Ghoul’s Night Out: THKD’s Halloween Mixtape

Every year as Halloween approaches, I begin doing things to put myself in the mood to enjoy that most horrific of holidays; decorate the house with all manner of skulls, queue up a slew of horror DVDs, revisit the literary genius of HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and most importantly, scare up some appropriately creepy tunes to celebrate the Season of the Witch. Though I typically pick out entire albums rather than individual songs, I thought it might be fun this year to compile a morbid mixtape to share with you, my loyal THKD readers. So, grab a handful of candy corn and gather ’round the jack-o-lantern, not for ghost stories, but for a night of unspeakable audio terror. Although there were many tracks from a variety of genres that could’ve been worthy of inclusion, I decided to keep things as much on the metal side as possible, in the true spirit of THKD. The player is embedded directly below this paragraph, followed by an explanation of each track. Enjoy or die.
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THKD’s TOP 20 METAL ALBUMS OF 2010

2010 was a year of the highest highs and the lowest lows.  I married the love of my life.  I took a promotion at work.  This site marked it’s one year anniversary and was featured on National Public Radio’s website.  Conversely, my grandfather and two old friends passed away.  My uncle-in-law is battling brain cancer and dementia.  There was no middle ground and very little room for anything resembling “normalcy” for the duration of the year.  Metal offered no solace; the losses of Ronnie James Dio, Peter Steele, Makh Daniels and Paul Gray only added to 2010’s tumultuousness.

Nonetheless, heavy metal and the craft of writing are two things that are very near and dear to my heart, no matter what else life decides to throw at me.  So without further ado, I present a comprehensive list of the metal albums that helped me live the storm in 2010.

NOTE: I wrote about some of these albums for the now-defunct Sonic Frontiers(dot)com.  In those instances, I have included that text in its entirety in order to preserve those pieces of writing.  Also, I’ve already written lengthy reviews of many of these albums, so in those cases I’ve kept things short and sweet and provided links to the original write-ups.

THKD’s TOP 20 METAL ALBUMS OF 2010:

ALBUM OF THE YEAR (tie):

Inquisition – Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm (Hells Headbangers)
Deathspell Omega – Paracletus (Season of Mist)
It wasn’t my intention to have two albums of the year.  To some of you, this probably seems like a huge copout, but hear me out before you call me a cheat.  In a year when many proclaimed black metal dead, these two albums represent the genre’s past, present and future.

Both Paracletus and Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm (henceforth referred to as ODOTPMM) are black metal albums with a Satanic message, but the way in which Inquisition and Deathspell Omega approach their work couldn’t possibly be more different.  Inquisition are staunch traditionalists; master craftsmen who worship at the altar of the ALMIGHTY RIFF and recall the likes of classic Immortal and De Mysteriis-era Mayhem.  Deathspell Omega on the other hand explore the more uncomfortable realms of perverse calculus, sounding like a jam session in the depths hell between a corpse-painted Dick Dale and Converge circa Jane Doe.

The fact that both of these bands can be comfortably classified as black metal says a lot about how much the genre has progressed over the years.  Much of this progression is due to Deathspell Omega’s willingness to push the envelope over the course of their trilogy of albums; the liturgical nightmare of Si Monvmentvm Reqvires, Circvmspice, the angular and impenetrable Fas-Ite, Maledicti, In Ignem Aeternem and finally Paracletus, possibly their most fully realized work to date. As frenzied as Paracletus is, parts of it are damn near accessible, almost approaching post rock territory, but never quite giving in to the sonic beauty that typifies that particular genre.  This is still ugly, evil music with a rotten and hateful core, music that attacks your senses and then drags you down into its hellish world.

Indeed, Paracletus represents Deathspell Omega at their creative peak, both musically and conceptually.  Instead of taking their artistic vision further “out there”, the band decided to fine-tune their approach, resulting in a superior album. Their inversion/perversion of Christian theology, combined with a musical assault that is as brutal as it is cerebral places them firmly at the forefront of black metal’s vanguard.

Inquisition aren’t pushing any envelopes with ODOTPMM, but they don’t need to.  There isn’t another band out there doing a better job of keeping the flame of traditional black metal alive than this Washington state (by way of Columbia) based duo. Possessing a knack for quality songwriting that is almost unheard of in the genre, Dagon and Incubus create black metal that is catchy, compelling and eerily ritualistic.

Dagon’s devastating guitar-work is the focal point of ODOTPMM, a barrage of stellar riffage that paints him as one of the genre’s most underrated six-string warlocks. His vocals float above the music, a spectral croaking that recalls Abbath, yet possesses an otherworldly character of its own.  Incubus’ drumming provides the versatile rhythmic foundation on which Dagon builds his distorted odes to the Dark Lord, going from thunderous blasting to slow-mo death marches and all points in-between.  The way these two musicians lock together to conjure these black anthems speaks of a frightening level of synergy that can only be achieved through years of hard work and refinement.

Together, Paracletus and ODOTPMM represent the myriad of possibilities within the black metal genre and beyond.  In fact, all of metaldom could learn a lot from the attention to detail and devotion to craft displayed by Inquisition and Deathspell Omega, and it is for this reason and many more that these two bands share the heavy crown for 2010.

2. Darkthrone – Circle the Wagons (Peaceville)
Ah, Darkthrone. If I had to name a favorite band, it would be them. Witnessing Nocturno Culto and Fenriz’s (d)evolution from black metal necrolords into hellish rock ‘n’ roll freaks straight outta the witch ghetto has been one hell of a ride. Even though I picked two black metal records as my co-albums of the year, it’s hard to argue with Darkthrone’s assertion that “there’s way too much black and there’s too little metal”, and it’s great to see the dynamic duo bucking the trends and bringing an irreverent sense of fun to the table throughout Circle the Wagons.

A denouncement of all things post-1980s, the album recalls the likes of Manilla Road and Diamond Head, infused with a gritty punk rock swagger and Darkthrone’s now-trademark sarcastic “fuck you” attitude. These two could care less about anything even remotely modern when it comes to metal, and this philosophy seeps out of every nook and cranny of songs like “I am the Graves of the ’80s”, “Circle the Wagons” and “I am the Working Class”.

I could say a lot more about Circle the Wagons, but why not let one of the men that made the album do the talking? You can read my interview w/ Fenriz HERE.

3. Danzig – Deth Red Sabaoth (The End/Evilive)
In spite of legions of haters and rampant yellow journalism, I will always be a Glenn Danzig fanboy. It therefore pleases me to say that after many years of musical ups and downs, ol’ GD finally got his mojo workin’ again with Deth Red Sabaoth. Enlisting Prong leader Tommy Victor on guitar and Type O Negative’s Johnny Kelly on drums, our man Danzig wisely set out to re-capture his classic sound on this album and largely succeeds. Tracks like “On a Wicked Night” and “Left Hand Rise Above” are every bit as catchy and tuneful as anything off of the Evil Elvis’ first four albums and his voice sounds fuller and stronger than it has in years. Just don’t call it a comeback (little raven).

Read my full review of Deth Red Sabaoth HERE.  Cosmo Lee of Invisible Oranges accurately and hilariously commented on my Danzig worship HERE.

4. Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit (Profound Lore)
The level of pre-release hype and anticipation surrounding Agalloch’s latest album bordered on the surreal. Being the curmudgeon that I am, I decided to steer clear of it, deliberately not reading or listening to anything until I actually had the damn thing in my eager little hands. I can honestly say that Marrow of the Spirit not only lives up to any and all hype, it blows it out of the water.

The album finds Agalloch at their most aggressive, laying down some seriously ragged, abrasive passages of traditional, frostbitten black metal. It is also their most diverse recording to date, blending elements of the aforementioned BM with dark ambient and neo-folk to create a soulside journey that can only be described as cinematic. It is easy to think of the album as a soundtrack, each lengthy song broken down into a series of scenes from a movie that only exists in your mind’s eye. The film is filled with panoramic views of moonlit valleys and tall gnarled trees, but it’s centerpiece is a great black lake, where the bodies of the slain dwell below the surface and nithing poles line the haunted shore.

The album’s rich analog production offers up some of the year’s most enthralling sonics. It is a pure joy to bathe one’s ears in such an earthy, organic-sounding metal album in this era of over-compression and “loudness wars”. Of course, production means nothing without great performances, and Marrow of the Spirit suffers no shortage of stellar musicianship. John Haughm’s vocals are some of his most diverse and intense yet. Haughm and Don Anderson’s imaginative guitar-work is in top form whether unleashing scathing tremolo riffs or soothing clean tones. New drummer Aesop Dekker (also of Ludicra) suits the band well, bringing a more aggressive and violent rhythmic approach to the table along with bassist Jason William Walton.

Indeed, Agalloch is one of those rare modern metal bands that can truly be called unique and with Marrow of the Spirit they’ve created a career defining album that largely defies description. I can’t wait to see where they take us next.

5. Vasaeleth – Crypt Born & Tethered to Ruin (Profound Lore)
The year’s finest pure death metal album. Here’s what I said about Crypt Born & Tethered to Ruin when I wrote about it for Sonic Frontiers(dot)net:

Possessed by evil and obsessed by morbidity. A bath in virgin’s blood and stale whiskey. The foul/sweet stench of demon weed. Two southern maniacs wielding buzzsaws and sledgehammers, high on Satan and the fumes of burning Incantation lps. This is Vasaeleth. This is Death Metal.

With their debut album Crypt Born & Tethered to Ruin, guitarist/vocalist OA and drummer Antinom have created what might be the finest example of undiluted death metal to come out of the United States in years. I struggled for quite awhile to write a standard review of this release before finally coming to the realization that a far more in depth analysis was required. In my extensive listening to Crypt Born & Tethered to Ruin, it became increasingly obvious with each spin that Vasaeleth is not a band that can be summed up in a mere 500 words.

On the surface, the band’s setup is deceptively simple. Two dyed-in-the-wool diehards cranking out slabs of bludgeoning, atmospheric and evil-sounding music, tapping directly into the primordial ooze of American death metal, the same vile wellspring from which the aforementioned Incantation, as well as Autopsy, Obituary, Death, et al were formed, we’re talking about the goddamn fountainhead here. A defiant, deliberate fist in the face of the bloated, pro-tools parody that death metal has become over the course of the last decade. No studio slickness, no technical wank-offs, no bullshit and no fucking compromise. Nothing but two men locked in the throes of ultimate death worship through complete and total musical annihilation.

But willful musical primitivism is just one facet of what Vasaeleth brings to the embalming table. The band creates and maintains a deathly atmosphere throughout Crypt Born & Tethered to Ruin that is timeless in its creeping malevolence. This goes beyond the superficial blood/guts/zombies axis that most modern death metal centers itself around, even beyond the deeper Lovecraftian concepts that make bands like Portal so intriguing. Vasaeleth take the “Only Death is Real” adage to heart, invoking something much more tangible with their ritual. The United States as a country is too young to have any widespread traditions or lore honoring death, no festivals of Samhain, no Wild Hunt/Oskorei, but these are the sorts of feelings Crypt Born & Tethered to Ruin taps into directly. The timeless sense of the macabre that only the grave itself can inspire, not some low-rent splatter film, or even a masterful piece of horrific prose. Perhaps the invention of death metal is our contribution to this ancient custom? This is a question too large to be addressed in the span and scope of a single column, but it is nonetheless something that crossed my mind more than once while listening to this album, the idea of death metal as a sort of dark, twisted roots music or Americana, like Robert Johnson’s devil and death-obsessed delta blues, heavily distorted and taken to its unholy and illogical conclusion.

Indeed it is easy to think of Vasaeleth as a pair of preservationists or curators, keeping alive the mores of death metal’s primeval foundation. While there has long been a desire to maintain orthodoxy within the black metal genre, death metal has largely suffered from a continued trajectory towards the mainstream (whether or not people care to admit it), resulting in a lot of music with questionable integrity, as the style continues to be co-opted, crossbred and rubbed squeeky-clean for mass consumption by people who have no business being involved with it in the first place. While “bigger”, largely European bands such as Vader and Bolt Thrower have weathered the trends and kept trad-death alive in the eyes and ears of the metal militia, they won’t be around forever and new blood is required. Some will probably argue that there have always been traditional or “oldschool” death metal bands keeping the flame alive in the darkest depths of the underground, but what good are they doing the genre if only twelve geeks on an internet message board have heard them? By partnering with a well-regarded label such as Profound Lore, Vasaeleth are bringing the fight to maintain the tenets of true death metal right to the frontlines instead of hiding under a worm-ridden rock.

Let me switch gears here and stop myself before I go any further towards turning this piece into some sort of academic/philosophical dissertation. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what Vasaeleth actually sounds like. Doom-infused, traditional death metal positively soaked in a cavernous, smoked-out production scheme, as if it were recorded several years ago and then buried in the local cemetery to achieve the proper amount of grime and decrepitude. The songs themselves lurch from dying-man’s crawl to furious, ultra-violent bludgeon, and in spite of their short lengths have an eerie, labyrinthine quality, as if you’re wandering through the echoing halls of endless pitch-black catacombs. Yet in spite of all this, Crypt Born & Tethered to Ruin still maintains a “two dudes playing in a room together, banging out songs” vibe, even if that room is the antechamber of a mausoleum. There is a crusty sense of wreckless abandon here, not exactly punk rock per se, but a very similar “fuck you” attitude, going back to the “fist in the face of modern death metal” element I touched upon earlier. It’s in the gnarly ‘n’ nauseating guitar tone, in the drums that sound like they’re being bashed into oblivion and in OA’s hoarse reverbed-to-hell roar. OA and Antinom take their death metal seriously and could obviously care less what the climate of modern extreme music is, and this recalcitrant mindset is a huge part of what makes the album so damn compelling.

The only thing even close to a flaw that I can find with Crypt Born & Tethered to Ruin is that it leaves you craving more. I would very much like to hear even more material from this talented duo. Vasaeleth captures the zeitgeist of the current resurgence of “real death metal” that seems to be boiling over within the underground, from the sepulchral skull/spider crypt-womb that adorns the album’s cover to the subterranean hymns to morbidity found within. To use another German term, Vasaeleth have created a fetid gesamtkunstwerk, such is the totality of vision and purpose. In listening to Crypt Born & Tethered to Ruin and gazing upon the lyrics and artwork, you’re completely given over to the hands of death, in the fucking icy black clutches.

Ultimately, Crypt Born & Tethered to Ruin is not just another album I listened to and enjoyed. It is a statement of intent crafted by two musicians dedicated to keeping one of extreme music’s most time-honored traditions alive. It is a curse upon all who have attempted to turn death metal into a punchline or a fad. It is one of the finest modern representations of what American death metal can and should be in 2010.

6. Vomitor – Devils Poison (Hells Headbangers)
In 2010, no other metal album said sleazy, filthy and fucked quite like Devils Poison. Vomitor grabbed the punishing death-thrash sound that Australia seems to have on lockdown by the balls and took it even further into realms of all-out gnarliness. My wife once said that listening to Venom’s Black Metal conjured visions in her head of being strung out on heroin in a dark, trash-strewn garage. She might have been talking about a completely different band, but I think that description also works well for Devils Poison… I wish I had thought of it myself!

Scuzzy, morbid and Satanic, Vomitor’s amalgamation of styles makes for some of the finest bestial metal out there. Although the band aren’t re-inventing the wheel by any stretch of the imagination, they still manage to be distinctive, and there’s something utterly infectious about their crude proto-death metal. The sound of Devils Poison recalls a time when the lines between genres were not so well defined (think early Death and Possessed), when death metal was still a festering sore on thrash metal’s crotch. I think I also hear a little VON and Beherit in there as well, and that’s never a bad thing.

I encountered two members of Vomitor during my metal-related journalistic endeavors in 2010. Read my brief but hilarious interview with Vomitor vocalist/guitarist Death Dealer HERE. Read my Australian metal scene report for Invisible Oranges featuring Vomitor drummer Marcus Hellkunt HERE.

7. Electric Wizard – Black Masses (Rise Above)
The Wizard returned unexpectedly in 2010, leading their fanatics on yet another slow motion funeral march towards the skull-bong of Satan with Black Masses.

Picking up where 2007’s Witchcult Today left off, Electric Wizard have become catchier than the herpes you picked up while shagging the Leslie Van Houten-look-alike hippie chick that got your candy-ass stoned out of your gourd on the demon-weed, but they’re still as nightmarishly psychedelic as a trip on the infamous brown acid. Bathed in a hazy production scheme that is the audial equivalent of hot-boxing in the back of a hearse, the album is thick with evil, druggy atmosphere and freaky sonics.

Black Masses might just be the strongest album Electric Wizard have released since the post-Let Us Prey lineup shift. Their songs have become more coherent over the years, yet they’ve sacrificed none of their trademark heaviness.

I don’t want to say too much on this one… full review coming soon!

8. Triptykon – Eparistera Daimones (Century Media/Prowling Death)
I don’t think anyone was more bummed than I was when Celtic Frost disintegrated for the second time in 2008. I even wrote a eulogy. I remember how grateful I was to have had the chance to see them in concert and to have spent many a late night soaking in the despair and malevolence of their swansong and finest moment, the suffocatingly heavy Monotheist.

Little did I know that Tom G. Warrior was only down and not out as a result of Celtic Frost’s breakup. This year he returned with Triptykon, a band that is even heavier and darker than Celtic Frost at the height of their powers. In fact, Eparistera Daimones might just be 2010’s heaviest album, both sonically and emotionally. Warrior channelled all his anger, frustration and depression into music that is truly capable of harnessing dark energies, burrowing its way into your skull as it crushes it into dust.

Eparistera Daimones is many things. A creative rebirth for Warrior, a chance for the young musicians he has surrounded himself with to prove themselves, and a 10 ton “fuck you” to everyone that said he couldn’t do it. Most importantly, it’s a great album and a welcome return.

Read my interview with Triptykon guitarist V. Santura HERE.

Read my full review of Eparistera Daimones HERE.

9. Burzum – Belus (Byelobog)
For me, Varg Vikernes has always been a fascinating character and I was highly anticipating the return of Burzum. Here’s what I said about Belus when I wrote about it for Sonic Frontiers(dot)net:

Regardless of what you, I, or anyone else might think about Varg Vikernes the human being, it is undeniable that Varg Vikernes the musician and his work under the guise of Burzum casts a very, very long shadow over the modern black metal scene. No other artist has been more influential, plain and simple. Every prominent band from Wolves in the Throne Room to Drudkh to Xasthur, owes a piece of their sound to the man. The actions for which he became infamous outside of metal circles have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on what is arguably one of the finest, most timelessly cult back catalogues in the history of extreme music.

Which brings us to Burzum’s long awaited Belus, Vikernes’ first album in 11 years and first black metal album since 1996’s classic Filosofem (Vikernes released two ambient/electronic Burzum albums, Daudi Baldr and Hlidskjalf in ’97 and ’99, respectively). To say that I had been eagerly anticipating Belus, would be an understatement, as I seem to remember reading an article somewhere several years ago in which Vikernes stated that the next Burzum album would be a return to his black metal roots. But Belus isn’t just a mere “comeback album”, or “return to form”; these tired journalistic cliches aren’t an apt description. Instead, Belus is a lesson in the fundamental aesthetics of black metal by one of the genres’ true originators.

To these ears, Belus is a natural continuation and evolution of what Vikernes had begun exploring with Filosofem. As with previous Burzum albums, the guitars are rubbed raw, yet rife with interesting tonal/textural qualities, making Vikernes’ singular fretwork ithe album’s natural focal point (as it should be). The same driving, repetitive tremolo riffing and minimalist approach to composition are present and accounted for on Belus, albeit with a much different production scheme than that of Filosofem. I have always been fascinated by the way in which Vikernes uses the guitar to create ambience and atmosphere, a hypnotic, droning soundscape that so many have tried (and largely failed) to re-create. His riffs and compositional approach are what makes Burzum a truly transcendent listening experience.

As for the aforementioned production, Belus was recorded at the legendary Grieghallen, the studio largely responsible for shaping the sonics of Norwegian black metal. The sound is full and modern yet rough-around the edges, with the guitars prominent in the mix over a very solid foundation of bass and drums. The vocals are some of the most diverse ever to appear on a Burzum recording, ranging from a venomous blackened rasp to spoken-word passages to clean singing and chanting. The madman’s shriek that characterized Vikernes’ early works is nowhere to be found, possibly the result of a more mature and varied overall approach. Also gone are the ambient/synth interludes, and one can’t help but imagine that perhaps Vikernes interest in the keyboard might have waned significantly after having released two albums of entirely synthesized music. This allows Vikernes to focus on his formidable strengths as a guitarist and composer, easily making Belus the most focused Burzum recording to date.

Highlights throughout the album are many, from the hypnotic black doom of “Belus Doed” to the thrashy and aggressive one-two punch of “Sverddans” and “Keliohesten”, but it is the final two tracks, “Morgenroede” and “Belus’ Tilbakekomst (Konklusjon)”, that are among some of the finest pieces of music Vikerenes has ever written. These two songs bleed into one another to create what Burzum has seemingly been striving for since Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and very nearly perfected on Filosofem; black metal re-cast as a totally immersive, almost metaphysical exploration of pure sound.

Lyrically, Belus is Vikernes’ interpretation of the story of the Norse god Baldr, a deity associated with light, happiness and love. While this might not seem like typical fodder for a black metal album, Baldr’s story is actually quite dark. His death is a linchpin of Norse Myth, the first in a chain of events that brings about Ragnarok, or the destruction of the gods. Baldr is later reborn to rule the new world which is born from the ashes of Ragnarok, following a cataclysmic battle. Since there has yet to be an English translation of Belus‘ lyrics, I cannot comment on how Vikernes’ own words relate to the classical story. It is tempting to compare the tale of Belus to Vikernes’ personal history, but of course this idea is difficult to explore further without access to the translated lyrics.

Overall, Belus is a more than successful resurrection for Burzum and a highly satisfying listening experience for longtime followers of Vikernes’ work. Although Burzum will always be a source of debate within the metal scene and garner more than its fair share of detractors, those willing to approach Belus with open minds and ears will find it easy to become lost interminably within the elegiac soundscapes Vikernes so effortlessly creates. Fear the return.

10. Integrity – The Blackest Curse (Deathwish Inc.)
For me, Integrity is the only hardcore band that matters. While others in the genre obsess over how tough they are and “keeping it real”, Integrity mastermind Dwid Hellion is releasing Charles Manson recordings, collaborating with Boyd Rice and espousing the virtues of the The Process Church of the Final Judgement. Sorry folks, but I’ll take doomsday cults and mass murderers any day over some d-bag in a backwards baseball hat bitching at me about straightedge.

The fact that The Blackest Curse actually sounds like the apocalypse doesn’t hurt. I’ve never seen Integrity live, but I imagine literal hellfire and brimstone spewing out of Hellion’s mouth whenever he unleashes his trademark scorched-throat bellow. The rest of the band is equally devastating, delivering a blistering take on metallic hardcore with bits of doom and even some black metal thrown in for good measure. The album is an all-out assault, the sound of the world crashing down around your ears and demons rising up from the Earth to drag you back down into the bowels of the fiery pit with them.

If the world does end in my lifetime, I’ll just need three things: a bottle of whiskey, a shotgun and a copy of The Blackest Curse.

You can read my review of The Blackest Curse for Invisible Oranges HERE.

11. Blood Revolt – Indoctrine (Profound Lore)
While other metal bands obsess over grade school level Dungeons & Dragons-style flights of fancy or faux-Satanic necro-drivel, Blood Revolt deals in life’s harshest realities on their debut album. Easily the most lyrically extreme recording of 2010, vocalist AA Nemtheanga (also of Primordial) weaves a tale of religious fanaticism and terrorism as told from the deranged perpetrator’s perspective. The accompanying sonics provided by Axis of Advance/Revenge men Chris Ross and J. Read are equally intense and harrowing.

Although the coupling of Nemtheanga’s soaring, diverse vocals with Ross and Read’s down ‘n’ dirty black metal battery might seem like an odd one at first, its unorthodox brilliance becomes readily apparent once you put your preconceptions aside and dive headfirst into Blood Revolt’s disturbed world. In listening to Indoctrine, I assumed it was meant to be a cautionary tale about the dangers inherent in the religious fanaticism we increasingly see all around us. However, Nemtheanga set me straight, explaining that the album does not judge the fanatical character it follows and in fact could be seen as praise for his dedication and sacrifice. The fact that there is no catharsis, no “happy ending”, only death makes the album that much more terrifying.

You can read my interview with Nemtheanga and Chris Ross HERE.

12. Cauldron Black Ram – Slubberdegullion (Weird Truth Productions)
Yaaaaargh, mateys! Here be the finest pirate metal album ever to sail the seven seas! If ye be unfamiliar with the cursed vessel known only as Cauldron Black Ram and the dusty old tome known as Slubberdegullion, then it be high time for you an’ me to parlay.

Ya see, Slubberdegullion tells the tale of a salty sea-dog who goes by the name of Black Douglass. A proper scoundrel by all accounts, Douglass is quick with the blunderbuss, right deadly with a cutlass and a practitioner of the black arts when not out whoring and guzzling down rum. Indeed, his is a tale fraught with unspeakable olde evil.

Alright, alright… I’ll cut the pirate talk. But it must be said that Slubberdegullion is one of the most atmospheric, gnarly and downright fucking weird death metal albums of 2010, or any other year for that matter. This is filthy, gritty, disturbed pirate metal with none of the silly hollywood business that some other buccaneer-centric bands are slinging around the scene. A death metal concept album about piracy might sound ridiculous, but I promise that if you check out Slubberdegullion with an open mind (and ears), you won’t be disappointed.

Read my review of Slubberdegullion HERE.

Read my interview with Cauldron Black Ram bassist/vocalist Ishum HERE.

13. Dawnbringer – Nucleus (Profound Lore)
Dawnbringer’s Nucleus is a denim ‘n’ leather-clad odyssey to the center of the mind. Whereas other trad-metal albums come off as consciously retro excuses to drink bear and headbang, Nucleus takes you on a fucking journey. This probably has something to do with the fact that rather than re-hashing third-hand Maiden and Priest riffs, Dawnbringer turns oldschool heavy metal on its head by adding in elements of black metal and doom, not to mention a Motorhead-like sense of urgency.

Then again, Dawnbringer mastermind Chris Black being a metal lifer might be the most important piece of the puzzle. Dude wrote for Metal Maniacs, runs his own label/distro (Planet Metal) and is also affiliated with Nachtmystium, High Spirits, Pharoah and Superchrist. Black eats, breathes and sleeps this shit like it’s no big deal.

Whatever the case, Black’s unique vision drives Nucleus to heights that are rarely reached by traditional metal bands, making it one of the year’s most enthralling listens. No other album made me fantasize about blowing up my office.

You can read my full review of Nucleus HERE.

14. Enforcer – Diamonds (Heavy Artillery)
…And speaking of consciously retro, beer drinkin’, head bangin’, fist raisin’, traditional metal albums, here we have Enforcer with their sophomore effort, Diamonds. Sure they might look like chicks, but these guys bring the trad-metal thunder with balls (to the wall?!) of steel!

What we have here is NWOBHM worship with hooks, hooks and more hooks. Sure, there might be a hint of cheese involved in what Enforcer does, but rest assured that they are great songwriters first and foremost. If tracks like “Midnight Vice”, “Katana” and “Running in Menace” don’t get stuck in your head the minute you hear them, you might as well cut up your metal membership card and chuck it in the trash.

I’m not saying this quintet is the next Judas Priest, but with Halford and Co. bowing out of the metal game next year, there is no time like the present for young bands like Enforcer to ratchet things up a few notches and prove their worth. If Diamonds is anything to go by, these Swedes have one hell of a bright future.

15. Ghost – Opus Eponymous (Rise Above)
To be honest, I’m not even sure what Ghost does can be classified as metal (in fact, I had to stop thinking about the band in terms of metal to fully appreciate them). To me it sounds more like Mercyful Fate and Blue Oyster Cult-damaged, highly Satanic pop music. Unlike most metalheads out there, I don’t have a problem admitting that I’m a full-on sucker for a good pop hook and trust me, Ghost hits that deliciously catchy sweet spot again and again throughout Opus Eponymous.

The band hails from Sweden, but their membership is unknown. They appear on stage clad in black hoods and cloaks, with the singer wearing an amazing-looking undead pope outfit (Ah, theatricality, another thing I’m a sucker for). The sense of mystery surrounding the band only adds to their appeal, though I can’t imagine this wonderful secret lasting forever in the age of the internet.

Opus Eponymous explores the Satanic and the saccharine in equal measure and that’s what make it such a great album. I don’t really get some of the comparisons being thrown at them or the fact that some are calling them black metal, but that doesn’t make me enjoy them any less.

Stay tuned to THKD in early 2011 for a more complete discussion of Ghost.

16. Hooded Menace – Never Cross the Dead (Profound Lore)
Shambling out of the grave under a cover of thick fog, Hooded Menace dropped the goddamn hammer of doom on the unsuspecting metal masses in 2010 with their second album, Never Cross the Dead. This thing is just beyond crushing, in fact it’s some of the heaviest, most suffocating music I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. Hey, did I mention it’s heavy?

But what is really mesmerizing about Hooded Menace’s death/doom trip below the decks of the blind dead’s ghost galleon is how catchy it is. Like several of the other albums mentioned on this list, this one’s got mad hooks. Big, sharp hooks that tear into your flesh, lodge themselves in your skull, and then yank out your brains so that the undead may feast.  Never Cross the Dead is oldschool death/doom to the bone, but the masterful melodies that come crawling out of the album place Hooded Menace (severed) head and shoulders above the legions of bands currently attempting this style.

Hooded Menace started playing live shows this year. They also acquired a new vocalist, which to be honest kind of bummed me out, since guitarist Lasse Pyykko’s deep, cavernous vox are among Never Cross the Dead‘s highlights. It will be interesting to see how these factors change the band in 2011.

You can read my interview w/ Hooded Menace’s Lasse Pyykko HERE.

17. Blasphemophagher – For Chaos, Obscurity and Desolation (NWN!)
“Bestial” black/death metal bands are a dime a dozen these days. Seriously, there are more low-rent, lo-fi bands out there ripping off Blasphemy, Beherit and Sarcofago now than ever before. Luckily we’ve got Blasphemophagher to show them how it’s fucking done with For Chaos, Obscurity and Desolation.

These nuclear-powered Italians are so far ahead of the bestial metal curve, just about every other band out there might as well throw their hands up and quit with a resounding “fuck it” after hearing them. Blasphemophagher are requisitely violent, gnarly and over-the-top evil, but they possess several traits that push them above and beyond. For starters, For Chaos, Obscurity and Desolation doesn’t sound like it was recorded on a Fisher Price tape recorder inside a garbage can. Secondly, these guys write actual SONGS with things like VARIATION and DYNAMICS. Finally and most importantly, they have RIFFS instead of guitars that sound like an angry hornet’s nest.

Yes, Blasphemophagher are the kings of the current wave of bestial nucleargoatvomitphago bands, so if you’re looking for an atomic ass-kicking, you could do hell of a lot worse than For Chaos, Obscurity and Desolation. You have been warned.

18. Autopsy – The Tomb Within (Peaceville)
How did a twenty minute ep end up on the best metal albums of 2010 list? It’s fucking AUTOPSY, that’s how. The gruesome foursome crams more oldschool death metal depravity into a meager five songs than most bands can muster over the course of an entire album. Drummer/vocalist Chris Reifert sounds like he’s possessed for chrissakes!

There are a lot of new-jack DM bands out there trying to do the oldschool sound, but it’s kind of hard to be bothered with them when the dudes who invented this shit are back in business. The Tomb Within is a great teaser for the inevitable new full length Autopsy will (hopefully) be releasing in 2011 and a testament to the power of the ep format.

Read my review of The Tomb Within HERE.

Read my interview with drummer/vocalist Chris Reifert HERE.

19. Aborym – Psychogrotesque (Season of Mist)
At this point, my dislike of industrial black metal is well-documented. With the notable exception of The Axis of Perdition (and even they fucked things up royally with their last album), the execution of the genre never lived up to my admittedly lofty expectations.

Then Psychogrotesque showed up in my inbox. Even though I could never get into Aborym in the past, I’ve always felt they had a lot of potential. This is the album that lives up to that potential. Band leader Malfeitor weaves a twisted narrative set in an insane asylum, with help from the likes of Karyn Crisis (Crisis) and Davide Tiso (Ephel Duath). Rooted in traditional black metal but infused with a sense of the futuristic that never comes off as cheesy or contrived. It’s a digital nightmare you can’t escape from.

Read my review of Psychogrotesque HERE.

20. Monster Magnet – Mastermind (Napalm Records)
During the ’90s, Monster Magnet ringleader Dave Wyndorf made a name for himself and his band by taking drugs to make music to take drugs to. This culminated in the utterly unfuckwithable Dopes To Infinity, an album that saw Monster Magnet go into mind-altering overdrive; a cannabis and LSD-fuelled interstellar mothership with controls set for the heart of the black hole.  Monster Magnet hit it big with the subsequent Powertrip (featuring ubiquitous single “Spacelord”), but after that Wyndorf fell deeper into addiction and seemingly lost the plot, releasing the painfully mediocre God Says No and Monolithic Baby, poorly conceived/received albums that failed to re-ignite my excitement for the band. To this day I still haven’t heard 4-Way Diablo, and I don’t know that I ever intend to.

Enter 2010 and Monster Magnet is back with Mastermind, an album that does live up to one of the most dreaded (and misused) phrases in all of music journalism: “return to form”. Wyndorf has brought back the drugged out, cosmic super-rock to the point that you’d think Napalm Records might’ve plied him with a truckload of whiskey, a mountain of dope and a bunch of weird sex with Liv Kristine. No matter what the case, the results are fucking stellar, from the opening doom riffage of “Hallucination Bomb” to the infectious refrains of “Gods and Punks” “Dig that Hole” and the title track.

In a world where mainstream rock has degenerated into a pile of limp-wristed, myspace-sponsored bullshit, we need bands like Monster Magnet more than ever. So raise your glasses to Wyndorf, who just might be the last real American rock god.

Honorable Mentions:
1349 – Demonoir (Prosthetic)
Atheist – Jupiter (Season of Mist)
Castevet – Mounds of Ash (Profound Lore)
Children of Technology – It’s Time to Face the Doomsday (Hells Headbangers)
Christian Mistress – Agony & Opium (20 Buck Spin)
Coffinworm – When All Became None (Profound Lore)
The Crown – Doomsday King (Century Media)
Denouncement Pyre – World Cremation (Hells Headbangers)
Diabolic – Excisions of Exorcisms (Deathgasm)
Enslaved – Axioma Ethica Odini (Nuclear Blast)
Early Graves – Goner (Ironclad)
Furze – Reaper Subconscious Guide (Agonia)
Heathen – The Evolution of Chaos (Mascot)
High on Fire – Snakes for the Divine (E1)
Horseback – The Invisible Mountain (Relapse)
Istapp – Blekinge (Metal Blade)
Kylesa – Spiral Shadow (Season of Mist)
Ludicra – The Tenant (Profound Lore)
Prosanctus Inferi – Pandemonic Ululations of Vesperic Palpitation (Hells Headbangers)
Salome – Terminal (Profound Lore)
Satanic Warmaster – Nachzehrer (Werewolf Records)
The Sequence of Prime – Virion (Corporatedemon)
Slough Feg – The Animal Spirits (Profound Lore)
StarGazer – A Great Work of Ages (Profound Lore)
Thou – Summit (Gilead Media)
Watain – Lawless Darkness (Season of Mist)
Weapon – From the Devil’s Tomb (Ajna)
Witchrist – Beheaded Ouroborus (Invictus Productions)
Yakuza – Of Seismic Consequence (Profound Lore)

BEST NON METAL ALBUM:

Man’s Gin – Smiling Dogs (Profound Lore)
Is there anything Erik Wunder can’t do musically? In 2009, he created the year’s best metal album in the form of Cobalt’s Gin. In 2010 he gives us Smiling Dogs, an alcohol-soaked, end-of-days folk album that was one of my favorite overall releases of 2010. It is also my wife’s album of the year. Her taste is impeccable.

Drawing from influences ranging from Nick Cave and Tom Waits to Hunter S. Thompson and Ernest Hemingway, Wunder taps into the dark underbelly of Americana to create an album that is eerie and gothic, but also catchy and strangely fun to listen to. It’s a drunken sing-a-long while the sun sets and the nukes tumble out of the sky.

You can read my full review of Smiling Dogs HERE.

Honorable Mentions:
Killing Joke – Absolute Dissent (Spinefarm)
Salem – King Night (Iamsound)
The Terrible Airplane – 2012 (self released)
Cee Lo Green – The Ladykiller (Elektra)
Daft Punk – Tron: Legacy OST (Disney)

BEST GUILTY PLEASURE:

Rob Zombie – Hellbilly Deluxe II (Roadrunner)
Alright, I’m totally fucking with you. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. I like Hellbilly Deluxe II and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Guilty pleasures are for chickenshits that don’t have the balls to put their tr00 kvlt guard down and admit that a band/artist that doesn’t revolve around the extreme metal axis is worth listening to. I’ve been a Rob Zombie fan since White Zombie’s La Sexorcisto… days. I remember going over to a friend’s house and listening to “Thunderkiss ’65” over and over and over again and being blown away every time by its gutter-psych alterno-metal freak-out.

Anyway, Zombie’s post-White Zombie work has never really had that rawness, that hunger that La Sexorcisto… (and prior albums) possessed in spades, but Hellbilly Deluxe II goes a long way towards recapturing it. Zombie ditches a lot of the electronic bells and whistles that characterized his previous solo work in favor of a grittier, more organic sound, and it works wonders here. The fact that his songwriting has never been better, even if it isn’t quite as fried ‘n’ freaky-deaky as White Zombie’s early work, also helps tremendously.

Top Shows of 2010
Actually, I didn’t go to enough shows in 2010 to warrant a list. Regardless, one of my personal metal highlights of the year would have to be seeing Megadeth play Rust in Peace in it’s entirety, followed by Slayer playing Seasons in the Abyss. Both of these albums were very important to me as a young metalhead and both remain among my all-time favorites. Megadeth’s instrumental precision and sheer riffage stole the show, but Slayer more than held there own, armed with classics like “War Ensemble” and “Dead Skin Mask”. For one night in 2010, I was thirteen years old all over again, and it felt great.

Well folks, that wraps it up for THKD’s best of 2010 extravaganza. Expect a lot of great new content in 2011, including interviews with Furze and Children of Technology, reviews of Mitochondrion, Sabre and Wrnlrd + all the usual grouchiness and bitching you’ve come to expect… because that’s how kids die.

I’d like to thank my beautiful wife Krista, my family and friends, Chris Bruni and Profound Lore, Dave and Liz at Earsplit, Nathan T. Birk, Cosmo Lee and Invisible Oranges, Umesh Amtey, Lauren and Season of Mist, Brian Rocha and Fresno Media, Michelle Ferraro, Vince and Kelly at Metal Blade, Brandon Duncan, Danhammer Obstkrieg and Spinal Tapdance, Atanamar Sunyata, Lars Gotrich and NPR, Steve57, Roger Lay, Clawhammer PR, Catharsis PR, everyone that has read THKD and/or left comments in 2010, all the facebook and twitter followers, all the bands that agreed to do interviews, all the bands and labels that took time out to send me their wares and everyone in general that has in any way supported or contributed to the growth of THKD.  I appreciate you all more than you know.  Good night and good luck.

THKD’s Summer of Satan Mixtape Vol. 1

Back in the days when the cassette was still a widely used and accepted form of media, I loved making mixtapes.  There is just something special about crafting the perfect mix of your favorite songs and sharing it with others, a craft that was lost with the dawn of the compact disc.  Burning a CD just isn’t the same as sitting in front of the dual cassette and painstakingly dubbing off crucial tracks.

Even though it isn’t anywhere near the same, I wanted to somehow capture a little bit of that old magic in the internet age.  Since I’m no fan of illegal downloading (which probably seems hypocritical after telling you how much I enjoyed dubbing off cassettes for my friends), and I don’t currently have the capability to stream MP3s on this blog, I present the first ever THKD mixtape courtesy of Youtube.  Ten tracks of favorites old and new, with no alarms and no surprises… You’ve probably heard all of these tracks before, so consider this mix the heavy music fans’ equivalent of comfort food.  Enjoy or die.

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