The end of the year always means "Top XX" lists for music nerds. While I'm as musically nerdy as one can get, I don't feel much urge to compile such lists, because (a) they're subjective, and (b) they tire me out. There are much better uses for time than arguing over which album is 37th or 38th "best." However, my tastes in metal are a little left of center, and my favorite records usually don't show up on "Top XX" lists. So I thought I'd share my 10 favorites of 2006, as well as 10 others I recommend wholeheartedly.
(In case you're wondering, "Invisible Oranges" is my metal MP3 blog, which you can check out here.)
10. Dolorian – Voidwards
9. Converge – No Heroes
The band with the best merch returns with an album to match. Jane Doe is most people's favorite Converge record due to its straightforwardness, while You Fail Me polarized many with its depressive doominess. No Heroes is the best of both worlds, with short, fast songs at the beginning and end, and slow wrist-slitters in the middle. The songwriting is more focused than ever, and Kurt Ballou turns in some of his best production to date.
8. Cannibal Corpse – Kill
Kill is the sound of geezers finding a second wind. No doubt the new lineup helped, as well as the best production Erik Rutan has ever done. From the first note, the band puts the pedal to the metal and doesn't let up until the intriguingly slow finale. Vastly underrated Pat O'Brien peels off smoking solos, while George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher has never sounded better. Many metal albums are technical and speedy, but few have the bloodthirsty intensity of this one.
7. Year of No Light – Nord
The world is overrun with Isis clones, and while Year of No Light has the requisite eight minute songs and small-big-small dynamics, it steps ahead of the pack with anthemic melodies and poignant chord progressions. So many bands of this ilk forget to write actual songs, but this French outfit writes memorable, neck-snapping tracks that beg for inclusion on mixtapes. Nord is only the band's debut, and it's already beating Isis at its own game.
6. Agalloch – Ashes Against the Grain
At this point, Agalloch can hardly be considered black metal, or even "gray metal," whatever that term means. The vocals are sometimes raspy, but otherwise Agalloch is a metal/rock band with very much its own sound. Epic chord progressions, spiraling melodies, and glistening tones form this ideal winter soundtrack. Unlike Norwegian black metallers who merely talk the talk, Agalloch truly conjures up feelings of frosty winds, hazy breath, and boots crunching in snow.
5. Deicide – The Stench of Redemption
Deicide's future seemed in doubt after the Hoffman brothers left, but Jack Owen and Ralph Santolla stepped in and made Stench the best Deicide album in ages. Yngwie himself would be jealous of the fluid neo-classicisms both guitarists unleash. Steve Asheim blasts away with fire and discipline, and Glen Benton's "demon scream" would spin Regan's head around a few times. Deicide songs you can actually remember – imagine that!
4. Jesu – Silver
If you thought Jesu's full-length debut was the bee's knees, check out Silver. On this EP, Justin Broadrick does some vocal harmonies (!), raises tempos above a crawl (occasionally), channels My Bloody Valentine, and in general expands on the "Godflesh but not so grumpy" foundation that's made Jesu so great. The EP is only four tracks long, but it feels like a lifetime. Crushing, moving, and melodic, Silver points the way to undoubtedly one of the top albums of 2007.
3. Katatonia – The Great Cold Distance
Viva Emptiness was a stone cold classic, easily one of the top albums of 2003. On The Great Cold Distance, Katatonia doesn't top VE so much as incorporate its atmospheric menace into more rocking frameworks. The signature clean tones and Jonas Renkse's lush vocals are intact, but the riffs have more oomph, with the aid of incredibly hot mastering. The result is some of the catchiest songs of the band's career, and ample moshpit fodder for its first ever North American tour.
2. Enslaved – Ruun
With Below the Lights, Isa, and Ruun, Enslaved has a three-album hitting streak that's unmatched by any other band in recent years. Ruun continues the band's infusion of prog influences (e.g., Voivod and Pink Floyd) into black metal. The production is beefy, the riffs are catchy, and the rhythm section has more balls than a Chinese checkers factory. Tasteful keyboards and varied guitar tones add depth. Enslaved is hell for "tr00" and "kvlt" purists, but heaven for music lovers.
1. Ludicra – Fex Urbis Lex Orbis
People associate the Bay Area with '80s thrash, but they don't really realize it has a thriving metal scene today. There's deathcore with Animosity, Antagony, and All Shall Perish, death metal with Odious Mortem and Decrepit Birth, black metal with Weakling, Crebain, and Leviathan, and unclassifiable outfits like Slough Feg and Hammers of Misfortune. On top of this heap is Ludicra, who channels the city's many contradictions into the seething blast of fury that is Fex Urbis Lex Orbis. Black metal gets down and dirty with crust punk and thrash, with no panda paint in sight. Singer Laurie Sue Shanaman alternates between scathing howls and haunting choral singing, as her bandmates fire off bloody, serrated riffs.
— THE BEST OF THE REST, IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER —
Akercocke – Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone
Dog Fashion Disco – Adultery
Dysrhythmia – Barriers and Passages
Gojira – From Mars to Sirius
Graf Orlock – Destination Time Yesterday
Heresi – Psalm II: Infusco Ignis
I – Between Two Worlds
Into Eternity – The Scattering of Ashes
Iron Maiden – A Matter of Life and Death
Voivod – Katorz