Ben's Favorite Albums of 2009
By Ben Apatoff
Best-of lists are always fun to make, but they're usually a burden when finished and published. It's like getting a KORN tattoo that seemed like a perfect idea years ago, but now forces you to wear long sleeves every time you step out of the house. But lists are even fun in that respect, as a reminder that, while you no longer think Korn is the cutting edge in metal and you should've discovered Slaughter of the Soul the year it came out, there was a time when JONATHAN DAVIS seemed like a prophet. Sigh…
But I digress. As of now, here are the ten best new albums that I heard in 2009. What are you waiting for?
10. BARONESS, Blue Record
When was the last time that classic rock sounded this fresh? So many bands have been imitating LED ZEPPELIN and BLACK SABBATH for so long that any new hard rock should be superfluous. But Baroness packed a ceaseless amount of straightforward hooks, art-rock curveballs and headbanging breakdowns into an album that seems to overflow with ideas. Anyone looking for blast beats is missing the point–Blue Record is the year's best proof that metal is more of an experience than a sound.
9. ALICE IN CHAINS, Black Gives Way to Blue
Everyone's heard the saying of what "assume" makes of "'u' and me," but that didn't stop me from brushing off Alice in Chains when I heard that they'd reunited with a new singer. JERRY CANTRELL, please forgive me. Not only do the bleakness, emotion and disregard for subtlety that made Dirt a modern classic all show up, but there's an emphasis on sludgy riffs and uplifting (!) harmonies that show a band that's hungry to carry on. Once again, Alice in Chains have done the unexpected: made a stunning comeback album that holds up with the classics.
8. BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME, The Great Misdirect
And you thought prog-metal was boring. Or that metalcore was toothless. Or that death metal had stopped evolving. Between the Buried and Me sound like they can do anything on The Great Misdirect, pushing their range further than ever before in a way that never feels forced. It's also an album in the classic sense of the word, to be taken in its entirety, and every time it finishes, I wonder how I just went 60 minutes without taking a breath.
7. THE RED CHORD, Fed Through the Teeth Machine
A guitarist as as fluid as MIKE "GUNFACE" MCKENZIE could probably drown most grindcore songs with his technique, so he's very lucky to have this awesome band working with him. GUY KOZOWYK is one of the only death metal singers to write lyrics that are worthy of his bellows, and the rhythm section answers everything McKenzie pulls out by challenging him to get heavier. Since when does grindcore have catchy melodies? Only when it's good enough for year-end lists.
6. MEGADETH, Endgame
Years from now, metal historians may wonder why Blabbermouth dedicated every third story to "Megadeth mainman" updates, usually describing forgettable blog posts or childish, bitter statements from perpetual brat DAVE MUSTAINE. Hopefully, someone will point out that we cared about Megadeth in 2009 because of Endgame, a ferocious, auditory punch in the gut that us superfans had hoped Megadeth were still capable of. Even if he can't control his anger issues in person, it's a blast to hear MegaDave fight that battle on CD.
5. COALESCE, OX
This year's CYNIC award for best overdue return goes to Coalesce, who followed up 1999's 0:12 Revolution in Just Listening by dropping a load of bricks on their listeners. OX challenges THE MELVINS to a math duel, provokes THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN to try sludge and dares R.L. BURNSIDE to rise from the grave and find a drummer. It's heavy and concise enough to sound ham-fisted at times, but six months later, OX's snakes and ladders are still shocking me.
4. CATTLE DECAPITATION, The Harvest Floor
Cattle Decapitation's best album to date is like a Dario Argento adaptation of The Jungle, a violent but beautifully crafted story that's likely to give nightmares to anyone who still enjoys eating meat by the end of the record. The Harvest Floor perfects Cattle Decapitation's blend of humor, creepiness and musical iconoclasm. Most other bands would let their drummer spend an evening impaled on a meat hook to make a record this brutal.
3. REVOCATION, Existence is Futile
Unquestionably the best label debut I heard all year, Existence is Futile is a record that stands on the shoulders of giants, building on the foundations laid by the very best thrash and technical death metal bands to create one of the most exciting albums in recent memory. By the second track, it already sounds like these three kids have shredded their way into metal history, and if this is what the future of metal sounds like, count me in for another decade, please.
2. MASTODON, Crack the Skye
More accessible and experimental than they've ever been before, Mastodon close out the decade by going four for four, with each record taking the kind of artistic leap we only ask of from the world's best bands. While LAMB OF GOD and SLAYER are plateauing with adequately strong records, Mastodon are diving face first into bigger and weirder ideas, resulting in a masterpiece that reinvents the metal concept album as a raw, thrilling exorcism of dark thoughts.
1. CONVERGE, Axe to Fall
Converge have been one of the most consistently mind-blowing bands in the world for years, but it's Axe to Fall that has me thinking that they're up there in the pantheon of metal greats. From the thrash-as-hardcore opening of "Dark Horse" to the gut-wrenching funeral dirge "Wretched World" through eleven scorching and spellbinding songs in between, Axe to Fall is a reason to believe that punk rock is alive, metal is thriving and that music is the greatest thing in the world.