Here we are at the end of another Heavy Metal year and its time for the best of lists. This is my third one already. I could only come up with seven albums worthy of being put on a best of list – and one of them technically came out in 2009. If you haven’t heard any of these records, I made it easy for you, you can listen right here!

Enslaved – Axioma Ethica Odini

Enslaved should need no introduction. They are getting a lot of exposure with this album and they have toured Europe and North America opening for Dimmu Borgir. Enslaved deserve all the exposure and accolades they receive. These guys have been at this for almost 20 years and have released a slew of quality albums; Axioma Ethica Odini is no exception. In fact it just may prove to be one of their best. It’s really a stunning record with tons of immediate appeal but it also reveals more and more of itself with each additional listen.

With this album, Enslaved continue to express their message of embracing human nature and independence and vehement rejection of those who try to control us and deny the essence of our humanity. Like this from the song Singular:

Psychopathic shepherds deny the miracle – of our essence
…And yet we have part in the blame
Allowing their ravings,
Comforting their weakness, their sickness
It is time to LIVE – TRUST – NO – ONE

And this from Raidho (A runic term meaning journey)

Journey of no promises
Beyond the lust for rewards
Focus on the movement of the Wheel
Union of stillness and change
Journey of the ages all
I’ll follow outside the edge
Breath, blood, sacrifice and bleeding eyes
Unending journey ahead

Their music provides a layered texture to deliver these philosophical ideas, taking us from pensive reflective states to vicious warlike intensity. Tonally this record is excellent. The guitar sound is 100% ripping Gibson, not some bullshit bottom heavy chugga chugga. The bass is a pervasive thunderous rumble. The lead guitar tone is full of unique character. There are varying timbres of the vocals of Grutle and Herbrand and their lines are packed with great hooks and melodies. This album just has so much to offer. I could go on, so I will: memorable guitar solos from Ice Dale that compliment the songs, expert arrangements with drum patterns that push the songs forward and heighten the intensity, monumental riffs with clever rhythmic intricacies, etc. This record is yet another great example of why Enslaved have reached the top of the heavy metal heap.

Freedom Hawk – s/t

The east coast of the Unites States is a hotbed of stoner metal bands. Once in a while I’ll poke around on allthatisheavy.com looking for some cool bands. That’s how I discovered Freedom Hawk. They have a lot in common with other stoner bands, raw production, traditional instrumentation and vibe, heavy guitars, and a strong Sabbath influence. Their singer even reminds me a bit of Ozzy. What they have that is not common is magic. They’ve got the killer heavy riffs, great melodic vocal hooks and solos, occasionally fuzzed out but always audible bass, and driving drums combined in just the right ways to make heavy rawk magic. Just check out the song My Road with its irresistible vocal lines and lyrics describing life’s unique journey and living it to the fullest.

Open the door get in the car, hit the gas
The engine roars and we are going way too fast
Life’s begun and now out of control or so it seems
Grab the wheel tight baby and follow your own dreams

I love it, I love the whole album. These guys are playing from the heart and they really connect with me. Rock on with the Hawk!

Castevet – Mounds of Ash

These guys are part of the “post black metal” movement … I guess. They way I see it – they are a Death Metal band. Besides being heavy and all that, they manage to put together memorable songs that are unique and creative. They have a tension to their music. It creates an uneasy feeling that is disturbing yet compelling, but amid the chaotic swirl there are interesting melodies. This music has a lot of depth, now if they only would have published their lyrics! I did a full review on Mounds of Ash, read it and check them out.

Blood Revolt – Indoctrine

This ain’t no easy listening music! Hell no. It’s like roller coaster ride through the mind of a psychopath. Every time I listen to this album I feel drained. It’s remarkable. Indoctrine is a concept album about a religious extremist. It’s told in the first person, so we are inside the tumultuous mind of a savage and deranged man. Vocalist A. Nemtheanga embodies the character of the extremist and uses every facet of his voice to convey the varied emotional states of the character. He raves like a lunatic, full of contradictions. He is confused about his beliefs at times, and at other rimes convinced of his need to kill and destroy for his religious insanity.

A fine example of this (and one of my favorite songs on the album) is My Name In Blood Across The Sky:

I dreamt of blood and iron
Of a storm of twisted flesh
Of a god that wills my hand
To be his judgment

Sounds like he wants to be a killer for his god. But in the song Martyr’s Brigade he says:

What price my soul?
The martyr’s weapon
I have toiled so long
And searched the faces
Of the fallen
Maybe there is no god but man
 
No matter
The traps are set
This is the martyrs brigade

He doesn’t even care if there’s a god, he’ll be a martyr anyway.
 
It’s a stroke of genius how this band utilized melodic vocals on top of raging speed/death metal music as it creates a deeper understanding and more powerful experience for for the listener. The musicianship here is stunning. The drums are so savage, raw and inhumanly fast! The ripping blast beats and manic fills perfectly complement the character’s chaotic mindset. The guitars are tonally similar to 90s death metal like Dismember. At times however they exhibit a melancholic sense of melody that pushes the listener even further into emotional turmoil. Give Indoctirne a listen, its an artistic triumph and I think you’ll appreciate what it has to offer.

The Flight of Sleipnir – Lore

Viking themes have been employed by many metal bands so it’s a testament to The Flight of Sleipnir that they can use similar themes and come up with something fresh. They combine Viking lore with stoner riffs, atmospheric textures, and clean and black metal-styled raspy vocals to create a brilliant album. Here’s one of the more atmospheric songs from Lore. It’s called of Words and Ravens.

There before the rising sun
In twilight ravens wings are drawn
Thought sent out to horizons edge
Memories of the words of men
 
-“With dusk brings the end of day, while the last fragments
of light remain
Silhouettes disappear in growing night
No sight nor sound of two birds flight”

This band has quietly released two killer albums and they are worth investigating. Read my full review of Lore.

Sahg – III

This one took a while to grow on me but it’s safe to say Sahg has done it again. That’s three excellent albums, each boldly numbered for your convenience. Sahg III is more “accessible” than its predecessors so I guess it’s a bit odd that it took me longer to warm up to this record than their prior ones. Perhaps it’s because this is stylistically more hard rock mixed with Sabbathy doom metal. Their prior albums had a heavy psychedelic and epic vibe mixed with the Sabbathyness that complimented each other a bit better. Still, this is a dark record with lyrics based in the darker side of christian and other mythology. The first two songs an the album are about being taken by the devil. Here are a few lines from the secong song, Mortify:

Taken by his force
Savage bringer of remorse
Fighting back will only make it stronger
Hear temptation’s call
Howling from the underworld
Realize you can’t resist much longer

Sahg has managed to tread that fine line of honoring Sabbath and other 70s hard rock and metal gods without becoming a rehashed ripoff. The production is fantastic, nice and warm with passionate performances. The vocals of Iversen are a standout regardless of some Ozzy-like stylings. Most importantly, Sahg write great songs and present them with integrity. These guys deliver the goods, again.

Demiurg – Slakthus Gamleby

Here’s an album that’s wonderfully dismal and festering with wretched ooze. This is evil mid-paced death metal that pukes out the message that the world is a bubbling pile of shit and we’re all gonna drown in it. Slakthus Gamleby has a perfectly dreary and depressing atmosphere, catchy dirge-like melodies, and gravelly vocals belched up from boiling tar. The riffs remain mostly in familiar rock and classic metal territory but they hit you like cinder blocks. This ain’t no technical death metal. Another notable aspect of this gem of an album is the use of melody and texture with the inclusion of female vocals and keyboards. The lyrics tie it all together and perfectly embody hopelessness and horror at times in an almost Lovecraftian sense. Check out Travellers Of The Vortex for a prime example of this:

The morbid fog covers the earth,
sentinent mist of ages
From crypts below the ooze,
of a thousand aeons
 
Open the gates to the fourth dimension,
let the vortex spill into this world
Maelstrom directing the overlords,
towards the heaving earth

My biggest complaint with this record is that it’s too polished for its own good. It would benefit from a bit more rawness and a more natural drum sound especially the kick drums which sound like more like drum sticks being hit together than thunderous bass drums. Still, this album will take you on a bleak journey to an infernal wasted earth full of decay and doom. And who wouldn’t want to go there?

There you have it the best metal of 2010. What did I miss? What are your opinions, your favorites, your strong criticisms? Comment below. Metal heads ain’t supposed to be quiet!