Begrand and Blood and Thunder look back on a metal-icious 2006: its creative resurgences, its tinges of sludge, its Japanese doom-ridden drones, and its ever-reliable Scandinavians.
Another year, another several dozen excellent metal albums to choose from: So begins the painful task of choosing 20 titles that represent the best the genre has to offer. And 2006 has been a good one, a watershed year for US black metal, one that featured a big creative resurgence for four legendary '80s metal bands, some fine music by the ever-reliable Scandinavians, plenty of examples of how the definition of "metal" continues to get blurrier, and in the case of one band in particular, who, saddled with enormous pressure, managed to exceed all our expectations and come through with an easy and obvious choice for the best metal disc of the year.
The year in metal has been so enjoyable, it'd be a shame not to acknowledge some of the other stand-outs from the past 12 months, so before we get on with the festivities, a quick rundown of honorable mentions:
Death metal mainstays Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation, and Krisiun put out their finest work in years. Gorgoroth, Satyricon, and Darkthrone all returned, but it was Merrimack, Drudkh, and Keep of Kalessin that delivered standout European black metal. We had devastating doom from Ahab and Asunder, while Amon Amarth and Tyr stormed our shores with their Viking metal. Lamb of God and Unearth were as steady as ever, while Trivium narrowly avoided self-parody on a goofy but likeable album. Motorhead and Napalm Death remained two of the most reliable bands around. Female vocalists stood out: Light This City and Fuck the Facts screamed as well as any guy could, the Gathering and To-Mera brought classy singing to the progressive side, and Julie Christmas turned in phenomenal vocal performances on albums by Battle of Mice and Made Out of Babies. Head Control System and I both showed how well a "supergroup" collaboration could work. Blind Guardian, DragonForce, and Cellador all impressed in their puffy-shirted way, but it was the irrepressibly charming Edguy that gave us the power metal CD of the year. Into Eternity, Insomnium, and Arsis gave us all top-notch Gothenburg metal, but ironically none of the bands are Swedish. Thrash mainstay Sodom released its best album in some time, but Toronto bands Rammer and Burn to Black did it even better, with contagious energy. The great Emperor enjoyed a brief reunion, but its two offshoots, Ihsahn and Zyklon, showed how ready the former members are to move on. And the Smackdown and Daughters added some welcome variety to grindcore.
Lest I go on and dig myself a 500-word hole listing more bands (Kylesa! Misery Index! Scar Symmetry!), here's to a stellar 2006 and hopefully an even better 2007. As I go back to wondering just what Twisted Sister was thinking when they recorded that Christmas album, why I'm enjoying it as much as I am, and why the hell I'm telling you this, may I present to you Blood and Thunder's esteemed List of 20: