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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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Shocking, I know, but heavy metal is not my only love.  In fact, I love many other things – unicorns, rainbows, all the usual suspects.  Also: mixing up cocktails.  Not, of course, in the sense of actually being PAID for the work; this is purely a non-remunerative hobby.  Still, it got me thinking.

In the canon of heavy metal substance abuse references, cocktails are assuredly a dismally distant last.  We’re all used to the bulletbelts and beer mentality, and sure, there’s a fair bit of banging on about whiskey, and yeah, seems to me like My Dying Bride has probably penned a song or two along the lines of “Woe is me and pestilence on the earth / My red wine is spilt, and my black cat fled to Perth” or some such thing.  Y’all ain’t never heard Abbath start off a song by dedicating it to Blashyrkh’s Mighty Dirty Martini, is my basic point.

For your consideration, then, I offer the following Heavy Metal Cocktails.  Most of these are slight variations on classic cocktail recipes, with obvious name changes and ingredient additions here and there.  I have tried to list one for each of several of heavy metal’s primary subgenres.  So, the next time you’re all lagered out, and can’t tell your ass from your ales from your ankles, why not try banging your head whilst imbibing a slightly classier product?
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Classic Heavy Metal: “The True Old School Old Fashioned”
– The Old Fashioned is basically like the crusty old guy in the tattered “Number of the Beast” t-shirt who watches the entire show with one foot on the bar rail, and can be heard to vaguely mutter the word “whippersnappers” every now and again.  A truly classic cocktail, this would make the perfect accompaniment to your daily rite of Angel Witch and “Lightning to the Nations”, or even a trawl back to Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak.”

Ingredients:
– 1 1/2 oz. rye whiskey (Most types of whiskey will really suffice for a good Old Fashioned, but rye is the true old schooler’s choice.  Go with bourbon if no rye’s on hand, but for sure stay away from Scotch for this one.)
– Some smallish amount of sugar
– Angostura bitters
– Orange slice
– Maraschino cherries (probably no more than two)
– Club soda

Directions:
They don’t call ’em Old Fashioned glasses for nothing, though you may also know them as lowballs (har har – fuck off).  Put the sugar in the bottom of a dry Old Fashioned glass, and shake a few dashes of Angostura bitters on it.  Add in the orange slice and cherries, and muddle them with the sugar and bitters to taste.  Muddle the fruit more for a sweeter drink, though the classic preparation probably only bruises the fruit, releasing mostly oils rather than actual juice.  Fill the glass to the top with ice, and pour the whiskey over it.  I prefer to give the drink a brisk stir at this point, and then to top with just a splash of club soda.  Now, listen: They’re playing your Manilla Road request.

Death Metal: “Tequila Smashed Face”
– This is basically just a classic margarita recipe that’s been fucked with.  It’ll still taste mostly like a margarita, too, until you get down to the bloody dregs.  I couldn’t think of a spirit that screamed DEATH FUCKING METAL at me, so I just decided to take a classic recipe, put it in the wrong glass, and add a few visual cues that ought to remind you of the blood and guts so favored by the genre’s miscreant progenitors.

Ingredients:
– 1 1/2 oz. tequila (probably of the more aged variety – a reposado or añejo – to give you a bit richer flavor against the tartness of the other ingredients)
– 3/4 oz. Cointreau (any other sort of triple sec will do in a pinch, but Cointreau is the smoothest, far and away best option)
– Juice of half a lime (do up a full lime if you like, but you’d probably want to toss in a bit of sugar or simple syrup if you go that route)
– Fresh blueberries (5-10, depending on size; enough to cover the bottom layer of a highball glass)
– Dash of grenadine

Directions:
Drop the fresh blueberries into the bottom of a dry highball glass.  Muddle them gently; enough so the skins split anda bit of juice extrudes, but not so much that they completely lose definition.  Combine the tequila, Cointreau, and lime juice in a cocktail shaker filled 2/3 full with ice.  Fill the highball glass to the brim with fresh ice, then strain the cocktail shaker over it.  Pour in a small dash of grenadine over the top, which should quickly filter through and mix with the muddled blueberries to give the drink the appearance of gruesome viscera.  Well, gruesome and delicious viscera, that is.  Careful not to spill your drink as you holler along to Morbid Angel.

Black Metal: “The Ragnarok Gimlet”
– The gimlet is another classic drink, and probably a somewhat odd choice to represent black metal.  All I’m really doing here, though, is playing on our popular representation of black metal as obsessed with the freezing cold of Scandinavian winters and sounding like the fuzzed-out maelstrom of a bestial blizzard.  The key to really feeling the icy creep of evil in this drink is taking it VERY easy on the lime, and shaking the holy living fuck out of it to ensure MAXIMUM CHILL (which sounds like a long lost Steven Seagal flick, now that I think of it).

Ingredients:
– 1 1/2 oz. gin (make it 2 oz. if you want to really taste the grimness)
– A very sparing dash of Rose’s Sweetened Lime Juice

Directions:
Classically, the gimlet is served shaken and straight-up, but here I’m having you shake it but then serve it in an ice-filled lowball, so as best to simulate an icicle of black dread.  Fill a cocktail shaker 1/2 full with ice, then pour in the gin and splash of sweetened lime.  Then shake it like a soul possessed with the raw fury of Bathory, trapped in the midst of The Howling Wind’s Into the Cryosphere (or, better yet, Sleep Research Facility’s Deep Frieze).  Shake it until your arm is just about to bust out of its socket.  Then, strain it over a lowball filled with fresh ice.  Consume quickly.  And seriously.  Please do not smile.

Grindcore: “Multinational Corporations Brought You This Swedish Mule”
– This one is just a Moscow Mule, adapted by adding a Swedish liqueur so as to pay homage to Nasum and all the other greats of Swedish grindcore.  Made with the right kind of ingredients, this little fucker packs quite a kick, and when you add in one of the apocryphal stories about this drink’s genesis as a way for organized crime to sneakily serve alcohol during Prohibition in the States, this should at least hint at some of the political furor that so animates grindcore’s most hallowed practitioners.

Ingredients:
– 1 oz. vodka (though an extra tip of the bottle won’t hurt any)
– 1/2 oz. Rose’s Sweetened Lime Juice (you can use fresh-squeezed lime instead, but I prefer Rose’s, so long as you don’t use too much)
– 6-8 oz. ginger beer (NOTE: It is absolutely crucial for the success of this drink that you are using a ginger beer rather than a ginger ale.  Or, if you’re using something called ginger ale, be sure that it’s brewed in the older fashion, where it actually has the bite and spice of real ginger.  That Canada Dry bullshit ain’t going to cut it here.)
– Splash (or up to 1/2 oz.) Cherry Heering (Cherry Heering is a Swedish liqueur, or really more like a cherry brandy.  Go with Heering, though, rather than some cheaper knock-off cherry brandy, which will more likely than not remind you of childhood cough syrups.)

Directions:
Fill a highball glass with ice.  Pour the vodka and lime juice over the ice, and fill the glass almost the rest of the way full with the ginger beer.  Give things a little stir, and then pour a small bit of the Cherry Heering over the top.  The cherry flavor should be subtle enough so as not to overpower the fierce kick of ginger (redolent of Napalm Death and Terrorizer’s pioneering use of the blastbeat, say), but should give the drink that nice sheen of blood-soaked lore, just like the daily work of government and corporations is to wring out their dollars to squeeze out the blood of the poor and innocent.  Et cetera.

Doom: “Summer In Siberia”
I wanted to keep things fairly simple for this.  Doom has its roots in the UK (as does all heavy metal, obviously), so another option for a doom metal drink is a Black Velvet (half Guinness Draught, half champagne).  Still, some of the gloomiest, most stretched-out dooooooom has lately come from Scandinavia, and Finland in particular, the landscape of which, in my mind at least, is of a piece with the vast snow-sodden expanses of Russia, with its stoic tundra pockmarked with rusted machinery and towering industrial factories.  Realities so blunt require a drink unvarnished with niceties and distractions.  The lemon is there as merely a gesture; a poor substitute for the blighted sun, perhaps never to return.

Ingredients:
– Vodka.  In some amount.  More than 2 oz. might be pushing it, but hell, this is DOOOOOOM.
– A squeeze of fresh lemon

Directions:
This is another one that I think ought to be as cold as possible.  If you’re averse to having the cloudy appearance that shards of cracked ice will give to the drink as I’m presenting it here, then feel free to stir the drink in the cocktail shaker rather than shake it.  If you stir it, though, stir it many times, and quickly.  Otherwise: Fill a cocktail shaker 1/2 full of ice.  Pour in the vodka, and shake the shit out of it.  Strain the chilled vodka into a lowball glass filled with fresh ice.  Give a freshly cut lemon a little squeeze over the top of the glass, and give it a stir.  Now, sit and wait for the slow, inevitable crush of the tectonic plates.  Mother Russia demands solicitude and obedience.

Sludge: “The Bayou Filth Hound”
– The American South is known for its whiskeys, whether it be Tennessee’s Jack Daniels or the fuck tons of bourbons from Kentucky.  That same climate has, as you know, produced a bearded slew of sludging bruisers in recent years; look to the Savannah, Georgia scene if you require proof (mildly-veiled Deathspell Omega reference, hey-o).  This concoction is one of my very favorite variations on the classic Old Fashioned recipe (obviously with many liberties taken), and adds the mint in homage to the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby, the mint julep.  Plus, this preparation of the drink produces a viscous, swampy-looking thing that sits in your glass, daring you to drink its poison promise down.  Muddy like the backwaters of Louisiana, this one.

Ingredients:
– 1 1/2 or 2 oz. of good Kentucky bourbon (Maker’s Mark tends to be my go-to because of its wide availability, but any fine bourbon, especially of the spicier variety, will do quite nicely)
– Brown sugar (anywhere from a pinch to a few spoonfuls, depending on your preference)
– Angostura bitters (anywhere from one dash to half a dozen)
– Half a lime
– Two Maraschino cherries
– Four or five fresh mint leaves
– Club soda

Directions:
Just like the Old Fashioned above, you’ll be building this drink in a lowball glass.  Put the brown sugar in the bottom of the empty glass (hella existential).  Personally, I like a bit more brown sugar than you might imagine.  At least a good spoonful, I’d say.  Then, to counteract the potential over-sweetness, I like to give several hefty dashes of Angostura bitters over the sugar.  Cut the lime half into quarters, and muddle them with the Maraschino cherries in the sugar and bitters.  Feel free to muddle with vigor here, as we’re trying to go for the opaque, swampy look with this drink.  After you’ve released most of the juices from the fruit, toss in the mint leaves, and muddle just a little more, but now more gently, so that you keep the leaves intact, but bruised.  Now fill the glass with ice and pour in the bourbon.  At this point, give the drink a good stirring, and then top it off with a bit of club soda.  Finally, hold the glass up to your eyes and gaze into its murky depths.  Un-receded flood waters.  Alligators glide with stealth through the swamp.  A man plucks a banjo on a wooden porch, but cannot be heard over the noise of your favorite Eyehategod record.  Pull this drink in between your teeth.  Feel the thickness, and taste, in its chill, the oppressive heat of America.  Your America.  My America.  Our sadness.
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Cheers!

The viscera are somewhat difficult to make out in this shot of the Tequila Smashed Face

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