Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Top 10 Metal Albums of...2009? (Pt 1)

Well, well, well. I'm pretty much a bum when it comes to completing things, and one of my good friends recently brought to my attention the fact that my Top 20 of 2009 list only goes up to 8. Well, I have always had that list on my computer—the albums and the order have been set since January of 2010. But I never wrote up the summaries that I ought to have done, because reasons. So let's take a little trip back to the past (or into the future, if you count it from the 1984 that we're currently looking at in black metal) and look at some of the best music of 2009. Several years out from the fact, I truly believe that 2009 was the beginning of a modern metal renaissance, and so it will do us good to go back and enjoy some of those albums again. Never read my list? Check out the link above to read the entries 20-11. Then check out 10-6 right here. 5-1 go up tomorrow. Yes, I already have it scheduled.

10. Obscura – Cosmogenesis

Obscura hail from Munich, and are the premier German death metal band, and one of the greatest technical death metal bands playing today. Their bassist, Jeroen Paul Thesseling, is truly the star of the band, and the best bassist in heavy metal today. Playing a fretless bass, his lines lead and command, not follow. Everything about this album impresses, but it’s the basslines that stick firmest in the mind. Just listen to album opener “Anticosmic Overload,” or the first 45 seconds of “Choir of Spirits,” and you’ll immediately see what I mean. Guitarists Steffen Kummerer (who also handles vocal duties) and Christian Münzner are also masters of their craft, and skinman Hannes Grossmann’s staggering chops are worthy to be compared to more famous death drummers like George Kollias and Derek Roddy. Obscura is an aptly named band, for “obscure” is certainly a word that comes to mind when listening to their noodling riffs and grooves. “Cerebral” is another word that undoubtedly comes to the mind of the listener while these Germans work their magic. There is a strong Cynic influence that can be heard in the use of vocorder on vocals, but unlike Cynic, the aggression of Obscura is never lost in shoe gazing electronics, even when they venture into acoustic passages like in “Universe Momentum.” There are only two real flaws in this album—the first is the production, which although it allows the bass to clearly play through sounds somewhat too brittle. The other is the sheer overwhelming nature of this album, because while it certainly has memorable riffs and passages, the whole 50 minute journey gets somewhat lost in the mind, unlike the instantly memorable brutality of Nile or the shocking dissonance of Ulcerate. Still, this is the third best death metal album of the year, and if you enjoy bass or even just raw musicianship, you can’t go wrong with Obscura.

9. Ahab – The Divinity of Oceans

Ahab are a funeral doom band with a gimmick—they only sing about Moby Dick, describing their music as “nautik funeral doom.” The quality of the music, however, easily drowns the almost silly nature of dedicating a band to a single story. And drowned is absolutely the right image for Ahab, as they summon the weight of the ocean itself into their music. While 2006’s The Call of the Wretched Sea focused specifically on Herman Melville’s whaling story, The Divinity of Oceans tells the story of the Essex, the historical whaling vessel that inspired Melville’s Pequod. The music is rich and thunderous, with just the right guitar tone and reverb to truly make you feel that you’re there, in the middle of the ocean. Daniel Droste’s vocals, when chanted, give the impression of sailors upon the sea, and his cavernous growls sounds like the very beast itself. If a band is going to devote itself to singing about whaling, this is how it should be done. Take some time an immerse yourself in the nearly seventy minute journey that is The Divinity of Oceans. You won’t mind if you drown.

8. Altar of Plagues – White Tomb

These Irishmen are part of the new wave of hipster black metal, but although obscure bands are oozing out of the woodwork everywhere nowadays, Altar of Plagues crawls firmly to the top of the pack. White Tomb features two acts of two songs each, making for four songs and a fifty minute album. The first part, “Earth,” tells of the environmental damage that Earth’s children have wrought, and the retribution that Earth takes on them to purge the world and heal herself. The second part, “Through the Collapse,” tells the tale of those living through the end, until the final song contains only the lyrics
There is a mist that chokes the land.
The waves attack. Relent.
The skies attack,
they come, relentless.
Altar of Plagues at first seems to have more in common musically with post-rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Explosions in the Sky than black metal like Mayhem or Darkthrone, but the music is undeniably black, from the guitar tones to the blast beats to the howled, reverb-drenched vocals. They certainly draw heavily from Burzum, as well as Enslaved, and listeners will certainly draw parallels to Northwest USA pagans like Wolves In The Throne Room, especially in the environmentalist message of the album. White Tomb is a trance-inducing journey into the dark, and it’s certainly exciting to hear this quality of black metal being produced.

7. Megadeth – Endgame

One of the “Big 4” in thrash, Megadeth has consistently stuck to their guns throughout the years, unlike fellow San Franciscans Metallica, and it’s exciting to hear them putting out such quality work twenty-six years into their career with Endgame, their twelfth album. And Endgame is, undoubtedly, quality work. Originally formed in 1983, Megadeth beats out Kreator as the oldest band on this list (although the Germans have an extra album). Although they may be a band from the old school, Mustaine and lead-master Chris Broderick are playing an extremely modern style of thrash—although the extreme amount of guitar solos is old-school. Even the intro track is nothing more than a solo duel! The notes don’t let up. It’s not just the solos, either. The riffs in songs like “This Day We Fight!” and “Head Crusher” are classic finger-tangling Megadeth neck-thrashers. Dave’s voice is also ridiculously vicious for a 48 year old. It seems that recent political developments have given the notoriously political frontman some new juice. Lyric writing has never been Mustaine’s strength, and while “Bite the Hand” gets a little bit cliché, there isn’t anything cringe inducing like “Washington Is Next!” or “Amerikhastan” from United Abominations. Shawn Drover on the drums turns in a solid performance, as does James LoMenzo on the bass, but this album is clearly all about the guitars. Since that’s what got me into thrash in the first place, this is my kind of record. Let’s hope Megadeth continues in this direction.

6. Katatonia – Night Is the New Day

Night Is the New Day came out on November 2nd, and quickly became my second most played album of the year. That tells you a lot about how absolutely infectious it is. Jonas Renkse possesses the most mellow voice in all of metal, and by this point in his career he has honed the ability to apply it to nearly any emotion—melancholy, yes, and confusion. But also anger, without shouting, and even hope without smiling. This album has enthralled me, from the delicious seven-string heaviness of “Forsaker” to the electronic trance of “The Longest Year” through the strings and cellos of “Inheritance,” and on to the anguish of “Departer.” This is one of those albums that whenever I start it, I feel compelled to listen to the whole thing, and then usually start it over again. I doubt that I will ever get tired of hearing the guitars slam into gear on “Forsaker.” Although the guitars do begin the album on a heavier note than in the past, keyboards play a much larger role on Night than they did on The Great Cold Distance. Yet, the blend of band and electronics is so seamless that you won’t usually even think about it. Instead, let the lyrics and the music carry you away to a world where it always rains, and the sun is always setting. Night is the new day.

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