*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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 tone...wow. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.