Merry Rotting Christmas, ladies and gentleman, and welcome to the year-end installment of this column. Though other, more industrious writers have cast their vision back across the decade to craft comprehensive lists of goodness, spanning all ten years, this morsel of prose will focus solely on the dying year.
Some of 2009’s best offerings have already been profiled in my two previous columns, so spots are reserved in my top ten for Baroness’ Blue Album , Shrinebuilder’s self-titled release, and Gama Bomb’s Tales from the Grave in Space. The seven discs to follow round out a ten-spot of metal mastery.
Mastodon – Crack the Skye (Reprise Records)
These endlessly talented Atlanta-based progonauts show no sign of slowing down, and in 2009 they produced their most inventive and ambitious album yet while cementing their status as the country’s best heavy band. Crack the Skye features seven mind-expanding tracks, weaving together epic leads and inventive drumming with a newly perfected three-vocalist attack.
Ensiferum – From Afar (Spinefarm Records)
Five Finns who straddle the line between thrash, folk, death, and power metal, Ensiferum are the masters of the folk-inflected warrior anthem. Fearless songwriting, careful arrangements, and an arsenal of monster choruses make this the album that is sure to make the band a consistent headliner Stateside.
Saviours – Accelerated Living (Kemado Records)
The Bay Area native sons showed a newfound potency with this release, which features a solid stoner band transformed into a Motorhead-catalyzed NWOBHM monster with enough face-melting, toe-tapping riffs to fry 500 cabs. Winners of the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s yearly arts award (the Goldie – more about Saviours by yours truly here), the quartet will be poised on the brink of widespread acclaim if they keep kicking out such quality jams.
Centaurus-A – Side Effects Expected (Listenable Records)
In some ways a dark-horse contender, Centaurus-A make the cut on the strength of their debut album, an unimpeachable whirlwind of aggressive and difficult technical death metal. Many bands in the genre prefer to let hooks and listenability fall by the wayside as they strive for ever-more brain-bending patterns and structures, but these German newcomers prove that you can be relentlessly technical while still producing an album that makes listening a joy, not a mathematical chore.
Tyr – By the Light of the Northern Star (Napalm Records)
Hailing from the tiny Faroe Islands, these viking journeymen have languished as metal's best-kept secret for far too long. A number of high-profile touring spots and a resurgence in pagan and folk metal have elevated them to their rightful place in the spotlight, and this latest long-player leaves no doubts as to why. Memorable, clever songwriting, dulcet, close-harmony clean singing, and powerful lyrics in English and Faroese make this longboat-fest one of the year's best.
Tombs – Winter Hours (Relapse Records)
Tombs’ Brooklyn roots and noise-rock leanings suggest the creeping odor of hipsterdom, but their titanic grooves, eerie melodies, and otherworldly guitar tone banish these quibbles with extreme prejudice. Stately, Isis-style post-metal has begun to give way into a growing sludge-y trend, and the trio’s squalling instrumentation and haranguing, bellowed vocals make them standout among the ear-piercing, down-tuned pack.
White Wizzard – High Speed GTO (Earache Records)
The lineup that recorded this retro gem has since bifurcated into two bands with identical styles, one which carries on the White Wizzard name and another named Holy Grail. Founded by L.A. headbangers who yearned for the days when metal was more fun and carefree, High Speed GTO features seven tracks filled with unrepentant, Yngwie-style shredding, party-ready grooves, and the soaring vocals of James Paul Luna (now of Holy Grail), for my money the best young metal vocalist on the planet. Like the car the album is named after, White Wizzard is all chrome, clean lines, and American muscle.
Shredification is a monthly expedition into the world of heavy music led by San Francisco Bay Guardian and Bay Bridged writer Ben Richardson. Combining album reviews, news, and general commentary, it uses the power of forgotten heathen rituals to surreptitiously devour your soul. Ben can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.