Welcome to part 2 of 4 of the Best Albums of the Decade. Part 1 may have been a bit eclectic, but part 2 veers gleefully into the false at times. Every albums belongs here though.
70) Leviathan – Scar Sighted
Profound Lore – 2015
Leviathan doesn’t make easily accessible music and Scar Sighted is particularly dense. Meaning is obfuscated under layers of distortion and discomfort. Then, once you peel everything back and get to the core of it, all that’s there is an inky, impenetrable heart of blackest misanthropy. To search for meaning in this lucid nightmare is akin to pinning down a shadow; it’s there, you know it’s there, but it’s so intangible that it can never be grasped. It takes an already intense album and twists the knife in your mind.
69) Gojira – L’Enfant Sauvage
Roadrunner Records – 2012
If, like me, you think Magma was a hard reset for Gojira, it’s because they hit the wall with L’Enfant Sauvage. They took everything they had built upon over the preceding albums; all the progressive elements; all the technical nuance; all the interplay between light and dark, and threw it at this album. The end result was their most intense album. It could easily have spiralled into a noisy, disjointed mess, so it’s genuinely impressive they managed to keep the reins on it. When going all or nothing, it’s a damn good thing to land on all.
68) Deafheaven – New Bermuda
Anti- – 2015
New Bermuda is Deafheaven making an adamant statement that, yes, they are a black metal act. They still lean into the emo and shoegaze elements that have made them (in)famous, but they’ve made a subtle course correct back to the genre fundamentals. It’s a deeper experience than the Black Metal with Feelings (New from Pixar!) that came before. It’s murkier. It’s more chaotic. And, somewhat ironically, it’s a more human experience for it. It pays raw emotional dividends without feeling forced.
67) Devourment – Conceived in Sewage
Relapse – 2013
Here it is, folks: the only brutal slam album I have returned to over and over. I keep coming back because it delivers far more than it promises. I’m not afraid to say that while slam has its moments, ordinarily I find it a bit repetitive for my own taste. Conceived in Sewage is anything but that. It definitely brings the mosh-amping violence, but its headbanging-friendly chug is complemented with memorable melody. What’s on offer here is a complete album, not just a collection of mosh bait.
66) Dälek – Asphalt For Eden
Profound Lore – 2016
I don’t know a lot about hip-hop, from a critical perspective, but ambient, drone, and noise are right in my wheelhouse. Dälek’s return album is massively successful in building hypnotic and haunting music that sits squarely at the intersection of the aforementioned genres. Soothing, yet discomforting, it’s the sort of music that cuts straight to the soul without you noticing the incision. On top of that are some of the most insightful, impassioned lyrics to be recorded this decade. It’s a beautiful flash of genius.
65) Wovenhand – Refractory Obdurate
Deathwish Inc – 2014
You’re not going to find another band like Wovenhand. Main man, David Edwards, writes intense, almost apocalyptic Christian lyrics and performs them over a blend of country, punk, and a fistful of different folk influences. And Refractory Obdurate is the album that best brings these disparate elements together. Majestic, yet oddly intimate, it’s a clear window into the mindset of its creator. Don’t let the God bothering put you off; musically, it’s a stunning album built around a wholly unique worldview.
64) Windhand – Grief’s Infernal Flower
Relapse – 2015
“When I sleep I dream of death.” Prior to this gut punch in the masterfully depressing Sparrow, you might suspect that Windhand are approaching some difficult subject matter, but then all doubt gets ripped out. The stoner doom fuzz immediately takes on a whole new, unfathomably dark tone. It ceases to be fun, if a whisper troubling. It immediately becomes a deliberate attempt to obfuscate something very real and absolutely awful. I say attempt, because the darkness permeates it totally and cannot be hidden.
63) Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind
Roadrunner Records – 2019
I had to force myself to remove my metal elitist hat and acknowledge that Iowan nontet have actually produced a fantastic piece of contemporary metal. A massive part of that success is a laser-like focus on how they want their finished product to sound. Gone is the flailing, uncontrollable angst of their first albums. Gone (hopefully forever) is the creative malaise that followed until now. This album’s ebbs and flows have a maturity that harnesses anger and repurposes it to drive home a massive sound.
62) Ghost – Opus Eponymous
Rise Above – 2010
Hard to believe that from this humble little album, Ghost would go on to become the satan pop behemoths they are today. I say hard to believe, as who would have thought that the combination of black metal themes with psychedelic doom composition and Broadway theatrics would lodge so well in the psyche? But as much as they have gone on to bigger things (and will only get bigger), they still haven’t topped their debut. It works on every level it wants to work on. A haunted house inhabited with actual Satanists.
61) Obituary – Obituary
Relapse – 2017
Obituary have been around for a seemingly forever and, if you have heard much of their post-millennium material, you’d believe it. I was still a fan, but you could hear the tiredness in their approach. But then they dropped their self-titled and all of a sudden their legendary status was on full display again. It’s not just that they play heavy. They always nail the heaviness. It’s that they fully unleashed their swampy swagger, melding the chug of Florida death with a ripping rock and roll nasty.
60) Gold – No Image
Profound Lore – 2015
To grossly oversimplify thing, goth music is basically post-punk that skews heavily pessimistically romantic. Deathrock takes goth and performs it in a way that not-miserable people might enjoy. Gold lives up to those gross oversimplifications and exceeds all expectations in doing so. It’s an album that routinely gets me right in the heart, but encourages me to feel good about feeling sad. That to live an experience that leaves a genuine emotion is far better than to live safely in a bubble of emotional numbness.
59) american – Violate and Control
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2017
When I first reviewed this I settled on “The Intersection Between Black Metal and Noise Without Truly Being Either” as the genre tag. On re-review, I don’t think I could have described it any better. They hammer home a distinctly post-human sound by combining the most aggressive elements of the two genres. But there’s a sophistication that takes much unpacking to really appreciate. It pushes its extremes to prog or post- proximity, but never at the expense of its savage atmosphere.
58) Deicide – Overtures of Blasphemy
Century Media – 2018
As someone who came very late to the Deicide party, you may not be surprised to learn that I hold the band to a tougher standard than I probably should. They left me cold for a long time and I’ll rake them over the coals for far more minor infractions than I would bother with ordinarily. So that I unabashedly enjoy Overtures speaks volumes about how good an album it is. Their particular focus on melody pays off spectacularly. There is no chug here; every track speaks to the greatness of a death metal original.
57) Mgła – Age of Excuse
Northern Heritage – 2019
As paragons of Satanism at its most objectivist, Mgła often makes me uncomfortable. I’m not afraid to say that, because out of this discomfort is born a fascination. They take me to places I wouldn’t ordinarily travel and force me to justify my own existence. Age of Excuse perfectly encapsulates this forbidden fascination. Its will is totalitarian, its confidence is unwavering, and it wields a massive axe to winnow the herds too weak to stand with it. Selfish desires have never sounded so virtuous.
56) Baroness – Yellow & Green
Relapse – 2012
There’s an awful lot to like about this double album, but what sticks with me the ability to sound so huge, so absolutely stadium shaking, while at the same time sounding so intimate that they could be playing just for you. It helps that they strike the perfect balance between barnstormers and contemplators, but even taking that into account, there’s something extraordinary about their performance. They went out of their way to be everything at once, and with genuine compositional skill, they are.
55) Ludicra – The Tenant
Profound Lore – 2010
Ludicra’s swansong album is a remarkable example of deft songwriting. It’s powerfully evocative of urban alienation, ably channelling the feeling of insignificance when surrounded by towering, grey, brutalist edifices. But The Tenant is also redolent of a hostile, fae otherness. That underneath the all too human theme of isolation is an unseele court waiting to prey upon the unsuspecting. This is an album that loses the listener in a world that feeds on uncertainty and discontent.
54) Moss Upon the Skull – In Vengeful Reverence
I, Voidhanger – 2018
When I listen to these Belgian progressive death dealers, they get me thinking about progressive titans like Opeth, Gojira, and Enslaved. But, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice In Vengeful Reverence ranks above all their offerings. It all comes down to approach. This album makes me think about the other bands because it forges its own path. It delivers its sinister sound with a striking freshness. Wild yet crisp, like a conifer forest in the dead of winter, it’s what the genre needs.
53) Rotting Christ – Aealo
Season of Mist – 2010
This is Rotting Christ getting their ultra-melodic, slightly folky take on black metal just right. Later albums taught me that it’s a far more delicate balancing act than you would think. I think the thing that truly makes Aealo work is it’s relentless. It keeps coming at you and coming at you; it might deviate and try different strategies, but it never stops. It relies upon that aggressiveness of purpose to keep your attention rapt. There’s no rough edges or abrasiveness; there is only melodic triumph.
52) Bastard Priest – Under the Hammer of Destruction
Blood Harvest – 2010
I had been using the term bastard metal for a few years prior to this album for describing bands that were an amalgamation of black, death, and thrash metals, but Bastard Priest really take that term and make it their own. They’ve got the surging immediacy of thrash, the blood and guts of death metal, and the stench of the void of black metal. It’s an album packed from start to finish with sonic evil, made all the more nasty by how memorably entertaining they are. They’re the raging kings of the bastards.
51) Death Angel – The Dream Calls For Blood
Nuclear Blast – 2013
Sharp as a surgical scalpel and whipcord taut, The Dream Calls For Blood is the highlight in Death Angel’s reformation. The band were already the hallmark of consistency amongst Bay Area bands; they haven’t dropped a clunker this millennium. But this album stands even further apart from the rest. It’s the little things. Simple, yet incisive lyrics draw the listener in. The tracks are timed for maximum impact with minimum filler. It’s all about the point: getting there, staying there, and delivering.
50) YOB – Atma
Profound Lore – 2013
Setting a lofty standard for heaviness, Atma is exactly the sort of album that should convert doom non-believers into wide-eyed zealots. The low, rumbling riffs move with tectonic force and when they are matched with the pained, screeching vocals, the end result is seismic sonic upheaval. YOB genuinely sound like they could move mountains or shift our planetary axis on this release. But it’s more than heavy. There’s a subtly too it that belies its heft. It’s delicately crafted art wrapped in riffs.
49) The Haunted – Exit Wounds
Century Media – 2014
That intro track doesn’t really brace you for the onslaught to follow, as The Haunted storm the ramparts with everything in their not-inconsiderable arsenal. I really can’t undersell how hard and how fast this album comes at you. It even has what I would call a false closer or two; you might get sucked into thinking the gas is about to ease off only to get whiplash from the damn thing suddenly red-lining again. It’s a non-stop roller-coaster of high-octane, performance-tuned metal.
48) At the Gates – At War With Reality
Century Media – 2014
You can’t really say it’s a spiritual successor to Slaughter of the Soul. It’s a different beast. Gone is the white-hot angst and in its place is a black-hearted desolation. To say this album is bleak is to undersell it. The band haven’t tried to be what they were then and it shows. They’ve matured as people and this is passed on to the music. Its thematic maturity is mirrored in the music; the full-frontal assault of their youth is replaced with a sinister display of calculated, pernicious aggression.
47) Shining – Blackjazz
Indie – 2010
It was very tempting to review this with just a meme; this one in fact. Straight up, this reinterpretation of jazz through a black metal lens never settles enough to be normal. It just keeps escalating and distorting and intensifying. It doesn’t have an off switch; even when it winds down to a lower tempo, that’s no relief because the mood shifts as well to keep the overall effect challenging. But for all the madness, the relentlessness is memorable in the extreme. It carves itself into your goodwill.
46) Oranssi Pazuzu – Valonielu
Svart – 2013
It helps to remember that Oranssi Pazuzu started life as a psychedelic rock act that came to black metal later because Valonielu sounds like the band took a bad trip and experienced apocalyptic visions. You can tell that they weren’t born of the dark; that the dark came for them and they embraced it. There are moments that sound genuinely revelatory; that the band knows how to open the doors to perception. The end result is an album that is equal parts enlightenment and absolute terror.
45) Kreator – Gods of Violence
Nuclear Blast – 2017
Multiple songs that I sing along loudly and badly to. Several songs that legitimately choke me up. Suffice to say, this album really speaks to me. It helps that the Teutonic thrash titans upped their game and produced their best album this millennium. It’s clockwork precise, but it cranks along at a blistering pace. But the inescapable fact is what makes this so good is that it is ridiculous fun. Thrash is supposed to be the music of beers and good times. And, holy crap, this brings a raucous party.
44) Nails – You Will Never Be One Of Us
Nuclear Blast – 2016
I’ve seen and participated in debates about whether these bruisers are grind, pv, or hardcore. On reflection, they were wastes of time. What matters is how infectious their animosity is. YWNBOOU is hostility fed steroids and then unleashed with a fervent mania. It goes straight for the lizard brain and plays upon its instinctive need to luxuriate and wallow in negativity and aggression. It draws you in deep, which goes to show just how seductive those primal feelings can be.
43) Hail of Bullets – On Divine Winds
Metal Blade – 2010
Hail of Bullets, in their three album existence, were death metal’s foremost world war two historians and On Divine Winds was their most engaging lesson. The war in the Pacific certainly provides a wealth of subject matter (Pearl Harbor, kamikaze, nukes, etc), but that they could translate it into such engaging and memorable lyrics makes it so much better. And then to lay those lyrics down over gunfire drums and heavy machinery guitars to perfectly marry military theme to cataclysmic sound? It’s masterful.
42) Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind
Epitaph – 2012
Are Converge the most emotionally mature band in metalcore? I’m struggling to think of anyone more so. They have always taken intensely, challengingly poignant themes and refracted them into blustering howls of catharsis. All We Love is a standout in this regard. It’s affectingly heavy. Draining would be my preferred term, but for their convulsive mathcore driving the energy levels up into the extremes. Its ebbs and flows chart moments of beauty and pain and the deltas where they intersect.
41) Grand Magus – Triumph and Power
Nuclear Blast – 2014
There is a wonderful, almost guilty satisfaction to this album. It’s like being curled up in bed on a wet day when you should be at work. The rhythms are so catchy and they swell so majestically through the choruses. And then there’s the lyrics, which are fist-pumping, rabble-rousing, sing-along good times. But underneath it all is determined seriousness. Grand Magus care deeply about how they present their heavy metal and have tied everything up with an eye to both history and fate. Triumph and power says it all.