I came up with this list after stuffing as much music into my ears as humanly possible over the last 365 or so days. The content below is not a reflection of the most unique, most talented, or most underappreciated bands and records. It's just music I found myself returning to again and again and again. My hope is that you find something new to enjoy – or -that you feel elated that someone else gets the goodness of a band the way you do too. Either way, this list is just an opinion – and you know what they say about opinions… if it's on the internet it has to be 110% unequivocally true.
YOB – Our Raw Heart
Equal parts tender and looming, the execution of artistry from YOB on Our Raw Heart results in a compelling and emotionally exhaustive album that grips the listener throughout. Told with torrid transitions and beautifully expressive vocals, this album's greatness is rooted in sheer story-telling and point-of-view. The juxtaposition of ugly/pretty found throughout eases the listener into a new perspective of what it's like to be alive. An intense journey told through explosive gloom and quiet gorgeous moments, this album is sure to be a favorite on many year-end lists.
Panopticon – The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness I & II
Panopticon is smart and refreshingly different. I find myself not doing much else when I listen to these two albums. They have an unwavering energy and carefully crafted beauty that makes me feel very escapist and prone to day-dreaming. The vocals are mixed to a where they sound like something from another realm is incessant about beckoning you to listen to him, to come to him. And, therein lies the joy of The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness I & II – the music sounds like a beautifully kept secret you happened to stumble upon.
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Oceans of Slumber have crafted a tender power in each song on The Banished Heart that unfurls slowly with deep, steady, smoky vocals and thick thoughtful riffs. What I enjoy most about The Banished Heart is finding myself lost in the rawness and vulnerability of the vocals and lyrics. They're unafraid to stay indulgent and their boldness is impressive. It's just not something you hear much of anymore, and I didn't know modern metal could be this heartfelt.
Anaal Nathrakh – A New Kind of Horror
I am so, so in love with this record. A New Kind of Horror has no chill – not even for the briefest of moments. Anaal Nathrakh takes the extremes of metal to a superlative level that brings me an immense joy. It's over-the-top to the point of pageantry and fun to listen to. This is the kind of music I'd put on loudspeakers to keep children and conservatives off my lawn.
Sleep – The Sciences
This record has a hypnotic effect on the listener. It's more than a fuzz-fest, it's more than drone-y, and it's way more than stereotypical stoner music that relies upon gimmicks and image to carry the band. The Sciences has a groovy bass line that does so much in such a subtle way to add depth to the music that is already dropping the heaviness in its riffs. It's atmospheric lost-in-space music at its pinnacle.
Tribulation – Down Below
Tribulation – Down Below
Tribulation – Down Below
This is a very, very good record. I can't quite put my finger why it's not on the top. The vocal performance nagged on me and I found it a bit more 'forced' than I cared for no matter how many times I tried to ignore it. It could be the hollow-y effect used on the vocals. I would love to hear this album in concert without the bathroom stall echo.
Amorphis – Queen of Time
What's there not to like here? Queen of Time is a huge arena-pleasing melo-death offering that is so polished, you can practically see your face in it. There isn't a 'miss' on the whole album, but it is a little 'one note' throughout. I happen to like that one note, however.
Khemmis – Desolation
I am a latecomer to Khemmis because I was listening to older bands that, in my opinion, were doing what they did – only better. (I know I sound like a curmudgeon and I do have stodgy tendencies. Get off my lawn! Don't slam the doors!) Don't get me wrong, I thought Khemmis were good – but not good enough to invest my ear-time in to. This new record, however, caught my attention. It's hard ignore how well-executed Desolation is. I find it immensely interesting and I think Khemmis have hit a beautiful arch that will send them into the stratosphere with bands like Mastodon. I can admit that I am hard on Khemmis, and objectively the album stands way out from their peers in terms of creativity.
Gorod – Aethra
Aethra is such a great cacophony of sound while being tight and technical as all hell. This is another record I can't quite put my finger on as to why it's not in the top 5. Maybe I'm drunk. Or worse, maybe I'm sober.
Bloodbath – The Arrow of Satan is Drawn
Bloodbath always crushes it. They're always going to be next-level metal because of sheer talent that funnels into their song-writing ability. The Arrow of Satan is Drawn is an excellent record and Bloodbath have managed to craft a sound that's immediately recognizable as their own. However, since it is lonely at the top, they don't have to compare with many bands except themselves. And while the record is great, it's not as memorable as some of their previous releases.
In The Woods… – Cease the Day
This album is a late-comer to the list, but I haven't been able to stop listening to it. I am in love with its simplicity. While lightening-fast technical execution is generally part of metal music's hat trick, when there is so little to hide behind then the composition and vocals really, really matter. Cease the Day nails both in this somber lightly-blackened walk through the woods. I'll admit the album isn't perfect, but I'm excited to see what these guys would do next if they were to spend 6 months on a solo journey of self-discovery.
Omit – Medusa Truth Part 2
Medusa Truth Part 2 is funeral doom that isn't cloying despite its simplicity and orientation towards pleasing melody.
There are a few the pain me greatly to not add… so the following bands get the "I love you guys, puhlease keep making music" award: Between the Buried and Me, Visigoth, Haken, Clutch, Dimmu Borgir, and Into Eternity.