So much music crosses our ears throughout the year it becomes hard to focus on what really is the best. Finding the worst music is easy, it’s an instant reaction that shoots through you and signals to the brain you’re listening to absolute crap. With great music, even good music, it hits on multiple levels that you need time to really work out. Sometimes the music hits you in the head, making you think, sometimes it hits you in the soul, creating an emotional reaction. Neither of these are mutually exclusive, but with some albums they need to even out.
Great music is an experience, something that transports you to another place and alleviates the poisons of this world, if only for an instant. Here are the Top Ten Metal Albums of 2010, a handful of albums that fit the bill with particular flare.
10. DARKTHRONE: CIRCLE THE WAGONS (Peaceville Records)
I’ve always been a Darkthrone fan. There’s something about them that’s so raw, so basic and primal, I just can’t help be impressed with it. With Circle The Wagons the band taps into their inner Discharge and really volley between guttural punk and blistering Black Metal. Fast, brutal, mean spirited, Circle The Wagons is something of a bizarre hybrid that allows Darkthrone to evolve without changing who they are.
09. HARVEY MILK: A SMALL TURN OF HUMAN KINDNESS (Hydrahead Records)
Harvey Milk is easily one of the most important bands of the last fifteen years. They simply can’t sit still and ride one mode of music, for them the experimentation is key. A Small Turn Of Human Kindness is a searing slice of metallic beauty that revels in both misery and not taking itself too seriously. Driven by the howling, off center vocals of Creston Spiers, the album ranges from sludge rock to noise to screeching metal and all with an incredible sense of songwriting and dynamics.
08. MASTERS OF REALITY: PINE/CROSSED OVER (Cool Green Recordings)
Taking entirely too long to release a new Masters Of Reality album, headmaster Chris Goss doesn’t disappoint. Pine/Crossed Over is something of mix between a freak show rock concert and an elemental tribute to the natural order of things. Extended passages that feel like jamming free-for-alls run up against groovy blasts of funk laden rock. Masters Of Reality have always had more in common with seventies era David Bowie in respect to reinventing itself with each release. Pine/Crossed Over is something that you more experience than listen to.
07. THE OCEAN: HELIOCENTRIC (Metal Blade Records)
Deciding to release two separate records, both dealing with the religious ideas of Christianity, is a gigantic undertaking. To create two separate musical identities for each album is an entirely different artistic event. German post-metal band The Ocean did just that in 2010 with great results. Of the two albums my favorite was Heliocentric because of the grand design behind it. Massive riffs, huge orchestrations involving strings, keyboards, and pretty much anything else you could think of. With Heliocentric, The Ocean actually wrote an album as epic as the subject matter they were undertaking. It takes the entire idea of what is possible with heavy music a giant step forward.
06. THOU: SUMMIT (Gilead Media/Southern Lord)
Dark, brooding, epic, dense and intoxicating, these are all words that fit Thou’s album Summit perfectly. This is a focused, nuanced and brutal record, an ugly batch of songs for an ugly world. Thou play music measured in actual weight, it hangs so heavy you can feel it bending you into something new. There are always new musical chances being taken and new areas explored. Summit is fantastic album from a truly gifted band.
05. JULIE CHRISTMAS: THE BAD WIFE (Rising Pulse Records)
The Bad Wife is easily the most honest album to come out this year. This is an auditory nervous breakdown from one of the most gifted singers in music. Known mostly for her heavier work with Made Out Of Babies, Christmas stretches her vocal muscles here into wonderful new areas. At times playful, at others melancholy, Christmas never loses that sense of urgent anger and desperation. With music that ranges from metal, to avant-garde noise, to slightly jazzed rock, Christmas allows us into her psyche to walk around for forty minutes. The result is one of the first albums to truly move me in a very long time. I’d love for Julie Christmas to sing me to sleep but I’m afraid she’d stab me to death right after.
04. KARMA TO BURN: APPALACHIAN INCANTATION (Napalm Records)
After way too long broken up, the boys in Karma To Burn decided to return with an instrumental beat down. Appalachian Incantation plays like the psychopathic thoughts of a rambling, violent, mountain man high to the gills on Crystal Meth. The grooves are thick but riddled with holes filled in by off kilter rhythms and structures. I can say honestly that Karma To Burn is one of the only bands to really introduce texture to their release. You can feel the music burning from your speakers. Sweat, blood, alcohol, drugs, sex, all those things we step onto the dark path for are represented here. Appalachian Incantation is an orgasm filled with shards of glass and hypodermic needles. You won’t find another high like it.
03. BLACK ANVIL: TRIUMVERATE (Relapse Records)
Brooklyn’s Black Anvil has taken a lot of shit from both the metal and hardcore scenes. Born from the ashes of hardcore legends Kill Your Idols, Black Anvil is a full on Black Metal band that uses the musical ideals of punk and hardcore to carry what they do a step further. This is a rapid-fire assault of a record, brimming with riffs and blast beats. Yet nothing Black Anvil does follows the simple rules of any genre. These guys are their own creation, their own idea and the music reflects that. Don’t get me wrong, Triumvirate isn’t a hardcore album at all, this is complete and total Black Metal. The hardcore ideals allow them to grow in a different direction than the usually one note world of standard Black Metal. Like Primordial, Wolves In The Throne Room and others, Black Anvil are the face of the future of Black Metal.
02. KYLESA: SPIRAL SHADOW (Season Of Mist Records)
For a band that’s been kicking around for several years, Kylesa should be way higher on the heavy music food chain then they are. Spiral Shadow has to be the album to bust them into the spotlight because it’s that fucking good. With inspirations drawn from Thin Lizzy to the MC5 to Slayer to The Melvins and even a touch of .38 Special, Kylesa throw their unique spin on a hodge podge of music that injects a serum of experimentation into the well worn veins of stonerrock. The double drumming, the traded off vocals, the sudden stops and dabbles into weird dynamics makes Kylesa one of the most talented and interesting bands out there. Holding this whole thing together is vocalist Laura Pleasents, who looks like Jewel’s younger, rocker sister with grimy pipes that hit you across the head. If you’re not a Kylesa fan, I urge you to become one.
01. KILLING JOKE: ABSOLUTE DISSENT (Spinefarm Records)
Not only is this album the best thing the band has put out since Killing Joke 2003, it also announces the return of the original band line up. From the opening note of Absolute Dissent, the genius here is obvious. The music is brimming with power and passion, but also remains unique from song to song. The title track is a brutal call to arms while the tune “European Superstate” is a dance number about the unity of the European areas, and what that could mean to a global idea. The highly intelligent lyrics by singer Jaz Coleman are delivered with his incomparable voice and growl. Nobody makes music like Killing Joke and Absolute Dissent keeps their track record perfect showing that true art and dedication can lead to brilliance even thirty years into a career.