Metal Monday: Best Metal of 2010

In a year characterized by comebacks and newcomers, 2010 has been filled with solid metal releases. There were not many albums that were a true cut above the rest”most albums were in tight contention for a Top 10 spot. Really, the top metal albums this year are only a small amount better than the albums that just missed the cut. Even with a Top 10 and five honorable mentions, there are still some very good albums getting snubbed.  Usually, such a list would include some pleasant surprises and big letdowns.  You won’t find the latter here.  Instead you’ll find some consistently great performers mixed with some nice surprises.  Counting down to 2010’s best album:

10. PriestessPrior to the Fire

After making one of the better classic heavy metal-influenced albums in recent years, Hello Master, the Canadian metallers returned with a less poppy and more classic sounding album, and a great one at that.

9. Dark TranquillityEnter The Void

You can be sure of two things with Dark Tranquillity; first that they never put out a bad album, and second that they never put out the same album. Every album from these Gothenburg metal legends is a new, different, and great. Enter The Void continues the trend.

8. Dimmu BorgirAbrahadabra

Though often criticized for being a “fake” black metal band, Dimmu Borgir know what they do, and they do it well. Abrahadabra is another symphonic black metal album that’s a slight step ahead of the pack.

7. EnslavedAxioma Ethica Odini

There are a limited number of bands who can do exactly what Enslaved does on Axioma Ethica Odomi. Certainly no one does it as well. From front to back, this is a very solid album full of the best parts of death, black and progressive metal.

6. DeftonesDiamond Eyes

Deftones are back to their old form, writing ethereal music with an abundance of emotion and power behind it”only now they have a very clear and precise sound that brings it all together. Every member of the band sounds as good, if not better, than they ever have.

5. The Tony Danza Tapdance ExtravaganzaDanza III: The Series of Unfortunate Events

Danza III truly is a death/grind/core/ masterpiece, and there is little more to say about it than that. Even so, you can check my review of it from a few months prior.

Overkill Ironbound4. OverkillIronbound

Like Deftones, Overkill are another band that have returned to form in 2010, but this one in a much more drastic fashion. Ironbound is easily Overkill’s best album in nearly two decades, and is true to the band’s excellent thrash roots.

3. Blind GuardianAt The Edge of Time

After their 2002 and 2006 albums, A Night at the Opera and A Twist in the Myth, it was hard to see At The Edge of Time coming. Quite possibly the band’s heaviest release to date, the furiously heavy riffs add another dimension to Hansi Kürsh’s vocals that was never quite there before.

2. Rhapsody of FireThe Frozen Tears of Angels

Like Blind Guardian, Rhapsody of Fire have added a completely new and much heavier dimension to their music with the amount of great riffs on The Frozen Tears of Angels. Very consistent with all of their releases, The Frozen Tears of Angels is a somewhat cheesy (but totally awesome) symphonic power metal album narrated by Christopher Lee.

1. PeripheryPeriphery

Periphery hit the metal scene hard in 2010 with their debut eponymous release. They play a style of music called “djent” that’s named after the chugging guitar found in all bands that play this style. It’s hard to imagine a better album of this sub-genre.

Honorable mentions:

ExodusExhibit B: The Human Condition

As with all of the “second tier” of thrash metal bands still at it today, Exhibit B is another solid release true to thrash metal’s roots.

Fear FactoryMechanize

Featuring the legendary Gene Hoglan on drums, Fear Factory made an impressive comeback with Mechanize, an album closer in style to Fear Factory’s earlier albums, avoiding what many thought would be disastrous album after the letdown that was Transgression in 2005.

Ion DissonanceCursed

It’s hard to pinpoint, but there’s something about Canadian deathcore bands that’s just better than their US cohorts. Ion Dissonance proves this yet again with Cursed (as Despised Icon did in 2009 with Day of Mourning).

Death AngelRelentless Retribution

Another “second tier” thrash metal band from the 80’s still putting out solid releases. Relentless Retribution is no different.

SevendustCold Day Memory

Since 2000, Sevendust is a band that has continued to get better with each album. Some argue that Animosity is and always will be the band’s pinnacle, but Cold Day Memory shows us that these guys aren’t ready to hang it up” they’ve got plenty more great music in them.

Did I forget an album? Do you have any disagreements? What are your favorite albums this year? Comment below and let me know!

Metal Monday: Metalcore, Grindcore, Deathcore – What's the Difference?

Metal as a community”made up of bands and their fans” is a tight-knit population, but that does not mean this happy family is without its schisms. With the somewhat recent rise of deathcore into the mainstream, many death metal and grindcore acts have drawn a line in the sand to separate themselves from this sub genre of metal. The same can be said for metalcore, which at one point in the early 2000s had a major surge within mainstream music and was ostracized by many metal sub genres. You see, if someone isn’t raised in the metal scene, then they may not be able to tell the minor differences between these sub genres. Add to this the large number of bands  spilling over and changing sides between sub genres, and you’ve got a recipe for a giant mess.

Grindcore, metalcore, deathcore”they all came from very distinct roots: death metal and hardcore (scenes ultimately born from punk). Death metal is known for its heavy and constant nature, taken to an extreme level. Lots of bands fit this bill and have had the “death metal” label slapped onto them, but the essence of death metal lies in bands like Death, Cannibal Corpse, Obituary, Suffocation and Decapitated. Change anything the classic death metal  formula and you’ve probably found yourself wandering into sub genre land”bands like Necrophagist are known as “technical death metal” but to the inexperienced listener are really not much different. For a good example of death metal, you can check out this video for Cannibal Corpse’s “Death Walking Terror”:

Early in the death metal days, grindcore was born”taking the heaviness of death metal bands of the time along with the avant-garde nature of post-rock, the frenetic rhythms and breakdowns of hardcore punk and an extra splash of craziness to create a totally new sub genre of music. The more famous grindcore acts include Napalm Death, Pig Destroyer, Brutal Truth and Agoraphobic Nosebleed. Check out this music video for Brutal Truth’s “Sugar Daddy” to hear a good example of  grindcore:

The late 1990s witnessed the next offshoot: metalcore. Though its beginngs lie in early 90s bands like Converge and Zao, its current style was brought about by bands such as Unearth, God Forbid and Shadows Fall. Taking a lot of influence from trash, the metalcore tag may be a bit misleading, as the only real element taken from hardcore is the style of breakdown used. Most of the stylistic choices lie in heavy thrash, and the vocals often feature big melodic lines evident in heavy metal bands like Armored Saint. The most famous example of more modern metalcore is All That Remains‘ “This Calling”:

Soon after metalcore’s rise, deathcore began to brew. Take out the melodic vocals, make the sound a bit heavier and use more extreme breakdowns and you’ve transformed regular metalcore into deathcore. Bands such as The Acacia Strain, Caliban, The Red Chord, Animosity and Job For a Cowboy are known as some of the first true deathcore bands. To get a taste of an archetypal deathcore song, check out The Acacia Strain’s “Angry Mob Justice”:

Nowadays, though, bands are breaking these boundaries. Act such as The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza, Cephalic Carnage, Job For a Cowboy and Brain Drill have completely shattered the mold for these genres. This has been a much needed change for the metal scene since many separate sub-genres began drawing lines in the sand because, really, many of these bands aren’t that different at their core”they’re all just looking to have a good time by making extreme music people want to move to.

Metal Monday: Summer Slaughter Tour in Worcester, MA Review

Worcester, Massachusetts, July 31st, 4:00 p.m. The weather outside The Palladium was perfect as I stood in line amongst dozens of other metalheads in anticipation of seven straight hours of metal assaulting my ears. Originally, the bands playing were thought to be only the Summer Slaughter lineup (or, as Cephalic Carnage put it, the Summer’s Laughter tour), but there was a bonus! For the same ticket, show-goers got to wander upstairs to see the bands on the Over the Limit tour, which is headlined by As Blood Runs Black and Oceano.

As I entered the establishment, the first band on the downstairs (main) stage, Vital Remains, was starting. A thoroughly unimpressive set ” the band was pretty lifeless on stage, and the sound was absolutely atrocious. Thankfully, this would not be a recurring theme for the night. Very shortly after Vital Remains closed their set, the shredmasters Animals As Leaders took the stage and put on a performance that absolutely had the best sound of the night, bar none. It was so well mixed that there was no need for plugs (granted, the band has only three members).

Afer checking out the first two bands on the main stage, I wandered upstairs and caught the last of Blind Witness‘s performance ” one that the crowd seemed really into. The next band on the upstairs stage was Thick as Blood. Promptly after Blind Witness’s set finished, the crowd shuffled out and left a mostly empty space for Thick as Blood. There were about four kids in the room that seemed to really enjoy them; everyone else around had a passing interest at best.

The Tony Danza Tapdance ExtravaganzaImmediately following Thick as Blood on the upstairs stage was The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza. The crowd flooded back into the room, and you could sense a strong sense of anticipation in the air for Danza’s set. The set unfortunately started off with Josh Travis experiencing some minor technical difficulties; not to worry, though, Jessie Freeland’s ferocious, roaring vocals more than carried the first song. Once the tech was all sorted out, Danza picked it up again and the entire crowd went ballistic. There was more crowd surfing and moshing during this one short set than during all of the previous bands combined. Throughout all of Danza’s performance, the upstairs was a pure madhouse, even when the band wasn’t playing.

Next up was Cephalic Carnage on the downstairs stage “ a hilarious band with pretty terrible sound but a really tight performance. Between songs, they discussed smoking weed, chronic masturbation, drinking booze, watching Star Trek, and other such occupationss. They even opened with the beginning of Boston’s “Foreplay/Long Time” and a chunk of the Super Mario Brothers theme. A bit of a hokey performance; Veil of Maya would flip that around mighty quickly, storming the stage with an extra tight and crisp set, one that had extremely good sound.

Hard to imagine that the performances could get any better, but The Red Chord were next up and delivered another incredibly tight set to their hometown crowd. Following The Red Chord was All Shall Perish, featuring two new members (on drums and lead guitar). Although an extremely lively set, it was also somewhat hit-or-miss. The new guitarist failed in comparison to Chris Storey, and Eddie Hermida was a bit rough on the vocals during the first song or two, but by the end, they had the machine firing on all cylinders and they finished with a bang.

The next-to-last band of the night was The Faceless, who were unquestionably the best-sounding act of the night. While it’s awfully tough to put a lot of movement and emotion into playing such technical guitar parts, The Faceless always find a way to have great stage presence. It could all stem from Derek “Demon Carcass” Rydquist’s vocals and confidence.

To cap off the night was the legendary Decapitated, who are playing their first US tour since the tragic loss of their former drummer, Vitek, truly one of the world’s greatest metal drummers. Thankfully, Decapitated’s new drummer has enough chops to handle the job. In addition to a new drummer, Decapitated also have a new bassist and vocalist ” they are really a different band but still unbelievable live. Every song the band played was fast, tight, loud, and awesome. Two short songs into the set, Decapitated saw a guest vocalist share the stage with RafaÅ‚ Piotrowski ” Jason Keyser of Skinless fame. There’s not much more that needs to be said about Decapitated’s set other than it was the most brutal, heavy, and energetic performance of the entire night ” a truly perfect headlining act.

Metal Monday: The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza – Danza III: A Series of Unfortunate Events [Review]

It’s hard to imagine a band that goes by the name of The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza would make ordinary music. Luckily, TDTDE push the envelope. Straight out of the heart of Tennessee, the band has created a unique signature sound using grindcore grooves, deathcore breakdowns, face grinding guitar riffs and hokey song topics”all of which are in full force on Danza III: A Series of Unfortunate Events.

If you’ve heard any Danza songs from their last album, Danza II: Electric Boogaloo, you will experience a similarly visceral assault with Danza III. In addition to the chaotic writing on the album, the production and soundscape really brings the beast to life. Every single bass drum hit done by Mike Bradley feels like a kick to the chest, every snare shot sounds like a rifle, it’s tough to keep your heart rate low. Combine that with the shrill, angular guitar parts played by Josh Travis and the raucous bellows of Jessie Freeland, and you’ve captured the essence of rage and adrenaline in audio form.

Danza III A Series of Unfortunate EventsThe lyrics on the album are based on unfortunate events (whether political, social, personal or otherwise) and the musical mood of the album appropriately corresponds. TDTDE do not plead their case with Danza III, there is no pussy-footing about. Instead, they impose their will with such vehemence and force even the most iron-willed of people have no choice but to succumb. From song to song, the listener experiences an aural bludgeoning until finally, when the album has come to a close, the listener feels like they have truly been victim of some sort of unfortunate event. The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza have truly transcended any box they could have been placed in, and created what will surely be one of the most chaotic and interesting listening experiences of 2010.

Track picks: “12.21.12” and “A Trail of Tears” (though truthfully, every track on this album is single-worthy)

If you’re looking to be a responsible music consumer and purchase the album, check it out at the Black Market Activities webstore or on iTunes.

Metal Monday: Album of the Year Frontrunners

It’s about halfway through the year, and you know what that means ”we’ve only got 6 months left to get new album of the year candidates. There have been some surprises, both good and bad, so far this year. We saw a return to form by a few bands, and a fall from grace from others. Even so, others have just solidified their dominance on their respective brands of metal. Here are the five best albums at the crucial halfway point of the year:

Rhapsody of Fire the Frozen Tears of AngelsFirst up is Rhapsody of Fire with The Frozen Tears of Angels. Known as a band who always puts out solid symphonic power metal albums, it’s hard to really step your game up beyond “really good” after 7 albums, but somehow Rhapsody of Fire have found a way to do so. In somewhat stereotypical fashion, the album starts off with an ominously-narrated intro track before Luca Turilli’s fingers catch fire and he plays the most furious and blistering guitar riffs I’ve ever heard from Rhapsody of Fire. The rest of the band follow suit, delivering what is easily the band’s best performance since Dawn of Victory.

High on Fire Snakes for the DivineNext is the latest gem from Matt Pike, High on Fire‘s Snakes for the Divine. Though the release is a bit of a change from the band’s last effort, Death is This Communion, the band has delivered yet another solid record in very much their own style. All of the instruments, including Matt Pike’s voice, are as grimy as ever ” but at least now they don’t sound like they were recorded in a garage. The problem about this type of production is that it’s a very acquired, but fitting, taste for the music. The whole album sounds very dense”there isn’t much breathing room between instruments. Snakes for the Divine definitely shows more of Matt Pike’s influence from his days in Sleep, most notably in the slower sludge sections of “Bastard Samurai.”

Overkill Ironbound