Best of 2009
As we here at Metal-Rules.com bid farewell to the last year of the Noughties and get ready to welcome 2010, I take a look back at 365 days of amazing metal from new and old bands; turgid shite from stalwarts and upstarts alike, and stunning stuff from the newly-birthed, the rejuvenated and the reincarnated. I look back on wonderful shows that I saw in the first half of the year when I was in London, and the incredible festival experiences in the summer in France, Slovenia and Austria. We remember the departed troops of metal and pay our respects, but celebrate the bands we’ve just discovered, and the friends, drinking buddies and travelling companions we made at gigs, festivals, online, at the metal store or the pub, through other mutual friends, etc. And always we look forward to the new year as bands retread old but hallowed ground, or push the boundaries of what the genre can and cannot accept. And as I look over and ponder all this, through hours of listening and re-listening to the releases of the year – iTunes tells me I’ve listened to 79 albums in 2009 – agonising and fretting and re-considering, foraging, slashing, paring, re-instating, one thought keeps running through my mind, thank fuck I’m a metalhead!
Click on the titles to read our (my?) review of the album…
1. Vader ~ NECROPOLIS
Undoubtedly THE death metal release of the year, and this is up against some stiff competition from heavyweight releases from Nile, Behemoth, Obituary, Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse, Pestilence, Dying Fetus; not to mention the slew of tech-death bands like Obscura, Ulcerate, The Faceless, Despised Icon and plenty others. But the sheer quality and consistency of the songwriting, the ferocity of the playing and the vehemence of riffs, vocals, drumming and everything else makes this my top record of 2009. One of the few highly-anticipated records in recent years that not only did not disappoint, but actually exceeded my expectations in almost every way.
2. Anaal Nathrakh ~ IN THE CONSTELLATION OF THE BLACK WIDOW
I called this a “sonic tour de force” in my review of this album in October, and let me tell you that IN THE CONSTELLATION OF THE BLACK WIDOW ran Vader close for top album of 2009 – only my unabashed Vader fanboyism gave the Poles top spot. Pure twisted grind/black metal madness that never lets up for an instant – and the gruesome snarls, gurgles, roars, shrieks competing with beautiful yet occasional clean vocals that both emanate from Dave Hunt’s throat is the highlight of an outstanding 35 minutes of blasting fury. One of England’s finest and most criminally underrated metal exports.
3. Blut Aus Nord ~ MEMORIA VETUSTA II: DIALOGUE WITH THE STARS
The lack of bottom end on this record only serves to highlight the sparseness of sonic material that Blut Aus Nord rely on to create one of the richest and most rewarding albums I’ve ever had the pleasure to listen to. The swirling and cavernous nihilistic black metal riffs intersperse with wonderful passages of lead melodic guitar lines to excite conflicting emotions in the hardest and blackest of hearts – truly a dialogue with the stars indeed. An undeniable triumph of French black metal, MEMORIA VETUSTA II is an album that sounds just as fresh on the 50th listen as it did on the first listen.
4. Asphyx ~ DEATH…THE BRUTAL WAY
Suffocating, crushing death metal the old school way. The Dutchmen may have Martin van Drunen as the marquee frontman, but it’s always been the team of Bagchus and Daniels that drove Asphyx forward, backward, up, down and every which way. Daniels may have left already, but their 2009 incarnation is unmistakeably death metal, the brutal way, and what other way is there? Dismember-buzz with Entombed-bottom end takes us all back to Stockholm, 1991, and if Asphyx were to disband (again) tomorrow, they will have left us with one of the most enduring and essential death metal albums ever.
5. Diablo Swing Orchestra ~ SING-ALONG SONGS FOR THE DAMNED AND DELIRIOUS
One of the most imaginative albums I’ve heard in a very long while, proving that the Swedish race CAN go beyond cheesy power metal or Gothenburg or Stockholm death. The album tends to lag a little in the latter half, but as I said in my review in November, “if anyone can name me a band that sends extreme voltage through 1940s Big Band jazz and infectiously corrupts 1930s swing music, that electrifies Russian folk dance music and marries it with groovecore Meshuggah guitar lines, that brings funk bass, flamenco, mariachi, oompah, Broadway, doo-wop choir, carny music, slinky Latin rhythms, light opera and Bossa Nova into a harmonious whole, all the while keeping it unmistakably METAL, well, send me an email because I do want to hear about it.” Darkly fantastical music that’s head-bobbing and spine-chilling at the same time.
6. Hypocrisy ~ A TASTE OF EXTREME DIVINITY
The mighty Peter Tagtgren makes a much awaited return with Hypocrisy, sadly neglected for the past four years in favour of his other band Pain. A TASTE OF EXTREME DIVINITY gives us long-suffering Hypocrisy fans a taste of extreme melody bound up in his unique vision of melodic death metal a la Hypocrisy v. 2.0. A great continuation to VIRUS and hopefully a sign of great things to come from the Swedish maestro.
7. Voyager ~ I AM THE REVOLUTION
The Aussies are a bit of a cult favourite of mine, as I got into their music sometime last year after listening to ‘To The Morning Light’ from their ELEMENT V album over and over again. Maybe their isolation in Western Australia – as my Perth crew never fails to remind me that Perth is the most isolated capital city in the world – gives them their own voice; they are certainly unique in sound, and I AM THE REVOLUTION continues the fine and innovative work they started on ELEMENT V (2003) and UNIVERS (2007).
8. Amorphis ~ SKYFORGER
The constant renewal of the long-running Finnish band should be a source of wonder and inspiration to any musician. Amorphis started their career with the legendary THE KARELIAN ISTHMUS and TALES OF A THOUSAND LAKES in the early 90s, proving that metal can be intellectual yet primal at the same time. SKYFORGER is far removed from their early days of doom-death, but the same epic quality, the same ambition, and the same dedication to strong song-writing shines through unabated and untempered by time.
9. Pestilence ~ RESURRECTION MACABRE
In fact, “resurrection macabre” could be the slogan for 2009, with so many ‘comeback bands’ – Asphyx, Heaven and Hell, Sacrifice, Absu, Stratovarius, to name a few – and Pestilence make the return from the wilderness to the delight of the fans who fellate CONSUMING IMPULSE and TESTIMONY OF THE ANCIENTS. Together with the frankly unbelievable Tony Choy on four strings and Peter Wildoer (Darkane) behind the kit, Patrick Mameli growls and shreds his way back into death metal’s collective consciousness.
10. Cannibal Corpse ~ EVISCERATION PLAGUE
The Corpse are one of the hardest working and most conscientious bands playing today, and are still highly respected for their unchanging stance on brutal death metal. The New Yorkers don’t seek to reinvent the wheel – they just want to gang fuck its maggoty cunt with rusty nails and push hot acidic death metal sperm into its charred smoking intestines. Yes, EVISCERATION PLAGUE is pure classic Cannibal Corpse.
11. Heaven and Hell ~ THE DEVIL YOU KNOW
I freely admit that THE DEVIL YOU KNOW is on this list based on nostalgia and obviously coloured by the recent tragic news concerning Ronnie James Dio, who I saw tearing up the stage only this June at Hellfest. But even if Dio’s body is susceptible to earthly ills and ailments, His voice is immortal, heavenly. To say Tony Iommi is the master of the monster riff is a woeful example of the inadequacy of mere language. Leaving aside nostalgia and sentimentality, with THE DEVIL YOU KNOW, Heaven and Hell answer many questions surrounding their very existence with a big resounding ‘Fuck Off’.
12. Absu ~ ABSU
Absu is another one of 2009’s successful comeback stories. Their mainman Proscriptor smashed his arm in an accident a couple of years back, so he gave up the guitar (smart move, right?) to take his place on the drum stool in a real “lol wtf?” moment. But the drumming on their self-titled return album is top notch, as is the guitar playing, whoever their guitarists are at the moment – catchiness and rhythmic sensibility is the order of the day. With such a hiatus behind them, any signs of rustiness you might expect is absent, and Absu are ready to take their place atop the USBM pile.
13. Imperial Vengeance ~ AT THE GOING DOWN OF THE SUN
The debut album of this English band, the eccentric duo comprised of Mr Charles Edward-Alexander and Mr David Bryan have come up with an updated take on the symphonic black metal genre – a gloomy, gothic, yet fiery offering that is sure to take the band places in the future.
14. Paradise Lost ~ FAITH DIVIDES US, DEATH UNITES US
Unlike fellow countrymen My Dying Bride’s turgid FOR LIES I SIRE this year, Yorkshire’s Paradise Lost deliver a focused yet expansive offering that showcases Nick Holmes fine and emotional voice and Greg Mackintosh’s pounding 7-string dirges. This is true gothic music, “music to be murdered by”.
15. Blood Tsunami ~ GRAND FEAST FOR VULTURES
Thrash done Scandinavian style, Pete Evil and ex-Emperor drummer Faust show us that thrash metal is not the exclusive preserve of the Bay Area, the Canadians, the New Yorkers, the Germans or the Brazilians. Flurrying guitar riffs from Pete Evil and Dor Amazon, shrieky vocals a la Angelripper, solid drumming from Faust – what’s not to like?
16. Goatwhore ~ CARVING OUT THE EYES OF GOD
Black/thrash metal with a strong Motorhead engine to it, the blasphemy that has arisen from the swamps of “N’orleans”, Louisiana, is not too abashed to mix up various influences that culminates in CARVING OUT THE EYES OF GOD, Goatwhore’s strongest effort to date.
17. Katatonia ~ NIGHT IS THE NEW DAY
The inimitable voice of Jonas Renkse carries you gently through a meandering trip on a wispy cloud…okay that sounded really very gay, but there is an indefinable quality to his voice that, when partnered with the overall output of the rest of Katatonia, creates a magically melancholy effect.
18. Gorod ~ PROCESS OF A NEW DECLINE
One of the picks of the technical death metal bunch of 2009, and the pride and joy of Willowtip Records, Frenchmen Gorod often have to fight off comparisons with their countrymen Gojira – but PROCESS OF A NEW DECLINE is a funky, loose-limbed, bewilderingly rhythm-heavy slice of technical death metal, and they show that they can stop-start with the best of the best of the genre.
19. Immortal ~ ALL SHALL FALL
Frankly I didn’t expect such a solid album from Abbath and co., so often the butt of many black metal related jokes. Great production, riffs bursting with energy and vitality, and it’s also clear that Abbath has regained a zest and relish for his music.
20. Napalm Death ~ TIME WAITS FOR NO SLAVE
The grindfathers show that they still have it – a fury that is unmarred by the passing of years. And speed to spare as well!
So there you have it: five British bands, three American, three Swedish, two Norwegian, two French, two Dutch, one Finnish, one Australian band, and the lone Pole taking the top spot of 2009.
Imperial Vengeance ~ AT THE GOING DOWN OF THE SUN
Even though Charles Edward-Alexander is a relative veteran of the scene (ex-Cradle of Filth), Imperial Vengeance is a stunning example of a band hitting the ground running. Big things will come to them, I predict.
Xerath ~ I
Xerath’s style of Meshuggah-type riffs mixed with symphonic movie-soundtrack elements is an interesting premise, and although their debut album lacked a little maturity in songwriting and execution, there is no reason whatsoever why they should not go on to produce some stellar work in the future.
Fleshgod Apocalypse ~ ORACLES
This Italian death metal band is yet another Willowtip Records prodigy, and counts among its members relative veterans like Cristiano Trionfera from Eyeconoclast and especially Francesco Paolo of the mighty Hour of Penance. While many parallels may be drawn to Hour of Penance, Fleshgod Apocalypse seeks to give a bit more than pure brutality, incorporating classical samples and interludes seamlessly into the blasting fury. Highly recommended death metal.
Best Discovery of 2009
This Greek band is my discovery of 2009, and I could kick myself for not finding out about their awesomeness earlier. The perfect mix of the cerebral and visceral, the finest balance of majesty and brutality. The orchestral elements never overshadow the pure death metal riffs; the guitar is always kept in focus, but is backed up flawlessly with classical elements. Utterly fantastic death metal.
Behemoth ~ EVANGELION
Not a bad album, but not as good as it’s made out to be. A lot of the tracks on EVANGELION sound like the B-sides to THE APOSTASY, and that simply isn’t good enough for a band of Behemoth’s stature. I’m confident that they’ll come roaring back in a couple of years.
Nile ~ THOSE WHOM THE GODS DETEST
When Karl Sanders did his own solo project and released SAURIAN EXORCISMS, it was hoped that he would have exorcised many of his tendencies towards long, drawn-out, ‘atmospheric’ interludes. Unfortunately, the interludes remained, while the riff-writing is not good or inventive enough to hold the interest. Not bad, but not great either.
Swallow the Sun ~ NEW MOON
Not a big fan of their new black metal direction, and the more I listen to NEW MOON, the more it saddens me to say that they don’t look like recapturing the unique atmosphere they had on THE MORNING NEVER CAME. The melancholy is gone. Boo hoo.
Slayer – WORLD PAINTED BLOOD
Where to start with this utter letdown? Poor sound, terrible riffs, rehashed ideas etc etc. Not ST ANGER levels of shiteness, but certainly not Slayer standard. Please, Jeff, Tom, please, PLEASE don’t let Kerry write any more songs.
Megadeth – ENDGAME
Not a disappointment per se, more of a ‘meh’. Some good songs, some average songs, a couple of plodders, some great guitar-playing, some terrible singing. Par for the course for a Megadeth album, even during their glory years in the mid-80s. On the plus side, Chris Broderick is a fine guitarist, and hopefully he’ll do more writing on future ’Deth albums. If he stays long enough.
Greatest Putrefaction of 2009:
- The deaths of Mike Alexander of Evile and Miika Tenkula (ex-Sentenced) – RIP forever guys and thanks for the memories. Shannon Hamm (ex-Death, Control Denied) and Athera (Susperia) suffering heart attacks, Ronnie James Dio diagnosed with stomach cancer.
- The dissolution of Metal Church.
- Watching Manowar at Hellfest this year. Forty minutes of songs, an hour and a half of posturing, talking shite and “hailing true fucking metal”.
- No new Morbid Angel or Wintersun.
- Finally leaving London and all the wicked shows and people there.
Hopes for 2010
Obviously that Ronnie James Dio, Shannon Hamm and Athera recover from their various ailments.
We were promised a new Morbid Angel album for 2009, obviously that never materialised, so here’s hoping that 2010 brings us good news on that front. I think most sane people have given up hope on a new Wintersun album.
New Atheist and Sigh albums.
That I’ll have time to pop down to Perth for the Origin/Decapitated tour of Australia in April.