Well, it's about that time of the year when it becomes necessary to rank the releases of the year, and I'm going to be bluntly honest here: from my perspective, this hasn't been the most amazing year. The mainstream has gone even more awful (Nizlopi!? Oh my fucking gods...) indie rock has got even more pretentious and boring and decent stuff has been relatively slow in coming from the normal avenues of good music. There's also of course the problem that I haven't actually got my hands on some of the big releases of this year yet (Haven't been able to whip up the enthusiasm to buy Ghost Reveries yet after burning out on Opeth earlier in the year and somewhat losing interest). That said, there has been some quality stuff out this year, so without further ado, my top 10:
1. Sigh - Gallows Gallery
Yes! Sigh return once again, and unlike this years other hope for psychedelic metal madness (see Ewigkeit) they deliver in full. Words aren't really an accurate descriptor for this mad conflagration of jazz, classic rock and black metal, but as any Sigh fan will tell you, you're in for a treat.
2. Bloodbath - Nightmares Made Flesh
Taking the progressive and melodic influences of their members (Hypcorisy, Katatonia, Edge of Sanity) into account whilst keeping everything relentlessly old-school, Bloodbath release one of the most enjoyable Scandinavian Death Metal albums in years, combining brutality and atmosphere to a polished peak betraying their combined years of experience. And lets be honest, Tagtren replacing Akerfeldt on vocals was a good thing.
3. Cryptic Wintermoon - Of Shadows...And the Dark Things You Fear
Cryptic Wintermoon are back, in a rocketing death machine of thrash and melodic black metal, slicing though bone and flesh at approximately 666 mph. An appalingly under-rated band in the metal community, CWM combine the atmsopherics of Graveworm, the ridiculous guitar-wankery of Children of Bodom and a whole ton of old-school class into an utterly enjoyable blend of dark metal that will have you gagging for more. Over the top (in more than one way) headbanging action.
4. Scum - Gospels For the Sick
This group was always an awesome idea. Take Casey Chaos, Faust and Samoth, Cosmocrator and a dude from Turbonegro. Have them make brutal face-stomping punk rock with an 80's black metal attitude and just a dash of classic Crossover. Couldn't go wrong, and it didn't. The album is fast and intense, a succint musical lesson for any misguided individual thinking that Hatebreed represent the pinnacle of modern Hardcore. The single, 'Protest Life', is the greatest punk anthem since The Anti-Nowhere League penned 'So What?'*.
5. Sol Invictus - The Devils Steed
You cannot go wrong with Sol Invictus. Fact. I will however, venture to say that Sol Invictus should maybe tone their experimentation down. They are one of a few bands (such as Inkubus Sukkubus) who I find are actually much better when they go for a straight-forward version of their sound. The most dissapointing thing about this album for me though is that they beat me to recording a Neo-Folk rendition of Twa Corbies. They suck less than me though, so huzzah for them.
6. Nile - Annihilation of the Wicked
Annihilation indeed! Along with Behemoth, Nile are at the forefront of modern technical death, with crushing riffs, pinpoint drumming and mind-flaying solos. As always, the quality of music, lyrics, production and concept is exceptionally high: copious liner notes provide yet another potted lesson in Egyptian history and mythology and, a juicy tidbit for all fans of the macabre, a very nice Lovecraft themed closer.
7. Ewigkeit - Conspiritus
I would like to point out immediately that this is not a bad album. It's a bad Ewigkeit album though. Especially after 'Radio Ixtlan', which still flies high in my 20 favourite albums of all time. There are some snatches of the old brilliance: the satanic gospel number 'How to Conquer the World [Live at Bohemian Grove]' and the mournful, Aztec-sounding title track, but all in all this release is just too samey, too weak to really capture the force and sheer psychedelic madness of previous efforts. Still, as I said, this is not a bad album. Genre-wise it's hard to describe: some sort of trippped-out dance metal for the most part, a blurring of the lines between old Pink Floyd, The Prodigy, Rammstein and Dark Tranquillity. It's good music, somewhat catchy, and the concept is genius, but it's still not up to form.
8. VNV Nation - Matter + Form
This album feels almost...progressive. And that's a good thing. I personally enjoy EBM and Futurepop a lot, but would be the first to admit that the scene isn't exactly brimming with creativity and inviduality. VNV Nation manage to craft an enjoyable, unique sounding record here: very spacey, and rather warm at points, which is unusual for an EBM record. Goofy film quotes are sadly a bit lacking, and there are a few moments where unmistakable 8-Bit influence shines through, and all in all, this is no :wumpscut:, but still, a fun dance record.
9. Municipal Waste - Hazardous Mutation
The thrash is dead. Long live the thrash.
10. Boris & Merzbow - Sun Baked Snow Cave
I have to admit, one of my failings as a consumer of alternative music is that I've never really got to like structureless stuff. It's not that I find noise music unpleasant, it's just that after ten minutes of it, I feel like there's probably something more interesting I could be doing rather than listening to the distant sound of screaming on a broken radio. That all said, I do rather like this. This isn't a collaboration, more a transition between the two artists, but when they come together...aaah. Drone heaven.
Inkubus Sukkubus - Witch Queen (Might have been on if it was a full album. Still quality.)
Wednesday 13 - Transylvania 90210: Songs of Death, Dying and the Dead (Still sounds like Frankenstein Drag Queens From Planet 13. Still not a bad thing.)
Vashti Bunyan - Lookaftering (Worth the wait)
System of a Down - Mesmerize/Hypnotize (Never let your guitarist near a word processor again.)
The Mars Volta - Frances the Mute (This is modern prog? I weep.)
Bright Eyes - Digital Ash in a Digital Urn (Just DIE Conor)
And pretty much everything that hit the charts. Especially from the Dogs Die in Kaiser Ferdinands Hot Hot Car Park Party scene.
Things I just wasn't interested in:
Rammstein - Rosenrot (SOMEONE'S run out of creativity. Glad I saw them when they were touring off Reise, Reise)
*Not of course, wanting to suggest that Animal was EVER sober enough to hold a pen.