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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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Unearthly Trance, V (2010)

 

Doom what thou wilt, &c., &c.

 

In which Brooklyn’s veteran filth hounds Unearthly Trance continue in their efforts to provide a soundtrack for the inevitable collapsing of worlds into shrieking pyres of dust and static.  Where the band’s two previous records, 2006’s The Trident and 2008’s Electrocution, largely shook off the drone of their early work in favor of a snarling, stomping Celtic-Frosty death groove, V is somewhat of a retrenchment, a retreat to sparser landscapes and fuzzed howls reeling their way to an unreachable horizon.

The hungry listener, therefore, will find nothing quite so immediately digestible as Electrocution’s metronome-disregarding “God Is A Beast.”  More times than not, though, the hungry listener is kind of an asshole, and needs to be put squarely in his place, which V will do with more than a little relish.  The album’s first track drops in out of nowhere, as though the song had been playing since ages before time, and someone just now thought to kick the shit out of some ‘record’ button.  It feels a bit like stumbling into the middle of a perpetually-occurring ritual.  A dreaded incantation sounds; the hooded assembly kneels, supplicant.

Throughout the album’s hour-long invocation, the band leans heavily on the trudging, drone-inflected doom featured in songs like “Submerged Metropolis,” largely forsaking the righteous hate-gallop of the previous two outings.  Speaking of “Submerged Metropolis,” Unearthly Trance’s ability to pen wonderfully evocative song titles continues apace here, with “Sleeping While They Feast” and “The Horsemen Arrive in the Night” particularly bringing to mind horrid visions dancing on the hazed periphery of consciousness, glimpsed only in ragged-breath nightmare.

“The Tesla Effect” is among the more straightforward offerings, with its drunkenly swerving swing beat, while “Solar Eye” features a bended, droning riff that gives the song a wonderfully elastic, almost buoyant feeling.  Quite an achievement for a band so relentlessly focused on grime and abjection, no?  The two-part “Adversaries Mask” is maybe the most intriguing bit of sonic uneasiness, with the first part a generally subdued affair which flirts throughout with creeping menace, Ryan Lipynsky sounding at times like Nick Cave tripping headlong into the occult.  The second part drapes some guts-deep snarling from drummer Darren Verni in all manner of hellish frequency manipulation and feedback, coming across like radio transmissions from a world torn apart by electromagnetic storms.

Rather than evoking the typical clutching panic of soot-encrusted doom through a dense, claustrophobic production and style of songwriting, the majority of V proceeds (and succeeds) by injecting the spaces between notes and phrases with the sort of clenched-jaw tension that ends up producing much the same effect.  Witness the closing sections of “Solar Eye” for an apt demonstration of this ritualistic technique.  Depending on your mood and/or eschatological inclination, the album’s closing track “The Leveling” either fizzles out disappointingly or heralds the advent of a slow-burning wave of technological destruction.

All of this is to say, essentially, that V is an out-and-out doom record, which may leave some listeners (this one included) initially slack-jawed and befuddled.  Upon reflection, it seems that Lipynsky may have exorcised some of his more up-tempo and aggressive demons with the Howling Wind’s excellent Into the Cryosphere earlier this year.  V, therefore, is a patient album, which is often music critic code for “It’s boring but I think I should like it anyway”; in this case, however, this patience is that of a gradually-unfurling apocalyptic vision, or a prehistoric predator crawling through untold eons to loose its fetid breath on your neck.  Meaning nothing so grand as “ignore at your peril,” but rather, “listen, or don’t – the time that remains, remains either way.”  Your vision clouds, solar winds carry a whispered message of absent light and inevitable crumbling.  This music waits, and watches, and breathes out a long, low sigh.  Static.

Overall rating: 80%.  Doom, or don’t, but you will be doomed.

V is out now on Relapse, and available for purchase here.

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One can hardly crack open any corner of the internet lately without being subjected to the annual rite of Wistfully Realizing That Summer Is Nearly Over.  That fact, coupled with the release this week of Iron Maiden’s latest album The Final Frontier (itself a potential wistfulness-fest in its own right), which seems to have been one of the more high-profile and highly anticipated metal releases of the year, has left me with that vague twinge.

You know, that “Ah, shit, 2010, it was nice to know you, but I guess you’re off to stay at that farm upstate where you’ll have all the room to run and play that we couldn’t offer you here at home” sort of twinge.

So, as a bit of a patch on this collective maudlin tendency, I thought I’d tally up some of the albums which are still slated to be released in this humble Year Of Our Narcissism 2010 for which I’m most excited.  This is by no means intended to be an exhaustive (or even particularly informative) list; this is just the stuff that I’m keeping tabs on, all sweaty palmed and fidgeting in my seat.
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– Blind Guardian, At The Edge Of Time.  The full-page ad I keep seeing in the magazines has a quote describing this as something like “ethnic and pure.”  Sounds a bit dodgy, but I’m just hoping “ethnic” is a poorly-chosen synonym for “folk-ish.”  A Twist In The Myth was a little dull for my tastes, so here’s hoping they spice things up.

– Venetian Snares, My So-Called Life.  Not metal, sure, but Aaron Funk has consistently put out some of the most intense electronic music of the past decade or so.  Plus, Detrimentalist was the fucking shit.

– Christian Mistress, Agony & Opium.  Classic NWOBHM tunes fronted by a Björk-esque singer?  Hell yeah.  Bring it on, 20 Buck Spin.

– Infernaeon, Genesis To Nemesis. Their debut from a few years back was more than a little shaky, but I’m hopeful for this one.  Sure, this is unlikely to be the second coming of Nocturnus’ The Key, but hell, there’s a lot more room in death metal for keyboard experimentation than in black metal.

– Cephalic Carnage, Misled By Certainty.  Cephalic Carnage have always seemed like the quintessential Relapse band to me.  I know they didn’t pioneer the stuff, but their widdly death/grind/tech/whatever whirlwind tends to satisfy like lemonade on a sweltering summer’s day.

– Black Anvil, Triumvirate.  Pretty psyched for this, and you should be, too, if you’re looking for an updated take on Darkthrone’s mid-period crust-covered Celtic Frost-isms.

– Unearthly Trance, V.  The upward trajectory of this band has been astonishing over their past four albums.  Electrocution was a pitch-perfect distillation of what it seems like they’d been working toward all-along, so who knows where they’re going next?

– Melechesh, The Epigenesis.  Melechesh have lately been everything Absu quit being a while back.

– Drudkh, Handful Of Stars.  Drudkh’s form has changed deceptively little over the years, leading some to interpret that as stagnation.  Listen carefully to the last few records, though, and you’ll hear the results of slight tinkering to an entirely unique sound.  The prominence of bass on Microcosmos alone should have signaled that no matter how hateful the forests these Ukrainians haunt, they’re deadly serious.

– Salome, [Title Still Unknown].  Profound Lore has been dropping some tasty hint-morsels lately about this album.  Vocalist Kat added the third prong to Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s triple vocal attack on lats year’s Agorapocalypse, but hearing her vocals attached to scathingly crippled sludge is another thing altogether.

– Torche, Songs For Singles.  Rumor is, the record’s too short, and maybe also too awesome.  Blown off as pop metal by plenty of those who don’t realize that Torche combine some of the best attributes of pop and metal, meaning maybe the epithet’s actually a back-handed compliment.

– Enslaved, Axioma Ethica Odini.  The title seems like a Latinized version of “The Ethical Axioms of Odin.”  Presumably that gives just as little clue to the musical contents as the Latin version, though.  This is one of my most feverishly anticipated records, though; Enslaved have been completely unstoppable to this point.

– Krieg, The Isolationist.  Okay, so I really dug The Black House, but thought Blue Miasma was uninspired and dull.  Adding Leviathan’s Wrest to the band (on bass) is more than sufficient to pique my interest, though.

– Cradle Of Filth, Darkly Darkly Venus Aversa.  Wow.  This may actually be a worse album title than the new Enslaved.  Plus, it’s Cradle Of Filth, so any credibility I may have had is likely a shredded mass of bloody pulp by now.  But you know?  I still kind of dig Cradle Of Filth, and Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder was light years better than most of their recent tripe.  So, y’know: Fuck off.

– Therion, Sitra Ahra.  Here’s to hoping that bringing things back to a single-disc release can bring slightly more focus than recent efforts.  Sure, Sirius B / Lemuria worked well in tandem, but given how good just the right amount of Therion is, too much Therion is a headache-inducing proposition.

– October Tide, A Thin Shell.  More gloominess, please.

– Sailors With Wax Wings, Sailors With Wax Wings.  Pyramids side-project with tons of unexpected participants and collaborators from throughout the metal world?  Excellent.

– Kylesa, Spiral ShadowStatic Tensions was one of my favorites from last year, so I’m pretty psyched that they’ve already got a new album coming out late October.

– Vulture Industries, The Malefactor’s Bloody Register.  Slightly off-the-wall black metal from a who’s-who of mainstream underground (it’s a fine, confusing line) Norwegian black metal.  Not for the ‘true’, likely, but true for the rest.

– Virus, The Agent That Shapes The Desert.  I did a little plug for this upcoming album a little while back.  I’m hoping the band can get enough pre-order support from all you good folks out there in Awesome Metal Appreciation Land to make this a 2010 release.  Fingers crossed, then…

– Aborym, Psychogrotesque.  Completely fucking no joke, a few days ago I was posting on Twitter about how I was hoping to see some new music from Aborym someday soon.  Lo and behold, maybe the very next day or so comes through the news item that they’ve got a new album coming out this year.  Shit!  Generator trimmed back on some of the detrimental excess of With No Human Intervention and cranked out some seriously deranged black/industrial anthems.  That title’s a bit shit, but still my soul hungers for the bleakness.

These last few are already out in Europe, to be fair, but I’d really love to see them picked up by a U.S. distributor rather than paying import prices:

– Ondskapt, Arisen From The Ashes.  Last one was a beast.  Make this one beast-ier?

– Kvelertak, Kvelertak.  Everything I’ve read about this band has made me want to drink some beers and crank the record.  And yet, if I am forced to pay import prices for it, I will have no money with which to drink some beers.  An existential conundrum if ever there was one.

– Winterfylleth, The Mercian Sphere.  Their debut full-length The Ghost of Heritage was quite impressive, but had a few too-ragged edges.  Here’s to hoping they’ve smoothed out in all the right places.  Still, these guys and Wodensthrone are making an awfully compelling case for an English black metal renaissance.
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So, as you can see, friends, it looks like there’s still plenty to be looking forward to this year.  And that’s just counting the ones that I’m actively looking forward to; who knows how much metallic gold remains to be mined with everything I’m sure I’ve forgotten or overlooked?  Embarrass me with the breadth and exquisite sheen of your “Most Looked Forward To’s”

Oh, and I know I can’t include them here, but Devin Townsend has been hinting that the last two albums of the…quadrilogy (?) will both be released in March.  So, sorry, Ghost and Deconstruction, but I can’t put you on 2010’s list, even though I am milliseconds away from pissing myself with glee as I type.

Plus, I keep hearing random whispers about expecting a new Pig Destroyer one of these days, but nothing definite yet.  I mean, I keep prowling all over the damn yard, looking for something new with which to terrify my phantom limb.

My bones quake with the sickness.

The world is a frightful place, and hope the only salve.  Heavy metal for the common good.

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Hello, friends.  Not too much is shaking ’round Spinal Tapdance HQ today, but I was thinking that maybe I’d like to send a mixtape to each and every one of you.  But then, of course, real life intrudes.  Logistics, &c.  The mind boggles.

So, please accept this poor substitute; namely, a “mixtape” in the form of a whole mess of YouTube links.  Still, these are some of the jams that have been helping me beat the heat around here.  Enjoy!

1. Amorphis – “The Castaway” (1994)

2. Dream Theater – “Stargazer” (Rainbow Cover) (2009, original 1976)

3. Sleep – “Dragonaut” (1993)

4. Unearthly Trance – “God Is A Beast” (2008)

5. Swans – “I Remember Who You Are” (1989)

6. Devin Townsend – “Material” (2000)

7. Madder Mortem – “Formaldehyde” (2009)

8. Anaal Nathrakh – “Do Not Speak” (2004)

9. Neurosis – “Locust Star” (1996)

10. Nick Drake – “Cello Song” (1970)

Please have a (mostly) Very Heavy Metal Wednesday.

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One of the upcoming releases into the metal-verse that has got me all a-twitter (no, not that kind of twitter) is the new Unearthly Trance record.  I remember reading that they were planning to put out a new album sometime this year way back around January or February, in Terrorizer magazine’s 2010 forecasting guide, but I hadn’t heard any more details since then.  I’d casually checked out their page on M-A a few times, but there’s still no 2010 album listed.  Anyway, thanks to the immortal efforts of one Blabbermouth.net, I finally have slightly more tangible proof that our ears will be blessed/cursed with another slab of righteously depraved metal this year.  Apart from the fact that the album’s title, V, is pretty fucking weak-sauce, I couldn’t be more pleased about the announcement of a late September release date.

Here, then, is the pleasingly bad-ass cover art for Unearthly Trance’s V:

Anyone hungry for some goat cheese hors d'oeuvres?

I mean, sure, if you tilt your head to the side and squint your eyes a bit, it may as well be the cover of the new Watain album, Lawless Darkness, done up in bluescale, but who gives a shit?  (Also, are those Nine Inch Nails I spy in three of the four corners there?  I know Reznor’s off destroying angels lately, but c’mon, not quite gone and forgotten…)  I, for one, am more than happy to offer up my earnest listening soul to Monsieur Lipynsky et al for a sound drubbing.  All of Thralldom’s records were twisted brilliance, the last two Unearthly Trance records (but especially Electrocution, their last, and its face-gnashing monster of a stompfest, “God is a Beast) kicked my ass, and Ryan Lipynsky’s other band The Howling Wind put out one of 2010’s best black metal albums thus far with Into the Cryosphere.

So, anyway, moral of the story is, two over-eager thumbs up for the new Unearthly Trance.  Be here now (with all due apologies to the Gallagher Bros.  Holy shit, Nintendo, can you get on that?  Instead of Italian plumbers, let’s have ourselves a video game franchise featuring two vaguely man-shaped English receptacles for whiskey and cusses.  NOW, PLS.)

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