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Tuesday
Dec132011

The Top 10 Metal of 2011 - #4

The atoms from the discarded cheeseburger recombine to create a snarling metal beast rising from the waters off the cape of Jutland...

#4
Mercenary - Metamorphosis

Mercenary were every bit Danish metal royalty – every record since the groundbreaking 11 Dreams was hyped as a major event in melodic death metal and with solid reason. Since the Sandager brothers’ departure, only the two original guitarists remain. Now, with a bit more breathing room to relax and let their riffs loose from leashes gripped tightly by their former bandmates, Mercenary have stepped back from their unyielding desire to emulate the fleeting glory days of Euro progressive metal (that’s the late 90s) and fusing the heady intensity of the original Gothenburg sound (the precious little mid-90s) to thrash out a record brimming with prime lead breaks, jaw-dropping solos and carnivorous, cracking riffs. They strut with a fearless command of those big, American style arena-electrifying refrains from the very beginning, (Through the Eyes of the Devil) grind relentlessly and parenthetically pound polyrhythms with subtlety and aplomb (In A River of Madness) as honey-coated keyboard accompaniments shine through better than any of their contemporaries (ahem, Scar Symmetry).

Rene Pedersen's stepping up to the microphone to lay down toweringly clean and muscular death vocals is possibly one of the greatest personnel decisions in melodic death metal history. Impassioned throughout, he sounds none more sincere than on Memoria. Pained and ardent cries to his parents had me completely floored, easily making this vocal driven track the best on the record. In Bloodred Shades hides nothing from us; trammeling, crunching riffs dominate no sooner to halt and yield to splendorous progressive inspired passages before twisting and turning back again, keeping us on tenterhooks as we can only feel awed at what they come up with next upon each and every listen.

Songwriting that treads the line between velvety Euro cheese and angsty American teenage posturing yet succumbing to the trappings of neither culminates perfectly on Shades of Gray, cloud-like synth anchoring an “ahhhing” choir while the rhythm section thickly lay chugging riffs down would sound completely stupid if it were cut by almost anyone else, but Mercenary make it work perfectly (principally the stock 80s key change on the bridge: “oohing” in tandem with faux-poetic lyricism: “From the beauty of a single rose / To the night's clear sky / Don't let it pass you by”) eventually wiping away the “somfing wot got in my eye” in the grinder On the Edge of Sanity. Coming out swinging (of the Glenn Miller variety, natch) in the closer The Black Brigade, we must ask: is Metamorphosis metal for the 2010s, the de-spoiler of the metalcore generation? I would be inclined to say it is.

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The Top 10 of 2011

Monday
Dec122011

The Top 10 Metal of 2011 - #5

Escaping from the waiting jowls of the Hunter, we hear the sounds of a demented funfair lilting on the summer night air, only to discover greasy cheeseburgers unravelling before our very eyes...

#5
Devin Townsend Project - Deconstruction

Oh, the fate of the universe revealed if not for the want of a cheeseburger. Deranged and manic as ever, Devin Townsend and his talented passengers bound about like children hopped up on pixie sticks and red cordial, launching us into the nether region of “fractal space” (I’m sure it’s something Devy would say) and beyond. Even the comedown is tinted with psychedelic hues couched in layers upon layers of wondrous melody and harmony. His unhinged style is a work of patience, since we have to make do with over ten minutes of Devy gently painting scenery before tucking into some real “Hevy Devy” action; the chorus in Stand, riffs in the crushing Planet of the Apes feature a show-stopping, ethereal vocal performance from Devy’s only possible peer, Paul Masvidal (Cynic, Gordian Knot, et al.) 

Punishingly ebullient is probably the best description of Devin Townsend’s music on Deconstruction. His ridiculous plots and playful, carnivalesque leitmotifs (The Mighty Masturbator the case and point) only serve to reinforce his incalculable depth of creativity and technical inventiveness. Deconstruction seems to unmask his usually veiled abstract expressionism; his inimitable yearning cries appealing to lost love, the oneness of the universe and a never ending search for some kind of higher power to make sense of the mind he’s been given and the body he inhabits feel more intense and prominent than earlier works, especially during the infinitely faceted Sumeria

There's no more compartmentalizing himself between his solo, "Band" and Strapping Young Lad "divisions;" it's the man, Devin Townsend, complete and on unashamed display. He’s like the Philip K. Dick of metal; not only in the sense his content walks drunkenly astride insanity and genius – Devy is consistent in quality, prodigious in quantity and possibly more off-kilter than both he and his fans would care to admit. Deconstruction only reinforces his unassailable reputation as the undisputed king of progressive metal.

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The Top 10 of 2011
#6 - Mastodon - The Hunter

Friday
Dec092011

The Top 10 Metal of 2011 - #6

Frolicking about in the forest, our hearts quicken as we prepare to flee from a mythical beast known only as The Hunter...

#6

Mastodon - The Hunter 

“Yeah man, the new Mastodon album is okay,” a perpetually carping “fan” confides to me, “but it’s too accessible.” Forget you and your hipster pals, man. This album kicks your skinny-jean clad arse, dude. The great thing about holding the esteem of not only metaldom but the entire rock scene (and TIME magazine, for that matter) is that any ludicrous idea is welcomed as genius. For Mastodon’s wily fingered rhythm section, meat and potato chops sound just as thrilling as Drop-C pentatonic reverse whatever-the-hell, room filling simplicity as good as polyrhythmic pretentiousness. Mike Elizondoteases every unpolished burr from the frets of each of these scruffy Southerners, every song lending itself to the concept yet standing triumphantly alone. Swampy and booze-soaked (possibly dope enthroned?) swagger abounds on Curl of the Burl and wondrous, trance-like corridors open up as Troy Sanders’ nasally chants “You’re on fire!” in Stargasm – so convincingly may I add, after a few tokes you’d pat down your legs just to make sure. Bill Kelliher confidently soars full-throated on the theatrical Octopus Has No Friends; theramin nuttiness and robotic apparitions pierce through the space rock gem Bedazzled Fingernails meanwhile richly layered guitars on The Sparrow build up so deftly and seductively there’s only one option left once the disc is over. Press play again. 

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The Top 10 of 2011

Thursday
Dec082011

The Top 10 Metal of 2011 - #7

Setting sail across the Atlantic we arrive and disembark upon a technicolor world of oddity, innocence and promise...

#7

Fair to Midland
- Arrows and Anchors

I know, the moaning will give me a headache and I can already anticipate sloshing around in the piss as you intimate ever so discreetly that Fair to Midland aren’t quite metal, actually; but fuck me dead – they’re more metal than some of the bullshit that passes for it these days. That said; the music sounds resplendent and playful as ever, still retaining that hotheaded energy that seems to effortlessly glow from each and every child’s imagination. Confluences of folksy banjo, warm synthesizer and of course, generous servings of hulking distorted guitars mosey on over while the incredible, dizzying voice of Darroh Sudderth gives the record its wings as he takes flight; a man that can belt out crystalline vibrato in tandem with muddy, gruff snarls is worthy of much praise. Couple it with an unmatched creativity and unparalleled musicianship across an impossible diversity of instruments it deservedly garners quite a bit indeed.

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The Top 10 of 2011

Wednesday
Dec072011

The Top 10 Metal of 2011 - #8

A cab collects us from 17th Street and dumps us in the distant past, to a time where the Celts ruled with iron hands over their Emerald dominion...

#8
Primordial - Redemption at the Puritan's Hand

To be quite honest; I’ve always heard of Primordial but never paid any mind to them (in my incalculable folly); until a chance spin of one of their promo tracks in my car alerted me to their indomitable presence. It was one of those “Where have these guys been all my life” moments mixed with a sense of incredulity that I’d been foolish enough to only superficially hear them until presently. Nevertheless, Primordial’s inimitable sense of dense texture and dogged resistance to the lock down of riff manufacturing radiates outward in Redemption, evoking a proud and fervent sense of the arcane Celtic highlands. Careworn fingers can be heard sliding across strings and raw throated laments only serve to heighten the appeal of their chilling brand of black metal. There aren’t many records that can transport you to another time that only few have stood and watched, but Primordial are undoubted masters at whittling down at your conscious soul until you’re no longer tied to the present, sweeping you away with their despondent odes.

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The Top 10 of 2011

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