Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Internet is Full of Metal: Angry Metal Guy's Top 15 Albums of 2010

One of my favorite metal blogs has posted their Top 15(ish) Albums of 2010 for your reading pleasure. Go read it and let it enrage you, in the fine tradition of the internet. Personally, I think he's pretty spot on.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Shred Your Ego's Most-Played Metal Albums of 2010, Part Two

Here it is! The long-awaited continuation to this.

Overkill - Ironbound

Whenever older bands arrive with a killer album, reviewers always say the band "has returned to show the kids how it's done". Well in this case, Overkill has returned to rip the kids' heads off their shoulders and crap down their necks. Those kids left alive get a lesson in exactly how it's done: mix one part each of talent, technical ability, craft, production and professionalism, chill and serve. Not just one of my favorite thrash albums of the year, but perhaps my favorite Overkill album since Under the Influence.

Ihsahn - After

What's so impressive about this album, besides the fact that it moves metal into new and interesting directions, is the total commitment this band demonstrates in crafting tracks that all contribute to its singular, brilliant vision. Also, After features the most metal saxophone you'll ever hear outside of an old Mr. Bungle album, but that's just icing on this deliriously dark treat.

Nachtmystium - Addicts: Black Meddle Part II

It's no surprise that a metal album about addiction is dark. But how about danceable? Yes, there's a full-fledged early '90s industrial-inspired dance track in the middle of this album and that's is just one of the many influences and surprises you'll hear in this atmospheric set. There's also a smattering of black metal, speed, thrash, and just plain old heavy metal in here, which mesh to form an arresting sound that marks a step forward for heavy music in general. Look for my full review soon!

Witchery - Witchkrieg

Another album I'm surprised to not see on other Top Ten lists. Is there some kind of blacklist I'm not privy to? Or perhaps the fifth album from this Swedish supergroup kicks so much ass that weaker listeners just drop dead and can lend it neither praise nor damnation from the grave. This is just a nasty little piece of a record, which moves mercilessly from one brutal track to the next, not leaving a lot of time for reflection.

Orphaned Land - The Neverending Way of ORwarriOR

This is not an easy album to get into. I'm still not sure whether the challenge comes from my own impatience or my misunderstanding of the band's intention, but either way it did not sit comfortably with me.  I listened to it in fits and starts when I first got it, and even let it sit unappreciated for about a month, but once I just let go, it all made sense and found regular rotation in my list. This lengthy concept album (expertly produced by the Steven Wilson) is a sublime blend of gorgeous middle-eastern tinged melodies, progressive ideas and harsher passages that rewards repeated listens. There is no overstating the kind of talent and commitment it takes to create something like this.

What did you like in 2010? What are you looking forward to in 2011? Personally, I'm waiting for a progressive band to go completely black metal, reversing the trend we've seen these last few years.

Fug Me? No, Man. Fughu. Argentian Progressive Metal.

Word of mouth is the primary driver when it comes to discovering new metal bands. It's always been this way. When I was younger, we used to give cassettes to each other. Now we pass along links. Here's one: Fughu, a talented progressive metal band from Argentina. These guys recently opened for Dream Theater in their home country, and released a self-produced album titled Absence last year.

I like their sound (especially the vocalist - this guy's got pipes), but the production is a little undercooked. Get these guys in a studio with a top-tier producer / mixer who can tighten up their songwriting and refine their sound and I predict big things for this band.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Shred Your Ego's Most-Played Metal Albums of 2010 Part One

"Dio has rocked for a long, long time
Now it's time for him to pass the torch

He has songs of wildebeasts and angels
He has soared on the wings of a demon."

Thus sang Jack Black on "Dio" from Tenacious D's debut album, and while the words still bring a smile to my face, Ronnie James Dio's death earlier this year makes them bittersweet. Yes, 2010 had the long shadow of Dio's passing over it, but it also brought honor to his kingdom by providing an incredibly diverse crop of ass-kicking metal.

Here in no particular order are the first five selections for the year. And please keep in mind that I call this list "Most-Played Metal Albums of 2010", as opposed to the "Top 10 of 2010", which would indicate I had somehow managed to listened to every single album released this year and formed an opinion about each and every one, an impossibility for a lone metal fan with a limited budget and time. So it comes down to this:

I listened to a lot of metal albums in 2010. Some I didn't care for, some I dug. This is the result.

Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier

From the moment the very un-Maiden like atmospheric intro "Satellite 15" segues into the title track, this album gets into a massive groove and never strays. Gone are the maddening repetitious choruses that have plagued every release since Brave New World, replaced with tight song structures that incorporate the band's more epic, progressive tendencies seamlessly into their old-school gallop. The album is filled with instant classics, and "Coming Home" is one of the best Maiden songs ever put on record. The band sounds reinvigorated, and Bruce sounds absolutely phenomenal, adding up to my favorite post-Seventh Son of a Seventh Son album thus far (sorry Brave New World).

Iron Thrones - The Wretched Sun

What are you smoking, labels? Somebody step up and sign these guys and put them on tour now, because they could be huge. This Minnesota troupe play a blend of melodic alright, I'm just going to call it "brutal progressive". Whatever it is, it's terribly beautiful in that awful, swirling vortex end-of-the-world way music like this can be. And heavy as hell. And awesome.

Ghost - Opus Eponymous

A late-year arrival (only available in the states via import or download until early 2011), this gem quickly shot to the top of my playlist for days on end. Like the great commercial crossover record Mercyful Fate never recorded, or the doom album Blue Öyster Cult never made, Opus Eponymous is a unique mixture of pop hooks and doom riffs that defies categorization and distills everything that's great about occult metal into 35 short minutes. Read my full review.

Accept - Blood of the Nations

Yeah. You're all like, "Balls to the Wall!" and remembering a short dude wearing fatigues and having a laugh then this album comes from out of nowhere like a set of brass knuckles to the bridge of your nose. If this album had released in '88, it would be hailed today as a classic. Of course, it wouldn't have sounded like this in '88 without today's recording techniques and the crisp, full-bodied production from the talented Andy Sneap. "Teutonic Terror" is the immediate standout, a riff-tastic, fist-pumping throwback, but I submit to you, sir or madam, that if you can get your hands on it, the bonus track "Time Machine" is where the real money is.

And the singer, Mark Tornillo (formerly of T.T. Quick), man. This dude's voice IS metal, period. Listen to it. The grit, the power, the range. If I had this guy's singing voice, I'd use it ALL THE TIME.

Mose Giganticus - Gift Horse

Am I crazy or did this album not come out this year? I ask only due to its conspicuous absence from other Top Ten lists I've been reading, because in my opinion this flat-out rocks. Mose Giganticus is actually one man, multi-instrumentalist Matt Garfield and assorted hired hands, who deliver a sound like nothing I've ever heard. It's a mid-tempo, thick soup of stoner, grunge and electronic, with heavy use of the vocoder and synthesizer, emphasis on the heavy, because this album has a huge sound. Album-closer "The Seventh Seal" goes out on a riff so huge and brain-pleasing I could ride its thundering wave forever.

Stay tuned for Part Two.
Edit! Here it is!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

King Diamond Recovering from Open Heart Surgery, Still Scary

Thank goodness...or Satan. One of the elder statesmen of modern metal, King Diamond, had triple bypass open heart surgery in late November and is on the mend, his wife Livia recently revealed on the official website. Read the full news release.

PS - Even though he is in recovery, the King managed to scare the living daylights out of me when I left his website open in another tab, and "Blood to Walk" seeped through whatever I was listening to in iTunes, giving me the unsettling effect that he was somewhere right behind me. Christ I think I peed a little.

Memorably Bad Metal: Dead On - "Different Breed"

Some metal songs just tickle my funny bone for all the wrong reasons, whether it be overly pretentious or dramatic posturing, horrible production, a lousy vocalist, clumsy lyrics, a lack of technical skill or, on rare occasions, a combination of everything I just mentioned.

Whatever the case, though I'm starting a regular feature to call these tunes out for ridicule, I've got an undeniable soft spot for them and most of them have regular rotation in my metal shuffle playlist.

First up: "Different Breed" from 80s metal band Dead On. Please, don't allow me to color your expectations. Experience it for yourself:

I first heard this song as part of the Shocker soundtrack as a B-side to Megadeth's cover of "No More Mr. Nice Guy", which I bought on cassette. At first I thought was in for some solid speed metal, but the moment the singer's voice kicked in, I laughed from there until the end of the track because I couldn't believe this guy was for real. Then I listened to it again, and again, and again, tears streaming from my eyes. I called my friends and made them listen to it. And we all agreed - this song was simply hilarious.

First, the vocals are so upfront in the mix that one can't help but focus on this gentleman's ... uh ... unique voice. His bizarre phrasing and penchant for random enthusiastic sounds and growls and improvisations are enough to send anyone into fits, but it's the ridiculous intonation of the line "No! You can't choose...ya lose" that puts this one over the top for me, and instantly became an oft-repeated phrase in our little group.

The rest of the song is competent thrash of the period, with the horrible, flat production also of the period. The Inspector Gadget riff that arrives after the mosh part (preceded by the singer's "Here we go!" as if they're about to launch into something awesome) is just weird, though it does lead into a good solo. Then the singer comes in again with his line about entering the demon's lair and I'm struggling to catch my breath.

At the end of the day, though I've harped on the vocalist's godawful performance, I must say that I think I only listened to "No More Mr. Nice Guy" the one time. I can't even count the number of times I've listened to "Different Breed", so in one sense it's actually kind of brilliant.

The indispensable metalhead resource that is No Life 'Til Metal has a complete write up on Dead On (and many, many other bands who've disappeared from our collective consciousness).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Review: Ghost - Opus Eponymous

Opus Eponymous 
Import: October 21, 2010 / US: January 18, 2011
(Available for download now through iTunes / Amazon)
Rise Above Records

A all-too-brief collection of the catchiest songs about Satan worship ever created.

Of all the traditional (read: hoary) subject matter metal lyricists return to time and time again, satanic themes are probably the most well-tread. From Black Widow to Sabbath, Venom to Blasphemy, metal has given the devil his due and then some. However, over time, as the volume and intensity of the music has risen (and metal listeners have become more jaded) the fear factor has diminished. What was once thrilling has been rendered trite through over-the-top theatrics that mistake cheap horror shocks and gore for any real sense of danger.

Enter new Swedish metal band Ghost, who on their debut Opus Eponymous turn back the hands of time nearly 30 years by stripping occult metal down to its most essential, enjoyable elements. Heavily indebted to the classic occult bands of the late '70s and early 80s (Blue Öyster Cult and Mercyful Fate spring to mind), Ghost delivers old-school heavy metal (blessed with today's production) with a dollop of pop that achieves a dark, disarming beauty in its purity. Simple minor-key riffs blend seamlessly into choruses that compel you sing along, and yes, I said sing, because unlike many sound-alike barking black metal bands choking the market today, Ghost is fronted by a vocalist who can craft a compelling melody.

In a brilliantly hilarious marketing move, the band has declared via a press release that their mission to is gain converts "via the ever so popular rock music medium" and expressed their hope to charm listeners with their music, "so that in time the easily manipulated will come to share the views and goals of the Coven's ministry and can prepare their own plans for the downfall of humanity."

While this may have the trappings of an elaborate joke, the truth is that once you find yourself joyfully singing along to tracks about human sacrifice ("Ritual"), nuns pregnant with demon seed ("Prime Mover") and witchcraft ("Stand by Him"), you may begin to wonder if there truly isn't a more devious method to their playful madness.

And yes, I'm serious as hell about the nun thing, and so is the band.

So dedicated are they to the act of being cultists that no one knows who they are - no names are printed anywhere in their materials - and this sense of mystery carries over to their live show, where the singer performs as demonic cardinal in macabre face paint, flanked by his band mates as hooded, anonymous figures. The singer sways as one with the music, his face a somber mask as he intones ominous words of sin and damnation. Yes, its a gimmick, but its a simple one and therein lies its power; it sells the music in a way that menacing corpsepaint faces and armbands loaded with spikes never could.

The music of Ghost isn't going to challenge you or change the world of metal. Its strengths lie in its addictive songwriting and immense accessibility, which is more than enough to recommend it. The only real downfall of this album is that it's so damn catchy that at only 30 minutes running length, it may quickly wear out its welcome. Until then, it's an addiction this heavy music lover will gladly indulge.