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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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A few random bits about the Meads Of Asphodel, that utterly bizarre (and unmistakably British) metal beast (and blessed, it ought to be stressed, with one of the most pleasant names in years).

Random bit the first (1st):

Mel Gibson, eat your heart out

Their new album, The Murder of Jesus the Jew, is really quite good.  I say this not out of surprise, because I’ve been a fairly staunch supporter of the Meads since their debut album.  The only truly unforgivable offense thus far has been the abominably ill-conceived cover of Louis Armstrong’s classic tune “What a Wonderful World,” back on 2006’s (? – too lazy to look up at the moment) Damascus Steel.  Complete rubbish, friends – avoid at all costs.  To the extent that you, fair reader, are able to take any of this music seriously, this new album (building off of the previous major-bummer-fest LP) is a far more serious affair.

More serious, at least, when compared with the band’s first two albums, the acoustic jam session The Mill Hill Sessions, the Christmas song they did for Terrorizer magazine, the punk covers (+ Kinks cover!?) on their side of this year’s split with Old Corpse Road, etc., etc.  Anyway, while I do find this new album a delectable platter of strangeness – some sideways-fucked brew of Hawkwind psych rock, Floydian prog, clatterly British crust-punk, and Sigh-meets-Cradle-Of-Filth black metal sheen (Hawkwind and Sigh, at least, are clearly no mistake, if you’ve followed the band’s parade of guest musicians) – I can’t help but feel like a bit of the fun has been drained.

Make no mistake, a Meads Of Asphodel album still packs more grin-inducing moments than most anything else out there.  Nevertheless, I kind of miss the carnival/Casio-esque keys of the early demos, the completely unwarranted and random jaunts into strangely trance-y drum ‘n bass.  Despite remaining firmly planted in the off-kilter and avant-garde, the Dudes of Asphodel are playing things a little too straight for my taste.

And as a final addendum to this random bit (the first), a message to the band: Metatron, please, for the love of all that is holy and chain mail, quit it with the ridiculous spoken word bits.  I know it’s kind of like “your thing,” but the passages you choose to gargle out cleanly on this album are the most cringe-inducing faux-Dante’s-Inferno-punishments and they just bum me out.  For real.
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Random bit the second (2nd):

The band has posted a 35-minute documentary film at their website, the beguilingly simple www.themeadsofasphodel.com.  It comes in three parts, the first of which I will post here:

I post this, however, having only watched the first seven minutes of it, after which I felt compelled to do almost anything else.  It’s not that this is bad, necessarily, but that I have an exceedingly low tolerance for this kind of nostalgic “Ah, let’s cast a long gaze over the history of the band and have a bunch of ugly metal blokes wax fondly about things that happened, I don’t know, eight years ago.”  The primary argument in favor of this “in-depth” (honest, I’m not trying to be an asshole here, but the whole thing seems a bit stilted, innit?) documentary is that, for years, the Meads were intentionally shrouded in mystery, what with the stage names and the chain mail and the lack of widespread performances.  So, I don’t really need to see this.  And maybe it’s not for me.  Maybe I’m just some jaded asshole on the internet, and maybe this film was made for Me when I was eight years younger.  Whatever.  Watch it, or don’t.  See if I care.
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Random bit the third (3rd, and final):

In a horrendously obnoxious heavy metal songwriting trick that is not the exclusive province of the Meads, but which I have noticed most recently on the new album and which never fails to drive me totally fucking bonkers up the wall, is the doubling of a line of lyrics in a sort of call-and-response fashion.  Or, rather, what specifically drives me batshit crazy is not a call-and-RESPONSE (indicating a variation), but rather a call-and-REPEAT.  It’s.  So.  Fucking.  Stupid.

Anyway, the Meads do it on the new album’s third track, “Apocalypse of Lazarus,” with Metatron calling out poetic gems like “The dragon and beast cast into Hell” or “Death into the valley of Jeheshophat,” which are then echoed by, I dunno, some other dude caterwauling in the background.  Drives me fucking nuts.  If you’re thinking, “Yeah, that bugs me too, but where I have I heard – and hated – this technique before?” then I submit for your perusal and (presumably) displeasure, the one (and only) true misstep on Megadeth’s nevertheless untouchable masterpiece (fuck you) Rust In Peace:

“Five Magics” is otherwise a fantastic song, but starting around the 4:00 minute mark is where they bust into that dumb-ass call-and-repeat business (“He who lives by the sword…,” etc.).  So, the moral is: If you’re out there, writing in a band, and you’re thinking, “Wow, what a boss way to fill out a song,” I just…  I just pray for the future of humanity.  Don’t do this.  Don’t be That Guy.
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The Murder Of Jesus The Jew is out now on Candlelight Records, and, I swear, despite my cantankerous ranting, I like it quite a bit.

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