This is one of those years where I'm not going to have a whole lot in common with everyone else on this site. It wasn't a huge metal year for me; a lot of my favorite metal bands had the year off, and I wasn't as proactive as I usually am in finding new stuff. That's okay, though, because what I did hear this year was mostly fantastic, with a surprise or two as well. Anyways, on with the list, in descending order.
10. Screaming Females- Castle Talk
I didn't hear this album until just a couple of weeks ago, but it's dominated my listening since then. Their name is misleading; only the singer is female, and there's no screaming (not on this album, anyways). What it is is some really fantastic "indie" rock (for lack of a better term), with something that I find rare in the genre: interesting guitar work. There's plenty of fuzzy distortion and great riffs to be found, as well as lots of hooks. Singer Marisa Paternoster doesn't have the greatest or most emotive voice, but that's okay, because she mostly lets her guitar do the talking. This band was never really on my radar before, so this was a pleasant little surprise.
Best tracks: "Boss," "Wild"
9. High On Fire- Snakes For the Divine
The venerable High On Fire don't step outside of the box much. They do heavy and loud, and that's about it. But they're one of those bands that fits their niche perfectly. The title track starts the album off with style, with a serpentine lead riff and slowly intensifying drums. As has been the trend with their albums, this one sounds a bit more refined than the one that came before it, but without sacrificing any of their ferocity. Matt Pike's riffs and mighty bellow are in fine form here, and their songwriting is some of the best it's ever been.
Best tracks: "Snakes For the Divine," "Frosthammer"
8. Bad Religion- The Dissent of Man
I view Bad Religion as sort of the Iron Maiden of punk: they've been around forever, show no signs of slowing down, and are still putting out material that, while not of the same caliber as their classics, is still solid and is better than most of their peers. That said, their previous album, New Maps Of Hell
was somewhat of an embarrassment with borderline-idiotic lyrics and recycled music. The Dissent of Man
, however, is a return of form of sorts, and harkens back to their highly underrated 90's material. The tempo may be slower than what some people might expect, but songs like "The Pride and the Pallor" and "Wrong Way Kids" have some of the best melodies they've written in years. The tunes are catchy as hell, and it just feels more...natural. It's good to see that these elder statesmen still have plenty of life left.
Best tracks: "The Resist Stance," "Wrong Way Kids"
8. Kvelertak- Kvelertak
This was far and away the best discovery I made this year. Boasting artwork by the omnipresent John Baizley, the entire album is in Norwegian, but it speaks the universal language of "fucking awesome." They draw from a number of musical wells: punk, thrash, black metal, etc. and it all melds into the kind of stuff you love to blast in the car. Like Brad, I often find myself trying to shout along to the lyrics, despite the fact that I have no idea what they're saying. That, and "Fossegrim" is an easy candidate for riff of the year. I'm glad to see that a lot of people here have gotten into them, and I can't wait to see what they do in the future.
Best tracks- "Fossegrim," "Sj°hyenar (Havets Herrer)"
6. The Corin Tucker Band- 1,000 Years
My favorite band, Sleater-Kinney, may have broken up over four years ago, but their former members still find a way to end up on my year-end lists. Case in point: lead singer Corin Tucker, who until now had been largely invisible since the hiatus. She's come back with her first solo album, and it's a very strong return to making music. As I expected, it's much more subdued and straightforward than her former band, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Her vocals are at their best when she completely lets loose, but her voice has a haunting beauty when she dials it back. It's not a perfect album; there's a few clunkers and I could have used more variety in the lyrics, but hell, I'm just glad to have her back.
Best tracks: "Doubt," "It's Always Summer"
5. Iron Maiden- The Final Frontier
We've all discussed this album to death here, so I'll keep this brief, but we have yet another solid, at times brilliant, effort from the best fucking metal band ever. It has a lot of the same problems as their other post-BNW albums: Overly long intros/songs and lazy, awkward lyrics, but it's still Maiden, so I take the bad with the good. And there's a lot of good here. Blistering rockers like "Mother of Mercy" and "The Alchemist" fit well along sprawling numbers like the brilliant "Starblind" (one of the best songs they've ever written) and "The Talisman." Up The Irons.
Best tracks: "The Alchemist," "Starblind"
4. None More Black- Icons
The short-lived hardcore band Kid Dynamite were beloved for their great music, but they might be more significant because of the many bands and side projects their members went on to create. Lead singer Jason Shevchuk created None More Black, which is my favorite of all of them. They put out two stellar LPs and an equally good EP before breaking up, only to reunite last year. None More Black started out as a fairly straight-forward melodic punk band, but over time their sound has matured into something that's a little harder to pin down. They mix up tempos quite a bit, but always have plenty of infectious melodies and memorable riffs. The lyrics are great too, especially on "Iron Mouth Act," where Shevchuk compares being a musician to being a magician. I hope these guys are back for good, because they're one of the most consistently excellent bands in punk.
Best tracks: "I'm Warning You With Peace and Love," "Iron Mouth Act"
3. Quasi- American Gong
Yet another Sleater-Kinney alum, drummer Janet Weiss, has made her way onto my list this year. In this case, however, Quasi (her side project with ex-husband Sam Coomes) have been active since before Weiss even joined S-K, and have been an underappreciated force in indie rock for well over a decade. On paper, they might seem like another White Stripes (divorced couple with the woman on drums and man on guitar/vocals), but they're much more complex and interesting. Coomes uses a variety of instruments including keyboards and pianos, but this is easily their most guitar-heavy work yet. It's also their most straight-forward and accessible album so far. The album opens with the stomping, feedback-drenched "Repulsion," a sneering ode to a relationship gone wrong. Whether it's on a more upbeat track or a slower one, Janet's rock solid drumming thunders along with purpose, and she adds some lovely backing vocals that compliment Coomes' voice perfectly. This is probably their strongest and most consistent offering to date, and I love it.
Best tracks: "Repulsion," "Rockabilly Party"
2. Arcade Fire- The Suburbs
Along with Maiden, this was one of my most anticipated albums of the year. I was slightly disappointed with their last album, Neon Bible
, but this sprawling masterpiece more than makes up for it. Sporting a massive (for indie rock, anyways) 16 tracks, it's their most ambitious work yet, but they made it work. Many people look at modern music and say that bands don't make proper albums
anymore, and this is one that I would use to prove them wrong. While there are certainly plenty of songs that stand out, it's a record that works best when listened to as a whole. This may seem obvious since it's a concept album of sorts, but trust me. Arcade Fire's sound is difficult to describe, so I would urge you to just listen to them to find out if they're your cup of tea, but don't write them off as a "hipster" band. Between this and their crowning achievement, 2004's Funeral
, they're well on their way to becoming one of the greatest bands of the last twenty years.
Best tracks: "City With No Children," "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)"
1. The Menzingers- Chamberlain Waits
Some years, my #1 is a life-changing, "reinvent-the-wheel" kind of album, but those are few and far between. More often, it's an album that's a flawless execution of a proven formula. Enter Chamberlain Waits
, the second full-length from these Scranton, PA punk rockers. If I were to pick a band that best carried on the spirit of The Clash, they would probably be it. While they may not boast the same musical diversity as The Clash, they certainly have the same passion and earnesty. Chamberlain Waits
is chock-full of big, dramatic songs about love, confusion, and politics. If you take out the references to Bad Religion, "Time Tables" could have been a Springsteen song. It's kind of hard to articulate why this record is my favorite of the year; suffice to say it was just the right album at the right time for me, and I made an immediate emotional connection with it.
Best tracks: "Time Tables," "So It Goes"
Yikes, that wore me out. I'll chime in later with honorable mentions and my favorite songs of the year.