Thursday, March 7, 2013

Top 10 Metal Albums of...2009? (Pt 2)

Substantial posts three days in a row on The Blackened Edge? Who would have thought? As I stated yesterday, I've finally finished the write-up of my full list of the Top 20 albums of 2009. It was a little strange, going back to these older albums and writing up summaries of them as though they were fresh, particularly since every one of these top ten bands has released at least one new album since 2009, but I think that I did a decent job. Make sure to read yesterday's post to read about albums 10-6. Here's my top 5 from 2009. Sure, it's three years on from the time I put this ranking together, but every one of these albums is still worth your time. In fact, I still listen to all of them. Enjoy this trip to the past. Here we go:

5. Anaal Nathrakh – In The Constellation of the Black Widow

This album, on the other hand, has no idea what melancholy means. Anaal Nathrakh means “dragon’s breath,” and like dragon’s breath, this British duo will peel the skin off your body and then turn your skeleton to ash. I have never heard a rawer, more furious expulsion of pure musical rage in my life. All the instruments are played by Mick Kenney (the drums are programmed). The vocals are provided by V.I.T.R.I.O.L. (named Dave Hunt by his mother). V.I.T.R.I.O.L.! Do those letters actually stand for something? It doesn’t even matter. This guy just unleashed everything. And the great thing about Anaal Nathrakh—the reason that they’re more fearsome than any other band—is that they realize that interspersing moments of clarity and melody in the midst of horrific grit and violence makes the all-out parts sound that much more extreme by contrast. In the Constellation of the Black Widow is 33 minutes of grindcore-infused black metal genius, and it’s a good thing that the album isn’t longer, or you simply wouldn’t be able to handle it all. I’ve been listening to the band for several years now, and this is the most powerful they’ve ever been. I have no idea what they’re going to do next.

4. Nile – Those Whom The Gods Detest

Nile is back. Having finally stabilized their band lineup as Dallas Toler-Wade, Karl Sanders, and George Kollias, these Egyptian experts have delivered their most focused blast of ithyphallic death metal yet. Clocking in at nearly an hour, Those Whom the Gods Detest features the catchiest Nile hooks since “The Burning Pits of Duat,” and maybe even before that. Kollias is an absolutely unstoppable force on the kit, and the speed and precision of his one-foot blasts will make your jaw drop. It’s also obvious that Karl Sanders has been honing his ambient songwriting skills, because the tribal atmospheric elements on this album feel even more integrated into the music than on Ithyphallic. The other major improvement over their last album is the guitar tone. Nile tunes down to Drop-A, and the guitars ought to be as meaty as one of Pharaoh’s healthy bullocks. Last time around, they were strangely hollow. Not this time. Punch, punch, punch. The entire album has a weight to it, like an angry rhinoceros about to fling you across the savannah. Combining that sound with infectious songs like “Permitting the Noble Dead to Descend to the Underworld” (Nile skimped on the song titles this time, with “Noble Dead” being the longest at nine words, combined to the last album’s 17 word song title) just brings things to a whole new level. Nile was my first death metal band, and they’re still one of my favourite. Listening to Those Whom the Gods Detest is an exhausting experience because of how much it makes me thrash around, but it’s one that I relish.

3. Lamb of God – Wrath

Lamb of God are practically a popular band these days. In fact, I’m fairly certain that Megadeth is the only band on this list whose sold more records, and they’ve been around for nearly twice as long. Still, these lords of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal deserve their popularity. Their last three albums have all been absolutely brilliant, each building on the strengths of the last. Oh, and did I mention that Wrath is only their fifth album? It continues the trend of growth that we heard on Sacrament, as Randy once again shows himself to be one of the most versatile heavy metal frontmen in the scene today. When his scream opens “In Your Words,” you realize that you are in for something absolutely fantastic from him. The “cleaner” rasps that we heard in songs like “Redneck” have developed into a high pitched wail that brings songs like “Set to Fail” and “Grace” to a new level. And the rest of the band is absolutely firing on all cylinders as well—just check out the jazzy intro to “Grace” that gets reflected in the solo! Wrath sees Mark and Willie tuning down to Db on most songs, which is something that they haven’t done before. This certainly helped them find new heaviness on songs like “Fake Messiah,” but I’m glad to see that they’ve resisted the temptation to dive to Drop-C, or Drop-B. While Wrath feels more blues-based than an album like As the Palaces Burn (and certainly contains more 4/4 time signatures), Lamb of God still dishes up the finger-twisting riffs (try playing “Grace,” “Everything to Nothing,” or “Choke Sermon” and then tell me that it’s watered down from the good ol’ days), and songs like “In Your Words,” “Grace,” or album closer “Reclamation” see them developing their sound in exciting new ways. All hail the kings of all-American heavy metal.

2. Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue With The Stars

Dialogue With the Stars was my first experience with French black metal masters Blut Aus Nord, and the album is actually a sequel of sorts to an album they recorded in 1996 called Fathers of the Icy Age. It seems that this was a good place to jump in to Blut Aus Nord, as they are masters of reinventing themselves with each album, and this is their most “accessible” work in quite a few years. And when I say accessible, I mean only in the sense that Mt. McKinley is more accessible than, say, Mt. Everest. Why am I talking about mountains? Dialogue With the Stars sounds like mountains to me. It has such a hollow sound at first, but then you get sucked into the layers of sound and reverb. This album is achingly beautiful, and unlike more classic black metal, everything is shaped around melodies and harmonies. Yes, there is dissonance, and yes, there is harshness. But somehow, when you listen to this album, you get sucked past that—through that, even. In the first few minutes, the album seems harsh, brutal, cold, like Everest itself. Yet by the end of “Disciple's Libration (Lost in the Nine Worlds),” somewhere you have found Shangri-La, a mystical land from which the cold and snow no longer burns, it caresses. By the time “The Formless Sphere (Beyond the Reason)” deposits you into the gentle descent of “Elevation,” you will become convinced that Memoria Vetusta II is one of the most beautiful things in the world, and that anyone will be able to appreciate it as you do. And then when you share it with them, they will likely cross their eyes and become horrified at “that awful racket.” At least, that was my experience. Please. Give yourself to this album, and it will give back an hundred fold.

1. Ulcerate – Everything Is Fire

Where Dialogue with the Stars is ice, Ulcerate’s singular take on death metal is fire. Look, they even put it in the album name to warn you. And Ulcerate does need a warning, and it isn’t “don’t play with fire.” We’re metalheads—that’s what we do, on purpose. No, the warning is this—check your preconceptions at the door. I had Ulcerate described to me as “technical death metal,” so the first time I heard Everything is Fire, I was expecting something akin to Obscura or Lost Soul. What I encountered instead was something that I couldn’t understand, and didn’t enjoy. And then, thankfully, I took a second listen. And a third. And then I lost count, because Ulcerate’s music is consuming. It’s like a raging furnace—I can’t even see the individual flames. When it comes to bands like Lost Soul or Obscura, I am impressed with their guitar playing because I know how difficult it would be to replicate it. When I listen to Ulcerate, I can’t even begin to fathom how I would even play what guitarist Michael Hoggard is playing. These New Zealand natives are apparently a trio, but they could be a thousand men for the fantastic sounds they make. Paul Kelland plays the bass and bellows out nihilistic lyrics about the world’s end, while Jamie St. Merat delivers the drum performance of the year. You absolutely must check out the raw drum tracks that he’s uploaded onto YouTube. This is what real, live, unquantized metal drumming sounds like, people. From the opening feedback of “Drown Within” to the staggering punch of the title track, Everything Is Fire is an album like nothing I’ve ever heard before in death metal. And that is exactly what a stagnating scene needs. I’m afraid that the band won’t get the recognition is deserves, simply because they are doing something different. But I certainly hope they do. This band has nowhere to go but up.

And that's that! 2009 can finally be laid to rest. I have a Top 20 list for 2012 as well, which I plan to publish in 5-album increments, as I did here. In the mean time, you can catch my reviews of some of the latest metal albums over at Last Rites. Also, tomorrow we move forward with our journey through black metal. Thanks for reading.

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