In 2010, metal lost the single greatest voice it has ever known in Ronnie James Dio, which prompted an unprecedented wave of tributes from fans, musicians, and media alike. Dio’s passing was indeed the biggest single metal story of the year, the most significant blow since the murder of Dimebag Darrell six years ago. But make no mistake—despite the tragedy, we’ve been privy to some truly exciting releases over the past 12 months.
There were so many excellent albums put out by classic 1980s bands (including Iron Maiden, Overkill, Accept, Exodus, Armored Saint, Raven… even Ratt!) that at times it looked more like 1985 than 2010. Norwegian veterans Enslaved, Ihsahn, and Darkthrone came through with more vital music, while their peers in Dimmu Borgir became even more cartoonish than ever. Kylesa wasted no time in proving their breakthrough album was no fluke. Godflesh and Sleep played live shows again. Blake Judd kept challenging listeners by doing whatever the hell he felt like. Thomas Gabriel Fischer formed a new band after the demise of Celtic Frost and didn’t miss a beat. A murderer, arsonist, and racist named Varg made his highly controversial return and came through with, in the minds of those who chose to separate the art from the artist, a surprisingly strong record. Sanford Parker produced so many consecutive great 2010 releases that it bordered on ridiculous.
While a disturbing number of unlistenable, talent-lacking young “metal” bands dominated mainstream charts, a handful of lesser-knowns reminded us that there are still plenty of American bands who know how to play traditional heavy metal. And small Canadian label Profound Lore strengthened its reputation as the very best label in all of metal, to the point now where they’ve got a stranglehold on the title.
In the end, the metal world honored the memory of Ronnie James Dio in the coolest possible way: by making this the best year for new music the genre has seen in a very long time. In fact, it was such a good year, with such a vast array of different styles of metal bands in this rich, diverse genre, that we would be remiss not to list 20 additional honorable mentions, in alphabetical order:
Accept - Blood of the Nations (Nuclear Blast), Across Tundras - Old World Wanderer (self-released), Armored Saint - La Raza (Metal Blade), Burzum - Belus (Byelobog), Cathedral - The Guessing Game (Nuclear Blast), The Crown - Doomsday King (Century Media), Daughters - Daughters (Hydra Head), Deathspell Omega - Paracletus (Season of Mist), Les Discrets - Septembre et Ses Dernières Pensées (Prophecy), Mar de Grises - Streams Inwards (Season of Mist), Melvins - The Bride Screamed Murder (Ipecac), Misery Index - Heirs to Thievery (Relapse), Negură Bunget - Vîrstele Pămîntului (Code 666), Overkill - Ironbound (Nuclear Blast), Rotting Christ - Aealo (Season of Mist), Slough Feg - The Animal Spirits (Profound Lore), Soilwork - The Panic Broadcast (Nuclear Blast), The Sword - Warp Riders (Kemado), Vasaeleth - Crypt Born and Tethered to Ruin (Profound Lore), Weapon - From the Devil’s Tomb (Ajna Offensive)
(Southern Lord; US: 30 Mar 2010; UK: Import)
Solve et Coagula
(Southern Lord; US: 28 Sep 2010; UK: 27 Sep 2010)
(Southern Lord; US: 28 Sep 2010; UK: 4 Oct 2010)
I know, this is cheating, but the 2010 albums by Black Breath, the Secret, and Nails are so equally strong—thanks in large part to the phenomenal tone by Ballou—that you can’t single one out without giving the others their due. Black Breath‘s Entombed homage (some might say rip-off) on Heavy Breathing is exuberant, no-frills fun. The Secret, whose Luce won us over six years ago, came through with Solve et Coagula, the best crust/metal hybrid since Cursed. Then there’s Nails, whose d-beat hardcore on the scorching Unsilent Death (originally released earlier this year on Six Feet Under Records) is as irresistible as Disfear, and dare I say, Discharge.
Snakes for the Divine
(E1; US: 23 Feb 2010; UK: 8 Mar 2010)
High on Fire
Snakes for the Divine
The inimitable Matt Pike continue to be as reliable as ever, but like their past couple of records, he’s not above experimenting just a little. Snakes for the Divine sees the trio cleaning up their sound with producer Greg Fidelman, with the riffs more thrash-oriented than sludge/doom, Des Kensel’s drums mixed up front in Lombardo-like fashion, and Pike’s unholy bellow prominent to the point where we can actually hear what he’s hollering about for once. The tactic paid off, as the album turned out to be High on Fire’s highest charting release to date.
L’Arrivée De La Terne Mort Triomphante
(Crucial Blast; US: 7 Sep 2010; UK: 27 Sep 2010)
Gnaw Their Tongues
L’Arrivée De La Terne Mort Triomphante
The bazillionth release in four years by Dutch multi-instrumentalist Mories as Gnaw Their Tongues couldn’t be more aptly titled. Translated as “death in all its ineffable grandeur,” this album artfully meshes black metal, industrial, dark ambient, and even a tough of neoclassical, and comes up with something as beautiful as it is harrowing. A lot more refined than 2009’s disturbing All the Dread Magnificence of Perversity, it’s a surprisingly accessible piece of work, one where even at its densest it’s underscored by a haunting melody that slowly envelops the listener.
Permanently stuck in 1978, this enigmatic Swedish band delivers a theatrical take on Satanic heavy metal that’s made all the more unsettling by its simplicity. Tracks like “Con Clavi Con Dio” and “Ritual” are infectiously catchy, yet at the same time the anonymous lead singer sells the Devil shtick with the fervor and falsetto of King Diamond. So insidious is Opus Eponymous that you find yourself singing along ebulliently, “This chapel of ritual smells of dead human sacrifices from the altar,” before realizing just what the song’s about.
Since starting his post-Emperor solo career basically from scratch, it’s been a slow, steady evolution for Ihsahn, but on his third release it’s the first time it feels like we’re hearing the artist finding his true voice. A blend of straightforward black metal influences with more progressive rock-oriented fare, it’s not unlike what Enslaved has been doing, but with his knack for smooth vocal melodies, his disciplined songwriting, and the inclusion of Shining saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby, he’s created something quite unique, exemplified perfectly on the standout “On the Shores”.
Many ‘80s pop metal relics have still been puttering along putting out new music, but nobody saw this coming. The best singles band from that era, Ratt not only reunited for a seventh album, but managed to totally recapture the feel and swagger of their 1983-86 period: sharp, nimble riffs, unapologetically lascivious lyrics, and hooks aplenty. It hearkens back to a time when melodic metal/hard rock was fun. Songs like “Best of Me”, “Eat Me Up Alive”, and “Lost Weekend” make this the finest Ratt ‘n’ Roll record since Dancing Undercover.