Year-end thoughts 2010, pt. 1: Staff picks
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Year-end thoughts for 2010 will occur in two parts. This first one details staff picks. The second one, up later today, will announce the readers' choice awards winners.
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First, before awarding honors, we'll receive one. A web guru named Donny Gamble named Invisible Oranges the 51st best blog of 2010. As the only music site on the list, we join such illustrious company as TechCrunch, The Huffington Post, The Sartorialist, and, uh, TMZ. I don't know what criteria Gamble used, so I take this award with a grain of salt. But I'll take it anyway, since this site has never been recognized by anyone for anything. About Invisible Oranges, Gamble says, "It is the place for the modern metal man!" Are you the "modern metal man"?
(Goal for 2011: Become the place for the modern metal woman.)
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YEAR-END THOUGHTS 2010
PT. 1: STAFF PICKS
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Every day this year, I deleted about three to five new albums from my hard drive. It got to a point where I could not download digital promos fast enough to keep up with the deluge in my inbox. These were legal downloads! Demos, EPs, reissues, albums - I check out everything that comes into my inbox. (Except for anything GWAR-related, which goes straight to the trash.)
Maybe one percent of this stuff makes it onto this site. And maybe 10 percent of that one percent makes it into my year-end Top 10. Ordering such a list can be an apples-and-oranges affair. How is a certain death metal album "better" than a certain black metal one?
So I think about things other than sheer enjoyment. I enjoy all of my top 10 metal records very much. (Unlike previous years, I am keeping my list all-metal for the purposes of this site.) I went back to them time and again, even when I should have been hearing (and deleting) lesser music. It's hard to pick a favorite child, but it's easy to identify the strongest one. So it was with these records. I thought about the total package: music, lyrics, conceptual integrity (though records need not be concept albums to have conceptual integrity), artwork, production. If these albums were animate objects - and the best ones are so in our consciousness - which ones were the strongest?
Given these criteria, my top 10 list ordered itself without much difficulty.
10. Slough Feg - The Animal Spirits
9. Nechochwen - Azimuths to the Otherworld
8. Early Graves - Goner
7. Intronaut - Valley of Smoke
6. Unearthly Trance - V
5. Rotting Christ - AEALO
4. Immolation - Majesty and Decay
3. Triptykon - Eparistera Daimones
2. Ludicra - The Tenant
1. Dawnbringer - Nucleus
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For me, 2010 was all about stripping the fat and getting to the point. If I couldn't take an album with me on the road, the train, or the streets, it made the grade because of its strong shelf life. Albums with true grit and grime convinced me to get up in the mornings. Others that had humility and honesty helped settle my nerves when I needed it most.
10. Thou - Summit
When I wanted to tune in and tune out, I turned to Thou. For a band that usually casts the signature grime of Southern sludge, Thou took a more delicate approach and a sound that's more developed on their third full-length, Summit. They detour from their usual dive bar attitude for melodies that take time, words that linger, and complex songs that ring home after a long day's work.
9. Wormrot - Abuse
Singapore’s Wormrot banter like a drill sergeant on Abuse, a bold wakeup call as the band’s debut album. This record spits out 23 tight and aggressive tracks in less than 22 minutes. On "Born Stupid", "Fuck... I'm Drunk", and "Blasphemy My Ass", Wormrot, perhaps the pleasant surprise of the year, made me feel young and dismiss what didn't matter.
8. Harvey Milk - A Small Turn of Human Kindness
On the worst days, Harvey Milk's A Small Turn of Human Kindness said it all. Full of moments of despair, this album makes its weakest emotional moments its strongest conceptually. Harvey Milk might be the comeback kids of year with their most solemn and strongest release yet. Thematically cast down though structurally obedient, A Small Turn of Human Kindness mirrored my many moments of uncertainty this year with guitars that wept and a voice that hung like a shamed kid’s head. Just when you think, “I Know This Is All My Fault", Harvey Milk reminds you that you're not alone.
7. Nails - Unsilent Death
When I was most impatient and pissed, Nails said it all for me. A tight, 14-minute full-length, Unsilent Death put me back on track toward fast music again. "Suffering Soul" and "Unsilent Death" crunch like sore muscles as riffs chug, explode, and break into sporadic fits of feedback: a three-piece sound with the force of five. Nails packed Unsilent Death with power to turn the world upside down, rid it of its nonsense, and make room for unsilent attitudes.
6. Vasaeleth - Crypt Born & Tethered to Ruin
When the moon was highest, Vasaeleth sounded best. This is black metal that sets the mood without unnecessary ambience, especially on "Wrathful Deities" and "Gateways to the Cemetery of Being". These stealthy Southerners get to the point with tight songs, thick guitars, a voice that shakes floorboards, and cavernous drums that vibrate nerves. This was my escapist record of the year and the best way to get my orthodox fix.
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5. Lightning Swords of Death - The Extra Dimensional Wound
As my record that received the most headbanging of the year, The Extra Dimensional Wound strikes rough and hard with songs that stick. I feel the catch on tracks like "Damnation Pentastrike", where a religious calling of sorts is embedded in holistic shredding and a classic black metal march. For a band I'm still not fully acquainted with, Lightning Swords of Death builds connections through dark imagery, bullet belts, and all things evil without sacrificing quality.
4. Electric Wizard - Black Masses
The sex appeal
Like a long-lost love, Electric Wizard came back to me with another batch of sex appeal in their seventh full-length. Although lacking the appropriate production, Black Masses doesn't fall short on performance. On tracks like "The Nightchild" and "Satyr IX", Jus Oborn's croons echo, Liz Buckingham's riffs sweat, and alluring rhythms set the mood. As the smoke thickens, hair flows and candles drip — all the way to the last heartbeat on Black Masses.
3. Coffinworm - When All Became None
I came across Coffinworm with few expectations, which gave When All Became None instant appeal. The first few measures of "Blood Born Doom" are some of the heaviest notes I heard in 2010. Another Sanford Parker masterpiece, Coffinworm's debut is unnerving and unforgiving, with black metal's melody and ambience, doom's depth, and hardcore's strength.
2. Ludicra - The Tenant
One of the most well-written albums of the year, The Tenant emotes raw feeling that cannot be ignored. Laurie Sue Shanaman's vocals erupt in flames so fierce, it makes your own throat hurt; smart words spur emotional connections, resembling so beautifully the small and the weak; and Aesop Dekker's blistering beats remark on a rough past unforgotten. I feel this record as strongly as I feel the pains of yesterday and hopes of tomorrow — both of which I cannot let go.
1. Dishammer - Under the Sign of the D-Beat Mark (EP)
As if I would ever get tired of crusty d-beat and death metal riffs, Spain's Dishammer was there to remind what it feels like to get punched in the gut. Although only an EP, the seven-track Under the Sign of the D-Beat Mark is a seductive beast with as much meat as a full-length. From the wailing "The Devil's Advocates" to the punch-and-go "Sexwitch", Dishammer makes for a fun night without the headache the next morning.
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The only records worth a toss this year are:
1. Grand Magus - Hammer of the North
Stockholm's Grand Magus has quietly (read: no one Stateside seems to have noticed) released three stellar albums in a row. I can think of few other bands (besides the band in the number two spot here) who've been as consistently on fire in the latter half of this dismal decade. Taking on classic metal filtered through Swedish death and stoner rock, they're the only band with a set on them big enough to swing for those particular fences. Unapologetically macho, invigorating, and supremely straight-faced, this isn't going to fly with folks who like their metal cheeky or "forward thinking". If the idea of down-tuned Judas Priest as power trio tickles your pickle, then it's time to man up. Great workout music,too, btw.
2. Unearthly Trance - V
This album comes as both surprise and no surprise. UT haven't changed or reinvented themselves, because there's no need to. No one else can do quite what they do. Coming on the heels of the criminally overlooked and "right kind of '90s"-sounding (sorry, new Kylesa) Electrocution, V digs in for the long, skull-fucking haul. No thrash, no fast songs, nothing catchy (in the parlance of our times), just punishment. Ryan has figured how to coax seemingly infinite possibility and nuance out of sustained single notes and narcotic tempo. No scare quotes: forward thinking.
3. Vasaeleth - Crypt Born & Tethered to Ruin
This is the only way I see FL-sounding death metal making sense these days. Tune down further, growl lower, record cruddier. Like Teitanblood before them, guitars stoop so low they basically become percussive instruments - which is, after all, what they are to begin with. "Riffs" are obfuscated, only to come roaring back with surprising impact once perceived immersion is complete. Straight-up headbanging moments root this firmly in the "metal" half of death metal, while oblique lyric occult-ese strains for something larger. Killer, killer cover art.
4. Accept - Blood of the Nations
All you need to know 'bout this lil' number's already been said by greater and lesser scribes than myself. The songs here are pretty much as good as anything on Balls to The Wall and Restless and Wild. I'm not kidding, and neither was anyone else who said something to that effect.
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Top 10 Metal Albums Of 2010
1. Ludicra - The Tenant
2. Alcest - Écailles de lune
3. Harvey Milk - A Small Turn of Human Kindness
4. Thou - Summit
5. Deftones - Diamond Eyes
6. Triptykon - Eparistera Daimones
7. Killing Joke - Absolute Dissent
8. Lesbian - Stratospheria Cubensis
9. Wolvserpent - Bloodseed
10. Kayo Dot - Coyote
Top 4 Revisited Metal Albums
1. Type O Negative - Bloody Kisses
2. Queensrÿche - Operation: Mindcrime
3. Morbid Angel - Blessed Are the Sick
4. Killing Joke - Hosannas from the Basements of Hell
One Album I Slept On Last Year That KILLED Me When I Found It
Converge - Axe to Fall
2010 was filled with as much accomplishment as disappointment. Although I was quite bummed to find myself rejected for multiple employment opportunities, gigs, and a grant or two, I am proud to wrap up my first year writing for Invisible Oranges, to have released one album, and have started work on another, and to be writing fiction again after a long hiatus. In 2009, I felt like I got kicked in the balls. In 2010, I felt like I got kicked again, but I was wearing a cup this time. Here's to kicking back in 2011.
It's also worth noting that in these trying times, there is still warm food, shelter, and (who am I kidding) PLENTY of 21st century amenities to keep me and my loved ones happy. Here's also to family, art, and community. May we find strength in these and they in us.
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Triptykon - Eparistera Daimones
Amebix - Redux
Satanic Warmaster - Nachzehrer
Altar of Plagues - Tides (EP)
Black Tusk - Taste the Sin
Sabbath Assembly - Restored to One
Alcest - Écailles de lune
Coffinworm - When All Become None
The Wounded Kings - The Shadow Over Atlantis
Ludicra - The Tenant
The above list reflects the 10 records that meant the most to me throughout the course of the year of our dark lord 2010. I'm not saying that these are the 10 "best" (whatever that even means) or the ten most "important" releases of the year; they're definitely not the most universally appealing, or even the most underground. They just meant the world to me at different times and places over the last 12 months (and also happen to be fantastic pieces of metallic art in and of themselves). A majority of these started out as simply great records from great artists that, through either live performances or personal connections, left their marks indelibly inked on my heart (and in one instance, my skin).
Ludicra and The Wounded Kings made an incredible impact on me through their live performances (one at Scion Rock Fest, the other at Roadburn) and sincere, warm appreciation of those that understood what they were trying to say. The Tenant was the firebrand that finally illuminated Ludicra's impassioned black poetry for a larger audience, and The Wounded Kings brought the proud tradition of ancient doom in from the moors and out into the sunlight.
Coffinworm's full-length debut was something I'd been looking forward to with the glassy-eyed impatience of a junkie waiting for Mr. Brownstone to pop by since I'd stumbled across 2009's brilliantly filthy Great Bringer of Night, and what they delivered was as twisted, menacing, and addictive as the blackest tar heroin.
The Sabbath Assembly record is something I expected to hate and ended up loving, thanks to innumerable listens and the inspired, occult-laced glory of the music itself. I transcribed "Glory to the Gods in the Highest" for a college ear training project, and will never forget that goddamned riff as long as I live!
Alcest have been a longtime not-entirely-guilty pleasure; this album was their most mature and effortlessly beautiful yet, and seeing them live (once in NYC, and once at a sold-out show I did for them in Philly) was a wonderful gift.
After spending three US tours behind the merch table watching three tattooed Georgia hellions kick out them jams every night, I know most of the songs on Black Tusk's Taste the Sin better than I know my own name, and still love them (and my road dog "big brothers") to death.
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I first experienced Altar of Plagues live at Roadburn 2010, where they won my admiration for pulling off two of the best sets of the fest despite raging hangovers and zero sleep. Then, on their US tour, I got to know the band and their music, especially the songs on the Tides EP, on an intensely personal level, and fell in love.
Satanic Warmaster has been one of my favorite black metal entities since time immemorial (I still have a photo of fresh-faced, 17 year-old me covered in SWM patches) [ed. note: you are still fresh-faced] and Carelian Satanist Madness will always be one of my top five black metal albums. The followup, Nachzehrer, gave me what I wanted, and an interview I conducted with the man himself revealed him to be just as much of a rude, misanthropic, shady prick as I'd always thought he would be.
Amebix are a band that I like for their music and love for their message; the "No Gods/No Masters" I've got tattooed on my neck about sums it up. The re-recorded classics on Redux make it crystal clear that the power indeed remains, and as my friendship with the band themselves deepens, my appreciation for the raw power of what they did - and have yet to do! - continues to humble me.
The Triptykon album was a perfect memorial service for the death of Celtic Frost, and seeing it performed live at Roadburn and in NYC was unforgettable. I had the chance to interview Thomas Gabriel Fischer and connected on a wholly human level with a man who is directly and indirectly responsible for every metal band I care about. That's not something that happens every day!
2010 was a killer year to be a metal fan, and an even better one to be alive. Judging by the kind of albums we're already salivating over and the way the universe has chosen to work lately, 2011 will be even better - and of course, blacker. Hail Satan, hail 2010!
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Justin M. Norton
2010: a great year of metal albums, yet a shitty year for metal. Remember Ronnie James Dio, Peter Steele, Makh Daniels, Armando Acosta, Paul Gray and any fallen members of our extended metal family. May you rest in peace as you ripped in life. Get well soon, King Diamond. You are still needed.
There are doubtless albums that deserve to be here that I haven't heard. I can only listen to so much despite determination, and there are perennial favorites still competing for my time. The good news is that incredible metal continues to be released each year.
Thank you to Cosmo for his determination to showcase good work in a world of snark and hype and his dedication to the metal community. Thank you to my talented fellow contributors. And the biggest thanks to the readers and frequent commenters at IO. I'm honored that you would take time out of your day to read and react to the work here.
1. Triptykon - Eparistera Daimones
Morbid Tales and To Mega Therion never made any best of year-end lists. This album tops one because it is an equal of albums now considered some of the best metal ever recorded. This was Tom Warrior's year: best metal record, best metal book, and a terrific tour.
2. Nails - Unsilent Death
The sound of the future meets the best of the past.
3. Nachtmystium, Addicts: Black Meddle, Part II
Misunderstood, praised, and mocked in equal measure: this generation's Into the Pandemonium.
4. Atheist - Jupiter
Tortoise the titan, indeed. Prog metal haters admit defeat and give Jupiter its due.
5. Salome - Terminal
Beautifully minimalist inside and out, yet almost endlessly spacious.
6. Vasaeleth - Crypt Born & Tethered to Ruin
Abandon all hope ye who enter here.
7. Krieg - The Isolationist
Black metal's version of The Bell Jar.
8. The Dillinger Escape Plan - Option Paralysis
Greg Puciato sings. There's a piano. Dillinger still kills it.
9. Hail of Bullets - On Divine Winds
War and Martin van Drunen. Do we even need retro death metal?
10. Howl - Full of Hell
Art school grads tackle metal; huge riffs result. An album that has been overlooked and shouldn't be.
Also worth your time: Ludicra - The Tenant, 1349 - Demonoir, Cephalic Carnage - Misled by Certainty, Wormrot - Abuse, Decrepit Birth - Polarity, Coffinworm - When All Become None.
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This has been the first year since I started listening to music that it wasn't a top priority. For almost two decades, I had all the time in the world to check out bands, explore different genres, and basically just screw around. All this changed in 2010 (as a previous feature here detailed). Time is now a precious commodity, and that has impacted the way I listen to new music significantly. There are just no spare hours to spend on subpar albums. Something has to hit hard right off the bat, or I'm gone. In a way, this constraint is beneficial; it filters out the glut of useless bands and records that seem to be mounting almost daily in the metal arena.
Black metal seemed to dominate 2010 in terms of big releases and critical favorites; I'm not a huge fan, but I like when bands incorporate elements into their sound (hello, Coffinworm!). Nachtmystium's Addicts was both a letdown and embarrassment, and I wish I could understand why that Agalloch album is making everyone's top list. Doom and sludge continue their popularity, but oversaturation will take its toll. Name-checking Eyehategod, Swans, and Saint Vitus doesn't cut it anymore; the bands that go out and do something dangerous will survive. That’s what metal is, really: danger and survival.
1. Unearthly Trance – V
2. Integrity – The Blackest Curse
3. High on Fire – Snakes for the Divine
4. Coffinworm – When All Became None
5. Triptykon – Eparistera Daimones
6. Kylesa – Spiral Shadow
7. Cathedral – The Guessing Game
8. Nails – Unsilent Death
9. Hail of Bullets – On Divine Winds
10. Overkill – Ironbound
Three albums I haven't heard yet but am pretty sure will rule
Electric Wizard – Black Masses
The Body – All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood
Darkthrone – Circle the Wagons
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