30. ‘Värähtelijä’ by Oranssi Pazuzu
Tampere, Finland...Black Metal leaning Psych Rock
Psychedelic black metal…a concept over-conceptualized and under-realized, your correspondent’s band Unqualified Scum being case-and-point. Psychedelia simply can’t escape its bright demeanor, both in metaphoric Deadheaded optimism and literal ingestion (seriously, try to focus on darkness during a trip). Jarkko “Korjak” Salo leads his band to a darker plane, creating black metal dreamscapes that would overwhelm the dosed. The longest marches succeed where the average jam band fails, because the group has the entire thing planned. Whether its the elaborate moss formations of the Finnish forest or a Leslie speaker…the head spins.
29. ‘The Room of Shadows’ by Pagan Altar
London, England...Heavy Metal leaning Folk Rock
Pagan Altar encapsulates the penny dreadful, resurrecting age-old stories and executing in age-old NWOBHM style. Simple pleasures, really. The band’s success with such fare rests heavily on the voice of Terry Jones, who founded the band alongside his son, guitarist Alan, during the late ’70s. Hardly Bruce Dickinson, his restrained voice seems to underpin wisdom his louder contemporaries could not. That the elder Jones died prior to this release adds one more ghost to the halls of this record. For all the familiar fare in these songs, throw the penny dreadfuls a nickel and you’ll get a more unique take on horror, such as the title track.
28. ‘Trumpeting Ecstasy’ by Full of Hell
Ocean City, MD...Death Metal leaning Noise
Full of Hell pulls no branding punches, from the moniker to the album art — perhaps the best of the past decade — with fire exploding outward from a habit. Loud, abusive — the moments of “power electronics” served by Dylan Walker screech like a subway train handling a corner too quickly, any haphazardry forgiven, for he’s leaning out into the pit, preaching in tones both guttural and black while he turns the knob. A strange reference point might be the cult video game Katamari Damacy; the band has rolled through so many collaborative projects, accumulating a mass of ideas as they go and yet rolling ever more destructively because of it.
27. ‘Apex Predator – Easy Meat’ by Napalm Death
Birmingham, England...Grindcore leaning Death
Both Metallica and Napalm Death have technically slowed down since the early ’80s and adapted a more radio-friendly format. That’s all relative, of course. Metallica was always at least somewhat conditioned for radio and nothing on Earth could assemble the bloody mess for Napalm to reach FM. Nonetheless, to compare the production levels and even the levels of control between the groundbreaking 1987 debut Scum and Apex Predator is to hear, well, the same exact band, but 30 years wiser. Wiser but all the more angry. Perhaps the act has managed to put food on Shane Embury’s table but it’s done little to put his mind at ease.
26. ‘Beyond The Red Mirror’ by Blind Guardian
Düsseldorf, Germany...Heavy Metal leaning Hard Rock
Fake it until you make it; bring in a synthesizer and figure out the orchestral stuff that way. That’s an understandable approach to the epic “power metal” scene, as few have the budget to pursue such escapades. Blind Guardian, however, moves like Michael Bay: no fake explosions, no fake orchestras. The Germans have always behaved like they were mad Roger Waters invited Wasp to perform at the Berlin Wall instead, staging every fantasy concept album on a scale the Pink Floyd maestro might admire. Such bombast allures even this most frosty black metal fan. Blind Guardian remains the top of its scene because it sees no sound is too big.
25. ‘Infrared Horizon’ by Artificial Brain
Long Island, NY...Death Metal leaning Prog
Bands such as Artificial Brain have gone a long way in contradicting my Metal 101 definition for death metal. A genre based in wet, disgusting tones offers little to the cold steel science fiction world of artificial intelligence. But yet, as the excellent art for Infrared Horizon displays, even as intelligence acquires bizarre new traits, like sentiment, it cannot resist but annihilate its counterparts. Here the technical death metal of Brain comes in handy, providing progressive structures to construct these dystopian storylines. As for the extra-swampy vocals of Will Smith…it may take Google’s Lab pets a few more years to wrap their chips around that.
24. ‘Paracletus’ by Deathspell Omega
Poitiers, France...Black Metal leaning Death
France, a fount for the arts, secular thought, and pessimistic philosophy, may have been destined to birth the world’s most contorted black metal acts. That Paracletus might not even be the best release from a trilogy released by such a band (spoiler alert) speaks to the depth of creativity swimming in the Seine, every bit as filthy as Henry Miller’s description. Deathspell Omega, for all the writhing that has occurred both across its development as a band and across this album (best understood as a single, lengthy composition), has remained steadfastly committed to the core wrath that serves as the only heat for second-wave black metal practitioners.
23. ‘Magma’ by Gojira
Ondres, France...Heavy Metal Leaning Death
Magma requires similar reckoning to the “Black” album; that it would likely result in an overall diminishing of the band’s catalog moving forward seemed evident. That itself was a smashing record shouldn’t be denied (but many try). Few bands have replicated their smashing sound live as well as Gojira, and Magma offers a consolidated offering of battering riffs that existed previously, albeit woven into more progressive garments. Joe Duplantier may not have wanted to ponder over such complexities, his simple eruptions here reflecting the the death of his mother, which weighed heavily on both his mind and the album.
22. ‘Endstrand’ by Valborg
Bonn, Germany...Heavy Metal Leaning Sludge
Numerous German bands have made an appearance on this list, which probably comes as a surprise to few. None enforce the most stereotypical reason why better than Valborg, that the hard-edged German language embodies an intensity that Latin-based languages, and even the Slavic ones, can’t compare with. It’d be too simple to compare the group’s mechanized rhythm section to Kraftwerk but frontman Jan Buckard spits on the idea of an emotionless Teuton. You can hear the vein throbbing out from his neck as he howls, and the angst flowing down to those in his wrists as well, struggling not to overexert upon the frets of his bass.
21. ‘Панихида’ by Batushka (Krzysztof Drabikowski)
Podlaskie Voivodeship, Poland...Black Metal leaning Chant
The ultimate revenge story…the undoing of those who stole everything from you. Seems dramatic but Batushka founder and primary songwriter Krzysztof Drabikowski found himself without a band when those he recorded the group’s first LP used litigious means to grab the band name and sell its Eastern Orthodox-themed black metal to major label Metal Blade. Drabikowski responded by releasing a fuming sequel just in time to beat the other Batushka’s “debut” to the box office, and in doing so won over both music critics and metalheads who had been following the saga. There is fire to match the incense, and Slavonic themes both sacred and profane.
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