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.
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.