15. Marrow Of The Spirit (Agalloch)
14. Age of the Fifth Sun (God Is An Astronaut)
13. Addicts: Black Meddle, Part II (Nachtmystium)
12. Avalanche of Worms (Levi / Werstler)
11. 3 (RIEN)
10 OF MY FAVOURITE ALBUMS FROM 2010:
10. Option Paralysis (The Dillinger Escape Plan)
I'm still divided on Option Paralysis. It's unquestionably worse than their recent output - but that's inevitable; the standards set are too high for even DEP to maintain - but I can't decide how I'd feel about it if it was made by a band that didn't have Ire Works to surpass. On the one hand, it's filled with orgasmic moments where beautiful melodies collide with stupendous riffs and off-kilter drums (as in Gold Teeth on a Bum), but then these moments are bookended by trivialities that make you wonder (again, as in Gold Teeth on a Bum).
This is the fundamental problem with Option Paralysis. For every two hits, there's a miss, and no song manages to reach the level of perfection DEP achieved with ease on previous albums. To be fair, the hits have more impact than the misses; I don't hate the missteps, I just feel like they stifle what could have been a possible masterpiece. Instead, I have to be content with lots of gorgeous ecstasy interspersed with occasional duddery.
9. We're Here Because We're Here (Anathema)
I had no intention of having We're Here Because We're Here this high, but the more I listened to it, the more it didn't feel right to not have it this high. The thing is that this isn't a particularly special album, it doesn't blow your mind, it just... well... leaves you breathless.
8. Save the Planet (Tohpati Ethnomission)
If you can find Save the Planet, give it a chance, and you'll be introduced to a whole new world you may not have known even existed.
7. Blackjazz (Shining)
Shining jumps into the fastlane, and drives forward at full speed. It's apt that this is called Blackjazz, but you only fully appreciate this when you consider their previous work. Shining started out as an acoustic jazz band, the antithesis of Jaga Jazzist (coincidentally, they share a member in Jørgen Munkeby), which appears below. Their first album was pure jazz, nothing like this, but after gradually experimenting more and more with instrumentation and genre, Blackjazz is their latest offspring. It's quite an evolution; from one group of fans to a whole different set.
Now, besides a shift in genre, Shining has also taken another leap in the quality of their material, especially since Grindstone, which isn't bad by any means (I actually really like it), but simply doesn't have the thick layer of pressure you feel when listening to Blackjazz.
6. Axioma Ethica Odini (Enslaved)
Enslaved is made up of a bunch of prog nerds, and you can hear it here. This is still heavy as heck, but it has a progressive streak coursing down the middle, forming the backbone of the music. This gives way for a whole load of unorthodox structures, riffs, drumming patterns, vocals, and, ultimately, songs. The depth of this album forces you to take multiple listens to get it, but when you do, wow. It just fits, regardless of how unorthodox it all sounds.
The more I learn about Enslaved, the more I think they've got to be the perfect black/viking metal band for me, ideologically. I just agree with their view of music, so it's no surprise, I suppose, that I ended up loving this album.
5. Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones (Cancer Bats)
When I got to see Cancer Bats earlier this year, Liam Cormier, the singer, hung around the bar before the show, talking to fans; afterward, he was at the booth, helping the crew sell merchandise, etc. I was stunned to see him there; I'd never seen a member of such a big band out selling merch before, and felt a deep respect for the band. To be fair, now, I wasn't out there all the time, and other band members may very well have been there, too, but I can only speak of what I saw, and the fact that I came out liking Cancer Bats as people as well as musicians.
It's fascinating yet unremarkable that we tend to root harder for people we like, and show a distaste for the merits of those we don't - regardless of production. As such, Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones is an album in which I find immense enjoyment. Having seen the band in the person and seen the band as people instead of some brand, the veil separating the creator from the listener has been lifted, and I've gotten the chance to connect with the music, making it a much richer experience.
Of course, that isn't to say that this album shouldn't be appreciated in its own right. It's heavy, groovy, funky, loud, and all the flavours of Awesome. Particularly on the opening and closing tracks.
4. Coyote (Kayo Dot)
Beyond the grain, one has to view this as a horrible album cover. But then you learn about the story behind this work: one of the band's close friends, Yuko Sueta, was suffering from a fatal illness and, in the final stage of her life, provided the text around which the music on this album revolves. Toby Driver's gothy vocals carry a melodramatic weight with them, giving the music a certain poignance you finally understand when you return to that hideous cover.
Coyote is a powerful tribute to a friend, who, once smiling, has since lost her way.
3. Paracletus (Deathspell Omega)
Deathspell Omega continue down their progressive path. The one criticism, if you want to call it a criticism, I can lay on this album is that it sounds a lot like their most recent work in terms of sound production, which means it may sound the same if you're only listening to it in the background. That said, however, if you've never listened to Deathspell Omega before, this will be something you've never heard before. Paracletus may sound like Deathspell Omega, but it doesn't sound like any black (or any other genre) metal album that has come before it.
2. One-Armed Bandit (Jaga Jazzist)
One-Armed Bandit starts with a fairly unimpressive introduction track (titled, funnily enough, The Thing Introduces...); it feels perfunctory, a 23-second intro for the sake of a 23-second intro. But as soon as the second song starts, it immediately makes sense. This is how One-Armed Bandit goes - disparate parts with a superfluous connection in instrumentation that, when seen as a whole, come together in a musical triumph. So-called nu jazz at its finest.
1. Valley of Smoke (Intronaut)
3 2009 ALBUMS I'M STILL DIGGING:
3. Beacons Of Ancestorship (Tortoise)
Last year's #3, Mono's Hymn to the Immortal Wind, gets beaten out by a band I've only recently discovered and quickly came to love. Tortoise is lumped in the post-rock category, but they are most certainly not post-rock. Although not in the same way as Mr. Bungle, the instrumental music shifts between genres, from jazz to electronic to punk, all with ease and while maintaining the sense that it completely fits. The two songs I want to quickly highlight are Prepare Your Coffin (of which a video was made) and Charteroak Foundation. The former is a great jazzy, grungy piece that has this intoxicating beat and gorgeous guitar solo. The latter has a more simple structure, but the mood it creates makes you continuously bob your head; one late night, as I was on my way to bed, the song came up on my phone's music player, and right there in a darkness bathed in moonlight, I began to dance. I probably looked drunk, but, man, the feeling of having this song pulsing through my blood vessels as my muscles swayed like waves felt so good.
2. Wavering Radiant (ISIS)
Mono gets pushed down, but the top-2 of last year remain the same. Seeing ISIS play Hall of the Dead and Threshold of Transformation live is still a vivid memory in my head; I can't escape it, the experience was just so wonderful, I want to hold on to it for as long as possible. The more I listen to it, the more I think this could be their best work to date - and I don't say that without thought; I'm in love with In the Absence of Truth.
I can understand the reasoning behind ISIS breaking up, but what hurts more than not being able to hear more new music from this group is knowing I probably won't see this music being performed in person again.
1. Part the Second (maudlin of the Well)
Wow. Part the Second is still taking my breath away. I can't really say any more than that. Get it, if you haven't already. It's available for free, dagnabbit.
40 PRE-2010 ALBUMS DISCOVERED IN 2010 (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER):
A Charlie Brown Christmas (Vince Guaraldi)
The stand out song is the instrumental version of Christmas Time is Here, which is perfectly evocative of December. I usually hate this time of year (too many missed deadlines), but I had a great time listening to the smooth piano and brushed snare in this album.
All Shall Fall (Immortal)
Fitting that a band that lives for winter follows A Charlie Brown Christmas. I'm not sure if this is Immortal's best album, but it's certainly up there, and possibly my new favourite. Everything about this album is awesome, and it's evidence that a black metal album can have good production and still be good (actually, it's better than a lot of black metal).
American Don (Don Caballero)
I don't know if there is an adjective that can accurately describe this band. They're post-slash-math rock, or something. It's really something you don't hear everyday; when you first listen to American Don, it will completely shatter your preconceptions. What Don Caballero manage to routinely create here is something most bands will never achieve.
Avoid The Light (Long Distance Calling)
I mentioned in the comments section earlier this year that Long Distance Calling would make an appearance in this list, and I've kept my word. In Avoid The Light, they take conventional post-metal and add enough twists to make the result sound more interesting than many of their peers.
Axe to Fall (Converge)
Something that should already be apparent is that a fair number of the albums on this list were released last year. The past few years have been great for music. A lot of people enjoyed this album, and I agree with them. The main reason, however, isn't because it's more "metal", but due to the final song, Wretched World. Converge managed to create a great mellow, catchy song amidst all the madness of the preceding songs.
Black Market (Weather Report)
The first Weather Report album with Jaco Pastorius at bass. Besides that beautiful fusion sound, there's a great, worldly feel to the music.
Blue Moon (Breathless)
I got one Breathless song (Green Finger Swinger) off a compilation album once, and enjoyed it immensely, but I never, for some reason, thought highly enough of it to try an album. Boy, was that a mistake. This album is amazing, from beginning to end, and, as much as I enjoyed Green Finger Swinger, it isn't even the best song on the album by far.
Death is This Communion (High on Fire)
I'm still not over the fact that this is a Matt Pike band, considering he was the guitarist of Sleep. Perhaps in guitar tone there are similarities, but I don't see it in much else. (Not that that's a bad thing.) I finally got to this album this year; Sleep or not, I'm definitely a fan.
Sculptured is another one of those bands I find that wow me when I go trawling for new music (is trawling the incorrect word, or is the process of finding, selecting, and discarding new music that destructive?). You go in with low expectations, get floored, and then you realise the lineup behind the music and it all makes sense: the musicians on this album come from the likes of Agalloch and Age of Silence.
Oh, boy, what to say about this... if I'd listened to this album last year, it would have appeared on my top-10 list. It's that good. After listening to this album, I now understand why a new genre of music (Zeuhl) had to be created specifically for Magma.
Fathomless Mastery, The (Bloodbath)
Mikael Åkerfeldt puts in a masterful performance, but has the spotlight stolen by the guitar work. The riffs on display here make your ears melt with with, um, glee.
Flax of Reverie, The (Mothlite)
When I saw Mothlite live, the band wasn't very pleased with the lackadaisical response from the crowd. Although I enjoyed the show (particularly the rhythms going between the bassist and drummer), I sympathise with the band, because I looked like I always do at a show: somewhere else. I tend to enjoy music on a level that doesn't appeal to musicians that want to see you sing and headbang along with them (one day I'll discuss this further in relation to a Dillinger Escape Plan-headlined show), I feel the beat, follow the guitar lines, close my eyes and enjoy the experience; Tool fans familiar with marijuana, I suspect, can understand. Other people at the show were doing this, too, and what it amounts to is a fairly unresponsive crowd that's listening to the music more than reacting to it. You can see how the band might have felt a little cold.
Needless to say, as great as the music was live (and it was), I think it sounds a lot better on record, allowing you to hear the little nuances that make this album eminently enjoyable.
Fortress (Protest The Hero)
There's some division regarding this album. Some people love it, others hate it. I remembered listening to Limb from Limb a while back and loving it, so I decided to give the full album a try. To be honest, I don't think it quite lived up to my expectations, but it's still a great piece of work.
Fountain, The (Clint Mansell with Kronos Quartet & Mogwai)
The first of two Clint Mansell appearances on this list. The recurring theme of the score is beautiful; a pensive, evocative melody. It's perfectly suited to the film, which, I will say yet again, is severely underrated.
Gretzky (Electro Quarterstaff)
Titled so in honor of the ice hockey legend. Featuring 3 guitarists, this is purely instrumental music that keeps the guitar tone dirty, the drums blistering, and the titular inventiveness high (see: The Right to Arm Bears).
Coroner's final release (not counting a compilation album), it's not surprising that their best and most divisive work is their last, much like Cynic and Pestilence (pre-reunion, and yes, Spheres is their best album. The intriguing thing about the Spheres debate is that depending on whom you ask, it's either - for metal fans - a horrible end to a productive period or - for prog fans - a triumphant ascension from tedium). Listening to Grin, you get an even more illuminating picture of the state of metal in 1993/4; it was this little blimp in music history filled with dazzling brilliance that just as quickly as it appeared, vanished in a faint puff of smoke.
You can call this Cynic, if you want, because it consists of the same members, bar the addition of a female singer (but there were female vocals in the preceding album, Focus, so it's not something very new). It's fascinating listening to this and thinking about the evolution of Cynic. Although this demo has very little in common with Focus, it still feels like a logical next step, but when you listen to Traced in Air, you can see that if Cynic were to continue down the Portal road, TiA would not have sounded anything like it did.
It makes you wonder about the alternate universe in which Cynic never disbanded, and what the Cynic of 2010 must sound like there.
Halo 2 Original Soundtrack: Volume Two (Martin O'Donnell, Michael Salvatori)
The Halo series holds a very special place in my heart as the point where I went from enjoying videogames to loving them. The gameplay, music, and story (cheesy as it is) was so far ahead of what I'd played before that I finally got it and understood the possibilities of interactive media. It was the turning point.
There's a reason that the music of the game is so stellar, O'Donnell and Salvatori are legitimate composers that take their work very seriously. That love and dedication shines through on this volume.
In The Constellation Of The Black Widow (Anaal Nathrakh)
Top-10 material again, and this one is really up there. The music Anaal Nathrakh create here is beyond intense, combining elements of grind, industrial, and black metal in a way I've never seen before. I cannot say enough how taken aback I was upon my first listen, I was totally unprepared for it.
In This Room (The 3rd and the Mortal)
The interesting thing about this album is that it sounds a lot like modern bands that started out in doom and black and are now trying to move away from it towards a mellow sound. The only difference is that while these bands are making this music in 2010, 3rd and the Mortal were doing it in 1997. Way ahead of their time.
Ki (Devin Townsend)
For some reason, I've become less and less interested in Townsend's work. I have no idea why. It's certainly not because I find it less enjoyable, otherwise I wouldn't have included Ki in this list, but perhaps it's more telling that I haven't included Addicted - my tastes have begun to shift.
Look To The Rainbow (Al Jarreau)
When I'm bored, I talk and sing. I just begin to ramble to myself, having a conversation between three people with three different accents, or scatting and making funny noises. I used to think this was quite unique, the way I'd make weird noises in a way that it sounded like music. I attached my ego to this fact, because it's the only way I can consider myself a singer in any way.
Then I discovered Al Jarreau and realised there was someone that did it before me and much better than me. I don't actually mind this as much as I figured I would, because Jarreau does it so well, I can't help but admire his sheer talent and skill. It's amazing what he manages to achieve with just his voice.
Loveless (My Bloody Valentine)
You have to respect any musician that is willing to warp his instrument to create a sound. And I don't mean warping it by smashing it against the body of a varsity cheerleader. Up until now, I've been aware of My Bloody Valentine but reluctant to get on the bandwagon; after listening to this, I'm on the bandwagon. Holy whatwhat, I love Loveless.
Monoliths & Dimensions (Sunn O))))
I'm not really sure how to explain why I like this album. I just do. It has this atmosphere that encapsulates you, surrounds you. You're immersed in it, and find yourself forced to go with whatever it throws at you.
Moon (Clint Mansell)
Earlier this year, I recommended Moon. It's a wonderful film, and one part of it is the score. From the piano to the ride cymbal, it's just brilliant, driving you as the story and cinematography wrap themselves around you.
I'm gonna say it: I prefer Down to Pantera. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this album. The riffs are Heaven on a fretboard, reminding me why I got into metal in the first place. Pray for the Locust, in particular, deserves some praise. Although having an acoustic piece in a metal album isn't unique, this song is so well done, I could listen to it all day.
None So Vile (Cryptopsy)
Don't know why it took me this long to get Cryptopsy's best album. I really dig it. The pace never relents, but if you're listening to this in the first place, that's exactly how you want it.
Oath Bound (Summoning)
The music is Tolkien-inspired, but oh, man, is it good. I really can't explain why I love it, but every time I listen to a song like Mirdautas Vras, my heart skips a beat. It's gorgeous. And Land of the Dead has to be one of the only black metal songs I like to sing out loud. Get this.
Pass the Flask (The Bled)
Pass the Flask followed the same path as Blue Moon. Although I'm not a big fan of the genre, I enjoy listening to the Bled's brand of metal-infused hardcore (and, no, that doesn't mean they're metalcore).
Psychic Maps (Dysrhythmia)
I've heard some odd comparisons when discussing Dysrhythmia, like "Mastodon without the vocals." I don't buy it. Dysrhythmia sound like Dysrhythmia. The reckless-yet-tight, jazzy metal wavers every now and then, but it always returns home to the frantic twang trying to simultaneously lose its way and hold on.
Reflections on the Future (Twenty Sixty Six and Then)
Here's an obscure group most people probably won't know. Releasing Reflections on the Future in 1972, 2066 & Then were very much a band of their time, creating an organ-heavy, quick-shifting, symphonic rock sound that managed to be both catchy and quite technical.
Resident Evil 4 (Misao Senbongi and Shusaku Uchiyama)
I love playing Resi4 on the Wii. The gameplay is extremely fun, and the graphics look pretty good, too, but the biggest factor is the atmosphere. Every level is an experience. From the brown, foggy early levels, to the misty levels near the lake, to the quiet night levels, you feel like you're living in every scene. When you finish the game, you feel a sense of relief at managing to escape the horror, but there's also a sadness, because you know you won't be able to turn back and visit this idyllic (ignore the evil people trying to murder you) village again.
Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow (Rainbow)
R.I.P. Dio. Catch the Rainbow is a beautiful reminder of the talent of the late singer. This is Ritchie Blackmore's band, but Dio's stunning vocals soar over the music, matching and sometimes surpassing the eloquence of Blackmore's guitar.
Honestly, I don't really like Textures' work before Silhouettes, and as such never cared to give them much of a chance. After giving this album a fair number of concentrated listens, I realised I was wrong to shrug them off before. It captures a perfect balance between brutality and melody, technicality and tedium.
Spirited Away (Joe Hisaishi)
Spirited Away is a giant reminder that I ought to pay more attention to OSTs. I've always loved the score of the film; in fact, it's one of my favourite things about the film, but, for some reason, I never thought to give the OST a try. I'm glad I eventually did, it's so stunningly beautiful, whenever I need a dash of blissful nostalgia, I put it on.
Starfish (The Church)
I learned of the Church through Donnie Darko, but I have no attachment to the film when listening to Starfish. Instead, songs like Destination and Under the Milky Way allow me to reminisce about late summer days; Under the Milky Way especially, which is also perfect for gazing out the window.
Ten (Pearl Jam)
I wasn't a Pearl Jam fan until I heard this album in its entirety. I'm amazed that a single record can have so many bona fide hits, and every one of those is a great song.
Unorthodox Creative Criteria (Coprofago)
Chilean progressive metal. Coprofago have been around since 1993, but their output averages 1 album every 6 years. At its worst, Unorthodox Creative Criteria sounds exactly like Meshuggah, but at its best, it sounds like pure jazz fusion, and this is when the album truly shines.
Vanishing Point (Various)
I love this film. I watched it extensively when I was writing Space, using the shots, music, dialogue, and existential themes for inspiration. My favourite song from this album is Over Me, which, after the way it was used in the film, carries a particularly powerful weight with it.
We Are The Romans (Botch)
The guitar lines interweave. The riffs play with your circadian rhythms before devolving into catchy melodies. Botch weren't ever afraid to experiment, and here, they were rewarded for their efforts.