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02.02.09 10 Albums I Can't Live Without01.02.09 Top 10 Songs Of The Year
01.02.09 Top 30 Albums Of The Year08.24.08 10 Favorite Instrumental Albums
01.03.08 10 Favorite Songs Of 200701.02.08 30 Best Albums Of 2007
07.22.07 Gods of Grind: The 10 Best Grind Albums07.22.07 20 Best Death Metal Guitarists
03.03.07 Best Recent Death Metal Albums03.03.07 Best Recent Debut Albums
02.27.07 10 Favorite Black Metal Albums12.20.06 Disappointing Albums Of 2006
12.20.06 Top Ten Albums Of The Year10.19.06 My "Desert Island" Albums
10.12.06 10 Favorite Guitarists10.12.06 10 Best Bassists
10.11.06 10 Best Drummers in Any Genre10.11.06 10 Best Produced Albums of Any Genre
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Top 30 Albums Of The Year

2008 has finally come to a close, and thus I submit my albums of the year.

A breakthrough album for the Florida/Georgia quartet (though, if the rumors of guitarist Juan Montoya departure are true, they may be down to a trio), Meanderthal is by far the catchiest album of the year. Melding everything from The Melvins and Queens of the Stone Age to Foo Fighters, these guys know how to write some serious hooks. This is either the poppiest metal album ever, or the heaviest pop album to bludgeon ears while sticking to ribs. Either way, it kills, and if you like rock of any sort and haven?t heard this disc yet, you may as well have not listened to anything this year. ?Across the Shields? is the best single that still hasn?t received radio play.
2Bon Iver
For Emma, Forever Ago

Recorded in the woods of Wisconsin while founder Justin Vernon was on self-sabbatical for three months, the debut album of the now almost fully fledged indie folk band is heartbreaking in its sincerity, nostalgia and emotion. This is the sound of a man alone with only his thoughts and a well-loved guitar. I didn?t find this album, it found me, and I?m forever grateful to it for helping me through a particularly tough time this past year.
Amber Gray

Absolutely relentless grindcore from underground legend and ?ber nerd John Chang. 11 songs in under a dozen minutes. You can?t ask for much more than that, and if you could, Gridlink likely fills your order. String scorching guitar work? Check. Inhumanly fast drumming with the most accurate, organic blasting since Pete ?Commando? Sandoval destroyed his kit on Terrorizer?s World Downfall? Check. Screeching pterodactyl vocals that will make your dog run into walls? Check. Modern grind has never sounded this flawlessly executed yet completely raw.
Hornets of the Pogrom

Let?s get the requisite precaution out of the way: Yes, these dudes are close-minded, racist, white supremacist assholes. No, I do not condone anything they believe in (except they admitted that Obama was the best choice for President in a July interview, oddly enough). OK, now that that?s out of the way, this album fucking rules. On their first two full lengths, Arghoslent seemed incapable of writing a bad riff, and Hornets of the Pogrom continues this streak. If death metal is your thing at all, this is the highest recommendation I can give this year. And if you can?t handle the lyrics, don?t read them. You can?t understand what the dude is growling without a lyric sheet anyway.

Mick Barr and Colin Marston are a duo made in virtuoso heaven. The Warr guiarist/bassist/now guitarist and ridiculously skilled six stringer, respectively, seemed to be orbiting each other for years without ever colliding, until now. Joined by bassist Nick McMaster and drummer Lev Weinstein from Astomatous, Barr and Marston formed Krallice as a one off black metal project out of simple curiosity. A year later comes this debut album, a masterpiece of technical, atmospheric and frighteningly accurate musicianship. It?s almost unfair that a couple of guys can get together, jam just for shits and giggles and somehow release the strongest American black metal album of the past few years.
Traced in Air

Cynic?s debut album, Focus, was and still is a hallmark in progressive metal. On their only full length (until now), the Florida legends fused jazz, death metal and spacey prog to form a truly unique, unparalleled experience. 15 years is a lot of time to build up hype, especially for a band tasked with topping a masterpiece like Focus. Somehow, they both succeeded in this charge and transcended their previous work. Traced in Air is far more elegant and jazz inflected than the band?s death/thrash past would imply, and it?s probably better for it. While the record may be short, it contains some of the most complex music of the year, which, oddly enough, doesn?t make it nearly as impenetrable as you?d think.
7Lykke Li
Youth Novels

How the hell did a pop album make it this high on the list? Probably because this expertly produced debut from the Swedish songstress is also the most intelligent and atypical entry to the pop canon in way too long. Each song is different, yet each could easily sit sandwiched between Sara Bareilles and Feist on that quirky playlist your college station loves to run through so frequently. You won?t be able to get the sing along chorus of ?Dance, Dance, Dance? out of your head for weeks.
8Death Cab For Cutie
Narrow Stairs

Sure, Death Cab are now about as indie as The Beatles, but they?re also some of the best songwriters to put pen to paper since the four mop topped kids from Liverpool invaded America over 40 years ago. Many of the tracks are the strongest the band has ever written, and while Narrow Stairs is decidedly darker than their previous efforts, it is Death Cab?s most mature release to date. Expertly crafted and still as accessible as we?ve come to expect from Ben Gibbard and crew, this is an essential album for fans and newbies alike.

The fact that Opeth mastermind Mikael ?kerfeldt can still make an album as adventurous as the band?s past works ? especially after losing two of the most beloved members to grace this Swedish progressive metal quintet ? is simply impressive. That it?s Mike and Co.?s ninth release overall is equally impressive, even more so seeing as Watershed finds the guys reaching to their darker, grimmer past while still progressing (they call it ?progressive? for a reason) their sound and pushing the limits of what can be considered metal. ?Burden? is the strongest example of this, as Mike croons over a balladic performance from his band, major key melodies, arena rock organ solo and all. While it?s not as groundbreaking as past masterpieces like Morningrise and Still Life, Watershed takes chances that many acts nine albums into their careers would be hesitant to approach.
10Minus the Bear

It?s no secret that my love for this Seattle indie five piece rivals that reserved for my closest friends and family, so when I heard they were making an EP comprised of one new song and acoustic covers of tracks spanning their entire discography, I was both elated and a bit pensive. For such an electrically inclined band to make an exclusively acoustic album not only seemed unnecessary, but potentially deadly to their as yet unmarred catalogue. But, of course, MtB came through and delivered a toned down, but no less captivating, collection of some of their best material. The inclusion of delicate piano plinking on ?Ice Monster? is nothing short of brilliant. Could I expect anything less?

Given their previous three assaults of technical, brutal death metal, Origin were about the last band anyone expected to add any semblance of melody or catchiness to their already overstuffed compositions, but that?s exactly what they did on Antithesis. Guitarist/vocalist and modern death metal hotshot Paul Ryan reformed what was arguably the Topeka band?s best lineup and took a whole new approach to the trademark chaos of the guys? older material. The result is an album graced with career highlights like ?Finite? and the nine minute closing title track, the latter of which could very well be death metal?s proudest accomplishment this year.
12Scar Symmetry
Holographic Universe

Solid melodic death metal from Sweden that, while a bit too lengthy and repetitive in some sections, has some truly powerful moments. Cleanly sung, cosmically themed pop hooks from recently departed vocalist Christian ?lvestam mix with driving double bass drumming and outlandish guitar solos to make a memorable string of tracks that wouldn?t sound out of place on a Soilwork album before they lost their balls. The middle section of the album is worth the price alone.

By now, if you don?t know the Meshuggah formula, you probably haven?t listened to metal in the past 15 years. The Swedes have been jamming alienlike solos and uncountable tempos and time signatures into their densely rhythmic material since before I even learned my A, B, C?s. obZen may not rule as hard as their mid/late-90?s material, but it?s still a blast to count along with the boys from Ume?.
We Are the Nightmare

To say that Arsis guitarist/vocalist James Malone is a death metal guitar prodigy would be selling short his true skill. Dude crams so much geekery into his band?s melodic yet technical attack that it?s hard to believe any of the tracks would stick with you after the Virginia quartet?s latest LP expends its 40 minute lifespan. We Are the Nightmare is Arsis? most accessible release to date, yet it doesn?t contain the unique and ambitious drive that left critics drooling over the act?s debut.
15Toxic Holocaust
An Overdose of Death...

This whole thrash revival thing was supposed to have died by now. Who really wants to hear a disc of whiplash-inducing tempos by dudes who were just a glimmer in their papas? eyes when Megadeth and their ilk were pioneering the sound and doing it much better? As it turns out, lots of people want to hear that, and the scene has exploded since early ?07, only to culminate in its finest (half) hour with the third release from Portland?s own Toxic Holocaust. Founder Joel Grind?s previous two releases (which he pretty much recorded by himself) hinted at a breakthrough, but after signing with the legendary Relapse Records, his project has finally realized its potential with An Overdose of Death. This is a about as old school as it gets, with everything from the production, instrumentation, hell, even the cover art, reaching back two decades to embrace everything that made classic thrash the vibrant genre and scene that it was. While the new kids will never fully capture the atmosphere of the original era, this still makes me want a pair of high tops.
16 Coldplay
Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends

Coldplay is just about the last band I would have thought to collaborate with brilliant producer and ambient forefather Brian Eno, but now that Viva la Vida has sunken in, it?s not hard to see the connection. His masterful placement of strings on the title track had me sold upon the first listen. A dark, slightly progressive album that makes me sad they won?t be around too much longer.
17 Ghostlimb
Bearing and Distance

This album is almost too angry for its own good. The relatively unknown hardcore quartet from Buena Park, California tears through this 18 minute album as if they thought blood pressure was the nation?s currency. Intense as hell.
18Amon Amarth
Twilight of the Thunder God

These Swedish (seeing a pattern here) melodic death metal Vikings have been at the game since the early 90?s, but they haven?t sounded this driven and epic since their classic Versus the World album. They?re sure as hell not reinventing the wheel, but that?s not the point. Just call them the AC/DC of the melodeath scene and make peace with the fact that evolution is not in their vocabulary.
19The Gates of Slumber

Coming from a town where modern instrumental post-metal is all the rage, this Chicago doom trio stands staunchly in the past. These guys draw from the days when Black Sabbath meant weed and Satan, not an age when Ozzy welcomes camera crews into his house to watch as he bumbles through fatherhood. Kind of cheesy, but unabashedly heavy, Conqueror is a satisfying offering to the Gods of Doom.
Massive Conspiracy Against All Life

If you believe the buzz, this is the final LP by the infamous Bay Area black metal solo act helmed by tattoo artist by day, dungeon crawler by night, Jeff Whitehead (aka Wrest). And what a send off it is. Just about every instrument (all played by Wrest, of course) has a chance to shine, which makes the real star of the album the production.
21Decrepit Birth
Diminishing Between Worlds

Yet another technical melodic death metal album to surface this year, Decrepit Birth?s second full length deserves the ?Most Improved Sound? award. The Santa Cruz act went from not-so-subtle Suffocation worship (right down to the artwork!) to a similarly unabashed homage to tech death creators Death and Atheist. Now that you can hear what they?re playing, these guys are a revelation.
22 Ca?na
Temporary Antennae

Absolutely incapable to be categorized, the third LP from British one man post-everything project Ca?na tugs on those heart strings yet again. Founder Andrew Curtis-Brignell is mature beyond his 21 years; a good thing since the painful past suggested by Temporary Antennae?s lyrics would have driven a lesser man insane. Given his recent decision to put Ca?na on indefinite hiatus, there?s still no guarantee he?s all there.

A post-metal supergroup of sorts, Intronaut created quite a stir in the heavy music scene with their 2006 full length debut, Void. Copping all the best parts of Isis, Neurosis and all your other requisite soft-loud-soft intellectual acts, the L.A. quartet has taken the genre one step further by releasing a disc based on the early part of Earth?s creation, not unlike last year?s Precambrian album by The Ocean. But where that disc was eventually swallowed by it?s own ambition after an hour and a half of heady themes and overused dynamics, this beauty is a little more than half as long and equally destructive.
24 Sigur R?s
Me? Su? ? Eyrum Vi? Spilum Endalaust

The only popular music artists from Iceland aside from Bj?rk are just as haunting as their fellow patriot. The quartet has been evolving nicely over the years, shaping an increasingly brighter and more optimistic sound with each effort. The bittersweet melodies, upbeat tempos and sunny strings present in their latest LP bring even more light to the darkness that once shrouded the act.

An absolute gem of a folk metal album, Sagas shows Germany?s Equilibrium reaching the feasible end of just how epic music can get. Every second of this LP is crammed with completely excessive instrumentation. While they may be a bit up their own asses at times (the thing is over an hour long with no respite between the symphonic onslaughts), you?ll be glad you sat through it all, especially if you have a horde to defeat.
Live the Storm

This is as energetic as crust punk has been since Portland legends Tragedy?s last LP. It doesn?t hurt that At the Gates frontman Tomas Lindberg makes his second appearance behind the mic as he screeches his way through 10 tracks of relentless hardcore. This is what revolutionaries listen to before grabbing their Molotovs and taking to the streets.
27Grand Magus
Iron Will

Grand Magus are metal. Like, ridiculously metal. They eat riffs for breakfast, lunch and dinner and have probably seen Judas Priest every time they?ve hit the trio?s homeland of Sweden, which makes this 40 minute riff buffet essential for anyone who isn?t ashamed to still wear chains and leather to shows.
28 Agalloch
The White

Portland progressive folk metal geniuses Agalloch have never been afraid to experiment, but on their third installment in a series of EPs in which they?ve increasingly embraced their neo-folk side, the reclusive (and currently unsigned) quartet keeps with its sound as it continues to branch farther from its pseudo black metal origins. Movie samples give way to sparse acoustic strumming while vocalist John Haughm delivers more spoken word than sung lyrics. A cool stopgap for next year?s much anticipated full length.
29Rotten Sound

With the departure of supremely gifted drummer Kai Hahto, I had my doubts about how these Finnish grinders would continue the blistering noise they delivered on their previous gem, Exit. This follow up is a pretty good first step. If it weren?t for Amber Gray, it would be the best grind album of the year.
30In Mourning
Shrouded Divine

As many have stated about this album, comparisons can be a bitch, and In Mourning have learned this the hard way as you can?t read a review of their debut LP without seeing the name ?Opeth? looming like an impassable mountain. And while they certainly do bear more than a passing resemblance to the Stockholm collective, In Mourning do manage to create a decent record with some memorable riffs and clean singing thrown in for good measure. It may not be original, but The Shrouded Divine will leave you wanting more if you dig dark, melodic death metal.
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