I listened to Morbid Blood more than any other record this year: Raw, ripping, unrepentantly-unoriginal, pitch-black metal from this Greek outfit, à la Bathory, Nifelheim, Watain, etc, the good shit. I put this record on when I was feeling good, and I felt better; I put it on when I was bummed, it cheered me up and put a malefic grin on my face; I put it on when I was pissed off, and it gave vicious justification to my righteous wrath. Morbid Blood never let me down, and I never got bored of it.
Just one of the myriad things I love about this record is that it would have made the perfect soundtrack to one of the last good horror movies I saw, 2009’s awesome indie The House of the Devil – or any number of early-‘70s, Satan-schlock grindhouse flicks, for that matter. Another is its raspy production, the just-barely-redlined levels and slight clip of the vocals make me think I’ve stumbled across some bizarre occult-rock pirate station on the AM dial during a late-night backwoods drive. Mostly, though, it’s the undeniable hook of songs like ’13 Candles’ and ‘I’ll Cut You Down’ - like, caught-under-the-fingernails kind of hook, maddening in its catchiness and impossible to drive out of my bedevilled brain.
Grandiose, intricate, filled with heartbreak and uplift at the same time - 17th Street stands as the perfect musical time-capsule for the early Tens. Lyrically, the album summons the trepidation and frustration of life during recession, but offers up a glimmer of hope, too. Musically, it’s rich with the gigantic riffs the Hammers have made their stock-in-trade, and the sing-along hooks on songs like the title track, “The Grain” and “The Day the City Died” are the most compelling of HoM’s oeuvre thus far. The strongest work yet from a band that never fails to amaze.
Even as it’s drowning in gauzy, self-indulgent gloom, The Inside Room envelops the listener with a warm blanket of hope; a sliver of silver-lining sunshine poking through on a miserable day. It’s impossible to come away from the album without a bright-and-shiny-eyed view after wallowing in its sublime saturninity. Patrick Walker has crafted an album of supreme beauty, lachrymose cheer masquerading as caterwauling dejection. Song after heart-wrenching song, The Inside Room provides a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel–or a light-switch to turn it off, if you’d prefer to wallow just a little longer.
In a year where the terms retro and proto seemed to rear their heads quite a bit, one band brought a dirty boogie with their cup of retro like nobody’s business—Sweden’s Graveyard, on their stellar sophomore effort, Hisingen Blues. Laying down a workmanlike, ass-shakin’ groove across the disc front-to-back, Graveyard recalled the best parts of the ’70s hard-rock oeuvre it set out to glorify. I constantly find myself wanting to –unfairly- compare Graveyard to Led Zeppelin, but only the good parts of Zeppelin. There’s nothing terribly overindulgent or wankerous on Hisingen Blues, and tracks like “Ain’t Fit to Live Here”, “Uncomfortably Numb”, and the title track all exemplify the very best of blue-eyed, devil-take-my-soul blues that I’ve heard in a long, long time.
Satanic Royalty is nothing short of wonderful. It’s ugly, grimy, black-denim-leather-and-chains, satanic-biker-gang metal; the sound of Venom and Motörhead getting into a blood-drenched, bare-knuckled boot-fucking. It’s chock-a-block with song titles cadged from the poetry-notebooks of Manowar and Tank, and riffs that fell out of Fast Eddie Clarke’s ass. Hands-down the meanest record I heard this year, and one I absolutely cannot listen to unless it is tinnitus-irritatingly loud. If I had a gang/army like The Humungus in The Road Warrior, I would blast this record from my dune-truck-mounted PA to advance-frighten all civilians that we were enroute to pillage and burn.
Hypnotic and entrancing, stunning and crushing at the same time. Glistening, syrup-drenched strings and ethereal, lilting vocals juxtaposed with anvil-heavy riffs and ravenous, guttural vocals cast down from the sky like lethal haildrops. As completely mesmerising as it is implosively, oppressively heavy, I liken No Help to the sound of being sucked down, exquisitely slowly, into a whirling mire of warm, velveteen quicksand: It may eventually wring the life from your lungs, but it will feel so good all the way down, you won’t really mind.
8. PRIMORDIAL – Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand (Metal Blade)
Dripping with righteous anger and prideful wrath, the likes of which only Primordial can muster, Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand fires up my blood something fierce. It is the sound of man facing down his maker in flagrant, defiant mockery of that maker’s judgment, unrepentantly recalcitrant even as he is hurled into eternal damnation; and, looking heavenward from that pit of punishment, vows retribution if it takes unto the end of time. Once again, Primordial has crafted a near-perfect album of vindication-music.
When I reviewed it in May, I called Furnace the heaviest album I had listened to up to that point in 2011. Here we are at the end of the year, and no other album has toppled it from that position. What else could I possibly say?
10. CAULDRON – Burning Fortune (Earache)
Burning Fortune is more flawless, straight-up Banzai-Records-worship from the other other (other?) Canuck power trio. This time out, the Cauldron boys have laden their record with unabashedly Dokkenesque hooks at every turn, and every solid track on the record had me shaking my head nostalgically, swearing I’d heard these exact songs before, in the ‘80s – but no, it just sounds that way. Oddly, also the only Canadian band to make my Top Eleven.
From its opener, ‘Earth Ripper’, Abzu had me hooked. Face-ripping, technical blackthrash that tempers its vicious rawness with a white-knuckle precision. Absolutely relentless, Absu once again cement their place as sires atop the USBM throne. Can’t wait for the third record in the trilogy.
THE REST: HONORABLE MENTIONS (#12-20)
12. ORANSSI PAZUZU – Kosmonument (Spinefarm)
13. PTAHIL - For His Satanic Majesty's Glory (Wraith)
14. MORBUS CHRON – Sleepers in the Rift (Pulverised)
15. DRAGGED INTO SUNLIGHT – Hatred For Mankind (Prosthetic) [reissue]
16. AOSOTH – III (Agonia)
17. LEVIATHAN – True Traitor, True Whore (Profound Lore)
18. THRALL – Vermin to the Earth (Moribund)
19. CORUBO – Wuy Jugu (DTM Productions)
20. AMEBIX – Sonic Mass (Amebix Records)
HINDSIGHT IS ALWAYS .20 GAUGE: Albums I Should Have Had On My 2010 Best-Of List
In hindsight, I always agonize over posting my best-of list for at least the first couple months of every new year. There are always so many records I missed out on during the year previous, or in some cases, I just plain made the wrong choice. 2010 was no different, and there were some egregious errors on the list. If I could go back and rewrite it, here were two albums that most definitely would/should have made the grade:
BLOOD CULT – We Are the Cult of the Plains (Moribund) There is no excuse here. I clearly was just wrong. I found myself going back to this record over and over again, well into the early part of 2011 – and goddamn it, it clearly belonged on my best of 2010 list over a lot of other records. Innovative, greasy, twangy and all-over-the-map, this has become one of my favorite black metal records period. A grievous oversight.
BLACK SUN – Twilight of the Gods (Future Noise)
I didn’t discover this record until a couple of months ago, hence its exclusion. But ever since, I’ve been listening to it non-stop. Peerless, apeshit noise-rock with a mean-spiritedness to keep you on edge. The guest snarls from Oxbow’s Eugene Robinson really knocked me on my ass.
MOST OVERRATED RECORD OF THE YEAR
I’m sure there were a ton of overrated albums put out by ‘Best-Buy-metal’ bands (you know the kinds of bands I’m talkin’ about), to great pooch-smooching acclaim from many an overzealous blog , but I probably didn’t listen to them.
DISAPPOINTMENT/PLEASANT SURPRISE ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
DISAPPOINTMENT: Even after repeated listens, I failed to muster up any excitement over any of these:
ANTHRAX – Worship Music (Megaforce) A few ear-pricking moments, but ultimately fell flat. The hidden-track cover of Refused’s ‘New Noise’ was appalling.
CHROME DIVISION – 3rd Round Knockout (Nuclear Blast) I loved the first two CD records, they sounded like a black-metal band’s take on Motörheaded hard rock’n’roll. Accessible but still with a bite to it. The new one just seems to have the blackmetal snarl polished out of it.
DOCTOR MIDNIGHT AND THE MERCY CULT – I Declare: Treason (Season of Mist) So this is the ‘supergroup’ Hank von Helvete bailed on Turbonegro for? Surprisingly tepid for a band with this pedigree, feels like nobody learned any lessons from their previous bands, because this is pretty forgettable.
MEGADETH – TH1RT3EN (Roadrunner) Nobody’s surprised more than me here, and, no, they’ll never recapture the vibe they had on the classics (nobody honestly expects that, do they?), but I can’t remember the last time I listened to a new Megadeth record all the way through. Maybe Youthanasia? Anything since that, usually I’d get bored a song or two in and shut it off. But maybe there’s something magic about the return of Junior Ellefson because I found 3rten3 (whatever) to be a compelling, hooky listen.
LABEL OF THE YEAR
Tie: Hell’s Headbangers and Moribund
READ OF THE YEAR
I’ll go with Ace Frehley’s No Regrets, but only because I haven’t read any of this year’s Bazillion Points releases yet.
NON-METAL ARTISTS WHOSE RECORDS I BOTHERED LISTENING TO AND ENJOYED
Usually via my wife, who has impeccable taste in non-metal music, the following artists made an impact on me this year (i.e., the songs didn’t immediately go in one ear and out the other. O, I am just a simple metalhead).
ZOLA JESUS – Conatus (Sacred Bones)
THE-DREAM – Est. 1977 (mixtape)
DAN MANGAN – Oh Fortune (Arts & Crafts)
WE WERE PROMISED JETPACKS – In The Pit of the Stomach (Fat Cat)
M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Naïve)
WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM, January 6, Rickshaw Theater
MOTÖRHEAD/CLUTCH, February 7, Vogue Theater
CAULDRON/HOLY GRAIL, April 19, Media Club
MIKE WATT/FORD PIER TRIO, April 26, Media Club
WOODS OF YPRES, May 21, Rickshaw
SEPULTURA, May 31, Vogue
LAKE OF BLOOD, June 11, Garbage Mountain
KISS, June 27, Abbotsford Gorgodome
RIFFS NOT RIOTS, July 13, Fortune Sound Club
VREID/KAMPFAR/NECRONOMICON, September 5, Rickshaw
ZOLA JESUS, October 7, Biltmore
NAPALM DEATH, October 27, Rickshaw
GWAR, November 7, Commodore
HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE/CHRISTIAN MISTRESS/MENDOZZA, December 8, Biltmore