I think a good way to introduce ourselves and establish all of our specific tastes in metal by providing the list of our top 10 favorite metal albums of all time and the reasons behind the choices. Although I will always be a metal fan, there are a comparatively small number of bands and albums that I thoroughly enjoy, thus, my namesake. I’ve found that bands that have an overall distinct and interesting sound (particularly with the guitar work) generally win my blackened heart. I also have a very liberal opinion on what should and should not be considered “metal”. Without further ado, here is my top 10 in no particular order:
Master of Puppets, Metallica
This was the first real metal album I got into when I was about twelve years old. I didn’t listen to anything else for months. I still think that this album is comprised of some of the best musicianship and compositional work of any metal album to date. If you haven’t heard this album, you don’t listen to metal. Despite Metallica’s on and off again relationship with the metal brethren, this is an undeniable classic.
Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, Emperor
While most Black Metal albums at the time were focused on atmospheric grimness, Emperor was all about atmospheric majesty. For me this album represents the ultimate in Second Wave Black Metal atmospherics and musicianship. Simply put, “Anthems…” was a dark spiritual journey in which you were just as involved in the story as the character that Ihsahn seems to be speaking through. In my eyes, this album completely left all Second Wave Black Metal in the dust and it STILL kicks most bands’ asses all over the place to this very day.
Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire and Demise, Emperor
What a mind fuck of an album. The jazz inflections are more off the wall, the compositions more layered and complex, but somehow, the songs were more succinct. Only Emperor could pull off a stunt like this, and still be highly respected by 90% of the metal community. Some say they were at their most pretentious with this album, but I think they were simply at their most adventurous. An excellent swan song.
Black Seeds of Vengeance, Nile
At the time I don’t think I had heard anything so technically ravaging as “Black Seeds…”. Like “Master of Puppets”, everything else failed in comparison to me for a couple of months. Hell, I even heard “Human” and “Operation: Mindcrime” for the first times around the time I heard “Black Seeds…”and those two albums just collected dust for a while. I love albums where each song retains a unique overall structure, and this is definitely one of them. I haven’t really kept up with Nile, but I think this will forever be their masterpiece. (And fuck you to everyone, because I LOVED “In Their Darkened Shrines”)
City, Strapping Young Lad
From the packaging, to the music and lyrics, this album is all about human life being inundated with a globalized and technological world-and the paranoia and existentialism associated with it. I consider this album the sine qua non of Industrial Metal (eat your heart out, Fear Factory). Features the Mastermind Metal Mad Scientist, Hevy Devy, at his most profound and most cathartic, destroying all others in his path. It was as if Devin was saying, “Hello, modernized world, and behold your waste.”
“The future is now!” proclaimed Cynic! And…no one listened. Somewhere on Youtube, one can view performances of Cynic from the early 90s opening up for Cannibal Corpse and hear the crowd booing them. Needless to say, Cynic wasn’t the most popular Death Metal band at that time. Way ahead of their time, they incorporated elements of jazz fusion, King Crimson-like polyrhythms, and…a robotic voice all under the guise of Death Metal. Misunderstood by most, Cynic’s “Focus” is the black sheep of the early 90s American Death Metal scene, and still one of my favorite albums after first hearing it 10 years ago.
The Inalienable Dreamless, Discordance Axis
I know it’s been said before, but to me, this was and is grind perfection. They never sounded like any grind band in existence. Jon Chang’s lyrics were abstract, introspective, and brilliantly literate. Rob Marton’s guitar playing had a huge impact on me for a period of time. It was twisted and angular with definite comparisons to Voivod, but it did have a great off-kilter and endearing sense of melody to it. Additionally I feel almost every song was really distinct from the next, which is pretty remarkable considering not many grind bands can ever accomplish that. Finally, all I have to say is, “Motherfuckin’ Dave Witte!”
My Arms, Your Hearse, Opeth
If ever a band captured the notions of Romantic Literature (Poe, Shelley, Rimbaud, et al.) so genuinely and perfectly, it was Opeth with “My Arms, Your Hearse”. Told from the point of view of a man who dies, becomes a ghost, and haunts his lover with great suspicion, “MAYH” captured the dark emotions of loss and despair that those long dead authors played with. What really did me in were the acoustic passages. Not only were Akerfeldt’s acoustic licks top notch for a metal guitarist, but he was able to switch from one of the most demonic Death Metal growls known to man, to one of the sweetest singing voices (like honey, I tell ya). An excellent narrative with some of my favorite lyrics, songs, and musicianship, “MAYH” will make you cry.
Calculating Infinity, The Dillinger Escape Plan
Being the fan of Noisecore that I am, this is the album I hold all others against. While many extreme music bands adopt an arbitrarily aggressive sound, there was something very pure and unadulterated about DEP’s particular brand of aggression on “Calculating Infinity”. I mean, I literally thought these guys should be institutionalized. What really got me at the time were all the jazz breaks, and it they weren’t just thrown in for good measure, they ACTUALLY fit into the song. Furthermore, there are some down right CATCHY parts throughout the maelstrom of dissonant and dizzying mathematical genius. Some people argue that, at its most basic level, metal represents the conflict between chaos and order, and there may be no better example than “Calculating Infinity”.
Of the albums on my list, I don’t think any is more aptly named than “Oceanic”. To me, this is the album where Isis really broke out of their Neurosis-loving shell. Appropriately named, because at times, it really did feel like waves pummeling against you. It was and still is that heavy today. Not only musically, but emotionally as well. What I also really loved about this album, is how organic it sounded. Most metal bands have such a central focus on being “brutal” or “technical” that they lose focus of the fact that each instrument is working towards a common goal of expressing one musical entity. For lack of a better phrase, Isis came together to ebb and flow like the ocean on this album.
Just for shits and giggles, here are my top 10 metal albums from ’09:
Houses of the Unholy, Church of Misery
The Voice of Steel, Nokturnal Mortum
Crack the Skye, Mastodon
Blue Record, Baroness
All Shall Fall, Immortal
Black Cascade, Wolves in the Throne Room
Ballade cuntre lo Anemi francor, Peste Noire
Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue With the Stars, Blut Aus Nord