• Music I Liked in 2010

    24. Dez. 2010, 21:40

    EDIT: Made on 1/21/11

    First, some honorable mentions that are not that great, but still worth a listen. All of them yield some goods songs but overall they were lacking substance and memorability:
    Salem- King Night
    The Art Museums- Rough Frame
    Nachtmystium- Addicts: Black Meddle Pt.2

    Next, here are albums I heard once or maybe twice but still have no idea what to rate them, though I am intrigued enough to them try again. Perhaps you should check them out too?
    An Autumn for Crippled Children- Lost
    I Shalt Become- Poison
    She & Him- Volume Two
    Sigh- Scenes from Hell
    1349- Demonoir
    Negură Bunget- Vîrstele pămîntului
    LCD Soundsystem- This Is Happening

    Lastly, we've got the shoddy releases that I was exposed to that either disappointed and/or failed to impress me whatsoever:
    Imperium Dekadenz- Procella Vadens
    Dimmu Borgir- Abrahadabra
    Burzum- Belus
    Dark Tranquillity- We Are the Void
    Eluveitie- Everything Remains (As It Never Was)

    And now the list!

    21. MGMT- Congratulations

    20. Delorean- Subiza

    Probably one of the top contenders, if not the top contender for feel good album of the year. Irresistible to dance to, unabashedly up-beat and an atmosphere which could either fit on a sunny day at the beach or city lit drive on any given night. "Grow" and "Stay Close" are the two songs I'd recommend you hear most, but especially the former.

    19. oOoOO- oOoOO (EP)

    18. Caribou- Swim

    17. Clair Cassis- Clair Cassis

    This band came out of nowhere. I had no idea that Velvet Cacoon had even split up but this pretty much just picks up the pieces under a different moniker. The fuzz is still here. The atmosphere is still hazy. Images of a dark ocean in the wee hours of morning or a late late evening grace the artwork and it's an accurate imagining of the music for me. The nautical influence was apparent in Velvet Cacoon and it's just as apparent here. Not the best thing released by this duo but still satisfying.

    16. The Knife- Tomorrow, in a Year

    I'll keep this nice and simple. The first disc, the "electro-opera" Darwin inspired music, is extremely experimental and quite frankly very uninteresting to me. It's worth a listen to see what you think but it doesn't draw me back in personally. The second disc though is filled with pretty great material. Some of the songs rank up with The Knife's best material, chief among them "Colouring of Pigeons" which is one of the year's best songs beyond a doubt. I hesitate to recommend a purchase since it is a double album and costs a bit more. It might be better to just download the second disc and save yourself some money.

    15. Best Coast- Crazy For You

    If ever the need for the perfect summer soundtrack was called upon, Best Coast appear to have accomplished that task in spades. Catchy, beachy, lo-fi, uptempo, and all in the context of a girl who's very very into some guy. No, seriously, he's the topic (assuming it's the same person throughout) on every single song. You might think that could get annoying, and it probably will irk some, but it doesn't bother me. The songwriting more than makes up for it anyway. All of the songs can tend to sound the same but that's also the mass appeal since they're all consistently good. Not a bad egg to be found. "Boyfriend" and "Crazy for You" are the two mandatory tracks on here though. One word review: Fun.

    14. School of Seven Bells- Disconnect from Desire

    Initially I was a little disappointed by this. 'Alpinisms' I was/am still very fond of for its interesting mixture of genres and the wonderful vocal work and harmonies. This carries along in more or less the same manner but seems heavier on some of the electro influence and is also a bit more in line with dream pop/shoegaze from the 90s, which is a very good thing. The band also does sound maybe slightly more streamlined this time around and that serves to make the songs a bit more direct. The material still has plenty of hooks to grab you even if not all the songs are great. But overall this is a strong sophomore effort and fans of their first album should definitely pick this one up. I think they'll also attract a lot of new fans as well so if you haven't heard them this is not a bad place to start at all.

    13. Twin Sister- Color Your Life

    Twin Sister is one of my favorite finds this year. An indie pop band that writes great songs and features a singer with a really interesting voice. I'm not sure I know of anyone to compare her too. It's a little bit in a lower register and slightly deeper. Maybe a bit nasally? I'm so bad with describing sometimes. The songs are catchy though and have this alluring/charm factor that keeps me coming back for more. Some of their music is actually available for free (the legal kind of free) so definitely check them out.

    12. Fear Factory- Mechanize

    The hardest hitting and most brutal Fear Factory album since the one and only 'Demanufacture'. Pretty solid songwriting all around and absolutely no fucking around on this one. Probably the one flaw is that while all the songs are good there isn't much memorable material on board but then again the pure aggression should satisfy your fix for something heavy. And if you're like me and you love the aforementioned classic 90's album then you should dig this just fine.

    11. Negură Bunget- Măiestrit

    So this is a remake of an older album done by the classic lineup responsible for 'Om' and at least half of it is spectacular. The other half (the first batch of songs actually) I was having trouble enjoying fully but the last listen with this album proved to be extremely successful and I think it finally "clicked". This success caused me to drive up my previous score and while I don't find it as good as 'Om' or ''N crugu Bradului' it is better than the disappointing 'Vîrstele pămîntului', which was the new album put forth by the almost entirely new line-up. So if you found that one lacking I'd recommend picking this one up for your fix.

    10. Phantogram- Eyelid Movies

    A really solid output of trip-hop with an indie rock flavor. Most of the songs are very good but sometimes (and this could just be my mood) there is a dip into mediocre-ville. I really like the vocal work by both Joshua and Sarah, but mostly Sarah who's voice has a kind of sultry and hypnotic quality to it, especially on "As Far as I Can See" where I can't help but believe and sympathize with every word she says. Joshua sounds almost soulful on "You Are the Ocean" and the effects he uses on "Running from the Cops", along with that infectious groove that's repeated all throughout the song, result in one of my favorites on the album. Best of all, Phantogram's music comes off as fresh and has an energy infused within that will help carry me into many repeated listens.

    9. Local Natives- Gorilla Manor

    Thanks to FYF I was fortunate enough to become acquainted with this excitingly fresh sounding band. They didn't sound like anyone else I heard that day and the same can mostly be said about 'Gorilla Manor'. "Fresh" is the keyword for the band as they sound like they're genuinely having a great time making music. The chemistry between the members is apparent in the smooth vocal harmonies scattered all over the place and the songwriting is consistent and strong from start to finish. "Sun Hands" is an obvious single and a standout track, but I'm also keen on the opening track "Wide Eyes" as well as "Airplanes". I really have to stress the quality of this album. I also see this band having a wide appeal because talent like this is just too good to be ignored.

    8. Enslaved- Axioma Ethica Odini

    Black metal and Pink Floyd's lovechild has return with an album that has a lot more heft than you've become used to based on the past couple releases. It's actually closer to their 'Below the Lights' record in terms of production and the aggression apparent through, and the songs are all super strong. They've matured yet again but have also kept that core Enslaved sound in tact. I've actually only given this one a couple spins so far but I knew pretty quickly that this was a winner. Like the Agalloch album my opinion has the potential to grow tremendously with this one.

    7. Lantlôs- .neon

    When I learned that Neige would be joining the band I have to admit I was slightly worried. I love Neige but I was afraid of being overexposed to his style and vocals, not to mention Lantlôs already had such a distinct sound on their debut self-titled album. But my worries were quickly laid to rest after spending some quality time with '.neon'. Lantlôs still sounds like Lantlôs and Neige (oh wow) sounds incredible. I'm not sure what was lacking for him on the Amesoeurs album but he sounds like he's back to his old self again, maybe even better than before. Lantlôs have incoporated more of a post-rock vibe this time but don't sound like any of the other black metal bands that are influenced by post-rock. Again, they've carved out a niche style for themselves. A must for fans of (post)black metal.

    6. Deerhunter- Halcyon Digest

    Despite the rather off-putting cover, Bradford Cox and company have struck gold once again. Coming off the immaculate Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. double album a mere two years ago, there was a certain amount of pressure for Deerhunter to match that success. It turns out that the best way to do so is by stripping down your sound more to help not only create focus but a well laid out dish of tasty songs to sink our teeth into. It starts off strong with "Earthquake" (my personal favorite on the album) and continues along a path of finely crafted songs that both reflect sounds from rock's past but also give said sounds a modern face lift, all the while allowing the band to retain an identity. And that's no easy feat, my friends.

    5. Agalloch- Marrow of the Spirit

    Okay, so here's the deal, because I know you're thinking "Brandon! How is this NOT your number one?!?1!!11! No question that this is a really good album. Agalloch couldn't make anything less than good if they tried. But thus far this hasn't hit me like their past works have, at least not yet. And I emphasize "not yet". I'm almost certain my rating will increase but I can't pretend to love this if I don't yet love it. Other than this important note, I have to say I fully embrace the black metal elements showing up since they have been kind of dormant on previous albums, though always just below the surface, since it does bring a nice sense of evolution for the band and definitely adds some freshness to their sound. The aggression in particular has been upped considerably because of said styles being used. I think in the end it's going to be a grower like everything else I've come to know from the band and as of now it's still a top 5 entry. Not bad at all.

    4. Beach House- Teen Dream

    I seriously love this band if you didn't already know. 'Devotion' was my first foray into their music and even though that in itself was enough for me proclaim my undying love, 'Teen Dream' simply solidifies that pledge. The thing that really stands out about Beach House is their knack for writing melancholy dreamy pop songs that not only strike an emotional chord but carve out songs that will stick with you. It's fairly simplistic songwriting at its heart but in the best kind of way. 'Teen Dream' might even be their most consistent and best overall. I honestly can't decide between the two albums. Nevertheless, this is one of my absolute favorites this year. Pick it up at all costs.

    3. Les Discrets- Septembre et ses dernières pensées

    From the moment I saw the artwork my heart grew all fluttery with hopes that it would sound just as amazing. Good does! Atmospheric metal is about the only term that really applies to this band. There's a ton of post-rock influence but it doesn't come off sounding like all the other metal bands that flirt with that style. If anything it's closer to Alcest but not a copycat. The vocals are all clean and Fursy has a spectacular sounding voice, so smooth. I thought I'd have more to say about this but what can I say...I'm speechless. Definitely one of my top favorites of the year.

    2. Crystal Castles- Crystal Castles II

    I am super impressed with this second album from Crystal Castles. I fell in love with their debut rather quickly and still hold it extremely high on my favorite albums in recent memory. When I heard about a follow-up I was very excited. I can safely say it lives up to practically any expectations I could have had before its release. On the whole it comes really close to being almost as good as the first album and songs like "Year of Silence", "Suffocation", "Pap Smear" and "Celestica" make me infinitely happy. CC have trounced the dreaded "sophomore slump" and appear to currently have momentum on their side. With material like what's presented here they will keep pleasing me for a long time to come.

    1. Alcest- Écailles de lune

    Not the sheer masterpiece that was Alcest's debut from a few years back but this still is a striking and bold new direction for the band that doesn't try to repeat a formula thankfully. It sounds fresh and incorporates more of the band's old black metal influence, and sounds dreamier than ever before. The title track (broken up into two parts) is stunning to say the least and probably worth the purchase of the album on its own. But the rest of the songs are damn good too in their shoegaze/metal/post-rock glory. A must have for people interested in music that's taking chances and succeeding with flying colors.
  • Favorite Albums of the Decade

    11. Mär. 2010, 9:01

    EDIT: Needless to say, upon reviewing this monolithic list nearly one year later, there are many choices that I would now omit, as well as bands I'd choose different albums from if I were composing it today.

    After seeing them all over the place since 2010 started, I thought it was time for me to jump into the fold with one of these “end of the decade” lists of my own. These albums are maybe not the best to some of you but they are the ones I liked most over the last decade nevertheless. Therefore, I hope you’re able to find joy (or despair) in some of them as well.

    1) There is no order other than that they’re alphabetical.
    2) As you might or might not have guessed, this deals solely with albums released in the years 2000-2009.
    3) As much as I'd love to, each band gets no more than one album. I do break this rule once, however, but only once.

    Agalloch- The Mantle

    There's a reason why this has made so many people's lists of "favorites of all-time" within just seven years of its release. Agalloch are one of those bands that put out memorable album after memorable album, and The Mantle is no exception. You could really make the same argument for Ashes Against the Grain, but The Mantle is the one that put them on the map and finally revealed their greatness (after their classic debut) to many who were gladly willing to follow them. They're a band that needs no classification because Agalloch sound like no one else.

    Akercocke- Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone

    These fancy dressed Brits are a prime example for the type of elusive and avant-garde like direction metal ought to be taking in the 21st century. Walking the line between prog, black metal and death metal, this fourth album is the apex for all the work they've produced thus far. Akercocke are menacing yet intellectual.

    Alcest- Souvenirs d’un autre monde

    As ingenious as Le Secret is, and equally deserving to take the spot here, Souvenirs was the album that introduced people to a modern take on shoegaze, coupled with the faint traces of Alcest's black metal past. The harsh vocals are also gone, replaced by Neige's ethereal clean pipes. They glide over the music in a way that creates harmony and tranquility, while also sounding extremely emotional. The inclusion of the occasional mid-paced blast beats are a nice touch. This music will appeal to just about anyone with a pulse, it's just that charming.

    Amesoeurs- Ruines Humaines

    When I first got into Neige’s other project, Alcest, I was amazed at the ability he possessed to create such beautiful music. Then I learned of Amesoeurs. Right away, I knew they were both very different. Amesoeurs was the modernized and industrial-esque answer to Alcest’s ode to all things nature and ethereal. I normally wouldn’t like to include an EP consisting of just three songs on this list, but it’s impossible for me not to talk about one of my listened to albums in the past few years. The quality speaks for itself. One part black metal, other part post-punk, Amesoeurs was a short-lived entity. The one and only full-length of the band unfortunately didn’t live up to the potential set by Ruines Humaines, but don’t let that stop you from loving this three song gem. You will.

    Amon Amarth- Versus the World

    While many have called With Oden on Our Side their best, and with good reason, Versus the World has something special that I can't quite put my finger on. The sound has a little bit more grit and grime than the other works after it, but still the melody and ferocity the band has always been known for. Also, each song is finely crafted into a complete package, showcasing the band's talent for forging a melodic death metal style that is all their own.

    Anaal Nathrakh- The Codex Necro

    In the discussion of most unrelenting and brutal black metal to date, this is a no brainer. The power and heft that comes out of the riffs and light speed percussion, not to mention the venomous vocals lend themselves to create a black metal album that's as intimidating as one can find these days. Even after nearly a decade it’s lost none of its potency. One lyric from the album sums up it perfectly: "Down on your knees!"

    The Angelic Process- Weighing Souls with Sand

    The Angelic Process was a true underground gem that died all too suddenly. Their music was both strikingly heavy and beautiful at the same time. An experimental blend of drone, noise and ambient, this final work of theirs will probably be seen as their best work. This is a difficult album to acquire but it's one that will eat its way into your psyche. The music is so atmospheric and dense and will the reward listener with many repeated listens.

    Angra- Temple of Shadows

    Angra's "Temple of Shadows" was one of the first bands in this genre that actually made me realize the diversity possible within the confines of this once narrow-minded form of music. Their Brazilian heritage gives them a very identifiable sound, bringing in hints of Latin jazz, and progressive rock to round out this incredible work. Not many power metal albums stand out to me, but this is one of the exceptions.

    Arcturus- The Sham Mirrors

    When it comes to the avant-garde approach to metal, perhaps there is no one better than Arcturus, specifically this album where they excel on every song. Of course, it helps when all of your members are essentially Norwegian “royalty", including the unique vocal talents of Garm. Expect clever use of electronics, near perfect riffage, and flawless drumming from Hellhammer to round out this package. Add to that an original approach to songwriting and you have a winner of epic proportions.

    Ásmegin- Hin Vordende Sod & Sø

    Heralding from Norway, Ásmegin are a band that took the metal underground by storm. Here we have a band that is not afraid to mix a plethora of metal styles in the melting pot, and glaze it with a folky and delightfully refreshing coating, all of which is able to stand its own ground from others in the genre, all the while escaping the cliche trappings other bands run into the ground. To top it off, not only is it their debut, it's also one of the best folk metal releases ever.

    Asobi Seksu- Citrus

    Had this band been around in the early 90s, we'd be putting them alongside the greats of the shoegaze genre like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. But alas, they are relatively new, and carrying the torch for that nostalgic 90s sound with them. Engaging songwriting and delightful vocals from lead singer Yuki Chikudate helps catapult Citrus to its rightful place among the classic albums of the genre. Trust me, this is worth your time.

    Bloodbath- Resurrection Through Carnage

    A retro album of the highest quality, this album drips with the Swedish death metal sound of the early 90s, complete with authentic buzzsaw guitar tone. The songs are all catchy, memorable, and *gasp* fun! Rarely does one have "fun" listening to death metal, but count this among them. While their future albums were all solid, none of them had the charm that this one did.

    Blut aus Nord- The Work Which Transforms God

    The title of this album alone hints that you are about to journey through something not of the ordinary. What we have here is an experimental form of black metal, taking nods from industrial and ambient as well. The dissonance of the guitars is unlike any other band and aids in the eerie atmosphere the band drapes over the entire length of the album. The vocals, also, are distant and threatening. They invite and repel at the same time. This album stands as a template for black metal in this new century. Their newest album from 2009 is excellent as well.

    Bohren & der Club of Gore- Black Earth

    Doom + jazz + ambient = Black Earth? Yes. If you have even the faintest interest in any of these styles, this is an album that will become an instant favorite. This is the sort of music that you expect to hear from a lounge band playing at 3am. Moody, dark, and all too satisfying, Bohren exhibit the kind of originality you love to hear in a time where cookie-cutter music is abundant anywhere you turn.

    Boris- Pink

    I regret that I’m still playing catch up with the band and only have two albums. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take a genius to realize how great Pink is. The unbridled energy and focus the band plays with immediately stood out to me and continues to do so today. This is experimental/noise rock from a band that clearly knows their instruments like the back of their hands. So comfortable are they that writing memorable songs are par for the course it seems. Not only is this a perfect introduction to Boris in my opinion, it will likely remain a favorite long after you've acquired more of their discography.

    Camera Obscura- My Maudlin Career

    This band has been around for awhile now, and although they may have been deeply inspired by Belle & Sebastian initially (so I’ve heard), they've recently come into their own, and on this newest album of theirs, you'd be hard pressed to find a more well put together album of indie pop and catchy melodies. The singer has such a hypnotic voice that you'll hang on every word she says. Pretty much every song on the album is well written and filler is nowhere to be found. Camera Obscura has a bright future with albums like My Maudlin Career under their belt. This might very well be my favorite album of 2009 as well.

    ColdWorld- Melancholie²

    I simply can't speak highly enough of this ridiculously good debut album from just one man. This is easily one of the best black metal albums to come out in this decade, as it captures that winter atmosphere as well as any of the best in the genre. One man bands seem to produce some of the best music, and this is certainly no exception. I can only imagine what's to come in the future.

    Colosseum- Chapter 1: Delirium

    While doom metal is one of the least popular genres in my library (sadly), it's by no means a reflection of my taste for it. I love this style of music, and when done right, it satisfies like few others. I just have trouble finding releases that actually stand out for me. Enter Colosseum's Chapter 1: Delirium. Upon first listen, you may think to yourself, "This is different how?" For one, the atmosphere is literally dripping off of speakers whenever I listen to it. The otherworldly keyboards inserted into the album are an extremely vital aspect to this band. They create a texture that is simply not achievable by any other means. When you put that together with the soul crushing guitars, and monstrously gravely and deep throaty vocals, you have the recipe for funeral doom magic. Trust me when I say this is one band in the genre that's worth more than a fleeting glance at.

    Cradle of Filth- Midian

    Not many, if any, diehard metal fans will spend their precious time on this band. Much like Dimmu Borgir, they are shunned for their image, their attitude, and the surprising accessibility of their gothic/symphonic take on metal (notice that I didn’t say they were black metal). Of course, there’s definitely an undeniable black metal influence in this band too and it’s often a point of malice directed toward them, but I won’t get into it here. I’m here to tell you that Midian is maybe the best work of the band (at least from this decade). By combining their characteristic gothic atmosphere, traits from all across the extreme metal board (black, death, thrash), and stirring them into the cauldron, we get an extremely well crafted metal album. Dani’s vocals, take them or leave them, are a focal point but the backing music is no slouch either. At times aggressive, other times melodic, this band is dynamic with their songwriting and write riffs that actually sound good. Argue all you want, but I love this band for what they do. Also, I’m just a sucker for their gothic theatrics, Hot Topic kids be damned!

    Crystal Castles- s/t

    This is one of the bands that have helped me get into the electronic music genre, and it's easy to see why. Their songwriting is top-notch, and for just two people, the variation in sound among all the songs is quite diverse. Plus, it's so hard not to love the eccentric personality of singer Alice Glass. Her vocals have several different styles, which once again lends more variety. I dislike dancing, but this band makes me want to do it anyway. Even if electronic music isn't your thing, this might be the album to sell you. Let's hope that Crystal Castles continue on the path of greatness, because with a debut as good as this, it won't be easy to follow it up.

    Dargaard- In Nomine Aeternitatis

    Some music is simply meant to entertain, and some music goes beyond mere entertainment. Such is the case for this second album of Dargaard. This is the type of stuff that transports the listener into another realm and time. For me, it's an ancient realm, where I am surrounded by the twilight of the sky above. This is a medieval, ethereal influenced neo-classical sound that's quite unlike any other band. Atmosphere is key here. This is definitely mood music, but when that mood is around, there's nothing better to accompany it than In Nomine Aeternitatis.

    Dark Tranquillity- Character

    The longest standing melodic death metal band from Sweden's founding trio, this is arguably the band's finest hour. I was tempted to pick Damage Done but I think this album might be a tad bit better overall. It's amazing to hear this kind of aggression and creativity for a band this late into their existence. Stanne's vocals remain some of the best in extreme metal, and the songwriting is near perfection to boot.

    Darkspace- Dark Space III

    Easily one of the most startling new bands of this first decade, Darkspace is an underground marvel to those who will understand just what it is they are doing not just for black metal but for music in general. Their use of minimalism and ambient inspired synths create the atmosphere of being in space better than any band I’ve ever heard try. Dark Space III stands as the culmination of everything they've done thus far and is a must listen to anyone looking for a unique experience.

    Deathspell Omega- Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice

    Deathspell Omega can easily be considered at the forefront of black metal since coming out with this epic release. Moving forward without abandoning the core of what makes this style so powerful, they've found a way to keep the aggression without losing an ounce of evil or dread by adding a cleaner but still suffocating production style. The vocals are some of the best in the genre, sounding inhuman to these ears. The music itself progresses along either beating you to a pulp or taking it back a notch in order to surround the listener in the near cathedral-like moments that are scattered throughout the album. This is one black metal album that will long be remembered.

    Devin Townsend- Terria

    A mad genius in the metal world, Devin Townsend's solo work has been a continuing expression for his more progressive and melodic tendencies. Terria is no different, and it serves to enhance Devin's already legendary reputation. Equal parts serious and tongue-in-cheek, this is one album that any metal fan will feel proud to hold in their collection.

    Die Verbannten Kinder Evas- Dusk and Void Became Alive

    Die Verbannten Kinder Evas have been a consistent band on their first three albums, taking some of the finer and more delicate sounds of Summoning, and creating a style that stands on its own in the neoclassical realm of music. Dusk and Void Became Alive, however, marks a decidedly dark turn for the band, the atmosphere being very solemn and melancholy. Not to mention, a new female soprano was added, and could very well be one of the best female vocalists in any genre right now. You will get lost in these songs and listen in wonder as DVKE takes you on a journey into the depths of your soul and you will love every second of it.

    Dimmu Borgir- Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia

    While most are content to shove this band aside, choosing to see them as too mainstream, overproduced, and boring, I think nothing of the sort. I realize their music will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but as far as well played, well written and engaging modern metal goes, these guys know what they’re doing. While Death Cult Armageddon was arguably their creative apex, I believe Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia not only captures more aggression from the band, it’s also a lot darker sounding overall, two features that are very appealing to me in the symphonic black metal genre. The riffs on this album are extremely satisfying and have an excellent tone, ranging from traditional black metal riffage to thrash, melodic death, and even traditional metal. Top it all off with a haunting atmosphere created by the keyboards and ICS Vortex’s heavenly clean vocals scattered throughout, and you have an album worth listening to.

    Draconian- Arcane Rain Fell

    Taking cues from doom metal and adding a touch of gothic sensibilities, out comes the talented Draconian. Out of all the bands making doom metal, this band has always stood out to me. Perhaps it’s the touch of adding female vocals to the mix, and the heavy use of piano, but there’s something about the band that seems special. Their sound is haunting and melancholy without sacrificing the qualities that make doom what it is. While their debut was really good, this album is even better. The guitar sound got heavier and the atmosphere thicker. All in all, Arcane Rain Fell is one of the best albums in this style of metal that I’ve come across.

    Drudkh- Blood in Our Wells

    As good as Autumn Aurora is, and I will never take anything away from it, Blood in Our Wells has impressed me from day one. This is the band at their finest, utilizing that unique sound only they are able to pull off. The atmosphere is rich with Ukranian folk melodies, and one can almost imagine accompanying the lonesome figures dragging along the terrain on the album cover. In short, Drudkh sound like no other band in black metal. This album is a journey everyone needs to take.

    eastern youth- 365 Step Blues

    I simply can’t resist the allure of Japanese music (or at least the bands I’ve been exposed to that are anyway). I first came across this band at a concert and at the time I had no idea I was a fan of their type of music. The passionate playing of the band, especially their lead singer and guitarist, won me over. While firmly in the “indie” rock, there’s something that definitely sticks out with these guys, probably because they make no effort to sound American, or European, and channel the influence from their home country. This is on display with the lyrics (all sung in Japanese) and the atmosphere in general. For some reason or other, this band makes me feel like I’m walking the streets of Tokyo. And that can only be a great thing. If you haven’t heard this band before then you’re in for a real treat. If you can get past the rawness of the vocals then you’ll thoroughly enjoy this album.

    Eluveitie- Spirit

    Not many folk metal bands capture a sense of originality or even distance themselves a bit from the vast number of copycat bands; count Eluveitie as one that doesn’t settle for blandness. While you many think that utilizing celtic music with metal is nothing new, the way this band does it simply sounds refreshing, therefore causing it to sound new. With more than a little influence from melodic death metal to fuel their aggressive side, Spirit shows a lot of variety. Whether listening to the sound of the obscure hurdy-gurdy or the whimsical allure of the tin whistle, this band is downright fun. I can only imagine what being drunk would do to the experience, but fortunately drinking is not a requirement to see this album for what it is: a damn well executed slab of Celtic-infused folk metal. Sadly, they lost a little steam with their sophomore release (though it’s still very good. This is the band’s best work and well worth the money and time you spend on it.

    Ensiferum- s/t

    Ensiferum's debut album is energetic, folky, and fun as hell. Contrasted with the more black metalish folk sounds of Finntroll, Ensiferum bring a sound more akin to power and melodeath, and does it ever work well. Without a doubt, Ensiferum made a huge mark on the folk metal scene with their debut album alone and continue to do so today. They've yet to best this work although they've come close.

    Enslaved- Ruun

    Enslaved have been evolving throughout their career, and while debatable, their current incarnation is much like the melding of the progressive/psychedelic leanings of Pink Floyd mixed with the band's own brand of black metal. Ruun is the pinnacle of this evolution and not one song is weak. It's a wonderful thing when a band is able to keep consistency throughout the album, and that's exactly what has occurred here on Ruun. While there are many worthy Enslaved albums, Ruun, quite frankly, is their masterpiece.

    Extol- Undeceived

    A challenging band to label at any point in their career, on Undeceived they decided to employ influences from mostly death metal and progressive metal, but also being quite technical as well. Melody is in no shortage here though, be it the guitar work or the vocals, and even being put into any of the genres they're influenced by, they still don't quite fit. That's how unique sounding Extol is. If you're looking for a band that stands apart from the crowd, look no further. Undeceived is also the band's best effort by far.

    Fen- The Malediction Fields

    Fen's promising EP released in 2007 was but a taste of the quality that this band was capable of. Any ounce of potential seen there was delivered in spades as The Malediction Fields is a fine black metal release. Bringing in influence from post-rock and folk, Fen is one of the better atmospheric black metal bands around these days. Do not miss this album. I also highly recommend checking out their EP, Ancient Sorrow.

    Fever Ray- s/t

    Side projects can sometimes just be leftovers from a person’s main band. This is not the case with debut album from one of the members of The Knife, Karin Dreijer Andersson. Falling in love with The Knife, naturally I was curious to hear this solo effort and I'm happy to say it's just as fantastic. When compared to The Knife, Fever Ray's debut feels mellower, almost relaxing and leans more toward an ambient sound overall. The danceable/electronic beats aren't as pronounced here and it works wonderfully for the atmosphere of the music. Karin's voice is, of course, a highlight as well. I highly recommend this album if you are into The Knife or electronic music that's more subdued.

    Finntroll- Nattfödd

    Humppa! It's hard not to fall in love with Finntroll, who found a way to make the sounds of Finnish polka music and metal not only work but make it sound like they were both destined to be together. Nattfödd is arguably the best work of the band, taking the excellent format laid down on their previous album and adding some polish, tightening the songwriting, all while adapting a new singer into the fold; an impressive feat to be sure. It's also a standout album in the folk metal genre and not to be missed by those who aren't afraid of having a little fun while listening to their metal.

    A Forest of Stars- The Corpse of Rebirth

    I toss the word "unique" around quite a bit but if any band on the list deserves to be described this way it's A Forest of Stars. I still have no idea what to expect whenever I listen to this album. The songs are meticulously planned out and long and given this fact it’s not the kind music one puts on the background. This requires every bit of your attention in order to attain complete satisfaction and understanding. This is a very progressive and avant-garde take on black metal and any fan of the genre would do well to check out this overlooked gem from 2008. They have a new album coming in 2010 so keep your eye out for that.

    Garden of Shadows- Oracle Moon

    This gem seems to have stayed relatively obscure over the years, even for the underground. The fact that the band broke up after this release probably cemented that status, but those who do know it can attest to how good this band really is. While mostly within the confines of melodic death metal, there are also some progressive and doom elements thrown into the mix, and seamlessly I might add. The lead guitar work is exceptional on every single song. The melodies not only sound orgasmic but they're extremely memorable. Also, another standout feature for the band is the vocals. They are firmly in the realm of death metal, having a much lower register than what you may be used to for this melodic death style. Personally, I think it helps them stand out even more, especially given the conviction with which they are delivered. Slap on some fantastic artwork and you have an essential melodic death metal album.

    Gojira- From Mars to Sirius

    Gojira took on a topic rarely heard of in metal music, an ecological concept that revolves around trying to preserve the sanctity of our planet. And the band delivers this concept through their massive sound of progressive death metal. Riffs are thunderous and the syncopated rhythm with the drums is hypnotic. The songs also range between all out assault to grooving to reflective. Their progressive bent helps Gojira to stand in a niche all their own. Creativity in metal is far from dead.

    Have a Nice Life- Deathconsciousness

    Another highly original band rising from, essentially, the depths of obscurity, Have a Nice Life created quite a wave of excitement back in 2008 on their debut release, easily one of year's defining albums. This is not the kind of music for sunny days. This is seriously depressing music. Taking nods from post-punk, drone, shoegaze and a host of other influences, Deathconsciousness sprawls two albums, each one of equal quality to the other. The genuine and dark atmosphere of Have a Nice Life is ultimately one of their most appealing features.

    Immortal- Sons of Northern Darkness

    Always one of the leaders of the second wave of black metal in Norway, their revitalized and epic new sound came with the now classic At the Heart of Winter. While Damned in Black was a worthy album in its own right, it didn't capture that freezing and frostbitten aura the band always excelled at. Sons of Northern Darkness picks up the pieces of At the Heart of Winter and assembles them into a modern black metal classic. The production has never sounded so well and it brings out their music in the best possible way. Guitars slice, drums pound like ice, and Abbath's vocals call forth legions from the darkest and coldest regions on Earth to battle. Sons of Northern Darkness is without a doubt Immortal's crowning achievement.

    In Flames- Clayman

    Able to divide metalheads in a single bound, In Flames released their last great album at the turn on the century. Clayman, a much more refined vision of previous outputs by the band, is a swansong of sorts for the much loved melodic death metal the band churned out in the 90s. They have changed their sound since, some embracing the change, others spitting on the ground in disgust. However, Clayman displayed a near perfect balance of their classic roots and also a sign of what was to come with the melodic choruses and upbeat tempo, but trademark In Flames guitars in tact. Clayman pleases almost everyone.

    Interpol- Turn on the Bright Lights

    Probably one of the greatest indie rock records of all time, Turn on the Bright Lights does pretty much everything right. One of the reasons is their clear influence from the post-punk sound of the 80s, such as Joy Division, and mixing it with more modern sounds in a way that's fresh. Songwriting is spot on as well, being just as catchy and addicting as it melancholy. It's a shame that Interpol have not been able to match this debut, but as good as this album is, it'd be hard for even the greatest of bands to equal it.

    Isis- Oceanic

    Once again, I was stuck between two albums, Panopticon probably being just as good, but I give Oceanic the nod. The epic scope of this album is immense, and Isis are just as effective crushing your skull with bone crunching riffs as they are soothing your soul into liquid metal with their ambient and quieter moments. Isis are their own niche genre and follow no one.

    Jesu- s/t

    Jesu are one of those bands that will always escape categorization. One can claim to hear elements from many genres, but there's no one style Jesu sticks to. It's a mish-mash to the point of being recognizable and undecipherable simutaneously. So what makes the self-titled so special? For one, this is Jesu at their absolute heaviest. The drone/doom quality of their riffs is in full force here. There's a tremendous amount of weight behind them. Justin's voice is also extremely emotional and raw sounding. He's always had a genuine quality to his voice. The songwriting as well is expansive and covers nearly everything the band is known for all these years. Simply put, if you are to own one Jesu album, this is the one. Although, Silver ain't a bad choice either.

    Kamelot- The Black Halo

    Ah, I remember when I first got this album. This is one of those that on first listen, sounds way too stripped down and simple. But this requires multiple spins to appreciate. There isn't a lot of flash here. Not excessive or masturbatory musicianship. These guys know how to play for the song. Roy Khan's voice is silky smooth and is unlike any other vocalist in this style. He has the type of appeal that exists outside of metal, and yet it still works in perfect unison with the music they're creating. There are so many great songs here that it's almost criminal.

    Kauan- Lumikuuro

    Hailing from Russia, Kauan have progressed with mixed results over their short lifespan but have never sounded better than on Lumikuuro. While the elements that comprise the album are not necessarily earth-shattering, it’s the way in which they’re crafted together in each song that makes this music stand out to me. The blend of folk, metal (mostly doom), and keyboards is extremely charming and well worth a listen.

    The Knife- Silent Shout

    From the cold northern lands of Sweden comes The Knife, and their best work, Silent Shout. Unlike other electronic based bands, The Knife applies a cold atmosphere to their music, which is no doubt inspired by their home. There's also a strong 80s vibe on certain songs, and wouldn't sound too out of place among the new wave bands of two decades ago. And, the songs here are memorable and full of hooks. The vocals are also unique in that they are sometimes tweaked to the point of sounding digitalized, but not in a cheesy way...not an easy thing to accomplish. As danceable as it is relaxing, Silent Shout shows a band at the peak of their performance.

    Leviathan- Tentacles of Whorror

    Leviathan's first album, The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide, is without a doubt a classic of US black metal. However, on his second release, Wrest not only turned up the aggression factor, he made those eerie ambient passages even more disturbing. In fact, this entire album reeks of something rather unsettling. This is not easy listening. The more you listen to it, the more its layers will unfold themselves. In short, this is some of the best atmospheric black metal one can find.

    Lifelover- Erotik

    While Pulver was highly original and experimental, Erotik took Lifelover's unique brand of black metal and depressive rock, and made their original style even more enjoyable. The production was improved, the songwriting became tighter, and the emotions even more depressing. It's arguable that the band is even metal, but that's maybe what makes the band so charming. They escape modern classifications, and that's a trait that many of the greatest bands do.

    Lost Horizon- A Flame to the Ground Beneath

    Probably one of the most epic bands ever, thanks in no small part to Daniel Heiman's untouchable pipes, this album takes you to heights not seen before on a power metal album. Expect progressive-styled songwriting, galloping riffs, and astral vocals which will take your soul to the clouds and beyond.

    Lunar Aurora- Andacht

    Lunar Aurora are not a very well known band, despite their relatively long existence. Though I've not heard previous outputs, Andacht shows the band firing on all cylinders. They deliver modern black metal that not only has strong production values, but also keeps the atmosphere thick and juciy. Unorthodox songwriting also helps the band to stand out, as they write the song in any way they see fit. One other highlight would certainly be the vocalist. He's able to switch from harsh growling rasps to choir-like vocals that resemble the chanting one hears in a cathedral. The music as a whole is quite dark too. This is a very impressive output of black metal that not many bands these days are able to produce. Do not miss this band.

    Lurker Of Chalice- s/t

    A more experimental beast than Leviathan, Lurker of Chalice concentrates on the ambient side of Wrest's influences, incorporating influences from doom/drone, black metal, and ambient. The results are extremely satisfying. After all, the point of a side-project is to allow an artist to explore different territories that don't fit within the context of their current project(s). Lurker of Chalice does just that. And it's a fascinating trip that takes you deeper into the mind of Wrest than one may be willing to go. But it's so worth the risk.

    Lykathea Aflame- Elvenfris

    To say I was a little late in jumping on the bandwagon for this album is sort of an understatement given that’s it’s already 10 years old. Even with my little experience, I can see its brilliance and I’d feel very wrong not including it here in this list. This is the type of album that has so many layers that it will require way too many repeated listens to count. But even upon first impression, I’m quite astounded at the complexity of everything going on. Better late than never as they say.

    M83- Before the Dawn Heals Us

    Just staring at the album cover will give you a great indication of the kind of atmosphere being strived for on this album. It's that feeling of the night, and the inescapable mood that it brings to even the most ordinary places. On this album, which is the best effort of the band, though the two other albums come close, we hear Anthony experimenting with shoegaze and ambient elements that mix beautifully with his entrancing electronic-based music. We also get some very ethereal vocal work as well. Some moments of this albums are simply stunning in how they're pulled off. The last song will leave the listener in bliss as melodies crash all around you. Pick this up.

    Mastodon- Leviathan

    This is a real watershed album for the band after the brilliance of Remission, and even though Leviathan is not as punishing as Remission, I believe it shows the band taking their sound to the next level by giving a more diversified effort all around. By tightening their songwriting, and becoming versatile musicians, Mastodon put forth arguably their magnum opus so far in their career. Having one the greatest album covers in metal is merely icing on the cake.

    Mirrorthrone- Carriers of Dust

    I got into this band rather late too and was I ever missing out. Although this is clearly at the avant-garde end of the metal spectrum you’re going to hear influences from black metal, symphonic metal, and even death metal. The drumming is programmed but that’s not a problem at all. In fact, the chaotic and robotic nature of the drums fits this band’s style very well. The compositions themselves are free-flowing and not confined to any structure whatsoever. Certain motifs and riffs are repeated, but for the most part the entire album keeps you guessing. I think that’s where a lot of the appeal lies with Mirrorthrone. Carriers of Dust is a fine album of modern styled metal that impresses, surprises, and most important of all entertains.

    Mooma- Herd Forming

    Certainly one of the most impressive ambient releases to cross this listener’s ears, Herd Forming is amazing in the way its notes seem to drift and float with ease, giving the feeling that you yourself are weightless. There’s a surprising amount of depth as not any of the songs sound the same. All of them have their own distinct set of feelings that they evoke. If humans somehow could fly among the clouds, this is probably the musical accompaniment of said flying.

    Moonsorrow- Verisäkeet

    There really is no band quite like Moonsorrow in metal. Some probably detest their long compositions, but if you’re like me then that’s one reason you enjoy them. Although they started playing black metal, they’ve evolved into more of an epic folk/pagan metal band, but without abandoning their black metal roots altogether. Instead, they use that influence at opportune moments to heighten the intensity. The juxtaposition with the more folk-y moments on this album is a defining feature. If mature sounding folk metal is what you seek, then look no further than this album.

    Morbid Angel- Gateways to Annihilation

    This album seems to be often overlooked in death metal discussions, even when solely talking of Morbid Angel. Their early albums are essential, no doubt, but Gateways to Annihilation shows a very mature band that wanted to rely less on speed and focus on creating heavy music with tons of atmosphere. The production suits this foundation perfectly, often described as sounding very subterranean. I have to agree, since these songs feel like they came from the bellows of the earth. This slower take on death metal resulted in a very unique album for Morbid Angel and the genre in general.

    Negură Bunget- Om

    If you ever wondered what progressive black metal was all about, look no further than these Transylvanian gods. Like Darkspace, this band is paving the way for the future of black metal but instead of channeling the vast darkness of space, Negură Bunget take a difference approach. They're influenced by philosophical and natural aspects of life, and their music reflects that with its sometimes abstract and earthy sounds. I struggle with words for Om because they simply won't do justice here. This is the type of album that goes beyond mere music and becomes a work of art. If you haven't experienced this, then you're in for the experience of your life. Pity those who will never know this band. This is maybe the album of the decade, not just in black metal, but music in general. Believe me, I don't say that lightly. Om will leave you speechless.

    Neun Welten- Vergessene Pfade

    If there's any band that can come close to mastering the neo-folk genre alongside Tenhi, it's surely this upcoming band. Here we have one of the strongest debuts on the year, and the talent coming from all the members is astounding. Neun Welten is a vocal-less band, and believe me, the instruments do all the work they need to enthrall the listener. Songwriting is very strong with not a dull moment to be had. It's just constant melodies that are warm and delightful. Any fan of acoustic guitar as well would do well to hear this band. Don't let this one go overlooked.

    Neurosis- The Eye of Every Storm

    One can’t bring up post-metal without mentioning the father of the genre. A true enigma throughout their career, they change on practically every album. On The Eye of Every Storm, we get a dark and gloomy cast of songs. One of Neurosis' most admirable traits is their ability to create atmosphere, and a damn depressing one at that. Equal parts relaxing and melancholy, this is one of the best albums you can listen to on a rainy or cloudy day.

    Nevermore- This Godless Endeavor

    Nevermore were always a unique heavy metal band. They escape conventional genre tags and continue to forge their own path, led by god-like talents of Warrel Dane and Jeff Loomis. This Godless Endeavor, along with Dreaming Neon Black, stands as the watershed moment in their career and the quality of this album is probably one of the reasons the band has yet to release a follow-up. It will be no easy task, since this release fires on all cylinders.

    Nightwish- Wishmaster

    Nightwish is not for everyone. But for those who appreciate operatic and symphonic elements in heavy metal, it’s difficult to resist their charms. Leading the way is Tarja’s powerful vocal performance (she’s at her best on this album I believe) and keyboardist Tuomas’ compositional talents which delicately balance classical orchestration with the band’s own trademark brand of metal. Speaking of their metal side, I think it’s displayed in fine form (much like it was on Oceanborn) here. The guitar has a great tone and the riffs strike the right balance of melody and speed. Strong guitar work would become a bit of a lost art on their later works. So, even though future albums would become more bombastic with the inclusion of a full scale symphony, Wishmaster remains their most successful in terms of consistently good songwriting and the band’s collective performances.

    Nile- In Their Darkened Shrines

    While some may argue Annihilation of the Wicked as being their best, I find it difficult to not see In Their Darkened Shrines as the masterpiece that it is. Not only do I find it more brutal sound-wise, but the Egyptian atmosphere that Nile has always been inspired to create is found here in a way not heard on other albums. Whether it's the pefectly implemented synths or technical riffage or all out assault of the drums, Nile proved once and for all that they were a juggernaut in the modern death metal scene and haven't looked back since.

    Opeth- Blackwater Park

    While there can be arguments made for any of Opeth's albums released in this decade, it's fairly difficult to argue against any of those albums either. My choice is Blackwater Park because throughout each of its 8 songs, virtually no flaws are to be found. The songwriting is some of the best in the band's long career, the acoustic and heavy passages are masterfully segued into one another, and it's responsible for some of Opeth's most beloved material to date.

    Pagan’s Mind- Enigmatic: Calling

    When studying up on progressive metal for 2009, this album is probably one of the best examples of how and where to start. While the band was already impressive on previous albums, this release is massive. Every song is written to near perfection, exploding with melody and strong guitar and vocals. The riffs themselves are some of the best you're likely to hear anywhere. And that Do yourselves a favor and do not miss this if you didn't catch it the first time. It's a must for prog metal enthusiasts and metal fans in general.

    Paysage d'Hiver- Einsamkeit

    Best. Ambient. Ever. Not convinced? Well, Paysage d'Hiver is primarily ambient black metal that's inspired by winter, but every once in awhile we get pure ambient from this one-man project, and while he's always had a knack for making extremely atmospheric material, this has to be the apex of the kind of rich atmosphere that he, or anyone, can create. Trust me when I tell you that ambient music hardly gets better than this.

    Paysage d'Hiver- Winterkälte

    This band is so good at two genres that I simply had to include two releases from our dear pal Wintherr. This is the black metal side of Paysage d’Hiver and it’s awe-inspiring. Six songs and 90 minutes of music make up this demo (yes, it’s a demo too), so as you can imagine, each song is quite the exercise in patience as far as length goes. Luckily, the atmosphere is so entrancing that it all goes by painlessly and sounds beautiful in the process. The less trained ears to raw/ambient black metal will find this to be a bunch of noise, but those willing to put in the effort to understand what’s going on will be rewarded graciously. Not many bands can pull off two styles of music so well…count Paysage d’Hiver among the few.

    Pelican- The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw

    It's not easy to be an instrumental band and stay interesting, especially in the metal scene. Taking cues from post-rock, Pelican have crafted their special mix of very sludge-like and heavy metal. Allowing the guitar work to take lead, it opens up the songwriting and it really shines on this album. The dynamic quality of these songs is staggering, and when they turn on the distortion, it's akin to be smashed down into the ground after being hit with a bag of bricks. In contrast, the beautiful and acoustic moments on the album are that much more breathtaking. This is a shining example of the potential of post-metal.

    Phoenix- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

    Another great one from France, this band (who was on the Lost in Translation soundtrack I recently learned) is a new favorite of mine. They have that hard to pull off blend of catchiness and songwriting depth. The songs can be simple, but in a way that makes you want to listen over and over, instead of becoming annoyed. One of those bands that actually make me want to dance at times, so that alone is worth something. You can't go wrong with this release.

    Porcupine Tree- In Absentia

    This album is one of my first forays into not just progressive music, but non-metal music in general. And what a great experience it is. I became a Porcupine Tree fan instantly. The songs, of course, are the true highlights. Filled with memorable moments, outstanding melodies, and a real balance of emotions ranging from aggressive, psychotic, melancholic, hell, even a little bit of a funk vibe (as you hear on 'Wedding Nails'). Here is one of those albums that sticks with you long after hearing it. This is a great introduction to the band too if they’ve somehow escaped you all these years.

    Primordial- To The Nameless Dead

    A band that exudes the quality of being "epic", To the Nameless Dead is one great song after another. Unlike most bands, Primordial do not easily fall into any sub-genre. Although their greatest inspiration is clearly folk metal, there is much more seriousness in their approach and one can garner a great appreciation by solely hearing the vocals, easily one of the most distinguishable voices in metal at this time. This album has everything one can want from a metal album in this modern day.

    The Ruins of Beverast- Unlock the Shrine

    The Ruins of Beverast is a juggernaut within black metal, and it began on this debut album. The lyrical concepts of war and death come across vividly through the music. What makes this album so special is its unique atmosphere. Much in the way Deathspell work, this album is deadly in its execution. This is a dark and bleak album, but also quite triumphant at times, when one hears horns that are played. While all albums are deserving, this created the crater that now separates The Ruins of Beverast from a gang load of others in the genre. It will be a long time before they even dream of catching up.

    School of Seven Bells- Alpinisms

    A beautiful debut album from a band bursting at the seems with talent. Their music is not easily defined but they draw their influence from indie pop, shoegaze, ambient, electronic, and it all sounds stunning. This is one album you do not want to miss out if you appreciate bands being more experimental with their music these days.

    Shining- V: Halmstad

    An album that took the underground by storm, Shining became a household name among metalists with this fifth effort. While not entirely too far off from the last two albums, still there's a noticeable sharpness and clarity which the new production job has brought. Also, we have some progressive and non-black influences showing up as well, but never losing the dreadfully depressing atmosphere the band excels at. To top things off, there are even well written guitar solos, and Kvarforth's signature style vocals, resulting in what is probably the best work of the band's career.

    St. Vincent- Marry Me

    Oh, Annie Clark…I fell in love with her the moment I saw her and heard her sing. Her voice and looks conjure up for me the elegant singers of yore. Classy, refined, and sophisticated are all adjectives that would apply here. Her music is intriguing and unlike anything else in “indie” pop scene that I’ve heard. While at times it’s rather simple, the way it’s crafted makes it subtlety seductive. The abundance of hooky choruses and melodies makes that possible. At other times there’s clearly some experimentation being done and it not only makes St. Vincent stand out amongst the crowed of generic artists, she sounds more interesting for it. The darkness in her lyrics also adds another layer to the fold, creating even more intrigue. I currently love her new album, Actor, but my advice is to start here first. You’ll be happy that you did.

    Steven Wilson- Insurgentes

    Steven Wilson is a music god as far as I'm concerned. Although I'm a big Porcupine Tree fan, I must admit that this album blows away most of the material released by PT on the past few albums. As far as Wilson’s work in 2009 is concerned, The Incident is a very good album but as of now this album still comes out on top. Any fans of Wilson's work or progressive music in general will eat this up. It’s certainly one of the most impressive albums of 2009 in any case.

    Strapping Young Lad- Alien

    That's right, more Devin Townsend for you all. Strapping Young Lad has been his project to unleash every ounce of aggression and angst that seeps through the man's veins, all while keeping his tongue firmly in cheek. On Alien, we have what is maybe the band's best. The production is pitch perfect, the performances are all practically flawless, and the songs are just the kind of insane amount of noise (I use that term loosely) one expects on a Strapping Young Lad record. What maybe sets it apart is the inclusion of some progressive elements from his solo project, particulary clean vocals. While this may not sit well with some, it serves this album well and makes it richer than it already is. It's also probably the best album of the band to start with for newcomers.

    Summoning- Oath Bound

    Summoning is an enigma within black metal. They’ve never confined themselves to any trappings of the genre and for that reason have been successful in creating a unique sound that no band has duplicated. It’s really hard to pick between Let Mortal Heroes Your Fame (if my rules didn’t exclude multiple albums from same bands I would have it in my list) and Oath Bound. I think Oath Bound comes out on top slightly because I’ve known and listened to it for a long time now and can appreciate all the very fine details entwined under its surface. The keyboards are more dominant than ever before, often taking lead on the melodies here. The choir-styled vocals have also improved and really sound as if there were many voices singing the trained chorus in some of these songs. In summary, Summoning continue to transcend their genre and channel the spirit of Tolkien better than anyone. Even if you’re not a Tolkien fan, there’s still plenty here to love.

    Sunn O)))- Black One

    Black One stands not only as the band's most popular work, but possibly their best. Each song is carefully crafted and shaped into its own entity. The tortured vocals from guests Malefic and Wrest fit perfectly into the despairing atmosphere Sunn O))) has created here. Drone metal is a force to be reckoned with, and look no further than Black One to start your journey. It's never too late.

    Tenhi- Maaäet

    Few bands match the rich and masterful talents of Finland's Tenhi, and while they exceed most of their peers in the neo-folk genre, it's Maaäet that assured their place as gods. This album, much like others in this list, has a much darker sound to it overall. Some of these songs sound downright tragic, but in the most beautifully depressing way you can imagine. The album even escapes the genre of folk music at times, and remains as the band likes to call themselves, just "progressive music". Certainly, Tenhi have set no boundaries for themselves and continue on the path to immortality without breaking a sweat.

    Therion- Lemuria/Sirius B

    While both are distinct albums, Lemuria and Sirius B feel of a piece to me and it doesn't feel right separating them. There's a definite continuation you get hearing them both back to back as well. Here, Therion essentially set the benchmark for operatic and symphonic metal, and do it so convincingly. Maybe the best thing about both of these words is their knack for playing just enough in each song, never overdoing themselves, just always making each song work. This is bombastic music in the best possible sense of the word.

    Ulver- Shadows of the Sun

    Perhaps the most original band of the last 15 years, Ulver strayed away from their early black metal incarnation, experimented with electronic and ambient music, and they now rest firmly in a sound that is uber relaxing and somber, but still akin to an ambient base. There's certainly no denying the down to earth quality possessed on Shadows of the Sun. Each song is led by its spacey atmosphere and Garm's wonderful emotional tone. Ulver's changeling quality continues to challenge the listener that is willing enough to accept them. It's worth it.

    Velvet Cacoon- Genevieve

    A controversial band from the start, even starting out as a band claiming the work of others as their own, many stopped taking Velvet Cacoon seriously. But I'm not sure many were prepared for the masterstroke that this album was. This was the ambient/atmospheric black metal Burzum had started on Filosofem taken to the next logical level. The atmosphere is the driving force behind the album's charm. Engaging riffs, all played on a guitar with as unique a tone as you'll ever hear. Not to be missed.

    Verdunkeln- Einblick In Den Qualenfall

    An atmospheric black metal offering, Verdunkeln draw little to no comparisons. Their music is clearly black metal influenced, but there's a large amount of heft behind some of the guitar work, almost akin to what one finds in funeral doom. The vocals are a definite highlight, ripping through the surprisingly melodic songs with venom to spare. The songwriting is vast and varied, with almost no conformity whatsoever. It just flows and does what it wants. The scary part is, this band may even get better. Nonetheless, the second release of theirs is mandatory listening.

    Vinterriket- Der letzte Winter - Der Ewigkeit entgegen

    Vinterriket is one of those bands that captured me from first moment the notes entered my ears. Although primarily an ambient project, Vinterriket managed to put out some black metal here and there and none of them can compare to the mastery composed on this release. This is not the type of album that makes you headbang to riffs, no. Vinterriket creates a wall of sound with the guitars, which lets the synths lead the way for all of the melodies. I use the word “atmosphere” quite a bit, but it’s truly the standout quality for this album. Det Letzte Winter is downright mesmerizing in atmosphere, one that can’t be explained properly with words. Once it’s taken you, you will never forget it.

    Walknut- Graveforests and Their Shadows

    A complete atmospheric gem from Russia, Walknut released one of the better black metal albums of recent years on this debut of theirs. Already the band seems to have found a unique sound for themselves. Free flowing songwriting and a dark aura are but two of Walknut's strengths, and if this is only their first album, one can only imagine the genius that awaits.

    Weakling- Dead as Dreams

    Talk about quitting at the top of your game, Weakling had simply one album under their belts before splitting up. Released at the birth of the new century, Dead as Dreams is a revolutionary release for black metal, essentially a sign of what was to come with later bands like Wolves in the Throne Room, who would become fond of making 10-15 minute songs, and kicking up the atmosphere several notches. Future influence aside, this is just outstanding work for a band that was only just getting started. The sound here is extremely grim, hostile, and relentless. Weakling was not afraid of letting the riffs envelop the listener for several minutes. To sum it up, buy this album.

    Windir- 1184

    There are few, if any, that can match the talent and engaging melodies that Windir were able to form. The band has a penchant for writing memorable riffs, and then lacing them with haunting synths that are quite folk-ish sounding. This, I believe, is Windir playing their hearts out and without any compromise. Valfar's mark upon the metal world will always be felt thanks to 1184.

    Wintersun- s/t

    Jari leaving Ensiferum was a huge departure for some to swallow, but no one knew the music he was about to unleash would arguably overshadow his former band's. While not primarily a folk metal band like Ensiferum, Wintersun borrows from various genres and the style of music presented here has been argued to this day. What we can say is that every song is epic in its songwriting approach. Each successive song has a greater length and the emotions run from ferocious and orchestral, to somber and cold. All the more impressive is that this is essentially a solo work, the drums being the only element not done by Jari. We can only sit ever patiently for the follow-up, Time, who's release date seems forever put off.

    Wolves in the Throne Room- Diadem of 12 Stars

    While the brilliant Two Hunters album is equally praiseworthy, Diadem of 12 Stars has one thing going for it that Two Hunters does not, and that's the element of surprise. No one was prepared for this band's unique and epic approach to black metal. The folk influence heard would become a trademark element for the band, and the long duration of their songs (all 10+ minutes), ensured many twists and turns. They've not yet matched the passion this album yields, and it remains the band's best.

    Xasthur- Nocturnal Poisoning

    The band one loves to hate or adore, Malefic created his magnum opus on his debut album. A rough production style accentuates and creates an atmosphere that would not be possible otherwise. Of course, the songwriting here is well done too, and this album is a template for how depressive black metal ought to be played.

    1349- Hellfire

    Hellfire stands out from other black metal in two key ways. The first being the inspired songwriting and comes through the general chaos of the band’s music. It’s not just blazing fast music for its own sake; it’s taking you along a journey. Whether you’re focusing on the dynamic and impossibly fast drumming of Frost, the smoking riffs, or surprisingly originality of the vocals, Hellfire manages to capture the classic Norwegian black metal sound while both boosting the sound quality and keeping its credibility. You will not find many bands playing this intense and still keeping the passion.
  • Favorites of 2009

    13. Feb. 2010, 0:23

    Same format as last year. First half is made up of stuff I liked most while the second half consists of good but not great albums.

    The crème de la crème

    Altar of Plagues- White Tomb

    On the first go around, I wasn't sure what to think. They sounded somewhat similar to Wolves in the Throne Room. Then I listened again. Now I find that they may be better than Wolves in the Throne Room, at least when comparing it to Black Cascade. But really, it's rather unfair since the folk aspect of Wolves is not a part of Altar's sound at all, which alone separates them. Comparisons aside though, it doesn't take long before you discover just how well done White Tomb is. Their songs are sprawling and epic, taking more than a few nods from post-rock as well. They're a shining example of the kind of quality required to standout in this crowded genre. Amazing and befitting artwork is icing on the cake.

    Blut aus Nord- Memoria Vetusta II - Dialogue with the Stars

    A step away from the industrial and avant-garde direction their music took on The Work Which Transforms God and styled a bit more on the folk and symphonic side, essentially returning to the roots of the band. And what a stunning piece of black metal this is. Worth every bit of your time and money.

    Camera Obscura- My Maudlin Career

    A band that I just got into this year, and let me tell you that you'd be hard pressed to find a more well put together album of indie pop and memorable melodies. The singer has such a hypnotic voice that you'll hang on every word she says. Pretty much every song on the album is well written and filler is nowhere to be found. Camera Obscura have a bright future with albums like My Maudlin Career under their belt. Out of all the great albums from 2009, this might very well be my favorite album of them all.

    Devin Townsend Project- Addicted

    This album is crack in music form. It's poppy as fuck, but that shouldn't steer you away. The songwriting is some of the best you'll hear all year. Just about every song on the album will get stuck in your head for hours, even days. The way that Devin Townsend's mind works is truly extraordinary. The man simply has a knack for knowing how to write memorable music. Oh, and in case you were unaware, this album features the talents of ex-The Gathering vocalist, Anneke van Giersbergen. That's right, Devin AND Anneke together. A match made in heaven? You bet. Do yourselves a favor and check this album out pronto.

    Fen- The Malediction Fields

    This is amazing stuff. Fen's promising EP released in 2007 was but a taste of the quality that this band was capable of. Everything that was promised has been delivered in spades as The Malediction Fields is one of the finest black metal albums released in some time. Bringing in influence from post-rock and folk, Fen are one of the better atmospheric black metal bands around these days. Do not miss these guys.

    Fever Ray- s/t

    This is a fine debut album from one of the members of The Knife, Karin Dreijer Andersson. Falling in love with The Knife, naturally I was curious to hear this solo effort and I'm happy to say it's a fantastic listen as well. Compared to The Knife, Fever Ray's debut feels a lot more laid back, relaxing and leans more toward an ambient sound overall. The danceable/electronic beats aren't as pronounced here and it works wonderfully for the music. Karin's voice is, of course, a highlight as well. I highly recommend this album if you are into The Knife or electronic music that's more subdued.

    Grizzly Bear- Veckatimest

    I didn't have a description for this album when I first posted this entry, mostly because I wasn't sure how much I liked it, and because I had a hard time trying to describe the sound of this album, since there are quite a few styles at work. The most standout feature of this band has to be their excellent vocal harmonies. Not only are all the vocal super smooth on their own, but together they're immaculate. The songs are all very well written and aren't the type of songs that will latch on right away. Each new listen will provide more and more nuances that you probably didn't appreciate before. I think I really underrated this album and I'm proud to put it at the top of my 2009 favorites.

    Heather Woods Broderick- From the Ground

    Another new entry into my library this year and it's a welcome one. A very refreshing album, combining folk music and atmospheric, almost ambient sounds. The singer's voice is soft and caresses your ears with her delightful and vibrant tone. I find myself enjoying this more with each new listen. This is perfect for those relaxing and reflective moods you may find yourself in. A must listen.

    Immortal- All Shall Fall

    After seven long years, Immortal has returned to take back their throne atop of Norway's black metal scene. Have they succceeded? Yes and no, but mostly yes. It's true this is a logical successor to Sons of Northern Darkness, and some songs sound like they could've come straight off that album. But, that's also part of its strength. Sons of Northern Darkness is so fantastic that to hear anything remotely in that vein is a pleasure. Similarities aside though, 2009 sees Immortal sounding as good as ever. The strong production value helps, but Abbath and co. have made a very fresh sounding album of modern black metal, keeping their influences from thrash and traditional metal in tact, and delivering something new and not boring in the slightest. The energy and passion is there in spades. I'm very satisfied with this album and can say wholeheartedly that I'm glad to have these Norsemen are back.

    Klabautamann - Merkur

    Did you think Enslaved were the only band practicing at the altar of progressive black metal? Enter Klabautamann. Okay, so it's not productive to compare both bands, but there are definitely some Enslaved influenced traits, such as the harsh vocals, and certainly in some of the riffs. But seriously, the fact that this band has no fear of dabbling in the pool of experimentation is something I applaud. They are daring and wanting to be their own disinctive entity, and not constrict themselves to any rules. I actually got their album, Der Ort, before this one. But I think this album is a step forward, which is impressive considering that Der Ort is extremely solid all the way through. But okay, wrapping this up, if you like black metal, progressive metal, and a nature-inspired atmosphere, then don't hesitate to hear this great band.

    Mastodon- Crack the Skye

    One of those albums that takes a little while to sink in. It's insane to think this is the same band from Remission. They've really taken their progressive brand of metal to new heights on this one. It's both more accessible and more complex than their previous offerings I'd say. Plus, you've got not one but two 10+ minute epics here. Nothing but quality here, so listen for yourself.

    The Pains of Being Pure At Heart- The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

    I'll make this very simple for you. Do you like shoegaze? Skeptical about a new band delivering the classic shoegaze sound from the days of yore? Give this band a try. They're not original, but damn, when you can take a classic style of music and make it sound this fresh and exciting with your songwriting then you have my vote of approval.

    Phoenix- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

    Another great one from France, this band (who was on the Lost in Translation soundtrack I recently learned) is a new favorite of mine. They have that hard to pull off blend of catchiness and songwriting depth. The songs can be simple, but in a way that makes you want to listen over and over, instead of becoming annoyed. One of those bands that actually makes me want to dance at times, so that alone is worth something. You can't go wrong with this release.

    St. Vincent- Actor

    I dare say there's nothing this beautiful woman could churn out that would disappoint me. I think that highly of her, and all in the span of less than 3 months. Luckily, I don't have to worry about anything sub-par so far. I literally listened to this album once and I already like it. Basically, if you like Marry Me then you'll like Actor. Although, I will say so far that this album sounds darker all around, if not musically then certainly lyrically. Case in point, see "Laughing with a Mouth of Blood". Don't miss out on one of the more interesting and experimental indie outfits around these days.

    Steven Wilson- Insurgentes

    Certainly one of the most impressive albums this year. Steven Wilson is a music god as far as I'm concerned. Although I'm a big Porcupine Tree fan, I must admit that this album blows away most of the material released by PT on the past few albums. The Incident will be a grower to for me, I know, but as of now this album comes out on top of PT's this year. Any fans of Wilson's work or progressive music in general will eat this up.

    Ulcerate- Everything is Fire

    There's something very interesting about this album. Their technical and swirling riffs are packed with enough bite to blow most death metal away. The drumming is insane and don't have that overproduced sound that is a deathtrap for many other bands in metal today. But the atmosphere is perhaps the secret weapon on this release. It's hard to put my finger on, but it's very threatening at times. Not many technical death metal albums are interesting to me, but count this as an exception. Until I hear something else, this is the best release in the genre for 2009.

    Not quite as great, but no less worthwhile

    Amesoeurs- Amesoeurs

    Perhaps I was a bit premature on my judgment for this album, since further listenings have only served to increase my enjoyment of it. Yes, I'll admit, I still like Ruines Humaines more but this in no way diminishes the quality music Amesoeurs have put together here. One of my only qualms with this album now is that the production (while good) would have been better served with having the production on Ruines Humaines. I feel it does the band more justice with what they're trying to achieve. That being said, do not miss out on this album. Black metal and post-punk have never sounded so well together.

    Animal Collective- Merriweather Post Pavillion

    I still haven't quite figured how to describe this band. But I know that I like them. They don't really sound like any other band I've come across. I guess they sort of have this slight psychedelic vibe to them, but even that's not entirely accurate. The electronic flourishes that inhabit the band's spectrum of sound is very intriguing to me. But again, that's only part of their sound. I need more listens to uncover its layers, but rest assured this is an album worth listening to over and over.

    Au Revoir Simone- Still Night, Still Light

    A new band that I got into this year. Ironically, they played this album at my workplace. This band lies somewhere between electronic and indie pop. It's a female trio and their style is mostly upbeat and quite charming. At the same time, there's an apparent sadness that shows up throughout the album in the lyrics and certain melodies which is good since it serves as a great contrast to the overall result. Best of all, I can see myself enjoying this album even more upon repeated listens.

    Bat for Lashes- Two Suns

    This artist really warmed up to me on each new listen. It seems I've had a thing for female vocalists/songwriters in the indie and folk genre lately. I just can't seem to get enough. Going off a recommendation from a friend, I checked this album out. I found myself happily impressed by what's offered here. This is pop music without being overly poppy and cuddly. Definitely look into Two Suns if you like your indie pop with a mature and somewhat darker sound.

    Behemoth- The Evangelion

    I think it's safe to say this is one of the best albums Behemoth have ever produced. Although I've yet to hear the much lauded Zos Kia Cultus, I've heard just about everything else and I've never heard Behemoth sound so imposing and threatening before. The excellent production certainly plays a part in this, but the songwriting this time around is extremely refined. Nergal is beastly, his riffs sound huge and heavy as...well, a behemoth. The drumming, needless to say, is flawless. There's also a very evil atmosphere in this album that is a welcome addition, especially felt on the closing song. Buy this album.

    Black Moth Super Rainbow- Eating Us

    What a lovely find this was. Just hearing the band's name made me excited. Black Moth Super Rainbow's Eating Us is an interesting and experimental blend of psychedelic electronic sounds, and they sound unlike any band I've heard before. What's even more impressive is the vocalist uses a vocoder and it doesn't sound like shit, in fact it's one of the reasons this band sounds so unique. At times, the band is downright beautiful and the music lets your mind drift with the clouds. Oh, and I hear the album before this one is just as good (if not better). Highly recommended.

    Lifelover- Dekadens

    A fabulous EP from one of my favorite bands, Lifelover have found a way to move forward with their sound without moving back. I'm very impressed with what the band has done here. There's a considerable amount of black metal that has been brought back into many of the songs, much more than the past couple full-lengths actually. But don't fret, the post-punk/depressive rock sound has not disappeared either. This is the same band you already love. Expect to fall more deeply in love after hearing Dekadens, it's worth a purchase.

    Mono- Hymn to the Immortal Wind

    There's some unnameable appeal that Japanese bands seem to have for me. First it was Eastern Youth, with their own take on the indie rock sound; then Boris, and their experimental brand of noise rock, drone and stoner rock; and now Mono, a very cinematic and engaging post-rock outfit. I'm slowly but surely becoming more familiar with this album, as well as their revered You Are There, which is also very good. On Hymn to the Immortal Wind, I once find myself struggling for words. It's hard to pin down exactly what makes this album thrilling, but rest assured it's all there. The songs themselves are long but nothing seems tacked on. It all works to create a successful post-rock album from one of the best ones in the genre as far as I can tell.

    Nile- They Whom the Gods Detest

    I took a break from Nile, and never got around to Ithyphallic. I had heard one song from that album and it sounded too generic to be coming from Nile. I could've been in the wrong mood, but who knows. I'll most likely still give it a listen because They Whom the Gods Detest has reignited my love for this band. I've always regarded them as one of the best in the genre, and this new release keeps that legacy alive. The technical/brutal nature of the band is very much in tact, and their sound circa 2009 is downright impressive. They sound more focused than ever, and the variety within each song is great to hear. Not only that, but there is a fair share of memorable moments that I've caught on to in only the first two listens. Undoubtedly one of the best death metal releases of 2009 I'm sure.

    Our Ceasing Voice- Steadied Stars In The Morphium Sky

    I've become rather cynical with post-rock lately and find it more difficult to find bands that do something interesting enough to win me over. Luckily, Our Ceasing Voice is one such band. I was recommended this band from an internet friend and while it took me several spins to appreciate, I like it a whole hell of a lot now. Unlike other post-rock bands that utilize some ambient sounds here and there, usually not standing out much, Our Ceasing Voice breaks that trend and their ambient passages are every bit as delightful as the exploding post-rock moments. I think that's probably the aspect I enjoy most about them. But rest assured, they are good songwriters too and are far from boring. So, if you have desired a genuinely good post-rock band lately, and you like reflective and somber rock music in general, than this debut ought to satisfy.

    Porcupine Tree- The Incident

    I really do hate that I put off this album for so long because I am loving every minute of it right now. My first listen proved to be a rather forgetful one. Mostly because I've seen this entire album performed live and it didn't sound as powerful. I had to adjust to the studio versions. But now that I have, I can say that this is an extremely good album from this veteran act. The way all the songs are connected works to the album's benefit and they all flow seamlessly together. The songwriting, while at first may sound average for this band, will take a little while to open itself up to you. When it does, I can assure you it's extremely satisfying. I'm not sure if it bests Steven Wilson's solo work from earlier in the year, but no matter. This is still one of the best releases of 2009 and another fantastic piece of work from the band.

    Shining- VI - Klagopsalmer

    I wasn't sure about how much I liked this record until now. A couple listens were enough for me to put it on my favorites of the year, but at the moment as I listen to it again I feel very engaged this time around. It's tugging at me in all the right places. I think I was too quick to compare this to V (a mistake), and I'm starting to hear the stark difference between it and this one. This very much stands on its own. I suppose I had to just familiarize myself more with this band's style in general to realize it. That being said, this is a step even further into progressive territory and if you've enjoyed their steady evolution away from traditional black metal then you'll no doubt enjoy this new work a lot.

    Sun of the Blind- Skullreader

    Skullreader also took me a handful of listens to appreciate, even though I immediately knew I liked this band the first time I heard this album. Created solely by one of the masterminds behind Darkspace, this is extremely atmospheric black metal that has a very dark aura about it. Synth is used minimally and to great effect. While you can certainly hear some influence from Darkspace, this release very much stands on its own. I would say this has more of a dreamy/psychedelic vibe. Fans of atmospheric black metal would do well to check this out, as it's one of the finer albums of the genre this year I think.

    Velvet Cacoon- P aa opal Poere Pr. 33

    I've been enamored by this band since the enthralling work that is 'Genevieve'. It still has no equal as far as I'm concerned. Velvet Cacoon are a band that embrace the concept of drug-induced black metal and pull it off remarkably well. Many ignore this band because of their sketchy reputation (which can be read on their wiki page if you're unaware of said reputation), and quite frankly it's their loss. 'P aa Opal Poere Pr. 33' is the second new album from the band in the same year (I've not heard Atropine though) and there's a definite progression shown between this release and 'Genevieve'. For one thing, this hardly (if at all), fits within the confines of black metal anymore. The overall sound is more drone than anything. Almost like some of the post-metal you may have heard, but still not comparable. This album is about building an ambient and dreamy atmosphere and will not cease to capture your attention from the time it begins to the moment it ends. This isn't the kind of music you can enjoy at any time, but it's mandatory listening nonetheless.

    Vinterriket- Horizontmelancholie

    I'm extremely happy with what Vinterriket has done on this latest output. Thankfully, despite my love for most of his music, Christoph has decided to explore new territory and expand his repetoire of sounds on this album. Adding in acoustic guitar and clean vocals, most of this album comes across as part neo-folk, mixed in with recognizable ambient textures that Vinterriket has always excelled at creating. I think this is a great new template to experiment with and I only ask that he take his time with releasing new albums. The saying "too much of a good thing" can sometimes be said of Vinterriket, but happily that is not the case here.

    Wardruna- Runaljod - Gap Var Ginnunga

    I really had to be in the mood to listen to this, and unfortunately I put if off for the majority of the year because of that. But no more! I had a solid listening and I am impressed. What we have here is a tribute to the ancient Norse culture in the form of neo-folk/ambient/ritualistic/pagan music. There's just no one way to describe this musical outfit, but you're getting a top quality effort nonetheless. This is ideal on a cloudy day. You can picture yourself overlooking a vast landscape, surrounded by green hills, fog, and running water. A must listen for the open minded listener.

    Wolves in the Throne Room- Malevolent Grain

    Yes, I enjoy this EP. No, I was disappointed with Black Cascade. It lacked the freshness and passion I find in all of their other works. In short, it sounded tired. As for Malevolent Grain, we have two very good songs. The first features madrigal-like vocals from I think the same woman that has done vocals with the band previously. Repetitive yet effective. The second song is aggressive in comparison and has one of the best riffs I've heard from the band. It eventually fades out in white noise ambience. These songs are both worth some decent listening time for any fans.


    Drudkh- Microcosmos

    I'm not going to lie, this album is disappointing to me. Somewhat similar to thoughts on the recent Wolves in the Throne release, Drudkh haven't offered us anything fresh or engaging here. And it's not just that they failed to progress from past glories, it's the fact that Drudkh aren't playing with the same kind of passion and intensity they're known for. What's here isn't bad (some of it is quite good actually), and if this was the band's only output I might think more highly of it. But it's not, and along with Wolves in the Throne's Black Cascade, Microcosmos is one of my biggest disappointments in 2009. I can only hope both bands still have glory ahead of them. Otherwise, it'll be a savage blow for black metal. Oh, this one has lovely artwork too at least.

    Wolves in the Throne Room- Black Cascade

    I'm alright with evolution, I am more than patient enough to give things a try. Black Cascade, however, does nothing for me. It seems they wanted to try a more aggressive approach, and unlike the second song from the EP in the same year, it just doesn't work. I really wanted to like this, but I'm sad to say it didn't meet my personal expectations. Kudos on the artwork though.

    1349- Revelations of the Black Flames

    This album has many layers and requires the right mindset going in. This is not the 1349 of yore. This is an experimental album that requires a proper soaking of the mind in. After more listens, I'm still discovering new things I like or don't like. I'll maybe have a different opinion as times goes by, but it's still interesting to hear this band exploring new ground. I'll still tag it as a disappointment, but surprinsgly less so than the Drudkh and Wolves in the Throne Room albums. I may forgive them if I end up liking it for what it is in the future. But yeah, I still wanted a proper follow-up to Hellfire. I hope I get it next time.
  • Marry Me, Annie

    10. Feb. 2010, 21:16

    Tue 9 Feb – St. Vincent, Wildbirds & Peacedrums

    I was pretty damn ecstatic when I heard St. Vincent was going to be playing in LA about 3 weeks ago. I have only been a fan for about 2 or 3 months, but my appreciation for her musical talent and willingness to experiment continued to grow with each new listen to Marry Me. Why I haven't picked up Actor yet I have no idea. But it won't be much longer before I own that album too. Anyway, on to the show!

    I looked up the opening act, Wildbirds & Peacedrums, the night before to familiarize myself a bit with what they sounded like, maybe learn a song or two. Watching them play live, I can't say I was completely won over. The main instruments used in all of their songs are just drums and vocals. And while this may not be a problem for some people I found myself wanting perhaps a little bit of guitar here and there, perhaps some keyboard synth, or even various wind instruments to add another layer of depth to their overall sound. I will say the vocalist is pretty impressive with her almost schizophrenic type singing at times, but also being very soulful in her approach as well. She is pretty effective at holding your attention as she bounced back and forth on stage. Not bad on the eyes either. She would also play a percussion instrument that I can't think of the name for. All I know is that I associate it with the Caribbean. Speaking of percussion though, the live setting really enhanced the quality of the drummer's performance. At times, the rhythms were downright powerful and earthshaking. There was somewhat of a tribal flavor to this band too that I found quite interesting. Again, I think another instrument or two other than percussion would really improve the overall quality of the band. Also, they did seem to lose a bit of momentum with me, and everyone else, whenever they'd start to play a slower song. I even found myself becoming impatient, wanting St. Vincent to take the stage already. Overall, Wildbirds & Peacedrums are an intriguing enough band, but I'm afraid they just don't do enough for me personally to warrant any further investigation. They are worth checking out given how passionately they played. That alone was impressive to me.

    Next up, the real reason I was at the El Rey Theater. The lovely Annie Clark and her supporting cast of musicians. Altogether there were five members on stage. Each of them, besides the drummer, also played at least two different instruments. From the moment Annie stepped on stage I, like everyone else I'm sure, was all smiles. I'm extremely impressed with the way she handles herself live, the way her voice sounds (incredible), and the way she plays her guitar. Even though it was an electric, she used no pick, only her fingers. There were also quirks to her playing that I've never really seen before. For instance, whenever she wanted to get a certain sound, she'd bang the upper part of her guitar with her hand. Very interesting indeed. The majority of the songs were of course from the new album. It certainly made me regret that I hadn't picked it up yet. I did know a few songs from it, which she played: "Marrow", "Laughing with a Mouth of Blood", and "Actor Out of Work". All of those were flawlessly recreated and just as compelling live as they are on the album, if not more so. Everything else I wasn't too sure about but enjoyed thoroughly. There were a couple songs from Marry Me, though there might have been more and I can't think of which ones at the moment. The ones I do remember though are: "Jesus Saves, I Spend" and the glorious "Your Lips are Red". I say "glorious" because it was the second of two encore songs after St. Vincent left the stage, and I was floored with the different elements and tweaks added to it as compared to the studio version. Not only was it longer, but Annie input a lot of nasty (in a good way) and aggressive noise from her own guitar that made the song a lot more eerie than I remembered it being. I would even dare say that the song turned quite doom-y at certain parts, and every instrument soon droned sweet droning noise, building up to a crescendo of chaos before eventually coming back down to finish the final chorus. It's really hard to put into words, but I hope I at least have given you an idea of how strangely bizarre and unexpected it was, but no less enthralling to watch and listen to. In fact, I hope this kind of weird experimentation that Annie is so fond of continues over onto future albums. Oh, and to top things off, Annie is also damn entertaining between songs. The crowd spurred on some of the amusing comments she made, such as her saying she was reminded of it being a "4th grade soccer match", complete with a fanatic crowd, but "in the best possible way of course," she added, "and an undefeated season...championship game."

    So, all in all, St. Vincent was everything I could have hoped for. If anything, the only fault is mine for not being familiar with all of her songs yet. But that will soon change.
  • 2009 releases I still want

    8. Feb. 2010, 5:32

    This list makes me sad because it reveals the all too painful reality of me simply not having enough time or money to spend on music. At least there's youtube in the meantime. If anyone wants to tell me briefly about their favorite(s) from this selection of albums, or any others you think are good, feel free to.

    Isis- Wavering Radiant
    Isole- Silent Ruins
    Katatonia- Night Is the New Day
    Crom- Vengeance
    Warbringer- Waking into Nightmares
    Geist- Galeere
    Dagor Dagorath- Yetzer Ha'Ra
    Ahab- The Divinity of Oceans
    Novembers Doom- Into Night's Requiem Infernal
    Augury- Fragmentary Evidence
    YOB- The Great Cessation
    Gwynbleidd- Nostalgia
    Amorphis- Skyforger
    Astra- The Weirding
    Anaal Nathrakh- In the Constellation of the Black Widow
    The Gathering- The West Pole
    Astral Luminous- Lunaric Tide
    Colosseum- Chapter 2: Numquam
    Pelican- What We All Come to Need
    Swallow the Sun- New Moon
    The Morningside- Moving Crosscurrent of Time
    The Chasm- Farseeing the Paranormal Abysm
    Paradise Lost- Faith Divides Us - Death Unites Us
    Peste Noire- Ballade cuntre lo Anemi Francor
    Portal- Swarth
  • Artists I need to listen to

    22. Jul. 2009, 8:44

  • Favorites of 2008

    14. Apr. 2009, 8:30

    As you can see, I've given desciptions of the albums, and I chose not to put these albums in order because I didn't have time, nor did I feel like it, so they're in no order whatsoever this year. Onward!

    The best of the bunch

    Agalloch- The White

    Great neo-folk/ambient release from one of the most consistent bands in music. If you love the lighter aspects of Agalloch (and who doesn't), then you'll love this EP.

    Audrey- The Fierce And The Longing

    A pretty unique indie band with some post-rock influence. Vocals are shared by all four members of the band. The songs are straight and to the point but also have enough details to make them enjoyable. They're one of my favorite new bands.

    The Battle of Land and Sea- s/t

    Beautiful, gorgeous, melancholy, hopeful, longing, ocean-y: All of these describe this incredible debut folk album. Buy now.

    Coldworld- Melancholie²

    Can't speak highly enough of this ridiculously good debut album from just one man. This is easily one of the best black metal albums to come out in this decade, as it captures that wintery atmosphere as well as any of the best in the genre.

    Crystal Castles- s/t

    This is one of the bands that has helped me get into the electronic music genre, and it's easy to see why. Their songwriting is top-notch, and for just two people, the variation in sound among all the songs is quite diverse. Also, I'm in love with their singer and her vocals. I dislike dancing, but this band makes me want to do it anyway.

    Darkspace- Dark Space III

    Darkspace are masters of their domain. They've created their niche within black metal and their music is inspired by the infinite darkness of space. The soundtrack they've created on this third full-length album is arguably their best. It combines everything they've accomplished thus far and it has resulted in an essential album from 2008.

    Enslaved- Vertebrae

    At first I did not like this album. But like so many albums of my past, sometimes the best ones take time to wrap around your mind before appreciation can manifest itself. Such is the case for 'Vertebrae'. No one else sounds like Enslaved, and the way they've progressed as a band is astonishing. The black metal may be mostly gone, but that's hardly a negative for this band.

    A Forest of Stars- Corpse of Rebirth

    I toss the word "unique" around quite a bit. But if any band on the list deserves to be described that way, it's A Forest of Stars. I still have no idea what to expect whenever I listen to this album. This is a very progressive and avant-garde take on black metal and any fan of the genre would do well to check out this overlooked gem.

    Have a Nice Life- Deathconciousness

    How the hell do you describe this band's style? They combine so many that it becomes pretty much impossible. You can expect to hear elements of drone, shoegaze, post-punk, ambient, and probably a few others. This experimentation would be all for naught if the songwriting wasn't glorious, but do not worry. This is easily one of the best albums released in years, and probably at least a top 3 choice for album of the year in 2008.

    Isole- Bliss of Solitude

    Grade A doom metal from a band I had no idea existed until recently. This band utilizes the olden stylings of doom metal, meaning there's no death metal vocals to be found here. Just highly melodic and despair filled vox from Isole's singer. This is no frills doom for people who like metal with a bleak atmosphere.

    Krallice- s/t

    I regretably didn't give this album any love after I acquired it. A shame. I can say this is probably a top 5 candidate for 2008 easily. These guys ARE what progressive black metal is all about. Epic songwriting abound and engaging as all fuck. Do not make the mistake of letting this album slip into obscurity. Get it now!

    Lantlôs- s/t

    Modern black metal that sounds like a fresh of breath air. There are post-rock/folk touches here and there, but this isn't like another Wolves in the Throne Room or Altar of Plagues. I'm not really sure who they sound like, and that's the best thing about this band. The songwriting is also expansive and quite interesting. They've taken black metal in an exciting direction that it needed to go so I'm happy to hear what these guys have in store for us in the future.

    Lifelover- Konkurs

    It would seem that Lifelover are yet incapable of putting out sub-par material. Even if you're already familar with this band's totally unique and experimental brand of black metal meets depressive rock/post-punk, you're in for a treat. While their core sound is still very much in tact, the band still finds ways to avoid repeating themselves. If I had to accuarately describe this album, I'd say it successfully combines the winning formulas of Pulver and Erotik into one shiny new package. I can't say whether or not this tops either of those efforts, only time will tell. But what I can say is that this is a must have.

    M83- Saturdays=Youth

    Ah, M83. Not many bands have thrilled and amazed me as much as the work of Anthony Gonzalez has. After the masterwork of Before the Dawn Heals Us, I was slightly apprehensive that anything could compare. Luckily, it doesn't have to. This album is much different sounding, but only enough to keep things interesting. An excellent mix of electronic, ambient, new wave, and shoegaze, you can't go wrong with M83.

    Nucleus Torn- Knell

    Now this was a good find. Their sound is hard to pin down. Throw in a bit of doom, folk, maybe even a bit of black metal, and throw in the avant-garde blender, and you might get this band. Switzerland seems to be a breeding ground for innovation, what with Celtic Frost, Darkspace and now Nucleus Torn. An original listen that should not be passed up.

    Opeth- Watershed

    If you like the way Opeth has progressed in their career, you'll fall head over heels for this new work of theirs. It's full of more experimentation of that unique progressive/death metal combination that only Opeth can perform so well. If you are still bitter ever since Blackwater Park was released, then I've got nothing for you except my sympathy since you're really missing out.

    Pyramids- s/t

    Further listenings have let me decipher some of the elements that make up this album. It's sort of a mix between the extremely dissonant black metal that Blut Aus Nord has been known to churn out, some drone, and a bit of dream pop vocals sprinkled on top...that's my best description for now. One of the more original sounding albums you're likely to hear and you really should check it out.

    School of Seven Bells- Alpinisms

    A beautiful debut album from a band bursting at the seems with talent. Their music is not easily defined but they draw their influence from indie pop, shoegaze, ambient, electronic, and it all sounds stunning. This is one album you do not want to miss out if you appreciate bands being more experimental with their music these days.

    Everything else that wasn't great but still good, or maybe came close to great but just not quite

    Ancient Tundra- Requiems of a World Lost

    Fans of ambient music, specifically ambient with a winter/dark atmosphere would do well to look into this solo project. I've not yet heard the first album from Ancient Tundra, but based on this effort it's safe to say that we have the making of a new force in dark ambient music.

    Averse Sefira- Advent Parallax

    A very impressive black metal band from Texas of all places. You won't find any keyboards here. The sound this band creates is one of dissonance and relentless fury. They barely let up throughout the album and the performances are tight. One of the better black metal releases from America you're likely to find, but sadly has been mostly overlooked.

    Black Lotus- Harvest of Seasons

    Celestia- Frigidiis Apotheosia: Abstinencia Genesiis

    Cradle of Filth- Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder

    I've always been a fan but even I have to admit their later albums have lacked a certain punch in terms of aggression that their old material had. I'm glad to say that this album marks a return of sorts to their old ways. This is like a combination of everything the band has done up to this point in time, with top notch production and the best drummer this band has ever had.

    Eluveitie- Slania

    While I don't enjoy this as much as their debut, this is a well-crafted slab of celtic folk metal mixed with melodic death metal. The songwriting is tightened up somewhat, resulting in a more accessible but still very enjoyable second album from this Swiss outfit.

    I Shalt Become- Requiem

    If you haven't heard I Shalt Become's previous outing (which was released 12 years before this current album mind you), 'Wanderings', I highly suggest you seek it out first. It's one of the best black metal albums released in the 90's if you ask me, and comes close if not matches Burzum's fuzzed out masterpiece 'Filosofem'. That being said, 'Requiem' is sort of a disappointment. It's by no means a bad album. The atmosphere is great and an intense feeling of melancholy fills the album. However, it doesn't have the same addictive nature that made 'Wanderings' so great. Still worth a listen though.

    Ihsahn- angL

    Janvs- Vega

    This is difficult album to describe. It's clearly black metal, but there are qualities about it that I can't put my finger on that causes the band to step outside tradition and be slightly experimental. Experimental maybe even isn't the word. They just sound different than you average black metal band. They're much more melodic, incorporate various vocal styles, and there's no shortage of acoustic guitar and even electronic-y passages. In short, this is an interesting sounding band that you really ought to hear.

    Kauan- Tietajan Laulu

    I'm still discovering more and more with each listen to this follow-up to one of my favorite debut albums in recent memory, Lumikuuro. The band is quite original and I can't think of any comparisons, nor any style/genre that suits them. A pleasing mixture of Metal, Neo-Folk, Ambient and even a bit of Jazz at times. Anton is a promising young talent that we can expect even greater albums from I feel in the coming years.

    Moonsorrow- Tulimyrsky EP

    If there's one band out there whom you can count on to release one quality album after another, it's Moonsorrow. For an EP, it sure doesn't feel like one. This is a full length's worth of material for most bands. The title track is another epic song that displays the band's full talent. The rest of the EP sees them revisiting some older material and making them sound as engaging as ever. I can do without the Metallica cover but the Merciless cover is sheer brilliance.

    Nortt- Galgenfrist

    The blackened funeral doom continues on this new Nortt album, but the songs hold a dominant ambient soundscape and therefore it differs from previous outings. This album takes more patience but is perfect for those late nights when you want to hear some depressing atmospheric music.

    She & Him- Volume One

    One of those bands I never knew I liked until I heard them. While I don't agree with all of the styles used, particularly the slight alt-country sounds that pop up here and there, as well as the cover songs, this is a charming new indie band that is easy on the ears and has a knack for writing simple yet effective songs. I absolutely adore Zooey too.

    Vinterriket- Gebirgshöhenstille

    The band that you either get bored to tears from or, in my case, enjoy just about everything you hear and simply can't get enough. Some think he's repetitive, but I find the overall work of Vinterriket to be cohesive and flowing seamlessly from album to album. A couple songs of black metal appear, but for the most part this continues the dark ambient sounds of the instant classic, Lichtschleier.

    Winterfylleth- The Ghost of Heritage

    Winterfylleth are a new band to me and after seeing the artwork on the album cover I was immediately intrigued. The band performs in a slightly old school and epic manner with hints of folky acoustic work sprinkled throughout, no doubt influenced by Bathory. Also, we just don't hear many quality black metal bands from Britain and I'm happy to say these guys know what they're doing and they do it well.

    *Last update: February 9, 2010*