shit, even
though the cover art is the
worst thing ever, yo.

17.  Sailors with Wax Wings, Sailors with Wax Wings

Pyramids dude, how
did you get these sweet people
to jam with your band?

18.  In Lingua Mortua, Salon des Refuses

Jittery and black
and smooth (with sax); better than
Vulture Industries.

19.  Cough, Ritual Abuse

A better ‘lectric
Wizard album than ‘lectric
Wizard did for years.

20.  Twilight, Monument to Time End

Call this the Atlas
Leviathan, if you want –
texture, ‘pocalypse.

21.  Coffinworm, When All Become None

Such a mean-sounding
band, but in all the right ways
(not a vagina).

22.  Anathema, We’re Here Because We’re Here


Twinkly emo songs,
or the truest sad music
your dumb ears can take?

23.  Father Befouled, Morbid Destitution of Covenant

Incantation, plus
Immolation, plus choirs and
other shit is boss.

24.  Cephalic Carnage, Misled By Certainty

Make death/grind, add your
own sound effects, then try to
keep count: you will fail.

25.  Void of Silence, Grave of Civilization


Dude from Axis Of
Perdition sings like Roman
God; plus, epic doom.

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Stay tuned for more end-of-year coverage from your pal here at Spinal Tapdance.  Cheers!

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Negură Bunget, Vîrstele Pămîntului (2010)

Romanian black metal mystics, at it again

Well, as you may well know, there have been some shake-ups in the Negură Bunget camp since 2006’s magisterial Om, leaving only Negru, the drummer, of the original members to carry on under this name.  I don’t particularly care about whatever disagreements led to the split, and have already suggested elsewhere that thankfully this drama never quite reached the farcical levels of the Gorgoroth drama.  The real question, of course, is, How does this stack up next to the visionary Om?

To this humble listener, the results are a bit of a mixed bag.  The core sound and intent of the band seems relatively unchanged, inasmuch as these Romanian lads are still banging on after a rather mystical, folk-ish take on black metal, heavily incorporating various non-traditional instrumentation into their potent and heady blend of magic.  Drudkh remains a none-too-shabby point of reference, as do American stand-outs Agalloch and Wolves In The Throne Room.  This, perhaps obviously, is all for the good.

These songs benefit greatly from the inclusion of not only some excellently non-cheesy keyboards, but also various folk instruments such as flutes (or pipes; it’s a bit hard to tell), horns, and a tasteful selection of extremely taut drums and other percussive sounds.  If you recall some of the wood-sticks-being-banged-together percussion from 2002’s ‘n Crugu Bradalui, you’re on the right track.  Negură Bunget’s take on folk-ish black metal is a highly melodic sort, with the melody typically quite wandering, and generally carried by tremelo guitar.  The core of the sound, however, is highly textured, which is most frequently accomplished by overlaying both acoustic and distorted guitars for maximum classiness.

On another positive note, the production here is generally quite clear, which allows for all the different components to be heard; you won’t really be left guessing as to when you’re hearing keyboards versus when you’re hearing “live” folk instruments, and the bass, especially, is given prominence at some key moments when it demonstrates some wonderfully deep oscillations.  The only complaint about the production, really, is that occasionally the drums sound a little off; the cymbals, especially, sound to these ears somewhat clipped, which I suppose is probably better than an overly splashy cymbal sound, but was still somewhat distracting.

One of my primary concerns in the transition to this new line-up was that the vocals of long-time mainman (and, frankly, ridiculously-named) Hupogrammos Disciple’s would be sorely missed.  Thankfully, though, the harsh vocals of new vocalist Corb are wonderful.  They are hoarse, deep, and impassioned, and recorded clearly enough that I imagine if I spoke Romanian, I’d have no trouble following the words.  At times, they remind of Sakis’ latter-day vocals in Rotting Christ.  Unfortunately, the few times that the band turns to clean vocals do not fare nearly so well.  On “Chei de Rouã,” in particular, the clean vocals are distractingly off-pitch, almost veering onto the Urfaust or Circle Of Ouroborus axis (which works with those bands, by the way, but not so much here).

I’ve mostly been positive so far, and truth be told, this is still a very good record.  Nevertheless, there are several details which keep this from reaching anywhere near the transcendent heights of Om.  My biggest complaint, really, is that the album never really gets any momentum, and when it does pick up a little bit of steam, it is arranged in such a way as to be almost self-defeating.  Too many of the songs are in the mold of a classic slow-tension-building-to-a-cathartic-outburst design.  Individually, this works very well, but because this happens again and again, listening to the album feels like the band is trying to begin the whole thing over again with each new track, rather than proceeding more organically from one song to the next.

Essentially, one of the reasons that Om came off so masterfully is that not only were the individual songs excellent, but the songs were written and the album was sequenced such that it still felt more or less like separate movements contributing to a greater whole.  On Vîrstele Pămîntului, most all the individual songs are excellent when listened to in isolation; strung together in this fashion, though, they seem far too much like brief flashes of something that could have been stitched together differently to produce a greater cumulative effect.  This leads not only to the problem of too many slow-building tracks, but also to the fact that many of the songs fade out too quickly once it seems like they’ve finally hit their stride.  This results in some rather awkward transitions.

Still, I don’t mean to give the impression that this is some sort of trainwreck.  As I’ve said, the individual songs tend to work quite well on their own terms, and the overall sound and vision of the band is still admirable, and relatively unique in the world of contemporary metal.  The two purely instrumental tracks on here, “Umbra” and “Jar,” deserve special notice for each featuring some very rich folk instrumentation and achieving an ambient effect that doesn’t also bore me to tears, death, or Nasum.  In fact, in light of these tracks, as well as the two acoustic re-imaginings included on the recent re-recorded version of their 2000 album Măiastru Sfetnic, it struck me that an all acoustic, ambient/neo-folk album by this band could be very interesting.

So, all in all, this doesn’t match up to Om (nor, to be fair, did I ever really expect it to).  What it does do, however, is to continue to weave their dark spell of meditative metal for Transylvanian forests, and I’m still quite happy to come along for the spinning of these heathen tales.

Overall rating: 78%.  Wasn’t broke, but didn’t fix.

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