2010 top musical things

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31. Dez. 2010, 20:53

I have to write this on my phone :(

I have literally been looking forward to writing this all year. There's something about writing your own opinions down that's incredibly rewarding.

Without further ado, here's my... my top three albums of 2010. Oh dear.

1/
The Guessing Game - Cathedral
I'm on a desktop computer now, so I actually have a keyboard that isn't 3.5 inches long and that doesn't keep typing 'l' when I try to delete something.
Anyway, it's a bit sad that my favourite album of 2010 is one I don't even own, but bought as a present. I didn't like it much at first, but it grew on me after a few months and, over the past few months, has done so even more.
The album certainly isn't traditional doom metal - not by any stretch of the imagination! Wonderfully quirky arrangements and organ make it pretty psychedelic, really, and the songs are generally catchy whilst retaining an essential weirdness. Recommended for anyone who's not looking for completely serious-minded, depressive music and those who like to try new and innovative things.
My pick of tracks: Requiem For The Voiceless, Death Of An Anarchist, The Casket Chasers

2/
Ylem - Dark Fortress
So, yeah, you can't really call Dark Fortress 'just' melodic black metal any more. Ylem sees the band in a rather experimental mood (quiet and melancholic 'Wraith' with its clean, rather operatic vocals and doomy 'Evenfall', to pick just two tracks), but also has its share of pure straightforwardly evil riffing and atmosphere in buckets, as would be expected from the guys who gave us 'Seance'. Interestingly enough, though, the most frantic and 'trve' track is also the weakest one on the album - 'Satan Bled', a rather boring 4:35 of tremolo picking and what seem to be made-up words, and the album does overstay its welcome somewhat with a 70-minute running time. Still, these faults are mostly made up for by fantastic songs like 'Redivider', which starts out reserved and creepy, upping the tension and the pace as a hungry supernatural beast is summoned before dissolving into a repeated refrain.
My pick of tracks: Ylem, Redivider, Osiris

3/
Reptilian - Keep Of Kalessin
Er.
I don't think this album is as bad as I did when I first listened to it. However, I've played each track quite a few times now and the only ones I can remember are The Awakening (which is a surprisingly good song, especially the rather epic chorus - parallel minor thirds? yes please) and The Dragontower (hilariously untrve, but really damn catchy anyway). This probably isn't a good thing. I've listened to the entire album multiple times, trying to concentrate on the songs a bit more, and after The Dragontower (halfway through the album) I completely lose interest. It's not that the music is particularly terrible or anything, it's just bland.
This was my first encounter with Keep Of Kalessin. It put me off them until I wound up listening to Armada, which is actually really good. How did they come up with this piece of dragon-obsessed (why!?), vanilla nonsense?
My pick of tracks: The Dragontower for lulz, The Awakening, Dark As Moonless Night (I think...)

Top 10 purchased CDs of 2010

1/
Nothingface
I feel rather sad that I now own a physical copy of every Voivod studio album save War And Pain, but at least they won't be cluttering up my top tens any more (at least until they finish recording with Dan Mongrain, who should do a great job if he doesn't just try to write Piggy-riffs). Anyway, Nothingface is incredible. I don't know how Piggy came up with some of this weirdness, especially in Pre-Ignition, but I'm very glad he did. Concept-wise, it's apparently about their character, the Voivod (or Anark as Phobos calls him), losing himself in the terrifying depths of his own mind and losing his sense of identity. As far as I can tell so far, some songs appear to be metaphors for this or scenes the Voivod is observing inside himself (I'm primarily thinking of Missing Sequences, which is about a group of robotic factory workers gaining consciousness of their surroundings and the danger they are continually placed in, here), but the opening and closing tracks set the scene and atmosphere very clearly. This slight confusion about the concept puts it, for me, at around the same level as Dimension Hatross (previously reviewed as 'possibly the best album ever written', so it's nothing to be ashamed of!).
Musically, the variety of chords and intervals to be found here is refreshingly wide, though always with a good helping of diminished fifths (as one could only expect from Voivod). There are also excellent melodies, made more complex by occasional bass countermelodies. Voivod is always good for bass. While I think it would've been great to have a bit more distortion - a la Killing Technology - Blacky is always audible and is always playing something that actually enhances the music and harmony, not just doubling the guitar part. Away's drumming has some great moments, although I admit to not really listening for drums very much on anything, and his artwork in the fold-out booklet fits the mood perfectly for each song. Snake, whilst disliked by a great deal of people, for me is also a perfect fit for the subject matter and music in a weird way I shan't go into any more here :P
My pick of tracks: Pre-Ignition, The Unknown Knows, X-Ray Mirror, ffffff this is going to turn into a list of all the tracks on the album (except maybe Astronomy Domine)

2/
Angel Rat - Voivod
NOT MORE VOIVOD, SURELY. What I really love about this band is the fact that all their records are very different, creating distinct and defined moods. Angel Rat is - if you'll pardon the pretentious way of saying it, I can't think of anything better - transcendental, yet very melancholy and resigned at the same time, and low-key. Musically it isn't as complex or discordant as Dimension Hatross or Nothingface (which, incidentally, was the album before this one - big change!), but this actually helps with the mood and makes it easier to concentrate on Snake's vocals. He's actually singing most of the time now, and the lyrics are simpler to understand too. Selling out? Perhaps - but I find it hard to believe that they'd make an album so different to what brought them relative commercial success straight after Nothingface for monetary gain.
Regardless, Angel Rat is an excellent album and highly recommended if Pre-Ignition scared you off or you like progressive rock (especially Rush, whose influence makes occasional appearances).
My pick of tracks: Angel Rat, Clouds In My House, Panorama

3/
Incompetent... - Doom
I've recently realised what Doom actually sound like: a bunch of angry blues musicians having nervous breakdowns. Incompetent... isn't them at their weirdest harmonically - it's quite hard rockish in places, but their song structures (and time signatures) have to be seen to be believed. Half of the tracks end up dissolving into utter chaos at some point, usually accompanied by insane yells and hysterical shouts. This being Doom, there is also The Best Bass Playing Ever - courtesy of Koh Morota, whose tone, with its singing-like quality, is absolutely incredible and deservingly showcased in every song. In fact - scratch that last bit, he has the melody half of the time and the guitar is playing rhythmic atmosphere-building dissonance (or a countermelody) over it. You pretty much owe it to yourself to get at least one Doom album, if only to see how well the bass-centric songwriting actually works. As for myself, this and Nothingface are going to be the soundtracks to my descent into insanity, and I'm perfectly okay with that.
My pick of tracks: 20th century a proud man (the bass. THE BASS.), Desert flower, Incompetent... the war pig (the last track on the album, which itself ends with a sudden genre switch to a blues with really disturbing and unfitting broken-English lyrics)

4/
Warp Zone - Martyr
Well, I don't quite know how Martyr does it, but there are very few moments listening to Warp Zone which strike me as technicality for technicality's sake. There are strange chords here, clever reworkings of riffs (I'm looking at you, Deserted Waters), a strong sense of (warped) melody and, above all, the album sounds focused and concise and the tracks are clearly discernible from each other - especially commendable for tech death. Like Snake, a lot of people have problems with Dan Mongrain's not-particularly-guttural vocals - I know I did at first on Hopeless Hopes, but given time I now can't imagine a typical death metal vocalist replacing him. The bass isn't as audible as it was on their first album, which is a pity, and the drums aren't quite as interesting either, but the guitars are on such top form I can forgive all that.
The last piece of praise I can give to this album must surely go to Dan Mongrain's soloing. I generally don't like solos in metal - too much shred, not enough actual substance - but I could listen to his all day and probably still admire them as much as I do now. There's space between his ideas, a sense of direction and melody, and his fast passages actually sound like a string of notes instead of mindless fuzzing. I think he's my favourite soloist ever.
My pick of tracks: Warp Zone (more quality riffs than you can shake a stick at, crammed into a tiny package), Virtual Emotions, Realms of Reverie (vague impressions of and influences from all the previous songs, somehow made into a very different song itself - I look forward to becoming more familiar with the album and recognising more ideas here!)

5/
Voivod - Voivod
Yes, yes, I know it's obvious how much I like Voivod by now - enough to rate what apparently is universally regarded to be their second-worst album this highly. Thing is, I don't know why there's so much hate for this. No, it isn't another Nothingface. Blacky isn't using bits of The Rite Of Spring as a bass countermelody and they aren't writing about issues that were topical in 1987, but why should they have to? The self-titled is just a (very) solid collection of great, slightly psychedelic-tinged songs and is simply a pleasure to listen to from start to finish. Piggy's riffs rock really, really hard whilst retaining that typical Voivod oddness (and the diminished fifths, of course!), Jason Newsted's bass is nice and distorted, Away... is drumming (I still don't listen to the drums very much!), and Snake's newly throaty voice fits the rest of the record really well. Stop expecting specifics when you listen to it and maybe you'll find something new.
My pick of tracks: Real Again?, Strange And Ironic, Invisible Planet (although all of the tracks are equally good, really)

6/
Asylum - Cressida
This and Cressida's only other album are pretty much underground classics of early progressive rock, an assessment which I agree with. Asylum is more cohesive as an album than their self-titled, which is why it gets this spot - musically, it continues in much the same way as the previous one did, as quite light prog rock with enjoyable guitar melodies, string backings and Hammond organ, only now the songs and lyrics are darker and more cynical. There's some nice jazz influence audible here - especially on 'Reprieved', 2:31 of introspection after 'Survivor' mockingly urges us to take anything we can from others (complete with horn fanfares), and loads of great contrasting ideas in the longer tracks. Give it a try even if most of the genre's too pretentious - Asylum isn't really like that at all.
My pick of tracks: Munich, Goodbye Post Office Tower Goodbye (mostly for the rather worrying lyrics), Let Them Come When They Will

7/
RRRÖÖÖAAARRR - Voivod
This album is chaotic. The lyrics make precious little sense even if you can get through Snake's shouting and accent, painting a picture of a dystopian prison pit patrolled by Korgüll the Exterminator, the Helldriver who comes from otherworldly and likes killing and terrorising (in that order) people, interspersed with songs about being really metal and aggressive. It's ridiculously over-the-top (just look at that album cover! It's a SPIKY TANK WITH A SPIKY FLAMETHROWER AND ROCKET LAUNCHERS AND IT'S SO SPIKY THAT IT EVEN HAS SPIKES ON THE TANK TRACKS SO IT CAN'T MOVE. HOW METAL IS THAT? ahem), and that is precisely why I love it. The music itself is actually surprisingly good once you get past the flat production and the band trying to play everything as fast as possible- contrary to this album's detractors, I'm getting jazz influences here, experimentation, and it's all going towards making this album fit its title. Still, there're one or two weaker tracks here - the worst being album closer 'To The Death', which starts out sounding like stock Slayer before… actually, I can't remember what it does, it's not very interesting.
If you like progressive/power metal that's sterile and either relies so much on synthesisers that it actually bears very little resemblance to actual metal or showcases how fast the guitarists can play scales a million times per song, you will hate this and I don't want you to listen to it anyway. In fact, a quick look at that cover will probably tell you whether you should give it a go or not.
My pick of tracks: Korgüll The Exterminator (the track with the best and most innovative riffs of the entire album… it's actually brilliant), Slaughter In A Grave, Horror (for its weird jazzy cadence at the end of the chorus… and also Snake's pronunciation of 'orroar)

8/
Made From Technetium - Man or Astro-man?
To be honest, I'm not really sure Made From Technetium shouldn't be higher on this list. It's pretty hard to judge albums of different genres together, you know. Anyway, whatever its rating, this is 'space surf' at its finest and craziest. From the opening speech 'from the CD' to the first proper song (about… about something and a girl who can manipulate time), all the way to the triumphant closing track 'Weightless At Zero Return', whose 25-minute running time bewildered me somewhat until twenty-plus minutes were revealed to be nothing more than an almost inaudible high-pitched noise, the album is strange, retro-futuristic and above all memorable. The band had, by this point, started experimenting to a greater extent, at least to the point where some of the songs don't really sound like surf (or anything else, for that matter - check out the post-apocalyptic gloom of '10 Years After World War 4'), although they're still using the cheap sci-fi film samples. My favourite? 'The Sound Waves Reversing'. ("Look at that meter! The sound waves are reversing! NOOOOO!" - and then the same song, played again from the beginning.) The humorous and often WTF-worthy placement of these samples, along with offbeat titling (the play on a Pink Floyd album 'A Saucerful Of Sucrets' comes to mind) has always been a Man or Astro-man? trademark, and it's clear the band was having fun writing this stuff.
Okay, let's move on to the actual music now. Songs are mainly instrumental, not counting the samples, but really have melodic lines instead of repetitive riffs so nothing gets boring. The guitars do a great job of mixing up more typical surf with some rather strange interval leaps and unorthodox melodies, and the bass is always clearly audible (bass inaudibility seems to just be a problem with metal - WHY!?), distorted just the way I like it and bringing a nice groove to things. I really like the bass here. Drumming's also good: lively and always suited to the song, be it treacly 'Static Cling <Theme From>' or the aforementioned (and exuberant) 'Weightless At Zero Return'.
…Listening to this again after a period of not listening to it at all (since I played it faaar too much for too long), I've become convinced that Made From Technetium should be higher - a lot higher. I don't know of any other band who are or were doing what they're doing here, and they're recreating the retro sci-fi atmosphere perfectly. Sorry, MOAM!
Take each song as its own little story and Made From Technetium shines.
SCHTATIC.
My pick of tracks: Lo Batt, 10 Years After World War 4, Breathing Iron Oxide

9/
Enter Insectmasterplan - Myopia
Myopia dedicated this album to Piggy, and it's pretty obvious anyway who their main influence is. I wish I'd talked to Away about them when we were talking about Vektor, because Myopia take the Voivod urge to do things differently and push it into overdrive. Dissonant and rhythmically complex, their songs are nonetheless heavy as all hell - and while their vocalist isn't very interesting, his habit of running words together and coming in at weird times is. Drumming is a real highlight here, varying constantly and even making repetitions of the same riff sound different. However, this strangeness comes at a price: songs often feel disjointed when the difference between riffs is just too pronounced, and it can get hard to even remember which track is which because of this. If Myopia can improve here, they could become brilliant. I'm loving the concept of the album as well, in which the colonisation of a planet sets off a chain of events culminating in the destruction of humanity.

10/
Powerslave - Iron Maiden
I've always been a bit prejudiced against Iron Maiden ever since I heard the album Number Of The Beast, which I think is terrible. I tend to remember overplayed, boring tracks like the title one - OH YES I just went there - over the rest of the songs I know by them. This is especially unfortunate because these songs are actually really good. However, Powerslave seems like it's righting this situation a bit. Eight of the nine tracks here are solidly listenable, catchy and interesting - especially the title track, with its rather 'epic' chorus, and there's an instrumental done the way it should be done. As we're talking about Maiden, there are of course great vocal melodies and guitar harmonies, and the bass is excellent and audible.
So, what's the catch? Why isn't Powerslave higher than it is? Two main reasons, really. All of the rest of the albums I've rated have been pretty weird (except Voivod's self-titled, as much) and my personal preferences would generally rather see something that tries to do something different and isn't completely successful that something that's really good at what it does but doesn't try to break out as much.
The second reason is Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, almost universally acclaimed as one of their finest songs - so I expect I'll draw some flak here from dedicated fans when I say that it really isn't very good. The riffs are uninspired, the structure's boring and it's far too long. I realise that this is to create the atmosphere of an epic poem, but it doesn't work when I'd rather just not waste 13 minutes on it. That said, I like the quietly creepy instrumental interlude about halfway through the song.
...And that's about all I like, really. Shame, as it's the end of the album.


Top 15 bands I discovered in 2010 (no particular order) (also not 10 because I couldn't leave out some of them)
Equinox
Holocaust
Droserae
Kowloon Walled City
Summon The Crows
Angel of the Odd
Bellzlleb
Cressida
Gorguts (yeah, I know, I hadn't listened to them before, SHOCK)
SOCIOPHOBIA
Ladytron
Vyrmn
Zan-zan-zawa-veia
45 Grave
Rotting Christ

Where 2009 was the year for rediscovering classical music, getting more into jazz and finding surf, 2010 saw me finding chiptune and deathrock/post-punk and getting into more electronic music. In the last few months, I started listening to crust punk/d-beat/hardcore punk (not the 'new' hardcore, though - ugh) and stuff like that. My search for weird metal also continued and proved very fruitful.
I hope 2011 will be as musically good to me as 2010 was.

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