Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, indeed it’s the end of another year. A lot has happened in 2010 both here in Ireland and around the world. The country has plummeted to the mire of mires with the IMF/EU bailout and the harshest budget in the history of the state. The “Big Freeze” returned in late November/early December, causing Ireland, in many ways, to grind to a halt with schools and colleges closed, public transport greatly hampered and the roads near untouchable.
Politically and socially, 2010 has been a year to forget, with the light at the end of the tunnel becoming dimmer and dimmer every day. The music world experienced its fair share of tragedies this year too, far too many.
The great Ronnie James Dio succumbed to his battle with stomach cancer on May 16th, leaving behind him a vast legacy that will affect generations of fans for years, and decades, to come. On that same day, Debbie Abono passed away, also from cancer. She was 80 years old. Much more associated with the work behind the scenes, she managed some greats like Possessed, Exodus, Vio-Lence, Forbidden, Cynic, Obituary and Sepultura.
Type O Negative’s dark humoured misanthrope Pete Steele passed away on April 14th. He died of heart failure. Slipknot bassist and founding member Paul Gray died on May 24th, he was found dead in a hotel room with the cause of death declared as an accidental overdose. And most recently, former Saint Vitus drummer Armando Acosta’s death was announced.
It’s bleak to say the least but we move on. 2010 was also littered with some shocking moments from Mike Portnoy leaving Dream Theater to various break ups and reformations. But as per usual, there were no shortage of records.
Firstly, it’s The Grind That Annoys’ Top 20 albums of the year. As always, this is a difficult one to choose with so many great records emerging this year, some are inevitably going to be omitted. So a shout out must go those that missed out – Fear Factory, High On Fire, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Peter Gabriel, Deftones, Barren Earth, The Reptilians and Year Of No Light all missed out, but all great albums released by them.
So, without a further ado – The Grind That Annoys’ Top 20 albums of 2010:
20: Red Sparowes – The Fear Is Excruciating, But Therein Lies The Answer
Truth be told, the initial response for the new Red Sparowes album was a lukewarm one, but after months of continuous spinning, The Fear Is Excruciating, But Therein Lies The Answer fully unravelled itself. It revealed many gems that just couldn’t be found on only a few listens. Add the fact that in a live setting the new material took on another life force, it meant the album really was something and that’s why it’s your number 20.
Standout track: Giving Birth To Imagined Saviors
19: Iron Maiden – The Final Frontier
As hard as it may be to believe, Iron Maiden came close to not even making this year’s top 20. The Final Frontier is a great record, no doubt about that, but it was to be expected so there was no surprise element. That aside, the rumblings created by this album are still vast with nods to their Seventh Son… days as well still utilising the crystalline awe of all their 00s records. They’re Iron Maiden, they’ve nothing to prove but they went ahead and did it anyway.
Standout track: Starblind
18: Shadowcast Sun – Lucid; Dreamscape; Remedy;
Imposing, Meshuggah-esque guitar tones and glimmering post rock infused ambience collided for the lush soundscapes of Shadowcast Sun’s second full length record. The music is resembled particularly by the second word in the album’s title – dreamscape. It’s dreamy, atmospheric and verdant in its staggering aural landscape created from the outset. Lucid; Dreamscape; Remedy; is one of those albums that could soundtrack both death and birth, it’s that beautiful.
Standout track: Arcane
17: Swans – My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky
The quality of this record shouldn’t surprise anyone in the slightest. When Michael Gira announced the revival of Swans and with it a new record, expectations were unsurprisingly high. My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky is like any Swans album – completely different and incomparable to its predecessor. A contradiction? Of course, but Swans have always been a gob full of phlegm in the face of conventionality. The passing of time, 13 years, since their last album in fact, hasn’t changed that. Not in the slightest.
Standout track: Eden Prison
16: Nevermore – The Obsidian Conspiracy
After a few years apart the members of Nevermore indulged in some extra curricular activities, particularly solo albums. Their reconvening this year yielded this storming record, The Obsidian Conspiracy. Whether, it’s the tremendous riffs and hooks on ‘An Emptiness Unobstructed’ or the spine-tingling chorus of the title track, one thing is certain, Nevermore haven’t missed a step. It’s exemplified by the ever stunning fret work of Jeff Loomis and his meeting with Warrel Dane’s infecting and towering vocals. Just brilliant.
Standout track: The Obsidian Conspiracy
15: 36 Crazyfists – Collisions & Castaways
Collisions & Castaways isn’t the jewel in 36 Crazyfists’ crown. However the Alaskans have always maintained a remarkable quality on all their records that even if this doesn’t quite scale the heights of A Snow Capped Romance, it’s a still terrific effort. It’s bustling with what you’d always expect from 36 Crazyfists – vast choruses and huge melodic riffs, and on Collisions & Castaways, that is once again the agenda. Some songs here are just destined for the live setting, for proof, take the standout track…
Standout track: Reviver
14: Drudkh – Handful Of Stars
To say Drudkh’s Handful Of Stars entered from the leftfield would be an understatement. The Ukrainian pagan/folk/black metal outfit have always embraced outside forces in their music but nothing quite like what was heard on Handful Of Stars. ‘Towards The Light’ is largely indicative of the change, the clanging clash of the guitar tone and the development of melody has certainly divided fans on where they stand with Drudkh. But based solely on its own merits, Handful Of Stars is a splendid record.
Standout track: Towards The Light
13: Twilight – Monument To Time End
Twilight are a “supergroup”, featuring Isis’ Aaron Turner, Nachtmystium’s Blake Judd and Sanford Parker of Minsk, amongst others. Monument To Time End draws mostly from black metal but is also permeated by several styles of doom, sludge and crust. The vocal trade offs of N. Imperial and Turner are both ear shattering and mystic in their delivery, as they range from the thunderous shrieks to hypnotising croons. The end result of this collaboration is a record to get lost in.
Standout track: The Cryptic Ascension
12: Canvas Solaris – Irradiance
Canvas Solaris are something of an acquired taste. If dizzying instrumental technicality and showmanship isn’t your thing then Irradiance is unlikely to change your mind. It’s every bit as technically jaw dropping as previous efforts. Guitarists Nathan Sapp and Chris Rushing are just phenomenal here, from the vivacious fret-board dancing to lush, slower guitar leads, they more than prove their worth as stunning players. However, for all their technical clout, never once do they lose sight of the art of the song.
Standout track: Vapor Chasm
11: Aether – Aether
Dundalk’s Aether shot out of nowhere and dropped one of the strongest debut albums of the year. This self titled, though in a genre and style that’s saturated, still manages to conjure up its own identity. The lavish production job means that all aspects of this instrumental offering are heard – two prominent guitars, drums and keyboards. With only five songs, it’s still vast whether it’s the haunting intro provided by ‘Maelstrom’ or towering heights mounted on the title track.
Standout track: Aether
10: Watain – Lawless Darkness
Lawless Darkness is the next step in the devastating development and evolution of black metal. Two predecessors Casus Luciferi and Sworn To The Dark, in particular, were demonic statements of intent for the Swedes and Lawless Darkness is the devices of those two records coming to fruition. There isn’t a superfluous moment on here nor any erroneous attempt at sounding evil for the sake of evil. Every riff, blastbeat and growl serves a purpose and they all deliver.
Standout track: Waters Of Ain
09: Lantlôs – .Neon
Germany’s Markus Siegenhort, better known as Herbst, crossing paths with Alcest’s Neige turned out to be something more than worthy of your attention. Neige lends his vocals to the project with Herbst manning all instruments for this black metal and shoegaze collision. .Neon’s strength is in its diversity. It slips in almost post hardcore-esque riffs around deafening shrieks and relentless drumming, and then delves into brooding atmospheric passages. It’s a stunning record, and what’s even more interesting is the prospect of there being more to come.
Standout track: Coma
08: Cloudkicker – Beacons
One man project Cloudkicker, the creation of one Ben Sharp, is truly gathering in pace as more and more people across the web become aware of this man’s work. Releasing the EP ]]][[[ earlier this year just wasn’t enough, Beacons, the second full length was unleashed on the world only a few months later and proved to be the finest piece of work Sharp has produced yet. Everything, from dense and crushing, “djent” like, riffs to the other more elegant guitar tones, is all top tier.
Standout track: Amy, I Love You
07: Devil Sold His Soul – Blessed & Cursed
Blessed & Cursed is an unexpected triumph. It was way back in 2007 that Devil Sold His Soul released their debut record, A Fragile Hope and the failure to produce a follow up in a reasonably short space of time could have been their undoing. However, the hugely extroverted and cathartic explosion of riffs and screams that come thundering out of the ethereal introduction of opener ‘Tides’, quickly dispels all that. Perhaps, the lengthy time between records has turned out to be beneficial but either way Blessed & Cursed is a massive step up.
Standout track: An Ocean Of Lights
06: The Ocean – Heliocentric
Much like number seven, the quality of The Ocean’s Heliocentric wasn’t expected. Granted, the German collective had made their ethos clear with the ambitious double album Precambrian in 2007, but a line up change had made this album (and the accompanying record later in the year) something to approach with caution. That turned out to be foolish as Heliocentric is ridiculously solid with colossal soundscapes to stand beside Mastodon and Isis and new vocalist Loïc Rosetti delivering one of the most impressive vocal performances of the year. Little did we know however that this was merely an indication of something much grander to come.
Standout track: Metaphysics Of The Hangman
05: Alcest – Écailles de Lune
Écailles de Lune is Neige’s second appearance in this year’s top 20, but for something entirely of his own creation. Alcest is an enigma entirely to itself. There are many more bands now melding shoegaze and post rock elements with black metal templates but none quite like Alcest, and Écailles de Lune attests to this. The two part title track is gorgeously arranged but also razor edged when it needs to be and closer, ‘Sur l’Océan Couleur de fer’ is one of the most haunting and spectral pieces of music of the year. A shadowy but beautiful album.
Standout track: Écailles de Lune (Part II)
04: Ihsahn – After
After was released all the way back in January and its place in the top five is emblematic of its quality, it’s something you’ll keep coming back to. It’s Ihsahn’s third solo record and according to him the final piece of his triptych of records. He employed the services of Shining saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby for this endeavour, which, colliding with his progressive and still somewhat black metal tinted writing has proved to be a brave decision. But it’s the bravest decisions that often yield the most breathtaking results and here, that’s very much the case.
Standout track: Undercurrent
03: Enslaved – Axioma Ethica Odini
Enslaved seem to be constantly on the up and up. Each record they’ve released, particularly since the early part of the last decade has been rapturously received with press and fans alike just salivating. Axioma Ethica Odini is no different. They’ve embraced more melody, including more clean vocals, on this effort but still preserve their rasping edge, as heard inexorably by Grutle Kjellson’s, all too familiar, spitting voice. With nine tracks, Axioma Ethica Odini really does feel intended as a record to be digested in one go and take you on that always special “musical journey”.
Standout track: The whole record clearly but for now: Singular
02: The Ocean – Anthropocentric
Heliocentric was part only part one of the magnificent new concept from The Ocean this year. Anthropocentric, its accompaniment ascends much vaster heights. In many regards, it’s heavier and more unforgiving and then in others, it’s more melodic and velveteen, like ‘Sewers Of The Soul’ or ‘The Almightiness Contradiction’ show. Both of which have stark contrasts. It’s illustrative of what The Ocean accomplished on both albums and what they do next could indeed be something very, very special.
Standout track: The Grand Inquisitor II: Roots & Locusts
01: Anathema – We’re Here Because We’re Here
This year’s top four records all had equal chances of taking the number one slot for a while but We’re Here Because We’re Here ended up with a slight advantage come December. It took seven long years for Anathema to release some completely fresh new material and the wait has been worth it. From the soothing opening passages of ‘Thin Air’ through to the grandiose instrumental closing of ‘Hindsight’, Anathema prove once again why they should be one of the most cherished bands today. Unavoidably less melancholic then before We’re Here… is another stage in their wondrous evolution and with tracks like the gorgeously extroverted ‘Summer Night Horizon’ and ‘A Simple Mistake’, with its elegantly shaped crescendo, it means We’re Here Because We’re Here is, frankly, beautiful.
Standout track: Summer Night Horizon
Top 5 EPs of 2010
05: Altar Of Plagues – Tides
Altar Of Plagues’ rise has been a stunning one to witness following the more than warranted praise gathered after last year’s White Tomb album. Now, to follow up they’ve brought us this two track EP, Tides. It sees them shying away somewhat from their black metal sensibilities and with it creating something of a foundation to be developed on for the next record, which couldn’t come sooner. 04: Cynic – Re-Traced
Re-Traced was a questionable choice to say the least, re-working and re-interpreting four tracks from Traced In Air. The end result wasn’t as debatable though with interesting takes that employed some more leftfield influences, the semi-acoustic ‘Integral’ being a particular highlight. However the most powerful moment came with the one entirely new track, ‘Wheels Within Wheels’.
03: Cloudkicker – ]]][[[
]]][[[ was mentioned earlier. With only three tracks and being 15 minutes in length, it still takes a strong presence here.]]][[[ sways more towards the moodier end of things but with every riff being still mind numbingly thick and crushing. Cloudkicker is just a delight and 2010 has been more than a good year for proving this, alongside Beacons.
02: The Speed Of Sound In Seawater – Red Version
The Speed Of Sound In Seawater popped up out of nowhere. Very much a chill out effort, Red Version utilises meandering and cheery guitar work as well as angelic vocals. There’s a great deal of pop and some indie influences in Red Version. However, there’s still a healthy level of experimentation wandering about to keep your attention. Closer, ‘The Coldest Room In The House’ is inundated with poignant and expressive melodies that hopefully will be explored on a full length album in the not too distant future. 01: Grey Waters – Below The Ever Setting Sun
Australian atmospheric black metallers Austere called it a day and vocalist “Sorrow” went in a completely opposite direction with Grey Waters, and in another sense went the same direction. Below The Ever Setting Sun isn’t a black metal release; it’s a hook laden rock effort that has a mix of Khoma and early Biffy Clyro. The similarities are in that it’s quite heavy on the daunting and depressive atmosphere. The EP however is far too short; a new album next year may be an event indeed.
So, that’s another year more or less done and dusted. Seeing as you’ve actually taken the time to read this or anything else on The Grind That Annoys, thank you very much. Check back in the coming days for a post regarding hopes for 2011.