40. ‘Untitled’ by False
Minneapolis, MN…Black Metal through-and-through
Immortal’s path to grandeur comes not only from its technical superiority but from its greater sense of swagger, a ratio of songs that guarantee slaughter to those that lament. False reverse that ratio, less inclined to lead the cavalry into battle from the frozen north forests than to look at the sky and consider the twisted intentions of the old gods while studying the stars behind the mask of the trees. Nonetheless, despite its humbled outlook, False rides atop triumphant crests during its debut album, combining a traditional, raw production quality with a bit from the atmospheric school, which serves to complement its mournful intentions.
39. ‘Our Raw Heart’ by Yob
Portland, OR…Doom Metal leaning Heavy Metal
Epic and down-tuned, the sonic titan that is Yob shook the earth as it walked across the past decade and, if the coincidental story arc is to be believed, shed some burden as well. Atma opened the decade for the group, if not its most aggressive album, the most violent of Yob’s modern, mindful state. Clearing The Path to ascend did (as stated earlier in this list), reveal frontman Mike Scheidt was looking to get beyond the weight of Atma. That deliverance came in the form of a life-threatening heart condition. The result, Raw Heart, helped him fully see the light, becoming a Tolkien Ent stomping, as opposed to Godzilla. But stomping nonetheless.
38. ‘All We Love We Leave Behind’ by Converge
Salem, MA…Hardcore leaning Groove
Few bands have left such a consequential fingerprint on metal in recent history as Converge; from Kurt Ballou’s sought-after production, regardless of scene, to vocalist Jacob Bannon’s own Deathwish imprint…and that’s not even touching upon the band’s role as the template for hardcore and its offshoots during the 21st Century. The group has somewhat cheated in that last part, however: Creating the formula is easy when it involves pulling from handfuls of existing techniques. Still, few have stitched them together so seamlessly, and again here the band breaks nothing (but bones) in juxtaposing everything from grind to groove metal.
37. ‘Marrow of The Spirit’ by Agalloch
Portland, OR...Black Metal or Death (But not Death Metal)
The original wave of Norwegian Black Metal’s conversion to traditional folk en masse was not a transition ignored by the subgenre’s more modern practitioners. While the next generation may not be fully onboard with abandoning the carnal aggression for strict, meditative rumination on the old gods, they nonetheless embraced folding acoustic instrumentation to reflect the organic identity the first wave implied it should have. Agalloch’s use of this formula rises above most, from the strings scoring instrumental interludes to the 12-string acoustic guitars accompanying what is otherwise a Darkthrone-caliber ride through the woods.
36. ‘Settler’ by Vattnet Viskar
Plaistow, NH...Post-Metal leaning Black
The “post-black metal” phase reached critical mass with Deafheaven’s rise as king ov hip metal during 2013, creating a gravitational pull that seemed to suck bands like Vattnet Viskar into its wake, at least among music writers such as your correspondent. Little could be farther from the truth, as the New Hampshire band’s looming, rough sound seems to follow more from Isis-inspired post-metal into black metal than vice versa. The gritty sheen alone should separate Viskar from the “blackgaze” fad. That said, the supposed threads that connect the bands lurk in a shared cosmic emo sensibility, a force perhaps stronger than the bands’ riffs.
35. ‘Hearken’ by Encircling Sea
Melbourne, Australia...Sludge Metal leaning Doom
Genres, as they do, cycle through heroes one a decade-by-decade basis. The decade prior to this featured Mastodon, a sludge metal group that released increasingly progressive masterpieces before finally slowing things down, gearing its music toward radio singles, a decision I’ve recently come to accept. Should the band have continued, perhaps creating a heavier follow-up to Crack The Skye, the result might have sounded something like Encircling Sea’s Hearken, a series of 10-minute-ish tracks committing sludge at doom’s pace and littering both its music and its imagery with elemental themes. Heavy sludge, and more thoughtful than it lets on.
34. ‘The Ruins of Fading Light’ by Crypt Sermon
Philadelphia, PA...Sludge Metal leaning Doom
Only two albums in, it still feels like Crypt Sermon has a masterpiece behind its curtain — this, its second album, grows from Out of The Garden, but still feels like there’s more in the tank. It does feature one thing, however: the best metal track of the decade. “Christ Is Dead” may be Brooks Wilson’s “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” a track that defines his abilities as a vocalist. He balances between sinister verses but peaks in the epic hook, a track that Pitchfork named the best chorus of the year, for any genre. Many of the groups featured on this list fizzled out after a few releases. Crypt Sermon, Christ willing, won’t be one of them.
33. ‘Aria of Vernal Tombs’ by Obsequiae
Minneapolis, MN...Black Metal leaning Chamber Music
Attaching a culture and its instruments to metal music carries risk of schlock, quicksand that captures even capable musicians. Obsequiae’s commitment to medieval imagery doesn’t stop at the harp-focused instrumental interludes, but the harp itself does. Where other bands discussed already have found success mimicking the tonal qualities of metal released mere decades earlier, this black metal outfit shapes its guitars to mimic the drone of crumhorns and bladder pipes, and pursuing big-room acoustics not merely to match the trending “atmospheric” black metal movement, but to match the original gothic, atmospheric studio: the castle.
32. ‘Atra Mors’ by Evoken
Newark, NJ...Doom Metal leaning Death
Few genres demand as much patience as Doom Metal; even the most heady of other extreme genres at least rewards with adrenaline, if not hooks. Accordingly, it affords many within the genre to hide the emotional immediacy that other forms bring to the surface. No so for Evoken; it’s not just that frontman John Paradiso prefers death metal’s growls for his delivery, it’s that he occasionally seems to lose patience within the self-imposed constraints of his subgenre, lashing out when the pent-up aggression of his messages becomes too much to bear, and the rest of the band lurches behind him, as much to crush his mortal reflex than join it.
31. ‘Arc’ by Agoraphobic Nosebleed
Springfield, MA...Sludge Metal leaning Death
Agoraphobic Nosebleed, for its excellent name, always seemed to be the less serious and, accordingly, less engaging grindcore band in Scott Hull’s collection. Therefore the concept of four EPs — each directed by one of the band’s members — was welcome, especially when the New Orleans-style sludge of Kat Katz’s Arc hit airwaves, defying most what we knew. The mini-album tied around the vocalist’s last few days with her mother, who was on the brink of dying from cancer. Needless to say, Katz’s release is exhaustive here. Unfortunately, the other three chapters haven’t come, and Katz left the group at, frankly, its newfound peak.
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