DEVIL’S DOZEN 2010

TBR Top 13 for 2010
Posted 02 January 2011   Devil's Dozen

OK, it’s January and I’m finally getting around to putting together the “Top 10 of 2010″.  What can I say?  TBR is all about the Stoner vibe so if it’s a little bit late and my jean jacket smells a little like dope smoke… bite me!  Furthermore, we’re rounding the conventional “Top 10″ format up to a devil’s dozen and giving you 13.

After putting it together, one noteworthy aspect of this list is that it sees a number of relatively new bands coming into their own and showing the world that in 2010, Metal is as much alive as it ever was.  Clearly, this is a wide genre of music but there is a certain degree of reverence for the past that extends beyond nostalgia or the desire to re-live the past.

It’s always impressive to see bands do more with less but 2010 saw this taken to another level.  Take Dark Castle and Black Cobra for instance:  it’s hard to believe that in the case of each of these bands, it takes only two guys (or one guy and a ferocious Metal chick) to put out this much heavy.  They are not alone but they are certainly getting some of the best results with this scaled back approach.

It’s also worth pointing out that 2010 was a year that the women of Metal made their presence known in a big way:  By no means are Stevie Floyd (Dark Castle), Andrea Black (Howl) and Laura Pleasants (Kylesa) new to the scene, but they all firmly established themselves with major contributions among “The Best of the Best” in 2010.

There was a lot of great music this year and from where I stand, a number of these selections are destined to become classics.  We’ll see.  Without further adue, here are The Bone Reader’s Top 13 Metal Albums of 2010.

Black Breath + “Heavy Breathing” (Southern Lord)

You can never have too many bone-crushing riffs and Black Breath just dish them out one after the other.  This is an incredibly intense album and while it takes it’s share of twists and turns, it never breaks down or loses it’s momentum.  These guys nailed the perfect balance of Metal for my tastes:  Thrash, Crust and just a sweet touch of that classic NWOBHM sound.

“Heavy Breathing” is the sound of the alpha dog coming along, humping your leg, stealing your steak off the BBQ and fucking your prized pet poodle after eating it.  Top of the food chain.

Trap Them – “Filth Rations” (Southern Lord)

It’s absolutely fucking absurd how heavy this album is.  Trap Them are simply undeniable.  Ryan McKenny’s vocals hit like a deranged circus bear that finally snapped and tears the audience to bloody ribbons.  If riffs were legal tender, Brian Izzi would be wiping his ass in hundred dollar bills.  The potent rhythm section of Stephen LaCour (Bass) and Chris Maggio (Drums) continue to propel Trap Them forward with terminal velocity.

“Filth Rations” is also one of 2010′s finest releases on vinyl — four monster tunes on one side, killer etched artwork on the other.  Buy or die!

Black Cobra – “Chronomega” (Southern Lord)

Black Cobra step up big time with their latest release.  It’s not so much that they’ve made any sort of major changes to their sound or took some sort of quantum leap forward, it’s more that they seem to have refined their act and have put the pedal to the metal.

Jason Landrian turns in a profoundly heavy vocal performance and lets killer riffs fly with reckless abandon.  Drummer Rafael Martinez beats the everloving shit out of those drums and still makes things interesting.  Serious business.

Dark Castle – “Spirited Migration” (At A Loss)

What strikes me most about this album is the balance between the brutal intensity and, on the other hand, how thoughtful and well-composed it is.  Dark Castle know how to set the mood:  Stevie Floyd’s vocal performances are haunting.  The dynamics provided by Rob Shafer aren’t limited to his impressive skills behind the drums — his skills with conjuring noises from vintage synths and the Spanish guitar lend an inspired feel to an outstanding release.

Always crushing and yet somehow, still fragile at times, “Spirited Migration” definitely captures the imagination.

Howl – “Full Of Hell” (Relapse)

This album hammers the shit out of you from go and weeks later, you’re still battered and bruised.  And we’d be remiss if it weren’t noted that the album cover is full of all-time win.  There’s a beautiful simplicity in Howl’s first full length release that is more about maintaining focus than any inherent limitations.  It’s going to be very interesting to see what these guys do for an encore, that’s for sure.

“Full of Hell” sticks to your ribs like chugging a pint of napalm — All Hail!

Priestess – “Prior to the Fire” (Indica/Tee Pee)

In the interests of full disclosure, “Prior To The Fire” was released in Canada on October 20, 2009 on Indica Records, and in the United States in February 2010 on TeePee Records.  Let’s not split fucking hairs here: This album is goddamn good enough to be in my Top 10 for BOTH years.

What I like best about this album is absolutely everything:  There’s a great sound and overall feel to this record.  There’s also a really wide span of expression between each of these songs and at the end of it all, Priestess have put together the total package.  The best part about it is that to my ears, this sounds like a band who have just started to hit the peak of a major creative stride.

Torche – “Songs For Singles” (Hydra Head)

As the great Rutger Hauer once said “The light that burns twice as bright lasts half as long”.  With the majority of the songs coming in under 2:00 in length, “Songs For Singles” has that quality in terms of listening — it makes you want to scarf down the whole bag and lick the crumbs off your fingers after.  Honestly, it’s great to see and hear a band that have figured out that having a bit of fun is allright and you don’t have to sound like some Black Metal badasses or take things too seriously to be superfuckingheavy.

Fun fact: Prior to the release of the EP, the opening track “U.F.O.” was previously made available on a free Hydra Head Records downloadable sampler. However, this early version was jokingly contained David Lee Roth’s vocal track from Van Halen’s 1978 single “Runnin’ with the Devil,” and was created by Hydra Head without Torche’s knowledge. Roth’s vocal track was leaked online in 2008, and has since become an Internet meme as various mashups with other famous songs have been posted on the web. The version of “U.F.O.” on Songs for Singles doesn’t feature Roth’s vocals.

Electric Wizard – “Black Masses” (Rise Above)

Electric Wizard have a knack for tapping into the psychedelic, Blues-infused roots of Metal, grinding them down, rolling them up and setting the world ablaze.  Few are able to stay so close to their pentatonic, jam band roots and still keep it sounding so fresh.  The band’s trademark “wall of sound” is dialed in as high as ever but the overall quality of the recording really helps take things to the next level.  While previous releases are hard to top, “Black Masses” sees the band at the height of their dark powers.

The Secret – “Solve Et Coagula” (Southern Lord)

Well, 2010 seems to be a bit of an ironic year for The Secret — the cat’s out of the motherfuckin’ bag for these boys. “Solve Et Coagula” has been written on the bathroom wall and it seems that everyone in the Metal community is in on the action.

For those who weren’t aware, the Latin phrase Solve et Coagula is taken from one of the dictates of alchemy and in essence, means to “separate and join together” (or more accurately, “dissolve and coagulate”).  After a period of turmoil with the band’s lineup and a period of inactivity, their success is a well deserved break for these guys.  Here’s hoping for for of the same for The Secret in years to come.

Kylesa – “Spiral Shadows” (Season Of Mist/Relapse)

Kylesa put a bit of a twist on things with the release of “Spiral Shadows”.  There’s a sense of growth and maturity that shows in the stronger emphasis on the atmospherics and dynamics over the course of this album.  It’s a courageous effort that sees the risks that were taken pay off in what amounts to a quantum leap for Kylesa.  “Spiral Shadows” is one of this years most highly acclaimed and universally recognized power moves.

Bison B.C. – “Dark Ages” (Metal Blade)

This is a tough one for me to leave off the Top 13 which is why I won’t.  “Dark Ages” is a very good album by a great band that I really, really dig.  It’s just that for me, there was just the slightest something lost between “Quiet Earth” and “Dark Ages” or something more that I expected they would find on this one.

Maybe the best way to say it is that sometimes, it’s more distracting to have something nearly perfect and just slightly off than it is to have it completely fucked up, if ya know what I mean.  All the same, it’s still better than 95% of the shit that came out this year and Bison B.C. deserve their rightful place among the best of the best for 2010.

High On Fire – “Snakes For The Divine” (E1 Music/Century Media)

With their fifth full-length studio release, High On Fire have ascended to heights that made some people wonder when they might begin to slip a little.  While there is a bit more “spit and polish” on this album production-wise, HoF have retained all of their gnarly hessian-isms and cranked out another masterpiece with “Snakes For The Devine”.

Zoroaster – “Matador” (E1 Entertainment)

To extend the “Stoner Rock” metaphor a little further, Zoroaster’s latest was a total creeper buzz.  While that might not be the most original or insightful way to describe it, “Matador” grows on you like a psychedelic fungus.  It’s very psychedelic and at the same time, has a ton of energy and doesn’t get too heady.  While 2010 was definitely a watershed year for Zoroaster, there are a lot of people waiting to see what the future holds for these prophets of Doom.

HONOURABLE MENTION:

Ghost – “Opus Eponymous” (Rise Above)

To be perfectly blunt, I had to wrestle with the inclusion of “Opus Eponymous” on this list.  There are so many things that *shouldn’t* work about this album:  The musicianship isn’t anything profound or original.  The satanic theme in Metal has been tired for ages now and it isn’t delivered with any sort of real conviction.  Frankly, I’ve heard most of this before back when it was called Mercyful Fate.  I mean c’mon guys:  “Melissa” … “Elisabeth”.  At least TRY to hide the obvious fact that you’re walking in their cloven footsteps.

With all of that said, “Opus Eponymous” really is easy to listen to and enjoy.  I just hope that as Ghost goes a bit further and begins to find their own voice that they don’t completely re-invent themselves or turn away from the foundation they laid with “Opus Eponymous”.

Unearthly Trance – “V” (Relapse)

Have you ever caught yourself moments before something terrible was about to happen and yet you keep going and do it anyway?  Here’s one I’m already kicking myself for not having in on the Top 13.  Truth is, “V” is good enough that I wrestled with making this a Top 20, but you can’t change the rules in the middle of the game.  Instead, I’ll just sit here grinding myself to pieces which, coincidentally, is exactly what listening to Unearthly Trance sounds like in the first place.

Mastodon – “Jonah Hex -Music From The Motion Picture” (Warner Bros.)

Yeah, yeah.  You just thought to yourself “he’s got to be kidding”.  Well I kid you not.  While the movie may not be Citizen Kane, this combines three things I love:  Spaced out soundtracks, Western movies and Mastodon.  Being a proper soundtrack, the drone is strong throughout — like Dylan Carlson passed by and someone spiked the punchbowl with a pinch of DMT before they went into the studio.

Earth – “A Bureaucratic Desire For Extra-Capsular Extraction” (Southern Lord), Buzzov•en – “Violence From The Vault” (Relapse)

Speaking of Dylan Carlson…  Being that A Bureaucratic Desire For Extra-Capsular Extraction” is a reissue, that kind of disqualifies it from making our Top 10, but this is Earth for chrissakes.  Likewise, “Violence From The Vault” sees the release of a bunch of tracks recorded by the original lineup during the “Sore” era.  Top stuff, no doubt.

Wino – “Adrift” (Exile On Mainstream)

There are so many reasons that Wino has earned the status of “living legend”.  From the impeccable body of work he’s built as the frontman for The Obsessed, Spirit Caravan and The Hidden Hand to his undeniable influence on everyone who has heard him play.

While Wino has blazed a path and rocked out at all times, he’s not been afraid to put his heart into it either.  “Adrift” reveals a bit more of the personal side of this truly epic artist as a humble man in a crazy world.  To me, Wino is at his best with his #1 Les Paul and his Sunn Model T cranked up to the moon but “Adrift” is a special album that makes me appreciate one of my all time favourite artists even more.