20. ‘More Constant Than The Gods’ by SubRosa
Salt Lake City, UT...Doom Metal leaning Sludge
SubRosa correlates to The Decemberists, but where even the latter’s most sincere moments seem to have a warm glow around — based on the same glow from its primary songwriter, Colin Meloy — these seeming period pieces ride the moods of Rebecca Vernon, who holds Meloy’s position for this group. The discomfort comes a bit from the vague worry that Vernon hasn’t been playing a character, and the gothic dystopias she waxes correspond to something in her corner of the world. Multiple vocalists and multiple violinists set the stage for her shanties, but there is only one guitar. Vernon steers the ship, to safe harbor, or to the rocks.
19. ‘Voluptuous Worship of Rapture and Response’ by Rebel Wizard
Melbourne, Australia...Black Metal leaning Heavy
What makes Don Quixote beautiful, Dostoyevsky once wrote, was that he is ridiculous. Such is Rebel Wizard, the heavy-metal side of Black Metal icon Bob Nekrasov. The absurdist song titles, flashing deep philosophy amid references to the bodily fluids of unicorns, attached to finger-tapping guitar rebel wizardry, smirking at a genre founded to denounce such luxuries. Surely Nekrasov can’t be serious…or can he? As much as he dismisses the playing style of the founders, he embraces equally their abrasive, garage-quality recording quality. The genre has long celebrated the duality of embracing and defying the gods. Nekrasov complies.
18. ‘Melana Chasmata’ by Triptykon
Zürich, Switzerland...Old-School Death Metal leaning Heavy
Thomas Gabriel Fischer bore Triptykon out of his frustration with Celtic Frost, which sputtered out amid chilly disagreements, and the aggression sustained the band’s first release. Several years later, calmed perhaps (yet only so much…this is one of the most influential figures in extreme music after all), Fischer came back to the studio. Melana Chasmata kicks off with the second-best metal track of the decade, picking up where Eparistera Daimones had left off, but it doesn’t take too long for the pace to slow. Fischer’s troubles linger, but the album portrays a man made tired by them, both in its turns to doom-like pace and lyrics focused on tragedy.
17. ‘Deus Salutis Meae’ by Blut Aus Nord
Caen, France...Black Metal leaning Industrial
Marijuana can hardly be described as the ideal drug for the black metal fan, but Blut Aus Nord’s voyage across the first half of the decade begged a pass. The group’s 777 album trio established it set a bold standard for art-house black metal, and its 2016 split with Ævangelist saw the group transition into a jazz-tilting industrial metal group, playing speakeasies for both the noire and the cyberpunk. Deus Salutis Meæ reminded the hipster listener that, for all the amorphous wriggling in the anemone’s tentacles, they ultimately serve to sting. Yoking the industrial and psychedelic elements to base aggression results in the group’s finest work.
16. ‘Hole Below’ by Vastum
San Francisco, CA...Death Metal Through-and-Through
Cynical philosophers lamenting the repulsive nature of humanity may be onto something. Although the majority of death metal angles towards topics torn from the news — murder and macabre — the most uncomfortable often deals with the most mundane topics. If you found Carcass’s commentary on the omnivore diet was too much, you should steer clear of Vastum, who focuses on sex. Not the weird kind, necessarily, but the “normal” kind; normal in quotations because when you think about it, as Vastum forces you, sex is a bizarre, repulsive act. That it remains the most addicting of human pleasures in spite of this is quite fascinating.
15. ‘The Satanist’ by Behemoth
Gdańsk, Polish...Death Metal leaning Black
Perhaps Nergal heard Ghost on the radio and believed Satan needed a more sincere church-wrecking force riding under his colors. Perhaps Nergal spun through his Emperor LPs and realized he could commercialize that group’s symphonic Black Metal glory. Regardless of whether you read Behemoth’s The Satanist as an ascension toward wider appeal or descent toward deeper darkness, you’re correct, and the resulting album succeeds. Unwelcome in its native Poland, unwelcome in either the Death or Black subgenres, Behemoth became a critical darling on the back of this album, and by the grace of the almighty.
14. ‘Eyehategod’ by Eyehategod
New Orleans, LA...Sludge Metal leaning groove
Mike IX Williams has both, for lack of a better term, done some shit and had some shit happen to him, and boy does his voice sound like it. Comparing the travails of self-described white trash to the more academically pleasing songsmiths of the Delta Blues is worth wariness, but the drawl and even occasional boogie heard from the massive stacks behind any Eyehategod recording speaks to the local knowledge among these New Orleans hoodlums. It’s different social strata’s Sultans of Swing, soundtracking a case of Black Labels on a good day, and crushing addiction on a bad one, at a bar where blues “devotees” like Mark Knopfler would never stick their necks.
13. ‘Wake in Fright’ by Uniform
New York City, NY...Industrial leaning Thrash
Nine Inch Nails benefitted colossally from Trent Reznor founding the project to mimic Depeche Mode versus say, Ministry. The nuance in his songwriting, as well as knowing his way around a synth, helped make NIN a selling commodity, even when sold alongside the raw aggression of The Downward Spiral. Consider packaging that raw aggression in a more traditional industrial metal style — but shuck all the black humor hijinks of Ministry — and you’d have something like Uniform. Michael Berdan even sounds like Reznor at his most intense, but the distorted thrash mechanics and power electronics leave little room for hooks to be savored.
12. ‘Planetary Clairvoyance’ by Tomb Mold
Toronto, Canada...Death Metal leaning prog
Tomb’s Mold’s last album, Manor of Infinite Forms, invites those who thought themselves edgy during freshman year to tie in references to the novel House of Leaves. Spoiler alert for both book and the band’s sound: The house is bigger on the inside than on the outside. An apt comparison for this death metal band, which doesn’t go as far out of its way as, say, Blood Incantation, to declare its progressive nature. Rather, a less-careful listening might come across as rather straightforward, old-school death metal. But the riffs in these tight tracks wrap uncomfortably among themselves like the pumpkin guts its logo resembles.
11. ‘Foundations of Burden’ by Pallbearer
Rock, AR…Doom Metal leaning ’70s Heavy Metal
Two of Doom’s best bands traveled in the same direction during 2014, as Yob released Clearing A Path to Ascend and Pallbearer Foundations of Burden. The latter had gotten started just two years earlier with Sorrow and Extinction, a release we described above as the mournful men of the band’s title marching up a mountain. What happened when they arrived? They apparently continued to ascend, if not transcend. Yob’s Our Raw Heart suggested clearer skies once one reached this point, but here the horizon remains grey and space dark. Brett Campbell’s narrator seems to have reached a new plane without managing to escape the burdens of this one.
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