Jon Rosenthal’s Top Albums of the Decade
Summing up a decade sucks. It really does. I mean, I was in college when this whole "Jon writes about music now" deal started and now I'm some version of an adult with a job and a family-like thing. I did a whole lot of embarrassing shit like start a small music blog which got kind of big and now I'm writing for… Invisible Oranges. In fact, I've been here for half a decade. It's weird to put numbers on things and understand their true valuation. It gives me anxiety, it really does.
Tackling the music within this decade took a lot out of me. I mean, we're talking about picking favorites from thousands of albums, and the twenty-teens were characterized by unmatched creativity. This means two things: there was a lot of bullshit (a lot of it. A lot. It hurt my soul), but there was also unmatched brilliance. Amazing albums which could fill libraries, things which could never be categorized, and volumes of unusual records which regularly emptied my wallet. Music owes a lot to the trailblazers of the 2010s, those who were unafraid to tread new ground and express their true selves through something new, something interesting, rather than the usual and expected.
When we look back, we find a similar sense of creativity in the classics. To risk citing something verboten, had anything truly sounded like Burzum before his self-titled album? Certainly not -- it was creative and new, even if we think of it as blase and traditional now. It was horrifying, hypnotic, and brash -- it blew Euronymous's mind, which is why he pressed the Count's albums on Deathlike Silence Records.
We must not forget to look forward and understand what the music within us sounds like rather than the music within another, and the past decade has proven that artists value individuality rather than the stagnation of emulation. In my attempt at summing up 2010-2019, you will find that each artist has its own unique identity, something curated and truly unique within each artist. It isn't about masturbating to your record collection and seeing which cult item's riffs you can grab -- it's about creating your own art, and this past decade has proven that art didn't stop in 1997, much to the chagrin of a few forum dwellers.
So here we are, at the crux of a new decade. Let us look back at some of my own favorites. This was a fun opportunity to be nostalgic and dig through my now-hilariously-large physical media collection in hopes of rediscovering some gems. I could go deeper into philosophy or the musicological ramifications of the constant punctuated equilibrium found within the musical timeline of the last decade, but really… what's the point? You're here to discover music, or maybe you're here to see if I agree with you (poor form, by the way). Either way, here are my favorite twenty-some-odd releases of the 2010s. This took a long time to compile.
Oh, and to be fair to other bands, I left Low's four albums C'Mon, The Invisible Way, Ones and Sixes, and Double Negative out of the list.
What are your favorites?
Alaric – Alaric (20 Buck Spin, United States)
Anatomy of Habit – Anatomy of Habit (Independent, United States)
Volahn – Aq'ab'al (The Ajna Offensive/Iron Bonehead Productions, USA)
Darkspace – Dark Space III I (Avantgarde Music, Switzerland)
Ifernach – Gaqtaqaiaq (Nekrart/Les Productions Heretiques, Canada/Gespeg)
Corrupted – Garten der Unbewusstheit (Nostalgia Blackrain, Japan)
Virus – The Agent That Shapes The Desert (Duplicate Records/Nuclear War Now! Productions, Norway)
Defeated Sanity – Chapters of Repugnance (Willowtip Records, Germany/United States)
Fleurety – The White Death (Peaceville Recordings, Norway)
Caïna – Setter of Unseen Snares (Broken Limbs Recordings/Apocalyptic Witchcraft Recordings, England)
Pure, horrific brilliance. For an album with such layered, impossible grandeur, what makes Naas Alcameth's The Dreaming Eye so wondrous is its immediacy. There are incredible melodies, over the top dynamics, and a dense atmosphere which goes unmatched. What Nightbringer began to lack after Apocalypse Sun (feel free to fight me over this), The Dreaming I offers in spades. It is beautiful, haunting, disturbing, and, most of all, one of the most important black metal albums of the decade.
Oh, my heart. Though many rightfully look to Wider than the Sky as one of the finest albums of the decade (it was a pretty close call here), the density and soul-worn The Inside Room goes unmatched in the incredible Patrick Walker's oeuvre. The syrupy, emotive music rests at a fulcrum between singer/songwriter music and the doom metal of his preceding Warning project. This album accompanied me on many long, misty-eyed car rides and saw me through some tough times.
Lugubrum (or the Lugubrum Trio here, following the departure of vocalist Barditus) doesn't care about categorization, comportment, or expectation. Lugubrum is Lugubrum, and Herval shows that lineup attrition does not necessarily sign a death warrant. Following their ever expanding world music influence repertoire, Herval's Caribbean and first wave ska influences result in a playful, carefree album heralded by Midgaars's unique, drunken vocal style. Lugubrum is your new favorite black metal band, or should I say "Brown metal."
No one sounds like Circle of Ouroborus. Hell, across their incredibly varied and vast discography, sometimes they don't even sound like themselves. That being said, Eleven Fingers absolutely defines this unique Finnish project. Murky, melodic, and beautiful, the obscure Eleven Fingers wondrously fuses black metal with post-punk and darkwave without fully losing itself in the trappings of either genre.
Good luck dissecting this outrageous album. Following in their traditional "too much is just enough" approach, the classic Dødheimsgard's fifth album proves to be their most ambitious to date. Taking a more organic approach compared to 2007's overwhelming Supervillain Outcast, the return of vocalist Aldrahn (who has since left) shows the band taking a step into the blistering and surreal. At over an hour's length, the relentless A Umbra Omega blasts and arpeggiates with reckless disregard for any listener. Enter at your own risk, but your risk will be rewarded.
In 2012, I hated "post-black metal." I loathed what it had become: an oversaturated monument to mediocrity. Good job, your band sounds like if an off-brand Alcest was put in the microwave. It was too much for me. No creativity, no nothing. But there was still one shining star. Frail had put out a demo in 2007 -- Brilliant Darkness -- and I needed more. Not quite black metal, more like post-punk and shoegaze with desperate, howling vocals, Frail didn't put on any airs about trying to be black metal… Frail just wanted to be Frail. And then, after announcing a name change (Crooked Necks), they were gone! As it turns out, a label snafu had put this album, Alright Is Exactly What It Isn't into development hell, which is a shame. Much like its preceding demo, Alright Is Exactly What It Isn't was music for the downtrodden -- a quiet exercise in tones, rhythms, and textures rather than the blown out world of post-rock-influenced black metal. If anything, Crooked Necks was the opposite, taking black metal's influence into the world of post-punk and shoegaze. Unfortunately, following another EP and a re-recording of Brilliant Darkness later, Crooked Necks called it a day and no one has been able to fill their shoes. It is a shame.
From my Best of 2015 list:
To refer to an extreme metal album as “truly creative” or “pushing boundaries” is always a little canned. I mean, in the end most bands take the standard formula and add a slight variation, be it the album cover, a change in tonality, a theme, or something equally mild – suddenly they’re heralded as “saviors of metal.” It seems lazy, people refusing to move out of their comfort zone and instead focusing on minutiae to justify movement. Defining Lychgate as different isn’t doing them justice. Lychgate is the challenge that extreme metal has needed to avoid the inevitable stagnation which plagues any standardized genre. Primary songwriter Vortigern’s obviously learned hand offers a distinctly “modern” spin on progressive music, Modern of course referring to the modern/avant-garde movement of the mid-20th century, with a technical and compositional prowess which is, as far as I’m concerned, unmatched in metal. An Antidote for the Glass Pill flows like a Messaien organ suite: an oppressive, pyroclastic dissonance, equally oppressive and compelling, which leaves a permanent mark on the listener. Lychgate’s sophomore effort is the result of careful planning and thought, study and practice, which ultimately paid off.
This surprise demo caught many off guard. In four songs, this mysterious solo project made a brazen statement: Erraunt is eerie, mysterious black metal. No one dared question it. In its jangling, bass-led approach, sole musician Oneiric weaves dreams into a warped, ethereal reality: a shade of green which alters the senses and guides the listener as the Portent wanders toward ascension.
The master of winter returns with monochromatic might. However blistering and unrelenting, Das Tor creates a greater snowy haze which slowly reveals the monoliths which lurk in its midst. Though Das Tor's performance style is nothing new in Paysage d'Hiver's discography, it is more careful, if even lush, if such a word could be imbued to the harsh tones found within.
In the artist's own words:
Das Tor was quite bigger productionwise. More tracks, more programming of simple automations like fades, for instance. I am very satisfied with the result. Very much like the old recordings, but slightly better.
And it's just that. Just like the project's own music, Paysage d'Hiver is meant to be a slow progression, with each new recording unveiling a slight new change. In Das Tor, sole musician Wintherr experimented with a further depth in production, but that is all. Otherwise, we still have a Paysage d'Hiver album. With a grand formula, why alter it to bring about a grand change? In a perfect, genre-defining discography, Das Tor is Paysage d'Hiver's finest hour.
Wow, where do I start? I had already loved the desperate, harrowing Il Était Une Forêt… (you wouldn't believe how young this duo was when they made that album, but that is a secret I will keep to myself), but I wasn't quite sure where Quebecois black metal duo Gris would go next. Would we be graced with more minimal and emotive black metal like the previous album (and the Niflheim material which preceded it), or would there be something more? There is always a coin toss in a band's progression, and the unexpectedly varied Il Était Une Forêt… left a lot of room for potential growth and blossoming.
Luckily for us, Gris took their time with followup À l'âme enflammée, l'âme constellée…, and the resulting album is nothing short of breathtaking. Gone is the minimal, droning depressive black metal of the preceding album, the band instead favoring something much more verdant, lush, and even progressive in nature. With time, Gris became more mature, maybe even studied, and the incredibly orchestrated album which came from their creative dormancy continues to be one of the finest black metal albums these ears have ever heard.
Pulling from their conceptual idea of the balance of emotion, À l'âme enflammée, l'âme constellée… stands at a precipice: the beauty of life and happiness behind them and the depths of despair and death at their feet. As such, the music itself embodies this balance of beauty and horror, halving itself between lush chamber music and grandiose, desperate black metal. The album itself is halved, as well, its ten tracks placed constellationally across two lengthy discs, putting the album itself on a fulcrum, embodying the plus and minus in the band's own logo. A soul inflamed, the constellational soul -- the final part in Gris's trilogy is the band at their most professional and ambitious, crafting some of the most beautiful and memorable black metal of the decade, if even beyond. Here's hoping that vinyl box set happens soon.