The Best Metal Albums of 2009
I’ve spent this past year hungrily devouring metal. New, old, whatever. And while there were a lot of great old albums and bands that I’ve either not listened to in forever or have just come across that I loved the hell out of this past year, there were also a number of new albums that caught my attention. So, in no particular order and with no strict limit on number, here are the albums from this past year that I can’t get enough of.
Oranssi Pazuzu – Muukalainen Puhuu: Holy crap. These Finns came from out of nowhere and yanked my skull right outta my head with this one. Black metal meets Krautrock and spawns this slab of unholy goodness. It’s like Mayhem on mushrooms, or Can possessed by Satan himself. Psychedelic space-rock as performed by a band of demons. From the first notes of this album, I knew it was going to be on constant play, and by the end, my fate was cemented.
Blut aus Nord – Memoria Vestuta II: Dialogue With the Stars: The French are freakin’ unstoppable when it comes to coming up with quality Black metal these days. After years of interim releases, the trio finally follows up their 1996 album Memoria Vetusta I: Fathers of the Icy Age with an album that is simultaneously fragile and brutal; beautiful and harsh; melodic and uncompromising; progressive and primitive. After 15 years on the scene, this could be their masterpiece.
Yob – The Great Cessation: You want heavy? You want an album that feels like a slab of concrete slowly creeping over your entire being? You want the doom-laden tunefulness of classic Sabbath filtered through post-Melvins sludge? You want riffs coming at you with the inescapable force of a tidal wave of molasses? You want pure, slow-building anger and aggression expressed in musical form? You want this album.
Heaven & Hell – The Devil You Know: It’s Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Vinny Appice. You know what you’re getting before you even put this on. The capper is the fact that you’re not disappointed by it not living up to its list of ingredients. It’s maybe not a classic on the level of Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell, but it’s ten times better than Dehumanizer ever thought about being, and possibly the best thing any of these vets have put their name on in over a decade.
Gama Bomb – Tales From the Grave in Space: Typically, I like my metal evil. The more evil, the better. But sometimes you need to come up for sunlight, and this is a nice li’l change of pace. These Irish bastards indulge in some hardcore Among the Living-era Anthrax worship on this album, and bring some fun to the Thrash revival. Plus, I have to give props to any band that namechecks Ronny Cox and flatly states both that “if you don’t like Kurt Russell, you’re scum,” and “Bill Paxton wasn’t in Innerspace, but by Christ we wish he was” in the same song. And with songs like “Mussolini Mosh,” you know that these guys grew up with Scott Ian pull-outs from Rip magazine on their walls. Or, hell, maybe Kerrang, what with them being from the UK and all. You get my drift.
Immortal – All Shall Fall: After the breakup of this pioneering Norwegian Black metal act and the Motörhead-influenced piledriver that was vocalist Abbath’s sideproject I (with their 2006 album Between Two Worlds), it was doubtful that the mighty Immortal would return to again ride with us into the frozen wastelands. But 2009 brought us this, another blackened excursion into the icy realm of Blashyrkh, which can proudly stand alongside any of their albums. If you’re gonna buy one new release by a band in black-and-white facepaint this year, make it this one.
Kylesa – Static Tensions: I’m a sucker for any band with two drummers. From Butthole Surfers to Adam & the Ants, there’s something about the tribal fury that two drummers evoke that knocks me sideways. Great songwriting only helps, and Kylesa delivers that through unstoppable riffage and melodic leads rising through thick, primal Southern Sludge. This album will run you over like a customized 1976 Chevy van, and then stop, pick you up, and get you stoned.
Arckanum – ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ: Say what? This Swedish one-man Black metal assault writes songs based in Anti-Cosmic Chaos occultism in ancient Swedish. And he sounds like a rampaging horde of a thousand Vikings charged with the task of tearing the time-space continuum apart in order to sink their teeth into the juicy Chaos lurking behind it. And yet he never forgets to offer up hooks aplenty somehow. It stunned me into silence upon first listen, but quickly had me furiously headbanging to every riff. Yowza (which is ancient Swedish for “yowza”)!
Mastodon – Crack the Skye: Yeah, every hipster on this godforsaken planet has this on their year-end “best of” list. And yeah, it’s a lot less “edgy” and aggressive than their earlier albums, which has provoked cries of “sellout” and “catering to the mainstream” from the naysayers. And yeah, it might just be the beard talking. But man, I kept playing this thing all year long. And I’m not gonna stop just because a lot of tight-pantsed doofuses like it too.
Baroness – Blue Record: See above. Word-for-word.
Behemoth – Evangelion: Oh, hells yeah. THIS is how you pummel someone to death with the pure Satanic power of metal. It’s a welcome step back from the clinical, technical, Nile-worshipping precision of previous album The Apostasy into a more emotive fury. The drums are a bit too triggered-sounding for my liking, but it’s hard to argue with it while it’s busy punching you in the freakin’ face.
Zoroaster – Voice of Saturn: Am I being biased because they’re local? Maybe. Is it because I spent all night running around the Plaza Theatre during the video shoot for “White Dwarf?” Could be. But hell, man, few people do the crushing psychedelic doom metal thang better than Zoroaster, and they’re doing it right on this. It’s a bit more spacey than their earlier albums, but I’m cool with that, ‘cuz I likes it spacey.
Slayer – World Painted Blood: Their previous album marked the return of Dave Lombardo to the drum chair, and was the beneficiary of the “they’re back!” hype machine. Unfortunately, while Christ Illusion was still pretty damned good, it wasn’t the return to form as advertised. This fixes that. The guitars may still be a little too down-tuned for the Slayer purists out there, but it’s easily their best album since the unholy Trinity (Reign in Blood, South of Heaven, Seasons in the Abyss).
Glorior Belli – Meet Us At the Southern Sign: Mmm. Blues-influenced Black metal? From a bunch of Theistic Satanists from France? Oh, sign me right the Hell up for this. It’s just crazy enough that it just might work! You occasionally, on tracks like “In Every Grief-Stricken Blues,” get the feeling that this is what Lynyrd Skynyrd’s doppelgangers from that parallel universe in the “Mirror, Mirror” episode of Star Trek might sound like, and that’s all kinds of a good thing.
Sunn O))) – Monoliths & Dimensions: Those Southern Lord head honchos once again turn in an album of big, honking slabs of Drone/Doom, but have opened up the sonic palette a bit to include a whole host of new instrumentation: horns, choirs, strings among them. It winds up being simultaneously their most accessible and most directly affecting work in years. Kudos also to lead vox madman Atilla Csihar, who contributes some of the most adventurous vocal work since Diamanda Galas back in the day. Also one of the most effective live shows I’ve ever attended, despite the vibrations threatening to damage the light fixtures and the impenetrable dry ice fog setting off the smoke alarms in Athens’ Seney-Stovall Chapel.