This is a hard album to like, in a way. I've given this a full review in the past and I stand by basically everything I said in it. Yeah, the band is really unabashedly racist, so much so to the point that basically their entire image is based around how slavery wasn't such a bad idea because black people are inferior subhumans anyway and their sacrifice was needed for empires to flourish. Yeah, obviously the themes are despicable (almost cartoonishly so, it's not hard to argue that really it's all just for shock value), but my god these riffs. If you can manage to get past the lyrical themes, or just not care about them in the first place if you're the type, you'll find yourself sucked in by the best Mercyful Fate riffs that Mercy never got around to writing. You'd figure an album like this would be based in mindless brutality, but it's not. There's an astounding amount of class shown in the songwriting process. When the riffs aren't forceful and pummeling, they're jaunty and jangly, and when they're not jovial and melodic, they're epic and reflective. The vocals even manage to be savage despite the decidedly traditional feel of the riffs, and it creates a neat effect of the beautiful and the vicious. It's a stunning blend of old and new school, with classic ideas put through a modern filter and vice versa. All seven tracks are nebulous and varied enough to keep the runtime interesting. I'm sure you're noticing a pattern with all of the albums I've chosen so far, and this is no exception: I fucking love it when a band can have a ton of ideas that are all cohesive and unified enough to keep the album grounded in reality instead of being a slapdash scrapbook of influences. Incorrigible Bigotry is exactly that.
One of my warmest memories of adolescence was when a buddy of mine had bought this album. He, another friend, and I, used to all drive around aimlessly and listen to whatever new albums we had bought, because being a kid with shit for responsibilities is awesome. 48 seconds into the first track, my buddy from the back seat lurched forwards and screamed "Dude did you hear how fucking brutal that part was?". We laughed at him for such a stupidly obvious statement, but then we rewound it, and he was right, it was indeed, fucking brutal. That's The Vile Conception in a nutshell, it's 37 minutes of "Dude did you hear how fucking brutal that part was?". Mindless brutality gets old, and I understand that, and I understand that this album isn't necessarily brimming with new ideas that turn tech death on its head, but it doesn't need to be that. Hour of Penance is a band that consistently scratches that same itch for me, and that's the itch for tech death that's speedy without being wanky and brutal without being slammy. This is an exercise in how to write tech death riffs, as they are this album's bread and butter beyond the simply insane percussion. It's almost inhuman how mechanically precise every instrumentalist is in the band. Perhaps the appeal of this album has faded with time, since the style has since become as ubiquitous as Par Olofsson's album covers have, and it's easy to become jaded by the tenth Rings of Saturn to blast and widdly wee onto the scene with light speed nonsense. But in the first half of that groundswell that happened around this time, Italy managed to set itself apart with a band like Hour of Penance based entirely on strong songwriting. It doesn't matter if they're the fastest or the heaviest, it only matters that they're the best. It's just crazy luck that they happen to be all three. I mean dude... did you hear how fucking brutal that part was?
Hey, know how the last few albums were fast and exciting? Well it turns out I also like the exact opposite thing when it's taken to its logical extreme. Enter the unforgotten treasure of Finland, and one of the finest funeral doom bands ever to grace this plane of existence, Wormphlegm. The fact that they share a few members with Tyranny, another one of my easy favorites in the subgenre, isn't a surprise when you enter this tomb. Where Tyranny's Tides of Awakening is all about drowning you in waves of fathomless misery, Tomb of the Ancient King does the same thing, but with an added layer of filth. Everything about this album is vile and disgusting, the riffs churn at a pace so slow that they make your blood coagulate, the vocals are so bone chilling that you're likely to fracture your wrist just from reaching out towards the speaker, and it's all so god damned heavy that it's hard to hear the album over the sinewy sound of your own bones shattering. This is insane in the best possible way, you can easily feel your sanity slipping away with each passing minute, and it's due entirely to how unremitting and deadly the album feels. I don't know if "menacingly lethargic" makes sense, but that's how this album feels. It's the sonic representation of a malevolent force that clearly wants you dead, but can't be fucked to actually chase you down, so it just drops a trap on you... but angrily. There's both weight and force here, a stone slab isn't just falling on you, it's being sleepily hurled down at you by a fierce demon who's just trying to get some damn sleep, you fucking noisy kids.
By this time in history, post black metal was pretty solidly a thing thanks to Wolves in the Throne Room, so it was only a matter of time before another band rose up to perfect what they started. Enter Altar of Plagues in 2009, with the monumentally dreary White Tomb. I can use words like "dreadful" and "dreary" all day while describing this album, but you need to understand that they are positives in this scenario. That's what the album aims for, and it nails it. This isn't supposed to be beautiful or evoke some sort of imagery of nature's cruelty, it's about our cruelty to our planet. Bleak, desolate landscapes are painted as visions of a self inflicted apocalypse, illuminating with a dying sun just how badly we bled our mother dry. There's nothing left and it's all our fault, the trees are dead and dried out, and it's because our obsession with living in the moment managed to pull the rug out from under the future. All that, all of these themes of oblivion at the hands of man, are translated to the listener via barren soundscapes of haunting acoustics and blisteringly vengeful black metal. This is meant to be nasty and depressing, and it's exactly that. Some bands can embody a vile, slimy mess with their sickening crunch, but Altar of Plagues aims for a much more parched and desolate vision. They sound thirsty, but I mean that not in the sense that they are driven and are trying to prove themselves, I mean they're dragging themselves along a cracked, dried up riverbed, clothes tattered and tongue cracked and dry, gasping their dying breaths as their eyes finally bake under a cruel and unforgiving sun, punishing we who inherited the planet and promptly squandered it into a shriveled husk of nothingness. It's beautiful in a very black, macabre way, and it deserves all the praise it gets. My god did the band get shitty later though.
Alright, enough of the slow, depressing bullshit, it's time to plaster a drunken smile on our faces and just rock the fuck out. Dragonforce had a massive amount of hype backlash around the time Inhuman Rampage came out and "Through the Fire and the Flames" became a favorite of pimply Guitar Hero virgins and promptly turned the band into a walking punchline with their shallow, vapid, passionless fluff that they called music. What most people tend to forget though, is that their first two albums were pretty damn close to universally acclaimed when they were new, despite being almost indistinguishably different from the album that launched them into the pantheon of mainstream nerdiness, and Sonic Firestorm still holds up today as an example of how completely unrestrained and frenetic music can be hooky and enjoyable all the same. Dragonforce was never the deepest band out there, they were all about surface flash as opposed to slow building subtlety, and really, that's just a bunch of dudes playing to their strengths. Let's be real here, these choruses are incredible, these solos are a shitload of fun, the songs themselves are arranged in a way that keeps them engaging despite their long runtimes. Almost everything about this is entertaining, and that's what Dragonforce always aspired to be: entertainers. These aren't the bards telling tales of history, nor are they imaginitive authors musing as to what the future could be. No, they're circus barkers, dressed like the Dumbo mouse, outside a colorful tent, cracking a whip and shrieking "COME ONE! COME ALL! WITNESS THE WONDERS OF THE WORLD AS THEY AMAZE YOU WITH TRICKS AND ODDITIES ALIKE! THEY CAME FROM SO FAR AWWAAAAAAYYYY". This is what happens when you take standard power metal and run it through an 80s Hanna Barbera action cartoon like He-Man or Thundercats and allow a bunch of drunken math nerds to interpret the resulting confetti explosion. I don't want to sit here and make a half assed excuse like "this is perfect for what it is", because what "it is", is brilliant on its own. Sometimes all you want is a fistful of candy, and I'm a fat, hopeless fuck with bacne and a fingernail sized dick, so of course I think Dragonforce is amazingly fun to listen to. It's easy to forget how much fun metal can be, and I'm glad bands like Dragonforce could have so much fun that they'd personally offend a sizable chunk of metal's fanbase.
Goregrind is a tough genre to break out in, and that's precisely why Exhumed became fifty times better when they amped up the death metal to become one of the premier deathgrind outfits in the country with their turn of the century nuclear bomb of gore, Slaughtercult. As much as I love subtlety and mature variation, Exhumed's best album happened when they just decided to go for full on dripping bloody recklessness for the full runtime. Gore Metal is hailed as a classic in its own right, and I won't fault fans who prefer it, but I find Slaughtercult to be the prefect amalgamation of the unrestrained chaos of goregrind and the frantic riff onslaught of death metal. This will likely be the shortest entry on this list because, despite me being fully aware that this is following fucking Dragonforce of all bands on this list, it's the most one dimensional. The blueprint of deathgrind had been laid out fairly well by this point, and Exhumed stuck to that template and made the most of it, and in the end wound up producing an undisputed classic of the genre. This is the deathgrind equivalent of Darkness Descends, in that respect. If there's anything you really and truly need to know about this album, it's that "Decrepit Crescendo" is about how methane gas builds up inside you after you die and your body will eventually release it hours after your death. Or, to quote Matt Harvey's pre-song banter on stage, "Even after you die, you keep farting". If that doesn't sell you, then you're a joyless bore.
And once again I just lost a bunch of readers. Yeah, I jumped from a universally acclaimed band to a universally derided one, but I've always thought As I Lay Dying hit an absolutely flukey home run with An Ocean Between Us. Like so many other bands at the time, this played metalcore strictly within the confines of itself, with basically no outside creativity. And you know what? That's fine with me on this one. Partly because AILD are one of the originators of this specific sound, and partly because the songs are just shockingly well written, this album stands out as the clear victor in the race between bands like this, Killswitch Engage, and All That Remains for supremacy in the scene. Tim Lambesis may be a roided up numbskull with misplaced priorities and a Patrick Bateman-esque delusion of personality, but his one note screams always stood out to me as the best in the throng of bands in the 2000s doing this, and even the notoriously whiny clean vocals aren't so bad this time around, I don't want to shove the backup vocalist in a locker quite as strongly this time around. I realize "not that bad" isn't reason enough for me to rank an album above stalwart heavyweights like Symphony X or Nile, and that's why I point out that these songs just fucking rule from start to finish. There are moments of windmill inducing thrash (like "Within Destruction" and "Comfort Betrays") and just straight pummeling melodeath (like "Forsaken" and "Bury Us All"), with melodic leads and hooks all over the place. The ear for melody is top notch and the overall quality of the album stays high enough to shatter the mold of samey metalcore. This may not be a ringing endorsement for most fans of old school/underground/extreme metal, but An Ocean Between Us stands proudly as the absolute best the genre of metalcore has to offer. If this album doesn't jive with you, then you won't find any hidden gems. This is as good as it gets, and it's fucking great.
It's no secret that I'm one of the most vocal Gargoyle fanboys in the English speaking world, which is one of the few things in my life I'm not secretly ashamed of. Kemonomichi is the Japanese thrashers' tenth full length album out of a current sixteen, and it's amazingly only like the sixth best one. Gargoyle has a few fairly distinct periods in their tenure, and this one, to me, marks the definitive beginning of the final phase, which fans have dubbed Moderngoyle. On the album prior, Kentaro took over all of the guitar duties and they've been running with one guitarist ever since, but that hasn't stopped the flashy melodies that intertwine with the sublimely creative riffs from being any less prominent. There really aren't any bands that sound like Gargoyle, and even though Moderngoyle is the most "normal" sounding of all their eras (being the most straightforward and heaviest), their oeuvre for this era still stands as some of the most unique metal ever written. Kiba's insane, gravelly warble is iconic for its weirdness just as much as its brilliant ability to be both painfully coarse and wonderfully melodic, and his frantic roars and shrieks are in full force here just as much as ever. Kemonomichi touches on thrash of both the melodic and frenzied school, touches of power and speed metal, fun and catchy punk rock, and even upbeat electronic elements on songs like "Hakkyou Gamer" and danceable surf rock/Sonic the Hedgehog music with "Zero.Wa.Meru", and all of it is fucking awesome. This is the start of the heavier downtuning and the simpler songs, and it's basically the best of the style apart from Kisho and Geshiki, which would rank easily on this list of they weren't released in 2011 and 2014.
This album has a song called fucking "Napalm Satan", of course it rules. I can't possibly heap enough praise onto this weighty slab of brazen cheese, and it's an absolute shame that the band got so darn boring once Rotten left after this album. Because on Deathrash Assault and its predecessor, Deadmeat Disciples, Deathchain stood out as one of the most intense, relentless, and fun to listen to bands in all of death/thrash. The biggest thing that the band does that most other bands in the style don't do is write catchy songs. Most bands that focus on obliterating the listener in a maelstrom of satanic hellfire don't bother to write hooky and infectious riffs, let alone vocal lines. Seven of the nine songs on display are instant ohrwurms that still surprise me with their inherent ability to make me pump my fist, coupled with their insane singalongability, which is totally a word now. From the Exodus vibe of the chorus of "Graveyard Witchery", to the pure unbridled fury of "Venom Preacher", to the thundering crunch that alternates with the gleeful stomp of "Panzer Holocaust", to the just-dammit-everything-is-perfect "Napalm Satan", there isn't a single moment of Deathrash Assault that falls flat. Unlike some of the earlier albums on this list, this really doesn't carry a multitude of different ideas, as most songs follow a similar sound and theme, but it's done so fucking well that it never comes close to mattering. Deathchain is what Goatwhore would be if they could manage to write songs as good as "Apocalyptic Havoc" all the time. Blastbeats and Kreator riffs abound, and there's nothing wrong with the approach here, and these Finnish speed freaks knock it out of the park with this one. RELEASE! WAYNUM PREECHA!
This is widely considered to be Immolation's best album, and it's for damn good reason. Immolation is known for being one of the most suffocatingly heavy bands since the dawn of death metal itself, and it wouldn't be until a band like Portal would come along and popularize the method of emphasizing atmosphere in death metal that anything would even come close to capturing the otherworldly spirit of Close to a World Below. And even then, this atmosphere is one of pure, blasphemous malice, and it's achieved via uncompromising brutality. I know I've been saying this a lot, but this is seriously one of the most brutal albums of all time in terms of unrelenting force. Immolation revels in a feral madness, with dissonant, twisting riffs and a drum performance that sounds like Alex Hernandez is trying to play his entire drumkit at once. It's an absolute shame that he hasn't performed on any albums since 2004, because he's truly one of the most overlooked and underrated drummers in death metal. A guy like Samus Paulicelli or Mauro Mercurio can play at lip flapping insane speeds with mind boggling precision, but the sound of a Shokan on meth trying to kill a swarm of spiders with his drumsticks like this one is just so much more heartfelt and face melting to me. Even beyond that standout percussion, the riffs are some of the best in the style, remaining dark, twisty, and incomprehensible while being well done and skull crushing. Ross Dolan also belts out one of the greatest vocal performances of his career, which is impressive considering the lofty heights he reached on Dawn of Possession prior to this and Unholy Cult afterwards. He doesn't even sound human, it's like there's a demon inside of him who is just fucking furious about something, trying to escape. This isn't the sound of a guy screaming, it's the sound of Lucifer going Super Saiyan. So the drums sound like an avalanche, the guitars sound like the apocalypse, and the vocals sound like a supernova, so even if these songs weren't a sublime blend of chaotic fury and deathly hatred (which they are), it'd stand out for the spirit of the band members alone. But as it stands, the songs are focused and intense along with being unrestrained, like a beast thrashing against its chains. The mere utterance of the album title unconsecrates the nearest church, so don't worry about erecting Baphomet statues in Detroit and Oklahoma City, just blast this album on the bus for a more effective method of desecration.
And thus wraps up round two! And no, I'm not sorry for liking Dragonforce and As I Lay Dying more than Celtic Frost and Altar of Plagues. Tune in again in a day or two for the much less shitty Part III!