Best Music Of 2010: EW

author EW date 02/02/11

I should have known better than to think a cut-down version of previous year's annual reviews would allow me to produce a report in considerably less time. Fewer sections maybe, but no less strife in deciding which records are worthy of recognition. How many to recommend, now that I am free to choose? By my calculations the 109 reviews posted by this rider of the tides makes for a decent base of comparison, even if time has not allowed for analysis of new works by the likes of Enslaved, Electric Wizard, The Crown, Negura Bunget, Drudkh, Sodom, Watain, Grand Magus, Meads of Asphodel, Atlantean Kodex, Agalloch, Ghost or Slough Feg, among others. My apologies to all of them, some of which would certainly fill slots in my list had such an opportunity arisen to discuss the fine merits each and all of them possess in abundance. Use my tardiness as an excuse to check them out yourself.

Far from being null and void is my choice of albums available for inclusion, oh no! Not when you witness some of the great releases I (or in some instances, my colleagues) have covered. As usual an effort to fish deep into the metal depths yields untold glories, where the passion for making honest, extreme music remains undiminished despite the much discussed collapse of the industry around it. Nor just submerging oneself in limited locations either will do for someone seeking sounds of all punishing and dexterous varieties. Never let anyone tell you metal, that leviathan of the extreme music world, is a bloated and washed up beast on the shoreline; scenes prosper and wither but a net cast across all it's seas, incorporating traditional heavy metal through to the never-ending abysses of black, doom, death, folk, thrash and much beyond, will land you a catch as motley as that any other genre can provide.

Thus with such a decree made here is what I can recommend you, my fellow explorer of the uncharted depths, in the passed year some called MMX. EW not responsible for any damage suffered to misconceptions or bank balances.

20. Malevolent Creation - Invidious Dominion

Straight up death metal might very much be in the shadows of black metal these days, reflected in MC being the only 'proper' DM band making it into my top 20, but "Invidious Dominion" is fast, ugly and vicious - exactly the way the genre is meant to be.

19. Orphaned Land - The Never Ending Way Of OrwarriOR

Orphaned Land make the integration of local ethnic music, prog and heavy metal seem effortless, at the same time uniting the metal hordes from across the world's most politically troubled region. Opener "Sapari" would be a candidate for my 'Song of the Year' if I had such a list.

18. Thulcandra - Fallen Angel's Dominion

If you're going to plagiarise make sure to do it bloody well. Breathing in the spirit of Dissection and all Swedish blackened death metal Thulcandra spit out a furiously frosty, epic representation of a sound that will never cease to be brilliant.

17. Barren Earth - Curse of the Red River

Sometimes you just know an album is going to be good before hearing it. 'Supergroup' Barren Earth's quintessentially Scandinavian sound of prog, death and heavy metal showcases levels of devotion and artistry that could only come from seasoned pros.

16. Burzum - Belus

Most likely the biggest single event of extreme metal circa 2010 was the return to action of one Varg Vikernes, freshly released from prison and as controversial as ever. "Belus" sounds exactly as one would expect from a man disconnected with the last 15 years of the scene: that is grim black metal the way old Burzum used to sound before the man got a bit knifey with his old mate Euronymous.

15. Dark Fortress - Ylem

With Finntroll's release Dark Fortress ensured a strong start to 2010, taking me by surprise with the compositional depth and variation within "Ylem", an album which a year later is still an engaging and divergent listen. Does BM get more catchy than the chorus to "Evenfall"?

14. Ereb Altor - The End

If I listed you my 20 most listened albums from last year "The End" would be wearing a gold medal similar to it's cover design. Approaching Bathory levels of epicness (tests have shown Bathory to be utterly impossible to equal in these stakes) it is perfect listening on a dreary commute to work when one wishes to imagine the honour and glory of the Viking age in a Reverend Bizarre-meets-Bathory kinda way. Golly, I get excited just thinking about it.

13. Accept - Blood of the Nations

The only reason "Blood of the Nations" can't be said to be Accept's finest work is due to two of their early 80's records being contenders for the 'Greatest Metal Album Of All Time' award. Ok, it is Accept sans Udo but considering that fact this return of the German legends could hardly have gone better.

12. Atheist - Jupiter

Another return of another legendary band in their own field, Atheist's comeback was as exciting and surprising as Accept's. Even after all their years away still no one sounds like Atheist, the reason being their brilliance. Incase my review didn't make it clear enough - Atheist are technical death metal and if you disagree you are wrong.

11. De Profundis - A Bleak Reflection

The distinctly unheralded De Profundis have all the traits of a band who'll never reap what they deserve from their complex fusion of doom and black/death metal, a sound too dense and layered for widespread acceptance I fear. Regardless, "A Bleak Reflection" stands testament to the striving for a unique sound in a crowded marketplace and the desire to create art for art's sake.

10. Winterfylleth - The Mercian Sphere

If pagan-infused ambient-y BM is not the best mini-scene happening in metal at the moment then slap me silly and call me Judy - it has all the best elements and none of the bullshit commonly associated with the genre at large. The righteously English Winterfylleth sum this up, "The Mercian Sphere" along with Wodensthrone and Altar of Plagues putting British BM back on the map.

9. October Falls - A Collapse Of Faith

Spiritual, beautiful, earthly. Three terms that all apply to "A Collapse Of Faith", a fine work that reeks of rural isolation and the kind of lonely outsider existence that always helps in the creation of symbolically strong music. Alongside Winterfylleth a key reason in their genre's current standing.

8. Melechesh - The Epigenesis

Melechesh are clearly one of the best, and most important, metal bands of today. When diligently bringing the spirit of a Middle Eastern upbringing and combining it with some serious musical chops and songwriting ability, you have the result of a band standing head and shoulders above the crowd. Melechesh are leaders on a mission to victory, a mission you should not ignore.

7. Armour - Armour

The only problem with Armour's self-titled debut LP is that it makes me want to get drunk, bang my head and fuck metal bitches all the time, a lifestyle that isn't conducive to holding down a job or being a responsible father. If this was released in 1983 it would be a classic up there with W.A.S.P. or Accept. That it was released in 2010 should not matter one jot. My party-metal album of the year.

6. Finntroll - Nifelvind

The first record of the year to be a contender for this list, "Nifelvind" sums up why Finntroll are cut from a different cloth to their Scandinavian folky peers. Every moment is astonishingly imaginative, each song different from the list, the overall thing still fucking brilliant a year down the line. Finntroll's finest complete effort.

5. Triptykon - Eparistera Daimones

Tom G. Warrior - a man who wears his heart on his sleeve. Returning to form with Celtic Frost and "Monotheist" in 2006, acrimoniously splitting and forging ahead with Triptykon, "Eparistera Daimones" continues on the dark path where "Monotheist" left off. "In Shrouds Decayed", "My Pain", "Abyss Within My Soul" are virtual representations of the man's inner being exposed in musical form, a being that is incapable of doing things by half. This is not easy-listening, the weak of mind will not get this. For those remaining Mr. Warrior has blessed us another classic.

4. Sabbath Assembly - Restored To One

The term 'out there' does no justice to Sabbath Assembly's "Restored To One". None at all. The lady Jex Thoth didn't need to do this - after all she has already blessed us with her namesake band, now with SA I know not how to thank her. Religious in nature and religious in essence "Restored To One" is neither metal nor rock, nor like anything I've heard before and am unlikely to hear again. Describing this record is too much a task for mere mortals such as myself. I CANNOT wait to see this live supporting Earth very soon.

3. Weapon - From The Devil's Tomb

The fight, anger and strength of extreme metal's lethal underground is scintillatingly realised in "From The Devil's Tomb". The likes of "The Inner Wolf" are heavy, dark, relentless and visceral and a naked realisation of the power of the riff. While Weapon certainly possess a number of unique features their inclusion so high up on the list is not for reinventing the wheel but for doing the blackened death metal thing very, very well and reminding all of us that amongst the hordes busily blasting for Satan the odd gem will continue to emerge. (On a side note I would very much like to see Armour and Weapon touring together!)

2. Kvelertak - Kvelertak

I am indebted to my colleague AP for bringing this Norwegian outfit to my attention. You know, this reviewing business can sometimes be tricky, trying to describe why a band can seemingly tick all the right boxes yet lack that magical, unknown quantity called it. Kvelertak have it. To dream up the idea of melding black metal, rock'n'roll and punk takes a certain kind of lunacy, but Kvelertak's hysterically brilliant attempt in doing so gives me the utmost confidence in declaring this a record that will be remember fondly for years to come. To see them live is to realise they carry even more energy in that setting than on record. Mark my words, Kvelertak are going to get BIG.

1. Enforcer - Diamonds

Ultimately, despite all the great records thus far covered, there was never any competition. All the press they have been getting has been for a reason - Enforcer with their second album "Diamonds" have made a record that is in every way a classic. Not coincidentally having bucketloads of it also, Enforcer across tracks like "Katana", "High Roller" and "Midnight Vice" sound every bit the kind of metal obsessive I proudly claim to be - the type who have become so ingrained with their passion for metal they can't fathom as beings without it. Far more than any mere pastiche of past heavy metal glories and the reason for Enforcer's presence at the top of the retro tree, these Swedes play with the conviction of a band born to be heavy metal and who simply can't be any other way. Proving that scenes built upon a backwards-facing vision can provide timeless records Enforcer have in the process with "Diamonds" simultaneously blown the competition away and established their reputation for years to come. It's doubtless that in the halcyon days of the 80s when heavy/speed metal was at it's peak anyone could have expected one of the genre's landmarks would be released fully 25 years later but that is exactly the situation we find ourselves in here.

All hail Enforcer! All hail Heavy Metal!

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