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Saturday, January 30, 2010

My Top 5 Albums of 2009

Current mood: METALLL

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Matt's Top 5 Albums of 2009

Greetings, parasites! This might be a bit late, as it is already nearly February, but it was on my mind recently (that's a lie, it's on my mind all the time), so I figured I'd take a look back at all the records I obtained in 2009, and give an overview of the ones that were, in my opinion, the best. Compared to 2008, this year was MILES ahead in terms of fantastic new releases, like some kind of morbid inverse of '08 and '09's significant celebrity death ratios. Whereas last year I struggled to even find five solid albums, this year I found it incredibly difficult to narrow the list down to JUST five (hence why I sorta cheated). Each album in this list is a perfect 10 out of 10, 5 stars, etc. It's probably worth noting here and now at the beginning, however, that I most certainly did not listen to every record released in 09. I pretty much stick to my own 'comfort zone' in terms of genre, so I'll preface this article right now by saying: the following works listed are pretty much all metal albums. If you have a recommendation for me, I'd be more than happy to give it a few listens, but for now, here are the albums of 2009 which I thought were fantastic.

#5 - Devin Townsend: Ki / Addicted
Best Song- Ki, Track 2: Coast
- Addicted, Track 4: Supercrush

This list starts off with a little double album action from modern musical genius and, more personally, my biggest musical influence and hero, Devin Townsend. These two albums, titled Ki and Addicted, respectfully, are records #1 and #2 in a four-album series, which is why they were both released this year; Ki in May, and Addicted in November. Despite this, these are full albums and can stand just fine on their own, and in fact, don't really seem at all related, musically. The first record, Ki carries a calm, relaxing feel due to the abundance of clean guitar and scarce, downplayed session drumming from a 62 year old blues musician. Atmosphere is the name of the game with this record, and Ki is as effective in this regard in the silence between the notes as it is with the notes themselves. This is my choice chill-out record, despite the fact that it is brimming with tense emotion. Indeed there are very intense build-ups in many of the songs, but just as you think the song is going to explode into a massive passage, you are immediately let down. In addition to spirituality and focus, this record is about restraint, and the restraint exhibited in this album is both shocking and moving, considering the music comes from the same mind which perfected the art of truly massive music in addition to creating the most relentless, punishing skull-crusher of an album ever made.

The second record in this shifty little two-parter, Addicted, contains the loudness listeners have come to expect from Townsend, but with a bit of a twist. Townsend himself stated that this was his 'pop' record. Ten songs, average length, short and to the point, here's a beat, here's some synth, here's a huge chorus...now fuck the drama in life, let's dance! While all this is true, the record is a far cry from anything you'd expect to hear in the Top 40, as it seamlessly blends these catchy pop sensibilities with Devin's trademark "not right in the head" style. For every catchy hook there is a scream, and for every Euro-pop melody, there's a crushing wall of guitars. The addition of angelic female vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen to counteract Townsend is nothing but beneficial to the overall picture. My favorite moment is Track #4, appropriately titled Supercrush, which is a break from the dance-pop of the previous track. This song features the TASTEFULLY auto-tuned vocals of Giersbergen (take notes, people) in the verses, before exploding into an absolutely massive chorus, where Devin gives one of the most powerful vocal performances I've ever experienced. This record is an audio engineer's heaven, and you're doing an injustice to music if you listen to it on youtube. There is so much subtle work going on throughout the album, that the more intently (loudly) you listen, the more you will enjoy it. Overall, the duality in this record between uplifting and intense is perfectly merged into something that is ultimately beautiful. This is one to crank up, folks. It's worth every decibel of hearing loss.

#4 - Disarmonia Mundi: The Isolation Game
Best Song- Track 6: The Isolation Game

Disarmonia Mundi. "World Chaos" in latin. I've been a huge fan of this Italian melodic metal band for a few years, now. The word 'band' though, feels wrong when addressing these guys. Two guys, to be specific. One of which, Ettore Rigotti, writes and plays ALL of the music. I consider DM to be 100% his project and his music. The other half of the band, Claudio Ravinale, jumped aboard two albums into Ettore's career, bringing to the music lyrics and half of the vocals. His presence is felt much stronger on this record than past efforts. Claudio delivers almost all of the screams on The Isolation Game, alternating in every song between a very solid, run-of-the-mill metal scream to a high pitched, gothic, banshee shriek. He is, however, far from the primary focus of the music. Rather, Ettore shines yet again on this record as a master of brutality without losing his sense of groove. The 'groove' is something I find infinitely enjoyable in the metal genre, yet is at the same time constantly lost in the sea of bands trying to 'out-brutalize' the rest. Let it be clear that this record is definitely not without its share of blast beats and double kick insanity. In fact, these and similar thrashy aspects are abundant here, but at the same time, there is a huge focus placed on maintaining a backbeat and being able to just bang your head without breaking your neck from extreme BPM. It's something that's hard to explain and really has to be heard. In ADDITION to this, the music never loses it's melody. Ettore tends to hide guitar leads very, very far back in the mix, with chugging rhythm tracks brought to the front. This adds to a very unique and EFFECTIVE kind of melodic texture. It's amazing how every track will both crush your bones and put a smile on your face at the same time. For sheer brutality, check out the track "Stepchild of Laceration", which contains a sheer speed-fest for a chorus. For straightforward headbanging with an epic chorus delivered by Soilwork vocalist Bjorn Strid, give the song "The Isolation Game" a listen. Overall, if you want to rage yourself to exhaustion and still have a great melody to sing along to when you're passed out on the floor, this is the album for you.

#3 - Amorphis: Skyforger
Best Song- Track 1: Sampo

Here's where it gets REALLY tough to choose a #1 for the year. I mean, REALLY tough. Amorphis' newest record had been 'spinning' on my iPod for many, many months after it was released (early February), and I still listen to it at least once every two weeks or so. This record (along with Amorphis' previous masterpiece Silent Waters) just OOZE quality songwriting. Though Skyforger is technically a metal album, it's far from fast, and far from angry. Most growling is saved for the bridge of each song, if it appears at all, which I actually enjoy. When vocalist Tomi Joutsen employs a death growl, YOU PAY ATTENTION. Otherwise, Joutsen sings in a very pleasing baritone. Most lyrics are delivered with subtle inflection during the verses and extremely powerful belting during the choruses (often vice versa). Aside from the vocals, the entire record moves along at a steady mid-tempo pace, and EVERY song has a melodic hook which will draw you in instantly. The melodies created on this record are deep, moving, and beautiful, and are usually carried by the lead guitar or the piano. If you want to know what I'm talking about in terms of the hooks in this record, listen to the first few bars of the song "Sky is Mine". I guarantee you'll be listening to the rest of the song after hearing that, and you should! Every song on this record works cohesively and each plays an important part in the whole picture. This album is the sonic equivalent of a sequence of Monet paintings. Every piece is huge and driving, yet never intimidating or 'angry', which most lay-listeners would use to describe any metal work. There is a world of difference between ANGRY and POWERFUL, and this record is 100% the latter. Skyforger is barely a metal album, and I highly recommend it to anyone who would be interested in truly epic, powerful music. Oh, and the record's closer is mind-blowing.

#2 - Mastodon: Crack the Skye
Best Song- Track 7: The Last Baron

This one should come as no surprise to anyone who has heard it, really. Mastodon's newest record received almost unanimously 5-star reviews upon its release in March. It's a bit of a stylistic shift from previous works by the band, but no less enjoyable. There's a bit of backstory regarding the members of the band that led to the music on this album, I'll try to put it as short as I can. Basically, guitarist and vocalist Brent Hinds was punched in the back of the head by a man and landed face first on the concrete of the Vegas Strip. He was dead for a while, but eventually he woke up, only with the injury came a bit of a mental irregularity which led to numerous episodes of vertigo and...'carving a wooden idol out of a log which faces magnetic north but only being able to work on it during certain hours of the day' syndrome. Despite these oddities, the other band members noted a huge stylistic advance in Hinds' guitar playing, writing and overall musical approach. This, combined with drummer Brann Dailor's increasing emotions over his sister Skye's suicide in 1990, is what led to this extremely dark and melancholic, but masterful and one-of-a-kind work. Lyrically, the album's concept has to do with a paralyzed man who astrally projects his spirit into space, travels back in time, possesses the body of Rasputin in czarist Russia, gets killed, and meets up with a bunch of other spirits which try to help him get back to his original body. The music on the album reflects the lyrical themes. The music is very ethereal, spacey, and dark. It is also, I am suddenly learning, VERY difficult to describe. Imagine a band made up of an impossibly skilled jazzy drummer, a bluegrass / country guitarist, an ACTUAL mastodon, and the god of beards. Ugh...this is hard...you really need to listen to the record to realize what a work of art it is. People who are predominantly turned on by vocal-based music will NOT understand it. I'm sorry, you just won't. Other listeners will still have to give it at least three full listens through to get it, but once you get it...man it's really something else. There is a LOT going on in every bar. Thematically, artistically, and sonically this album says something very profound. What it is saying is up to the listener, but just listen to any of the guitar solos on this record and you'll be treated to a very emotionally heavy experience which you won't easily understand, but is just as difficult to forget.


#1 - Dredg: The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion

Believe it or not, #1 is NOT a metal album! Not surprising, though, for anyone who knows just how much I LOVE this band. Hmm...how to describe Dredg. Post-Indie-Art-Rock-Progressive-Alternative-Experimental? That's the best I can come up with. Conceptually this record is explained as "a letter to the seven billionth citizen", meaning it is meant as a message to one, or really any, newborn life as a kind of "introduction to life as a human on Earth". It's kind of philosophical in a positive way. Musically, this band is made up of only FOUR members, one of which is one of my favorite guitarists, another, one of my favorite singers, and a third, by far my favorite drummer of all time. Aside from having a fantastically tasteful and enjoyable drumming style, the guy plays the piano. And the drums. At the same time. With this record, Dredg absolutely surpassed my already ludicrously high expectations. The production on this record is FLAWLESS, and they recorded it all on their own, in their own studio, more or less on their own dime. These four guys are musicians in every sense of the word, four guys who really understand the ins and outs of emotional expression through sound. Each note is perfectly placed, and every word delivered with precision. With this record, not only are we treated to a fantastic length of music, but we are witness to a wonderful journey. This record MUST be listened to front to back. When you literally FEEL every chord change, you'll agree. These guys busted their asses working on this record, and it really shows. Every layer is pristine, clear, and very well defined. The sound is catchy and poppy for sure, but it's also artistically integral and above all else, infinitely beautiful. The melodies in this record wash across the listener like a breeze in summer, refreshing and uplifting. I really hope everyone has a band or artist or such whom they experience a similar feeling with when listening to their music. It really is fantastic.

Thanks for reading, if you made it this far!
-Matt
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