January 4, 2007

10 for '06: The Music

One thing that I fail to do with everything I entertain myself with, outside of movies, is to pay attention to just what sources I enjoy are coming from. Sure, if it is something I am reviewing I pay attention to it, but when the end of the year comes and it comes time to even consider putting together some list of the year's best, I am generally left behind. For 2006 I have become determined to put together a list of some sort, this is the fruit of that labor.

As I think back over the year, I realize that I probably have not listened to enough music releases this year to come up with a "best of" list. Actually, I take that back, I know I have not listened to enough to deliver a list of the best. So, what you are about to read is not, and I repeat not, a list of the best albums. As soon as you begin to read through the list, you will recognize just how much of the truth that is. Rather, what I have done is put together a list of 10 albums that I particularly liked. They may not be the best, but the certainly aren't the worst. If you are feeling brave, read on.

The following are in no specific order, save for the top album which was my favorite for the year.

Killswitch Engage - As Daylight Dies
This band first appeared on my radar when I heard their 2004 release, The End of Heartache. Quite frankly, the album floored me. I was caught completely off guard by the brilliance of it. Two years later they have released their follow up and, at least in my mind, have cemented their position as the top of the burgeoning metalcore genre. If there was any one reason for the existence of a new subgenre, it is Killswitch Engage. They have that great blend of raw heaviness and melody that just go together so well, it is music to my ears. Driving drums, heavy riffs, and some of the best singing I have heard, this is a band to get behind. The album furthers the skills demonstrated on Heartache. If the CD isn't enough, I also got to see them live recently and they are an incredible act to see live, the charisma and energy just flows from the stage, washing over the crowd that is more than willing to receive it.

3 Mile Scream - Prelude to Our Demise
This, the Canadian act's debut release, is one full of promise. They blend a number of influences, like old school thrash and speed, the melodies of metalcore, a touch of the extreme, and even a little black metal into one hell of an opening salvo on the listeners ears. I have to say that I am not all that crazy about the bands name, but so long as the keep putting out music of this quality, I will surely not complain. 3 Mile Scream proves they have what it takes to compete in the ever-changing heavy scene. Each song is as brutal as the one that came before it, but it tempers that with strong doses of melody, co-existing in a mixture that is extremely volatile. Everything builds to their premiere cut, "Dare to Question." It clocks in at nearly six minutes and puts each of their talents to the test, taking them to the limit, dangling them over the edge, to which they respond "I dare ya." As if to prove a point, 3 Mile Scream does not hold anything back - they take no prisoners, and they will not be ignored.

Shadows Fall - Fallout from the War
This is a band that I have been aware of for some time, but never really took the time to listen to them, despite owning Of One Blood and War Within. I think my interest in them started rising when I saw their name linked with Killswitch Engage, which, as previously seen, has been growing exponentially in my estimation. For some reason, I decided to pickup Fallout from the War, a wise choice as it really caught on with me and spent a lengthy amount of time in my CD changer. It isn't a full album, rather it is a revisit to leftover and unfinished cuts from the War Within sessions. They went back to the studio, finished the songs and recorded a couple of cover tracks. The end result is great, in particular, Jason Bittner's drums have left me in awe. This album, which isn't even a major release for them has put them on my radar and won them a new fan. The most surprising inclusion is a cover of the Dangerous Toys' song "Teas'n Pleas'n." They even got Toys' singer James McMaster to do the lead vocals.

Bob Dylan - Modern Times
A Dylan fan I am not. Not for any particular reason other than I didn't feel like getting into his music. There is no denying the influence he has had over his lengthy career, and I am familiar with some of his better known songs, but I never went out of my way. Over the past couple of years I have had the opportunity to see him live a couple of times, and his charismatic performance has piqued my interest. Combine that experience with the recent iPod commercial and the excellent reviews this album has gotten, I decided to give it a spin. Am I ever glad that I did. Modern Times is catchy, groovey and features a legend at the top of his game. I do not always understand what he is saying, but that is also true of much of the metal I listen to, and it really doesn't matter. This is just a fantastic album that definitely is one of the best of the year, regardless of how little I may have listened to.

Iron Maiden - A Matter of Life and Death
Iron Maiden is another one of those bands that took me forever and a day to begin listening too. That's what you get when you enter the music game as late as I did, you find yourself playing a lot of catch up. I have come to welcome the news of a new Maiden release, their brand of pure heavy metal is a welcome sound in my ear cavity. At first listen, I wasn't sure how much I liked it, I just knew that I did. The more that I have listened to it, the more and more I have liked it. It may not be at the same level as, say, Piece of Mind, but it is one fantastic metal album. The first single, "The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg," is a fine piece of music, but I prefer "Pilgrim," especially with that fantastic opening. The album does have a bit of a different feel, but is still true to the core Maiden. Up the Irons!

The Devin Townsend Band - Synchestra
I may be a little slow coming around, but I am beginning to recognize the brilliance of Devin Townsend. I first experienced him live, heading up Strapping Young Lad when they opened for Meshuggah. I liked the drumming, but I can't say I was terribly impressed. Well, here we are some years later and I am faced with Townsend's madcap metal mastery again, in the of The Devin Townsend Band, as opposed to Strapping Young Lad. Rather than a straight up metal disk, what we get is more akin to a soundtrack to a metallic landscape. There is an ebb and flow as each of the songs flows one into the next, there are no singles, or any standout tracks for that matter, but taken as a whole, there is a definite bit of genius at work. A majestic, mature work that begs to be listened to. Not one to be missed.

Hatebreed - Supremacy
I've said it before, I say it now, and I will most likely say it again in the future, hardcore is not my genre of choice. In fact, I have never really listened to it all that much. But just like anything, there are exceptions to the rule, Hatebreed is one of those exceptions. I first experienced them about ten years ago, at the time I was not terribly impressed, but upon subsequent releases and a few lineup changes, they have grown by leaps and bounds until they have reached the top of he hardcore heap. This, their fourth release, is the best collection they have put out yet. The music is brutal, unrelenting, and just flat out aggressive. The songs have a positive core of inner strength surrounded by the crunchy riffs and precision drumming that are sure to get the pit chugging. Crisp production makes this their best recorded effort, and I don't know, but it just grabbed my inner mosher and shook him like a child. Definitely a long lived rager.

Darzamat - Transkarpatia
Darzamat, named after protective deity guarding gardens and forests from Slavonic mythology. A fitting name for a band that creates dense, forrest-like compositions of gothic, doom, and black metal. There is a strong cinematic quality to their music, heavy on the drama, and alluring in an evil sort of way. It is a seductive darkness that draws you in and traps you in its web of darkness. This is an album that I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Songs to focus on include the initial blast, "Vampiric Prose," which serves as an introduction to the band in top form. Other prime gloomers are "The Burning Times" and the down tempo epic, "Virus." Strong vocal performances from the male/female duo are the anchors that held me in thrall as the vampiric imagery washed out of the speakers. Excellent album.

Stone Sour - Come What(ever) May
Stone Sour's sophomore release is a wonderfully executed hard rock album, the likes that you don't hear all that often. Their debut album from 2002 demonstrated their collective ability, this continues to put their impressive songwriting on display. Come What(ever) May is a complete album running the gamut from pedal to the metal, all out rockers like "30/30-150" and "Reborn," to the "Bother"-esque single "Through Glass," to infectious mid-tempo cuts like "Socio," to the brilliantly depressing "Zzyzx Rd." I cannot actually point to a bad song in the bunch. This is a mature collection that has a strong focus on collaborative songwriting, each member has their moment to shine, yet there is no upstaging. They come together to create this solid rock sound. This is, quite frankly, one of the most satisfying albums I have had the pleasure of listening to this year.

nearLY - Reminder
From the liner notes: "Solely intended for nighttime listening, at a loud volume." I agree with that sentiment. This is a true classic and one of the better albums to have emerged in recent years. This is music to listen to and absorb. A morose journey that will leave with a feeling of hope, not an easy task, and one made to look easy here. This an album that you will want to add to your collection, beautiful, mysterious, timeless. Jerome Dillon, along with Brett Pierce and Claudia Sarne have crafted an album of such beauty and maturity, an album which introduces the world to a new creative force. The music has takes on a very personal nature, as if Dillon was purging himself of something, or working through an emotional experience, documenting the journey in these songs.

Now, what list is complete without Honorable Mentions? Many, but not this one! Here are a few more albums that are worth checking out:

Elizabeth Reian Bennett - Songs of the True Hand
Reian Bennett is a Grand Master of the shakuhachi, an end blown bamboo flute. The music is beautiful, and lends itself to focused listening, or for use when meditating, or even just relaxing after a long day.

Mushroomhead - Savior Sorrow
This is not their strongest album, but they continue to deliver a good dose of progressive doom, with plenty of drama.

Wednesday 13 - Fang Bang
This is what you get when you combine former members of Murderdolls and Dope, you get a fun dose of horror punk. Looking to have fun on a dark and stormy night while cruising the local graveyards? Add a little Wednesday 13 to your iPod alongside the Zombie and Manson tracks.

Black Label Society - Shot to Hell
Shot to Hell is a well rounded and complete album that showcases strong songwriting and superior musical ability. Black Label Society is a band that every rock and metal fan should be listening to.

Even further albums worth giving a spin:
Dies Irae Sculpture of Stone
Deadstar Assembly - Unsaved
Bludgeon - World Controlled

Hopefully you will find something in here worthy of adding to you collection, and feel free to let me know what some of the better albums you've uncovered this year are.


Anonymous said...

Interesting Music Choices. I may have to check some of these out!

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