20. Men As Trees- Weltschmerz
The Detroit sometimes quartet, sometimes quintet are *this close* to making a masterpiece. All that's missing is a bit more professional recording, better production values, and less tiny fuck-ups during the fast parts. This album is by far their strongest performance to date, with LVNGS drummer/violinist Mick Evans providing guest strings and the band's hero, Dick Proenneke, offering touching voiceovers. The mellow parts are more evocative than ever, the buildups are more climactic, and the fast parts are more ferocious. I honestly think the next Men As Trees album might be an album of the year contender whenever it comes out.
19. Toxic Holocaust- An Overdose of Death
This is how modern thrash should sound. Joel Grind furiously shreds through thirteen brief, concise, awesome tracks and never sounds exactly like any 80s act unlike most of his counterparts (well, okay, pre-Beneath the Remains Sepultura is evoked on more than a few occasions), and the lyrics are dripping with the apocalyptic cheese that makes thrash metal history. The MTV video premiere is a slight drawback, but as long as Grind keeps pumping out the jams, I really could care less what he does to supplement his earnings. Nuke the cross!
18. Metallica- Death Magnetic
Before I heard anything from it, I really expected this album to suck balls. I heard that Ozzfest recording of "Cyanide" and thought it would be just alright. Once I heard "The Day That Never Comes" when they released it to radio stations, I thought I'd give it a chance. Once I actually listened to it, I was pleasantly surprised: this is the album they've been waiting to make since 1988. It actually surpasses the Black Album in terms of consistency, and it has a couple of bonafide classic tracks. If you're dead-set on hating it, it won't change your mind, but if you go in open to something new from Metallica, it's a pretty sweet little package.
17. Romance of Young Tigers- Marie
This might be the most difficult to get into post-rock band on the planet, but the Dayton foursome knows how to make some deeply disturbing and beautiful noise. It took until the third time I saw them live to "get" them, but it is so rewarding once you do. The songs don't have a beat unless you make one. They don't have notes unless you look for them. They don't have a backbone unless you feel it in your own spine. The beauty is really beyond words and not easy to grasp, but once you find it, the result is worth the wait. This EP is probably their least accessible recording to date, but that's where the beauty lies. A lot of music is said to "challenge the listener", but it rarely means anything. This will challenge the shit out of you.
16. Earth- The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull
The title comes from something in the Bible that I've never read, and the cover is the greatest piece of art in modern metal this side of John Dyer Baizley. Fortunately, the music is able to back up the great imagery the package conjures up. The desert rock ambiance and addition of Zombi ivory-tickler Steve Moore makes for a totally unique album in the Earth discography, and one with an almost post-rock vibe. The true moments of beauty are the ambling Neil Young-esque guitar solos that grace the title track and "Engine of Ruin", among other tracks. If this is drone metal's contribution to Americana, I think we could do a lot worse.
15. Warrel Dane- Praises to the War Machine
Although I frankly would have rather had a new Nevermore album, this is an excellent addition to the Warrel Dane catalogue, and a chance for him to showcase his amazing (best in melodic metal?) pipes in a less technical, guitar-oriented environment than his main band. The songs here are basically straightforward metal songs, but the total creative control Dane has over the lyrics, vocal phrasings, and especially vocal effects makes the disc very effective as a solo album. Dane again proves his unmatched prowess in dealing with cover songs, creating entirely new versions of the Sisters of Mercy's "Lucretia My Reflection" and Simon & Garfunkel's "Patterns". Now make that follow-up to This Godless Endeavor, please; I'm getting impatient.
14. An Horse- Not Really Scared
Well, here's a band I knew nothing about before I saw them open for Tegan and Sara back in May. They fit that bill, as they play a style of indie rock that is fairly consistent with that duo's, but with a more enunciated nod to Modest Mouse. This is only an EP, but the Brisbane, Australia duo grasp the importance of making extremely catchy songs when your style isn't overly complex. From the two-minute joyride "Postcards", to the Melvins-fuzzed outro of album closer "Shoes Watch", this is a great debut for a band that promises to turn some heads in the very near future.
13. Mouth of the Architect- Quietly
While it feels a little more passive and less sure of itself than its genre-defining (yeah, I fucking said it) predecessor The Ties That Blind, MOTA's new album dabbles in some new things and still makes 99% of post-metal look silly. The brilliantly effective samples in "Hate and Heartache" and the unaccompanied shouting in "A Beautiful Corpse", along with the two keyboard-centric segue tracks, "Pine Boxes" and the simply heart-wrenching "Medicine" show that Mouth of the Architect plan to keep Dayton on the modern metal map for years to come.
12. Flogging Molly- Float
On the positive side, this is the most consistent Flogging Molly album to date. Every single song is good, while there have been some serious filler tracks on each of their other three records. Unfortunately, this album isn't going to produce any classics like "Black Friday Rule", "What's Left of the Flag", or "The Seven Deadly Sins". It's still a damn good album, and an incredibly quick listen. They keep a very consistent sound throughout the album, and Dave King's woeful Irish tales stay believable even nearly twenty years after he moved to the United States. That's what makes a great storyteller, I suppose: believability.
11. Bigelf- Cheat the Gallows
When I commented earlier that The Sword are doing that 70s thing wrong while other bands are doing it right, I definitely had Bigelf in mind as an example of the latter. This combination of Ozzy-era Sabbath, Pink Floyd psychedelia, and the whimsical nature of ELP'S "Karn Evil 9" anthology creates a totally unique blast from the past that alludes to every great band from the 1970s and plagiarizes none of them. Your move, Witchcraft.