Thursday, December 23, 2010

2010 in review - wrapping up

Hope you enjoyed this 2010 in review week. It all ends in a list of lists. I kid you not. But first...

I couldn't just pull a The Secret with all of these, especially since I remembered them all after posting the list already. So pretend these albums were in there, okay?

BLASPHEMOPHAGHER ...For Chaos, Obscurity And Desolation...

LOCRIAN The Crystal World

...and these in the EP/demo list:

DISHAMMER Under The Sign Of The D-Beat Mark

ENSORCELOR Urarctica Begins (these guys were even band of the week a month ago!)

and finally...

Plenty of awesome reading to last you until next year:
E os melhores do ano são... (Luana Magalhães' list)
All of MetalSucks' Best-Of-2010 shit in one place (lots of musicians' top lists)
Best metal shows, Best metal album production and Best metal album covers of 2010, all at Invisible Oranges
Crustcake: These Seans' Best Of 2010
Decibel's Top 40 Albums of 2010
Grim Kim Kelly's Top 15 Albums of 2010 and Grim Kim's Top 10 Releases of 2010 That You've Never Heard Of
Haunting The Chapel's Top 50 Albums Of 2010 is publishing their list in parts, and it's looking great
Matthew Hopkins' Best Of 2010
Metal Flows In My Veins 2010 Retrospective
The Living Doorway Presents: The Best Of 2010
The Top 25 Albums Of 2010 by MetalReview
The year 2010 in metal (BBG's favourite records & live shows)

2010 in review - hope and the hopeless

Let me just start by emptying all the negative charge of this addendum to the big top 100 list - while I may poke (mostly) gentle fun at bands or genres during the course of my many ramblings, I don't really harbour any hatred for any band or musician. And I know how to not generalize mindlessly whenever I don't connect with an album like I expected to. And an album that I don't like doesn't affect the previous albums that I might have loved or my personal evaluation of the band in question's future work, as you'll see by a few of these - in fact, if I had expectations at all, it just means that I was a fan already. So there, that's all the moral disclaimers I need. And they're not just because I know people who are in a few of those bands.

To make it all better, I'll also mention ten bands whose albums I'm really looking forward to in 2011 right now.

Ten albums that I would have expected to figure in my top list of 2010:

AGALLOCH Marrow Of The Spirit
I've seen this very high up on a lot of lists, some of them quite close to my own otherwise, so I'm further and further convinced that something is broken inside my head. I love Agalloch, I've listened to The Mantle and Ashes Against The Grain especially more times than I can count, and I waited with bated breath for this album for months. I even did something that I rarely do - emailed record label people to get a promo, in case I wasn't getting one from any magazine that I write for. And then I got it. And then... nothing happened. The album totally passed me by, regardless of the number of listens. Because of how I love this band, I gave it chance after chance after chance, almost forcing myself to like it. If it worked for the first A Storm Of Light album (kind of), it should work for Agalloch too. Well, it hasn't yet. It just feels uneventful and way too understated for me, the atmosphere doesn't envelop me and I end up drifting off halfway. 

ALCEST Écailles De Lune
Alcest's first album, Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde, featured very highly on my 2007 list, and they even surprised me live, where they're much more energetic and cohesive than I might expect. This album, however, fell quite short of what I expected for a follow-up. It's great at first, mostly because it's basically more of the same that worked so well on Souvenirs..., but I feel much less depth than before, and I haven't touched it since, or even felt like it. 

CATHEDRAL The Guessing Game
I've always liked the idea of Cathedral more than the band itself, truth be told. Looking at their discography, only Forest Of Equilibrium and Endtyme stand out as albums I really, really liked. The rest, I always find them too hippie, in a bad way, too meandering, too... happy? So it should come as no surprise that I found The Guessing Game to be a gigantic, neverending yawn, unlike many of my friends and peers who assure me it's amazing. Still, I always have that shred of hope that I'll be blown away by Lee Dorrian and the boys. Maybe next time.

I actually got a hold of Paracletus a few days before the deadline to submit my top 20 for magazines to compile the votes, so I listened to it intensely for almost a week to see where it would land on the list. I don't think I've ever placed a Deathspell Omega album below the top 5 of each year where they have been released, so it seemed obvious it would be there. The painful conclusion after that week was that it wouldn't be. People have tried to come up with explanations as to why I'm not into it, and I've seen in some forums some very heated arguments about this album, but all I can offer is that it sounds way too jazzy and way too tame for what I expect a Deathspell Omega album to be. I recognize the musicianship and the talent, but the exhilarating rush of before simply isn't there.

ENSLAVED Axioma Ethica Odini
Another one that's on the top 3 of most lists I've seen, and I've been an obsessive Enslaved fan for many years. Dude, I remember the Frost CD never leaving my Discman for weeks on the way to school and back. I never got stuck on a particular phase either - I loved it when they totally expanded horizons with Mardraum - Beyond The Within, I went berserk with glee when they threw post-metal into the mix with Isa and Ruun, but then, painfully and unexpectedly, they totally lost me with Vertebrae. Proggy, clean-vocal-focused, weak and technical instead of from-the-gut and all-consuming like they had always been. Cerebral, rather than soulful. I might be sounding like a total prog-hater, but it's nothing of the sort. I just happen to think that when bands that had nothing to do with that sound suddenly get all pretentious on us, it's rarely a good thing. Well, Axioma Ethica Odini is Ruun to Vertebrae's Isa, so it's more of the same except a slight bit different. Herbrand sings more, which, again, is not a good thing. I'll sit on my hands until they get off this prog kick and move on to the next Enslaved chapter, so I can be a fan again. Oh, and Steve Wilson: HANDS OFF THIS BAND. DON'T. EVEN. THINK. ABOUT. IT.

...Of Frost And War was in my 2008 top 20, not only for the pleasure of hearing Martin Van Drunen's raw and powerful vocals again but because it was simply one of the best death metal albums of the decade. On Divine Winds is not bad, by all means, and it's even better than most bog-standard death metal being released these days, but the standard for this band is much higher than that. It feels like simply more of the same, like it was written on autopilot. Even for a band that is better on autopilot than most similar bands trying hard, it's not enough.

HIGH ON FIRE Snakes For The Divine
My issue with this one is simple - not enough balls. Which is ironic, asking for more balls from the great Matt Pike, whose own balls probably weigh more than the whole of wimpy old me after a big Portuguese lunch. But still Snakes For The Divine seems to suffer from an overall Mastodonization, a disease raging through many a band these days, manifesting itself with lots of clean singing and attempts of a higher level of musicianship resulting in a sudden burst of popularity, at the cost of losing vast amounts of previously shown raw power and aggression.

KYLESA Spiral Shadow
Another case of Mastodonization, in a way, albeit with less obvious symptoms. I had a lot of time for Static Tensions, it made my top 10 of 2009, but then I saw them live and it was atrocious. Twice. Static Tensions is still amazing, but it pains me a little bit knowing that the band seemingly can't really play those songs for real. So maybe my perception of Kylesa has changed because of that huge disappointment, but Spiral Shadow seems to be a case of too little, too soon. A couple of good songs, but mostly (even if they had more time than it seems to write it, since Static Tensions had been ready for quite a while when it came out) a strike-while-the-iron-is-hot kinda record, ironically the first one that got them plastered all over magazine covers around the world. I think it'd be best for me to reset my comprehension of this band for a couple of years, and hopefully they'll help with a kickass next album. Around 2012 or so, okay?

NEVERMORE The Obsidian Conspiracy
I remember This Godless Endeavor got 10/10 in Terrorizer, and even if I'm not at all comfortable with perfect ratings, I totally understood why. It's a faultless album, it has everything - a storyline, devastating power, superbly crafted songs, an amazing range of vocals, epics, ballads and ragers, technique used for shredding instead of wanking, you name it. Everything that the bland and uninspired The Obsidian Conspiracy is missing. It's almost as if Death Magnetic had come out after Master Of Puppets, to put it that way.

Now then, enough with the negativity. On to...

Ten bands whose albums I hope to have in my top list of 2011. Do not disappoint me.

Not even sure if there will be a full-length in 2011, but with two awesome 7" EPs this year, there'd better be, it'd better kick ass.

CROWBAR Sever The Wicked Hand
The best sludge band in the world will finally release their new album in February, five years after Lifesblood For The Downtrodden. The two songs they've streamed so far, 'Let Me Mourn' and 'The Cemetary Angels', are awesome and have shown Crowbar are in tip top form, so expectation is huge for this.

That first four-song demo would have probably topped my non-album release list if I had ordered it that way, so let's have a proper album now, shall we?

The skeleton of new material they played at South Of Mainstream 2010 was extremely impressive, the new line-up kicks ass in every way and the great beast has been recorded successfully, so bring it on!

This one is almost cheating, because I have the album already, I know it's mindblowing and I've even written about it. Still, it's a 2011 release anyway, and it doesn't hurt to praise them an extra bit more.

Anything but an album of the year is unacceptable, and judging by the new material revealed in London, they're well on their way for yet another lasting mark on extreme music.

Recordings have been finished this week, and since the last two unforgettable albums have seen Primordial shooting into the stratosphere in terms of quality and relevance, I expect nothing less once more.

By far and away the best band in Portugal right now, they have just released a limited remix EP called The Circle, and hopefully the gigantic Erosion will have a successor in 2011.

Those who've been lucky enough to catch their latest shows have witnessed a critical mass of music of rare proportions. If they carry that aura of magic over to the album, it will be quite serious.

Not that I'm done spinning their entire discography on a day in day out basis, but one more piece of Trap Them's unrelenting, intelligent, in-your-face intensity would be a very good thing indeed. The space on my shelf is reserved, guys. Get it done.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

2010 in review - the big top 100 (part 2/2)

On one hand, nothing will ever have that stop-whatever-you're-doing effect of Antony's debut album, but on the other hand it's great to see that already on his fourth full-length, with also a bunch of EPs along the way, he's still bursting with creativity and with new ways to apply that uniquely dreamy voice of his. Check out the song 'The Great White Ocean', it's worth the price of admission alone. Gorgeous.

49. CEPHALIC CARNAGE Misled By Certainty
A bit like Antony (and this is the first and only time Antony And The Johnsons will be compared to Cephalic Carnage in the entire history of the written word - aren't you happy you read this blog?), Cephalic Carnage have managed to shift one way or another from album to album to never become boring or repetitive, and Misled By Certainty is yet another example of how to grind out while still being insanely creative and innovative.

48. STARGAZER A Great Work Of Ages
In a year without Portal, we make do with the closest thing. Actually, I discovered Portal through StarGazer, since both StarGazer members have played in Portal before, but A Great Work Of Ages, while still in the same ballpark, is slightly different from the soul-consuming chaos of their mates and able to stand on its own as a dark, oppressive and spectacularly technical original death metal album.

47. IHSAHN After
Ihsahn's post-Emperor path has been a joy to behold, and After is his best album so far on that trajectory. Employing the sax of Shining's Jørgen Munkeby like never before that instrument has been used in metal, After is foreboding, sinister and yet still an example of stellar musicianship and sheer genius at work.

The chance to hear the powerful drumming of Sentenced's Vesa Ranta and the labyrinthine vocals of Fall Of The Leafe's Tuomas Tuominen again would be enough of a reason to justify the existence of The Man-Eating Tree, but the fact that they chose not to stick to their past and create a record as deep and as engaging as Vine makes them indispensable. Welcome back, guys!

45. KILL THE CLIENT Set For Extinction
GRRRRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH! Music to kick the heads of politicians in to. Have I mentioned before that I own their priest suicide t-shirt and that it's my favourite item of clothing?

44. COFFINWORM When All Became None
Horrid blackened sludge from Indiana that totally fulfilled the promises of their 2009 demo, Great Bringer Of Night, probably my favourite non-album release of that year. A name to follow closely, and one to bug Roadburn's Walter about to have them play there!

43. WHITE MOTH White Moth
The first of two R. Loren albums on this list (the second one is down there... way down there) is a disorientating "digital hardcore" album that throws in a world of illustrious guests into a cyclone of low-end heaviness, crushing beats and a remarkable pop sensitivity. Hard to get into, and it will probably flourish even more in the coming months and make me regret not having it in the top 10.

42. BURZUM Belus
Impossible for Belus to live up to unreasonable expectations or even get a fair perception without all the baggage, but what we're left with after all the opinionizing is a typically brilliant Burzum album, slightly less essential than Filosofem, for example, but with the same musical genius unmistakably present.

41. ALPINIST Lichtlærm
One of the best modern crust bands with the follow up to the brilliant debut. They were my band of the week a short time ago.

40. POMBAGIRA Baron Citadel
The band with the stupid name (for Portuguese people at least) finally come into their own with an album that will take a while to fit any head - those two gigantic final songs are almost full albums onto themselves. Heavy as shit live, too.

39. JOHNNY CASH American VI: Ain't No Grave
Far beyond the grave, the man in black's voice still haunts us - American VI is the apparently the last of the remaining material from the Rick Rubin years and it's very sombre, emotionally raw and deeply moving regarding the circumstances. We miss you, Johnny.

38. WOLVHAMMER Blackmarketeers Of World War III
Thanks to Stavros from The Atlas Moth who was kind enough to share them with me, I discovered Wolvhammer and it was quite a revelation. A punishing in-your-face mix of black metal, sludge and punk makes up for one of the most aggressive and devil-may-care loose albums of the year.

37. NIGHTFALL Astron Black And The Thirty Tyrants
Ah, the Nightfall we knew and loved from the 90s is not lost after all! Efthimis returns with a brand new line-up and a renovated motivation with his best album in 15 years, a sort of mature and deeply spiritual version of 1995's Nightfall classic 'Athenian Echoes'.

36. KVELERTAK Kvelertak
Sorry JGD, I know you hate it, but it's like Ghost - the damn thing demands to be enjoyed. That Hellacopters-meets-Darkthrone craziness, the hooks, the riffs, it's all just goddamn ear candy if you don't take it too seriously. And I think they don't themselves, so it's okay. I just wish the album cover was less Baizley-looking, it's the only thing that doesn't fit this kickass album.

Early Graves was the only serious contender for the Trap Them throne, and then tragedy struck and vocalist Makh Daniels was killed in a van crash. Goner is the amazing legacy left behind, and its urgent brutality is all the more poignant now. Rest in peace, Makh.

34. THE YOUNG GODS Everybody Knows
What's more left to say about the influence, genius and constant innovation of The Young Gods? Probably millions of things left, as their music is constantly inspiring of words, images and thoughts. Incorporating a new member, a newfound sense of organic sounds and the usual electrorockouts, Everybody Knows is as essential as every album in their discography.

33. WOLVSERPENT Blood Seed
The band formerly known as Pussygutt just got way scarier. Blood Seed plunges you in a damp, dark well and lets loose all the evil spirits of the land on you. Be afraid.

A sort of mix between old and new Unearthly Trance, V is yet one more chapter in the great Ryan Lipynsky quest to bash your skull in with mammoth riff after mammoth riff. A rude and confrontational mo-fo of an album.

31. SLIM CESSNA'S AUTO CLUB Buried Behind The Barn
In a year with a Wovenhand album, Slim Cessna's Auto Club is still the best gothic americana release to come out of the legendary Denver scene, so that's saying something. Spooky, subtle and sublime.

30. MONGO NINJA No Cunt For Old Men
The best of the three albums that Norwegian nutters Mongo Ninja released in the space of twelve months (!), No Cunt For Old Men obviously drips class and sofistication, and will have you humming the irresistible choruses of little ditties such as 'Broken Cock' or 'Wheelchair Hooker' all day.

I was terrified, amazed and blown away by The Night Terrors' theremin-led live show to such a fanboy extent that I went to the merch table right after to greet main man Miles Brown and purchase album, t-shirt and anything else he might have for sale. Then I listened to the album every day at home. And then I wrote about it on the band of the week feature, too.

Ufomammut's gig was on my top 10 mainly because they played this album in its entirety. Flowing as one long song divided in five parts, it goes from Neurosis-like heaviness and atmosphere to darkly psychedelic meanderings, without ever getting lost in the way. One of the most ambitious and well constructed albums of the year.

27. SALOME Terminal
A three-piece of voice, guitar and drums summon up one of the biggest slow-motion shitstorms in recent memory. Huge sound, huge riffs, huge vocals from the always impressive little Kat, and a huge tombstone-like feeling of termination.

26. NAILS Unsilent Death
Thirteen fucking minutes that feel like four hours, such is the unrelenting aggression Nails pack into that short amount of time. It's blow after blow after blow of Entombed meeting Napalm Death halfway through a battlefield of zombies. Get in!

25. MAN'S GIN Smiling Dogs
Cobalt's Erik Wunder releases the singer/songwriter in him and goes all post-apocalyptic Alice In Chains/Dax Riggs/Tom Waits on us, with a collection of staggeringly sombre Americana-fueled songs. Stone on my head, indeed.

One of the most surprising albums of the year, a reassuringly true heavy metal album that instantly transports us back to 1980, yet still maintains its feet firmly in 2010. Epic, inspiring and faith-affirming - if there's an ounce of metalhead in you, you need it.

You should know the drill by now. Lair Of The Minotaur are the most METAL band in the world. They have a song on this album called 'Let's Kill These Motherfuckers'. Just go and watch this video, okay?

22. WINO Adrift
Going through what is, amazingly, the most prolific, creative time of his career, Wino delivers a surprising acoustic album, full of soul and gritty emotion, yet maintaining the true rocker spirit that the great man has always shown. There's an awesome acoustic cover of 'Iron Horse/Born To Lose' here, for heaven's sake.

Career-defining albums like Theogonia are always hard to follow, but Rotting Christ did it with the usual class, delivering yet another epic album, even getting Diamanda Galás for a chilling participation in the last song.

20. HOODED MENACE Never Cross The Dead
One of the most underrated albums of the year, and one of the best death/doom albums of the last few years, Hooded Menace is the work of the multi-talented Lasse Pyykkö, the man behind many a great old-school death metal band, who has released his masterpiece with this sinister beast.

19. ADMIRAL ANGRY A Fire To Burn Down The World
Daniel Kraus' last fuck-you to the world is a one-song monster of towering unpleasantness. I was so impressed I wrote a band of the week article about it. Thank you, Daniel.

18. BLACK SUN Twilight Of The Gods
Killer riffs, crushing rhythms, a newfound knack for rocking out and an insane Eugene Robinson's guest spot make for yet one more chapter in the great Black Sun world domination saga.

17. RAMESSES Take The Curse
Obscure, hazy but surprisingly brutal and full of enormous riffs, through which Ramesses develop a very strong own personality that will sure quash the boring endless Electric Wizard comparisons for good.

The best Dark Tranquillity album since Projector and one of the best of their career, marking the 20th anniversary in the best way possible. Songs of an enormous scope that have already proved themselves on stage as well, proving that Dark Tranquillity remain one of the best and most consistent Swedish death metal bands.

15. IRON MAIDEN The Final Frontier
Eddie goes to space for what is arguably the best Iron Maiden album since Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, featuring everything a Maiden fan could wish for - melody, power, long and epic songs and even a more progressive touch sometimes. A remarkable effort for one of metal's ultimate standard-bearers.

14. BLACK BREATH Heavy Breathing / THE SECRET Solve Et Coagula
It's cheating, but it's my list and I'll cry if I want to. It's not like I totally forgot about the awesome The Secret album and needed to find a way to shove it in here or anything. Besides, it totally fits, both bands are on Southern Lord, they're not a million miles away from each other and you can totally picture them touring basements around Europe playing to 50 sweaty gobsmacked punters each night. As for Black Breath, the mouth-watering Razor To Oblivion EP hinted that something like this was on the way - one of the year's biggest revelations, going all out for a loose and gravely crusty and punkish Entombed sound and simply great songwriting. 'Black Sin (Spit On The Cross)', 'I Am Beyond' or 'Unholy Virgins' are already black fuckin' anthems from a bright hope for the future. Just like Italians The Secret, who really came into their own with the goddamn rapid-fire assault on the senses that is Solve Et Coagula. It's a fucking goat on the cover, okay?

13. KILLING JOKE Absolute Dissent
As we get closer to the top of the list, it's great to see that young pups mingle with the veterans in a huge party of awesome music. The return of Killing Joke's original line-up was one of the most celebrated "reunions" of the many that have happened recently, and Absolute Dissent was the main reason for that - one of the Joke's best albums ever, with every element that has made them great being used to its maximum effect possible. Grandiose and crushing.

12. HORSEBACK The Invisible Mountain
This gem was originally released in 2009, but went by almost totally unnoticed until the 2010 reissue, and it would be a crime to let it fall through the cracks like that. When I reviewed it for Terrorizer, it reduced me to descriptive hyperbole like "the condensed lifetime of a moribund star, as the drone riffs and ghostly vocals build up, layer upon layer, until the inevitable sky-shattering climax" and shit like that. Quite. 

11. CELESTE Morte(s) Nee(s)
The description I used for their gig pretty much sums them up, as it does my typically excited text from the band of the week feature, for which they were actually the very first band I talked about. That's, like, an honour, or something. Nah, just kidding.

10. THE BODY All The Waters Of The Earth Turn To Blood
There's Gregorian chants, mud-slingin' sludge riffs, catchy vocal harmonies and inhuman shouting on this album. Frequently on the same song. And the two guys have big beards and bigger guns. On a weaker year, this would be clearly #1 on the list.

09. AZURE RAY Drawing Down The Moon
The beauty among all the ugliness, the pearls among all the swine, the dreamy female duo alt-pop record among all the rude metal (even if it has the same name as a Beherit album, what are the fucking odds?). I've been a huge fan of Azure Ray for years, ever since I discovered that Eric Bachmann produced their albums, but this is on a whole different dimension. In terms of sheer quantity of listens, this unbelievable collection of songs probably tops everything else that has gone through my stereo this year. I once made an 800km drive with just this CD on repeat for the whole journey, make of that what you will. And that video, Jesus flippin' Christ on a crutch, that video.

08. INTEGRITY The Blackest Curse
If each Integrity album is a trip down Dwid Hellion's disturbed psyche, then this is where we reach the mouldy basement that's been closed for years, where that strange smell comes from. One of the darkest hardcore (I hesitated about that categorization for a moment, as it's so much more than that, but still) records ever made, it's been on my constant musical diet for long enough to encourage a bold claim - yeah, it's the best Integrity album ever. And that's saying something.

07. GNAW THEIR TONGUES L'Arrivée De La Terne Morte Triomphante / The Blotched And The Unwanted
No, this one isn't a shameless cop-out to incorporate a band I forgot, I really see these two as faces of the same coin. A deformed, charred, smelly coin, of a currency long since deleted. L'Arrivée De La Terne Morte Triomphante is the proper Gnaw Their Tongues album of 2010, further shoving us into a damp corner while forcing us to listen to torture-chamber music while covering the whole thing with a weird symphonic flair that's more present than on Mories' previous output with GTT. The Blotched And The Unwanted, on the other hand, is a "mere" compilation of outtakes and old tracks that didn't fit anywhere, yet strangely enough its spell seems to be even stronger than other proper albums, and the whole horrid affair feels like a blade gently caressing your bloodshot eyeball without actually slicing through. Until it does. Chilling, horrifying music for sick people. I love it.

06. TWILIGHT Monument To Time End
Reactivated by Blake Judd with a few extra members, the Twilight superstar project kicks into another level with the presence of Wrest, N.Imperial and Stavros Giannopolous, as well as sizeable contributions by Sanford Parker and Aaron Turner. Impossible as that may sound, if you throw all the past music of all those people into a vat of burning tar, the result might be something like Monument To Time End. Or imagine Neurosis jamming with Leviathan. One of the few albums to actually justify the abominable post-black metal tag, in the best possible sense. It would be a bitch to get them all together at once, but at least one live show of this superband would make all those who have subjected themselves to its glory very happy indeed. Make it happen sometime, Walter.

05. STARKWEATHER This Sheltering Night
These are the records that are really hard to write about. It's not because I've done 95 until now, after all, that's my job, and if I really count, that wouldn't be very far from the usual amount I do per month for the various mags I work for. When it's something as from-the-gut as This Sheltering Night, something that has hit so close to home, however, it's not "just" writing about music anymore. And that little speech is the best description of the effect this album might have on you. Whatever it is that first grabs you, be it Rennie Resmini's totally unique vocal outpourings or the razor-sharp riffs or the dark-as-a-dungeon production, something will grab you, and never let go, when you listen to Starkweather. Oh, and I did a band of the week feature on them where I was much more coherent than this.

04. TRIPTYKON Eparistera Daimones
Everything has been said about the painful Celtic Frost/Triptykon transition and its effects on the legendary figure of Tom G. Warrior, but to have all the hatred, all the anguish and all the pain crystallize into musical form is a privilege we should hold dear. Triptykon is an entity worthy of the heavy Celtic Frost legacy, and with 'Goetia', 'Abyss Within My Soul' or the towering 'The Prolonging' it already has its very own black hymns. It will be amazing to see how Warrior and the rest of the band build on from this unforgettable debut in the next few years.

03. SAILORS WITH WAX WINGS Sailors With Wax Wings
Here is that other R. Loren album I mentioned above. Sailors With Wax Wings is simply awe-inspiring in its emotional scope, like a sort of more organic, more human Pyramids. The dizzying list of contributors to this project has been well discussed before (funny fact: on Katatonia's Ultimate Metal Forum - because Jonas Renkse sings on a song here - there's a thread discussing whether this band is real or fake. I think fake is winning.), but it's the way they are all consumed by the music itself that is most incredible. To have Aaron Stainthorpe, Ted Parsons or Marissa Nadler fit together into a seemingly stream-of-consciousness reverb-drenched atmospheric whole is something that not even in a drug-induced kaleidoscopic dream we'd imagine. Fortunately, R. Loren did it for us. Check out the band of the week double-header feature I did on both SWWW and White Moth.

02. US CHRISTMAS Run Thick In The Night
Here's a secret - I didn't really like this album at first. Allow me to explain: I got it way earlier than most people, as I needed to review it for Terrorizer magazine, and after the first two listens I was in a terrible state of mind, as I'm a huge fan of this band, their gig at Roadburn two years ago was one of the most intense concert experiences of my life, but this very long Run Thick In The Night thing just seemed boring to me. And then, at the third listen, something snapped inside my brain. Whether it was the sheer psychedelic fever of 'In The Night', the outrageous distant beauty of 'Ephraim In The Stars', the monolithic weight of 'Maran' or the terrifying atmosphere of 'The Moon In Flesh And Bone', I don't know. Whatever it was, it floored me. As the last few seconds of the 80-minute experience ticked, my breath had been taken away. I could only mutter a quiet "wow" before pressing play again. And that's been my relationship with it ever since, after hundreds of listens, the "wow" factor is still there, and I don't think it's going anywhere soon. Only one album could top this from the #1 spot.

SWANS My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky
...that album is, of course, the new Swans album. The new Swans album. Repeat that sentence a few times, come on. It's a sentence I never thought I'd utter after Michael Gira laid the Swans to rest in the late 90s. Fortunately, this isn't a "reunion", or any lesser concept like that. Swans have just been reactivated, and from the moment I read that life-changing news, I suspected my album of the year had been found, despite the staggering quantity of unforgettable music I had heard and would still hear this year. Because Swans isn't just a band, and My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky isn't just an album. It's not even just another Swans album. It's Swans in 2010, and what Swans and Michael Gira should sound like in 2010, yet another twisting and turning of the ever-changing Swans template, holding in its core both the savagery of the first albums and the raw yet ethereal quality of the 90s output. It's not a continuation of anything, but if you choose to pick a past pairing, let's put it this way - it could be as much The Great Annihilator as it could be Cop. With the possible exception of Neurosis, in a totally different context anyway, no one could ever express emptiness as painfully accurately as album opener 'No Words / No Thoughts' does, no one could ever deliver the same knockout punch in a cynical velvet glove like 'Reeling The Liars In' does, no one could ever capture beautiful desolation like 'Eden Prison' does. Just a few examples of an album that stands by itself as a complete work of art, nothing more, nothing less. A work of art that no one besides Swans could accomplish. Welcome back, Michael.