It seems every year I say it, but this year it’s truer than ever: this was one hell of a year for metal. Sure, we had our share of high profile duds come our way (Heaven and Hell, Ensiferum, Pelican, Killswitch Engage) and more than enough popular records that had many of us wondering if this was the end of not only metal, but music in general (Suicide Silence, Five Finger Death Punch, Winds of Plague), but when we got good albums, a very surprising number of them turned out to be great ones. In fact, not only was this year’s list of 20 the most difficult to compile in a long time, but I could easily take the next 20 that didn’t make the cut and make a formidable list out of those discs (come to think of it, that’s just what I’ll do). There was an embarrassment of metal riches in 2009, so much so that the rankings below don’t mean anything whatsoever; you cannot go wrong with any of the titles I mention. That said, if you merely dabble in heavy music and think the Mastodon record is good (which it most certainly is), just wait until you hear this list’s top three.
Honorable mentions, in alphabetical order: Agoraphobic Nosebleed: Agorocalypse; Anaal Nathrakh: In the Constellation of the Black Widow; Augury: Fragmentary Evidence; Behemoth: Evangelion; Bloody Panda: Summon; The Gates of Slumber: Songs of Blood and Thunder; Ghost Brigade: Isolation Songs; God Forbid: Earthsblood; Greymachine: Disconnected; Hacride: Lazarus; Immortal: All Shall Fall; Megadeth: Endgame; Napalm Death: Time Waits for No Slave; Portal: Swarth; Saviours: Accelerated Living; Skeletonwitch: Breathing the Fire; Slough Feg: Ape Uprising!; Suffocation: Blood Oath; Wolves in the Throne Room: Black Cascade; Voivod: Infini
As much as it pains me to exclude Megadeth’s exuberant Endgame from 2009’s top 20, Revocation’s Relapse debut fully deserves the nod. In fact, the young Boston trio is cut from the same cloth as MegaDave’s band, their hyper-technical brand of thrash metal augmented by the shredding prowess of David Davidson, who finds a comfortable middle ground between the contagious aggression of Lamb of God and the progressive death metal strains of Neuraxis. If packaged and promoted properly, Revocation could have a huge 2010.
(Metal Blade; US: 3 Feb 2009; UK: 3 Feb 2009)
The death veterans have experienced a creative rebirth ever since hooking up with producer Erik Rutan, and not only does their eleventh album continue the forward momentum that 2006’s Kill set into motion, but Evisceration Plague ranks among the best records they’ve ever put out. Not much has changed stylistically, as they’re as punishing as ever, but unlike bands half their age, songwriting takes precedence over pure brutality, the end result being the kind of confident work that only master craftsmen could pull off.
The Brooklyn band wasted no time following up last year’s debut, and although it might seem that guitarists Mick Barr and Colin Marston haven’t deviated too much on Dimensional Bleedthrough, there are plenty of subtle differences on this 75-minute beast. The production is considerably more muscular in tone and the compositions focus on riff melodies as opposed to extended solos, while the increased roles of bassist Nick McMaster and drummer Lev Weinstein make this record feel much more like a complete band effort than before.
Who says you can’ teach an old dog new tricks? Having churned out plenty of good, reliable Satanic, anti-Christian, war-obsessed black metal since the early ‘90s, the Swedish mainstays started to evolve subtly ever since taking on Daniel “Mortuus” Rosten as their front man in 2004, but their 11th effort is especially stunning. A blend of pure, old-fashioned speed, pulverizing slower passages, well-timed atmospherics, eloquent lyrics, and good production, it’s the perfect backdrop for Mortuus to deliver his most charismatic vocal performance with Marduk to date.
At first listen, Liturgy might sound like an absolute mess of indecipherable screams, distortion, and some of the most manic, blindingly fast blastbeats you’ll ever hear, but let it settle and you’ll realize Greg Fox’s loose drumming lends the songs an undeniable groove, while Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s guitar work evokes both the swirling, standing-in-a-blizzard atmospherics of Weakling and the stately melodies of early Ulver. Yes, they live in Brooklyn, and yes, they distance themselves from underground black metal scene police. But don’t think of calling these talented upstarts hipsters.
Two years after the disappointing Ithyphallic, everyone’s favorite Egyptology-obsessed death metal band is back in a gigantic way with a record that returns to the form of 2002’s In Their Darkened Shrines and 2005’s Annihilation of the Wicked. Mastermind Karl Sanders and collaborator Dallas Toler-Wade waste no time in pleasing their fans: truly brutal riffing, chilling ambient touches, and some of the most beastly growls you’ll ever hear, but unlike Ithyphallic, songs like “Kafir!” and “Permitting the Noble Dead to Descend to the Underworld” are wickedly, unexpectedly catchy.