One of the defining themes for heavy metal in 2010 was the resurgence of classic heavy metal sounds. I only squeezed three such albums on to this list, but if I’d done a top 50 there would have been twice that many.
Mike Scalzi, lead song writer/guitarist/vocalist for Slough Feg has been flying the heavy metal flag for over a decade now. And with the death of Ronnie James Dio this past summer, he has assumed the crown as the best heavy metal vocalist in the US. Slough Feg’s sound belongs somewhere in the early 80’s, alongside Iron Maiden, Manilla Road and classic Irish hard rockers like Thin Lizzy and the Horslips. Animal Spirits is far from their best album, but it’s a fun listen. “Prima Materia”, a galloping instrumental, and “Free Market Barbarian”, a kick-ass mid-paced rocker, are the highlights.
And hey, here’s another of those classic metal revivals! Ghost reaches back to Mercyful Fate and the early 90’s doom movement for their inspiration. The riffs are s-l-o-w and there’s some cheesy keyboards and lot of Lee Dorian worship. To their credit, they aren’t slaves to that sound, just inspired by it. Their guitars, especially the bass, are really clean sounding for a doom album and, at an average run time of 4 minutes, the songs are downright short in a genre infamous for 10+ minute epics.
While I dig the music on this album, two things kill my enthusiasm. The first is the lyrics, which are all, “Satan this,” and, “Satan that,” until I want to tear my hair out. Even the man in the red pajamas himself, narcissist that I assume he is, would probably be ready to change the subject after five songs. They’re being tongue in cheek with the the classic heavy metal cheese, but it’s just way too much. The vocalist is also a problem, since he sings in a clean monotone the whole time. Shit, dude, show some excitement! It’s heavy-fucking-metal! Have some fun, embrace the cheese, own it! For a band that wears their Mercyful Fate love on their sleeves, their singer takes nothing from King Diamond. I don’t love the King’s falsetto, but at least he knows how to keep shit interesting.
The thought that leaped into my mind the first time I spun this album: Holy shit, the music is amazing! The second thought? Kno is a very average lyricist and rapper. A lot of Death is Silent’s songs are great right up until Kno opens his mouth. One of the most obvious examples is “I Wish I Was Dead” in which Kno awkwardly rhymes “body”, “shotty”, “got me” and a mumbled “wobbly”. The “ly” needs to be sharply accentuated for that work and Kno just doesn’t pull it off. His lyrics also seem to miss the mark in terms of tone. The music on Death is Silent is mostly low-key, subtle and quite beautiful. Lines like, “She don’t swallow, that claim’s preposterous, let’s just say she has a populous esophagus,” (from “Graveyard”) don’t fit and shatter the atmosphere of the song.
I knew going into this album that Kno was a talented dude. He’s the main producer for the Cunninglynguists and Dirty Acres was really nice sounding album. I feel like an instrumental Death is Silent might be on the level of DJ Shadow and Blue Sky, Black Death. As it stands, the schism between the tone of the lyrics and the tone of the music really damages this album. It still works wonderfully as background music, just don’t look too closely at the rhymes.
37. Orphaned Land: The Neverending Way of OrwarriOr
“Sapari” | Buy The Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR on amazon.com
Orphaned Land’s greatest strength — the novelty of middle eastern themed metal — helps to hide their greatest weakness, that the metal parts of this album are pretty generic. Their devotion to the sound of the region is genuine and they spent a ton of time in studio with The Arabic Orchestra of Nazareth working a huge list of traditional middle eastern instruments into this album. They also have a strong grasp on the concept of progressive song writing, and most of the songs have a wonderful sense of forward momentum and flow. The metal isn’t quite up to snuff, but when they get it right they have a unique sound, and that carries a lot of weight.
It seems like Kylesa’s been hanging around for a while, doing good things and generally being overshadowed by fellow subverters of the southren sludge sound, Mastodon. They have slowly carved out a niche of their own and Spiral Shadow is their best album to date. The guitars are still fuzzy, but they’ve added a lot of warmth and catchiness to the sludge. They still rock, stomp and roar, but they have mellow moments that break things up really nicely. Oh, and did I mention that they’ve got two drummers? Yeah, it’s twice as easy to groove when a different drummer is assigned to each channel of your headphones.
Locrian make the sort of music that barely qualifies as music. The Crystal World is mostly an experiment in ambient sounds—terrifying, lonely, alien sounds that make me physically uncomfortable. Imagine that Brian Eno stopped making music for airports and started making music for nightmares. I usually avoid anything tagged with the drone/ambient label, because noise, without build up, crescendo or catharsis bores the shit out of me. A friend of mine (Hi Justin!) insisted that this was the scariest album since Scott Walker’s The Drift, so I had to check it out.
Some songs build slowly, starting off as white nose, adding in drums and guitars, then crescendoing in black metal inspired screeching dissonance. It’s not an album I’ll listen to often, because I don’t like the way it makes me feel. Plus, every listen dilutes the power of an album like this and nothing is ever as intense the second time around. But it only took that first run, in the dark, with my headphones on to get The Crystal World on this list. As Count Floyd would say, this is scarrrrrry stuff.
Despite what some over-enthusiastic reviewers would have you believe, Kvelertak is not the first band to mix punk, black metal and hard rock. Darkthrone’s been messing with that formula for a while now (much to the chagrin of their KVLT AS FVCK fans) and any non-retard will tell you there were many similarities between early black metal and crust punk. Venom, Crass, Bathory and Discharge have a lot in common and hardcore and extreme metal have always gone hand in hand. Having said that, I don’t think anyone’s ever done it with the same party dude attitude that Kvelertak have. Or seem to have—all the lyrics are in Norweigian and I know fuck all about that language. The tone of their music says, “We want to get shit faced with the Norse gods!” and that’s what really matters.
The Books are a damned difficult band to describe. It’s kind of a found sound thing, within the framework of folk rock that’s been distorted by electronica. Their music sounds extremely poignant at times, but the lack of lyrics means there isn’t really any specific meaning. See? That’s the best I can do and it doesn’t make sense.
The Way Out is both meditative and humorous. The album begins and ends with samples taken from self-help records. They’re placed over relaxing music, but edited to accentuate the absurdity of the techniques. “I Didn’t Know That” places a funky bass-line underneath a bunch of heavily distorted voice clips which are followed by people saying “I didn’t know that!” in an astonished tone of voice. It’s like a song from an after school special made by robots. Whatever the fuck genre they belong in, The Books are awesome.
Dream pop isn’t normally my thing. It’s just too mushy for me. I don’t mean mushy in the romantic sense, but mushy as in, “That rotten banana is really mushy.” There’s just no rhythmic spine to it or something. Despite my misgivings about the genre they’ve been plopped into, there’s something about Beach House that really draws me in. And no, it’s not just Victoria Legrand’s husky, sensual voice. Teen Dream maintains the blurry warmth and languid pace that makes dream pop what it is, but it seems to be a bit brighter and more focused than similarly branded music. Or maybe it’s something else—I honestly don’t know enough about dream pop to make the proper comparisons. Even though I can’t quite articulate why, I really dig this.
Miss Monáe came up on a old episode of the podcast (number 17, I think) and Kurt summed her up best when he said, “She can straight sing, man.”
And she fucking can. Also, no auto-tune! It is incredibly refreshing to hear a talented pop artist that doesn’t muck up her voice with auto-tune. She also has a strong, quirky personality that oozes all over this album. The Archandroid is a 70-minute concept album about an android sent to earth to spread a message of love and, as pointed out in this blog, she made a music video inspired by Fritz Lang.
I love her voice, her personality and the way she hops from genre-to-genre. The Archandroid is a true mix of styles, not a simple mish-mash of samples, and there’s hip-hop, Hendrix-style psychedelic rock, Parliament funk and straight 70’s soul. If anything, the album’s greatest flaw is that there’s too much to take in. If some of the chaff were removed, I’d have it a lot higher on my list.