Chris Butler’s Top Albums of the Decade
One of my greatest fears has always been running out of time. There are so many fascinating and rewarding pursuits in the world, and true mastery of any of them requires more than a lifetime of dedication. An album can take weeks, months, or years to create. Though this may seem like a long time, the time of creation is dwarfed by the potentially endless amount of enjoyment an album can provide listeners once complete. As listeners, we should take full advantage of that potential.
In a world with an ever-growing population and constantly decreasing production costs, the music market is flooded with amazing releases. This poses a problem for completionists like myself. There are simply too many great albums out there. It is impossible to listen to them all, let alone achieve a note-for-note level of understanding of them. I wish I knew every album I enjoy as intimately as I know Revolver by The Beatles. I know that will never happen and that bothers me. It takes hundreds of listens to know an album that well, to know every lyric, every note from every instrument, even every mistake, by heart. That is the point at which a listener can claim to truly understand and love a work of art.
The following is a list of metal albums from the past decade that deserve this kind of dedication along with a recommended film pairing which may or may not be taken seriously. Though my efforts may be in vain, I can’t wait to keep listening.
-- Chris Butler
Yob – Atma (Profound Lore, USA)
Thantifaxath – Sacred White Noise (Dark Descent, Canada)
Aborted – Retrogore (Century Media, Belgium)
Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance (20 Buck Spin, Canada)
Ihsahn – Arktis. (Candlelight, Norway)
Archspire – Relentless Mutation (Season of Mist, Canada)
Artificial Brain – Labyrinth Constellation (Profound Lore, USA)
Vildhjarta – Thousands of Evils (Century Media, Sweden)
Mgła – Exercises in Futility (Northern Heritage, Poland)
Khemmis – Hunted (20 Buck Spin, USA)
“This is Between the Buried and Me’s best album,” a friend told me in a bar the night The Parallax II: Future Sequence was released. I was aghast but my friend turned out to be correct. The way the band weaves melodies from earlier tracks into later tracks is unmatched on this album, not to mention that they are the strongest of Between the Buried and Me’s career. I regularly find myself humming the main hooks to “Extremophile Elite” and “Silent Flight Parliament” even if I haven’t recently spun the record. Mix these catchy hooks with all the spastic prog acrobatics you expect from Between the Buried and Me, and you wind up with a record that has nearly unlimited relistening potential. Between the Buried and Me’s discography is incredibly dense at this point but this album cannot be missed.
Recommended film pairing: "Thor: Ragnarok" (2017)
The scope of III is immense. It is the Skyrim of black metal. The fact that all of III is the work of one man is mind-boggling. Suffocating black metal, medieval acoustic guitar passages, chant vocals, and snails-paced avant-garde sections are all present over the nearly one-and-a-half hour epic. The second half of this record is where it becomes truly extraordinary. After the dissonance and density of the first several songs, it is breathtaking the way III opens up from “The Spiral Mountain” through to the album’s melodically triumphant conclusion. This is my favorite record to listen to on a cold winter morning’s drive. It is the consummate musical manifestation of the Northern winter landscape.
Recommended film pairing: "How to Train Your Dragon" (2010)
Bonus: check out Andrew Rothmund's five-year anniversary article on III plus interview with project mastermind Ayloss.
Behemoth got their edge back on The Satanist. They announced both the defeat of the stagnation of their sound and the remission of lead singer Nergal’s cancer in one exultant work of art. Behemoth are as obsessed with Satan as ever, as the album title gives away, but there is an air of positivity here. “Messe Noire” and “In the Absence Ov Light” sound more revelatory than depressed. Take pleasure in blackened death metal, take pleasure in life, take pleasure in The Satanist.
Recommended film pairing: "Spotlight" (2015)
Luc Lemay is more than a metal guitarist and vocalist, he is a composer. That statement is not hyperbole. Lemay wrote and arranged “The Battle of Chamdo,” a five-piece string piece, that sits in the middle of a dissonant technical death metal album. Whether you want classical music with your death metal or not, it illustrates the level of musicality behind Colored Sands. Each note and change of tempo has been thought out here. It is not a group of guys randomly flailing away on their instruments with the goal of being faster or more brutal than everyone else. Colored Sands exists to pull emotion from you, and it will succeed if you allow yourself to become immersed in its delightfully impenetrable wall of sound.
Recommended film pairing: "Seven Years in Tibet" (1997)
Панихида fills every second of its runtime with compelling black metal. The Russian Orthodox chants remain as haunting as they were on Batushka’s Litourgiya, but the metal itself is much meaner. The nameless vocalist sounds rabid on tunes like “Песнь 3,” which contrasts diabolically with the clean female vocal parts. The guitar melodies sound like they were plucked from actual church hymns, except they are being played on distorted eight-string guitars instead of a church organ. This was my favorite album of 2019 and it is one of the best the decade has to offer.
Recommended film pairing: "Eastern Promises" (2007)
Bonus: read our Batushka vs. Batushka review from earlier this year.
It’s astonishing how many different emotions Deftones conjure on Koi No Yokan considering their relatively restricted sonic palette. The star of the album is vocalist Chino Moreno, whose ethereal vocals emote senses of yearning, desperation, and adoration throughout the album. Moreno may not be the most technically gifted singer, but his ability to create an atmosphere is invaluable for an album that features variations on the quest to find the ultimate love. Like love itself, Koi No Yokan manages to be beautiful, sensitive, ecstatic, and occasionally crushing. This alternative metal masterpiece is a prime example of what can be achieved when form is used to properly follow function.
Recommended film pairing: "Spirited Away" (2001)
Sometimes there is no greater solace than sadness. It can be a comfort when despair wraps its arms around you like a warm blanket. Sorrow and Extinction expresses this “joy-in-sorrow” feeling with massive detuned guitar riffs, crawling slow tempos, hints of psychedelia, and emotive wailing vocals. The organic production leaves enough space for the occasional rocking guitar riff to rise from the muck and inject a little life into the gloom. If this is what the end of the world sounds like, we are in for a beautiful conclusion.
Recommended film pairing: "Melancholia" (2011)
Dim and Slimeridden Kingdoms slithers into listeners ears with a creepy harpsichord introduction before accelerating to top speed with stellar melodic death metal riffage. Slugdge were on a tear this decade. They released four stellar albums, three of those in consecutive years, yet this one is the perfect cosmic mixture. It adds the right amount of technicality and tightness without becoming robotic. The album artwork, baroque waltzes, and uncomfortably detailed songs about clam harvesting combine to create an uneasy and perverse atmosphere. Slugs are gross and so is Slugdge. Listen to them on Halloween.
Recommended film pairing: "Slither" (2006)
Monolith of Inhumanity was a game-changer when it was released. It catapulted Cattle Decapitation to the top of the deathgrind pack and introduced a vicious and bizarre new screaming technique to the metal genre. On tunes like “Dead Set on Suicide” and “A Living Breathing Piece of Defecating Meat,” Travis Ryan’s pitched-screams added a new injection of melody without compromising the brutality of the end product. Detractors may refer to this technique as “clean singing,” but it is hardly “clean.” It is filthy, and more importantly, it is unique. Cattle Decapitation achieved something on Monolith of Inhumanity that innovative bands of every genre strive for -- an instantly recognizable sound.
Recommended film pairing: "28 Days Later" (2002)
Kvelertak’s eponymous first record is stacked top to bottom with black-‘n’-roll bangers. It must have been an intimidating task for the marketing team at Indie Recordings to pick the singles because nearly every song on this record has hit potential. From the straightforward stomp of “Mjød” to the epic classic rock riffs of “Liktorn,” Kvelertak never slows down and never stops rolling. It is the metal party album to end all metal party albums. If the world is ending and you want to have one final rager, you should put on this album. Simply put, Kvelertak is the most fun you can have listening to a metal record from the creatively fruitful 2010s. Bravo Kvelertak, and bravo heavy metal. Cheers to ten more years of amazing music.
Recommended film pairing: "This Is the End" (2013)