Albums of the Decade 2010-2019, Part 3 (40-11)

Part 3 of 4. Getting ever closer to the top of the tree. The bands that have got themselves this far have truly produced some amazing work to get here. Not just to beat out the previous 60 acts, but to also beat out the 100s of great albums that almost made the list. For the record, if I’m asked why [insert album here] isn’t in the top 100, it came in at 101.

As usual, enjoy.

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40) Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows
Relapse – 2016

Crushingly heavy. I swear, I’m going to overuse that phrase, but it’s so useful. And there’s a surprising amount of room to move with it. For example, Paradise Gallows is akin to being caught in one of those moveable wall traps. Think the garbage pit scene from Star Wars, except it doesn’t stop. It’s implacable and remorseless in its attack on your ears. The combination of sludge and drone, held together with blackened threads, is a methodical juggernaut. It cares not for what’s in its path.

39) Nadja – Sonnborner
Broken Spine Productions – 2018

I still find the pacing of this album thoroughly confusing. Opening with that titanic, 30 minute track, then following up with a handful of significantly shorter songs is odd. And, yet, it works so well. They present drone in a way that’s beautiful in a haunting sort of way. The distortion and the sustains warm the soul. And then it transitions to a more up-tempo approach, which breaks the reverie and re-engages the listener with reality. It’s a welcome reinterpretion of the genre.

38) Esoteric – A Pyrrhic Existence
Season of Mist – 2019

Is this actually slow? It seems pretty damn fast in places. The confusion is pretty intense. The thing you have to realise is that Esoteric have hit that terminal point of heaviness. The singularity. Black hole density. Listening to A Pyrrhic Existence puts you firmly past the event horizon and time starts to distort, to lose meaning. It’s satisfyingly weird to have something so crushingly heavy yet dexterously mercurial. It gave me a fresh insight into how funeral doom can shift within its own boundaries. Innovation can be a jovian weight to bear.

37) Batushka – Litourgiya
Witching Hour Productions – 2015

May the metal gods continue to bless the black metal drama machine and keep its cogs oiled and toothsome, because I would never have discovered this gem of an album if the band didn’t go the full Gorgoroth. Whatever your opinion on the acrimony, there’s no denying that Litourgiya is the work of a very skilled band. The interplay between Eastern Orthodox liturgical music and black metal is thoroughly engaging. I wanted, no, needed to keep listening to it; I had to unravel all its hidden truths.

36) Pissgrave – Posthumous Humiliation
Profound Lore – 2019

Death metal, by its very nature, has a certain degree of inherent violence. It’s up to each band to decide how exactly they want to channel it and how they want it dressed. Pissgrave come at the violence with absolutely zero artifice. Their approach is horrifyingly stark. There’s no attempt abstract or obfuscate their aggression; they lay it out naked and unadorned for the world to recoil from. To listen to it is to allow yourself to be dehumanised. It’s sadistic in a way that defies description.

35) Kvelertak – Kvelertak
Indie – 2010

When this came out in 2010 I had no idea how much I would want it. Then I got a taste of their faintly blackened, definitely over the top punk rock hullabaloo and it’s an album that’s been on regular rotation ever since. It’s got punch in the face tempos, ridiculous hooks, and the catchiest damn Norwegian lyrics ever. I don’t understand a word being yelled, but I yell right along with it. Or at least as well as my understanding of phonics will let me. I still get that rush every time it kicks off.

34) Lxs Jugadxs – Demo 2015
Self-Released – 2015

I very nearly cheated and put down all three of their demos in one entry. They’re a hell of an act. But doing that would undersell how good these four songs actually are. They’re a whirlwind of absolute madness, forever threatening to completely tear itself apart but always hanging on by the loosest of frayed threads. That the closing track feels so titanic at just under two minutes is indicative of just how brilliantly wild the preceding three tracks were. I hope they continue to play and release material.

33) Today is the Day – Pain is a Warning
Black Market Activities – 2011

One of my go-to albums for getting amped all the way up. It’s not just that it’s an energetic exercise in noise rock; it’s that it’s so smartly delivered. The slow passages brood with barely constrained intensity, the fast movements drive with pulsating dynamism, the clean vocals croon with genuine soul, and the harsh vocals are like acid, hallucinatory and corrosive, on the ear drums. It’s a sonic package so expertly delivered that it continues to surprise and amaze years after release.

32) Blood Incantation – Starspawn
Dark Descent – 2016

No band does death metal like Blood Incantation. They work at an intensity level that deliberately pushes them far outside conventional comfort limits. They take hostility and magnify it to apocalyptic rage. They take dread and amplify it to chthonic horror. And they take bloodlust and warp it into a febrile, extrasensory longing that can never be satiated. Starspawn attacks you and it’s up to you to endure it. It’s unhinged and does what it wants. Such a monstrosity is something that needs celebrating.

31) Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat
Century Media – 2015

That the grindfathers of grindcore have released an album of this vitality so far into their career is testament to their relentless drive and commitment to their message and to their craft. It’s not just that they blast incendiary beats as hard as they can; it’s that they’re willing to throw in curveballs for the listener. The industrial vibe of album’s title track and the oozing sleaze of Dear Slum Landlord… are prime examples. It’s a furious album that indulges in the many faces of anger.

30) Alcest – Les Voyages De L’Âme
Prophecy – 2012

Alcest are probably my favourite practitioners of blackgaze and Les Voyages de L’âme is definitely my favourite album. It perfects the interplay between shoegaze and black metal. The songs are written with a beautiful, dreamy ambience that fills the sonic space with light. But that light, glorious and blinding, casts long, inky shadows. In those shadows lurk beasts, sharpened fangs, and razor claws. An insatiable hunger lies at the heart of this album and all the splendour does is mask its ravenous intent.

29) Leprous – Malina
InsideOut – 2017

Malina is possibly the most depressing album on this list but certainly the most beautiful. Leprous have taken inspiration from a piece of bleak and oblique Austrian literature and transformed it into a gorgeously affecting prog opus. Heavily syncopated, the album conveys a necessary level of turmoil and unrest without sacrificing narrative flow. And I cannot think of a better vocalist for this than Einar. His contra-tenor is thematically perfect. Sad, sensitive, wonderful.

28) Bell Witch – Four Phantoms
Profound Lore – 2015

I still struggle to reconcile the sheer power of this album to the fact it’s a two piece: bass, drums, vocals, that’s it. It’s so heavy that it sets everything nearby rattling; so much so that you can’t play it subtly. If it’s on, you will feel it. But the amazing physical phenomena on display pales in comparison to the music itself. Yes, it’s heavy, but it’s delivered with such a deft touch that it transcends funeral doom. It creates a hypnotic effect where the crushing weight traps and holds the light.

27) Primordial – Where Greater Men Have Fallen
Metal Blade – 2014

Soaring, majestic, and strident, Where Greater Men Have Fallen is a stirring lament to the modern ills of this world. It has the requisite level of bitterness for this style of black metal, but it’s delivered as a call to action; Primordial don’t want the listener to passively mourn the what-ifs of this existence, they want people to be pissed off and engaged with their rage. This dynamism and purpose is truly what sets them apart. They want compatriots not witnesses.

26) High on Fire – Luminiferous
eOne – 2015

An unstoppable beast of an album, Luminiferous sounds like nothing less than an out of control freight train made entirely out of thunder. There’s no second guesses and no chance to over-think things; there are only titanic riffs rolling over everything in their path. And the beauty of it all is that this is not a simple album. There’s a sophistication to it that is only enhanced by the rampaging juggernaut beat down it inflicts. It leaves you with things to think about once you’re standing and have found your teeth.

25) Horrendous – Anareta
Dark Descent – 2015

I think the highest possible praise I can give to Horrendous here is that Anareta gives me the same satisfaction that Leprosy does. Yep, I’m comparing them to Death. While they are very much their own band with their own approach, the end result is an album that marries visceral intensity with distinctive technical flourishes and is delivered with passion and an ear for the listener. In that regard, it’s very similar to a certain, dearly departed Floridian’s oeuvre. A classic album born of legendary roots.

24) Bölzer – Hero
Iron Bonehead – 2016

The moment the intro track, Urðr, starts, you know you’re listening to something different. Something special. It somehow succeeds in being extremely traditional black metal and a wholly new approach to the genre all at once. It burns as brightly as the most powerful stars in the sky, but is kept grounded by a chill groove that is unusual stylistically yet thoroughly welcome. It’s an album of contrasts, as the band juggle the infernal and the mortal. It’s a remarkable album from a remarkable band.

23) Watain – Lawless Darkness
Season of Mist – 2010

Stirring anthems and soaring choruses aren’t just for power metal, you know. Done right, they have a happy home in any genre, irrespective of how ordinarily abrasive it usually is. This is an excellent thing for Watain, who have approached their proselytising for the Dark Lord with both the fire of abject zealotry and the huge hooks of stadium rock. Some may cry “FALSE!” Fuck ’em. As devotees of darkness, they understand that preaching to the choir is reductive and self-defeating. Darkness for all!

22) Enforcer – Diamonds
Earache – 2010

As great as this album is, it still manages to sound like a deliciously guilty pleasure. On a technical level, it’s brilliantly delivered speed metal. Driving rhythms, killer riffs, memorable vocals, the whole deal. But then you get to what it is thematically and it is gloriously lurid. High stakes gambling and swordfights on the neon-washed streets of Tokyo seems to be the narrative they were aiming for, but they also threw in a liberal dose of the devil. It’s utter madness and it all the better for it.

21) Trap Them – Darker Handcraft
Prosthetic – 2011

The absolute kings of Entombedcore and the high priests of HM2 worship, Trap Them took a chainsaw approach to their punk, creating an unmistakably hellish racket in doing so. Nothing exemplifies this as much as Darker Handcraft. Once again, you’ll find yourself in Barren Praise, the ghost town the band centre their narrative around. But this particular trip is harrowing, miserable, and dangerous. Their blend of grindcore and hardcore shouldn’t be this gloriously atmospheric, but it is.

20) Sólstafir – Ótta
Season of Mist – 2014

Winner of the “Holy Shit I Should Learn Another Language” award goes to Sólstafir. Ótta is haunting, lonely, and dripping with ennui. It’s evocative of a weary traveller crossing the tundra on a misty evening. I just wish I could match the lyrical themes to the music. The lyrical delivery is so delicate, sounding so pained yet so inviting at the same time. The emotional depths that this album plumbs transcend language barriers; I may not completely understand it, but I remain touched and enthralled throughout.

19) Altarage – Endinghent
Season of Mist – 2017

I probably overuse the word relentless. I don’t really think about that sort of thing usually, but upon revisiting Endinghent, it’s abundantly clear that I do. And shame on me for watering down the word through overuse, as no other album embodies relentlessness as completely and overwhelmingly as Altarage’s second full length. It’s as delirious and as terrifying as a fever dream in a war zone. Every beat and every riff sounds like they are trying to tear down the walls of reality. Relentless indeed.

18) Alder Glade – Spine of the World
Self-Released – 2017

It still strikes me as odd that an album so deeply rooted in Nordic heathenism could be made to such high quality by one man in Brisbane, Australia. Brisbane: the city winter forgot. But whatever journeys brought him to this point payed dividends, as Spine of the World is possessed of a true blackened aesthetic that makes you believe magic is very real and very dangerous. It helps that the magic is backed up by a unique approach to the genre. It’s crisp and sharp, like it’s been flash frozen in nitrogen.

17) Cloud Rat – Pollinator
Artoffact Records – 2019

This is nothing less than a startling vision of what grindcore could be. Of what it should be. Here is a band that is unafraid to take their fury and vitriol and wrap it in something more than blasts, shrieks, and distortion. It still has all those things, but the band unleash them with a sophistication more akin to prog or post-metal. They present their anger with as much complexity musically as there is in day to day existence. The real world isn’t simple and Cloud Rat dare to acknowledge that.

16) Revocation – Chaos of Forms
Relapse – 2011

Revocation’s signature blend of technical death metal and classic thrash was perfectly realised on Chaos of Forms. Oddly enough, I firmly believe the key to marrying the two genres together this well lies in David Davidson’s jazz background. He understands how to channel different sonic forces and wield them together to create a seemless, yet unpredictable union. In this sense, the title “Chaos of Forms” is entirely apt. Every song is a whirlwind of sound, a technical wonder and a classic banger all in one.

15) Clutch – Earth Rocker
Weathermaker Music – 2013

This is an album that never fails to get me, as they say, right in the feels. So you don’t misunderstand me, this isn’t some florid, weepy exercise in melodramatic sentimentality; rather it’s a powerful testament to healing powers of rock and roll. I never really thought about how much music has helped me get by in life until Earth Rocker stirred me up and got me assessing things. It’s an album that puts its existence up in lights and justifies the ever-living shit out of it with pure rock fury.

14) Nachtmystium – Silencing Machine
Century Media – 2012

There’s an awful lot of awful things you can say about Nachtmystium’s front man, Blake Judd. Junky, thief, and conman leap to mind. But there’s no doubt that when he channelled his self-destruction into his music instead of himself, the results were intense and inspired. Produced just before his life fell completely to shit, this is an album all about the stuttering flame of hope being snuffed out. It’s industrialised, progressive black metal at its most despairing.

13) Hacride – Back to Where You’ve Never Been
Indie – 2013

If you had asked me at the start of the decade which emotionally mature French progressive death metal act would make the most impact on me, I genuinely doubt Hacride would have been on my list. But BtWYNB is an absolute revelation. It sounds absolutely huge; the sumptuous and verdant soundscapes they create are a joy to luxuriate in. And yet, the songs are so personal, so intimate that it feels almost like an intrusion to listen to them. Their combination of hefty sonic bombast and intense emotion leaves an indelible impression.

12) Turbonegro – Sexual Harassment
Volcom – 2012

This is more than a return to form; this is a glorious, sleazy, denim-clad triumph over adversity. The Duke of Nothing on vocals isn’t Hank, but that’s the point. The ten tracks on offer require a rougher approach and that’s what he brings. Sexual Harassment doesn’t just showcase the band’s still-sparkling talent; it allows them to exorcise all the demons born of their turbulent hiatus. It makes for an unusual, yet real mix of hostility, bitterness, relief and gratitude. Catharsis sometimes requires raucous partying.

11) Swans – The Glowing Man
Young God – 2016

Come. Come to the great high mass. Give yourself to the church of sound and abase yourself upon the altar of Swans. Michael Gira’s masters of post-punk have always delivered in ritualistic, almost fevered fashion, but The Glowing Man is transcendent. It offers mania and catharsis, but it requires time and commitment. Exposing yourself fully to its complete panoply of sound is to give yourself over to a devotional that extends to almost the two hour mark, but will leave you feeling the touch of the divine.

Albums of the Decade 2010-2019, Part 2 (70-41)

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.

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70) Leviathan – Scar Sighted
Profound Lore – 2015

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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

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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

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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

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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

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“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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Albums of the Decade 2010-2019, Part 1 (100-71)

Here we go. The best 100 albums of the last decade, starting with albums 100 through 71. We’ve got a little bit of everything: shoegaze, pv, all sorts of metal. Enjoy.

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100) True Widow – Circumambulation
Relapse – 2013

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Their self-description as stonegaze is still one of the the quickest ways to describe the sound True Widow have created for Circumambulation. The thundering low-end anchors the shoegaze staples of fuzzed guitars and spacey vocals to a much heavier place, both sonically and emotionally. I like to think that hope still exists in these chords, but getting there takes a far more circuitous route. The catharsis this album offers is earned rather than gifted. I’m glad the journey up Mt Purgatory is a beautiful one though.

99) Vallenfyre – A Fragile King
Century Media – 2011

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Dirty. That’s what this sounds like. Yes, there is undeniably death metal here. Tinges of doom too. But Vallenfyre do things in such a filthy, gritty way that genre distinctions get pushed aside. The riffs churn through the sodden muck like a farmer plowing a field in preparation for a fresh crop of utter misery. That misery contributes to the grime on the album. You can feel it building up under your nails, tangling your hair, staining your skin. But as nasty as it is, it is hugely satisfying. It’s loaded with the degenerate glee of sin committed with absolute purpose.

98) Pseudcommando – A Home Beneath the Floorboards
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019

I suppose it’s harder to get much more nihilisticly misanthropic than an amalgamation of harsh noise and power electronics. Pseudcommando layer distortion on top of feedback on top of static to create a howling vortex of dissonance. But beneath it all, struggling to survive like a butterfly in a cyclone, is a haunting melody. It’s like a tiny, sputtering flame of humanity trying to warm a cold and inhospitable void of darkness. It creates a stark interplay between determined hope and rapacious cruelty.

97) Hate Eternal – Infernus
Season of Mist – 2015

Technically precise and heavy as hell, Infernus is the album you go to when you want old school Florida crunch with a satisfying technical ganache layered on top. It’s an indulgent, luxurious sort of death metal on display here; it doesn’t set out to fancy, but it’s so well produced that you can’t help but feel a little decadent listening to it. I hope it doesn’t seem too odd describing an outstanding album from a visceral genre like I’m reviewing a restaurant, but Hate Eternal have delivered Michelin Star quality.

96) Hummingbird of Death – Forbidden Techniques
To Live A Lie – 2017

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It’s a world where the grind scene is dominated by po-faced seriousness. Even pornogrinders and mincecorers are deadly serious about making their awful, awful racket. Forbidden Techniques is refreshingly different. It still simmers and boils over with anger, but the band packages it with an almost pop-punkish irreverence. It’s an album they clearly enjoyed making and they want to pass that along. As far as pissed off polemic goes, it’s hard to go past an album as comfortable with a joint as it is a molotov.

95) 铁骑 [Tengger Cavalry] – 黑骏/Black Steed
Dying Art Productions – 2013

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There’s a reason this is probably the closest thing to a true folk metal album on this list. There’s other folkish acts, but they are very much black metal first. Tengger Cavalry are not that. The Mongolian folk elements, the mantoquin, and the throat singing aren’t just distinct amongst the folk metal canon, but are perfectly incorporated into the metal. The ability to transcend gimmickry is something not nearly enough folk types can do, so to have an album land that is so evocative is something that needs celebrating.

94) Lamb of God – VII: Sturm und Drang
Nuclear Blast – 2015

If you wanted measured, considered, and insightful content from a metal album, I’m willing to bet Lamb of God wouldn’t be anywhere near your list. But, then again, given Randy’s experiences in the Czech Republic, it probably shouldn’t surprise that Sturm und Drang is reflection wrapped in catharsis. Lyrically it’s starless-sky dark and the music is as maliciously sinister as it is relentlessly intense. It’s essentially a cliché that personal struggles deliver great art, but this is an album that proves it.

93) Cephalic Carnage – Misled by Certainty
Relapse – 2010

Thematic and melodic unity is a fine thing to hear in an album and Misled by Certainty achieves it in unconventional fashion. They take death metal and grindcore, then blend them, fold them, pull them, and distort them until the resultant fuzz is so weird that it pulls off things you never thought possible. This remaking of the noise pairs so well with worst weed-induced paranoias on display in the lyrics. Mind controlling fungus, evil cybernetics, the Second Coming; it’s madness. Drug-fuelled headfuckery all round.

92) Heresiarch – Death Ordinance
Dark Descent – 2017

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When it comes to war songs, too often you get “courage, valour, over the wall, pip pip”, or “Look at this specific moment in time. Ain’t it fucked up?” Heresiarch don’t do either. They deal in the pants-crapping horror of the trenches, the creeping dread of not knowing what trauma is yet to come, and the thundering bewilderment of a pitched battle. They get right down to the visceral emotions and they want you to feel every waking nightmare freezing your veins. Never forget; war is hell.

91) Power Trip – Nightmare Logic
Southern Lord – 2017

I think the highest praise I can heap upon Power Trip is that they sound unique. Too often with modern thrash, you hear callbacks. This band sound like Slayer, that band sound like Kreator, and so on. Not Power Trip. Power Trip sound like Power Trip and no one else. I confess being late for the Nightmare Logic hype train, but the athletic riffs and muscular vocals they put to wax deserve all the praise 2017 sent its way. To find a new voice for the genre and deliver it with such gusto and poise is phenomenal.

90) Corpsessed – Impetus of Death
Dark Descent – 2018

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Looking back, I focussed heavily on the gooeyer aspects of Impetus of Death. But, as accurate as the bloodiness was, it wouldn’t hold the album together nearly as well on its own. It needs the technical precision at its core. It’s definitely not techdeath, but everything is fitted together so immaculately that it stands as testament to the composers’ skill. Putting together a grisly monstrosity doesn’t require much finesse. Just pile meat on top of meat. But breathing life into it? That’s the work of twisted genius.

89) Monolithe – Monolithe IV
Debemur Morti – 2013

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Of all the albums on this list, I was most worried about this one’s ability to hold up. But it did more than hold up; it actually improved in my estimations. Their ability to play metal in its longest form without turning it into a chore is something to be celebrated. Across the almost 60 minute run time, this one song traverses a massive vista of sonic landscapes. Importantly it sounds like one consistent, coherent journey. Like any great expedition, this takes endurance, but the satisfaction you feel at the end is intense.

88) Wolves in the Throne Room – Thrice Woven
Artemisia Records – 2017

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I took the time to listen to Celestial Lineage, Celestite, and Thrice Woven in the lead up to this. Celestial Lineage sounds like the ending it was supposed to be. Celestite, beautiful as it is, is still definitely a companion piece. Then there’s Thrice Woven. They’ve got that full force of nature sound blasting again. I may come from somewhere thoroughly not frosty, but this is very much an album of towering pines, winter frost melting in spring sun, and the ancient, arboreal deities rousing from their winter hibernation.

87) Serpents Lair – Circumambulating the Stillborn
Self-Released – 2015

Serpents Lair chose their album title 100% accurately, as this sounds like a horrific and profane ritual put to music. Their melodic choices are aggressive, intimidating, and jarring; this is black metal performed to cow the listener into submission. And yet, for all its attempts to bend you to its will with brute force, the album also possesses an intoxicating, hallucinatory allure. As it thrashes and assaults, it also manipulates and seduces. Your soul faces a grave peril in these chords.

86) Mizmor (מזמור) – Yodh
Gilead Media – 2016

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Mizmor, to use the Anglicised version, use despair as a form of torture. Every beat a hammer blow. Every melody a razor’s slice. Every growl an expression of raging emptiness. And every shriek a gale of utter futility. In case I haven’t made it clear enough, Yodh is bleak. It’s neither sadistic nor masochistic; it is pain in purest form. But in this total supplication to misery, lies captivating musicianship. As tortuous as the music can be, there’s a sublime dedication to the pain that must be witnessed.

85) Barren Altar – Entrenched in the Faults of the Earth
Self-Released – 2018

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As I think about it, I don’t really consider doom to be in tune with nature. It’s always struck me as extremely focussed on the human condition. It’s a way of looking at the genre that’s erroneous at best. I can thank Barren Altar for shaking up my mindset. Entrenched is definitely miserable, but for all its attention to human failings, there also seems to be a great affinity for the power and the darkness of nature. It uses the titanic, uncontrollable forces of the wild to re-enforce the futility of human existence.

84) Friendship – Hatred
Southern Lord – 2017

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Purveyors of misanthropic powerviolence, Japan’s Friendship turn the short, fast, and weird of the genre into a brutish pit fight. Flurries of blows are interspersed with slow, wound up haymakers. This isn’t a professional fight. This isn’t even a fight club scenario. This is, as the album title suggests, fucking personal. This is about hatred so intense, you don’t care how badly you wind up, so long as they wind up worse. This is all about broken bones, missing teeth, crushed windpipes, and blood. All the blood.

83) Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Nuclear Blast – 2016

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Symphonic death metal with serious operatic features being performed to tell the story of a syphilitic monarch’s decent into paranoid madness may sound a whisper over the top, but it’s done with such gusto that it doesn’t lose a single shred of charm. Make no mistake, this does veer strongly into the ridiculous at times, but it needs to. The melodramatic bombast raises King from yet another death metal album with a quirk to a triumph of vision. A triumph over common sense too, but a triumph nonetheless.

82) Absu – Abzu
Candlelight – 2011

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Under normal circumstances you should expect an album devoted to the arcane and esoteric aspects of Sumerian mysticism to venture firmly into the avant-garde depths of black metal. But that’s not how Absu does things. They put their sonic spells together with the chainsaw riffs of blackened thrash. It’s a curious combination that actually works fantastically well. The spiritual devotion is thoroughly hammered into your eardrums, as though the surest way to achieve enlightenment is through audacious ferocity.

81) Winterfylleth – The Threnody of Triumph
Candlelight – 2012

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Winterfylleth’s paeans to pre-Christian England are at their most strident on The Threnody of Triumph. It’s an album whose interplay between the sense of loss arising from the demise of pagan tradition and the anger born of a response to an invading, militant faith is resolved in an articulate, yet blistering manner. It’s indicative of a band who are more than fiercely passionate, but are also well-read. These are ten tracks dedicated to a crystal clear vision of a Britain that could have been in a world less Christian.

80) Michael Romeo – War of the Worlds // Pt. 1
Music Theories Recordings – 2018

If someone could hand Mr Romeo the responsibility for a major movie’s score, that would great. War of the Worlds isn’t just a great prog album; it’s a testament to his ability to use music to evoke specific emotions and set a vivid scene. I routinely half-joke with Mrs Metalshopped that when the world inevitably loses John Williams, they (Disney, WB, et al) should give Michael a crack. Based on this album, I’d much rather listen to a Romeo Star Wars than an Elfman one or, gods help us, a Newman one.

79) Carcass – Surgical Steel
Nuclear Blast – 2013

Carcass’ comeback album is a more than welcome return from some of the most gifted musicians metal has given the world. They have the luxury of doing things on their own terms (because how else would you get Jeff to do anything, ever?) and what they delivered was a seething yet gratifying blast of pissed off melodic death metal. The great thing is you can still hear the grind in them. It’s all in the attitude, which Surgical Steel has in spades. It’s an angry album tempered by the focus afforded by experience.

78) The Dillinger Escape Plan – Option Paralysis
Season of Mist – 2010

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This is the perfect storm as far as the already volatile Dillinger goes. It gave Ben Weinman all the opportunity to show off his virtuoso with severe a.d.d. talent, but the directions the album go are so unpredictable. It’s weird to hear a band that is so cacophonously electric veer so wildly into territory normally covered by Muse or Faith No More. It goes to show just how versatile an act they were; that they could deliver such affecting pathos in a package of raging mania. It lingers in the brain long after it’s played its last.

77) Opeth – Pale Communion
Roadrunner Records – 2014

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The “where are the growls” camp need to let it go. What’s been delivered on this album is about an hour of dark, psychedelic prog that coalesced Opeth’s less metallic material into a beautiful, melancholy whole. It’s a maturation of sound and approach that wouldn’t be possible by ardently sticking to what came before. Emotionally, Pale Communion is one of the band’s most sophisticated efforts, taking motifs of depression and grief, and extrapolating out to fully explore that human experience.

76) Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason
Nuclear Blast – 2016

Meshuggah’s quest to thoroughly contort and distort what the average human would consider melody, while still delivering engaging, memorable, and (most importantly) entertaining music reached another high point on Violent Sleep of Reason. The challenge rating on these tracks is super high; no easy “headbang on the downbeat” advice here. But for all the polyrhythmic intensity, there is also an underlying infectious sense of groove that worms its way in and nests in your psyche.

75) Enslaved – E
Nuclear Blast – 2017

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These Norwegian progsters keep finding new levels to hit. E is deep on both a lyrical and musical level. The lyrics are like the wisdom of auld; a guide to life and secrets to the old ways lie there, if you are willing to listen and smart enough to decipher the layers of meaning. And the music is like nature at its extremes. Much like a great frozen river, it combines thick layers of frost over a mighty, flowing torrent. Alternatively, it’s like a towering oak in a terrifying storm; mighty earthen roots grounding the furious movement above.

74) Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor
Hell, etc – 2015

Looking back at his career as a whole, it’s pretty clear that this is one of Manson’s best efforts and the more time wears on, the better it holds up. It’s because, of all his work, this is his most introspective, most considered, and most mature. Listening to it now, it still sounds like a suicide note, but that is largely due to its reflective nature. It’s the sound of Manson writing not about the outside world or how he is perceived by others, but about how he views himself. Dark, sad, but captivating.

73) Dragged Into Sunlight – WidowMaker
Prosthetic – 2012

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One massive song is conveniently broken down by track into three distinct movements. Part I is trepidation and tension. Part II is fury and release. Part III is insistence and madness. The understated pacing and subtle distortions of the first feed into an all consuming anger, which by the end of the third has warped into a profane hysteria that wishes perpetual degradation upon itself. It’s the life of a serial killer, from creation through to unravelling, set to the beat of twisted, blackened death.

72) Darkthrone – Circle the Wagons
Peaceville – 2010

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Why Circle the Wagons? Why not Arctic Thunder? Why not celebrate their return to trve form? Because, as good as Arctic Thunder is, Darkthrone have a legendary black metal back catalogue. Circle the Wagons, however, is peak Punk Throne. It distils all the spit, venom, and grime of their crust worship into nine tracks of purest pissed off attitude. It’s personal too; the airing of grievances makes up much of the lyrical content. This anchors the album to a very real place and gives it authenticity that you wouldn’t otherwise find.

71) Mastodon – The Hunter
Reprise – 2011

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Of Mastodon’s three albums this decade, The Hunter isn’t just the best critically; it’s also the easiest album to enjoy. Once More and Emperor are both fine albums, in smallest doses. Extended exposure leads to alienation and discontent I find. But The Hunter holds up to repeated listens without losing any of its impact. All the players perform their part immaculately, allowing the band to evolve their sound enthusiastically. It’s metal. It’s prog. It’s rock. It’s spaced out. It’s grounded. It’s everything it wants to be.

Albums of the Year 2019

And so we round off another year. 2019 was good to us metalheads. That being said, it’s surprising how easily this top 11 coalesced.

Despite having a bumper year, full of great albums, I am but one man, so I’m going to miss things. Of the albums I definitely know I missed, these are probably my biggest laments:

Children of Bodom – Hexed
Fleshgod Apocalypse – Valeno
Insomnium – Heart Like a Grave
Leprous – Pitfalls
Mayhem – Daemon
Nile – Vile Nilotic Rites
Queensryche – The Verdict
Tool – Fear Inoculum
Torche – Admission
Chelsea Wolfe – Birth of Violence

And so, without further adieu, here’s the best damn eleven albums from 2019.

11) Nocturnus AD – Paradox

Profound Lore – 2019/05/24

What I said then: The band has lost absolutely nothing over the years; absolutely killer, high-octane death metal.
What I say now: I love the sci-fi vibe on Paradox. It doesn’t just sound technical; it sounds weird. That healthy dose of the bizarre gives the familiar Florida sound a vibrancy it sorely needs.

10) Pseudcommando – A Home Beneath the Floorboards

Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/08/23

What I said then: It fills your reality with noise to the point that even the air starts to feel heavy.
What I say now: Alienating and discomforting, this remains one of the year’s toughest listens. But in the hidden depths of noise are secret whispers of melody. Of songs so bleak they must remain obscured for our sanity.

The Prurient Award for Best Album that Doesn’t Lend Itself to Easy Reviewing
Miscarriage – Imminent Horror
(Atmospheric Sludge – United States of America/Sweden)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/02/22

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Bit of a cheat as it was self-released in late 2018, but Sentient Ruin brought this nightmare to the surface. Hateful and misanthropic, this is a masterpiece of sonic horror.

9) Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind

Roadrunner Records – 2019/08/09

What I said then: The band’s sound has matured, maintaining a familiar level of vitriol but has become more expansive, as befits their status as one of metal’s most bankable acts.
What I say now: The depth of talent that Slipknot have dared to incorporate is remarkable. They’ve given a sophistication to their sound without sacrificing the venom their performances are best known for.

8) Mgła – Age of Excuse

Northern Heritage – 2019/09/02

What I said then: Age of Excuse sounds as fresh and intimidating as Groza did ten years ago.
What I say now: In a year that saw merely acceptable releases from multiple black metal icons, it took these Poles to show how venomous and furious the genre can still be. They are a mighty tempest of darkness.

7) Alcest – Spiritual Instinct

Nuclear Blast -2019/10/25

What I said then: This isn’t some fae trickster or changeling; this is the wild hunt, riding high in saddle, their doomed quarry hounded by spirit and mist alike.
What I say now: There’s a fine balancing act on display here. It is undoubtedly more aggressive, but it still retains the warming dreamlike quality that makes Alcest so charming. It’s a malicious beauty.

Mariusz Lewandowski Award for Best Art
John Dyer Baizley for Gold & Grey by Baroness

I’ve always had a deep and abiding affection for Baizley’s art, but the work he put into Gold & Grey is absolutely stunning. I could look at it for hours and still find something new.

6) Death Angel – Humanicide

Nuclear Blast – 2019/05/31

What I said then: They have penned an album of thrash anthems that will absolutely stay fresh and loud in your mind.
What I say now: It’s mind-boggling how consistently fantastic Death Angel have been. You absolutely cannot complain about more of the same when everything they do is so damn good.

5) Esoteric – A Pyrrhic Existence

Season of Mist – 2019/11/08

What I said then: They’ve created a swirling void of utter despair that threatens to suck all life into its infinite depths.
What I say now: Esoteric have that wonderful ability to make funeral doom so much more than low, slow, and miserable. There is a richness of tone and a warmth to their delivery, which gives it soul.

4) Pissgrave – Posthumous Humiliation

Profound Lore – 2019/03/04

What I said then: The vocals are akin to someone drowning in acid, the guitars are like a frenzied ice-pick attack, the drums might as well be hammers swung at your joints, and the solos are like the gears of a horrifying trap grinding into action.
What I say now: These depraved degenerates can seriously play. As straight up hostile as this is, it’s only as effective as it is because they’ve honed their monstrous craft to a razor’s edge.

The Dillinger Escape Plan Memorial Award for Most Kick Ass Live Act
Behemoth

In a year with ample competition, Behemoth stood taller than all the others. They have a flair for the dramatic, blast harder than they do on wax, and and curate a fantastic live set. It’s metal maximised to the limit.

3) Cloud Rat – Pollinator

Gilead Media – 2019/09/13

What I said then: It’s the vast vista of humanity with all its foibles and tumults, but sped up to the bpm of a stressed hummingbird’s heartbeat and viewed through an obscuring heat shimmer of pure ferocity.
What I say now: Cloud Rat have always been building to something. All that energy. All that drive. All that passion. It all led to this: a humanity affirmation wrapped in a blistering assault.

2) Spirit Adrift – Divided by Darkness

20 Buck Spin – 2019/05/10

What I said then: They’ve forged a path to greatness and paved it with talent.
What I say now: Spirit Adrift tap into the same heavy metal wellspring that made Sabbath essential. Heavy and melodic with bone-shaking rhythms, but done in a way that’s 100% fresh. Old school remade anew.

1) Devin Townsend – Empath

InsideOut – 2019/03/29

What I said then: Proving that any emotion delivered stridently enough can provide an intense experience, Empath is a manic blast of over-the-top positivity.
What I say now: I reckon it’s impossible to not love this. It radiates an aura of chaos that in no way diminishes the pulsating good vibes. To be so unabashedly in your face but with all smiles is unique.

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So that was 2019. Stay tuned for my Top 100 of the past decade.

December 2019 Review Round Up

Happy 2020, everybody. December turned out to be far more distracting than I thought it would. I figured I’d get the one or two things I missed, have a short month, and finalise my lists. Nope. It blew out a bit. Shouldn’t complain though; turns out I missed a lot of good stuff.

Best of the lot was Esoteric’s long awaited A Pyrrhic Existence. It’s a gruelling exercise in funeral doom, but it’s like running an ultramarathon; the pain is worth the endorphin rush at the end.

Next month is my Best of 2019 and Best of the Decade lists. Not sure if I’ll publish monthly reviews on top. We’ll see how we go.

As always, feel free to hit me on Facebook.

Until next month \m/

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Album of the Month
Esoteric – A Pyrrhic Existence
(Funeral Doom – United Kingdom)
Season of Mist – 2019/11/08

It’s been a long time between drinks, but good God am I glad Esoteric are back. I’m also glad they took the time, because it’s clear that found a way to make their already titanic sound even bigger, darker, and more funereal. They’ve created a swirling void of utter despair that threatens to suck all life into its infinite depths.

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Abigail Williams – Walk Beyond the Dark
(Black Metal – United States of America)
Blood Music – 2019/11/15

I’ve never truly known what to expect from Abigail Williams, but I’m more than happy to settle for surprisingly complex black metal. I say surprisingly because this initially seems to be very traditional, but the deeper you go, the more you listen to it, the broader its influences becomes clear. For something so dense, it’s pretty seamless.

Alcest – Spiritual Instinct
(Blackgaze – France)
Nuclear Blast – 2019/10/25

Good to see Neige put a little bit more black into his blackgaze. It still has the dreamy otherness that has been his signature throughout this project, but it’s an angrier sort of dream. A lucid nightmare. This isn’t some fae trickster or changeling; this is the wild hunt, riding high in saddle, their doomed quarry hounded by spirit and mist alike.

Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Dark Descent – 2019/11/22

If you wondered what the History Channel at 1am would sound like as death metal, here’s your answer. In order to examine the aliens as masters theme, the band have dialled back the chaos in favour of a more atmospheric approach. They’re still Blood Incantation though. What they do is intensity. The approach may change, but the outcome doesn’t.

Cattle Decapitation – Death Atlas
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Metal Blade – 2019/11/25

Love the music. Am awed by the drumming (holy shit). Like the growls. Hate all the other attempts at vocals. It’s so tough to recommend an album that is so good on most levels, but has vocals that sound like Dani Filth with autotune. Maybe I’m being super picky, but their distraction value outweighs the talent of everything else.

Diocletian – Amongst the Flames of a Burning God
(Blackened Death Metal – New Zealand)
Profound Lore – 2019/08/16

Diocletian absolutely brutalise the listener here. War metal is nothing if not direct, but the ruthlessness that is unleashed by these Kiwis is direct in extremis. It tears from a to b to c in a line straight down to Planck scale. There’s no wavering. There is no vacillation. There is no respite. There is naught but furious hatred for all.

Diploid – Glorify
(Grindcore – Australia)
Art as Catharsis – 2019/11/22

Given the bands they name check and the literature they cite in the album’s Bandcamp blurb, it won’t come as a surprise to say Glorify isn’t an easy, accessible listen. But don’t let the elevated difficulty level of the album turn you off. This album yields rich, thoroughly satisfying rewards, but only if you put your shoulder to the yoke.

Life of Agony – The Sound of Scars
(Hard Rock – United States of America)
Napalm Records – 2019/10/11

Mina Caputo is one of music’s great survivors and it shows on The Sound of Scars. It’s an album that takes a lifetime of challenges and presents them with both the immediacy of the lived experience and the perspective of reflection. There’s nothing soft about it either; it’s all high-energy swagger and snarl from go to whoa.

Lingua Ignota – Caligula
(Experimental – United States of America)
Profound Lore – 2019/07/19

Equal parts Swans, Diamanda Galas, and raw black metal, Caligula is a harrowing experience. The unfiltered, unrestrained anger is horrifying. In many ways, I feel like I’m too sheltered to fully appreciate the devastating worldview that Kristin Hayter delivers. Her approach to violence is lived in and all the more terrifying and real as such.

Lord Mantis – Universal Death Church
(Blackened Sludge Metal – United States of America)
Profound Lore – 2019/11/22

With the untimely passing of Bill Baumgardner, and the previous acrimony between Charlie Fell and Andrew Markuszewski, I honestly didn’t expect another Lord Mantis album. But here we are and it’s great. Venomous and poisonous in equal measure, it’s mere existence is a hazard. It heaves vitriol and retches spite with every cursed note.

Nephilim’s Noose – Rites of a Death Merchant
(Death Doom – Canada)
Self-Released – 2019/10/11

As a death doom act, Nephilim’s Noose are supposed to sound monolithic and miserable. And, wow, do they do that. But they further that sound by infusing every cavernous riff with a malign violence; a threat to body and soul that is infectious rather than fearsome. You experience the destruction and you want it even more.

Nocturnus AD – Paradox
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Profound Lore – 2019/05/24

Reviving a classic band with a sequel to a classic album is fraught with risks. Fortunately, Paradox delivers everything that you could want from a follow up to The Key. The riffs are infectious and the scifi vibe is intoxicating. The band has lost absolutely nothing over the years; absolutely killer, high-octane death metal.

Öxxö Xööx – Ÿ
(Doom Metal – France)
Blood Music – 2019/11/29

Once again, Öxxö Xööx has come into my life just when I really needed a healthy dose of melodramatic doom. Ÿ is a rich, almost luxurious sounding album; it really allows and encourages you to wallow in its sumptuous riffs. You need to take the time to truly experience the full extent of all nine tracks, as there is a dark majesty on display throughout.

September 2019 Review Round Up

That was a hell of a September. It was a catch up month for Metalshopped, so shout out to the taxman for giving me a nice refund of my own money. It felt good to mostly clear the ol’ shopping list.

You know what else feels good? Listening to Empath. Devin Townsend has unleashed a spectacular, insane hit of joyous ridiculousness. It’s prog without limits.

Also reviewed this month is Blut Aus Nord’s Hallucinogen. Another cracking album for sure, but it should have been included next month. Some dick leaked the album early, so Debemur Morti responded by upping the release date. While it’s nice to have the album early, it’s bullshit that it happened that way. Support content creators; fuck pirates.

The year and the decade are both winding up, but there’s still a hell of a lot of good in the pipes. Got pumped, stay pumped.

As usual, you can hit me up on Facebook. Always happy to hear feedback and suggestions.

See everyone next month.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Album of the Month
Devin Townsend – Empath
(Progressive Metal – Canada)
InsideOut – 2019/03/29

Proving that any emotion delivered stridently enough can provide an intense experience, Empath is a manic blast of over-the-top positivity. The album is an extended love song to existence, and not in the bubblegum, everything-is-awesome sense. This is a shining beacon highlighting the warts and all nature of life in all its glory.

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
01101111011101100110111001101001 – SDSS J0333+0651
(Brutal Death Metal – Antarctica and Mars but actually Argentina)
Amputated Vein – 2019/08/09

I’m ashamed of how much I like this, because, let’s be honest, astronomy slam sounds like the Dunning-Kruger effect put to music. But I don’t think anyone other than the band could have predicted how precise and energetic SDSS would turn out. No lazy interchangeable chug here. There’s not a second of wasted energy; all mosh, no rest.

Abyssal – A Beacon in the Husk
(Death Metal – United Kingdom)
Profound Lore – 2019/06/21

Abyssal continue to be one of the most ably evocative metal acts out there. Like their previous album, Antikatastaseis, A Beacon in the Husk takes me deep into the hell realms of Dante’s Inferno. This time, I’m transported to the Wood of the Suicides. It’s dread. It’s horror. It’s entrapment. It’s the knowledge of damnation at your own hands.

Blut Aus Nord – Hallucinogen
(Progressive Black Metal – France)
Debemur Morti – 2019/09/20

It’s an irritating but necessary pun that best describes Hallucinogen; it’s intoxicating. From its diverse vocal range to its Hendrix-meets-Mayhem melodies, it’s an album that pushes progressive black metal in directions it doesn’t usually go. It challenges expectations and rewards the active listener with its psychedelic visions.

Cloud Rat – Pollinator
(Grindcore – United States of America)
Artoffact – 2019/09/13

Who would have thought grindcore could be so grandiose? So majestic? Dare I say it? Epic. Pollinator is something very special. It’s the vast vista of humanity with all its foibles and tumults, but sped up to the bpm of a stressed hummingbird’s heartbeat and viewed through an obscuring heat shimmer of pure ferocity. A stunning act of musical severity.

Consummation – The Great Solar Hunter
(Blackened Death Metal – Australia)
Profound Lore – 2019/06/07

The fury of the ascendant sun combined with the patience of the greatest hunter; it’s hard to think of a more appropriately named album. Especially since it’s, well, great. It’s always impressive to see a band manage an elevated level of aggression with the forethought and maturity to build up to bigger pay-offs. And this album pays off big time.

Cult of Luna – A Dawn to Fear
(Progressive Metal – Sweden)
Metal Blade – 2019/09/20

Cult of Luna give themselves all the room in the world to craft their music. It’s an expansive approach that yields the dividends they were expecting, as the band’s signature part-progressive, part-post metal sound is given free reign to soar to dizzying acrophobic openness and crunch into claustrophobic oppression. Stirring stuff.

Darkthrone – Old Star
(Blackish Metal – Norway)
Peaceville – 2019/05/31

I love Darkthrone’s “We don’t give a shit; we play what we want” attitude. You couldn’t have an album like Old Star without it. It plays out like Mayhem covering Lynyrd Skynyrd, or maybe vice versa. Oozing with attitude, it’s an album for getting smashed around a camp fire with mates after a hard day of blasphemy and church burning.

Destruction – Born to Perish
(Thrash – Germany)
Nuclear Blast – 2019/08/09

Destruction have to start aiming up. Thrash doesn’t have the luxury of resting on its laurels anymore. To plateau is to stagnate and the genre is littered with albums that, while not bad, fail to inspire because they’re a rehash of what came before. It’s been like that for a long time and these German titans seem to have missed the memo.

Devourment – Obscene Majesty
(Brutal Death Metal – United States of America)
Relapse – 2019/08/16

For a band that has been held up as a pillar of a genre often (self-) described as super ignorant, there’s an awful lot of intelligence packed into these ten songs. Suspiciously melodic passages too. It’s like the band care why their fans are smashing each other to a pulp in the mosh and are trying to give them better reasons to do so.

Fall of Rauros – Patterns in Mythology
(Black Metal – United States of America)
Gilead Media – 2019/07/19

Ordinarily, I tend to use ephemeral as a pejorative. Light weight. Lacking substance. That’s not the case with Patterns in Mythology. It’s ephemeral in the fae, life is fleeting way. It gives the black metal on display a curious otherness; it allows the band to explore airier, more beautiful sounds while still retaining the blackened fire.

Full of Hell – Weeping Choir
(Grindcore – United States of America)
Relapse – 2019/05/17

Full of Hell have tended to land their grindcore firmly in the experimental, avant-garde camp. Very easy to see their talent, not always as easy to enjoy their efforts. Weeping Choir breaks free of this. Still absolutely willing to experiment with grind’s form, but it is delivered as such an all-out assault that all niggling doubts vanish.

Gaahl’s WYRD – GastiR — Ghosts Invited
(Black Metal – Norway)
Season of Mist – 2019/05/31

This feels like an important album. Like there’s another leap forward contained within, up there with Bathory’s early work or Mayhem’s De Mysteriis dom Sathanas. The icy ferocity of the music is matched with a dark poetry that you wouldn’t ordinarily associate with the genre. Gaahl truly is one of this generation’s greatest skålds.

Garsdghastr – Slit Throat Requiem
(Symphonic Black Metal – Sweden/United States of America)
Profound Lore – 2019/04/26

Damn, this is sharp. I don’t expect symphonic black metal to have such a wicked cutting edge to it. But there’s no florid Dimmu-esque melodrama; there is only a ruthless dedication to making the most hellish synth-led racket they possibly can. It serves as an almighty reminder that black metal should, in all its myriad forms, intimidate.

Grand Magus – Wolf God
(Heavy Metal – Sweden)
Nuclear Blast – 2019/04/19

I am, and will remain, a big fan of Grand Magus, but my fandom isn’t so one-eyed that I can’t acknowledge their faults. And vocal delivery is certainly a problem. JB’s vocals don’t have a great deal of range, which is fine when there’s a cornucopia of badass riffs to distract. Wolf God, alas, does not distract. It’s all a bit flat and uninspiring.

Inter Arma – Sulphur English
(Sludge Metal – United States of America)
Relapse – 2019/04/12

Coming across as less cataclysmic and more cathartic, Sulphur English still sounds distinctly like Inter Arma. And, yet, not. Subtle stylistic deviations are the mark of a band expanding their sonic brand. They still build tension deliberately and intensely, but they direct it differently. It’s an organic evolution to their approach to darkness.

Mgła – Age of Excuse
(Black Metal – Poland)
Northern Heritage – 2019/09/02

Complacency is the greatest enemy of consistency. It’s understandable that a band with a distinct sound and approach to their craft might to resistant to change to the own detriment. It’s why Mgła are so impressive. Age of Excuse sounds as fresh and intimidating as Groza did ten years ago. And they’ve sacrificed none of their signature sound along the way.

Mizmor (מזמור) – Cairn
(Blackened Doom Metal – United States of America)
Gilead Media – 2019/09/06

Cairn sounds like an album attempting, but failing, to outrun itself. A great jovian heaviness acts as a gravity well, forever smashing the fevered black metal back to earth and forcing it to crawl at a near drone. It’s a thoroughly entertaining synergy of energy levels, merging the anti-human and the inhuman into one malign force.

Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind
(Nu-Metal – United States of America)
Roadrunner – 2019/08/09

A fine return to form, Slipknot have moved past the necessarily disjointed Gray Chapter and the terrible Stone Sourness of the previous two albums before that. The band’s sound has matured, maintaining a familiar level of vitriol but has become more expansive, as befits their status as one of metal’s most bankable acts.

Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance
(Death Metal – Canada)
20 Buck Spin – 2019/07/19

If you’re going to be prolific, you’d better hope you’re good. And the thoroughly restless Tomb Mold are just that. Planetary Clairvoyance breathes fire into every track, making what is essentially an old school album fresh again. This is what happens when a band deeply care about their end product and have the smarts to deliver.

July 2019 Review Round Up

Another July been and gone. Thankfully it left behind some gold. I was starting to worry about it being a year of good releases not great releases.

The absolute best was Spirit Adrift’s Divided by Darkness. Holy shit, that is a fun album to listen to. Almost completely derailed my month because it’s all I wanted to listen to. It still is to be honest, but I pushed through.

Not much else to say this month. It’s been a month where life has been a little bit in the way of music, but that happens.

Hit me with feedback, suggestions, or recommendations on Facebook.

See everyone next month.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Album of the Month
Spirit Adrift – Divided by Darkness
(Heavy Metal – United States of America)
20 Buck Spin – 2019/05/10

This is a rollicking good time. It’s as heavy as some of the greats of modern US doom, but it’s played at a much faster tempo. The vocals are delivered with an intensity usually reserved for the Georgian sludge masters, but they’re clean as a mountain spring. There’s so much to like here. They’ve forged a path to greatness and paved it with talent.

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Aggressor Id – Aggressor Id
(Grindcore – United States of America)
Self-released – 2019/01/07

Grind with enough touches of slam and metalcore to trick me into thinking it’s pv. Not complaining though. Each track seems to mimic the ebb and flow of a different violent outburst. It flares and seethes, then goes cold and festers. It covers the full range of anger with a fluency that tells of intimacy with the emotion born of experience.

An Isolated Mind – I’m Losing Myself
(Black Metal – United States of America)
I, Voidhanger – 2019/03/16

When your standard black metal act deals with isolation, it tends to be in the “Behold! The tundra!” sense. An Isolated Mind comes at it from the social sense and, in doing so, have encapsulated musically the bleak despair and burgeoning madness of being persistently alone despite being surrounded by a sea of humanity. Uncomfortable yet rewarding.

Enforcer – Zenith
(Heavy Metal – Sweden)
Nuclear Blast – 2019/04/26

Enforcer have always been a bit on the lurid side: flashy, fast, and ridiculous. So you wouldn’t think them glamming things up a bit would change a whole lot. But it did. And I’m not sure how I feel about it. Zenith comes across as a mash up of Ghost and Motley Crue, and as much as I’m a fan of both, it’s an odd combo. I enjoy it, but it’s definitely distracting.

False – Portent
(Progressive Black Metal – United States of America)
Gilead Media – 2019/07/12

Listening to black metal has exposed me to all sorts of weird stuff, but I first got into it because of the absolute majesty of Emperor. It’s a sensation I don’t often find in the genre anymore. But I found it in False. Portent is heavy on grandeur; it’s three extended tracks allow for many a dramatic swell. I’m completely awestruck.

Friendship – Undercurrent
(Powerviolence – Japan)
Southern Lord – 2019/06/17

Undercurrent sounds sinister. Terrifyingly so. It’s heavy and aggressive, for sure, but it’s strength lies in its tension. It’s like limping away from an arse-kicking, only to get that nagging feeling that your assailants are still there, following. Watching. It’s an album that speaks of malice past, present, and future.

Lice – Woe Betide You
(Blackgaze – Spain/Sweden)
Season of Mist – 2019/05/10

When I heard Teitanblood and Kvarforth (of Shining infamy) were collaborating, I honestly didn’t expect sad and angry Alcest. It’s an odd sort of outcome. Kvarforth is definitely still channelling his tortured self, but the music is tonally weird. Not necessarily bad; it seems designed to never let the listener find comfort. Maliciously arcane.

Nucleus – Entity
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Unspeakable Axe – 2019/06/14

A for concept; C, C+ for execution. Old school death with a peppermill twist of tech is a pretty solid idea for keeping the sound fresh. But I can’t shake the feeling this is sonic porridge. I’m sure some people will take enjoyment, nourishment, and comfort from it; but for me it’s just a little bit stodgy and dull. Not bad, but hard to recommend.

Rammstein –
(Neue Deutsche Härte – Germany)
Universal – 2019/05/17

What to make of Rammstein’s technically untitled seventh album? Is it worth the decade of waiting? Is it a suitable swansong should, as I suspect, they break up completely and finally? To answer: it’s great, mostly, and yes. More electronic leaning than I expected, it keens closest to Herzeleid but with a defter touch. A circle well closed.

Redbait – Cages
(Hardcore – United States of America)
New Age Records – 2019/06/14

While I am very appreciative of the uptick in proudly left hardcore, there is still an interplay between message and delivery that needs to be balanced. Redbait have a cogent and poignant message, but bury it beneath a delivery so furious that much of it gets lost. I don’t expect the band to play nice; it would just be nice the anger sounded more directed.