December 8, 2010

Favorite Albums of 2010: 15 Bands You Don't Want to Miss

This is not a "best of" list. I have come to the decision that I cannot have possibly listened to enough to make any sort of definitive list. As it is, I feel my list of reviewed albums for this year is woefully short. No matter how much I do it never seems to be enough. Still, I did get exposed to a lot of fantastic albums from familiar artists and those I have never heard of before. I also cheated a little bit, a couple of my favorites from early in the year are actually 2009 releases, but I don't care. Well enough of this preamble, let's get down to it, shall we?

The first few are at the top of the pile and then they are in random order.

Twiztid - Heartbroken & Homicidal. There is absolutely no doubt that this is my favorite album of the year. Since I have gotten it I have found it hard to stop listening to. This album is filled with great beats, great rhymes, and a dark, emotional content that really drew me in. I daresay this may be their most personal album yet. There is a lot anger and darkness unloaded over the course of the record's 45-minutes. At the same time there is emotional catharsis achieved by the time "All the Rest" closes everything out. No doubt about this one being in regular rotation for years to come.

Hypno5e - Des Deux L'une Est L'autre. This is dark, heavy, brutal, and very challenging. You have to pay attention if you don't want to be left behind. Hypno5e employ odd time signatures, syncopated riffing, and bipolar mood swings as they combine death metal, electronica, progressive, hardcore and ambient styles into one cohesive unit. I know, it sounds impossible, but give them a listen and be surprised by how well their wide ranging experimentation comes together.

Barren Earth - Curse of the Red River Wow. Here is an album that makes you sit up and take notice. Barren Earth with their first full length release have crafted an album that stands out from the crowd. The metal album crosses genre lines with ease, never settling down in one, rather it effortlessly transcends them. Curse of the Red River is a progressive epic that draws you in and holds you be the head while it transitions through atmospheric, brutal, melodic passages that massage the ear and punch the gut. If they do nothing else in their career, the Barren Earth collective has made a mark on the music scene that I hope will be remembered for years to come.

Mike Patton - Mondo Cane. Mike Patton takes a trip back in time to Italy of the 1950's and 1960's. From here he has plucked a number of Italian pop songs, which he then takes into the studio with a 40-piece orchestra. In the studio, surrounded by the orchestra, he proceeds to churn them through the recesses of the patent-pending Patton-filter, recording the resulting product and unleashing it upon the unsuspecting world.Just listen to this music, it slides along with buttery smoothness. Patton's voice sounds right at home, occasionally cutting loose with some screams, but primarily living in the clean, intelligible, easy flowing style of the source pop. Listen to the cover of Ennio Moricone's "Deep Down", it is insidious in its catchiness and is just a great listen. Another track of note is "Scalinatela" (Massimo Ranieri), accompanied by Spanish guitar, his voice is quite beautiful. I am also fond of "Che Notte!" with its playful almost cartoon-like atmosphere. While this is pretty accessible, it is still weird, wonderful, and intriguing. Patton must be one of the busiest guys in the business, always turning out interesting creations. This is no different. It is fascinating to the last note.

Katatonia - Night is the New Day is a gorgeous epic of lush arrangements and melancholy music. It is like the marriage of Opeth and The Cure. There is a heavy dose of doom and gloom to the music that is actually more welcoming than it may initially seem. Not what I expected turned into exactly what I wanted. This is an album whose beauty lasts well after the final note has faded. This band has crafted something that is familiar yet new, a welcoming journey into doom and decay. Katatonia is a band with a vision and they want to share it with you. Will you join them for a while?

God Dethroned - Under the Sign of the Iron Cross Very, very good, possibly great. That is a good way to start of describing God Dethroned's latest. It is a death metal record that includes all the usual ingredients but has seemingly come out tastier and catchier than many of their brethren's releases. It is a record that I hesitate to call great, but there is something terribly infectious about this music, brutal in its melody, melodic in its brutality. Under the Sign of the Iron Cross is a blast of metal that caresses your ears while it punches a hole in the top of your skull. If you like metal, you will like this. It may not be the best thing you'll ever hear, but it is likely one of the best new albums you've heard of late.

Bison b.c. - Dark Ages. These guys have a big, open, heavy sound that feels equal parts planned and free form. The jam quality is quite fascinating. I have never been one for jam bands, they are good, sure, but tend to get a little repetitive after awhile. These metal jam bands are a different story altogether. It must have something to do with the fact that I am more of a metal guy to begin with and the idea of a jam metal band is still pretty foreign to me. They aren't  terribly progressively minded, but they don't have to be. They are doing their own thing just fine, which is a bit more straight up but still travels in the ways of epic length songs, drastic tempo changes and wild shifts multiple times in the same song. During the little bit of research I did into them I discovered a new term for their music. In a couple of places I saw the term "Neanderthal metal" used. Wow. There is an accurate term. There is something old school, low-fi, and do it yourself about the way these guys sound.

The Tony Danza Tap Dance Extravaganza - Danza III: The Series of Unfortunate Events The music surges forward like oceanic waves, incessant, never ending, cyclical, and depending on where you jump in, aggressive, powerful, and unforgiving. It is brutal and aggressive, but not in the same way as some of the recent deathcore acts I have been listening too. It certainly can be described in those words, but it does not seem intent on crushing your skull, ripping your face off, or even crushing your bones into powder. It more wants you to join in on the fun. The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza is virtually handing you a spiked bat and inviting to become an active participant in the fun. It works. This is an interesting album, I am not quite sure what genre it belongs to. I have seen labels like technical metal, extreme technical metal, grindcore, groove metal, experimental metal, mathcore, and others. It appears that many others can't quite agree on it ether. I like a combination of mathcore, groove, and extreme technical metal.

Allegaeon - Fragments of Form and Function Allegaeon has a death metal base but spreads out into technical metal areas that bring Nevermore-style riffs into close proximity to Gothenburg-style melodic death like In Flames. Through it all they have a straight ahead focus that is quite refreshing. They do have a striking focus on the song. There are speedy moments, slower riff grooves, and some great technical leads. This is a solid album with some very good songs and a solidly delicious technical bent. I love the pace changes, the fast solos, the slower accentuated leads, the driving drums, heavy riffs, this is an all around excellent metal release.

Whitechapel - A New Era of Corruption. Deathcore is not really my genre of choice, but I can definitely see the attraction of the genre mash up. What is interesting about this release is that it is a very good example of deathcore while also taking some steps away from the genre and a bit more towards death metal. It is an interesting combination and it could be telling as to the direction they see themselves moving in going forward. With that said, I like what they are doing here and would like to see further explorations of what was done here. All right, I guess he cat is out of the bag. This is a really good album. The two years since This is Exile have been very good to them. This collection of tunes shows a great amount of growth. It is still heavy, brutal, aggressive, and whatever other word you want to affix to their brand of heaviness. However, the two years have seen the band grow as musicians and songwriters.

Kingdom of Sorrow - Behind the Blackest Tears. is a solid album that digs itself into your gray matter and continues to work its way ever deeper with each successive concussive track. I am helpless in the presence of Kingdom of Sorrow. They may not be my favorite band, they may not be the most original, but this combination of very different parts and the resulting genre mash is something special. Of course, again, I am something of a sucker for the heavy guitar riffs like these here.  This is the evolution of sludgecore. Heavy, aggressive, unapologetic, and very catchy. This is an infectious album. If you are a fan of either Jasta or Windstein or the first album, this is a must. It is the sort of album you can put on at any time, put on any song, and just rock. Very good stuff.

As I Lay Dying - The Powerless Rise. This album has that classic metalcore base that has helped define them over the years, but there are elements of heavier styles infecting the crunchy riffs and melodic passages. As I listen to "Beyond Our Suffering," "Without Conclusion," and "The Plague" I detect some thrash, death, and black metal. There are other times I hear a little hardcore. The short of it is this is their heaviest and most accomplished album yet. knows how to be brutal, melodic, and completely catchy at the same time without being annoying about it. Even when they are in their more mainstream mode, like "Parallels," they know how to execute. They then turn on a dime and turn out the chunky heavy stuff like "Condemned."

My Own Private Alaska - Amen. This is a dark album. Once you are sucked in, there is no escape as you will be held captive to the ebb and flow. The music delivers a broad dynamic range from gorgeous piano passages to frenetic sequences that truly mess with the mind. Even more impressive is that it is all created with piano, drums, and voice. There are no guitars nor bass to be found. What makes the album work as well as it does is the interplay between the drums and piano. At times they are in perfect synch while other times it sounds like they are headed in opposite directions. They flow and swirl, crash and burn, all in an effort to craft something different. I cannot say I have ever felt the urge to headbang to piano based music before. Not one of my initial favorites, I keep coming back to it so I cannot deny it!

Rob Zombie - Hellbilly Deluxe 2: Noble Jackals, Penny Dreadfuls, and the Systematic Dehumanization of Cool. This album is a throwback of sorts to the end of the White Zombie era and the start of solo career. And yes, it brings the heavy. There is a distinct weight to the music that hearkens back to the original Hellbilly Deluxe days while not losing the flavors developed on Educated Horses. This album is vintage Zombie. It has that borderline hard rock/metal sound that owes as much to the classic rock and roll of the 1970s as it does modern day electronics and studio technology. This is not a record you will want to miss. Hellbilly Deluxe 2 is a joy to listen to. Rob Zombie is a singular voice who never fails to be a fascinating character and artist. This is not a work to be written off or ignored. Listen to it, enjoy it, repeat. Catch the horror flavored groove.

A Backward Glance on a Travel Road - s/t. This self-titled debut album is one of almost ethereal beauty. It is accessible enough to be almost instantly caught up in it, while being so drastically different than anything we are used to hearing to be an utterly unique experience. This is the sort of music that can take you on a journey into your mind with its soul-searching expanse of sound. It is really hard to describe without actually having you listen to it. The album is comprised of seven tracks, each one adding something more to the whole, expanding on what came before. It is an impressive work that takes the listener on a journey into the recesses of the mind. The album is an experience that is not to be missed.

That about wraps it up! I hope you find something you like or are curious enough to check out the lesser known acts.

Article first published as Favorite Albums of 2010: 15 Bands You Don't Want to Miss on Blogcritics.

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