Monday, November 30, 2009

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Dude, Where's My Decade?: The Ten Best Metal Albums of the 2000s

So here's an exercise that I've been wanting to do that will keep me from continuing my studies for another hour or so. It's weird that we're at the end of a decade when I distinctly remember the moment when 1999 became 2000. What this decade really gave me more than anything else, though, was metal, and a musical identity. For that reason, I'm making this a top ten metal albums of the 2000s list. Fleet Foxes, Tegan and Sara, Clutch, The Decemberists, and Flogging Molly would likely have had spots on this list but I decided to go the metal-only route. So here goes:

10. Immortal- Sons of Northern Darkness (2002)

My introduction to Norway's grimmest didn't come through their frostbitten black metal roots but from their epic blackened thrash maelstrom, Sons of Northern Darkness. Vastly underrated by purists, this album represents a perfect marriage of the corpse-painted fury of the early 90s and a very modern, well-produced heavy metal edge. Key tracks: "One By One", "Sons of Northern Darkness", "In My Kingdom Cold"

9. Halford- Resurrection (2000)

It's impossible to overstate how important this album was in my development as a heavy metal fan. Every song on the album is a winner, and the Metal God sounds better than he has since 1990. When it comes to pure heavy metal, there isn't a better album this decade. Nostradamus was cool, but this album will make you pine for Halford's "Breaking the Law" days. Key tracks: "Silent Screams", "Resurrection", "The One You Love To Hate"

8. Mouth of the Architect- The Ties That Blind (2006)

My love affair with this album started with some admitted home team bias. Mouth of the Architect are Dayton's biggest metal export not called Night Ranger, so naturally I had an affinity for them. But the more post-metal I listened to, I realized that this, one of my first post-metal records, was the best thing the scene produced. Syrupy riffs, shouted-from-the-next-room vocals, and a real prog rock sensibility (ex-guitarist Greg Lahm admits Yes, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and King Crimson were a constant presence during writing) make this one of the best albums of the decade. Fun fact: I'm getting a tattoo loosely based on this album art this coming summer. Key tracks: "Baobab", "No One Wished to Settle Here", "At Arms Length"

7. Iron Maiden- Dance of Death (2003)

It wouldn't be a heavy metal list without the greatest heavy metal band of all time on it, and the second album recorded after Bruce and Adrian rejoined the band is the best thing they've done since the Golden Era. This album is the least plagued by formula of their post-1992 output, too, and a youthful energy oozes out of the songs. And I do apologize for republishing the worst album art of all time. Key tracks: "Paschendale", "Journeyman", "Rainmaker"

6. Opeth- Blackwater Park (2001)

Every Opeth album is damn good, but on Blackwater Park literally everything went right. This is just a tour de force of prog metal awesomeness. The mellow parts are beautiful, the death metal parts are crushing, the transitions are seamless, and the songs are generally among the best that Opeth has done. Key tracks: "The Leper Affinity", "Blackwater Park", "Bleak"

5. Mastodon- Blood Mountain (2006)

If Leviathan got Mastodon off the ground in terms of popularity, Blood Mountain pushed them through the stratosphere and made them quite possibly the biggest band in metal. Which is fine, because the tunes back it up. This is also the crowning achievement of Mastodon as a musician's band, with all the members firing on all cylinders at their respective instruments. Key tracks: "Sleeping Giant", "Colony of Birchmen", "Siberian Divide"

4. Between the Buried and Me- Colors (2007)

In the hands of less capable bands, this album would have been a disaster. Essentially, Between the Buried and Me took as many riffs and genres as they could think of, threw them in a blender, and called it Colors. Regardless, this is undoubtedly one of the best albums of the decade. The band comfortably fuses all of its influences in a perfect storm of an album that I doubt they'll top. When Tommy Rogers screams "We will be remembered for this" in album closer "White Walls", he's fulfilling prophecy. Key tracks: "White Walls", "Foam Born", "Ants of the Sky"

3. Cobalt- Gin (2009)

Heavy. That's the best way to describe a black metal album this fucked up. An audio tribute to Ernest Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson, this is the soundtrack to getting wasted in the woods in a rainstorm, alone, and trying to build a shelter for the night. It's a terrifying, sexually frustrated journey into the mind of its creators but also into the minds of all of us. While "black metal meets Tool" is a fair description of the sounds, it really has to be heard to be believed. Key tracks: "Gin", "A Starved Horror", "Arsonry"

2. Cynic- Traced in Air (2008)

This is an easy target for people who hate cold, calculated prog metal with lots of effects and crisp production, but what I've been struck by the hundreds of times I've listened to the album is that beneath all that, it has a lot of soul. Paul Masvidal's spiritual lyrics contribute a lot to that, but so does his soulful croon which has all but replaced the robot voices and death metal growls that dominated their 1994 debut. Unlike a lot of comparable prog metal albums, Traced in Air knows when to stop, and you're left wanting more when it ends. Key tracks: "The Space for This", "Adam's Murmur", "King of Those Who Know"

1. Mastodon- Leviathan (2004)

Well, here it is. The best metal album of the 2000s in my opinion. It's not a shocking choice, as it's probably the most critically acclaimed metal album of the decade as well, but there's nothing on it that doesn't rule. It's a solid slab of greatness, beginning to end. From Neil Fallon and Scott Kelly's guest vocal appearances to Brent Hinds' flirtation with his rockabilly background, from Brann Dailor's inhuman fills to Troy Sanders' inhuman shouts, and from the simple beauty of acoustic instrumental "Joseph Merrick" to the biggest, most epic piece the band has ever done, "Hearts Alive", this album is perfect. If you somehow haven't heard it yet, please do so. Key tracks: "Hearts Alive", "Blood and Thunder", "Iron Tusk"

What are your favorites from this decade? Let's start a debate here.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

CD Review: Nile, "Those Whom the Gods Detest"

Nile's Karl Sanders has given the people what they want on the death metal trio's latest full-length and has provided the extensive liner notes that were so integral to the band's output early in this decade and so sorely missed on 2007's Ithyphallic. Reading through the booklet for Those Whom the Gods Detest may take an hour of your time, but it's well worth and it demonstrates Sanders' vast knowledge of his chosen subjects of Egypt and Lovecraft.

Musically, the album is also a return to form. Whereas parts of Ithyphallic dragged from an occasional lack of interesting melodies to drive the slow parts and a lack of coherence to the fast parts, every part of the new album feels meticulously planned. Album-opening one-two punch "Kafir!" and "Hittite Dung Incantation" gives the listener everything they might look for in a Nile album in two songs. There's Middle Eastern melodies played on acoustic instruments, clean Qawwali-inspired vocals, menacing groove riffs, light speed solos, and some of the best death metal vocals this side of, well, Death.

The refrain of "Kafir!" is among the notable highlights of the album: "There is no god but God / There is no god but the one true God / There is not god but the hidden God / There is no God / There is no God" is somewhat uncharacteristically anti-religion for Nile, but fits perfectly into the theme of the album, which can be summed up, more or less, by the title. Sanders elaborates more on the theme in the aforementioned masterful liner notes. "Permitting the Noble Dead to Descend to the Underworld" is the token fast song, and easily matches its predecessors "Lashed to the Slave Stick" and "Papyrus Containing the Spell to Preserve Its Possessor Against Attacks From He Who Is In the Water".

What really makes this album special is the clear dedication Nile have for their craft. The meticulously collected liner notes and album art and lyrics all tying into a theme serve to enhance the formidable death metal that they adorn. This might be the best album of the year in terms of purely non-musical criteria. That isn't to say the music isn't terrific, but it does give the album some bonus points.

Karl Sanders has apparently never been to Egypt. Hearing this album almost makes me want to open a PayPal donations link to send him there. The resulting album might end up being the greatest death metal record of all time.

Concert Review: Between the Buried and Me with Veil of Maya, Last Second of Silence and Animals As Leaders

It's always to a band's credit when they bother to learn the majority of their back catalog so they can march out totally unexpected set lists. Last night, I saw Between the Buried and Me for the third time, and every song they played marked the first time I'd seen it. The venue and crowd conditions were unideal for the band's progressive sound, but the performance was tremendous.

Several local bands played a side stage and we didn't catch them, but Animals As Leaders, a Behold...the Arctopus-esque prog-jazz-shred instrumental quartet took the stage soon after our arrival. They were pretty much terrible and had no sense of what a song is. Then came Last Second of Silence, and they played Attack Attack music, whatever that is. It was awful. Then came Veil of Maya, who despite presumably naming themselves for Cynic's lead track from their world-changing debut Focus, sounded instead like a hyper-deathcore version of The Faceless. They were terrible, but their set was entertaining thanks to a huge group of karate-kicking straight-edge high school kids. They were serious; it was hilarious.

Then came Between the Buried and Me, and they never disappoint. They blasted through a 75-minute set containing songs from every record except the covers album, and like I said before (the color keeps fading), I hadn't seen any song they played the other two times I'd seen the band. That's impressive. The karate-kicking continued, but BTBAM made it tolerable with their flawless performances of tracks like "Sun of Nothing" and "Mordecai". Simply put, you need to see this band if you have any interest in their music. They are a thing to behold in a live environment, flatbill-capped hardcore kids notwithstanding.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

CD Review: Slayer, "World Painted Blood"

Metalheads, perhaps more than fans of any other modern genre, have a reverence for history and tradition, and Slayer’s first five albums, a streak running from 1983 to 1990, are all undisputed classics. With this in mind, it’s easy to see how the devolution of their career that has occurred since comes as a slap in the face to aficionados.

World Painted Blood, the thrash quartet’s eleventh full-length, continues the downward spiral. The album-opening title track starts off promisingly enough, the riffs are good and the vocals don’t try too hard, but with just a minute left in the six-minute track, frontman Tom Araya ruins the song with some spoken word verses that, when laid on top of the “beats” drummer Dave Lombardo provides, sounds suspiciously like rap. “Beauty Through Order” is a serviceable, mid-paced track and doesn’t offend the eardrums. The rest of the album is pretty much terrible.

“Playing With Dolls” gets special mention as the worst Slayer song ever recorded. Headbangers won’t forget when Slayer were great, but it’s clear that fond memories are all they’ll have.

This review will appear in Thursday, November 12th's edition of Weekend, Indiana University's source for entertainment.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Concert Review: Jucifer with Push-Pull

If you know me, you know that Halloween mostly means one thing: free Chipotle. Unfortunately, it means the same thing to most of Bloomington, so I missed the first two bands waiting in line for a burrito. From what I've come to understand, this was no big loss. I arrived at Rhino's and shortly afterwards Push-Pull began playing their brand of indie punk nonsense. It was alright. Then there was Jucifer.

Ho-ly shit.

On paper, what I just saw was experimental metal duo Jucifer performing songs that were presumably from their last two records, If Thine Enemy Hunger and L'autrichienne, for about an hour. In reality, what I saw was perhaps the most emotionally raw performance I have ever witnessed.

In reality, I saw a man dressed as Jesus Christ punch his cymbals and drums with bleeding knuckles. I saw him break a drumstick in two and launch it skyward with a maniacal scream. I saw him scream and spit at his wife, pointing his drumsticks at her like weapons meant to kill. I saw him pretend to commit suicide by no fewer than three methods (hanging, throat-cutting, and gunshot to the mouth). I saw in his eyes a combination of evil and anger I'll never be able to forget.

In reality, I saw a woman dressed as Cleopatra perform incantations to the devil with a guitar and a microphone. I saw her slam her body against the floor, against the amplifiers. I saw her crawl around on her hands and knees, unintelligibly humming and yelping, summoning demons with her words. I saw her abuse her instrument and her body simultaneously. Hell, I probably saw God.

In reality, I heard an hour-long ruckus of alternating doom metal dirges and breakneck grindcore passages. I heard two people make more noise than it would seem an army should be capable of making. I heard drums and cymbals crashing into heavily distorted chords from a guitar covered in duct tape. I heard the simplest symphony I'll ever hear, and I won't hear much else for the next few days.

In reality, I witnessed pure sonic evil and beautifully raw human emotion in an hour of unbelievable metal performances put on by a married couple that are either absolutely perfect for each other or will end up in the newspapers as a murder-suicide.

But on paper, I guess it's kind of hard to explain.