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The Great Misdirect
(Victory; US: 26 Oct 2009; UK: 26 Oct 2009)
While it’s not quite the bold step that 2007’s Colors was, The Great Misdirect is certainly not lacking in ambition. The band’s eclectic musical taste continues to be their hallmark, as does their rather incredible ability to fuse together myriad sounds and create cohesive, disciplined progressive rock songs. It’s a challenging listen, but the many highlights quickly surface, from the King Crimson-esque breakdown during the latter half of “Obfuscation”, to the Kurt-Weill-meets-Mr. Bungle passages on “Fossil Genera”, to the soaring climax of the 18-minute “Swim to the Moon”.
Weirdly enough, Mastodon’s big commercial breakthrough coincided with the release of their weirdest album to date, but better late than never. And although their shift from gargantuan metal riffery to polished progressive rock threw many for a loop, Crack the Skye is nevertheless quintessential Mastodon. The emphasis on clean vocals is still a work in progress live, but it works brilliantly on record, two and three-part vocals playing a very prominent role on such tracks as “Oblivion”, “Divinations”, and the astounding 11-minute suite “The Czar”.
World Painted Blood
(American/Sony; US: 2 Nov 2009; UK: 3 Nov 2009)
Slayer hasn’t sounded this inspired, this bloodthirsty, this malevolent, in ages. Following up 2006’s Christ Illusion, a welcome return to form after some lean years, the ferocious World Painted Blood makes its predecessor sound tame by comparison, the dry production sharpening the foursome’s attack (placing Dave Lombardo’s drums very high in the mix), the title track and “Beauty Through Order” hearkening back to South of Heaven, the wickedly good “Psychopathy Red” reminiscent of Reign in Blood. They’re in and out in less than 40 minutes, leaving us with whiplash, craving more.
The Great Cessation
(Profound Lore; US: 14 Jul 2009; UK: 13 Jul 2009)
After a horrendous legal ordeal over the ownership of the band name Middian, Mike Scheidt decided to dissolve that trio entirely and resurrect his previous band YOB, and in the end, we’re all the better for it. One of the finest, most fascinating doom bands of this decade, their fifth album is their best, melding classic, bell-bottomed, doom-with-a-capital-D with psychedelic touches and Scheidt’s Buddhist-themed lyrics. Produced by Sanford Parker, who captures the sound of doom better than anyone today, it’s a welcome return by the masters after too long spent away.
(Ajna Offensive; US: 14 Apr 2009; UK: 26 Jan 2009)
It’s been a good year for Daniel Rosten. Not only does the dude otherwise known as Arioch and Mortuus play a significant role on Marduk’s superb return to form, but his side project Funeral Mist has yielded one of the most exciting metal albums of 2009. Typical of any solo project, Maranatha leaves itself open to a lot more experimentation than the artist’s main band, and while that often leads to some awfully self-indulgent music, Rosten sounds absolutely inspired by such artistic freedom, especially during the adventurous trifecta of “Jesus Saves!”, “A New Light”, and the sample-heavy, 12-minute groove exercise “Blessed Curse”. A slam dunk for black metal album of the year.
On the inevitable best-of-the-decade lists, many writers will be compelled to tout Isis’s past albums like Oceanic and Panopticon, and for good reason, but Wavering Radiant is actually the superior record, one whose reputation should grow with each passing year. No longer fully dependent on the predictable loud-soft-loud dynamic that dominated their early work, Isis’s music is far more refined now, arrangements graceful, not so much primal as luxurious. Elements of krautrock and early Pink Floyd permeate the entire record, thanks in large part to the subtle keyboard work of Bryant Clifford Meyer, while at the same time never coming at the expense of Isis’s trademark heaviness, those tidal waves of distortion exceptionally timed.
“Wait, is this even metal?” It’s always a gray area whenever a band starts off as extreme metal and steadily drifts toward other genres, and that’s definitely the case with France’s Amesoeurs, who have been inching towards classic 1980s goth/darkwave over the last few years. A much darker, pessimistic companion to the pastoral strains of guitarist Stéphane “Neige” Paut’s project Alcest, strong emphasis is placed on Joy Division-inspired guitar tones and especially the cool, detached singing of bassist Audrey Sylvain, which works beautifully on “Amesoeurs” and “Faux Semblants”. However, it’s when darkwave and black metal collide that this album truly shines, best exemplified by “Les Ruches Malades” and “La Reine Trayeuse”.