Monday, December 28, 2009

Best of 2009

This was originally posted on my design blog. I decided to re-post it here for posterity's sake.

1) Napalm Death - Time Waits For No Slave

When I was a youngun, two words defined my journey to the dark side of music: "Napalm" and "Death." It's ridiculous to contemplate, but somehow, nearly a quarter of a century after giving the world the blastbeat and a new way to irritate your parents called grindcore, Napalm 2009 are faster, heavier, and angrier than ever. Seeing them live earlier this year was some kind of religious experience.

2) Slayer - World Painted Blood

The questionable post-rock influence aside, how could a Slayer album not make it to this metalhead's top ten? Half the album is dedicated to the kind of razor-sharp thrash that put Slayer at the top of their game and kept them there. Then there are the strange parts: the fistpumping anthem "Americon", the creepy Pink Floyd partying chez-Lavey interlude in "Human Strain", and the rousing title track with its moshpit-ready breakdown. Is it as good as Reign in Blood? Can anything ever be? It's a Slayer album, and in this new era of hipster thrashers and deathcore poseurs, that's as good as we could hope for.

3) Vader - Necropolis

No question about it, Vader are the reason that Poland is the new capital of death metal. They've been refining their death-thrash onslaught since 1985, but it's taken them till now to surpass all their death metal peers of that era. Vader have a battleplan and they're following it to the letter: catchy thrash, unstoppable blast, brooding doom, headbanging groove. Trade in your Morbid Angel longsleeves, Vader have taken the death metal throne with album after album of perfect songcraft and flawless execution.

4) Behemoth - Evangelion

In truth, it's hard to say that Evangelion is any better than any Behemoth album since they staked their claim on blackened death in the late 90's. A little slower, maybe, and possibly sorely lacking in the blasting department. Still, this is some evil shit, and on "Fire and the Void" and the epic tribute to the dark one "Lucifer," Behemoth prove themselves masters of the death metal anthem.

5) Cannibal Corpse - Evisceration Plague

I realized a few years ago that exactly one thing has never changed in the 15 years I've been listening to this music: Cannibal Corpse. What douchemonger questions their intention and suggests it's time for a change? Beatdown parts? Female vocals? Synthesizers? That shit won't fly here. Corpse have done exactly what Corpse needs to do... death metal music for death metal people. And long after you've "grown up" and discovered a new love for rockabilly or indie rock, or whatever the hell hipsters will be listening to next, Cannibal Corpse will still be 5 ugly guys making the same ugly music.

6) Coalesce - Ox

Has anyone kept count of the number of times Coalesce have broken up and then reformed? With this most recent comeback, it's impossible to impugn their motives, as A) the kind of migraine-inducing noisecore that Coalesce pioneered in the late 90's is a long way from making any kind of comeback, and B) chances are, Coalesce won't stick around long enough to profit off of it. When the dust clears, what we'll be left with is the career best Ox, an album which showcases Coalesce's unpredictability with bits of rockabilly, prog, and 70's rock interweaved into the gnarliest math-metal south of Gorguts. It's like watching Godzilla take his time chewing up the members of Don Caballero, the Jesus Lizard, and P-Funk, before spewing them across the Tokyo skyline in one atomic breath.

7) Kreator - Hordes of Chaos

Thrash revival? Fuck you, wannabe Williamsburg poseurs. Kreator never went away, and over the course of three albums have defined a new era for themselves. They may never be recognized for their true greatness, or their importance in the development of metal (it was a short walk from the melodic thrash of "Extreme Aggression" to the melodic death of "Slaughter of the Soul"), but Kreator have always rewarded their fans with the catchiest thrash anthems Metallica never wrote, all with that European sincerity that American bands never seem to replicate.

8) Wolves in the Throne Room - Malevolent Grain/Black Cascade

Winter is upon us, and nothing better accompanies long walks through freezing darkness than these Wolves. The definitive voice in USBM, the evil that emanated from Norway in the early 90's echoes through their music. The same necro riff will hammer you over and over till you're hypnotized, accompanied by Nazgul screams and a production that manages to be both raw and all encompassing. Malevolent Grain was the teaser ep, featuring the hypnotic dirge "A Looming Resonance", a 13 minute epic featuring the forlorn vocals of Jamie Meyers (Hammer of Misfortune) breaking through the frost and darkness. Black Cascade followed shortly, 4 songs of the grimmest tree-hugging ever executed in a candle-lit studio. Believe the hype: America finally has a black metal band that doesn't suck.

9) Gwynnbleid - Nostalgia

The best melodic death metal band from the US issues their debut album, and the results don't disappoint, with a folk-influenced epic that recalls the early work of Opeth, Katatonia, and early Dark Tranquility. The maturity that Gwynnbleid display is amazing, and it'll be amazing to see where they go for from here.

10) Immortal - All Shall Fail

Mighty Ravendark returns and engulfs us in its freezing shadow. The best riff-writers out of Norway return at full gallop, with seven of the most headbang-worthy black metal anthems released this year. It's even rumoured that playing these grim and frost-bitten anthems at full volume will combat global warming; I'm willing to do my part.