Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Album of the Year: 2010 - The Low Road

Godsmack - The Oracle
Let's face it, if you've listened to Godsmack albums in the past there won't be any surprises waiting for you here. The singles, as usual, kick a pretty fair amount of ass - and in keeping with the usual formula, most of the rest is utterly forgettable. The sun rises, the sun sets and Godsmack churns out an album with a small handful of hard rock anthems and a bunch of filler - it is nice to know that some things don't change.
Best Track: Saints and Sinners
Rating: 5/10

Defeated Sanity - Chapters of Repugnance
If you are looking for pure, unadulterated brutality your search ends here. This is far and away the most devastatingly brutal album I listened to from this past year and these guys certainly know how to pulverize their audience with slam riffs, unrelenting blast beats and the rest of the standard brutal death arsenal. The problem is that they seem to be so wrapped up in writing the most devestatingly aggressive album possible that they forgot to write a memorable one. Once you pick yourself up off the floor after giving this a spin, you'll be hard pressed to remember much of the actual music.
Best Track: Consumed by Repugnance
Rating: 5/10

The Ocean - Heliocentric & Anthropocentric
Despite the separate releases, Heliocentric and Anthropocentric are companion albums from the same year, so I'm essentially approaching this as a double album. Coming off of an absolutely incredible double album in 2007's Precambrian, I was expecting big things from The Ocean - unfortunately, they only live up to those expectations about half the time. They still put together some high quality sludge-y prog, but the new vocals and failed experiments tend to drag the material down pretty often. I'd probably rate the second disc a bit higher than the first, but overall I'd consider this a major step down from their last outing.
Best Track: She Was The Universe
Rating: 5/10

Nevermore - The Obsidian Conspiracy
Five years later and THIS is what we get? This certainly is sour compared to the sweet taste that This Godless Endeavor, honestly one of the best metal albums of the last decade, left in our mouths in 2005. This is so "middle of the road" it is ridiculous - I'm guessing Dane and Loomis must have exhausted their respective creative tanks with their solo projects and when it came time to write a new Nevermore album they sat down, listened to the back catalogue and said "yeah, let's write one like that... and one like that..." A die-hard Nevermore fan will find much to recognize and enjoy, but don't expect anything new here.
Best Track: Without Morals
Rating: 5/10

Sigh - Scenes From Hell
Sigh have consistently pushed genre boundaries and have always been willing to experiment and re-invent their sound. Most of the time this has succeeded, resulting in an excellent string of albums stretching back to the early 90's. But all good things must come to an end and such an adventurous band was certainly due for a stumble. Here we see Sigh utilizing the same basic formula that made Hangman's Hymn such a fun listen, combining blackened thrash with bombastic symphonic elements, yet this time it's much more bizarre overall and they've inexplicably decided to go with a muddy production that doesn't suit the music at all and added trad metal/hard rock solos that come out of left field. The changes feel forced and certainly aren't for the better.
Best Track: The Soul Grave
Rating: 5/10

Burzum - Belus
Varg is back and making music - but it is much as I feared - he's been left in the dust by the very artists that followed him. Saying that a musician was able to pick up where they left off over a decade ago is usually a sign of a strong comeback, but in his absence Varg's followers have advanced the banner so far that listening to this album now seems quite bland and dated. Additionally, the album seems to be significantly weakened by the lack of layered keyboards providing atmosphere behind the repeated riffs. Hopefully this was just a "warm-up" and he'll be back producing albums on the level of Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Filosofem; sadly, I find it more likely that this is simply the first confirmation that Varg is no longer a truly relevant voice in the black metal genre.
Best Track: Belus' Død
Rating: 5/10

Sully Erna - Avalon
Having heard every release and seen several shows, I can pretty definitively say that Sully IS Godsmack. So what is a solo record going to show that a Godsmack record wouldn't? A hell of a lot, to be perfectly honest. If you go into this album expecting a hard rocker, you'll be sorely disappointed. Instead, go in expecting songs more along the lines of "Voodoo" and material from Godsmack's The Other Side EP. Driven by tribal rhythms, orchestral flourishes, and soaring vocal harmonies with his female counterpart, this album shows us a much more mature side of Sully as a songwriter than any Godsmack album ever will. My only major complaint is that, considering its length, the album could have used a bit more stylistic variety - but songs taken individually are very good.
Best Track: Avalon
Rating: 6/10

Dark Moor - Ancestral Romance
The album opens and closes on excellent notes, with the weaker middle section reaches its nadir on the laughably bad arena rock wannabe "Just Rock." For the most part, this is just Dark Moor doing what they normally do - fans will certainly not be disappointed and those who don't see the appeal will probably not be converted. As flowery European power metal goes, Dark Moor certainly has earned a position in the upper echelon over the years. The thing that drags this release down for me (aside from the aforementioned joke of a song smack in the middle of the album) is that the vocals, front and center as they are, don't catch my interest nearly as much as they should. Musically, it is an overall solid release.
Best Track: Gadir
Rating: 6/10

Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
But... but... I though Swans Are Dead, shouldn't that have been the end of the band? After all, it would have been a fantastic way to end a career. It's tough for me to approach this one with an open mind, as I have to assume going in that this is basically a Gira solo project forced under the Swans name. Be that as it may, this is by no means a bad album, it simply doesn't have the same apocalyptic mood that made the 90's albums so incredible. This seems quite a bit lighter and safer, maybe that's a product of age or simply a magic that can't be truly recaptured. Solid material throughout, but it pales in comparison to the "old Swans."
Best Track: Jim
Rating: 6/10

Sabaton - Coat of Arms
This is easily the weakest album the band has put out aside from their debut (and equally poor re-recording). If you've heard Sabaton before, you should know exactly what to expect from this album - fist-pumping power metal, impossibly manly vocals, lush keyboards, irresistible shout-along choruses and a lesson in military history. They execute their formula admirably, but I see this as a regression after they at least attempted to branch out with their The Art of War concept album. Eventually, even the best recipes become a bit boring, I hope they find a way to add some spice before this starts getting too stale.
Best Track: Uprising
Rating: 6/10

Seventh Wonder - The Great Escape
You know, I'm getting a bit annoyed by the fact that just about every prog band at least once in their career decides that they absolutely must record a massively long track to stand as a monument, eternally commemorating their instrumental mastery and progressive songwriting tendencies - the latter claim belied by my earlier observation of that being an extremely typical tendency of bands that wish to validate their use of the progressive moniker. If that sentence didn't prove to you that "longer doesn't mean better," I don't know what will. I actually like Seventh Wonder quite a bit and the first half of the album is great - but the fact of the matter is that the mess of a track that takes up the last half hour is simply not very good at all.
Best Track: King of Whitewater
Rating: 6/10

Borknagar - Universal
To be honest, this isn't far from the progressive / symphonic black metal sound that I absolutely loved in their earlier albums. There are many wonderful vocal melodies, keyboard soundscapes, and original writing ideas - but somehow this release seems far less focused and weaker than their prior work. As for the vocals, I have nothing but respect for Vintersorg's work as a vocalist (in all of his projects); however, I can't help but feel that this particular set of material would have worked far better with Vortex on vocals - the sheer volume of clean vocals certainly plays into this feeling and is backed up by Vortex's appearance for the song "My Domain."
Best Track: For a Thousand Years to Come
Rating: 6/10

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