Best metal of the decade 1999-2009

The twee indie hipster ironists at A.V. Club put out their list of the 100 metal albums of the decade, forgetting of course that what we, the listeners, need is”quality over quantity.” We don’t have endless time, money, or even bandwidth to explore all the goofy stuff that seems nuanced and interesting to a reviewer who will listen to it twice in his lifetime, once to write the review and once before he shuffles that promo CD on to Half Price.

This list is not going to make me friends at big labels who want you to pick up the latest dreck by some indie rock band that started playing metal ironically. It won’t win you scene points with the kvlt and trve. It will surely not impress your friends with how open-minded, cool and different you are. What it will do is re-awaken your interest in some of the best metal made during this decade, even if it was so good there was no need to make drama about it, and so it slipped under our radar as the years went by.

Demoncy – Joined in Darkness (1999, Baphomet)

When black metal had just discovered keyboards and carnival music, this lo-fi roar straight out of hell cut through the fat and pared our ears to the bone. Sounding like Incantation and Havohej, its primitive riffs in archly elegant songs retain their power a decade later.

Profanatica – Profanatitas de Domonatia (2007, Hell’s Headbangers)

For a return later in their career, Profanatica took the primal riffing of their earlier albums and worked it into longer melodies like a Swedish death metal band, creating an enduring mood of occult darkness.

Antaeus – Cut Your Flesh and Worship Satan (2000, Baphomet)

This album sounds like battle, with clipped rhythms and clashing riffs, but out of that emerges a sublime sense of melody in one of the last albums to really uphold the old school of early 1990s black metal.

At War With Self – Torn Between Dimensions (2005, Free Electric Sound)

Most technical metal is an oil-and-water separation, but At War With Self find a voice that smoothly wraps a progressive/jazz jam session around metal riffs and emotions.

Immolation – Unholy Cult (2002, Olympic)

Immolation achieve a rarity: technical death metal that doesn’t aim for highbrow technique, but a solid slamming songwriting technique that never leaves you in confusion, and on this album, the guitar fireworks match the fire of the stories told by these vivid, evocative songs.

Beherit – Engram (2009, Spinefarm)

As if attempting to sum up the past twenty years of black metal, Beherit makes an album in the style of early Bathory but updates it with quirk and insight, etching a complex sigil that requires repeated listening to decode.

Skepticism – Alloy (2008, Red Stream)

Funeral doom hangs drooping waves of distorted noise upon mortuary keyboards, dragging us through a dirge of misery, but Skepticism make it sound like an interesting mindset we could explore and even enjoy.

Ildjarn-Nidhogg – Ildjarn-Nidhogg (2003, Northern Heritage)

Ildjarn, with its minimalistic riffs and incessant high-speed drumming, is a band that people either love or hate based on how it sounds, but hidden in all that noise are transcendent short compositions that stroke the inner brain.

Gorguts – From Wisdom To Hate (Olympic, 2001)

Gorguts takes their subtly melodic brutal death metal and pulls it inside out to make mechanistic, complex song constructions that followed classical patterns and used multiple themes.

Summoning – Oath Bound (2006, Napalm)

To bring the sound of ancient Hobbit-infused landscapes into black metal, Summoning slowed it down but played at higher registers and faster than doom bands, interweaving keyboards and longer guitar riffs to create an ambient metal sound.

Blaspherian – Allegiance To The Will Of Damnation (2007, Blood Harvest)

Blaspherian prove underground old school death metal is not dead with this music in the style of 1991, but with the wisdom of years of atmospheric metal channeled into these riffs that resemble a subconscious thought with their eerily familiar rhythms and shapes.

Celtic Frost – Monotheist (2006, Century Media)

Returning from a recent history of false starts, Celtic Frost get back to their 1987 sensibility and modernize it, mixing industrial, gothic, speed metal and morbid death metal into an energetic but necrotic album.

Graveland – Memory and Destiny (2002, No Colours)

To be epic, black metal needs to transport us from The Now to the vast and lawless past, a frontier that Graveland opens wide with their martial, Conan-influenced black metal.

Cosmic Atrophy – Codex Incubo (2008, Metalbolic)

Just as metal gets codified, Cosmic Atrophy return to put the weird back into metal with a unique voice inspired by Demilich, Timeghoul, Voivod and all other metal bands from the other side.

Avzhia – The Key of Throne (2004, Old War)

Melding flowing black metal with militant fast drums, Avzhia take over where Emperor left off and throw in the new world sense of urgency and gritty, nihilistic, feral and crafty battle.

Legion Of Doom – The Horned Made Flesh (2008, Zyklon-B)

Like the roar of a hunting lion, this album makes destructive sound into a signal to attack, joining raw black metal riffs and melodic keyboards for a dreamlike listening experience.

Slayer – World Painted Blood (2009, American)

After long years of not having an artistic voice, and trying everyone else’s vision by their own, Slayer drop most of the “modern metal” influences and pick up where 1992 left off, in simpler songs that use rock-style pocket rhythm but keep the classic acerbic Slayer riffs.

Sammath – Triumph in Hatred (2009, Folter)

You might think black metal died and got so mixed with other styles it had no voice, but Sammath have mixed death metal technique carefully into their black metal songs, making a testimony toward aggression that sounds like Zyklon-B merged with Angelcorpse.

Motorhead – Inferno (2004, Sanctuary)

Motorhead have made a career of not changing their basic approach, and “Inferno” is no exception, fitting on the shelf next to the others but also being tighter, faster and darker than most of them.

Asphyx – Death… The Brutal Way (2009, Ibex Throne)

Performing the rare trick of coming back 20 years later with an album as good and un-diluted as their first, Asphyx bring you heavy basic riffs and lots of repetition, but song structures that emphasize the profundity of contrast and give these songs spacious atmosphere.

See a more detailed version of this list:

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Introduction to Power Metal, Part II: The First Wave of European Power Metal

[The epic continues!  Read part I of Johan’s journey here and listen for yourself via this playlist]

While working with what was intended to be the second part of a tripartite article series covering the history and general properties of the power metal subgenre, it soon became clear that a sufficiently thorough treatment of the subject would require more space and time than what was originally intended. This insight subsequently led to the conclusion that individual parts needed to be subdivided and portioned out in order to not grow out of proportion. The initial plan to present the material into three consecutive parts has thus been revised.

Another related issue that arose during “research” concerns the historical development of European power metal. As have been noted in previous articles on this site relating to the history of metal music, artistic “movements” or periods of development tend last about five years speaking in generalized terms. This phenomenon can be observed in European power metal as well. After having studied Euro-power metal as a composite phenomenon, a rough sketch outlining the developmental trajectory of said music began to take form:

1984-1989: The first wave of European power metal.

1990-1995: Intermediate period.

1996-2001: The second wave of European power metal.

While not a perfect model, this rough periodic division will be used as a framework for discussion in the articles to follow. The relatively lengthy timespan that has passed since the putatively defined second wave of European power metal will be left out for the moment, primarily (and regrettably) because there hasn’t really occurred much of a development in power metal since the early 2000s. If anyone sits on information that invalidates the above statement, feel free to chip in – this writer would be very pleased to be proven wrong on this front.

Accordingly, the second part of this article series will be mainly devoted to the development and characteristics of the first wave of European power metal and the intermediate period that followed in its wake. Instead of approaching the subject in thoroughly generalized manner, a ???-track compilation will be used as source material to make observations about the historical development and specific traits of first wave Euro-styled power metal. Please not that this collection of tracks is by no means intended as a “best of”-compilation but should rather be viewed of as a springboard for further discussion.

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Metal Arsenal: Choice Software for Metal Warfare

Once upon a time, musicians needed to have a fat budget for a decent studio recording (and therefore, a record label to front the bill on the onset).  But even with one, many extreme metal recordings in the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s still sounded like complete ass.  Even insanely popular death metal bands like Cryptopsy, who have sold over half a million records, have had albums with production so shitty that I can’t hear most of the riffs.  Aside from a few innovators, most audio engineers (back when it was possible to make a career out of it), simply did not know how to record and produce metal.

However the industry has changed mightily over the last 15 years or so, and in today’s music world the phrase “everybody’s an engineer” is deeply rooted in truth.  Whereas high end recording software was once closely guarded and outrageously priced, the freedom of file sharing as put many high end tools in the hands of the public at no cost and without the need for professional training to use.  No longer do you have to shell out $10,000 for an album that sounds like it was recorded in the prior decade, nor do you need take out a ludicrous college loan for audio engineering school. Instead, all you need to do is make a few quick downloads to successfully arm yourself for a quality recording (assuming, of course, you have done your homework in practicing your instruments and listening).

This change in landscape greatly benefits the type of music personalities we saw in Darkthrone, Burzum, and Graveland- top-tier musicians more concerned with their art and ideology than pandering to a room of idiots via live performances (yes, I know Graveland and Darkthrone both played live: it was only at microfractions of their careers).  And given that lefties are regulating and policing which bands are allowed to play live shows, there’s all the more reason for defiant metal musicians and bands to forgo live performances and focus their energies on quality studio recordings.  With narcissism, attention seeking, and fan expectations removed, the opportunity for quality recordings to flourish is undoubtedly more abundant.

It is an honor and privilege to present to you, the readers of this infamous site, the favorite battle-tested software and tools from a road-tested veteran who began a career in metal when freeware first became widespread some 15 years ago:

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5 Slam Records that Won’t Insult Your Intelligence

Sometimes in between quests for the perfect transcendent meal, you wind up in the drive-thru.  There’s nothing wrong with that- not every action in life has to be one of self-discovery or grandiose vision- sometimes you just want to destroy yourself as a brief respite from analytical or introspective journeys, which actually provides a contrast that truly showcases the merit in the pursuit of depth but also gives an objective worth to consumables that are designed with much less substance in mind.  There is a place for what is now known as “slam” in the death metal pantheon, and as with any subgenre of course the progenitors are the best examples of it, as prior to its neanderthalic fall from grace it started as marriage of the percussive elements of Suffocation with the over-the-top imagery of gore-focused grind bands while limiting the use of humanistic elements like melody and cyclical structure.  This is a more than valid metal style as it does actually transcend a known formula through divorcing it from song archetypes and instead celebrates an ignorance that is mirrored perfectly in masochistic savagery. Given that is is more rhythmically focused than previous death metal styles is it natural that it would meet its downfall by travelling down an insultingly urban path that betrays the savagery it had once wielded, but it is still worth revisiting a few choice releases to analyze what may unfortunately be the last true movement in a dying genre at the turn of the century.

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Analysis of Death Metal Vocalists

Guttural vocals are the only true vocal innovation in metal as other singing styles are derived from other genres. The growed vocal technique is a combination of multiple frequencies and is harmonically too rich to be treated in the same way as more tonal styles.  Since they are different to all that came before them they must be analyzed differently.  And as metal continues to be penetrated by the mainstream it is important to understand what should be expected from a vocalist and what each one brings to the table since as humans we are inclined to judge vocals first.

In the spirit of understanding the wide variety that the technique has to offer, take a look at some of the more interesting and/or well known vocalists that death metal has given us throughout the years:
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Portal – Ion

Newer metal bands in the mid-2000s went one of few ways: the competition among users of extreme techniques caused a degree of one-upmanship that obscured the message of the music of “technical” bands, while the desire to get the audience to move caused the compositions of -core bands to be infiltrated by danceable open-note rhythms, and those left outside these groups grew more and more abstract in execution as if to rebel against conventional songwriting.  The issue here is that all three avenues, despite the latter being the most declarative, require an aesthetic sleight-of-hand to mask the lack of authoritative message in composition while the music is steered with the effects on the listener in mind rather than coming from the innate desire of a composer to communicate.  Portal, along with Ulcerate and Deathspell Omega, ushered in a style of metal that is entirely rooted in audience manipulation through a reliance on discordance that borders on desperation.  A challenge in viewing bands like this objectively is that it is difficult to fully understand whether the intent is holistically realized or if the sound and execution is the result of having no spirit of communication beyond purely aesthetic virtues.  Perhaps the evolution in sound was the understanding that metal did need to progress, and although there were surely undiscovered ways to do so, an analysis of all prior compositions reveal that metal was comprised of a multitude of expressions utilizing the same symbols: songs needed intros, various types of phrases that build tension, bridges, climaxes, and resolutions, and the catalog of conventional music that we have is constructed of various shufflings of these elements.  So, although a new act could in theory have a unique approach to music, they were essentially draping a new skin on a tired skeleton.  Metal, and music in general, had to go somewhere and it had to be led by someone that had a clear vision of something to communicate. And most importantly, it had to be done so without a reliance on the tropes that human nature has formulated with respect to the idea of song; ultimately, it needed to cripple it from within.

Is Portal the band to breach these waters, or are the efforts of the band a reflection of a lack of having anything to say intrinsically while still being able to coast on a formulaic command of discordant textures where fully realized phrases once guided the listener through a narrative journey?

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DEATH METAL GENERAL: I DON’T NEED ABBATH EDITION

Immortal is back!  Well… sort of.  Halfway there.  Right? In name at least?

You see, Demonaz- Immortal’s original guitarist during the 90’s, lyricist during the 2000’s, and now vocalist/guitarist and lyricist in the 2010s- is back with drummer-on-some-albums skinsman Horgh.  Wait, actually, the two have only played together on one album (out of twelve) so can they really “be back?”  Anyway, Demonaz and Horgh have out-lawyered the band’s drugged out drunken cornerstone musician Abbath, who played every instrument except for guitar when Demonaz was in the band and then played guitar over 9000 times better than Demonaz once the latter got a case of tendentious.  With the name locked down and a healthy Nuclear Blast Records budget, the duo get ready to make a seriously play for the wallets of misguided fans.

But wait, the tendentious that crippled him for a decade is suddenly gone?  Can he still pick at the rediculous guitar tempos of Blizzard Beasts? Can he even play at all?  There’s a lot to unpack in this one, so let’s get trolling as we recap the story of the band who turned black metal’s creepy aesthetics into the hair metal of the 90s…
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Dusk-Bound

The success of endeavors that carry with them the implication of development or transformation, such as the evolution of an artistic genre (without any relation to the ‘progress’ of dialectical materialism), requires the constant testing of strength, the crossing of one’s boundaries. Contrary to the beliefs of the simple minded, this does not mean that the act of crossing those lines is in itself enough for a fully-formed conclusion to be presented, although there is indeed great value in violation itself. But one could argue that the great weapons of the mind, enacted, come as a result of a full digestion and re-application of invaluable experience and information that comes from the crude testing of strength, directed towards the intuited limits of the yet unexplored.
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Trendkillers #2: Blast Beats Must Die!

The blast beat has had a very unlikely journey through its relatively young lifespan in music.  Rooted in a jazz technique of an alternating bass drum/hi-hat and snare 16th note pattern (though played at much slower tempo in jazz music), it found a unique identity in the early 1980s when underground hardcore punk bands like Siege and Asocial began using it at aggressive speeds to enhance their violent bursts of rebellion.  This made it a close friend of metal when the middle of the decade saw a fledgling death metal movement getting its hands dirty with hardcore punk speed and sound in an effort to push its own extremity.  Over the next 15 years, several drummers would rise to prominence with their clever use of the blast beat to either push these combinations to extreme speeds or to utilize them enduringly for an effect similar to trance music.  Suddenly, every metal band that wanted to play fast or play simplistically HAD to play blast beats, and we eventually reached a point where blast beats were the most dominant part of every death and black metal song’s drum composition.

For the future of death and black metal to establish themselves distinctively, they must abandon what has become routine and keep only what is necessary to preserve their underlying spirit.  And with this understanding comes an unfortunate truth- the beloved blast beat must be laid to rest, so that new life in metal can grow.
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