Jesus H Hellchrist was Mike Scalzi an absolute fucking genius or what? I may have become fairly vocal about how underwhelming he's been across the last handful of albums with Slough Feg, but when the title of Lord Weird predicated that name, he was practically unstoppable. The previous two albums were very good, with the previous (1999's Twilight of the Idols) polishing up the unique sound of the band from their self titled debut and truly starting the impressive run they went on. Most fans will point to the 2000 effort, Down Among the Deadmen as the best of the streak, and if I'm being honest with you, it's a hard claim to argue against. Slough Feg's blend of hard rocking heavy metal is completely inimitable. With an equal mixture of Brocas Helm, Thin Lizzy, and Iron Maiden, coupled with arguably the most unique clean vocals in metal history, Slough Feg takes you on a ride that ranges from the mythical to the scientific, rolling through jovial, bouncing grooves and neck wrecking speed riffs without ever truly taking their foot off the gas outside of a few curveball moments (like the acoustic "Beast in the Broch" or just the downright primally strange "Troll Pack"). The fact that there isn't a unified theme on this album like there are with so many of their other classics adds to the charm in a big way, as it doesn't matter what sort of gibberish you're in to, Scalzi is going to touch on it. From his fallbacks in Celtic myth ("Fergus Mac Roich", "Cauldron of Blood") and science fiction ("Traders and Gunboats", "Death Machine"), he runs through everything else you can think of as well, like Native American warriors ("Marauder", "Warrior's Dawn") and just weird shit he thought of after dropping acid ("High Season"), the themes are just as versatile and interesting as the music on display. Like Gargoyle, Slough Feg is a really hard band to describe, with Mike once claiming in an interview "we just play Slough Feg music". Yes. Keep doing that. Keep just playing Slough Feg music, because these rolling riffs and charismatic rockers need more listeners.
Hey speaking of Gargoyle. I often internally fight with myself as to what the best Gargoyle album truly is, and as much as I adore most of their 90s work, particularly Tsuki no Toge, Tenron, and Furebumi, I've found myself fairly consistently deciding it to be Yotaro's swansong, Future Drug. For all the bizarre, Japanese, proggy thrashy powery warbly weirdness that defined the band up to this point, I find it sort of strange that their most straightforward and balls out heavy album before the Moderngoyle period actually stands out as the best one. But let's be real here, their strength always lied in two areas: Kiba's completely fucking out there voice (I implore you to check out some random tracks if you haven't heard the band yet, he sounds like he got punched in the throat right before recording), and the riffs. The riffs. They were never all about the riffs, they always had so much else going for them that they never really had to buckle down and focus on one area, but for whatever reason, the decided to spend all of Future Drug focusing on riffs, and my god I love them for it. There are so many tracks that would be staples of thrash fans everywhere if the band had ever attained any semblance of popularity outside of Japan and weird internet people like me. "B.B", "Open the Gate", "Genom", "Ese Gari", "Gaki Teikoku", "It's Battle Time", and especially "GUSH!!" (yes, it must be capitalized with two exclamation points, every time), all of these are speed fest destroyers worth every thrash fan's time. And even though the band focused on just thrashing faces into vapor for most of this album, even those songs have nifty twists thrown in all over the place like the insane bass on "Gaki Teikoku", the natural harmonic runs in "Open the Gate", the shamisen in "It's Battle Time". And even then there are still plenty of their trademark quirks like the proggy dirge of "Mandara no Tami", the soothing acoustic "Toki to Kaze", and the punk filled, Toshi-sung "ZIPANG". There is just too much to love here, I can sit here listing examples all day if left unchecked. This is just damn worth it, and I won't stop screaming from the mountaintops about it until it's loved on a level with Feel the Fire, Agent Orange, By Inheritance, and all the other classic thrash records of the day. They never got better than this, and they were always consistently phenomenal.
Throughout all of the death and thrash metal I've been throwing at you, you've surely noticed that I have an incongruous soft spot for super dorky flower metal as well. I've highlighted it before, but it's still worth noting when talking about Timeless Miracle, arguably the fluffiest and dorkiest band to ever sing about mass murder. Their sole album, Into the Enchanted Chamber, is rife with tales of the occult, the supernatural, vampires, lynchings, demons, romance, and versions of Little Red Riding Hood where the Big Bad Wolf actually eviscerates and publicly displays Little Red's tiny, lifeless corpse. All of this dark shit is backed by potentially the bounciest and most optimistic sounding music ever recorded. There isn't a malicious note played on this album, it's just the happiest damn thing ever recorded, even the vocals are of the extremely high pitched clean nature that saturates flower metal, there is absolutely no gruffness anywhere to be found outside of the lyrics themselves. Perhaps that's why Timeless Miracle stood out at all during their time in the full moon, but that'd be selling these songs short. Yeah the juxtaposition may be intriguing and all, but the songs are so damn good that they never needed the gimmick in the first place. They cover every possible cliche in the genre, with galloping romps ("Down to the Gallows"), keyboard laden fruit salads ("The Gates of Hell"), folky riff jams ("The Devil"), long, sprawling epics ("The Voyage"), and double bass abusing, palm mute riding, nasal crooning monsters ("Curse of the Werewolf", "The Red Rose", "Return of the Werewolf"). Even the interludes and the ballad are good in the absolute nerdiest, cheesiest way possible. This is the kind of album for Sonata Arctica fans who loved Reckoning Night and Ecliptica over Unia and Stones Grow Her Name. This isn't subtle, this isn't mature, it's just over the top silly bombast from the word go and it never stops. "The Red Rose" is one of the best power metal songs ever written while simultaneously being one of the stupidest. Maybe the appeal here is the same appeal that MXC has. It's just weird and silly and entertaining, no matter how low brow and dumb it is, and that's what I love about it. This isn't ashamed to be what it is, and I love it for that.
The fight between most Vader fans comes down to De Profundis or Litany. While I have grown to actually see the former as the superior album, it wasn't chosen because A) it's ineligible anyway since it was released in 1995, and B) it doesn't have the added nostalgic value of being the first death metal album I ever loved. Hell, the title track was possibly the first death metal song I ever loved. This was released smack in the middle of Vader's utterly mindbogglingly good streak of albums with Doc on the drums. Really, that man could blast like no other, and it's no surprise that possibly his best performance graces possibly their best album. I never really agreed with Vader getting the "death/thrash" tag, as the thrash influence has always been pretty low, and I think it's probably the lowest it'll ever be on Litany, but the rocking grooves rock and groove so fucking hard that it almost gets close to death'n'roll at times if you squint and stretch the definition so thin that even Mr. Fantastic has to raise an eybrow. All in all, this is a pure death metal album in every sense of the word, and every member of the band thunders forth with their best performances on their best songs. There are no less than five stone cold classics and live staples here. When I saw them play all of De Profundis live, they still couldn't help but throw "Wings" in at the end of the set, it's that iconic. That's not even taking into account the title track, "Xeper", "Cold Demons", "The Calling", "A World of Hurt" or any of the other tracks. It's unbelievable how staggeringly high the quality of songs are here, and the fact that it pretty much never dips below "best god damned thing I've ever heard" is an everlasting testament to why Vader will always remain in the halls of the vaunted death metal giants of yore, right next to Morbid Angel and Suffocation. The pace is relentless and every single song carries at least two memorable riffs. Vader never really got enough credit for their riffs, I think, even in present times when they're still releasing future classics in the new decade. The breakdowns and hooks are always just as speedy and brutal as the blasting tremolo sections, and overall it'll really only take one listen for you to become hopelessly addicted to the band and album.
This album got a lot of unnecessary shit thrown at it when it was first released. This was at that beautiful point in time when Jari Maenpaa hadn't generated enough ill will to power a typhoon and Petri Lindroos was still just the weaselly shit in that one band of Bodom wannabes (at a time when Children of Bodom was squandering whatever good press they had left with people kickflipping flaming skateboards around Alexi Laiho's painted fingernails and guyliner). Between the controversial personnel decisions and accusations of them being "the Christina Aguilera of folk metal", they didn't have much going for them in the underground. But even on release day, I fell in love with this album so hard that my heart nearly imploded. That annoying split between awesome fast songs and shitty slow songs had finally been abolished, as Victory Songs was (and still is) the only Ensiferum album to focus almost exclusively on what they're best at. The power metal influence had been ramped up considerably on tracks like "Deathbringer from the Sky", and the orchestrations were more bombastic than ever before. "Blood is the Price of Glory" starts the album on such a high note that I was almost afraid to listen to the rest of it at first. Luckily I did, as it ended up housing their two best songs, the crazy fast "Ahti" and the stunning epic "Victory Song". The riffs and melodies are at their best here, and almost every single idea they throw at the listener hits bullseye. Even the ballad this time, "Wanderer", is 1000000x better than the ballads on the previous albums, since it maintains a brisk trot instead of a dull, exhausted stroll. It also helps that Markus Toivonen's clean voice is leagues better than Jari's inconsistent yowling (though his screams are admittedly better than Petri's), so the chants, choirs, and mournful, reflective passages in both English and Finnish are instantly memorable on every track. There's a frantic tapping bass passage in "Deathbringer from the Sky", a cleanly sung interlude in Finnish in "Victory Song", and a bouncy folk anthem in "One More Magic Potion". There's just so much they tried on this album, and all of it managed to be an improvement upon the already Top 30 ranking Iron, somehow. I love it. They would experiment even more on the 2009 followup, From Afar, but they'd sort of lost the plot a bit by then and would eventually fall off the deep end shortly afterwards. Victory Songs ranks as the one and only time they managed to be both daring and focused, and it resulted in their best album, and the best folk metal album of all time in my eyes.
One album I had nominated for this list that ultimately didn't make the cut was Dying Fetus's crowning achievement, 2000's Destroy the Opposition. Luckily for the world, the band behind Gallagher on that album had decided he was impossible to work with and wound up forming their own band in the wake of their split from Fetus, Misery Index. Even more luckily for the world, Misery Index would go on to release on of the all time great deathgrind albums in 2008 with Traitors. I can't possibly say enough great things about this album, the intensity is off the charts no matter what they're trying to do, with a straightfoward brutal punk song in "The Arbiter", a mid era Morbid Angel love letter in "Thrown Into the Sun", to just out-and-out insane bursts of grindtastic insanity in "Ruling Class Cancelled". Everything they do works so fucking well because of that thing I keep mentioning throughout this list, the same thing that made Deathchain so special in their early days. This is hooky, holy shit are there memorable hooks all over the place. 3:13 into "Theocracy" has the hands down greatest riff ever put into a deathgrind song, and it's the band's tendency to do little things like that that set Traitors so far apart from their contemporaries. The title track has some of the catchiest vocal lines I've ever heard in a song that brutal, "Occupation" and "Theocracy" are both loaded to the gills with incredible riffs, "Black Sites" rides on one of the most easily headbangable riffs ever written outside of the 80s, and so, so, so much more. No band has ever taken the shitnards bonkers intensity of grind and combined them with so many incredible riffs and hooks and that includes modern day Cattle Decapitation holy shit let it go they're not that good. Remember how the previous release, Discordia, was pretty solidly good the whole time except for the one completely insanely well written blast of nihilistic fury that was "Conquistadores"? Traitors is "Conquistadores" eleven times.
My god what can I possibly say about Sigh? That's not a rhetorical question, I genuinely have no idea what to say about them. They're pretty much the strangest fucking band to ever really take hold in the underground, and their strangest album happens to be one of the best darn things ever. Imaginary Sonicscape, their fifth album, almost ditches their metal roots entirely in favor of bizarre, electronic soundscapes and lo fi surf rock with black metal vocals. Between all of the strange, progressive rock and trip hop, everything is reined in via incredibly good songwriting and boundless imagination. Remember how hard I jizzed over their 2012 album, In Somniphobia? Well Imaginary Sonicscape is the closest point of that comparison with that album, with just how bizarre and out there it is. And, as trendy and phony as it sounds, that's really what I like so much about the band. Sigh doesn't follow any rules, they've been thinking outside the box ever since Infidel Art back in 1995, and have been pretty solidly removed from their black metal roots since Hail Horror Hail. By this point, they're something so far from anything else I'd ever heard before that it took a while for the album to even take hold in the first place. When I say that Imaginary Sonicscape has everything, I really mean it. The opening tracks are basically black'n'roll, and by the third song they're playing spaced out trip hop, and it just never settles down from there. This runs the gamut of every kind of avant garde, progressive, just plain weird music ever written, rife with strings and keyboards and industrial elements and just plain damn awesome rock riffs. I hesitate to call this a metal album as well, but Sigh has always clearly been a metal band, despite however much jazz they might be cramming into any given album. As a result, all of these genre bending ideas are run through a black metal filter, despite the lack of blast beats and tremolos that you'd normally associate with the genre. If you wanted to be super pretentious and only moderately accurate, you could call this a dirty BM rendition of Bjork, but even that doesn't do the sheer creativity justice. Of all the albums on this countdown, this is truly the hardest to write about, so all I can really do is implore you to hear it for yourself. It's strange and trippy and impossible to describe, just know that it's loaded with groovy riffs and spaced out ambiance, mostly at the same time somehow.
Remember how I said Slough Feg was untouchable once upon a time? I fucking meant it. Traveller is their love letter to science fiction and tabletop RPGs, and they wound up writing possibly the greatest concept album of all time in the process. The story itself isn't the most out there thing ever imagined (at least in terms of structure... I can't say I can list too many metal albums that deal with unethical gene splicing creating a race of humanoid wolves to enslave the galaxy), but the way it's told is flawless. I'm being genuine when I say that there is no better paced concept album in all of metal, as the entire thing flows so perfectly from one idea to the next; from one theme to another and one riff to the following, everything sounds organic and focused. There is home grown, rocking, groovy, hooky, high speed heavy metal around every corner, from the high octane dogfight that is "Asteroid Belts", to the sorrowful reflection of "Baltech's Lament", to the catchiest riff ever written in "Gene-ocide", to the just damn near best metal song written in "Vargr Theme", there isn't enough space for me to gush about Traveller. That last song really does encapsulate the entire album, running through three distinct sections, dealing with the crux of the story and providing some of the most exciting material on the album. The confrontation between Baltech and The Professor is handled amazingly and presented with vengeful hatred on one side and arrogant pity on the other. How Scalzi can so exquisitely emote both characters within the same verse without even changing his singing voice is impressive on a scale for which I don't even have words. The entire album is extravagant and ballsy, over the top and muscular. There is so much excitement across so many tracks, with the epic closer, "Addendum Galactus", being the appropriate climax for such a legendary journey. Traveller runs the entire emotional spectrum throughout its runtime and never disappoints. It stands as one of the most popular Slough Feg albums and it's rightfully deserved.
Melechesh is an extremely interesting beast. They release albums at a snail's pace, rivaling even Macabre in their pursuit of "one album per generation", and they've been getting progressively more relaxed and esoteric with each album for a while now. But back in 2003, they were at the top of their game, unleashing the absolute fucking behemoth that is Sphynx. I remember first hearing about this band when somebody had mentioned them as "being like Orphaned Land, but actually good". I recalled Orphaned Land having an interesting idea but being kinda shitty at the time (I've since revisted their catalog and... yeah I'm still right, Orphaned Land is awful). So, expecting some folk metal with better hooks and vocals less stupid, I started up "Of Mercury and Mercury" and promptly had my face ripped to fucking shreds. Whoever compared them to Orphaned Land dropped the ball hard, because the folk elements of Melechesh are created entirely within the confines of a balls heavy riff juggernaut. Apart from the two traditional interlude tracks, there aren't any silly twangy instruments or fruity whistles, this is just riff after riff after riff of ferocious black/death/thrash/whathaveyou metal of the highest order. I still don't know exactly how to pigeonhole the music on display, MA lists the band as "Black/Death/Middle Eastern Folk Metal", which I guess is about the least inaccurate way to describe it. What matters is that it's huge. Sphynx actually has what I consider to be my favorite album cover in all of heavy metal, and it's mostly for the two objects that aren't the focal point: the ziggurat and the man next to the Lamassu's hoof. It puts in perspective just how unbelievably huge the mythical Mesopotamian beast is, and that represents Melechesh very well. Everything here is larger than life; odes to ancient gods of a long dead religion of one of the oldest civilizations on Earth. They tackle a lot of ideas, but most of them are just high octane and magical. The opening riffs of "Of Mercury and Mercury" set the tone for rest of the rippers you'll find, from the majesty of "Incendium Between Mirage and Time", to the non stop riffage of "Tablets of Fate", to the simplistic grooves at the end of "Annunaki's Golden Thrones", and the traditional, tribal stylings of "Triangular Tattvic Fire", all of it is furious and vengeful. There's a lot of righteous anger to be found, and it's done in such a fresh, savage style and with such care and attention to detail that it still bewilders me to this day. And as a cherry on top, who else performs the percussion on this album but fucking Proscriptor from motherfucking Absu. This rocks like the stone age, and everybody who isn't familiar with the band needs to check out Sphynx and the followup, Emissaries.
Holy fuck. These Swedes released what is truly one of the most intense thrash albums of all time at a time when thrash all but didn't exist. Yeah yeah, it's death/thrash, and the death metal portion is definitely significant, but the attitude behind these riffs and impassioned vocal performance is 100% unwashed thrasher. The opening notes of "Deathexplosion" (which I mean, let's be real, is one of the greatest song titles ever) prove that in spades. And as it goes on, we get the almost bluesy rendition of Sodom's Agent Orange with "Rebel Angel" (okay, this might actually be the greatest song title ever), leading eventually into one of the most relentless metal songs ever with "Blitzkrieg Witchcraft" (fucking lord this is the best song title ever), and around the end you'll get one of the fastest, most insane, and just outright fucking manic tracks with "Total Satan" (my god nobody makes song titles better than this band I'm in awe). Joking aside, basically every song would be the most intense song ever written by any other band. If "I Won't Follow" was on the newest Revocation album, it'd be the best thing they've written by miles, and if At the Gates had written "Back From the Grave" during the Slaughter of the Soul sessions, they'd've topped their entire career with one song, and that's one of the least amazing songs on this album. Deathrace King is basically "Angel of Death" eleven times in a row and that sounds like the album of my dreams. As much as I like everything on this list and everything yet to come on the final part, this is probably the most fun to listen to for all the tongue waggling lunacy it vomits out. The entire idea of this album was just to stomp on the gas and not slow down, and that's exactly what they did. Even the closing track, "Killing Star", only manages to pay homage to Black Sabbath for about a minute before just completely losing its mind with punk infused thrash ridiculousness. Full speed or no speed, that's clearly the band's mantra, because it is unreal how frenzied the songs all are. Honestly, I wish I could've just posted the lyrics to "Blitzkrieg Witchcraft" for this entry and written nothing myself, because nothing I could say could ever top that masterpiece in extreme metal H-BOMB! SEIG SATAN! EXPLODING BODIES UBER ALLES!
Well here we are everybody, the home stretch! The final ten are revealed shortly, stay tuned for me and feel to yell at me for not liking everything you like.