Saturday, 24 January 2009

2008 metal (and a little 2007)

Every year I struggle with the 'best albums of the year' lists that I, as a reviewer of metal music, am expected to produce. I like the idea of noting what I liked to listen to the most. At a pragmatic level, it helps me sort through my increasingly unwieldy record collection in the future so great albums don't get lost amidst shelves of mediocrity. But I've never been a big fan of ranked lists, or the illusory air of objectivity that can build around music criticism. I could get so annoyed with the whole process that whenever I hosted a New Year's Eve edition of Kill Eat Exploit the Weak I would play my top albums of ten years past instead of the best of the year just ended.

There are other obstacles to coming up with a 'best of the year' list, of course. I'm troubled by knowing that I really only hear a small fraction of the vast number of albums released every year (despite also knowing that an even smaller fraction are likely to interest me or be above average). I have to accept the fact that my mood when I'm writing the list has an impact on the ranking and on who makes the cut, and that the timing of a record's release affects its competitive chances. Plus there's the trickiness of having to come up with my list at the beginning of November, two months before the year actually ends. So I argue with myself about my year-end lists probably as much (or close to it) as other metal fans would argue with me.

Ordinarily a fragment of my list would make it into exclaim!'s year in review coverage. This year, none of my picks made the cut. In other years you would see my list coming out around now in the year-end issue of Unrestrained!. That last issue is likely to be made available in some form in the near future, but when Adrian passed away, Unrestrained! died too. With these things in mind I have decided to post my own 'year in review' list here and document for myself, and whoever else stumbles across this page, what I've particularly enjoyed listening to in 2008. (note: I use the 'metal' label loosely at times. live with it. most of this stuff is heavy in the emotional sense if not in terms of brutal guitars)

  1. Virgin Black – Requiem - Fortissimo (The End Records) -- dramatic and powerful, catastrophically emotional doom
  2. Primordial – To the Nameless Dead (Metal Blade) -- came out too late for my 2007 list but remains among the best blackened celtic metal
  3. Moonspell – Night Eternal (SPV) -- my favourite Moonspell record in years
  4. Mar de Grises – Draining the Waterheart (Firebox) -- creatively emotional Chilean doom (see U! #38)
  5. Isole – Bliss of Solitude (Napalm) -- blissful and baleful Swedish doom (see U! #37)
  6. Daylight Dies – Lost to the Living (Candlelight) -- darkly eloquent complexity
  7. Agalloch – The White EP (Vendlus) -- a beautiful (mostly acoustic instrumental) aside to the main Agalloch catalogue
  8. October Falls – The Womb of Primordial Nature (Moribund) -- doom-laden blackened metal with a little pagan minstrelsy and a dash of old Katatonia (see U! #39)
  9. Amon Amarth – Twilight of the Thunder God (Metal Blade) -- straightforward and a little cheesy but also a lot of fun
  10. Woods of Ypres – Deepest Roots and Darkest Blues (Krankenhaus) -- tricksy and not as easy to love as early Woods but it brings together some of my favourite sounds in a distinctively WoY way...
  11. Mamiffer – Hirror Enniffer (Hydra Head) -- dystopian musical art
  12. Opeth – Watershed (Roadrunner) -- this one made the exclaim! top ten. I agree it's a good record but I've heard Opeth do so much better
  13. Mindless Self Indulgence – If (The End) -- more for my fun quota, especially the opening track
  14. Krallice – Krallice (Profound Lore) -- discovered this black gem through Unrestrained! (see U! #38)
  15. Ca├»na – Temporary Antennae (Profound Lore) -- checked this genre-bender out based on its deservingly good e! review
  16. Cult of Luna – Kingdom (Earache) -- always heard good things about these guys, even from peta2, and finally checked them out (see U! #38)
  17. Nachtmystium – Assassins: Black Meddle Pt. 1 (Century Media) -- accessible extremity that lives up to the buzz
  18. Long Distance Calling – Satellite Bay (Viva Hate) -- cool atmosphere, post-rock heavy metal vibe
  19. Martriden – The Unsettling Dark (Candlelight) -- one of the more brutal entries on my list, another e! discovery
  20. Russian Circles – Station (Suicide Squeeze) -- atmosphere plus intensity, chalk another up to the e! folks
[honourable mention] Gates of Slumber – Conqueror (Profound Lore) -- strong American doom

(possibly coming up later: my favourites of 1998...)

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