Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Top Ten of 2008

This was originally a Facebook "note." I'm including it here for posterity's sake.  In retrospect, ranking an obscure third-tier metalcore band from NY over Origin's Antithesis (an album I've gone on to call the best death metal album of the past decade) wasn't just evidence of bias, it was pure stupidity. Live and learn.

Eden A.D. - Cycles of Relevance

All right, so the singer and drummer are two of my closest friends, and I personally got namechecked on track 4. You could say that I'm biased. But so what? No other album I've heard this year has met my need for melody and blast in equal measure. A remarkable achievement from one of NYC's best bands.

Origin - Antithesis

ROAAAAAAAAAARGH! Origin finally unleash the album they've been threatening to for 8 years. A masterpiece of unrelenting brutality and jawdropping technical prowess, yet surprisingly catchy and melodic. In a year where so many of death metal's biggest names dropped the ball, Origin deserve to be considered elite.

Bloodbath - The Fathomless Mastery/Unblessing the Purity

Irony is defined as a band formed by members of Edge of Sanity (syrupy melodies), Opeth (long acoustic folk interludes), and Katatonia (downbeat doom rock) paying tribute to the gnarly early work of Grave, Dismember, Entombed, and Morbid Angel, and somehow trumping everything that those latter bands have done in recent years. Starting with the unbelievably heavy teaser EP "Unblessing the Purity", Bloodbath 2008 is a brutal death monster routed in the classic Sunlight sound, but branching out into Meshuggahnized mathness and modern blast. Irony is a band who set out to pay tribute to the classics coming out with a classic of their own.

Krisiun - Southern Storm

My love for these brazilian nuts is no secret; I credit them as being the shot in the arm for death metal that led to the hyperblast trend and the return of true brutal death metal to the extreme metal stage. Since 2006's "Assassination", Krisiun have made it a point to temper their unrelenting double bass attack with rhythmic flourishes that come dangerously close to deathcore pit-baiting. "Southern Storm" continues that trend, and show a Krisiun that's willing to grow as songwriters and musicians but not abandon their hyperblast roots. The only quibble I have is with the inclusion of a cover of "Refuse/Resist"; the Sepultura song provides a nice respite from the violence, but a recording of "Slaves of Pain" or "Primitive Future" would have really put this album over the top. Maybe next time?

Cynic - Traced in Air

What can you say about a sophomore album released 15 years after its predecessor, a groundbreaking release as influential as it was revered? To say the least, expectations were high and haters must have been salivating. Well, Traced in Air is brilliant, falling somewhere between the melodic death metal of "Focus" and the dreamy prog of the "Portal" demo, yet being somehow better than both. Cynic eschew the sleep-inducing fretboard hystrionics of modern tech-death (cough cough Necrophagist cough), instead focusing on actual songwriting. With successive listens uncovering new elements, Traced in Air proves itself an album that rewards patience and attention. An evolutionary sleeper indeed.

Kataklysm - Prevail

Following the Gospel According to Bolt Thrower, Kataklysm plow on with no intention of straying from the path they've laid out for themselves on previous albums. Essentially "The Road to Devastation" pt 2 (or maybe "Epic: The Poetry of War" pt 4), "Prevail" is the same mix of blasting melody and mid-paced chug that put Kataklysm back on the map, taking the prize as the catchiest death metal since Peter Tagtgren's ill-fated bid to reinvent Hypocrisy as a bunch of 30 year old Slipknot fans.

Lord Belial - The Black Curse

A recent craving for swedish black metal led me back to Lord Belial, a second-tier svart metal crew whose "Enter the Moonlight Gate" has been collecting dust in my cd collection for 10 years with little to no interest. Well, praise the Lord, I'm prepared to admit when I'm wrong. With a proclivity towards mid-tempo gallops and a decided flare for melody, The Black Curse finds a comfortable middle ground between early Dimmu and Dissection's thrashier moments. In a year that's notable for its lack of notable releases from black metal's A-list, "The Black Curse" is a nice ringer till the next Naglfar embeds itself in my iPod. It's nothing black metal fans haven't heard a million times before, but right now it's all I need.

Moonspell - Night Eternal

Moonspell was a band that made a career for itself on the back of "Opium", a gimmicky single that my stoner friends in high school loved. Personally, I never cared much for this band. I found their early black metal unconvincing, and their later electronic goth a desperate stab at accessability that never amounted a single memorable song. And over it all dripped Fernando Ribeiro's faux-operatic baritone like so much cheese. So imagine my surprise when "Night Eternal" tore through my headphones with an evil intensity and forceful purpose almost alien to this band's early work. "Night Eternal" plays like a bouillabaisse of all things euro and metal; symphonic keys that wouldnt' be out of place on a Dimmu Borgir album, moody Paradise Lost chord progressions, even little Jesper Strombland guitar flourishes. In a year where so many of the big names fell flat, it's a nice surprise that a lesser light shone through so brightly.

Earth - The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull

An album of somatic beauty, Earth's latest plays like the soundtrack to an acid-trip western across the desert sands of Mars. And if that makes any sense to you and you haven't heard this album, then seek psychiatric help immediately.

Trenches - The Tide Will Swallow Us Whole

There seem to be no end of bands following Isis and Neurosis off the post-rock/doomcore cliff like lemmings. Trenches are a Solid State band who shoegaze for the Lord, apparently. "The Tide..." strays into space rock territory, but always finds its way back to the kind of slow pulverizing that built Hydrahead up, stone by stone, brick by brick. It's a pleasure to hear a band of this kind utilize screams so feral and unrestrained.


Bangs head against wall: Deicide - Till Death Do Us Part

After the career-resuscitating "Stench of Redemption", I had high hopes for this album. Unfortunately Deicide dropped the ball with this paint-by-numbers death metal album. Sigh. Well, at least Glen still has Vital Remains.

I know this is a 2009 album but I can't wait 12 months to praise it: Napalm Death - Time Waits for No Slave

Jesus christ. It's been 22 years since napalm death invented grindcore, they're still the best at what they do. "Time Waits" is the sound of the masters taking on all comers and taking back their crown untouched.

Best tribute to old Iron Maiden: Dismember - The ending to "Under a Bloodred Sky"

Can we skip the double album and just get the good songs: Cavalera Conspiracy-Inflikted/Soulfly-Conquer; Judas Priest - Nostradamus

Max Cavalera gets my thanks for upping the ante on the last couple of Soulfly albums and going back to his thrash roots bloody roots, but all it did was highlight how redundant the much hyped reunion with his brother Igor was. One thing's for certain: the missing element that made those early Sepultura albums such classics and recent Soulfly near misses is becoming clear, and I don't mean Paulo Junior.

Meanwhile, Judas Priest upped the ante on their reunion with a double cd concept album based on nostradamus. Besides the fact that concept albums were always more of Maiden's stock in trade, Priest haven't managed to come up with much in the way of memorable songs with their reunion albums. The sad truth is, I'm hoping for this reunion to dissolve so that Halford can get back to the sublime work he was doing with his solo band.

C'mon it's not so bad: Cryptopsy - The Unspoken King

This album has been flamed since before its official release date, and it's not hard to see why: the once "None So Vile" Cryptopsy appear to have sold out to the metalcore crowd with breakdowns, keyboards and clean singing. Personally though, I enjoy the Mike Patton-esque clean vocals, and when they blast, Cryptopsy are still the sickest out there.

I have a cashmere scarf with the words "Thug Life" embroidered on it: Young Jeezy - Put on (feat Kanye West)

I don't know why, but there's something so satisfying about rolling into art school on the L train through Hipsterburg with this blasting through my headphones.