05 December 2009

Top Ten Albums of 2009

Welp, alright - here we are, first week of December, and I guess it's about that time. So, here, then, I present to you, my audiophiliac friends, the sounds that boxed me about the ears in the last year of our fine decade ('the Oughties'?) Every record contained here has gotten mucho spin on the old MP3 player, and in some cases, has even proven itself a vinyl-worthy purchase.

Love and Peace to you All in The Year We Make Contact.


Hymn to the Immortal Wind
(Temporary Residence Ltd.)
Like a sixty-seven minute aural bout of tantric sex, the songs on Mono's latest post-rock masterpiece Hymn constantly build and build and build, 'til you're climbing the walls - the only payoff here being that there’s no sloppy mess in the end. The usual sweeping, lush arrangements by the Japanese four-piece -as complemented by a full orchestra- give this album a richness rivalling Morricone soundtracks. That is, if Morricone played a Fender JazzMaster and was fond of staring ruefully into his shoes. Sadly, I missed them at the Biltmore in October, but seeing as they played without the full orchestra, so much would have been missing.


Crooked Timber
Ah... finally. As soon as I hear about a new Therapy? record, I start to salivate. I think it goes without saying that T? are likely one of my favorite bands of all time. And that I think they quite honestly get better and better with every record. They've certainly done that here, with tenth(!) record Crooked Timber. Far maturer than the last one, where they tended to stick to the tried-and-true verse-chorus-chorus-chorus formula, Crooked Timber is quite a bit darker, and a lot heavier. Oh sure, you'll never fully excise Andy Cairns' power-pop sensibilities and that's why I love his band so much, but things are decidedly less light-hearted this go-round. It's a shame that they never got their proper North American due, because with records like this one, they deserve far better. It would be unfair for me to choose favorite tracks here, because with every Therapy? record, I prefer to digest them whole. Now, if only they'd drop their unwritten ban on touring North America.


Strange Cousins from the West
The only record on this list that stands guilty on all charges of making me shake my ass. Yes, Germantown, Maryland’s finest kick the door down with a ninth album SO GOOD that I almost money-back-gay-ron-TEE it'll make you wanna get up and get yo' booty a-shakin' too. And as usual, their groove packs a meaty wallop; it’s simply great music to drink a PBR –or twelve- to. I'd advise you make sure and skip the first track (a half-hearted cover of the Negro spiritual “Motherless Child”, which has been done better countless times by countless others) in order to get to the good shit. Starting with track two (the boogie-thunderous “Struck Down”), the rest of the record is rock solid, as to be expected.


Mean Everything to Nothing
(Favorite Gentlemen)
Wow, this one caught me totally unawares. On a list otherwise dominated (hell, outright populated) by standard-issue BLEEEURGH-und-drang, I was absolutely gobsmacked by the tender strains of this record from these Atlantan indie-rock-punk(?)-poppers. Oh sure- the record’s more than a little emoverwrought* at times, maybe even almost bordering on maudlin, but I think their heart’s in the right place. “Shake It Out” is as good a place to start as any, or the wonderful, heartbreaking “I Can Feel a Hot One”, but truthfully, there’s not a clinker on the disc. The final track (“The River”) is about as sighingly sob-wonderful as you’ll find. Roll out the Kleenex for this one.
*Sorry, couldn't resist.


Carving out the Eyes of God
(Metal Blade)
One of the first phrases you’ll hear Ben Falgoust glurt out during the course of this disc, and it pretty much sums up the whole ‘black’n’roll’ aesthetic of Goatwhore. And honey, that’s NOT a question, so don’t bother answering. There’s no letup throughout, just punishing riff after punishing riff laying waste to your ears. There’s no dynamic to be had here; the band isn’t exactly about balance (sorry, what’d you expect from a band named Goatwhore, anyway?). They just want to bludgeon you into submission with their guitars and remind you what METAL actually is. Over the top, but that’s the point. Quickly becoming recognized as the pioneers of this new subgenre they're figureheading, Goatwhore improve leaps and bounds with every record. Sammy Duet's guitars on this record are finally absolutely crushing.

5. (TIE)

Death Magic Doom
(Nuclear Blast)
I’m realizing as I get older, that doom metal is not such a bad thing after all. That said though, I’m not planning on incorporating headbands into my daily wardrobe any time soon (it's okay in the jam room though), and I still think *stoners* are, as a general rule, annoying as all fuck. But these two rekkids really pinched me by the griddles, so to speak. In my youth, I never took Candlemass seriously. Hell, I barely knew they existed - I only knew ‘em from the hilarious "Bewitched" video when it used to play on the Power Hour: We used to giggle at Messiah Marcolin, the band’s former vocalist, a beefy fellow with an untamed jewfro who scampered around in a friar’s tunic. Laugh’s on me though – Marcolin’s been out of the band for years, and the band’s unabashed Sab-worship has never rung truer than on this year’s disc. End to end, it’s a solid slab of sludge. Just try and get past the lyrics about bleeding baronesses (still a great song though).

Hymns of Blood and Thunder
(Rise Above)
As for The Gates of Slumber, I came across ‘em almost by fluke, when I was hunting metal Blade’s website for discs to review. I saw the Frazetta-like on the cover and figured the album might be worth a smirk or two. But again, smirk’s on me (don’t judge a book by its cover), because tGoS are ultimately to Saint Vitus what Vitus were to Sabbath - unabashed, unironic worship of the Riff. “Beneath the Eyes of Mars” is about as good as it gets – heavy, droney, guitars and vocals that absolutely drip resin out the speakers. If the riffs on this song were an animal, they’d be a methed-out manatee.


Blue Album
It took a few listens, but this one’s grown on me in a big, big way. It’s accessible in a way that a lot of modern metal isn’t, and that’s not a bad thing. Even when it’s kicking your ass with tracks like “Jake Leg” or “Horse Called Golgotha”, the album still manages to be melodic enough for you to catch yourself humming along randomly. I've been using the acoustics in "O'er Hell and Hide" as an alarm clock for months. Baroness seems to be one of those bands that evolves leaps and bounds with every recording. I can't wait to see what they do next. This one also definitely gets album cover of the year - vocalist John Baizley's artwork (also emblazoned on the cover of my #1 album this year) is so ornate that I have to own this on vinyl just get a better feel for his art.


It's rare that I'll champion a black metal album on a Top Ten list. For the most part, black metal wears pretty thin with me after a while. For one, the production usually drives me mental - tinny guitars and trashcan drums that rarely reverberate properly. But this slab, from Texas' own Absu (America's best black metal band?) has metamorphosed my opinion of black metal. The production on this record is quite good, you can actually hear the drums and guitars properly. It's well-rounded too, and not entirely trying to be a wasp humming in your ear - another oddity in black metal. There are some subtle, pretty acoustic passages hidden inside of the otherwise-relentless precision blastbeat aggression. This is the first and only Absu record I've heard so I can't compare it to their previous records, but I do know, that to my ears, it sounds plenty evolved for blackmetal.


The Age of Nero*
Poor Satyricon. The band catches a lot of shit from their original tr00-kvlt fans, because they've altered their sound from a relentless, full-bore blastbeat attack to better reflect their appreciation for classic groove-oriented metal. The drums and guitars are no less punishing, but the music IS a lot more accessible, and in my eyes, this makes it far more memorable. The songs on The Age Of Nero are almost instantly recognizable, from the juggernaut of "The Wolfpack", or the bludgeon of "Commando", to the instant sing-along classic "Black Crow on a Tombstone". I saw Satyricon in November, and their live show seems to have evolved as well - dare I say they have become much more professional as they progess into a slightly-more-accessible paradigm. it's okay for black metal to mature, you know, burning churches gets kinda passé after a while. Instead, Satyricon seems to be embracing their inner Motörhead and I imagine it's going to take them a lot further. Absolutely brilliant record.
*Yes, I KNOW the album was released in Europe in 2008, but it didn't make it to our fair shores until early 2009, thus it still qualifies for my 2009 list, so nyah-nyah-na-nyah-nyaaaah!


Static Tensions
Savannah, GA's, Kylesa have crafted one hell of an album in Static Tensions. Markedly evolved from 2006's Time Will Fuse Its Worth, Static Tensions sees the band further evolving their two-drummer sound. A lot of the time, two drummers will just make a mess, showboating all over the rest of the band (as we're known to do) - but not here. The album is instantly memorable and as soon as you hear the initial drum break in "Scapegoat", you will understand why i nearly wet my pants the first time I heard this disc. Like some sort of tribal Imperial Death march, it's vicious enough to knock you to the ground but too sophisticated to be dismissed as just 'noise'. The rest of the disc is just as rewarding, and I'm being honest when I say this Kylesa record is the best thing I've heard in a long time. Every few years, a band comes along that absolutely knocks me off my feet, and Kylesa now joins the ranks of those bands.

Honourable Mentions:
BRUTAL TRUTH | Evolution Through Revolution
KREATOR | Hordes of Chaos
PULLING TEETH | Paranoid Delusions/Paradise Illusions
-(16)- | Bridges to Burn
BLACK COBRA | Chronomega
SHRINEBUILDER | Shrinebuilder
BATTLE OF MICE | A Day of Nights
TOMBS | Winter Hours
BIG BUSINESS | Mind the Drift
ALICE IN CHAINS | Black Gives Way to Blue
KICKBACK | No Surrender
KOWLOON WALLED CITY | Gambling On The Richter Scale

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