The inclusion of The Gathering Wilderness probably won't garner too much vitriol from readers, as most fans of this music can readily agree that it's a phenomenal album of emotional black metal anthems. Mid paced, ethereal, and triumphant, it stands for everything that makes this particular subniche of the genre so majestic. However, the fact that Primordial's 2007 followup, To the Nameless Dead was snubbed will probably make some fans irate. I'll admit, my initial assessment of it being a nothing-album with great intangibles but a boring base of songwriting were almost completely unfounded, formed by a contrarian 17 year old version of myself who just couldn't get behind something so thoughtful and classy, as it actually is a very good album with a lot of good songs. The problem with it is that the entire album is overshadowed by "Empire Falls", which is one of the greatest songs in the genre. Nothing else even comes close to "Empire Falls", and the album suffers for it. It's a bunch of great songs with one genre defining classic. The Gathering Wilderness, on the other hand, is that song seven times in a row. This is the perfect representation of larger than life, anthemic black metal, drenched in Celtic pride and anguished suffering. Alan Averill has always had a unique voice, sounding like a tortured and broken man screaming his dying breaths for the pride of his country, and he's in top form here. The songs themselves are among the most emotional ever written, with odes to the Irish famine in the 1800s with "The Coffin Ships" and tributes to long lost pagan gods with "The Golden Spiral", the entire album is focused on tragedy and a fascination with the past. I've always said, in regards to my personal life, that the past shouldn't be ignored because it made you who you are, but the past belongs in the past. Basically, remember where you came from, but don't dwell on it. The Gathering Wilderness is a staunch "fuck you" to that idea, and it works extraordinarily well with a very starkly bleak beauty. Primordial revels in death and tragedy and presents it in a very romantic light, and that macabre splendor is what makes them, and this era of their music (Spirit of the Earth Aflame and Storm Before Calm are also amazing albums) so otherworldly and gorgeous. It's grim and unapologetic, and even a guy like me who couldn't possibly be less Irish can feel the pride flowing through my veins as it goes along. It's definitely one of the best of the decade and deserves this spot without question.
Even though I admit that I have an issue with how long this album is (all three tracks over ten minutes could have easily been shortened), and how some songs tend to write themselves into a corner and fix it with extremely amateurish and jarring transitions, I still can't help but heap all the praise imaginable upon Black Future for a few reasons. One of which is that these riffs are among the best thrash riffs of, and I'm not exaggerating, all fucking time. "Black Future", "Oblivion", "Hunger for Violence", and "Forests of Legend" all carry more than their fair share of completely unhinged, frenetic creativity that manifest themselves inside some of the most stellar riffs I've ever heard. This doesn't focus on Bay Area excitement like Exodus or Testament, nor does it focus on German brutality like Kreator or Sodom, instead opting to take most of their influence from the Canadian progressive thrash legends, Voivod. They take the spaced out technical weirdness of the Quebecois stalwarts and run in a different direction with it, taking influences from everywhere imaginable on their avalanche run through Hell like a malevolent katamari of uncompromising and dead technological nightmares. The second reason I love this album more than my children is because it's quite possibly the most important thrash album ever recorded. I mean this because while bands like Exmortus will occasionally break the mold and take influences from all over the place, Vektor does it strictly within the confines of thrash metal itself. All of these progressive elements and technical showcases and howling screeches wouldn't fit in any other genre, despite how creative and forward thinking Black Future is, it's all done with the cliche elements of thrash metal that every band adheres to. They took those parts and made something completely and wholly new out of it. It's like they took a box of Legos meant for a standard medieval castle and used the pieces to make a Death Star instead. And it's because of this boundless creativity and outside-the-box songwriting and riff building that they showed the metal fandom as a whole that thrash truly wasn't a dead genre, and they did it by taking old parts and creating something new instead of just wearing hi tops and screaming THRASH'S NOT DEAD at the top of their lungs from under their flat billed caps. They moved thrash forwards by moving it sideways. In the six years since release, the only band to have even come close to utilizing the lessons taught on Black Future were Vektor themselves, with 2011's Outer Isolation managing to be equally as stunning while fixing all the tiny and ultimately insignificant problems present here. Released with less than a month and a half left in the year, this snuck in right before the deadline and acts as the freeze frame high five at the end of the decade, concluding almost thirty years of growth with one of the most fresh takes on an established genre of all time.
I promise this is the last Scalzi project on the list, I swear. While the band may have been at the top of their game in their "Lord Weird" days, they actually released their best album after the name change, the 2007 space opera, Hardworlder. Mike Scalzi has said that he spent much of the band's early days trying harder and harder to one up himself in an effort to prove that he could be one of the best in the game, and he feels like he achieved it on Traveller, and ever since then has been much more laid back about his music and just writes whatever he feels like writing. Most of that stuff ends up being kinda dry and lifeless half-songs, but his laid back, bluesy metal/rock on this album actually manages to be the best stuff he ever managed to write. It doesn't follow a hard story like that 2003 opus, but the songs are all unified in the theme of galactic travel and wartime, so it still feels like one. Once again the band runs the gamut of styles, and all of them are incredible. "Tiger! Tiger!" is a very laid back and bluesy track, featuring a very emotional dueling guitar solo, "Poisoned Treasures" is a more traditional metal song with speedy riffing and Scalzi's wailing croon, "The Sea Wolf" is a more reflective and sorrowful ballad, while the trifecta of "Hardworlder", "The Spoils", and "Frankfurt-Hann Airport Blues" runs through all three styles. "Galactic Nomad" acts as a throwback to the more quirky, angular frenzy of the Lord Weird era as well, and pretty much every single song can be singled out as a masterclass in whatever subset of music it nestles within. I can only say so much because this is the third album by this band on the list, but it's truly the best there is when it comes to them. Their Brocas Helm meets Thin Lizzy style is as unique as ever, and this one amps up the latter influence with much more heavy blues. Slough Feg is a band that seems to be much more popular on the internet than in reality, which is a total shame because the quality and showmanship is high enough to be headlining the big European metal festival circuit, and yet they seem doomed to play grungy pubs in southern Illinois for the rest of eternity. And even then, that's where they seem to be the most at home, so maybe they've never been cursed in the first place. They just love hanging out in the gutters with the rest of the blue collar everymen, and that down to earth respectability translates through their music, even when it's based beyond the furthest stars. Bonus points for this basically being the only metal album in history to be great while also having two cover songs.
It may seem strange considering the fact that this is listed in the top ten, but I almost didn't even include it in the first place. My love for early Bodom has been remembered mostly for the nostalgia of them being such a huge influence on me back in the earlier years of high school, back when they were still respected musicians, before kickflipping their way to the bottom of the barrel in later years. Upon relistening to Follow the Reaper, not only did I realize that I have no shame for my Bodom fandom, but it actually still holds up as one of the most entertaining melodic metal albums of all time. Back during this era of the band, they played what was essentially sped up Nightwish songs with harsh yowling vocals (with lyrics so laughably bad that they were usually made up on the spot in the studio and not listed in the album inserts) instead of the operatic coos of some pretty woman. Nah, Bodom was a bunch of ugly Finnish dudes who just had no fucking clue how to restrain themselves. This is the same principle that rocketed Dragonforce to stardom during their early years, and Follow the Reaper is the best example of how to make this idea work. Everything is self indulgent and overblown, and anybody who has ever read a word I've written knows that that also describes my own style quite well. I don't just love this for vicarious narcissism, the songs are all classic melodic death/power metal like no other band could manage. Kalmah, Norther, Skyfire, Imperanon, there were tons of bands out of Finland trying to do what Bodom did, and none of them could ever write a song as engaging and adrenaline pumping as "Mask of Sanity" or "Children of Decadence". Bodom knew how to make this style as unrestrained and ridiculous as possible while still being accessible, which lead to poppy tracks like "Hate Me" and four minute shredding solos like "Kissing the Shadows". The dueling leads between Laiho's guitar and Wirmen's keys were never better than they were here (except maybe arguably on this album's predecessor, Hatebreeder). The nostalgia may be strong with this one, but it's backed by the best album in the style, and I'll never apologize for that.
You know, I still think Bolt Thrower is overrated to an extent, and I still think that Karl Willetts isn't that great of a vocalist, but with that in mind, do you have any idea how amazing these songs are? Those Once Loyal is so fucking good that the band decided not to record any more albums until they personally feel like they managed to top it, and as a result haven't released anything in over a decade. This album is so incredible that it actually managed to kill one of the greatest death metal bands that ever existed. Their themes of war come across in their music in a vicious way, with everything they release being pummeling and visceral, with an added emphasis on heaviness and groove that every death metal band wishes they could perfect. This actually sounds like a tank, it sounds like a several ton death machine crushing skulls in the trenches while it fires shells the size of a Jeep at a fortified bunker. The groove elements are just so fucking brilliant, I legitimately can't think of anything to compare them to, it's all so deep and heavy and crushing, nobody sounds like Bolt Thrower and they reign as one of the most influential death metal bands of all time for a reason. Those Once Loyal is suffocating, and it's basically the antithesis of the common tech death criticism of "all style, no substance". This is is nothing but substance, and the style comes not from flashy noodling or inhuman drumming, but just from extremely well written riffs and songs. I can't describe this, I really can't, there are only like three adjectives I can use and they're all the best versions of those adjectives I can think of. Nothing is more crushing, nothing is more groovy, nothing is more heavy, everything they do is perfect. This is superlative death metal and the absolute best thing the genre managed to create during this decade. That's all there is to it, if you can't rock out to the beastly grooves of "The Killchain" or the pummeling brutality of "Last Stand of Humanity", then I don't want to know you.
Remember how hard I ejaculated over Sphynx in the last entry? Well Emissaries is somehow better in every conceivable way. All of the Mesopotamian fury, all of the black/death/folk insanity, all of the masterfully written riffs intertwined with sublime melodies, all of it is here and better than ever. The fire that burned within the band was at an all time high during this period, and they never managed to match what they had here. Later albums are still good, but they're focused more on mid paced grooves and chanting ancient incantations. Melechesh still did those thing back in 2006, but it was with so much more vitriol and wrath. When the band plays something like "Rebirth of the Nemesis" or "Touching the Spheres of Sephiroth" live, it sounds like a completely different band took the stage. Emissaries was just on a whole other level, a completely different plane of existence when writing this. This is what would happen if Satan had written the Dead Sea Scrolls. It sounds ancient, it sounds like long sleeping gods have awoken and learned how to play metal, and in doing so have crafted something otherworldly in spirit while remaining malevolent and vicious. As great as Sphynx is (and I should remind you that it's really really great), everything about Emissaries is just a little bit faster, a little bit heavier, and a little bit bigger. I love albums that sound larger than life, like you're part of something greater for merely listening to it, and this is one of the best albums for capturing that feeling. Even with the ethereal majesty lifting the album over almost all of its contemporaries, it's still loaded down with brutal riffing. It's just strong, powering through swaths of unsuspecting slaves and sweeping them up in its mighty jaws, devouring everything in its path. I'll never get over Melechesh's ability to riff like they do, with the unique percussive elements and powerful melody playing off each other so well in the background. This is decidedly more in line with black metal than the more nebulous entity that Sphynx was, but it doesn't work to the album's detriment. I can't gush forever, just fuck everything else and get this album.
HA! You thought I implied that When Eden Burns was the superior album back in their entry, didn't you? Well psyche, because Evolution Purgatory, despite not being quite as melodic or catchy as its successor, is loaded down with such a hefty fucking set of testicles that it manages to club everything else to death like a tanuki. This was the go-to album for me and everybody back in the mid 2000s whenever power metal was criticized as being too melodic and flowery and girly, because there is more testosterone in these 47 minutes than the Detroit Lions locker room. And that's not to say this is entirely amelodic. Tracks like "Masquerade" and "Passion/Pain" aren't afraid to throw in some light keys and powerful guitar melodies into the forefront, with most of the harmonized vocals populating every chorus sounding like any given Blind Guardian track from the mid 90s. But even when the melody is in the forefront, Evolution Purgatory is thick and muscular. Carlsson's vocals are even more chaotic and driven here, as he showcases his versatility more than ever. The opening verse of "Turn to Dust" basically cycles through every possible style of vocal for a metal band, and it's natural instead of gimmicky. There are groovy, hooky tracks like "Godfather" mixed in with thrash influenced rippers like "Fire at Will" and "Sanity Soiled", along with more standard power metal flare (though with a huge emphasis on face punching attitude) like "Strike Down" and "Masquerade". I once described this as "Blind Guardian on PCP", and it's still true, all these years later. I'll admit that this is another album that probably has nostalgia helping it rank as high as it is, being that this album is basically the soundtrack to the summer before my senior year of high school, sonically guiding me through probably the most significant personal growth I've ever experienced apart from my comically brief stint in the military and the first time I punched a clown. But unlike Children of Bodom up there, I never doubted for one second that this would rank in the top ten. Evolution Purgatory is genuinely one of the greatest power metal albums of all time, and certainly the best that wasn't released by Blind Guardian, Helloween, Gamma Ray, etc.
Seriously BH? You're telling me this gimmicky piece of shit is the third best album of the decade? Look at that stupid band name, look at their stupid bespectacled metalcore screamer, look at that stupid album cover, it looks like the focus is on that dope's thigh. I'm not sorry, I'm really not. 3IoB was never really given their due, as far as I'm concerned, because Advance and Vanquish is a modern classic in every sense of the word. This is a band that sort of snuck into the throngs of metalcore that was coming out at the time and burst up so strongly that they rightfully should've been considered the next Judas Priest and carried off into infamy. Unfortunately, these hooks, riffs, and perfectly written songs were completely shunned by a huge contingent of metal fans because the vocals were so jarring. The band utilizes two, Cam Pipes, who sings like a blend of Rob Halford and Brian Johnson, and Jamie Hooper, who screams in a high pitched monotone harsh rasp. I want to sit here and cry about how unfair it is that Hooper got a ton of crap thrown at him specifically, and how the band was constantly mislabeled as metalcore posers due to his rasp despite these riffs and melodies being straight out of 1984, and I want to whine about how the music suddenly got really shitty once he was kicked out (it was said he left because he blew his voice out, but the fact that he's been screaming his lungs out with Congress ever since then shows that it's a load of bullshit), leading me to believe he was the secret genius behind the riffs the whole time. But I shan't, instead I'll focus on how fucking incredible these songs are. The "Upon the Boiling Sea" trilogy that's scattered throughout the album is probably the highlight throughout, with "Fear on the Bridge", "Lord of the Storm", and "Isle of Eternal Despair" being the best songs on display, with a huge influence coming from classic European metal groups like Judas Priest, Running Wild, and Accept. They keep the aggression high with pummeling numbers like "Deadly Sinners" and "Dominion of Deceit", while showcasing their impeccable ear for melody in songs like "Axes of Evil", "Revenge is a Vulture", and "Swordmaster". Advance and Vanquish is loaded to the gills with classic metal riffage and ohrwurm hooks at every turn, and they do this without ever fully descending into relying on cliches and leaving it at that. In a way, 3 Inches of Blood was the precursor to bands that have fared much more favorably in the underground like In Solitude, Enforcer, and Striker. Granted that means they're also responsible for White Wizzard, but we can't control who likes us. Pretty much the only time you'll ever see me slip up and use the classic non-attack of "elitism" is when people trash Advance and Vanquish, because it has everything that metal fans claim to want, and somehow found itself maligned for over a decade. Don't be fooled, this is the best thing 2004 gave us.
This was my introduction to Sigh. I had ordered it on a whim from The End records (back when they were still a respected distro) based on word of mouth and got the package shortly before I left for work. I was working an overnight lock in at a bowling alley, it was raining at the time, and I put it on in my car for the drive there. I almost didn't go to work that night. I seriously contemplated just sitting in my car, staring in awe at my stereo. I really think the only other time I found myself doing that was when I sat cross legged on my bed, jaw agape, staring at my speakers while I listened to Ride the Lightning all the way through for the first time. Sigh put me in a trance that only the most popular metal band of all time ever managed to do almost a decade prior. Hangman's Hymn is one of the most well written metal albums of all time, with repeating themes coming and going in such well timed cycles amidst a whirlwind of hellish insanity. I mentioned in the entry for Imaginary Sonicscape that Sigh was nearly impossible to describe, but that's actually sort of facetious here, because this album is firmly rooted in metal, as hybrid and challenging as it may be. There is a ton of thrash and black on display, amidst bombastic horns and choirs and a very progressive approach to songwriting, with classic trad metal shredding solos all over the place. This is one of those rare albums that takes influence from basically everywhere and manages to make it palatable and cohesive. This difficult to define style of extreme metal coupled with huge strings and orchestrations is based around a concept that I've never truly been able to follow, but it's never mattered because you know how the story is supposed to go anyway based on how the music shifts and churns. The explosive opening of "Introitus - Kyrie" sets the stage for the chameleon eyed lunacy to come, and from the more sinister "Dies Irae - The Master Malice", to the relentless blast beating and haunting choirs of "Memories as a Sinner", to the epic and somber conclusion of "Hangman's Hymn - In Paradisum - Das Ende", everything moves so smoothly and appropriately that it's comparable to an actual opera. There's nothing I don't love about this, it has everything I've ever wanted in a more experimental metal album. It's unconventional while being accessible, huge while being relatable, furious while being exquisite, ferocious while being bombastic, it's everything and nothing at the same time. The superficial elements are massive and vicious while the more conceptual ideas are just as hungry and malicious while being much darker and subdued. I love this, I love this, I love this. I can't praise it enough. Sigh is one of the greatest bands of our time, and almost nothing showcases it quite like Hangman's Hymn.
The Lord Weird Slough Feg - Down Among the Deadmen: "Warrior's Dawn" , "Traders and Gunboats"
Gargoyle - Future Drug: "GUSH!!" , "B.B"
Timeless Miracle - Into the Enchanted Chamber: "The Red Rose" , "Curse of the Werewolf"
Vader - Litany: "Wings" , "Xeper"
Ensiferum - Victory Songs: "Ahti" , "Victory Song"
Misery Index - Traitors: "Traitors" , "Occupation"
Sigh - Imaginary Sonicscape: "A Sunset Song" , "Nietzschean Conspiracy"
The Lord Weird Slough Feg - Traveller: "Asteroid Belts" , "Vargr Theme / Confrontation (Genetic Prophesy)"
Melechesh - Sphynx: "Incendium Between Mirage and Time" , "Annunaki's Golden Thrones"
The Crown - Deathrace King: "Blitzkrieg Witchcraft" , "Rebel Angel"
Primordial - The Gathering Wilderness: "The Coffin Ships" , "The Golden Spiral"
Vektor - Black Future: "Black Future" , "Forests of Legend"
Slough Feg - Hardworlder: "Tiger! Tiger!" , "Poisoned Treasures"
Children of Bodom - Follow the Reaper: "Mask of Sanity" , "Kissing the Shadows"
Bolt Thrower - Those Once Loyal: "At First Light" , "The Killchain"
Melechesh - Emissaries: "Rebirth of the Nemesis" , "Deluge of Delusional Dreams"
Persuader - Evolution Purgatory: "Fire at Will" , "Sanity Soiled"
3 Inches of Blood - Advance and Vanquish: "Revenge is a Vulture" , "Lord of the Storm"
Sigh - Hangman's Hymn: "Introitus - Kyrie" , "Salvation in Flame - Confutatis"
Skeletonwitch - Beyond the Permafrost: "Limb from Limb" , "Within My Blood"
That's everything! I hope you all enjoyed this little project of mine. I certainly had fun with it. Now's the time to let the debate rage and, hell, if you're so inclined, make your own top 50 and see how much fun it is. Thank you all for joining me!