Top 10 Albums of 2009
We asked a secret panel of musicians, fellow journalists, record label employees and other music industry folks what their favorite releases of the year were, and the list below collects the top 10 from there. Before you bombard us with hate mail and curse-filled comments, the picks are in no particular order. Either way, we'd love to hear what your list would look like, so let us know.
Mastodon -- 'Crack the Skye'
In just over 50 minutes, this Georgia based quartet managed to hone in all of their wild songwriting ideas into a seamless yet complicated album that brings to mind Pink Floyd circa 'Live in Pompeii' and Neurosis in their 'Through Silver in Blood' days. Not only do Brett Hinds and Bill Kelliher deal out some of the most enthralling riffs of their career, even the subtle nuances they thread together thrust off your speakers with vigor. 'Crack the Skye' is the kind of statement that should be taken in its entirety and not chopped up by tracks on a mix CD.
If the word 'cinematic' could ever be used to describe an artist's music, Mastodon would definitely deserve it. Everything from the aforementioned dual guitar work to Brann Dailor (drums) and Troy Sanders's (bass) elaborate rhythm patterns are pushed through with wide-eyed vision and ambition. The proverbial cherry on top would be the vocal hooks Mastodon squeeze into crevices found in the heavily layered arrangements. It's nothing short of magic to be able to make something so melodically memorable out of something so complex and daring.
Download 'Crack the Skye'
Suffocation -- 'Blood Oath'
For many metal fiends, Suffocation has been living in the shadow of 'Effigy of the Forgotten' for most of their career. The band's 1991 debut album helped set the bar for American death metal and spawned an army of copy cat bands. Though they've made great records since then, especially 1995's 'Pierced from Within,' the material was often and unfairly compared to their first album. 'Blood Oath' ended all that. The faster side of the Long Island, NY band's playing instincts are in full display throughout the album but it's the slower stuff is where things get truly gnarly. By holding back the tempos, some of Suffocation's most devastating characteristics.
Guitarists Terrance Hobbs and Guy Marchais interweave their labyrinthine riffs like death metal alchemists and the slower sections highlight them even better than the breakneck speed runs do. All in all, 'Blood Oath' delivers on the promise of their earlier work and it marks the beginning of what will undoubtedly be another riveting chapter in an already inspired career.
Download 'Blood Oath'
Behemoth -- 'Evangelion'
The Behemoth that recorded the 1993 'And the Forests Dream Eternally' EP is a distant black metal memory. If you played 2009's 'Evangelion' back to back with it, you might even think they are 2 completely different bands. Where their origins lay in the primitive black metal sound that was the rage throughout Europe in the early 90s, style wise 'Evangelion' finds the Polish combo swinging for the fences. Lead by vocalist/guitarist Adam 'Nergal' Darski, Behemoth possesses what many of their peers lack; the songwriting smarts to back up their proficient playing skills. Songs like 'Daimonos' and 'Ov Fire and the Void' are relentless speed assaults but they're always tempered with memorable guitar melodies and world class arrangements.
'Evangelion' is an uncompromising declaration of force and unflinching confidence. Nergal usually gets the lion's share of attention from the press but Behemoth has another star in their ranks that people need to start noticing. Zbigniew Robert Promiński aka Inferno has quietly become one of metal's most exciting musicians. On 'Evangelion' his dizzying foot and tom work is awe-inspiring and Behemoth's music deserves nothing less.
Coalesce -- 'Ox'
It has been a decade since their last full length release yet Coalesce sound like the same basement show nihilists we first went batty over all those years ago. 'Ox' is a mean bastard of an album. No matter what style they choose to deliver their aural blitz in, the Kansas City band do it all with technician-like precision. The daily grind of adult life has seemed to do Coalesce's music good. Jes Steineger's guitars and Sean Ingram's vocal barrages sound more pissed off than they've ever been before. 'Ox' is a must own release for anyone who likes their post hardcore on the heavier side of the spectrum. Think of the chaos of Dillinger Escape Plan anchored by the push and pull rhythmic pulse of Shellac. Don't deny yourself this listening experience.
Megadeth -- 'Endgame'
More than 25 years into his career, Dave Mustaine shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, 'Endgame,' Megadeth's twelfth studio album, is one of the best things the guitarist/vocalist has ever done. With a career as heralded as Mustaine's, that's saying a whole lot. The album showcases the veteran musician more focused than he has in recent years. In particular, his riff writing prowess has been reawakened. When you hear 'Endgame' tracks like 'Dialectic Chaos' and 'Bodies,' you're reminded of the days before 'Risk' and MD.45 tarnished Mustaine's reputation. Let's hope that he keeps the riffs coming as hard and heavy on Megadeth's next release.
Converge -- 'Axe to Fall'
Outside of Motörhead, Converge are one of the few bands that everyone from metalheads, to punks and hipsters can agree on. That's because everything they do they do with complete authenticity and heart. They started out as a more traditional hardcore band but they've since mutated into something way more interesting. Although Converge don't try to reinvent themselves again on 'Axe to Fall,' that doesn't mean they don't take some risks with their sound. The final 2 songs, 'Cruel Bloom' and 'Wretched World,' even finds Jacob Bannon relinquishing his vocal duties to Neurosis frontman Steve Von Till and Genghis Tron's Mookie Singerman respectively.
The rest of the stuff on 'Axe to Fall' is less daring but no less captivating. Kurt Ballou's dissonant guitar work and production is economic yet meaty while Ben Koller's drum performance is the best playing we've heard from him yet. There's no telling what direction Converge will take their sound in on their future records but whatever they do, we'll be right behind them lapping it all up.
Download 'Axe to Fall'
Alice in Chains -- 'Black Gives Way to Blue'
They took a massive chance replacing Layne Staley and Alice in Chains knew it. The late singer's blend of hard rock grit and swampy soul vocals helped set the group into a class all by themselves. After years of silence, Jerry Cantrell, Sean Kinney, and Mike Inez, resurrected Alice in Chains with new vocalist Willian DuVall and hit the road playing their beloved albeit short catalog along with new songs.
'Black Gives Way to Blue' is the reformed band's first album together and it's a big middle finger to all of the naysayers who questioned AIC's decision to continue without Staley. 'Check My Brain' and 'Private Hell' wouldn't have sounded out of place on their landmark 'Dirt' album while the restrained title track would have been a fine addition to the 'Sap' and 'Jar of Flies' EPs. DuVall's vocals also impress, revealing a tender yet weighty power to them that isn't too far off what Staley did so well. This is the comeback story of the year.
Download 'Black Gives Way to Blue'
Swallow the Sun -- 'New Moon'
On Swallow the Sun's 'New Moon' album, gorgeous and melancholic melodies live side by side with anguished doom metal. Mikko Kotamäki's dejected vocal style and Markus Jämsen's guitar lines are direct descendants of the ornate crush of 'Gothic' era Paradise Lost. But it's Aleksi Munter's heartsick keyboard melodies that glue the disparate influences together. There wasn't a better doom album released in 2009.
Download 'New Moon'
Immortal -- 'All Shall Fall'
'All Shall Fall' is an impeccable union of old and new school black metal. The sons of Northern darkness came back after a long hiatus and proved that the time away didn't make them soft. Immortal came equipped with the familiar ingredients that fans have come to know and love from the band. There are plenty of blast beats and sandpaper kissed vocal runs for us to take in and songs like 'Hordes to War' don't screw around with Immortal's blueprint. Even when they divert from their style a bit, like they do on the epic 'Unearthly Kingdon,' they push it through with their signature touch all over it.
Download 'All Shall Fall'
Between the Buried and Me -- 'The Great Misdirect'
In Between the Buried and Me's musical world, parameters don't exist. The North Carolina five-piece revels in stylistic disarray like no other group and they've made a career out of it. When you throw on a BTBAM album on, you know to expect the unexpected and on 'The Great Misdirect' the boys don't let anyone down. They do take on traditional verse-chorus-verse structures from time to time but even when they do, they jostle in shorter outbreaks of bedlam, reminding us why they are the best at what they do.
The common criticism people have about the band is that try to do too much within the space of a song but unlike most of the other acts in the admittedly overcrowded scene they are often lumped into, BTBAM's kitchen sink songwriting approach fits them perfectly. When it comes down to it, there's no genre tag that encompasses everything the group is about. How about we start calling them, 'Steve Vai meets Cynic without the robotic vocal effects core,' or something like that?
Download 'The Great Misdirect'