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03.31.11 Top 15 Metal Releases Of 2010

Top 15 Metal Releases Of 2010

Three months late, here's my list of top metal releases from 2010, plus the best EP. Of course, this is according to me and is terribly subjective. Enjoy.
16Fleshgod Apocalypse

I can only imagine my merriment if Mafia were a full-length. I'm hard pressed to recall a death-metal band that seamlessly incorporates orchestral arrangements with technical brutality, operatic choruses and growls. More often then not, the glamour wears thin and becomes repetitive, but that's never the case here. Perhaps the format does the style only five songs (four original and a cover), they're never given the opportunity to become derivative. Compared to some of the other highly touted tech/brutal death-metal releases, Mafia struck me the most, and most often.
15Heaven Shall Burn
Invictus (Iconoclast III)

A bit of a tweener trying to balance melodic death with metalcore. However you'd like to describe them (and despite a lot claims of mediocrity for this album), each listen brought me back to the early part of last decade, nostalgia intermingled with a dose of fuck you hardcore hostility. It's not the most complex or original, but it reminded me a lot of why I love aggressive music, especially the kind dosed with melody, and Invictus provides enough appeal to overcome its lack of novelty. There's also a Therapy? cover to boot, which just oozes great taste.
Disciples of the Unseen

Egyptian-tinged melodic death metal that meshes exceedingly well with just the right mix of edge and pace. Excellent vocals delve into the melodic without dwelling too long, coupled with a restraint on what could be viewed as a gimmick, really make this a catchy and enjoyable album. This is a great debut by a young band, offering a strong foundation to build off of, and the possibility for an even stronger follow-up.
13Rotting Christ

Never fully conforming to traditional black metal, Rotting Christ return with their tenth album AEALO, continuing to refine their sound. This is the aural companion to Greek mythology and history, perhaps the journey and struggle of a soldier in sandals. From my previous experiences with Rotting Christ, they've always been very accessible musically, and continue that trend here. The riffs are tight and catchy, Sakis' vocals are clear and strong without overbearing (as some of his peers can be), and the militant chanting and female choir flesh out the structure. It's enjoyable, albeit a bit repetitive, but a worthy addition to their already impressive catalogue.
Take the Curse

Filthy. That's not just the first word that struck me while listening to Take the's the first image. Tied up, dirt floor, face down in a puddle, locked in an unlit basement. Ramesses ply sludgy, stoner-doom, and they do so with the gusto of a 70s B-horror film. This is mood music, driving its way through the mire, and the vocals superbly alternating between growls and bellows, coalescing the entire, grimy experience.
11Misery Index
Heirs to Thievery

I want to be polite. Really, I do, but man, if this doesn't punch you in the fucking face from the word 'Go,' well, then you're dead to me. This is unrelenting death/grind with structure. It's not about the speed, or the cacophony of anger, rather it's a channeled ferociousness. The dual vocal attack, the dashes of wankery...topped off with a dollop of leftist rage, this is a grinding, blast-filled treat.
10Mael Mordha

Most genres of metal seem to offer myriad sub-genres, doom being no exception, but seeing Gaelic doom metal as part of Mael Mordha's description piqued my interest (they are in fact from Dublin). This wasn't an album that grabbed me at first listen, rather I vacillated each time, eventually incorporating it into my normal rotation. Roibeard O' Bogail's vocals are unique and strong, reminding me most of a storyteller singing his tale rather then speaking it. The music has an earthy, tribal feeling, littered with flute harmonies; it's modern and ancient all at once. Manannan unfolds in the listener's mind as sights and smells, surpassing a simple aural experience.
Addicts: Black Meddle Pt. 2

A polarizing release from a maturing band, Addicts is an example of what happens when a black-metal group wants to expand beyond the inherent limits of the genre - they abandon it. This isn't quite as groundbreaking or dense as its made out to be, but it's damn good. Keeping in mind their origins, but incorporating punk, 70s rock, and electronic elements with a bit of psychedelia for flare, Nachtmystium successfully challenge the listener with the pain and struggle of addiction. It's memorable, often downright catchy, and indicative of bigger and better for the band.
8Mourning Lenore
Loosely Bounded Infinities

This release caught me by surprise. I'd never heard of the band before and I imagine neither have you, but I was instantly hooked after the first riff. It's some of the most sweetly melancholic and infectious doom I heard last year. The arrangements are pretty straightforward, and at times a bit lengthy, but the coherent death-tinged vocals are excellent, and the clean choruses tend to reverberate and dragged me back for more. There's something to be said for catchy, well-produced doom, especially with superb vocals. Loosely Bounded Infinities isn't breaking new ground, but they're managing quite well in a house others have built.
7The Contortionist

Of all the albums on this list, I struggled with Exoplanet the most, not because of its quality, rather, with the possible stigmas attached to admitting how much I enjoyed it. Then I said fuck it, came to terms with it, and now we're living happily in South Beach together. For a band that's likely lumped into the dreaded deathcore scene, The Contortionist have so much more to offer. Sure, there's some tech here, some core as well, but what really sets this album apart from the throngs is the heavy dose of melody that balances the intensity out. It's akin to metal with melodic-hardcore sensibilities, and I'm not ashamed to say that it was one of the most enjoyable listens of the year.
Mounds of Ash

Castevet is a band that seem to have tricked the metal community. They've been lumped into the burgeoning American black-metal scene, and while it's not inaccurate, this album has more in common with hardcore/post-hardcore than black metal. Blending discordant rhythms and tempo changes with strained screams, Mounds of Ash powers through genres without seeming contrived. Call it post-black metal if you'd like, but by incorporating melody and emotion (dare I say emotional hardcore), they're helping further define what modern black metal can sound like while still retaining the identity of the source.
Axioma Ethica Odini

As one of the most prolific bands on the list, Enslaved is roundly considered one of the best as well. Axioma Ethica Odini is the 11th album since their 1991 inception, and exemplifies progressive black-metal at its best. Melodic choruses and aggressive leads mix well, and atmosphere seeps from many of the songs without drowning them. While prog elements often take center stage (some tinges of folk and 70s rock, for example), the effort is still cohesive. It's accessible and engaging, worthy of much of the praise its being awarded.
Norron Livskunst

To say that Solefald is difficult to classify is a woeful understatement. Their exploration of avant-garde black metal continues here, but the categorization does the music a disservice. The lyrics are predominantly written and sung in an early 20th-century Norwegian dialect (Hognorsk, or high Norwegian), and honestly, I haven't the slightest idea what they're on about (it could be a grocery list for all I know). It's one of the rare times where not knowing didn't alter my enjoyment of the music. Both vocally and musically, there's a balance between rough and mellifluous, odd and striking. Solefald is at their best when they balance their aggression with melody, and it's done so to great effect on Norron Livskunst. They even take the crown for best use of saxophone on a metal album (sorry Ihsahn). Solefald is one of the rare bands that, depending on the song, can simultaneously appeal to a non-metal fan while disgusting the kvlt...while it can divide, it's also its strongest asset.
Marrow of the Spirit

Expectations and hype are notorious bedfellows, often stealing focus from a band's music, but Agalloch handle both well. Despite crafting in a style difficult to pigeonhole (Agalloch marry neofolk with black and progressive metal), the album cover is an excellent window into its heart. Marrow of the Spirit bleeds emotion and melancholy, meandering through a desolate landscape. Succeeding in eliciting not only feeling, but also contemplation, it's a dense journey, challenging both musically and lyrically.
2 Anathema
We're Here Because We're Here

While this might be considered cheating or a fudging of unwritten rules, Anathema still have the pedigree of a death/doom band, albeit, one that has expanded beyond the limitations of those genres. Playing a style of contemporary adult rock more akin to Coldplay than My Dying Bride (easily trumping anything the former has done), they've constructed a wonderfully atmospheric and beautiful album with excellent use of piano arrangements and female backing vocals. I'd like to think this is an album that can bridge the twain, metal and mainstream, into a harmonious (but probably not).
1Mar De Grises
Streams Inwards

Mar De Grises have taken and refined their brand of death-tinged doom and created something different, striking, and original. There's a palpable sense of drowning and despair that radiates from Streams Inwards in all directions. The focused atmosphere sacrifices heaviness but not feeling, and overall the arrangements are more akin to hard rock than metal. It's a tumultuous ocean and just below, beyond the growls and waves of hopelessness, lies the prospect for respite and redemption. Yet still, as the melodic choruses swell and exhaust, you're pulled back down with the undertow.
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