Well, here we are, standing at the end of a long and arduous decade-long road. Rather than wax poetic, however, let's cut straight to what you're all here for: the Albums of the Decade. Drumroll, applause, frivolous bows, etc.
This whole endeavor is an utterly subjective affair. Hence, I'll preface this by saying that, although excellent in their own right, the following 10 albums are almost certainly not the best that the decade has to offer. Nor are they necessarily my favorites. Rather, these are the albums that have significantly impacted the ways in which I consume and enjoy heavy music. They have all earned a coveted spot on this list by benefit of having defined my decade. Nothing more, nothing less.
It has been an honor sharing my love for metal with you all over the past few years, and it is my sincere hope that this list will lead you to some music that you may have otherwise overlooked or forgotten. Without further ado...
ARCHSPIRE - Relentless Mutation (released 2017 from Season of Mist)
Year end lists reflect listening habits. They don't necessarily project an album's longevity--after December, many of those lucky bastards that make the list lose their edge in the horde of new offerings. Archspire spit viciously in the face of this trend. Relentless Mutation is a 2017 frontrunner that, well, remains a frontrunner, both for that year and for the decade as a whole.
Archspire have, for better or worse, graced us with the most unrelentingly (and ungodly) tech-death album I have ever heard. Rhythmically aggressive, defined by a graceful and measured bombast. Nearly neoclassical in its sophisticated melodic leanings. Unapologetically exploratory. Relentless Mutation illustrates what it means to be genuinely extreme in a genre that has--for all intents and purposes--seen all the fringes.
WITCH MOUNTAIN - Cauldron of the Wild (released 2012 from Profound Lore)
I really, really enjoy when doom metal takes things to emotive extremes whilst maintaining a comfortable weighted atmosphere. The album before ye is the epitome of that potent combination. While there is a veritable sea of gloomy 'n' doomy options--Windhand and YOB are primary competitors in this arena--the melancholic-yet-monstrous vocal capabilities of Uta Plotkin alongside the massive fuzzy foundation of Rob Wrong's no-nonsense riffage is...simply irresistible.
Is 2012's Cauldron of the Wild Witch Mountain's best album? From an objective standpoint...no. But is it the kind of album one simply can't put down during one's lovesick years, the kind of album one might listen to whilst drowning angsty sorrows in the cheapest cabernet sauvignon that meager work-study funds can buy? Um, yes. I (obviously) have a lot of history with this album, and much like those sad and lonely years, I love the impact dearly.
AGRIMONIA - Rites of Separation (released 2013 from Southern Lord)
I have, alas, already said a whole lot about this album. As ye may recall, The Soliloquist graciously hosted a Decade End Extravaganza over in his neck of the woods, and, predictably, I wrote about this utter masterpiece for the occasion. Rather than reiterate, I'll simply recycle:
"Rites of Separation towers above the 2010’s as a monolithic exemplar of what heavy music can accomplish–both from a technical and emotional perspective. While it seems to get understandably lost in the crowd, it’s a shame to let albums so grand fall into the mire of missed and understated releases. I can and will fully admit that my love for Rites of Separation may be due, in large, to the miracle of hearing it in the right place at the right time. With that said, I truly believe it is one of the premiere works of the last decade, and can not recommend it highly enough."
1914 - The Blind Leading the Blind (released 2018 from Redefining Darkness Records)
This was last year’s Album of the Year, and I still listen to it on a near-weekly basis. Nothing in the past decade has presented a harrowing narrative quite like this, and nothing has made me feel so dreadfully miserable. As far as works of art accurately depicting WWI, there is “All Quiet on the Western Front”...and then there is The Blind Leading the Blind. Released 100 years after the conclusion of WWI, 1914’s exemplary sophomoric effort is a prime example of an album’s meteoric impact being significantly larger than the sum of its parts. My year-end blathering remains some of my favorite writing I’ve done for the Village, so I’ll just leave you with that.
WWI was not a romantic war, and The Blind Leading the Blind is not a romantic record. Following the lead of its grisly subject matter, this album illustrates the horrors of a war fought outside the confines of dramatic or heroic narrative...1914 paints a grotesque, nihilistic, and realistic picture--and in this way, their commemoration is appropriate beyond compare. The Blind Leading the Blind captures the wide range of emotion experienced by the most emotionally broken. Thus, as an emotional work, it triumphs. Musically, the genre--if it can be called that--is one of aggressively blurred lines. Blackened death, overt death, churning sludge, mustardy doom. All take solace in 1914’s muddy, bloody, yet au fait grasp. The result is an atrociously accurate atmosphere. The liberal inclusion of samples only enhances the feeling, to that point that listening is nearly voyeuristic, like you’re observing the (shell) shocking realities of senseless war from the safety of tidy modernity. Very seldom does an album inflict such a boggling barrage of emotion.
BEHEMOTH - The Satanist was released 2013 from Nuclear Blast, Metal Blade Records, and Mystic Production
Gonna be honest, I’m really not sure why this album has caught so much vitriol as of late. Yes, Nergal is a raging douchecanoe. Yes, I Loved You At Your Darkness was a total and utter embarrassment. But yet, The Satanist is a very good album, dammit. This is a hill I will gladly die upon.
This album is all-too-oft accused of being overly accessible, but you know what accessible black/death metal has in abundance?
Here. I'll give it to ya: A. big fuckin’ riffs, and B. catchy fuckin’ hooks.
Beyond those particularly potent ingredients, this album boasts a larger-than-life atmosphere, countermelodies galore, and a hefty bass presence. More notably, however, it is chock full o’ tracks that hold up astoundingly well against the dreary passage of time. Iconic moments abound: the massive clarion call of “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel;" the behemothian impact of the central riff on “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer;” the conclusive weight of “O Father O Satan O Sun!" This is an album that I will, for better or worse, always find myself returning to. The Satanist defines a moment in time when explicitly harsh music was really truly beginning to make sense to me. However, as demonstrated, this album is a banger on its own merits, and not a mere gateway to bigger and better things.
LIBERTEER - Better To Die On Your Feet Than Live On Your Knees was released 2012 from Relapse Records.
I like my grindcore the way I hate my coffee: infrequent and full of weird flavors.
Liberteer is, bar none, my favorite grind outfit. Matt Widener’s take on grind is tastefully unique, to say the absolute least. Heavily relying on the sonic trappings of folkish, Revolutionary-era Americana--brass, flutes, percussion, mandolin, & banjo galore--Liberteer finds a brilliant balance between aggression & nostalgic revelry. The instrumentation itself is...extremely competent. A wonderful chemistry exists between the gruff, hooky, throat-shredding vocals, the meat-n-potatoes blasts, the groovy major-key riffage, and the redcoat-themed instrumental menagerie. Widener’s classical background & death metal chops (honed in Exhumed & Cretin, no less) are on equal footing. It's a ridiculously catchy & compelling album.
And because you all know I dwell--perhaps foolhardedly--on conceptual elements, I'm pleased to report that Liberteer stands on solid footing. For all its punkish attitude, grindcore is all-too-oft wimpy in its ideological execution. Not so here. Liberteer means business, and the conviction & intent behind this project is physically tangible in its extremity. 5 stars.
RUSSIAN CIRCLES - Memorial was released 2013 from Sargent House
I’m loathe to employ some tangentially related introduction here, so let’s get down to business. This album is, simply put, an opus in every sense of the word. Dynamic. Expansive. Circuitously melodic. Crushingly percussive, yet light on its feet. Despite remaining instrumental, with the exception of that godly Chelsea Wolfe feature, Russian Circles write track after compelling track without the need for vocal interest. That’s a major victory, in and of itself, and one of the many reasons this album has been in constant rotation since the first time it happened into my life.
In retrospect, it’s fairly astounding how nostalgia and melancholy play such a less-than arbitrary role in these selections. I will freely admit that my intense love for this album is a byproduct of having existed prominently during one of the hardest years I’ve had the pleasure of surviving. Memorial carried me on its burly back for some time, and that, my friends, is a debt that is nigh impossible to repay.
MARMOZETS - The Weird and Wonderful Marmozets was released 2014 from Roadrunner Records
This entry is a tad different, but there's something so relentlessly addicting about this collection o' tracks, and I'd beat myself up for the better part of the next decade if I excluded it from this list.
Born from mathcore roots and the kind of jubilant energy that is frankly irreplaceable unless you’re, like, actually a band full of 17 year olds, The Weird and Wonderful Marmozets has the unique quality of being my most-listened-to album of this past decade. No small feat. Raw, yet oozing unmistakable confidence, Marmozets are, in my mind, the perfect fusion of radio-friendly choruses and overtly aggressive ambiance. Poppy without being saccharine; heavy without wearing the trappings of a fully fledged metal outfit. This is an album built on the sudden expulsions of vitriol, quick back-and-forth delivery of earworm hooks, and the youthful effervescence of vocalist Becca Macintyre, whose godtier performance is utterly unprecedented for someone so new to the game.
The only downside to this album, frankly, is that the band failed to capitalize and expand on the sound established herein. Their later efforts slide a little too far into the pop-punk waters for my taste--but as lightening-in-a-bottle, The Weird and Wonderful Marmozets sets an inordinately high bar. If you're unfamiliar, give this one a chance.
CARCASS - Surgical Steel was released 2013 from Nuclear Blast
While there were several hard hitting albums from 2013 that certainly have the chops to make this list--chief among them Skeletonwitch's Serpents Unleashed and Gorguts' Colored Sands--Carcass takes the cake. As verified masters of their craft, they often do.
In the aforementioned year, as I was an aloof undergrad, the calculated aggression, academic leanings, and surgical provision of Carcass' masterful comeback helped pave the way for exploration into the far-flung extremities of the metalverse. Carcass are seemingly always at the forward-thinking forefront of technical and thematic application. Death metal, which frequently fosters in stagnation, relies on stalwart leaders such as these.
Across the decade, this album has consistently been an absolute joy to revisit--and, all told, truly an album for the ages. If you missed it, I recommend you remedy that. If it has simply been a while, I wholeheartedly recommend a revisitation.
CONVERGE - All We Love We Leave Behind was released 2012 from Epitaph Records
Despite this exercise being wholeheartedly conceived and delivered as unranked, there is no doubt in my mind that Converge's 2012 magnum opus (sorry, Jane Doe) is the greatest album the decade has to offer.
There is simply nothing formulaic about Converge's brand of metalcore, & that sentiment rings especially true on this album. Barking hardcore braggadocio meets the crushing allure of post-doom meets blues-ridden melody. This thing packs a frantic punch, but is never afraid to slow down the pace and dwell in the same existential angst that makes Converge so familiar and approachable in the sea of 'core.
All We Love We Leave Behind is stroke of brilliance. In my (disgustingly critical) estimation, it represents the closest one can come to a perfect record. A genuine 5 star accomplishment. As the decade ends I'll be spinning this album, and as the new one begins, it shall continue spinning, utterly unfazed.
...but we're not done yet: it's time for honorable mentions. Before ye cower the 9 albums that entered the decade-end arena, but were summarily cut down by the paragons of artisanal greatness. I jest, of course--all of these albums are stellar and certainly deserve your while. Without further ado:
OLD MAN GLOOM - Ape of God (i and ii)
Two albums carrying the weight of a single title. This unconventional trojan horse of a release was hated by critics, but at the time, I was but a mere fan. Dodged that bullet.
WINDHAND - Grief’s Eternal Flower
Some of the most haunting doom ever recorded. Windhand’s magnum opus.
P.O.S - Chill, dummy
A non-metal record from a punk-inspired rapper, this selection is inherently an outlier. That said, its emotive and aggressive content fits the bill.
KHEMMIS - Hunted
Not my favorite Khemmis release, but one that certainly set the stage for the evolution of doom metal.
SKELETONWITCH - Serpents Unleashed
Blackened thrash mastery. ‘Nuff said.
SCREAMING FEMALES - Rose Mountain
I love this album for reasons that utterly elude me, but 5 years later I still can’t put it down. One of my favorite rock albums of all time, inexplicably.
AESOP ROCK - The Impossible Kid
Aesop Rock always seemed wordy for the sake of lyrical elitism. Here, however, his narratives establish him as an impeccable storyteller.
GLORYHAMMER - Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards
Speaking of storytelling...this album impeccably demonstrates that “humor” and “good music” aren’t mutually exclusive.
IGORRR - Savage Sinusoid
Pure genre fuckery. Pure sonic insanity. That’s all I’ve got.
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