2005: Because Why Not
This has really been an exercise in criticism for me, so bear with me, but here's these if anyone's curious:
1. Opeth- Ghost Reveries- Mikael Åkerfeldt has proven time and again that he is one of the most brilliant minds in both metal and progressive music, and Opeth’s 2005 “observation” (King Crimson reference, that) is only the latest in a long line of evidential records. The seamless blending of death metal blasting, minstrelsy prog rock, and even Maiden-esque traditional metal on Ghost Reveries borders on the impossible, but Mike & Co. never let it stray into self-indulgence or let it sound forced. Simply put, this is an incredible record with no weak points and only greatness to offer.
2. The Decemberists- Picaresque- A picaresque story is defined as fiction in which a roguish character’s often satiric episodes reflect the everyday lives of the common people. The Decemberists’ frontman Colin Meloy has certainly composed a series of songs whose lyrics are just that, and some brilliant folk music to play beneath it. While less progressively-oriented than its follow-up, The Crane Wife, the band’s 2005 full-length is anything but simplistic, and the largely acoustic arrangements complement Meloy’s oft-tortured vocal sweetly and tastefully.
3. The Red Chord- Clients- If any genre needs a swift kick in the pants from time to time, it’s death metal. Very few bands in modern death metal are doing anything that Death, Morbid Angel, and Obituary didn’t do by 1990. As such, when a young band who do have a unique take on the tried-and-true death metal formula come around, it would be a disservice to yourself not to check them out. The Red Chord blast through eleven hardcore-leaning-yet-melodic death metal songs in under forty-five minutes on Clients, and if your ass isn’t thoroughly kicked by the end of it, you probably shouldn’t be listening to death metal anyway.
4. Porcupine Tree- Deadwing- Stuck in between the delicate beauty of In Absentia and the modern classic Fear of a Blank Planet, Deadwing finds Porcupine Tree at an interesting juncture in their storied career. The songs therein are probably the heaviest songs the Tree have ever done, and Steven Wilson’s ambient influences come through on the keyboards and vocal effects on several tracks. This is a great Porcupine Tree album, and unique in that it draws its influences so equally across the board that it sounds like no other Porcupine Tree album. If you consider yourself a fan of prog rock, you would be remiss to skip this one.
5. Clutch- Robot Hive/Exodus- Straight-up, down-and-dirty rock n’ roll literally oozes from this album. The trademark Clutch combination of Neil Fallon’s whiskey-and-gravel vocal and enigmatic, intellectual lyrical bent is at its strongest on this album, and guitarist Tim Sult’s Skynyrd-on-acid playing style produces some instantly classic riffs. While not as consistent as some Clutch albums, it features a handful of the best songs the band has ever written (“The Incomparable Mr. Flannery”, “Burning Beard”, and “Mice and Gods”, in my humble opinion), and songs that go off so well live that the album will be forever remembered even as the always-prolific Clutch write their eventually inevitable hundredth album.
6. The Mars Volta- Frances the Mute- Progressive music has a tendency to be heady and intellectual, and therefore is difficult to truly “get” a prog album on first listen. The Mars Volta’s second full-length and largest dabbling in ambience and psychedelia to date is certainly no exception. The opening trio of songs are all incredible, and Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s rapidly spat English-then-Spanish-then-back-again lyrics are practically nonsensical, yet seem to fit the overstuffed jazz fusion of the album anyway. It’s quite possible that the Mars Volta are the most progressive band in music today. They use fucking South American coquìs as musical instruments (on “Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore”), for God’s sake. And closing an album with a thirty-two minute psychedelic epic that sounds like it’s going to turn into “Echoes” at any moment? I think I want to go back to 1971, this album is that good.
7. Bruce Dickinson- Tyranny of Souls- Between Maiden albums, the huddled masses have to yearn for something to hold them over, and this solid chunk of traditional heavy metal from Bruce Bruce and producer/guitarist extraordinaire Roy Z is just that something. With such straightforward heavy tracks as “Abduction” and “Soul Intruders”, the beautiful ballad “Navigate the Seas of the Sun” and quasi-epic album closer “A Tyranny of Souls”, this is certainly worth the wait from 1998’s tremendous The Chemical Wedding, and quite frankly, Maiden could stand to take a few tips from the album’s conciseness.
8. Nevermore- This Godless Endeavor- Power metal is kind of lame anymore. There’s only a handful of bands who can play unadulterated power metal and get my attention. For everybody else, you have to put some balls into your traditional metal sound if you want me to think you’re worth hearing. With their latest studio album, Nevermore have combined the right amount of balls and melody to make a worthwhile metal release. Warrel Dane’s voice never fails to be melodic, but never goes castrato on us either. This is pretty much perfect windows-down, bang-your-head metal, and anyone into that kind of thing (and really, who isn’t?) should at least check this out.
9. Coheed and Cambria- From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness- After a couple of so-so opening tracks and a flamenco-influenced intro, the opening riff of Coheed and Cambria’s “Welcome Home”---one of the best riffs ever, in my opinion---storms in and kicks all kinds of ass, leading into what remains the best Coheed song of all time. The rest of the album pummels along strongly, with moments of beauty (“Wake Up”), ridiculous catchiness (“The Suffering”), and epic bombast (“The Final Cut”) showing expertise but also tantalizing possibility for a band who had, and still have, the potential to be one of the greatest bands the rock world has ever seen.
10. Vader- The Art of War- The only reason I can’t justify putting this delicious slice of death metal higher on the list is the fact that it’s only a fourteen minute EP. That said, holy shit! Poland natives Vader are one old-school stalwart who still know how to kick ass, and unlike some of their progressively more boring brethren (Obituary, I’m looking at you), they actually sound more energetic and youthful than they did in the early days. Barnstormers like “This Is the War” and “What Colour Is Your Blood?” show that Vader are a force to be reckoned with as much now as they were in 1992.
Mortals are mortar and life is the fuse.