Ryan B.’s Year in Metal (and other music) 2008
Another year is over, I’m still alive; and not only that, there seems to be an exceptional amount of awesome, noteworthy stuff going on in my life. Outside of a crazy school and work balancing act, I’ve still been busy having fun with many other things, but nothing has gotten in my way to enjoy an enormous amount of amazing new music this year. In fact, I would say that my love for all music (especially metal of the psychedelic/extreme variety) has been ignited even more than ever by an unbelievable, ever-surprising regional live music scene during 2008. Accept them or not, I stand by them; here are my picks for best music from the year 2008:
Favorite Metal Albums of 2008
Nachtmystium, Assassins: Black Meddle Part I
Nachtmystium put themselves at the forefront of underground metal this year with an album that I could not stop coming back to. Assassins is an album with an eerily classic vibe, beautiful production, and some of the most memorable songs I heard all year. After the epic Worldfall EP release in the beginning of the year I had an idea of what Blake Judd and friends were brewing up, but nothing could have prepared me for the behemoth mindtrip of venomous hate that Assassins embodies. Half of the beauty of the album is its successful implementation of the meandering experimental jazz structures (which are also prominent on the Pink Floyd album that inspired the concept) and the other half is in the sheer brutal, epic, headbanging collections of riffs that this release features. From anthemic black metal to epic psychrock to acidic punk rage, Assassins shows the band lining with the stars to create an album of the most soul wrenching metal songs of the year. Clearly, the USBM scene has been a breeding ground for some of the most interesting innovations in metal over the last few years, and with releases like this continuing to crush conceptual and musical boundaries, it will only be a matter of time til this band and its peers get the respect they deserve. With Assassins, Nachtmystium have created the perfect vehicle to deliver an American wave of raw hate and reality to the rest of the world.
On Smile, Boris have found their most enjoyable phase of their ever-shifting psychedelic metal sound thus far – at least that’s my opinion. Tonally, the album is gorgeous, and Wata’s out in full display with an arsenal of riffs the makes me quiver every time I listen (I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the ghost of Hendrix teaches her how to play guitar in her dreams at night). The sludge and solos are convincingly emotional and imaginative, and the whole album is tied together by lo-fi interludes and psychedelic jams that evoke a peculiar sense of innocence. Smile is an album that sees the band finally achieving a balance between the wide array of noises they have perfected along the way. In the Boris fashion, fuzzy stoner epics and spastic thrash anthems feel perfectly at home next pretty acoustic interludes and pop hooks. Doom/stoner metal is not an easy genre to make “fun”, but Smile’s uninhibited metal jams allow Boris to make an album that does just that. Put the album on, look in the mirror, and you’ll see it lives up to its name.
Every twist and turn of obZen is chaotic and unpredictable; riffs that seem like they could shred flesh command across a backdrop of some of the most rhythmically challenging percussive pieces ever written. While it would seem contradictory, Meshuggah is more in control of their sonic circus than ever. The song structures are all extremely unfamiliar and complicated – even for death metal – but the emotion of the album is confident and focused. With each successive track, we are witnesses to spectacular feats of cohesion and power. Although it might feel like a rollercoaster that is about to go off the rails and crash at times, obZen is an unstoppable beast – solidly, steadily barreling along like a high speed, hot-rod modded steamroller to hell. As with past albums, the mind bending experimental flourishes are the root of Meshuggah’s appeal, but obZen’s true power lies in its full force its brutal attack.
Gojira, The Way of All Flesh
With the high expectations preceding this release, there was no telling whether the French progressive death metal quartet Gojira would attempt to return to their heavier, traditional death metal roots or proceed on with their ambitious mind-expanding conceptual ways. As the followup to the highly praised From Mars to Sirius, The Way of All Flesh is an album that satisfingly/amazingly accomplishes both. Death and thrash with an intricate, wicked percussive section is still the driving force, but they’re pushing boundaries even more this time around – especially on mindtrips like “A Sight to Behold” and “The Silver Cord”. In truth, Gojira has created an album that might be hard for them to top or perfect upon. Their progressive conceptual basis hits closer to home than on any previous release, and meanwhile all I seem to care to do is thrash violently and headbang to the infectious chaos that unfolds around me with each fresh listen.
Cursed, III – Architechts of Troubled Sleep
It’s almost as if they knew their days were numbered when these songs were put to tape. Cursed’s final album, III: Architechts of Troubled Sleep, features the most riff heavy, “pedal-to-the-fucking-metal” hardcore of the year. Their Entombed meets Converge meets Amebix assault of fast and furious dirty hardcore has never sounded more pissed off, and thus appropriate. As their final farewell, this album leaves a refreshing sting. Truly, this IS the loudest band in Canada, and III is an album that boldy and violently shreds any illusion that you might have that your world is safe.
Krisiun, Southern Storm
How is it possible that a trio can sound so intimidatingly massive and powerful? When its comprised by the Brazilian death metal brethren known as the Koleshen brothers, there’s no debating the scale of attack! Much of the album is powered by the artillery-heavy blastbeat attack that Krisiun is known for, and these riffs are fucking heavy. Songs like “Slaying Steel”, “Combustion Inferno”, and “Bleeding Offers” command rage like no other death metal this year. However, this time around, the bands brand of vicious death metal is inexplicably both more precise and head-bangingly enjoyable. The riffs breathe and move with a kind of ferocious freedom that evokes a beautiful sense of real fear on songs such as “Minotaur”, “Contradictions of Decay”, and “Sons of Pest”. Not to mention, great production too! When this comes through Minnesota live with Destruction in March, I hope to see the most brutal pit imaginable!
Harvey Milk, Life… The Best Game In Town
For anyone who hasn’t noticed, heavy rock is back in a big way this year. I don’t really know what has caused it (..Guitar Hero, most likely..), but either way, I’m not complaining about the sudden influx of authentic ass-kicking riff-heavy rock that has reared its head lately. With that said, Harvey Milk’s Life.. The Best Game in Town is the most awesome and enjoyable album that could possibly fall in this classification this year. Life is an ambitious album of Harvey Milk’s heaviest tunes yet. From bluesy bass lines to infectious, boot-stomping riffing to drugged-out unearthly epics; its a bewildering ride that you’ll be glad you took.
Cavalera Conspiracy, Inflikted
Perhaps it was purely my aforementioned love of Brazllian death metal that drew me to this release. After all, the core of this band – the Cavalera brothers – comprised the heart of the prodigal early 80′s Brazilian death metal band known as Sepultura; a band that would help to ignite a pride for death metal throughout the country and change the way the world saw extreme metal from that point on. Either way – all past grievances aside – it’s great to FINALLY see Max and Iggor jam together again, and having Joe Duplantier (of Gojira) and shredder Marc Rizzo at their side doesn’t diminish the bands’ appeal to me, either. This album is as raw, brutal AND (most importantly) fun as it was presented. Max and Iggor are together again, and while it’s not called Sepultura, is a brilliant listen that indicates an impassioned and bright future for the brothers.
Rotten Sound, Cycles
If you asked yourself where all the sick and twisted grindcore bands were at this year, it’s probably because most of them were probably hiding in shame from the firestorm that is Cycles by Rotten Sound. The album is an aggressive display of the most visceral blasting noise of the year. On Cycles, Rotten Sound are masterfully churning a brutiful molten metal stew from genre luminaries such as Napalm Death and Nasum and their own injection of Finnish grit and grime. Perhaps the reason that I loved this record so much is that its a grindcore album that plays more like a rock album. The dynamics are a step above any grind I’ve ever heard before, and as such I’m replaying this album more than any other this year.
Cult of Luna, Eternal Kingdom
Sweden’s Cult of Luna have really upped the ante with their newest album, Eternal Kingdom. Much heavier than their previous release, this is an album continues to greatly improve on their impeccable brand of post/doom experimental metal and hardcore. Ambitiously abstract and surreal, Eternal Kingdom is an organic album of nuanced experimentation that is everything we could hope for from the band.
Runners up of 2008
Testament, The Formation of Damnation - Forget about Metallica, this is 80s thrash the way it is meant to be heard.
Blacklisted, Heavier Than Heaven, Lonlier Than God – While Pitchfork, the AV Club, and many other media outlets lead you to believe that the new Fucked Up is the only hardcore album worth listen to this year (..or according to some dumbfucks, the decade), it isn’t quite. Hardcore has been a slowly dying genre for nearly two decades now, with only a few bands remaining to carry the torch, but nevertheless, hardworking, progressive bands have kept the scene alive. In my opinon, Blacklisted has stepped to the forefront of the pack with HTH, LTG to take on the duty. Anthemic, memorable, gritty, raw, and straight-to-the point, this is a vicious release that demands to be heard.
Krallice, Krallice - New York black metal band featuring shredders from Behold… the Arctopus and Orthrelm has created the most incredible display of metal guitar talent this year.
Fucked Up, The Chemistry of Common Life - While Fucked Up doesn’t have my vote for best hardcore album, that’s only because it can barely be considered a hardcore album. This is a visionary release that steps outside of traditional genre walls. These guys are prolific as hell too, so who knows what else they have up their sleeves.
Bloodbath, The Fathomless Mastery - In a year or many, many great brutal death metal albums, this album was probably the funnest to my ears. Songs like “Mock the Cross” and “Iesosus” are honestly full of some of the greatest, angry, headbanging riffs be put to a blastbeat in history. To be clear though, this music is definitely not for the meek. Bloodbath are still savagely violent, but on The Fathomless Mastery they’ve created a beautifully riff-laden death metal album that I think could help outsiders realize why we love our shit heavy as lead!
Enslaved, Vertebrae - It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that I’m leaving this off of my Top 10 list. The fact is that I still haven’t had enough time to listen to it and let it sink in; either way its a very awesome album of epic progressive black metal.
Cynic, Traced in Air - This album gained my love for several reasons, cheif among them being that it simply sounds different than any record I’ve ever heard. Super slick transitions and electronic mastery are what makes the album so alluring, and the heavy foundation give it weight and maximum replayability. From seemingly out of nowhere, Cynic is back and (dare I say?) better than ever.
A Storm of Light, And We Wept the Black Ocean Within – Josh Graham’s new band rewrites the post-metal formula with a captivating, bleak outlook and an innovative sonic vision.
Hellhammer, Demon Entrails – Whereas Enslaved and Nachtmystium seem to be writing the blueprint for the future of blackened extreme metal, Demon Entrails shows us where it all began. This ravenous collection of early recordings is a must-own for any fan of extreme music. Cold and unforgiving, these original demoes still shock 25 years late. While I’ve been hearing the influence of Hellhammer’s music constantly for many years, it’s very satisfying to finally have my hands on these seminal recordings.
Favorite Metal Songs of 2008
Most Brutal Video of 2008
Behemoth – “At The Left Hand Ov God”
Best Live Metal Concert of 2008
All things considered, we were plagued with some very awesome metal tours this year; At the Gates and Carcass both reunited, Metal Masters 2008 united some of the best names in classic metal, and plenty of smaller bands were on tour to satisfy my tastes (including an unspeakably awesome post-Pitchfork showcase show with Nachtmystium, Torche, AND Boris). However, I’d be lying to myself if I denied the honor of best show of the year to the reunion of Max and Igor Cavlera. I was giddy as a schoolboy when I found out that they had reconciled their differences and reunited, and watching their show in Maplewood sidestage next to Dillinger Escape Plan was the highlight to my year. For the entire night, the Myth was moving in a circle, and for good reason. After two months on tour, Max and Iggor had coalesced into their impeccable groove machine and hit the stage with seemingly more fire than ever. The twenty one song set was anchored by 12 of the best Sepultura tracks known to man; Refuse/Resist, Biotech, BTR, Arise, Propaganda, DEC, Troops, Territory, Roots..peppered throughout by choice cuts from the new CC album. What more do I need to say? On this night, Cavalera Conspiracy showed that heart of Sepultura still beats strong, but it’s only that it’s been transplanted to a new body.
Heavy Music Split Release of 2008
Two great gritty bands team up for an exciting two track LP that showcases their strengths. A great listen for anyone who a) enjoyed Disfear’s newest raw release of d-beat noise rock B) is interested in what a new Doomriders 2009 album will sound like (hint:\m/ DOOMROCK \m/) or c) needs an introduction to either of these awesomely heavy bands.
Favorite New Band in 2008
Tombs caught me completely off guard earlier in the year during a performance with Rosetta; next to the other bands that night, I was amazed how alive and maniacal the power was behind this trio’s noise. After the release of an LP and split that take post-metal in a darker direction, I’m very happy for their signing to Relapse this year and am really looking forward to their 2009 debut (tentatively titled Winterhours) with the label.
Favorite Area Metal Albums of 2008
|Høst, Høst (2008 album released under band name Hennes Siste Høst)
Black metal band from North Dakota with a raucous, progressive, and unpretentious new album of majestic wizardry that connects the dots between Sonic Youth and Emperor. Expect to hear much more from them in the future.
|Ambassador Gun, When in Hell
Minneapolis grindcore trio who have carved out their own niche of headbang-inducing, fist-pumping grind ‘n’ roll. A new album released this year is their most impassioned and enjoyable yet.
|Gay Witch Abortion, Maverick
A hard-fucking-rocking Minneapolis duo with a multi-faceted, amazingly innovative approach to their craft. It’s chaotic punk-infused noise metal that you can’t help but dance to. Think, if Lightning Bolt grew up playing Slayer, AC/DC, King Crimson, AND Bad Brains covers…
Metal’s Biggest Disappointment of 2008
Metallica, Death Magnetic – Really, I’ve never been a huge Metallica anyway, but the huge amount of good hype that was surrounding this release honestly had me believing that it might actually be worth something. Unfortunately, I shouldn’t have wasted my time. While some riffs are interesting, there’s way too many cliches and missteps to justify the status its been given as a “return to their roots” (muchless to justify me wanting to listen to this rather than an other album that made my list). Not to mention, the production is godawful.. fuck.
Most Missed Metal Band in 2008
There aren’t enough words to express how sad it makes me that Vitek and Decapitated were taken away from me and so many other adoring metal fans last year. With hindsight to aid my perspective, Decapitated really was the most promising death metal band in existence. Considering the band averaged about 20 years of age at the time of their crash, it becomes even more clear how badly the metal community and the rest of the world were robbed on the day that Vitek was taken from us. Rest in peace, brother; your blastbeats will give me strength til the day I pass on, as well.
These are the bands who called it quits this year that I am particularly sad to see go. It seems like the perils of the world have taken a hard toll on a lot of bands this year; from high gas and food prices to increasing competition for young fans, underground bands have suffered. However, in the future we’ll hopefully be seeing members from these bands surface in other projects, and I’ll have my fingers crossed for inevitable reunion shows. Heck, I already found out that one of my favorite local bands (Blue Ox) has absorbed Logan from Dead to Fall, so I’m optimistic about the possibilities.
Most Anticipated Metal Releases of 2009
Tombs, Winter Hours
Mastodon, Crack the Skye
Snapcase, TBA (retrospective dvd)
Napalm Death, Time Waits for No Save
The Crinn, Dreaming Saturn
…did I hear Sacred Reich are back together?
Favorite Non-Metal Albums of 2008
The Dodos, Fools
Atlas Sound, Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel
Jay Electronica, What the Fuck is a Jay Electronica?
Tobacco, Fucked Up Friends
Grails, Doomsdayer’s Holiday
Favorite Non-Metal Songs of 2008
Best Live Non-Metal Shows of 2008
Rage Against the Machine (acapella RNC jam at the Capitol)
Favorite Local Non-Metal Albums of 2008
Vampire Hands, Me and You Cherry Red
Lullabies from paradise, this music is! No doubt, Vampire Hands’ new album is the most enjoyable rock ‘n’ roll album I’ve owned from any location in quite a long time. This Minneapolis group excels in blissful, uplifting, psychedelia and unsettling ambience that soothingly eases that body and mind.
The whole Doomtree clique was on fucking fire this year. Seems like everyone was releasing solo albums even during the midst of their amazing new collaborative album and some incredible live shows. With groups like this continuing to push limits, Minneapolis will remain an underground hip hop hotbed until the rest of the world truly wisens up..