Monday, December 27, 2010

Benn Jordan- Pale Blue Dot

Artist: Benn Jordan
Album: Pale Blue Dot
Genre: Ambient
Year: 2008

Very spacey ambient influenced by the work of Carl Sagan, the famous astronomer and astrophysicist. You may have noticed that I some times pay a lot of attention to an album cover because it can often set up a good visual for what you may be imagining as you listen to the music within. The same can be said about 'Pale Blue Dot'. Nebula pictures in particular have always fascinated me, probably more so than any other type of photograph of any kind, be it on earth or in space. The amount of beauty in them is astonishing, as they propel the imagination to realms of thought that we'll never be able to comprehend in our lifetime. In essence, the music by Benn Jordan is very close to that same sentiment. The blissful and tranquil movement of the sounds that run throughout the album put me in a dream-like state, where my mind takes me up close to places that can only be seen in photographs such as the one that graces this album. It's not without its faults sadly as all but three of the first nine tracks on the album I've discarded since they just don't strike a chord with me or keep the celestial beauty found within the majority of the album that I do enjoy. But fortunately this album's strengths and high points far outweigh its shortcomings. Just this week I've listened to it three or four times right around the time I'm preparing for bed and not only does it calm me but it fills my mind with pleasant thoughts and images. So I heartily recommend checking out this very professional and loving tribute to the late Carl Sagan and the inspiration he instilled in millions of stargazers to come like me. Even if you're not an ambient fan, I find it hard to believe you won't like it on some level.

Favorite Music of 2010

EDIT: Made on 1/21/11

First, some honorable mentions that are not that great, but still worth a listen. All of them yield some goods songs but overall they were lacking substance and memorability:
Salem- King Night
The Art Museums- Rough Frame
Nachtmystium- Addicts: Black Meddle Pt.2

Next, here are albums I heard once or maybe twice but still have no idea what to rate them, though I am intrigued enough to them try again. Perhaps you should check them out too?
An Autumn for Crippled Children- Lost
I Shalt Become- Poison
She & Him- Volume Two
Sigh- Scenes from Hell
1349- Demonoir
Negură Bunget- Vîrstele pămîntului
LCD Soundsystem- This Is Happening

Lastly, we've got the shoddy releases that I was exposed to that either disappointed and/or failed to impress me whatsoever:
Imperium Dekadenz - Procella Vadens
Dimmu Borgir- Abrahadabra
Burzum- Belus
Dark Tranquillity- We Are the Void
Eluveitie- Everything Remains (As It Never Was)

And with those out of the way, here's the list.

21. MGMT- Congratulations

20. Delorean- Subiza

19. oOoOO- oOoOO (EP)

18. Caribou- Swim

17. Clair Cassis- Clair Cassis

This band came out of nowhere. I had no idea that Velvet Cacoon had even split up but this pretty much just picks up the pieces under a different moniker. The fuzz is still here. The atmosphere is still hazy. Images of a dark ocean in the wee hours of morning or a late late evening grace the artwork and it's an accurate imagining of the music for me. The nautical influence was apparent in Velvet Cacoon and it's just as apparent here. Not the best thing released by this duo but still satisfying.

16. The Knife- Tomorrow, in a Year

I'll keep this nice and simple. The first disc, the "electro-opera" Darwin inspired music, is extremely experimental and quite frankly very uninteresting to me. It's worth a listen to see what you think but it doesn't draw me back in personally. The second disc though is filled with pretty great material. Some of the songs rank up with The Knife's best material, chief among them "Colouring of Pigeons" which is one of the year's best songs beyond a doubt. I hesitate to recommend a purchase since it is a double album and costs a bit more. It might be better to just download the second disc and save yourself some money.

15. Best Coast- Crazy For You

If ever the need for the perfect summer soundtrack was called upon, Best Coast appear to have accomplished that task in spades. Catchy, beachy, lo-fi, uptempo, and all in the context of a girl who's very very into some guy. No, seriously, he's the topic (assuming it's the same person throughout) on every single song. You might think that could get annoying, and it probably will irk some, but it doesn't bother me. The songwriting more than makes up for it anyway. All of the songs can tend to sound the same but that's also the mass appeal since they're all consistently good. Not a bad egg to be found. "Boyfriend" and "Crazy for You" are the two mandatory tracks on here though. One word review: Fun.

14. School of Seven Bells- Disconnect from Desire

Initially I was a little disappointed by this. 'Alpinisms' I was/am still very fond of for its interesting mixture of genres and the wonderful vocal work and harmonies. This carries along in more or less the same manner but seems heavier on some of the electro influence and is also a bit more in line with dream pop/shoegaze from the 90s, which is a very good thing. The band also does sound maybe slightly more streamlined this time around and that serves to make the songs a bit more direct. The material still has plenty of hooks to grab you even if not all the songs are great. But overall this is a strong sophomore effort and fans of their first album should definitely pick this one up. I think they'll also attract a lot of new fans as well so if you haven't heard them this is not a bad place to start at all.

13. Twin Sister- Color Your Life

Twin Sister is one of my favorite finds this year. An indie pop band that writes great songs and features a singer with a really interesting voice. I'm not sure I know of anyone to compare her too. It's a little bit in a lower register and slightly deeper. Maybe a bit nasally? I'm so bad with describing sometimes. The songs are catchy though and have this alluring/charm factor that keeps me coming back for more. Some of their music is actually available for free (the legal kind of free) so definitely check them out.

12. Fear Factory- Mechanize

The hardest hitting and most brutal Fear Factory album since the one and only 'Demanufacture'. Pretty solid songwriting all around and absolutely no fucking around on this one. Probably the one flaw is that while all the songs are good there isn't much memorable material on board but then again the pure aggression should satisfy your fix for something heavy. And if you're like me and you love the aforementioned classic 90's album then you should dig this just fine.

11. Negură Bunget- Măiestrit

So this is a remake of an older album done by the classic lineup responsible for 'Om' and at least half of it is spectacular. The other half (the first batch of songs actually) I was having trouble enjoying fully but the last listen with this album proved to be extremely successful and I think it finally "clicked". This success caused me to drive up my previous score and while I don't find it as good as 'Om' or ''N crugu Bradului' it is better than the disappointing 'Vîrstele pămîntului', which was the new album put forth by the almost entirely new line-up. So if you found that one lacking I'd recommend picking this one up for your fix.

10. Phantogram- Eyelid Movies

A really solid output of trip-hop with an indie rock flavor. Most of the songs are very good but sometimes (and this could just be my mood) there is a dip into mediocre-ville. I really like the vocal work by both Joshua and Sarah, but mostly Sarah who's voice has a kind of sultry and hypnotic quality to it, especially on "As Far as I Can See" where I can't help but believe and sympathize with every word she says. Joshua sounds almost soulful on "You Are the Ocean" and the effects he uses on "Running from the Cops", along with that infectious groove that's repeated all throughout the song, result in one of my favorites on the album. Best of all, Phantogram's music comes off as fresh and has an energy infused within that will help carry me into many repeated listens.

9. Local Natives- Gorilla Manor

Thanks to FYF I was fortunate enough to become acquainted with this excitingly fresh sounding band. They didn't sound like anyone else I heard that day and the same can mostly be said about 'Gorilla Manor'. "Fresh" is the keyword for the band as they sound like they're genuinely having a great time making music. The chemistry between the members is apparent in the smooth vocal harmonies scattered all over the place and the songwriting is consistent and strong from start to finish. "Sun Hands" is an obvious single and a standout track, but I'm also keen on the opening track "Wide Eyes" as well as "Airplanes". I really have to stress the quality of this album. I also see this band having a wide appeal because talent like this is just too good to be ignored.

8. Enslaved- Axioma Ethica Odini

Black metal and Pink Floyd's lovechild has return with an album that has a lot more heft than you've become used to based on the past couple releases. It's actually closer to their 'Below the Lights' record in terms of production and the aggression apparent through, and the songs are all super strong. They've matured yet again but have also kept that core Enslaved sound in tact. I've actually only given this one a couple spins so far but I knew pretty quickly that this was a winner. Like the Agalloch album my opinion has the potential to grow tremendously with this one.

7. Lantlôs- .neon

When I learned that Neige would be joining the band I have to admit I was slightly worried. I love Neige but I was afraid of being overexposed to his style and vocals, not to mention Lantlôs already had such a distinct sound on their debut self-titled album. But my worries were quickly laid to rest after spending some quality time with '.neon'. Lantlôs still sounds like Lantlôs and Neige (oh wow) sounds incredible. I'm not sure what was lacking for him on the Amesoeurs album but he sounds like he's back to his old self again, maybe even better than before. Lantlôs have incoporated more of a post-rock vibe this time but don't sound like any of the other black metal bands that are influenced by post-rock. Again, they've carved out a niche style for themselves. A must for fans of (post)black metal.

6. Deerhunter- Halcyon Digest

Despite the rather off-putting cover, Bradford Cox and company have struck gold once again. Coming off the immaculate Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. double album a mere two years ago, there was a certain amount of pressure for Deerhunter to match that success. It turns out that the best way to do so is by stripping down your sound more to help not only create focus but a well laid out dish of tasty songs to sink our teeth into. It starts off strong with "Earthquake" (my personal favorite on the album) and continues along a path of finely crafted songs that both reflect sounds from rock's past but also give said sounds a modern face lift, all the while allowing the band to retain an identity. And that's no easy feat, my friends.

5. Agalloch- Marrow of the Spirit

Okay, so here's the deal, because I know you're thinking "Brandon! How is this NOT your number one?!?1!!11! No question that this is a really good album. Agalloch couldn't make anything less than good if they tried. But thus far this hasn't hit me like their past works have, at least not yet. And I emphasize "not yet". I'm almost certain my rating will increase but I can't pretend to love this if I don't yet love it. Other than this important note, I have to say I fully embrace the black metal elements showing up since they have been kind of dormant on previous albums, though always just below the surface, since it does bring a nice sense of evolution for the band and definitely adds some freshness to their sound. The aggression in particular has been upped considerably because of said styles being used. I think in the end it's going to be a grower like everything else I've come to know from the band and as of now it's still a top 5 entry. Not bad at all.

4. Beach House- Teen Dream

I seriously love this band if you didn't already know. 'Devotion' was my first foray into their music and even though that in itself was enough for me proclaim my undying love, 'Teen Dream' simply solidifies that pledge. The thing that really stands out about Beach House is their knack for writing melancholy dreamy pop songs that not only strike an emotional chord but carve out songs that will stick with you. It's fairly simplistic songwriting at its heart but in the best kind of way. 'Teen Dream' might even be their most consistent and best overall. I honestly can't decide between the two albums. Nevertheless, this is one of my absolute favorites this year. Pick it up at all costs.

3. Les Discrets- Septembre et ses dernières pensées

From the moment I saw the artwork my heart grew all fluttery with hopes that it would sound just as amazing. Good does! Atmospheric metal is about the only term that really applies to this band. There's a ton of post-rock influence but it doesn't come off sounding like all the other metal bands that flirt with that style. If anything it's closer to Alcest but not a copycat. The vocals are all clean and Fursy has a spectacular sounding voice, so smooth. I thought I'd have more to say about this but what can I say...I'm speechless. Definitely one of my top favorites of the year.

2. Crystal Castles- Crystal Castles II

I am super impressed with this second album from Crystal Castles. I fell in love with their debut rather quickly and still hold it extremely high on my favorite albums in recent memory. When I heard about a follow-up I was very excited. I can safely say it lives up to practically any expectations I could have had before its release. On the whole it comes really close to being almost as good as the first album and songs like "Year of Silence", "Suffocation", "Pap Smear" and "Celestica" make me infinitely happy. CC have trounced the dreaded "sophomore slump" and appear to currently have momentum on their side. With material like what's presented here they will keep pleasing me for a long time to come.

1. Alcest- Écailles de lune

Not the sheer masterpiece that was Alcest's debut from a few years back but this still is a striking and bold new direction for the band that doesn't try to repeat a formula thankfully. It sounds fresh and incorporates more of the band's old black metal influence, and sounds dreamier than ever before. The title track (broken up into two parts) is stunning to say the least and probably worth the purchase of the album on its own. But the rest of the songs are damn good too in their shoegaze/metal/post-rock glory. A must have for people interested in music that's taking chances and succeeding with flying colors.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Agalloch's Glorious Return

Yes, the wait is finally coming to an end, my friends. Well, that is if you're one of the people that hasn't already downloaded the leaked copy of 'Marrow of the Spirit' by now. Four years is a long time to be patient for new material so I suppose I can't blame those of you who have. But anyway the physical real life version of Agalloch's fourth full-length release is November 23rd, which is only seven away for those of you who like math! Chances are you've been tempted to give in and just download the album already but it appears your patience has paid off. NPR is currently streaming the entire album on their website up until its official release. Now, don't you feel glad you waited a bit longer? I'm currently listening to it as we speak. It's a dense and stunning piece of work to take in as the final minutes wind down. I can hardly wait to spend even more time with this in the coming months since Agalloch albums always get better and better the more you hear them...but enough rambling. Enjoy, folks!

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart- s/t

Band: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Album: Self-titled
Year: 2009
Genre: Indie/Noise Pop/Shoegaze

Here's a band that may have flown under your radar last year. Pains is one of those indie bands that are reintroducing a nostalgic type sound, in this case it's the late 80s/early 90s sound of bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, and channeling it into the modern age. What we get is a surprisingly refreshing and energetic rendition of the noise pop/shoegaze bands of yore, but with a "poppier" bent. This is not a bad thing. The songwriting in this band is simple but genuinely charming and perfect for singing along to. As soon as I heard it I instantly new I'd found a standout from the crowd. I'm seriously not kidding about their songwriting either. Every single song on the album could potentially be their single. So if you're into the kind of music that I've described and are looking for a happy record to spin when the mood strikes you then don't miss out on this one again.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Colosseum- Chapter 1: Delirium

Band: Colosseum
Album: Chapter 1: Delirium
Year: 2007
Genre: Funeral Doom Metal

Although this deserves more said about it than I'm going to give, I'm feeling brief today. This is the debut album from Colosseum, a Finnish doom metal band, more specifically playing in the funeral doom style, and atmosphere is their forte. The blue and black colors reflected in the artwork perfectly display the kind of mood that is prevalent throughout the album. It's melancholy, apocalyptic, and personally I imagine a solitary path through a dank forest with a steady rain pouring down through a canopy that's layered in fog, which pervades and entwines between the trunks of the trees, the colors around you being exactly like that of the artwork, giving the impression of being in a dream. Of course being a funeral doom metal album it is full of skull-crushing riffs that are heavier than lead, guttural growls that don't sound like they're coming from a human, and on top of it all there is the magical and enraptured sprinkling of synth-work which really pulls all the elements together to give you the aforementioned atmosphere I described, coming across in an almost symphonic dirge at times. In short, if you are a doom metal fan you can not go wrong in checking these guys out. They have since released a second album and a TBA third album (which has no current release date).

On a sad note, the lead singer of the band, Juhani Palomäki, died in May of 2010 and that's an extremely heavy blow as he had a very recognizable and distinct voice in my opinion and it's sad that he will not be around to continue making great music. May your soul rest in peace, brother.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Crystal Castles & Robert Smith – “I’m Not In Love”


If you're a Crystal Castles fan, or a Robert Smith fan, or a Cure fan, chances are you've probably never imagined an actual pairing between them. I know it never crossed my mind. So imagine my surprise when I learned that the Crystal Castles song "Not in Love" from their 2010 album was remixed to include the one and only Robert Smith performing the vocals. Wait, seriously? Yes, seriously. And by the maker, it's probably the most endearing combination I've heard since...since...I have no idea. It's up there though, I think it's that good. So do give your ears some love and download (or just stream it if somehow you're not already salivating at the mouth) the song, which comes via the good folks at Stereogum.

Oh, and here's the original song for reference.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Sunny Day in Glasgow

Artist: A Sunny Day in Glasgow
Album: Ashes Grammar
Release Date: 2009
Genre: Dream Pop/Ambient/Shoegaze

With as much music as I tend to listen to these days it's rare that a single artist not only stands out to me and causes many repeated listens, but drives me toward addiction, elates my soul and accordingly launches themselves to the top of my current favorite artists so quickly. It happened earlier this year after being introduced to the wonderful St.Vincent, and now I feel that the process has begun anew with my new favorite Dream Pop/Shoegaze outfit hailing guessed it, Philadephia (you were thinking Glasgow, weren't you?).

What causes this band to stand out for me is, like any great band, a combination of cohesive elements. First and foremost there are the vocals. Light, airy, dreamy (naturally), and harmonious, they drive the majority of the melodies on the album, sometimes without even needing to utilize lyrics, such as the "ah ah" moment in the song "Shy." Jen Goma and Annie Fredrickson are the two women behind the mic if you're wondering. While they definitely take vocal cues from dream pop bands of yore, they're in no way copycats. They simply use that inspiration and make it their own. It's both nostalgic and refreshing. In addition to said vocals, there's of course the instrumentalists who bring a wide array of sounds to the table. Although the band does use guitar in many songs, it's not the instrument that's solely responsible for creating the soundscape. When it does take the lead, such as in "The White Witch", it can be very uplifting. Or sometimes the guitars become full of fuzzy distortion that calls to mind the classic shoegaze of My Bloody Valentine. But more often in this album you have the keyboards and electronic sounds dominating. I think this attribute also plays a large role in causing the album to sound very modern and work as successfully as it does.

But above it all, it's the songwriting that makes this record pure gold in this listener's opinion. There are hooks everywhere, atmosphere aplenty, and a good amount of depth that will keep you coming back for more. The album also flows extremely well, each song bleeding into the next, making for a satisfying experience. So if you're a fan of this genre or even if you're not and have been itching to find something new and different in a music world saturated with the mundane, I heartily suggest you give this album a try.

Recommended songs: "Shy", "Nitetime Rainbows", "Passionate Introverts (Dinosaurs)", "Close Chorus", "The White Witch"

Monday, September 6, 2010


August 28th, The Glass House, Pomona

Boris has been one of the quickest bands to rise in my personal listening rotation since finally getting into them a couple years ago. I was aware of their existence for some time but it wasn't until I picked up Pink that I understood just why they are so revered by fans all across the musical spectrum. Pink's carefully blended mixture of styles won me over from the first calm and droning moments of "Farewell" to the feedback laden outro of "Just Abondoned My-Self". I've also acquired Smile and enjoy it nearly as much, so it was with great anticipation that I journeyed to Pomona to see them in a live setting.

The Glass House has been home to some of my favorite shows in recent memory and I saw no reason why that trend couldn't continue here. Being right on top of the stage for them was a must. The spot was secured due to the early arrival and it was then time for the opening bands to do their business. First up was Helms Alee. Not the worst band in the world. The mixture of sludge, stoner doom and post-rock was interesting enough but the songwriting was too all over the place for me. Thankfully the drummer was very talented and became the highlight of the band's set and was a joy to watch tear across her kit. Next up came Red Sparowes, a band that I had already spent some time with in the past. The album I heard was rather forgettable and average post-rock with elements of metal thrown in. Still, it's not often I see post-rock live so maybe they would sound better here. To my dismay, they never really took off anywhere and just kind of played and didn't excite me or anyone in my party. No matter as Boris were set to erase any memory of the previous two acts.

One of the things that caught my eye as they were setting the stage for Boris was the enormous gong positioned behind the drummer. After checking out multiple pictures from past Boris shows online, I can confirm that it has been there many times before. The band took the stage along with one extra live member on guitar, but he sadly seemed less involved physically because of where he was on the stage, although his sound contribution was no less vital I'm sure. The first song was the infamous opener on Pink, "Farewell". The amount of sound this band puts out is enormous. The guitars were beautiful, whether lightly strumming notes at the beginning or playing the long sustained heavy notes during the rest of the song. An extremely positive start to the night. The band didn't really talk between songs being Japanese and all. But that didn't matter. The goods kept on coming, despite only being familiar with about 1/4 of their material that was played. More delight was had when some of my other favorite songs were played, namely the title track from Pink, "Statement", and "Untitled" from Smile. The set was also balanced quite well too. When the fast material needed to happen, it happened. And the slower numbers were placed in just the right spots when a slight breather was needed. "Untitled" was the closing song and one of the best possible choices I think, and it was definitely one of my personal highlights from the night. And yes, the gong was hit multiple times by the drummer at the end of the song upon repeated request from the crowd. Who doesn't love the epicness of the gong? Afterward I walked away knowing I had just experienced one of the best concerts I've ever been to. And I think I can break it down into four distinct reasons. The first one is that the band was just damn fun to see and hear. The second is that the songs I did know were executed brilliantly live. The third being that I am now interested in checking out their other albums even more so than before, given the delicious sampler of their material on display. And the fourth and final reason is that they have given me every reason to want to go and see them again next time. Come back soon, Boris!

Official Website:
Band's Myspace:

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Au Revoir Simone

July 8th, The Echoplex, Los Angeles

There's nothing quite like the anticipation of going to another show, especially when it's been more than a couple months since last I went to one. This time it was the charming ladies of Au Revoir Simone. The place: The Echoplex. A literal off the beaten path location that will probably only be found if you're actually looking for it. It has a bigger brother in The Echo, which is above it I believe, but The Echoplex can only be accessed by going down under a tiny bridge. Anyway, the parking for this venue is free so as you can imagine I was thrilled by this revelation. It's a very dark environment with black walls and sparse atmospheric lighting. It's got an interesting shape to it that I was struck by. It stretches all the way back from the stage to the bar. At least 50 feet or so. I definitely like it, especially because of how open spaced it felt.

When Allie and I arrived the opening act, George Sara, was already into their set. They really helped create an interesting mood, at least initially. The music was an interesting mixture of live string instrument performers and George Sara on his electronic setup. Fairly unique but ultimately I was only impressed by a couple songs before it grew tiring and monotonous. After George Sara came Alexa Wilding and her acoustic guitar. Nothing more, nothing less. She played a handful of folk songs that were decent enough though I'm not sure how much I enjoyed it at this particular show. It seemed slightly out of place amongst the electro leanings of Au Revoir Simone and George Sara's performance just before. But it was a nice breather and contrast falling between both of them. So it wasn't all that bad. As I said, either the music wasn't that great or I wasn't really in the mood that night for listening to soft folk songs, as endearing as they might have been. Although it was probably a mixture of both of those feelings. Needless to say, all I could think was, "Bring on Au Revoir Simone!"

Not long after Alexa Wilder ended the three amigas of Au Revoir Simone came on stage and took their positions behind their respective keyboards (one for each of them). I couldn't help but notice they were all dressed classy-like in their dresses and it very much fits their music style and personality. Things started off with "Another Likely Story" followed by "Sad Song", the latter of which was the only song from their debut album. This was fine by me because "Sad Song" is currently the only offering from that release I'm familiar with. The rest of the evening consisted of songs from their 'Still Night, Still Light' album that was released just last year, in fact it felt like they played nearly the entire album's worth of material. They were all lovingly reproduced with the usual slight differences that a live setting will bring. Going into the show I thought perhaps the charm wouldn't be as apparent live but I was proven wrong. There wasn't a lot of movement on stage given their necessary positions behind the keyboards but it wasn't a problem. The lights they used during the performances were also extremely complimentary, especially by the time the "psychedelic portion of the set" came around, as stated by one of the members, including lots of drug-induced color effects on the screen behind them. Overall, there's not much else I might say other than that I received exactly the type of show I hoped to get from Au Revoir Simone, and then some. I highly recommend getting to see them if you're a fan as you will have a fun time as I did. After all, if a fan of black metal (me) can appreciate their talent and charms then I think just about anyone has the potential to be wooed as well.

Official Website:

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Crystal of Hate

The song that single handedly demolishes the 'Black Cascade' album. Listen to how Wolves in the Throne Room should of sounded circa 2009 and hope for a turn around on album number four. They have it in them still, this song proves it.

Friday, June 4, 2010

My Night with Porcupine Tree: Revisited

Yes, this show happened way back in September of last year so this isn't exactly "new" material for me. But I was talking about this briefly with someone last night and I realized I had never posted it to this blog before, only on myspace. So I figured, "Why not?" After all, it didn't turn out to be just a show as you'll find out by reading.

Okay, so some of you know that I went to see the band play at Club Nokia, which is an extremely new and really nice venue that was built next to the Staples Center in LA. It's sort of like a miniature version of Universal City Walk I thought. I got raped for parking though... $20 dollars to park in the parking garage!!! Anywho, I get there and nab a really nice spot dead center in front of the sound board. There's just a little narrow space (about 5 feet wide) between the sound board and some railing, in front of which is the pit area that I wasn't allowed in. For some reason, more and more people thought they could fit in front of me and that railing, when there was little to no room at all. By the time the show started, I could barely move at all, at least not to feel comfortable, but I suppose that's all part of the concert experience.

I had to sit through one opening band, Big Elf, who were alright but not really my thing. Throughout the first band's set I noticed that the air either wasn't on or they'd only turn it on for 2 minutes at a time. Needless to say, it was hot and it got sweaty pretty quickly. Uncomfortable beyond words and already I was feeling very thirsty.

Finally, after getting there around 6:30, Porcupine Tree came on around 8:45 or 9:00. The setup was great and they sounded amazing. The entire first set was the entire first disc from their new album, The Incident. It was my first time hearing it at the time, and it was very good overall. Unfortunately, during this set things started to unravel for me...

As I mentioned, the temperature was very warm and I was sweating and very thirsty, but I didn't want to leave my excellent crown position. That's when it happened. At first I could feel myself breaking into a cold sweat, my body was starting to grow very tingly. My ears were becoming plugged and my eyes slowly began to grow more blurry by the second. I'm obviously freaking out at this point and I can only guess that this must mean that I'm about to pass out (I've never had it happen, let alone at a concert with people all around me, and being alone). I can only see blurred image in front of me from what is supposed to be the band on stage, and so the only option I can think of is to tap the guy in front of me and tell him that I'm pretty sure I'm about to pass out. Not certain what good it would really do, at least someone would be aware why I suddenly collapsed to the ground. Meanwhile, I was trying to fight it off from happening with every ounce of strength I could muster and thought maybe I can ask the guy behind me working the sound board if I could get some water, but of course he denied that request (jerk) despite me about to pass out on the floor. So I decide "fuck this spot, it's not worth it", and I slowly fight through the crowd to find the opening to the back to the bar so that I can get some water immediately. Somehow my brain managed to tell my body that water would soon be mine and to let me get there without collapsing. I arrive at the bar and get the water and try to find a place to relax and recover from one of the scariest moments that I can remember having. After all, you try being alone at a concert surrounded by strangers and trying to stave off fainting.

About 15 minutes or so after getting the water, the band leaves the stage for a short intermission before they come back on for the second set. I finally see a spot where I can sit down comfortably and I stay there for the remainder of the intermission. I drank all the water that I could and started to regain myself. Bad enough to be missing the concert of a band that I've been wanting to see for years, and even worse to think I might have passed out in the process. But as I said, I began to feel better and was able to watch the rest of the show.

The second set was all "old shit", as Wilson put it. I enjoyed every minute of it and survived a night at Club Nokia. A great show to say the least and one that I won't be forgetting anytime soon.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Auditory Delights

I am continuing to move along at a snail's pace this year in trying to get my ears familiarized with new music, in fact I've only acquired four new albums so far. Fortunately, each of them has proved to be extremely gratifying and certainly worthy of repeated listens. Granted, four albums is a small list for almost being 6 months into the year, but when they're all of this high quality it's hard to complain. Besides, I'm sure I'll pick up the slack soon. Alright, so it's time to reveal my early favorites. They are...

Alcest- Écailles de Lune

The long awaited follow-up is finally here and it's a stunner. The return of black metal elements to the fold makes this a much more dynamic offering than the first album, possibly making it even better.

Les Discrets- Septembre et Ses Dernières Pensées

Wow, this is some of the most gorgeous music I've come across in awhile. This is practically flawless work and it's full of atmosphere that will sweep you away to an unknown time and place. This is easily album of the year material. For fans of Alcest, Katatonia, and Agalloch.

Fear Factory- Mechanize

The 2000s were a messy decade for this band, filled with ups and many downs, but Fear Factory have returned with a revamped lineup, including the return of Dino and addition of the legendary Gene Hoglan, and have delivered their most aggressive offering since Demanufacture. Believe the hype. This album delivers.

The Art Museums- Rough Frame

The debut from this California act, Rough Frames, is full of lo-fi goodness. This is a retro rock album that doesn't sound outdated, just updated. The Art Museums place themselves firmly in the realm of pure fun and catchy songwriting, and I highly suggest that all of you check them out.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Deerhunter: Got Noise? (continued)

Well, it seems "very soon" turned into almost four weeks. I do apologize. It's difficult trying to find free time in between work and school. Also, my desire to want to write has been lacking somewhat lately. Hopefully I'll get back into a more consistent groove but we'll see. Back to the Deerhunter show from last month!

So, I believe I was just beginning to discuss how loud their music got at times. It wasn't fun afterward but the set was so enjoyable that I hardly cared. I was only familiar with the Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. album so I was happy to hear quite a bit of material played from them. The vocals were sadly a little low in the mix of sound at times which was disappointing because Bradford comes up with really good vocal parts. But they seemed to improve as they went on. Some of the songs I remembered that they played were "Little Kids", "Nothing Ever Happened" (a personal favorite of mine), and then when they returned for the obligatory encore they played "Cover Me (Slowly)" and "Agoraphobia", much to this writer's delight. Oh, and I forget which song it was they were playing but the entire band was getting really really into it (might have been the last song of the set now that I think about it), and the drummer ended up hitting the cymbal so hard that it fell off. Awesomeness.

Much of the between song banter was rather entertaining too. I unfortunately forgot most of what was said but Vampire Weekend happened to be playing that night (or maybe the night after) and Bradford had a funny joke about owing them money and that they might slash their tires too.

All in all, a really good show. And to put icing on the cake, I was able to snag a poster at the end and my friend Heidi and I got to meet the band outside after the show. They were actually talking for quite awhile too. They're very mellow and genuine people so that's always a joy to discover. Do be sure to listen to this band via their studio albums or live show, though preferably both. I don't think you'll be disappointed. Oh, and as a head's up, I was recently at the Mono show at the El Rey Theater so expect a review of that show in the days to come.

By the way, if you've never heard Deerhunter before then you'd be hard pressed to find a better song to get you introduced to the band:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Deerhunter: Got Noise?

April 14th, The Glass House, Pomona

The Glass House has been one of my favorite venues for awhile now. It's small and intimate design makes it a superior setting for live music. It's also the only place I know of where I can park for free. Plus, it's only about 35 minutes from where I live which beats the heck out of driving to LA. Don't get me wrong, I love driving to LA but it's horrible driving back late at night since I inevitably want to fall asleep during the drive...not so good.

So, this time around we had Deerhunter playing along with the band Bleached, which I've learned is a much more difficult word to pronounce than it may seem at first glance. Bleached didn't play for very long, maybe 25-30 minutes, although it might have been even less time than that. I got a pretty good vibe from their music. Far from being the most interesting band alive, they nonetheless sounded like a fun listen and probably will be worth checking out when I get around to it.

It didn't take long for Deerhunter to come on after Bleached were done but there was a tiny problem. You see the instruments were not yet ready to go and the band had to perform their own sound check (classy, right?). It took around 15 minutes for them to get started after initially arriving on stage. Lead singer/guitarist Bradford Cox apologized a few instances during this time, even going so far as to ensure the audience that this self warm-up was not actually a new song, which strangely my friend and I both thought of before he actually came out and said it. Trippy!

When the band finally got started all was forgiven. Although I was well aware of their shoegaze and noise flirtations from their studio albums, I wasn't prepared for just how loud it would get at times. Big mistake. Ear plugs would have been a worthy investment for the show but alas, I got to take in their high frequency guitar fuzz in all its natural glory several times throughout the show.

...This is only part one of two for this entry on the Deerhunter show. Since I've been working for entirely too long for this concert review already and have been lazy to get it done, I decided to at least post this as two parts so I'd have something for you all to read. Look for more details on part two very soon.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Trancelike Dirges

Artist: Procer Veneficus
Album: Ghostvoices
Year: 2006
Genre: Acoustic/Fog Ambient

I'm very fond of album artwork that encapsulates the music beneath its surface, and in the case of 'Ghostvoices', the solitary boat floating on a sea of fog with a line of trees in the distance does just this. I first came across this project because of the undeniable connection made to Velvet Cacoon, the ambient/black metal/drone band hailing from Portland, Oregon. Not only is there a cover of "P.S. Nautical" featured on the album but also the general mood and atmosphere is very much the same for both artists: floating, ethereal, minimalistic, mystical, and otherworldly. What sets Procer Veneficus apart, at least on 'Ghostvoices', is that the only instrument being played is an acoustic guitar, occasionally accompanied by distant whispered vocals. At times the vocals even take on a very quiet growl, much like you hear in Velvet Cacoon actually but not so overstated. The music itself is very simple when dissected but therein lies its beauty. It doesn't try to express any complicated emotions. It strives to lull the listener into a trance, the song often centering on no more than one or two repeated melodies. The melodies are actually pretty dark. There's nothing cheery and uplifting about them. Nevertheless, it will take you on a journey. Much like the figure on the cover, you might be able to close your eyes and imagine yourself in similar surroundings. Although this may sound like a lonely experience, there's a great sense of comfort as well. Plus, with only 8 songs (all of moderate length), the music never overstays its welcome and lasts long enough to keep your soul from wandering away or losing focus.

This is not the type of music that I find myself coming back to very often. It is the epitome of mood music but when that said mood is called upon you'd be hard pressed to find a similar means of satisfying that craving. I strongly recommend listening to this album with headphones too because speakers will not do justice to the subtle nuances of the vocals/whispers that are littered throughout each song. All in all, this is a satisfying ambient album that relies on the naturalistic tones of the guitar instead of the usual synthesizer and keyboards. Highly recommended to all fans of the aforementioned Velvet Cacoon and those who like ambient, black metal, or even anyone with just a passing interest in subdued and relaxing music.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Opeth: Experience #5

April 9th, The Wiltern, Los Angeles

What a night! I don't feel like getting into a full on explanation of the show, I might do that down the road, but at least want to give my initial reaction to what I saw and heard, as well as list the songs played while they're still fresh in my brain. First up, I can't tell you how great it was to see this band playing their very own show without any openers. Without any opening acts to worry about Opeth was free to play for a full three hours. Yes, three hours! There were two sets; the first set being Blackwater Park in its entirety, followed by one song from each of their albums. The songs in said second set were:

1) Forest of October
2) Advent
3) April Ethereal
4) The Moor
5) Wreath
6) Hope Leaves
7) Harlequin Forest
8) Lotus Eaters

If I had to pick a personal favorite then I'd have to go with Forest of October. It's always been one of my favorite Opeth songs and I was astounded by how sleek and masterful it sounded nearly 16 years after Orchid.

All in all, it was a fantastically long night, and possibly the best Opeth show I've yet attended. With so many songs that were played, how could it not be, right? Bravo, Opeth.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

2010's Early Disappointments

So I managed to check out a few of those releases that I had listed for 2010 and even though I didn't actually listen to any of these in full, what I did hear was very disappointing.

Burzum- Belus

- I literally listened to the first two songs (if the first track even counts as a song) and then called it quits immediately after it was finished. It sounds like all that time in prison did NOTHING for Varg's creativity. Other than a slightly better production than past albums, this sounds like a rehash of ideas left over from his last black metal album, Filosofem. The main riff in the second track on Belus, "Belus' død", is horribly similar to "Jesu død". This might be for connection purposes given the titles of the two songs but it doesn't sit well with me. According to Varg, he claims to have "evolved" over time, yet I don't hear any evolution. In fact, he even mentions that he wanted this album to be stylistically similar to his last two black metal releases. It sounds pretty difficult to "evolve" if that's the case. Varg doesn't want to let the black metal sound of yore die it seems and that really hurts him because that style has been done to death all those years he's been away, and it now sounds stale and boring. I guess it was impossible not to have some expectation given how monumental Filosofem was but I am disappointed by what I've heard out of this release. I honestly don't care about listening to any more songs either. It's best to just let this one pass by, folks.

Dark Tranquillity- We Are the Void

- One of my favorite bands over the last decade, I had yet to come across a Dark Tranquillity album that I considered boring. Sadly, I must report that trend ends here. Like Burzum's album, I listened to just a few songs from this and I hear no attempt at evolution whatsoever, not even a refinement of their current sound. It's just more of the same, only this time it's not grabbing me like it was. Fiction, while comparisons were drawn to Character, stood very much apart from it and formed an identity. It's as if Dark Tranquillity have stopped trying and are just releasing music just to release it. There's no inspiration at all. Then again, it could also be due to the fact that the genre they're playing in is a black hole for sameness these days. Nevertheless, I fear that I must finally proclaim this band dead, and that's a damn shame. This is easily the most lifeless effort of theirs to date. You had a great run, guys, but it's best to end this band now before it gets any worse.

Eluveitie- Everything Remains As It Never Was

- You can more or less paste exactly what I said about Dark Tranquillity's new album here. Unlike Dark Tranquillity, however, Eluveitie are only four albums into their career, and have already reached the point where it seems they're going to release the same album over and over but with decreased quality on each successive album. If you're new to this band, I highly recommend listening to their first album, Spirit. It's bursting with fresh ideas and the band utilized their folk side with much greater appeal. Its follow-up, Slania, is very good too but not as good. I love what this band does but they've already hit a slump and I will likely not continue to pay attention to future releases.

I might revisit these later in the year but for now they've all earned a spot at the bottom of my "must hear" list.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

2010: Preparing for the Onslaught

As if 2009 didn't kick my ass enough with a multitude of quality releases (not even counting all of the albums I still need to catch up with), 2010 is already shaping up to be a memorable year with some of my favorite artists coming out with new releases:

The Knife- Tomorrow, in a Year
Alcest- Écailles De Lune
Fear Factory- Mechanize
Burzum- Belus
Negură Bunget - Virstele pamintului
Negură Bunget - Maiestrit (Re-intepretation of the "Maiastru Sfetnic" album)
Finntroll- Nifelvind
She & Him- Volume Two
Deftones- Diamond Eyes
1349- Demonoir
MGMT- Congratulations
Ihsahn- After
Sigh- Scenes From Hell
Nachtmystium- Addicts: Black Meddle Pt. 2

Out of all that's listed here, the new Negură Bunget is by far the most eagerly anticipated album for me. Their previous album, Om, is a work of art, not just in black metal but music in general. It felt like they'd collected and absorbed all the great knowledge of what came before them and delivered an unforgettable slab of perfection. If I was to pick my favorite album of the last decade, Om would surely be it without hesitation. The drastic lineup change (only one member from Om is left) has sparked a great deal of discussion and some think that it would've been impossible to follow Om under previous circumstances, but given the shake-up it'll be an inevitable disappointment, perhaps even disgracing the name of the band completely. I, however, am not about to side with that line of thinking. I think Negură Bunget is simply too good an entity to release anything sub-par. Even if it can't match the mastery of Om, it's still likely that it will be an album of the highest order and craftsmanship. And until I am hear it with my own years, I am sticking to that statement.

Negură Bunget isn't the only high-profile band (at least in the underground anyway) coming out with something new. Enter the legendary Burzum. Varg was released from prison about two years ago and he has already produced his first work in almost 15 years. Reviews seem to be mixed at this point. I've not yet listened to it, but am anxious all the same. My expectations are slightly above low, given his extremely long absence, but I will be listening all the same whenever I finally get my hands on it.

Alcest is probably the second biggest new album for me in 2010. I loved Souvenirs d'un autre monde upon hearing it and it quickly became one of my favorite albums of all time after its release in 2007. At the time, Alcest hooked me with the Le Secret ep, a mixture of black metal and shoegaze, but Neige's debut was something else entirely. I haven't listened to the album for quite some time but with the new album at hand I plan on going back to Souvenirs and reliving those fond memories I have of hearing the album for the first few times. This will be followed by another healthy listen of the split with Les Discrets released late last year, which was good but I still haven't formed a proper opinion of to tell anyone just how good. And by the end of the month, Alcest's sophomore effort, Écailles de Lune, will be entering my ears for the first time and I have my fingers crossed that I will be taken back to Neige's unique world once again and be just as amazed, if not more so.

Since this list is going to be constantly updated, I suggest just going here to see what's being added and taken away: Profile

Favorite Albums of the Decade

*Disclaimer* As with any list, the opinions held at this time with certain albums may or may not hold true in time, possibily even in a matter of months.

After seeing them all over the place since 2010 started, I thought it was time for me to jump into the fold with one of these “end of the decade” lists of my own. I make one key distinction with mine though. These albums are not the best by any means but they are the ones I liked most over the last decade nevertheless. Therefore, I hope you’re able to find joy in some of them as well.

1) There is no order other than that they’re alphabetical.
2) As you might or might not have guessed, this deals solely with albums released in the years 2000-2009.
3) As much as I'd love to, each band gets no more than one album. I do break this rule once for just one band, and one only.

Agalloch- The Mantle

There's a reason why this has made so many people's lists of "favorites of all-time" within just seven years of its release. Agalloch are one of those bands that put out memorable album after memorable album, and The Mantle is no exception. You could really make the same argument for Ashes Against the Grain, but The Mantle is the one that put them on the map and finally revealed their greatness (after their classic debut) to many who were gladly willing to follow them. They're a band that needs no classification because Agalloch sound like no one else.

Akercocke- Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone

These fancy dressed Brits are a prime example for the type of elusive and avant-garde like direction metal ought to be taking in the 21st century. Walking the line between prog, black metal and death metal, this fourth album is the apex for all the work they've produced thus far. Akercocke are menacing yet intellectual.

Alcest- Souvenirs d’un autre monde

As ingenious as Le Secret is, and equally deserving to take the spot here, Souvenirs was the album that introduced people to a modern take on shoegaze, coupled with the faint traces of Alcest's black metal past. The harsh vocals are also gone, replaced by Neige's ethereal clean pipes. They glide over the music in a way that creates harmony and tranquility, while also sounding extremely emotional. The inclusion of the occasional mid-paced blast beats are a nice touch. This music will appeal to just about anyone with a pulse, it's just that charming.


When I first got into Neige’s other project, Alcest, I was amazed at the ability he possessed to create such beautiful music. Then I learned of Amesoeurs. Right away, I knew they were both very different. Amesoeurs was the modernized and industrial-esque answer to Alcest’s ode to all things nature and ethereal. I normally wouldn’t like to include an EP consisting of just three songs on this list, but it’s impossible for me not to talk about one of my listened to albums in the past few years. The quality speaks for itself. One part black metal, other part post-punk, Amesoeurs was a short-lived entity. The one and only full-length of the band unfortunately didn’t live up to the potential set by Ruines Humaines, but don’t let that stop you from loving this three song gem. You will.

Amon Amarth- Versus the World

While many have called With Oden on Our Side their best, and with good reason, Versus the World has something special that I can't quite put my finger on. The sound has a little bit more grit and grime than the other works after it, but still the melody and ferocity the band has always been known for. Also, each song is finely crafted into a complete package, showcasing the band's talent for forging a melodic death metal style that is all their own.

Anaal Nathrakh- The Codex Necro

In the discussion of most unrelenting and brutal black metal to date, this is a no brainer. The power and heft that comes out of the riffs and light speed percussion, not to mention the venomous vocals lend themselves to create a black metal album that's as intimidating as one can find these days. Even after nearly a decade it’s lost none of its potency. One lyric from the album sums up it perfectly: "Down on your knees!"

The Angelic Process- Weighing Souls with Sand

The Angelic Process was a true underground gem that died all too suddenly. Their music was both strikingly heavy and beautiful at the same time. An experimental blend of drone, noise and ambient, this final work of theirs will probably be seen as their best work. This is a difficult album to acquire but it's one that will eat its way into your psyche. The music is so atmospheric and dense and will the reward listener with many repeated listens.

Angra- Temple of Shadows

Angra's "Temple of Shadows" was one of the first bands in this genre that actually made me realize the diversity possible within the confines of this once narrow-minded form of music. Their Brazilian heritage gives them a very identifiable sound, bringing in hints of Latin jazz, and progressive rock to round out this incredible work. Not many power metal albums stand out to me, but this is one of the exceptions.

Arcturus- The Sham Mirrors

When it comes to the avant-garde approach to metal, perhaps there is no one better than Arcturus, specifically this album where they excel on every song. Of course, it helps when all of your members are essentially Norwegian “royalty", including the unique vocal talents of Garm. Expect clever use of electronics, near perfect riffage, and flawless drumming from Hellhammer to round out this package. Add to that an original approach to songwriting and you have a winner of epic proportions.

Ásmegin- Hin Vordende Sod & Sø

Heralding from Norway, Ásmegin are a band that took the metal underground by storm. Here we have a band that is not afraid to mix a plethora of metal styles in the melting pot, and glaze it with a folky and delightfully refreshing coating, all of which is able to stand its own ground from others in the genre, all the while escaping the cliche trappings other bands run into the ground. To top it off, not only is it their debut, it's also one of the best folk metal releases ever.

Asobi Seksu- Citrus

Had this band been around in the early 90s, we'd be putting them alongside the greats of the shoegaze genre like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. But alas, they are relatively new, and carrying the torch for that nostalgic 90s sound with them. Engaging songwriting and delightful vocals from lead singer Yuki Chikudate helps catapult Citrus to its rightful place among the classic albums of the genre. Trust me, this is worth your time.

Bloodbath- Resurrection Through Carnage

A retro album of the highest quality, this album drips with the Swedish death metal sound of the early 90s, complete with authentic buzzsaw guitar tone. The songs are all catchy, memorable, and *gasp* fun! Rarely does one have "fun" listening to death metal, but count this among them. While their future albums were all solid, none of them had the charm that this one did.

Blut Aus Nord- The Work Which Transforms God

The title of this album alone hints that you are about to journey through something not of the ordinary. What we have here is an experimental form of black metal, taking nods from industrial and ambient as well. The dissonance of the guitars is unlike any other band and aids in the eerie atmosphere the band drapes over the entire length of the album. The vocals, also, are distant and threatening. They invite and repel at the same time. This album stands as a template for black metal in this new century. Their newest album from 2009 is excellent as well.

Bohren & der Club of Gore- Black Earth

Doom + jazz + ambient = Black Earth? Yes. If you have even the faintest interest in any of these styles, this is an album that will become an instant favorite. This is the sort of music that you expect to hear from a lounge band playing at 3am. Moody, dark, and all too satisfying, Bohren exhibit the kind of originality you love to hear in a time where cookie-cutter music is abundant anywhere you turn.

Boris- Pink

I regret that I’m still playing catch up with the band and only have two albums. Nevertheless, it doesn’t a genius to realize how great Pink is. The unbridled energy and focus the band plays with immediately stood out to me and continues to do so today. This is experimental/noise rock from a band that clearly knows their instruments like the back of their hands. So comfortable are they that writing memorable songs are par for the course it seems. Not only is this a perfect introduction to Boris in my opinion, it will likely remain a favorite long after you've acquired more of their discography.

Camera Obscura- My Maudlin Career

This band has been around for awhile now, and although they may have been deeply inspired by Belle & Sebastian initially (so I’ve heard), they've recently come into their own, and on this newest album of theirs, you'd be hard pressed to find a more well put together album of indie pop and catchy melodies. The singer has such a hypnotic voice that you'll hang on every word she says. Pretty much every song on the album is well written and filler is nowhere to be found. Camera Obscura has a bright future with albums like My Maudlin Career under their belt. This might very well be my favorite album of 2009 as well.

Coldworld- Melancholie²

I simply can't speak highly enough of this ridiculously good debut album from just one man. This is easily one of the best black metal albums to come out in this decade, as it captures that winter atmosphere as well as any of the best in the genre. One man bands seem to produce some of the best music, and this is certainly no exception. I can only imagine what's to come in the future.

Colosseum- Chapter 1: Delirium

While doom metal is one of the least popular genres in my library (sadly), it's by no means a reflection of my taste for it. I love this style of music, and when done right, it satisfies like few others. I just have trouble finding releases that actually stand out for me. Enter Colosseum's Chapter 1: Delirium. Upon first listen, you may think to yourself, "This is different how?" For one, the atmosphere is literally dripping off of speakers whenever I listen to it. The otherworldly keyboards inserted into the album are an extremely vital aspect to this band. They create a texture that is simply not achievable by any other means. When you put that together with the soul crushing guitars, and monstrously gravely and deep throaty vocals, you have the recipe for funeral doom magic. Trust me when I say this is one band in the genre that's worth more than a fleeting glance at.

Cradle of Filth- Midian

Not many, if any, diehard metal fans will spend their precious time on this band. Much like Dimmu Borgir, they are shunned for their image, their attitude, and the surprising accessibility of their gothic/symphonic take on metal (notice that I didn’t say they were black metal). Of course, there’s definitely an undeniable black metal influence in this band too and it’s often a point of malice directed toward them, but I won’t get into it here. I’m here to tell you that Midian is maybe the best work of the band (at least from this decade). By combining their characteristic gothic atmosphere, traits from all across the extreme metal board (black, death, thrash), and stirring them into the cauldron, we get an extremely well crafted metal album. Dani’s vocals, take them or leave them, are a focal point but the backing music is no slouch either. At times aggressive, other times melodic, this band is dynamic with their songwriting and write riffs that actually sound good. Argue all you want, but I love this band for what they do. Also, I’m just a sucker for their gothic theatrics, Hot Topic kids be damned!

Crystal Castles- s/t

This is one of the bands that have helped me get into the electronic music genre, and it's easy to see why. Their songwriting is top-notch, and for just two people, the variation in sound among all the songs is quite diverse. Plus, it's so hard not to love the eccentric personality of singer Alice Glass. Her vocals have several different styles, which once again lends more variety. I dislike dancing, but this band makes me want to do it anyway. Even if electronic music isn't your thing, this might be the album to sell you. Let's hope that Crystal Castles continue on the path of greatness, because with a debut as good as this, it won't be easy to follow it up.

Dargaard- In Nomine Aeternitatis

Some music is simply meant to entertain, and some music goes beyond mere entertainment. Such is the case for this second album of Dargaard. This is the type of stuff that transports the listener into another realm and time. For me, it's an ancient realm, where I am surrounded by the twilight of the sky above. This is a medieval, ethereal influenced neo-classical sound that's quite unlike any other band. Atmosphere is key here. This is definitely mood music, but when that mood is around, there's nothing better to accompany it than In Nomine Aeternitatis.

Dark Tranquillity- Character

The longest standing melodic death metal band from Sweden's founding trio, this is arguably the band's finest hour. I was tempted to pick Damage Done but I think this album might be a tad bit better overall. It's amazing to hear this kind of aggression and creativity for a band this late into their existence. Stanne's vocals remain some of the best in extreme metal, and the songwriting is near perfection to boot.

Darkspace- Dark Space III

Easily one of the most startling new bands of this first decade, Darkspace is an underground marvel to those who will understand just what it is they are doing not just for black metal but for music in general. Their use of minimalism and ambient inspired synths create the atmosphere of being in space better than any band I’ve ever heard try. Dark Space III stands as the culmination of everything they've done thus far and is a must listen to anyone looking for a unique experience.

Deathspell Omega- Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice

Deathspell Omega can easily be considered at the forefront of black metal since coming out with this epic release. Moving forward without abandoning the core of what makes this style so powerful, they've found a way to keep the aggression without losing an ounce of evil or dread by adding a cleaner but still suffocating production style. The vocals are some of the best in the genre, sounding inhuman to these ears. The music itself progresses along either beating you to a pulp or taking it back a notch in order to surround the listener in the near cathedral-like moments that are scattered throughout the album. This is one black metal album that will long be remembered.

Devin Townsend- Terria

A mad genius in the metal world, Devin Townsend's solo work has been a continuing expression for his more progressive and melodic tendencies. Terria is no different, and it serves to enhance Devin's already legendary reputation. Equal parts serious and tongue-in-cheek, this is one album that any metal fan will feel proud to hold in their collection.

Die Verbannten Kinder Evas- Dusk and Void Became Alive

Die Verbannten Kinder Evas have been a consistent band on their first three albums, taking some of the finer and more delicate sounds of Summoning, and creating a style that stands on its own in the neoclassical realm of music. Dusk and Void Became Alive, however, marks a decidedly dark turn for the band, the atmosphere being very solemn and melancholy. Not to mention, a new female soprano was added, and could very well be one of the best female vocalists in any genre right now. You will get lost in these songs and listen in wonder as DVKE takes you on a journey into the depths of your soul and you will love every second of it.

Dimmu Borgir- Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia

While most are content to shove this band aside, choosing to see them as too mainstream, overproduced, and boring, I think nothing of the sort. I realize their music will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but as far as well played, well written and engaging modern metal goes, these guys know what they’re doing. While Death Cult Armageddon was arguably their creative apex, I believe Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia not only captures more aggression from the band, it’s also a lot darker sounding overall, two features that are very appealing to me in the symphonic black metal genre. The riffs on this album are extremely satisfying and have an excellent tone, ranging from traditional black metal riffage to thrash, melodic death, and even traditional metal. Top it all off with a haunting atmosphere created by the keyboards and ICS Vortex’s heavenly clean vocals scattered throughout, and you have an album worth listening to.

Draconian- Arcane Rain Fell

Taking cues from doom metal and adding a touch of gothic sensibilities, out comes the talented Draconian. Out of all the bands making doom metal, this band has always stood out to me. Perhaps it’s the touch of adding female vocals to the mix, and the heavy use of piano, but there’s something about the band that seems special. Their sound is haunting and melancholy without sacrificing the qualities that make doom what it is. While their debut was really good, this album is even better. The guitar sound got heavier and the atmosphere thicker. All in all, Arcane Rain Fell is one of the best albums in this style of metal that I’ve come across.

Drudkh- Blood in Our Wells

As good as Autumn Aurora is, and I will never take anything away from it, Blood in Our Wells has impressed me from day one. This is the band at their finest, utilizing that unique sound only they are able to pull off. The atmosphere is rich with Ukranian folk melodies, and one can almost imagine accompanying the lonesome figures dragging along the terrain on the album cover. In short, Drudkh sound like no other band in black metal. This album is a journey everyone needs to take.

Eastern Youth- 365 Step Blues

I simply can’t resist the allure of Japanese music (or at least the bands I’ve been exposed to that are anyway). I first came across this band at a concert and at the time I had no idea I was a fan of their type of music. The passionate playing of the band, especially their lead singer and guitarist, won me over. While firmly in the “indie” rock, there’s something that definitely sticks out with these guys, probably because they make no effort to sound American, or European, and channel the influence from their home country. This is on display with the lyrics (all sung in Japanese) and the atmosphere in general. For some reason or other, this band makes me feel like I’m walking the streets of Tokyo. And that can only be a great thing. If you haven’t heard this band before then you’re in for a real treat. If you can get past the rawness of the vocals then you’ll thoroughly enjoy this album.

Eluveitie- Spirit

Not many folk metal bands capture a sense of originality or even distance themselves a bit from the vast number of copycat bands; count Eluveitie as one that doesn’t settle for blandness. While you many think that utilizing celtic music with metal is nothing new, the way this band does it simply sounds refreshing, therefore causing it to sound new. With more than a little influence from melodic death metal to fuel their aggressive side, Spirit shows a lot of variety. Whether listening to the sound of the obscure hurdy-gurdy or the whimsical allure of the tin whistle, this band is downright fun. I can only imagine what being drunk would do to the experience, but fortunately drinking is not a requirement to see this album for what it is: a damn well executed slab of Celtic-infused folk metal. Sadly, they lost a little steam with their sophomore release (though it’s still very good. This is the band’s best work and well worth the money and time you spend on it.

Ensiferum- s/t

Ensiferum's debut album is energetic, folky, and fun as hell. Contrasted with the more black metalish folk sounds of Finntroll, Ensiferum bring a sound more akin to power and melodeath, and does it ever work well. Without a doubt, Ensiferum made a huge mark on the folk metal scene with their debut album alone and continue to do so today. They've yet to best this work although they've come close.

Enslaved- Ruun

Enslaved have been evolving throughout their career, and while debatable, their current incarnation is much like the melding of the progressive/psychedelic leanings of Pink Floyd mixed with the band's own brand of black metal. Ruun is the pinnacle of this evolution and not one song is weak. It's a wonderful thing when a band is able to keep consistency throughout the album, and that's exactly what has occurred here on Ruun. While there are many worthy Enslaved albums, Ruun, quite frankly, is their masterpiece.

Extol- Undeceived

A challenging band to label at any point in their career, on Undeceived they decided to employ influences from mostly death metal and progressive metal, but also being quite technical as well. Melody is in no shortage here though, be it the guitar work or the vocals, and even being put into any of the genres they're influenced by, they still don't quite fit. That's how unique sounding Extol is. If you're looking for a band that stands apart from the crowd, look no further. Undeceived is also the band's best effort by far.

Fen- The Malediction Fields

Fen's promising EP released in 2007 was but a taste of the quality that this band was capable of. Any ounce of potential seen there was delivered in spades as The Malediction Fields is a fine black metal release. Bringing in influence from post-rock and folk, Fen is one of the better atmospheric black metal bands around these days. Do not miss this album. I also highly recommend checking out their EP, Ancient Sorrow.

Fever Ray- s/t

Side projects can sometimes just be leftovers from a person’s main band. This is not the case with debut album from one of the members of The Knife, Karin Dreijer Andersson. Falling in love with The Knife, naturally I was curious to hear this solo effort and I'm happy to say it's just as fantastic. When compared to The Knife, Fever Ray's debut feels mellower, almost relaxing and leans more toward an ambient sound overall. The danceable/electronic beats aren't as pronounced here and it works wonderfully for the atmosphere of the music. Karin's voice is, of course, a highlight as well. I highly recommend this album if you are into The Knife or electronic music that's more subdued.

Finntroll- Nattfödd

Humppa! It's hard not to fall in love with Finntroll, who found a way to make the sounds of Finnish polka music and metal not only work but make it sound like they were both destined to be together. Nattfödd is arguably the best work of the band, taking the excellent format laid down on their previous album and adding some polish, tightening the songwriting, all while adapting a new singer into the fold; an impressive feat to be sure. It's also a standout album in the folk metal genre and not to be missed by those who aren't afraid of having a little fun while listening to their metal.

A Forest of Stars- The Corpse of Rebirth

I toss the word "unique" around quite a bit but if any band on the list deserves to be described this way it's A Forest of Stars. I still have no idea what to expect whenever I listen to this album. The songs are meticulously planned out and long and given this fact it’s not the kind music one puts on the background. This requires every bit of your attention in order to attain complete satisfaction and understanding. This is a very progressive and avant-garde take on black metal and any fan of the genre would do well to check out this overlooked gem from 2008. They have a new album coming in 2010 so keep your eye out for that.

Garden of Shadows- Oracle Moon

This gem seems to have stayed relatively obscure over the years, even for the underground. The fact that the band broke up after this release probably cemented that status, but those who do know it can attest to how good this band really is. While mostly within the confines of melodic death metal, there are also some progressive and doom elements thrown into the mix, and seamlessly I might add. The lead guitar work is exceptional on every single song. The melodies not only sound orgasmic but they're extremely memorable. Also, another standout feature for the band is the vocals. They are firmly in the realm of death metal, having a much lower register than what you may be used to for this melodic death style. Personally, I think it helps them stand out even more, especially given the conviction with which they are delivered. Slap on some fantastic artwork and you have an essential melodic death metal album.

Gojira- From Mars to Sirius

Gojira took on a topic rarely heard of in metal music, an ecological concept that revolves around trying to preserve the sanctity of our planet. And the band delivers this concept through their massive sound of progressive death metal. Riffs are thunderous and the syncopated rhythm with the drums is hypnotic. The songs also range between all out assault to grooving to reflective. Their progressive bent helps Gojira to stand in a niche all their own. Creativity in metal is far from dead.

Have a Nice Life- Deathconsciousness

Another highly original band rising from, essentially, the depths of obscurity, Have a Nice Life created quite a wave of excitement back in 2008 on their debut release, easily one of year's defining albums. This is not the kind of music for sunny days. This is seriously depressing music. Taking nods from post-punk, drone, shoegaze and a host of other influences, Deathconsciousness sprawls two albums, each one of equal quality to the other. The genuine and dark atmosphere of Have a Nice Life is ultimately one of their most appealing features.

Immortal- Sons of Northern Darkness

Always one of the leaders of the second wave of black metal in Norway, their revitalized and epic new sound came with the now classic At the Heart of Winter. While Damned in Black was a worthy album in its own right, it didn't capture that freezing and frostbitten aura the band always excelled at. Sons of Northern Darkness picks up the pieces of At the Heart of Winter and assembles them into a modern black metal classic. The production has never sounded so well and it brings out their music in the best possible way. Guitars slice, drums pound like ice, and Abbath's vocals call forth legions from the darkest and coldest regions on Earth to battle. Sons of Northern Darkness is without a doubt Immortal's crowning achievement.

In Flames- Clayman

Able to divide metalheads in a single bound, In Flames released their last great album at the turn on the century. Clayman, a much more refined vision of previous outputs by the band, is a swansong of sorts for the much loved melodic death metal the band churned out in the 90s. They have changed their sound since, some embracing the change, others spitting on the ground in disgust. However, Clayman displayed a near perfect balance of their classic roots and also a sign of what was to come with the melodic choruses and upbeat tempo, but trademark In Flames guitars in tact. Clayman pleases almost everyone.

Interpol- Turn on the Bright Lights

Probably one of the greatest indie rock records of all time, Turn on the Bright Lights does pretty much everything right. One of the reasons is their clear influence from the post-punk sound of the 80s, such as Joy Division, and mixing it with more modern sounds in a way that's fresh. Songwriting is spot on as well, being just as catchy and addicting as it melancholy. It's a shame that Interpol have not been able to match this debut, but as good as this album is, it'd be hard for even the greatest of bands to equal it.

Isis- Oceanic

Once again, I was stuck between two albums, Panopticon probably being just as good, but I give Oceanic the nod. The epic scope of this album is immense, and Isis are just as effective crushing your skull with bone crunching riffs as they are soothing your soul into liquid metal with their ambient and quieter moments. Isis are their own niche genre and follow no one.

Jesu- s/t

Jesu are one of those bands that will always escape categorization. One can claim to hear elements from many genres, but there's no one style Jesu sticks to. It's a mish-mash to the point of being recognizable and undecipherable simutaneously. So what makes the self-titled so special? For one, this is Jesu at their absolute heaviest. The drone/doom quality of their riffs is in full force here. There's a tremendous amount of weight behind them. Justin's voice is also extremely emotional and raw sounding. He's always had a genuine quality to his voice. The songwriting as well is expansive and covers nearly everything the band is known for all these years. Simply put, if you are to own one Jesu album, this is the one. Although, Silver ain't a bad choice either.

Kamelot- The Black Halo

Ah, I remember when I first got this album. This is one of those that on first listen, sounds way too stripped down and simple. But this requires multiple spins to appreciate. There isn't a lot of flash here. Not excessive or masturbatory musicianship. These guys know how to play for the song. Roy Khan's voice is silky smooth and is unlike any other vocalist in this style. He has the type of appeal that exists outside of metal, and yet it still works in perfect unison with the music they're creating. There are so many great songs here that it's almost criminal.

Kauan- Lumikuuro

Hailing from Russia, Kauan have progressed with mixed results over their short lifespan but have never sounded better than on Lumikuuro. While the elements that comprise the album are not necessarily earth-shattering, it’s the way in which they’re crafted together in each song that makes this music stand out to me. The blend of folk, metal (mostly doom), and keyboards is extremely charming and well worth a listen.

The Knife- Silent Shout

From the cold northern lands of Sweden comes The Knife, and their best work, Silent Shout. Unlike other electronic based bands, The Knife applies a cold atmosphere to their music, which is no doubt inspired by their home. There's also a strong 80s vibe on certain songs, and wouldn't sound too out of place among the new wave bands of two decades ago. And, the songs here are memorable and full of hooks. The vocals are also unique in that they are sometimes tweaked to the point of sounding digitalized, but not in a cheesy way...not an easy thing to accomplish. As danceable as it is relaxing, Silent Shout shows a band at the peak of their performance.

Leviathan- Tentacles of Whorror

Leviathan's first album, The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide, is without a doubt a classic of US black metal. However, on his second release, Wrest not only turned up the aggression factor, he made those eerie ambient passages even more disturbing. In fact, this entire album reeks of something rather unsettling. This is not easy listening. The more you listen to it, the more its layers will unfold themselves. In short, this is some of the best atmospheric black metal one can find.

Lifelover- Erotik

While Pulver was highly original and experimental, Erotik took Lifelover's unique brand of black metal and depressive rock, and made their original style even more enjoyable. The production was improved, the songwriting became tighter, and the emotions even more depressing. It's arguable that the band is even metal, but that's maybe what makes the band so charming. They escape modern classifications, and that's a trait that many of the greatest bands do.

Lost Horizon- A Flame to the Ground Beneath

Probably one of the most epic bands ever, thanks in no small part to Daniel Heiman's untouchable pipes, this album takes you to heights not seen before on a power metal album. Expect progressive-styled songwriting, galloping riffs, and astral vocals which will take your soul to the clouds and beyond.

Lunar Aurora- Andacht

Lunar Aurora are not a very well known band, despite their relatively long existence. Though I've not heard previous outputs, Andacht shows the band firing on all cylinders. They deliver modern black metal that not only has strong production values, but also keeps the atmosphere thick and juciy. Unorthodox songwriting also helps the band to stand out, as they write the song in any way they see fit. One other highlight would certainly be the vocalist. He's able to switch from harsh growling rasps to choir-like vocals that resemble the chanting one hears in a cathedral. The music as a whole is quite dark too. This is a very impressive output of black metal that not many bands these days are able to produce. Do not miss this band.

Lurker of Chalice- s/t

A more experimental beast than Leviathan, Lurker of Chalice concentrates on the ambient side of Wrest's influences, incorporating influences from doom/drone, black metal, and ambient. The results are extremely satisfying. After all, the point of a side-project is to allow an artist to explore different territories that don't fit within the context of their current project(s). Lurker of Chalice does just that. And it's a fascinating trip that takes you deeper into the mind of Wrest than one may be willing to go. But it's so worth the risk.

Lykathea Aflame- Elvenfris

To say I was a little late in jumping on the bandwagon for this album is sort of an understatement given that’s it’s already 10 years old. Even with my little experience, I can see its brilliance and I’d feel very wrong not including it here in this list. This is the type of album that has so many layers that it will require way too many repeated listens to count. But even upon first impression, I’m quite astounded and that complexity of everything going on. Better late than never as they say.

M83- Before the Dawn Heals Us

Just staring at the album cover will give you a great indication of the kind of atmosphere being strived for on this album. It's that feeling of the night, and the inescapable mood that it brings to even the most ordinary places. On this album, which is the best effort of the band, though the two other albums come close, we hear Anthony experimenting with shoegaze and ambient elements that mix beautifully with his entrancing electronic-based music. We also get some very ethereal vocal work as well. Some moments of this albums are simply stunning in how they're pulled off. The last song will leave the listener in bliss as melodies crash all around you. Pick this up.

Mastodon- Leviathan

This is a real watershed album for the band after the brilliance of Remission, and even though Leviathan is not as punishing as Remission, I believe it shows the band taking their sound to the next level by giving a more diversified effort all around. By tightening their songwriting, and becoming versatile musicians, Mastodon put forth arguably their magnum opus so far in their career. Having one the greatest album covers in metal is merely icing on the cake.

Mirrorthrone- Carriers of Dust

I got into this band rather late too and was I ever missing out. Although this is clearly at the avant-garde end of the metal spectrum you’re going to hear influences from black metal, symphonic metal, and even death metal. The drumming is programmed but that’s not a problem at all. In fact, the chaotic and robotic nature of the drums fits this band’s style very well. The compositions themselves are free-flowing and not confined to any structure whatsoever. Certain motifs and riffs are repeated, but for the most part the entire album keeps you guessing. I think that’s where a lot of the appeal lies with Mirrorthrone. Carriers of Dust is a fine album of modern styled metal that impresses, surprises, and most important of all entertains.

Mooma- Herd Forming

Certainly one of the most impressive ambient releases to cross this listener’s ears, Herd Forming is amazing in the way its notes seem to drift and float with ease, giving the feeling that you yourself are weightless. There’s a surprising amount of depth as not any of the songs sound the same. All of them have their own distinct set of feelings that they evoke. If humans somehow could fly among the clouds, this is probably the musical accompaniment of said flying.

Moonsorrow- Verisäkeet

There really is no band quite like Moonsorrow in metal. Some probably detest their long compositions, but if you’re like me then that’s one reason you enjoy them. Although they started playing black metal, they’ve evolved into more of an epic folk/pagan metal band, but without abandoning their black metal roots altogether. Instead, they use that influence at opportune moments to heighten the intensity. The juxtaposition with the more folky moments on this album is a defining feature. If mature sounding folk metal is what you seek, then look no further than this album.

Morbid Angel- Gateways to Annihilation

This album seems to be often overlooked in death metal discussions, even when solely talking of Morbid Angel. Their early albums are essential, no doubt, but Gateways to Annihilation shows a very mature band that wanted to rely less on speed and focus on creating heavy music with tons of atmosphere. The production suits this foundation perfectly, often described as sounding very subterranean. I have to agree, since these songs feel like they came from the bellows of the earth. This slower take on death metal resulted in a very unique album for Morbid Angel and the genre in general.

Negură Bunget- Om

If you ever wondered what progressive black metal was all about, look no further than these Transylvanian gods. Like Darkspace, this band is paving the way for the future of black metal but instead of channeling the vast darkness of space, Negură Bunget take a difference approach. They're influenced by philosophical and natural aspects of life, and their music reflects that with its sometimes abstract and earthy sounds. I struggle with words for Om because they simply won't do justice here. This is the type of album that goes beyond mere music and becomes a work of art. If you haven't experienced this, then you're in for the experience of your life. Pity those who will never know this band. This is maybe the album of the decade, not just in black metal, but music in general. Believe me, I don't say that lightly. Om will leave you speechless.

Neun Welten- Vergessene Pfade

If there's any band that can come close to mastering the neo-folk genre alongside Tenhi, it's surely this upcoming band. Here we have one of the strongest debuts on the year, and the talent coming from all the members is astounding. Neun Welten is a vocal-less band, and believe me, the instruments do all the work they need to enthrall the listener. Songwriting is very strong with not a dull moment to be had. It's just constant melodies that are warm and delightful. Any fan of acoustic guitar as well would do well to hear this band. Don't let this one go overlooked.

Neurosis- The Eye of Every Storm

One can’t bring up post-metal without mentioning the father of the genre. A true enigma throughout their career, they change on practically every album. On The Eye of Every Storm, we get a dark and gloomy cast of songs. One of Neurosis' most admirable traits is their ability to create atmosphere, and a damn depressing one at that. Equal parts relaxing and melancholy, this is one of the best albums you can listen to on a rainy or cloudy day.

Nevermore- This Godless Endeavor

Nevermore were always a unique heavy metal band. They escape conventional genre tags and continue to forge their own path, led by god-like talents of Warrel Dane and Jeff Loomis. This Godless Endeavor, along with Dreaming Neon Black, stands as the watershed moment in their career and the quality of this album is probably one of the reasons the band has yet to release a follow-up. It will be no easy task, since this release fires on all cylinders.

Nightwish- Wishmaster

Nightwish is not for everyone. But for those who appreciate operatic and symphonic elements in heavy metal, it’s difficult to resist their charms. Leading the way is Tarja’s powerful vocal performance (she’s at her best on this album I believe) and keyboardist Tuomas’ compositional talents which delicately balance classical orchestration with the band’s own trademark brand of metal. Speaking of their metal side, I think it’s displayed in fine form (much like it was on Oceanborn) here. The guitar has a great tone and the riffs strike the right balance of melody and speed. Strong guitar work would become a bit of a lost art on their later works. So, even though future albums would become more bombastic with the inclusion of a full scale symphony, Wishmaster remains their most successful in terms of consistently good songwriting and the band’s collective performances.

Nile- In Their Darkened Shrines

While some may argue Annihilation of the Wicked as being their best, I find it difficult to not see In Their Darkened Shrines as the masterpiece that it is. Not only do I find it more brutal sound-wise, but the Egyptian atmosphere that Nile has always been inspired to create is found here in a way not heard on other albums. Whether it's the pefectly implemented synths or technical riffage or all out assault of the drums, Nile proved once and for all that they were a juggernaut in the modern death metal scene and haven't looked back since.

Opeth- Blackwater Park

While there can be arguments made for any of Opeth's albums released in this decade, it's fairly difficult to argue against any of those albums either. My choice is Blackwater Park because throughout each of its 8 songs, virtually no flaws are to be found. The songwriting is some of the best in the band's long career, the acoustic and heavy passages are masterfully segued into one another, and it's responsible for some of Opeth's most beloved material to date.

Pagan’s Mind- Enigmatic: Calling

When studying up on progressive metal for 2009, this album is probably one of the best examples of how and where to start. While the band was already impressive on previous albums, this release is massive. Every song is written to near perfection, exploding with melody and strong guitar and vocals. The riffs themselves are some of the best you're likely to hear anywhere. And that Do yourselves a favor and do not miss this if you didn't catch it the first time. It's a must for prog metal enthusiasts and metal fans in general.

Paysage d'Hiver- Einsamkeit

Best. Ambient. Ever. Not convinced? Well, Paysage d'Hiver is primarily ambient black metal that's inspired by winter, but every once in awhile we get pure ambient from this one-man project, and while he's always had a knack for making extremely atmospheric material, this has to be the apex of the kind of rich atmosphere that he, or anyone, can create. Trust me when I tell you that ambient music hardly gets better than this.

Paysage d'Hiver- Winterkälte

This band is so good at two genres that I simply had to include two releases from our dear pal Wintherr. This is the black metal side of Paysage d’Hiver and it’s awe-inspiring. Six songs and 90 minutes of music make up this demo (yes, it’s a demo too), so as you can imagine, each song is quite the exercise in patience as far as length goes. Luckily, the atmosphere is so entrancing that it all goes by painlessly and sounds beautiful in the process. The less trained ears to raw/ambient black metal will find this to be a bunch of noise, but those willing to put in the effort to understand what’s going on will be rewarded graciously. Not many bands can pull off two styles of music so well…count Paysage d’Hiver among the few.

Pelican- The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw

It's not easy to be an instrumental band and stay interesting, especially in the metal scene. Taking cues from post-rock, Pelican have crafted their special mix of very sludge-like and heavy metal. Allowing the guitar work to take lead, it opens up the songwriting and it really shines on this album. The dynamic quality of these songs is staggering, and when they turn on the distortion, it's akin to be smashed down into the ground after being hit with a bag of bricks. In contrast, the beautiful and acoustic moments on the album are that much more breathtaking. This is a shining example of the potential of post-metal.

Phoenix- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Another great one from France, this band (who was on the Lost in Translation soundtrack I recently learned) is a new favorite of mine. They have that hard to pull off blend of catchiness and songwriting depth. The songs can be simple, but in a way that makes you want to listen over and over, instead of becoming annoyed. One of those bands that actually make me want to dance at times, so that alone is worth something. You can't go wrong with this release.

Porcupine Tree- In Absentia

This album is one of my first forays into not just progressive music, but non-metal music in general. And what a great experience it is. I became a Porcupine Tree fan instantly. The songs, of course, are the true highlights. Filled with memorable moments, outstanding melodies, and a real balance of emotions ranging from aggressive, psychotic, melancholic, hell, even a little bit of a funk vibe (as you hear on 'Wedding Nails'). Here is one of those albums that sticks with you long after hearing it. This is a great introduction to the band too if they’ve somehow escaped you all these years.

Primordial- To The Nameless Dead

A band that exudes the quality of being "epic", To the Nameless Dead is one great song after another. Unlike most bands, Primordial do not easily fall into any sub-genre. Although their greatest inspiration is clearly folk metal, there is much more seriousness in their approach and one can garner a great appreciation by solely hearing the vocals, easily one of the most distinguishable voices in metal at this time. This album has everything one can want from a metal album in this modern day.

The Ruins of Beverast- Unlock the Shrine

The Ruins of Beverast is a juggernaut within black metal, and it began on this debut album. The lyrical concepts of war and death come across vividly through the music. What makes this album so special is its unique atmosphere. Much in the way Deathspell work, this album is deadly in its execution. This is a dark and bleak album, but also quite triumphant at times, when one hears horns that are played. While all albums are deserving, this created the crater that now separates The Ruins of Beverast from a gang load of others in the genre. It will be a long time before they even dream of catching up.

School of Seven Bells- Alpinisms

A beautiful debut album from a band bursting at the seems with talent. Their music is not easily defined but they draw their influence from indie pop, shoegaze, ambient, electronic, and it all sounds stunning. This is one album you do not want to miss out if you appreciate bands being more experimental with their music these days.

Shining- V: Halmstad

An album that took the underground by storm, Shining became a household name among metalists with this fifth effort. While not entirely too far off from the last two albums, still there's a noticeable sharpness and clarity which the new production job has brought. Also, we have some progressive and non-black influences showing up as well, but never losing the dreadfully depressing atmosphere the band excels at. To top things off, there are even well written guitar solos, and Kvarforth's signature style vocals, resulting in what is probably the best work of the band's career.

St. Vincent- Marry Me

Oh, Annie Clark…I fell in love with her the moment I saw her and heard her sing. Her voice and looks conjure up for me the elegant singers of yore. Classy, refined, and sophisticated are all adjectives that would apply here. Her music is intriguing and unlike anything else in “indie” pop scene that I’ve heard. While at times it’s rather simple, the way it’s crafted makes it subtlety seductive. The abundance of hooky choruses and melodies makes that possible. At other times there’s clearly some experimentation being done and it not only makes St. Vincent stand out amongst the crowed of generic artists, she sounds more interesting for it. The darkness in her lyrics also adds another layer to the fold, creating even more intrigue. I currently love her new album, Actor, but my advice is to start here first. You’ll be happy that you did.

Steven Wilson- Insurgentes

Steven Wilson is a music god as far as I'm concerned. Although I'm a big Porcupine Tree fan, I must admit that this album blows away most of the material released by PT on the past few albums. As far as Wilson’s work in 2009 is concerned, The Incident is a very good album but as of now this album still comes out on top. Any fans of Wilson's work or progressive music in general will eat this up. It’s certainly one of the most impressive albums of 2009 in any case.

Strapping Young Lad- Alien

That's right, more Devin Townsend for you all. Strapping Young Lad has been his project to unleash every ounce of aggression and angst that seeps through the man's veins, all while keeping his tongue firmly in cheek. On Alien, we have what is maybe the band's best. The production is pitch perfect, the performances are all practically flawless, and the songs are just the kind of insane amount of noise (I use that term loosely) one expects on a Strapping Young Lad record. What maybe sets it apart is the inclusion of some progressive elements from his solo project, particulary clean vocals. While this may not sit well with some, it serves this album well and makes it richer than it already is. It's also probably the best album of the band to start with for newcomers.

Summoning- Oath Bound

Summoning is an enigma within black metal. They’ve never confined themselves to any trappings of the genre and for that reason have been successful in creating a unique sound that no band has duplicated. It’s really hard to pick between Let Mortal Heroes Your Fame (if my rules didn’t exclude multiple albums from same bands I would have it in my list) and Oath Bound. I think Oath Bound comes out on top slightly because I’ve known and listened to it for a long time now and can appreciate all the very fine details entwined under its surface. The keyboards are more dominant than ever before, often taking lead on the melodies here. The choir-styled vocals have also improved and really sound as if there were many voices singing the trained chorus in some of these songs. In summary, Summoning continue to transcend their genre and channel the spirit of Tolkien better than anyone. Even if you’re not a Tolkien fan, there’s still plenty here to love.

Sunn O)))- Black One

Black One stands not only as the band's most popular work, but possibly their best. Each song is carefully crafted and shaped into its own entity. The tortured vocals from guests Malefic and Wrest fit perfectly into the despairing atmosphere Sunn O))) has created here. Drone metal is a force to be reckoned with, and look no further than Black One to start your journey. It's never too late.

Tenhi- Maaäet

Few bands match the rich and masterful talents of Finland's Tenhi, and while they exceed most of their peers in the neo-folk genre, it's Maaäet that assured their place as gods. This album, much like others in this list, has a much darker sound to it overall. Some of these songs sound downright tragic, but in the most beautifully depressing way you can imagine. The album even escapes the genre of folk music at times, and remains as the band likes to call themselves, just "progressive music". Certainly, Tenhi have set no boundaries for themselves and continue on the path to immortality without breaking a sweat.

Therion- Lemuria/Sirius B

While both are distinct albums, Lemuria and Sirius B feel of a piece to me and it doesn't feel right separating them. There's a definite continuation you get hearing them both back to back as well. Here, Therion essentially set the benchmark for operatic and symphonic metal, and do it so convincingly. Maybe the best thing about both of these words is their knack for playing just enough in each song, never overdoing themselves, just always making each song work. This is bombastic music in the best possible sense of the word.

Ulver- Shadows of the Sun

Perhaps the most original band of the last 15 years, Ulver have transformed from their early black metal incarnation, experimented with electronic and ambient music, and now rest firmly in a sound that is uber relaxing and somber more akin to just ambient. There's certainly no denying down to earth quality possessed on Shadows of the Sun. Each song is led by its spacey atmosphere and Garm's wonderful emotional tone. Ulver's changeling quality continues to challenge the listener that is willing enough to accept. It's worth it.

Velvet Cacoon- Genevieve

A controversial band from the start, even starting out as a band claiming the work of others as their own, many stopped taking Velvet Cacoon seriously. But I'm not sure many were prepared for the masterstroke that this album was. This was the ambient/atmospheric black metal Burzum had started on Filosofem taken to the next logical level. The atmosphere is the driving force behind the album's charm. Engaging riffs, all played on a guitar with as unique a tone as you'll ever hear. Not to be missed.

Verdunkeln- Einblick In Den Qualenfall

An atmospheric black metal offering, Verdunkeln draw little to no comparisons. Their music is clearly black metal influenced, but there's a large amount of heft behind some of the guitar work, almost akin to what one finds in funeral doom. The vocals are a definite highlight, ripping through the surprisingly melodic songs with venom to spare. The songwriting is vast and varied, with almost no conformity whatsoever. It just flows and does what it wants. The scary part is, this band may even get better. Nonetheless, the second release of theirs is mandatory listening.

Vinterriket- Der letzte Winter - Der Ewigkeit entgegen

Vinterriket is one of those bands that captured me from first moment the notes entered my ears. Although primarily an ambient project, Vinterriket managed to put out some black metal here and there and none of them can compare to the mastery composed on this release. This is not the type of album that makes you headbang to riffs, no. Vinterriket creates a wall of sound with the guitars, which lets the synths lead the way for all of the melodies. I use the word “atmosphere” quite a bit, but it’s truly the standout quality for this album. Det Letzte Winter is downright mesmerizing in atmosphere, one that can’t be explained properly with words. Once it’s taken you, you will never forget it.

Walknut- Graveforests and Their Shadows

A complete atmospheric gem from Russia, Walknut released one of the better black metal albums of recent years on this debut of theirs. Already the band seems to have found a unique sound for themselves. Free flowing songwriting and a dark aura are but two of Walknut's strengths, and if this is only their first album, one can only imagine the genius that awaits.

Weakling- Dead as Dreams

Talk about quitting at the top of your game, Weakling had simply one album under their belts before splitting up. Released at the birth of the new century, Dead as Dreams is a revolutionary release for black metal, essentially a sign of what was to come with later bands like Wolves in the Throne Room, who would become fond of making 10-15 minute songs, and kicking up the atmosphere several notches. Future influence aside, this is just outstanding work for a band that was only just getting started. The sound here is extremely grim, hostile, and relentless. Weakling was not afraid of letting the riffs envelop the listener for several minutes. To sum it up, buy this album.

Windir- 1184

There are few, if any, that can match the talent and engaging melodies that Windir were able to form. The band has a penchant for writing memorable riffs, and then lacing them with haunting synths that are quite folk-ish sounding. This, I believe, is Windir playing their hearts out and without any compromise. Valfar's mark upon the metal world will always be felt thanks to 1184.

Wintersun- s/t

Jari leaving Ensiferum was a huge departure for some to swallow, but no one knew the music he was about to unleash would arguably overshadow his former band's. While not primarily a folk metal band like Ensiferum, Wintersun borrows from various genres and the style of music presented here has been argued to this day. What we can say is that every song is epic in its songwriting approach. Each successive song has a greater length and the emotions run from ferocious and orchestral, to somber and cold. All the more impressive is that this is essentially a solo work, the drums being the only element not done by Jari. We can only sit ever patiently for the follow-up, Time, who's release date seems forever put off.

Wolves in the Throne Room- Diadem of 12 Stars

While the brilliant Two Hunters album is equally praiseworthy, Diadem of 12 Stars has one thing going for it that Two Hunters does not, and that's the element of surprise. No one was prepared for this band's unique and epic approach to black metal. The folk influence heard would become a trademark element for the band, and the long duration of their songs (all 10+ minutes), ensured many twists and turns. They've not yet matched the passion this album yields, and it remains the band's best.

Xasthur- Nocturnal Poisoning

The band one loves to hate or adore, Malefic created his magnum opus on his debut album. A rough production style accentuates and creates an atmosphere that would not be possible otherwise. Of course, the songwriting here is well done too, and this album is a template for how depressive black metal ought to be played.

1349- Hellfire

Hellfire stands out from other black metal in two key ways. The first being the inspired songwriting and comes through the general chaos of the band’s music. It’s not just blazing fast music for its own sake; it’s taking you along a journey. Whether you’re focusing on the dynamic and impossibly fast drumming of Frost, the smoking riffs, or surprisingly originality of the vocals, Hellfire manages to capture the classic Norwegian black metal sound while both boosting the sound quality and keeping its credibility. You will not find many bands playing this intense and still keeping the passion.