70. ‘Living Tomb’ by Ossuarium
Portland, OR….Death Metal leaning Nowhere
My go-to anecdote for describing the differences between Death and Black Metal for noobs is to take a dead body, place it outside in the region where both genres hail from, and then apply the effect to thrash metal. The humidity of Florida results in a sticky, gross mass of metal we now identify as “Death.” You know what other part of the country has some pretty wet air? The Pacific Northwest. If you can keep the more artistic ideas of the Portland atmosphere out of the house while letting the fog in, you’ll get something that sounds a lot more like Cannibal Corpse than you might guess. Ossuarium holds all the bones and less the silliness.
69. ‘Ascetic Meditation of Death’ by Cult of Fire
Prague, Czech Republic….Black Metal leaning Traditional
The allure of the divine is not lost on black metal practitioners; it’s merely a question of which divinity. Ninety percent tend toward the Nordic gods of old, nine percent to Lovecraftian gods, and then Batushka. Cult of Fire heads way east, worshiping at the temple of Kali, the Hindu goddess known artfully as “master of death.” The Czech performers, lest they be accused of hijacking Indian drone instruments for a stylized lead-in before abandoning the culture for full-on European black metal, maintains the vedic themes across its music, the sitar held almost as high as the guitar among Kali’s many arms.
68. ‘Hidden History of The Human Race’ by Blood Incantation
Denver, Colorado…Death Metal leaning Prog Rock
There’s a great episode of Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, where second amendment arguments play out with guitars instead of guns. “Our Founding Fathers were certainly comfortable with the idea of the lute or the fiddle, but how could they have foreseen the fretless bass?” Such a question crosses the mind when listening to History of The Human Race, a death metal album written by Blood Incantation — wielders of such a bass — which admitted that it intentionally pursued music it would find difficult to play when crafting its latest sci-fi epic. Equal parts excellent and ludicrous in its ambition, unimaginable to the genre’s forefathers.
67. ‘Love Exchange Failure’ by White Ward
Odesa, Ukraine…Black Metal leaning Emo
White Ward may not wield the saxophone quite as ubiquitously as Cult of Fire handles its own signature instruments above, but when it does. Black metal rarely evokes urban imagery but the smoky tones here are full Law & Order, which — along with the title and album art, featuring an apartment bloc in Odessa — set roots for the more citified, more human elements at play in the band’s music. Screamo clouded what many believed emo to be but White Ward’s sentiments — however dramatic the song titles — may be the trve emotional equivalent of Elliott Smith screaming because you just weren’t listening closely enough.
66. ‘You Will Never Be One of Us’ by Nails
Oxnard, CA…Death Metal leaning Hardcore
The When We Were Young festival is yet another reminder that the California tourism board poured billions of dollars into commercializing and warming up the state’s punk industry to create a less bleak image than that produced by the stalwarts of the early ’80s hardcore scene (Editor’s note: None of these allegations have been proven). Nails pokes out at the top of an uncomfortable pile of California hardcore acts chomping at the bit to inform you they’re quite unhappy, and it goes way beyond weird relationship dynamics. Clocking in an excessive 21 minutes for 10 tracks, the band has little time to waste on baseless hope.
65. ‘Violate and Control’ by American
Richmond, VA…Black Metal leaning Industrial
The Body’s crossing of lines between metal and Industrial resulted in one of the modern day’s most unsettling acts. American strikes a similar degree of discomfort but comes across as just a modicum less unnerving, perhaps because the duo’s black metal vocal approach is more active, the difference between being the inflictor of suffering where The Body’s wails reflect passive taking of pain. None of this is to say American is good ol’ walk-up music heaviness. The two aforementioned bands share equal dedication to nihilism and, trigger warning, some of the audio samples deal with extremely heavy going-ons.
64. ‘Unto The Locust’ by Machine Head
Oakland, CA…Thrash Metal leaning Hard Rock
The Blackening left many publications in a Keanu Reeves “whoa” state upon its 2007 release, sweeping up many an end-of-year award. Yet more snobbish metalheads might have wondered if there was more in the creative tank, and if they didn’t, they should have. Unto The Locust swarmed with more progressive ideas than its predecessor, the equivalent of Metallica molting the acclaimed skin of Ride The Lightning and emerging as Master of Puppets. For all those who fear progress, the core guitar dynamics of Robb Flynn and Phil Demmel continue to oblige with “Davidian” crushers to match more mental moments.
63. ‘Sumerlands’ by Sumerlands
Philadelphia, PA…Heavy Metal leaning Thrash
Randy Rhoads deserves every ounce of credit he receives, for however his brief life with Ozzy Osbourne was, as does Zakk Wylde for his own iconic stand with the heavy metal icon. It’s odd how, for the hits that that “Bark and The Moon” and “Shot in The Dark” were, that Jake Lee’s role as the guitarist for the five-year period between them didn’t generate more acclaim for the axeman. The Philadelphia “supergroup” (at least a hodgepodge of experienced metal musicians, assembled by longtime metal producer Arthur Rizk, if nothing else) memorializes Lee’s sound. It’s the second such Rizk project on this list, as he also assembled Eternal Champion.
62. ‘Koloss’ by Meshuggah
Umeå, Sweden…Groove Metal leaning Progressive
Meshuggah may not quite have reached the epic heights of obZen with Koloss but the band tried and that in itself was enough to create a fairly great album. Where Tool operates between metalheads and hard rockers, Meshuggah creates a link between metalcore kids and the snobbish. For the former, the definitive “djent” sound that brings a nu-metal bounce to groove metal riffs, and for the latter, an intolerance for standard time signatures that, when danced to, resembles a PetCo aquarium full of Halloween crabs, scuttling this way and that way, turning abruptly, waving angry claws in the air throughout.
61. ‘The Sciences’ by Sleep
Oakland, CA…Heavy Metal leaning Sludge
The most annoying thing about Sleep is the “stoner metal” subgenre. Not the definitive, droning tone of sludge metal that the band pioneered across cult classics Holy Mountain and Dopesmoker, but the idea that bands could create entire songs around pot itself. The scene has dissolved into general self-satire and a waste of my metal-listening time. Which makes it so frustrating that Sleep can reappear after two decades and prove as relevant as ever. The band tokes a greener strand of lyrics than it did on Mountain, but at least it was wise enough to realize the single, 60-minute song is best reserved for a one-off, returning to just 10-minute epics here.
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