It’s that time of year again. Time to cozy up ’round the fireplace, crack open a brewsky, and duke it out over who had the Best Metal Album of the Year. Without further ado, here they are.
10. CVI, Royal Thunder The music of Royal Thunder, from Atlanta, GA, is almost not metal — and that’s not a bad thing. It’s a welcome reminder that music can be emotionally resonant without being sonically violent or lyrically graphic. The songs on CVI aren’t any of the things metal fans usually revere: they’re not “complicated” or “fast” or “brutal.” In that sense, this might be the most “challenging” album on this list. It’s more classic psychedelic rock than modern metal, and singer MLNY Parsons is like a dark siren from the ’60s reincarnate. She’s the crown jewel in a band that’s unafraid simply to be themselves. Trends be damned.
9. Resolution, Lamb of God For over a decade, Lamb of God have been the “it” band in American heavy metal. Resolution is their seventh studio album, and it debuted at number three. At this point in their career, LOG are only competing against the bar they’ve set for themselves. Their groove metal is as powerful as ever, and they are terrifyingly strong live. Much has been said this year about singer Randy Blythe’s manslaughter charges in the Czech Republic; after seeing his astonishing command over the NYC audience at the Roseland Ballroom last month (where there were no fans onstage), we can only say: maybe unstable governments should be afraid.
8. Dethalbum III, Dethklok Here’s the thing about Dethklok: the lyrics are ludicrous, but the music is no joke. Renaissance man Brendon Small takes on songwriting, guitar, and vocal duties — as though masterminding an animated series on Adult Swim wasn’t enough work already. Add Gene Hoglan (Death, Testament) on drums and Bryan Beller (Steve Vai) on bass, and it doesn’t matter that you’re singing about ejaculating fire: you’re going to sound badass. It’s likely no one in human history has or ever will again compose lyrics containing the phrase “epididymal retention” — except Dethklok. [ 7. Naught, Stolen Babies Six years after their debut album (with four of those years spent in indefinite hiatus), Los Angeles band Stolen Babies have arrived back on the scene with more of their wonderfully bizarre cabaret metal. Here’s a fun riddle: what sound do you get when you take twin brothers who’ve played with The Dillinger Escape Plan, a reluctant theatre starlet, and an accordion and mix it with the Talking Heads and Edward Gorey-style illustration? Stolen Babies — and Naught lives in a whimsical world of their creation.
6. Yellow & Green, Baroness “Beautiful” is a word you don’t often hear used to describe heavy metal, but in this instance, it’s totally appropriate. The third studio album by the Savannah, GA, band, Yellow & Green transcends metal, venturing into folk and psychedelic spaces. While Baroness have always explored genres outside of the “sludge” moniker that’s never done them justice, this record finds them pushing beyond their past efforts into musical territory that’s — gasp! — pretty. The instrumental “Green Theme” — with its shifts from a weeping, atmospheric guitar verse into a blossoming, harmonized guitar chorus — is one of the most gorgeous pieces of music you will hear this year.
5. Years Past Matter, Krallice Dense and intricately composed, Years Past Matter, by Brooklyn’s Krallice, takes the listener on a journey through six songs, most of which run longer than 10 minutes each. The tracks are titled only by increasing repetitions of the letter “i”, as though someone’s cat applied paw to laptop key, and the results became the song names. (How does one distinguish between songs onstage when reading a setlist of tunes like “iiiiiiiiii” and “iiiiiiiii”?) The album pummels the brain with constantly changing time signatures amidst a wall of multi-layered guitars. Even if we can’t pronounce the songs, we admire the craftsmanship therein. 4. Harmonicraft, Torche Here’s another metal anomaly: happy metal that’s not power metal. Harmonicraft seems infused by sunshine from Torche’s hometown of Miami. The band have been mislabeled sludge, perhaps due to their Southern origins, but there is nothing swampy about their up-tempo tunes with ample use of major chords (shocking!), which lend a cheerful mood to the album. Somehow it’s heavy and sunny at the same time — a surprising musical juxtaposition that’s refreshing amidst the doom and gloom of typical metal fare.
3. Son of Perdition, Wretched The chilling, classical-style organ and chorale on “Oblivion,” the opening track of Son of Perdition, sets an intellectual tone for this third album by Charlotte, NC, death metal band Wretched. Yes, we just used the words “intellectual” and “death metal” in the same sentence. Now get this: the main chord progression of the punishing second track follows that of the choral opening. And then there’s a jazz outing in “The Stellar Sunset of Evolution,” a trilogy of instrumentals revealing the breadth of styles these musicians are capable of. It’s a stunning album.
2. Illud Divinum Insanus — The Remixes, Morbid Angel/various artists Illud Divinum Insanus, the 2012 studio album by Morbid Angel, sucked. Inconceivably, the two-disc album of the same songs, remixed by electronic and industrial artists from around the globe, is fucking phenomenal. It’s as though inserting guitarist and vocalist Trey Azagthoth (one of the OGs of death metal in the ’80s) into electronic subgenres like dubstep has not only transformed one of Morbid Angel’s worst albums into a work of collaborative brilliance (with most of the credit going to the remixing artists); it’s also elevated electronic music into novel realms of darkness. We’d even venture to say it’s created a new genre (deathstep?). There may be metal purists reading this who think we’re kidding. We’re not. 1. L’Enfant Sauvage, Gojira French technical death metal band Gojira are some of the most highly skilled musicians playing today. Brothers Joe and Mario Duplantier (rhythm guitar/vocals and drums, respectively) write elegant compositions with mind-bending song structures. In performance, their precision and athleticism are elite, rivaling classically trained professionals. The title track alone on L’Enfant Sauvage renders it worthy of this list. Have a listen to the contrasting themes just in that one song — the impenetrable rhythms in the beginning followed by the space created by the lead guitar. No one in metal writes music this complicated yet so perfectly balanced. From beginning to end, this album is peerless.
Honorable Mentions: De Vermis Mysteriis, High on Fire; Koloss, Meshuggah; No Absolutes in Human Suffering, Gaza; Beg Upon the Light, Venomous Maximus; Misery Wizard, Pilgrim; Whispering Wild Stories, Denizen; A Eulogy for the Damned, Orange Goblin