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Wednesday
Dec152010

The Top 10 Metal of 2010 - #7

Seeing as we're already in space we hop aboard the Discovery One to rendezvous with the Star Child at Saturn...

#7
Martriden - Encounter the Monolith
Martriden are troupers. Being dumped from their previous label they did what any other reasonable musician would do - go ahead and record an album anyway.

Thus we have Encounter the Monolith, a curious and intriguing mixture of their uniquely pummeling blackened death metal, acoustic meanderings and Gojira style obliqueness, topped off with galactic sweeps of keyboards, bludgeoning guitars and gruff, acidic vocals. Inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey, it does somewhat feel like an authentic yet abstract musical version of the book; alienating and wonderful yet somehow human and triumphant in its approach.

Made up of six lengthy songs - more like movements - it has an uninterruptable and trancendental flow to it, much like Green Carnation's Light of Day, Day of Darkness or Crimson by Edge of Sanity. Similarly, they have a penchant for writing complex jams and venturesome riffs that strengthen the integrity of the concept while upholding their renowned granite-like edge. If only all blackened death metal could be this down to earth and true to its black and death metal roots as well as this good at the same time!

The Top 10

Tuesday
Dec142010

The Top 10 Metal of 2010 - #8

We've been half-way across the globe already; so we prepare ourselves to project into the stars with my #8 pick...or is that picks?


#8
The Ocean - Heliocentric & Anthropocentric

I know, these are physically two albums; but in my view, selling them as such is like offering a car only to charge the exact same sum again for the keys. It is a double record and should be treated as such, much like Therion's Lemuria/Sirius B or Opeth's Deliverance/Damnation binaries. One simply cannot exist without the other.

Thus for 1hr and 40sec we thoroughly explore the fringes of science, philosophy and our understanding of the cosmos throughout the ages. Recorded in seclusion in the Swiss alps, the records form their scathing criticism of Christian fundamentalism.

Replete with sprawling, Herculean and delicate guitars they forge into the psyche of men in their gormlessness and grandeur. Jazzy textures, freewheeling horns and woodwind, Baroque piano interplay and undulating strings are performed with as much aplomb as their crushing guitar riffs and cage-rattling drum fills. For example, in the Heliocentric track Ptolemy was Wrong baritone extraordinaire Loïc Rossetti dramatically laments his realization that the Earth orbits the sun - a soulful piano dirge accompanies his passionate outcry.
I genuinely felt for the resonant Mr. Rossetti, the pain in knowing his character can never tell anyone in fear of persecution - much like Jean Valjean's "Who Am I?" lament in Les Miserables. As the facade of human irrationality peels away, the music really imbues that feeling of enlightenment which is a feat in and of itself, all the while exploding with polyrhythmic jam-style fury and colorful harmony.

Even his brutal vocals are to be commended especially in the weightier and punchier Anthropocentric, as is the warm and layered production that binds together a collective of eight highly talented musicians. Much like the Orphaned Land record that came in at #10, its depth is almost fathomless and requires careful attention, although individual tracks taken out of context are quite capable of holding their own.

Much like Between the Buried and Me, The Ocean are certainly poised to write the next chapter of forward-thinking progressive metal history with this stellar effort - a real piece of metal art!

The Top 10

Monday
Dec132010

The Top 10 Metal of 2010 - #9

Moving into the single digits, we travel from the whimsical sands of the Middle East to the abrasive, wintry tundra of Scandinavia.

#9
 Soilwork - The Panic Broadcast
Talking to Bjorn “Speed” Strid earlier this year he noted that the return of founding guitarist Peter Wichers re-invigorated the band; after a few repeat listens it becomes starkly apparent. The guitars are tighter – Wichers and Courdet attain a certain synergy with their leadwork. Under Wichers’ wise direction, the band have ceased to smash out sharp, to-the-point (and often forgettable) riffs, they now pen intricate, cohesive and enjoyable songs. Strid’s clean and death vocals are imbued with a passion and fire that exceeds expectations. Even the Todd MacFarlanesque cover and booklet has been given due care – it’s as if the band have poured their all into this batch of songs and want the rest of the world to know.
Most of the melodic death metal greats are struggling to repeat their past successes and have succumbed to commercialism, laziness or some kind of unfortunate amalgam of the two. Wichers’ time away from the band has done the whole a world of good. The record has the muscular vigor of youth discovering metal for the first time and the nuance of veteran metalheads teasing all they can from the genre and patiently adding to the canon. It’s a complete package – there’s almost no filler, there’s no placating to trends – it’s unashamedly and authentically Soilwork. Their brand is their mark of quality and it speaks for itself.

The Top 10

Sunday
Dec122010

The Top 10 Metal of 2010 - #10

And so the the Top 10 metal records of 2010 begins with #10.

#10
Orphaned Land - The Neverending Way of ORWarriOR
Orphaned Land is a band on a mission. Their music is in the service of the divine. Each note is inspired from upon high, telling the tale of the ORWarriOR – the warrior of light. There’s nothing that isn’t special about this album. With melodies plucked from their native Israel, the band employs the Arab Orchestra of Nazareth, replete with Arabian violins and local acoustic instruments. The mellifluously sung lyrics are sung in English, Arabic and Hebrew. It’s even mixed by Steven Wilson (well, that’s more a marketing specialty than anything else!)
That aside, this album truly sounds like an arduous yet rewarding spiritual journey through the land of the ancients with a musicianship unrivaled in metal, rock or any contemporary music. They take the best parts of modern progressive metal and baptize it in the rhythmic waters of the Middle East and orient for a truly immersive, time-honored and weighty record. It's not immediate and it's not meant for constant replay. But it was six years in the making. For an album this good, I’d have waited six years more.

Click here for the honorable mentions.

Sunday
Dec122010

The Top 10 Metal of 2010 - The Honorable Mentions

This year I'm taking a different approach to posting my Top 10 of 2010. I've listened to so much music - most of it metal - this year, I've decided to post my list as individual posts. I'm trying something new instead of blurting out a whole spiel and cursing myself later for not taking my time. It'll be a considered, measured and thoughtful list from me this year.

As is customary, I choose 10 of the best and give three honorable mentions - the Gold, Silver and Bronze awards respectively. In keeping with the spirit of ceremony, the Bronze award goes to:

Laethora - The Light in Which We All Burn
If you look closely at Dark Tranquillity records, you'll soon see a pattern emerge. All the despondent, morose and chilling tracks are written by guitarist Niklas Sundin - it's almost if he's the "dark" in Dark Tranquillity. In this, his side-project the cynicism and hopelessness is taken to an almost illogical extreme. Their sound is like a shotgun marriage of blast-beat driven punk grind and minimalistic death metal that feels as if we're listening to the soundtrack to a machine stripping away our humanity. A visceral and raw piece that avoids the pretension of revivalist second wave black metal yet still captures its misanthropic spirit.

The Silver award goes to:

Therion - Sitra Ahra
Therion is like the glue that binds the Swedish progressive metal scene together. If you're Swedish and you were ever in a progressive metal band, you've probably played in Therion. Unfortunately, Mats Leven is gone but has been replaced with the more than capable Thomas Vikstrom, paired with Snowy Shaw at the bass end of the vocal spectrum.
Of course, Therion are the standard-bearers for contemporary classical inspired metal and they run the gamut of the canon, streaking Vivaldi, Bach and Saint-Saens (as well as a symphonic metal "re-imagining" of Phantom of the Opera on the track Unugentum Sabbati) throughout the layers upon layers of seductive guitar rhythms, orchestral harmonies, tantric grooves and exotic, esoteric melody. Christofer Johnsson confirms yet again he is a master composer who is able to expertly balance his love of mystical epics and pomp with his propensity for power metal hooks and balladeering only to augment both. A balanced record with plenty of sweet guitar licks, instrumental surprises and measured choral lamentation.

The Gold award winner is:

Pain of Salvation - Road Salt One
It almost seems Pain of Salvation these days are merely a de jure progressive metal band - almost as if the band implores you to label them as such even though their music has taken a decidedly un-metal timbre in recent times. That aside, Mr. Daniel Gildenlow has produced another earnest and highly emotional piece in this, the first part of the "Road Salt Sequence." If he wasn't so outspoken with his left-wing views, I might even call it the Road Salt Cashgrab - but he only bleeds passion for music and it shows.
You can almost envision the shag carpeting underneath all of the band's feet as they lovingly give re-birth to 70s hard rock jam - it's like Uriah Heep and Nazareth got together to share their innermost feelings and take a whole bunch of ecstasy - but in the most honest and life-affirming way.
I've always argued that Pain of Salvation are the true (flower) kings of prog metal - and prog music in general - and Road Salt One proves it once again. Looking very forward to Road Salt Two early next year.

Next up, we start the real list...

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