10. Landmine Marathon, Sovereign Descent
I really liked this album when it came out, but didn't honestly think much about it for a few months leading up to the Skeletonwitch/Landmine Marathon show I saw last weekend. It's been documented how face-ruling their set was that night, and when I revisited Sovereign Descent
, I remembered why I thought it was so awesome in the first place, and came to like it more than I ever did in March when it came out. This one's a fucking monstrous slab of Symphonies of Sickness
-inspired deathgrind, filled to the brim with crushing riffs, subtle-but-phenomenal guitar melodies, and, of course, skin-searing vocals courtesy of one Grace Perry.
Key Tracks: "Exist," "Shadows Fed to Tyrants," "Chained By the Same Fate"
9. The Ocean, Heliocentric
Unfortunately, this is probably the only album by The Ocean that I will ever truly love – it shows their mellower, more melodic, progressive side, which I think they're infinitely better at than their heavier material – but I'm very glad it exists. It's like Isis-meets-Tool-meets-saxophone-and-cello, and it's awe-inspiring at every turn. It's a pretty ambitious disc that tries to sell an unbelievable amount of German-accented crooning and classical instrumentation to a metal fanbase, but all of its experiments are blistering successes. Here's hoping they release something else like this at some point.
Key Tracks: "The Origin of Species," "The Origin of God," "Firmament"
8. Slough Feg, The Animal Spirits
They're still underground, true, but Slough Feg are stalwarts of heavy metal at this point. Everybody's heard of them, and everybody who likes them expects each album to become a minor classic in the scene. Their Profound Lore debut is no exception; Mike Scalzi has cranked out yet another batch of brilliant traditional metal tunes, this time reverting to a rawer, more stripped-down production, presentation and songwriting approach than his past several Slough Feg discs. I was a fan of the overblown nature of songs like "Tiger! Tiger!" and "Ape Uprising," but his newfound primitivity suits the material well, and it's nothing shy of excellent.
Key Tracks: "Ask the Casket," "Heavyworlder," "Tactical Air-War"
7. Man's Gin, Smiling Dogs
was my favorite album of 2009, and their multi-instrumentalist Erik Wunder is the man responsible for my seventh-favorite album of 2010. Smiling Dogs
has been called a tribute to Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska
– the cover art suggests as much – but I kind of see it as the folk/Americana version of Gin
. A lot of the lyrics and atmosphere are similar to that album, they're just adapted to a dark folk context instead of black metal. Whatever this album is, though, it works, and it's one of the most addicting listens of the year.
Key Tracks: "Nuclear Ambition Part 1," "Nuclear Ambition Part 2," "Free"
6. Iron Maiden, The Final Frontier
It wouldn't be a top anything
list from me if Iron Maiden wasn't on it, so it shouldn't come as any shock to see this record place this highly. Hell, #6 is probably lower than I would have expected a Maiden album to fall. Describing the sound of this disc would be like retelling the plot of Star Wars
, so I'll spare you. Needless to say, it's an Iron Maiden album, and it rules.
Key Tracks: "Starblind," "Isle of Avalon," "Coming Home"
5. Watain, Lawless Darkness
(Season of Mist)
I can't think of many bands who are more serious about their image than Watain; I'm still not entirely sure whether they've convinced themselves that they're in bondage with the dark arts or if all that animal sacrifice is just for show. For being so extremely extreme on stage, their actual music is shockingly worldly – this is a tr00 black metal album, yes, but it incorporates influences from just about every subgenre, perhaps most notably NWOBHM in some of those enormous guitar harmonies and unlikely scream-along choruses. Lawless Darkness
is a great album because of those influences, not despite them.
Key Tracks: "Reaping Death," "Waters of Ain," "Malfeitor"
4. Blind Guardian, At the Edge of Time
Can't say I really saw this coming when I surveyed the year's release calendar back in January. I don't really care very much about power metal, and I certainly didn't think a power metal band would crack my top ten in 2010. I had forgotten that Blind Guardian are the eternal exception to the rule, a power metal band that embraces the swords-and-sorcery imagery, the bombastic production, the minstrelsy acoustic guitar bits, the uber-melodic and omnipresent solos and leads, the billion-tracked vocals...and still totally fucking rules. At the Edge of Time
may be my favorite BG disc, and every single song is great. Classic, classic shit.
Key Tracks: "Sacred Worlds," "Valkyries," "Wheel of Time"
3. Atheist, Jupiter
(Season of Mist)
The mere fact that you see this album sitting at #3 after a seventeen-year recess from recording says that Atheist lived up to their very high expectations, right? They managed to take the prog-death-defining sound they forged on Piece of Time
and Unquestionable Presence
, fused it with some of the more out-there jazzy bits from Elements
and a healthy dose of current-gen Between the Buried and Me influence to make the most memorable technical death metal album I've heard since The Sound of Perseverance.
Key Tracks: "Live and Live Again," "Second to Sun," "Faux King Christ"
2. Alcest, Écailles de Lune
This was probably my most anticipated album of 2010, and an Iron Maiden album came out in 2010. That's how good 2007's Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde
was, and how much hearing "Perceés de Lumiere" after it leaked as a part of a split with labelmates Les Discrets convinced me that hearing Lune
would be a life-affirming moment. It basically was – the album's only crime is being too short. I could listen to this shit for two hours if Neige let me.
Key Tracks: "Écailles de Lune - Part 1," "Écailles de Lune - Part 2," "Perceés de Lumiere"
1. Ludicra, The Tenant
Well, here it is. My favorite album of 2010. It was an underdog since I had never actually heard of Ludicra until this started getting good reviews earlier this year, but after countless spins, I'm completely satisfied with giving it the gold. Every song has no less than three parts – a chromatic riff, a harmonized solo, a gut-punching lyric – that absolutely makes you stop what you're doing and pay the album your full attention. I also believe, as several reviewers have before me, that this album is a perfect snapshot of the recession we're living through. I'll let the chorus to the title track sum this album up for you: "For all within your rooms/Your narrow rented tombs/Within your walls of want/The frame in which you haunt/Inside your restless storm/The paint is cracked and worn/Four walls, bubbled and pocked/Marked with shame, a bolted lock/A facade hides your worn-out pride/A shoddy view of others just like you/A window rattles you with what you hide." If you're not moved by that, somehow, then you might not like this album.
Key Tracks: "Clean White Void," "The Tenant, "Stagnant Pond"