1. Baroness – Red Album
In the same way as Mastodon’s Blood Mountain did last year, everything on the Red Album sounds juuuuust right. It’s heavy in all the right places, pulls its punches at all the places, and just plain grooves in between. In a year filled with amazing releases, only Baroness was instant bliss. Their sound is unique, but has the flavor of many of the bests around right now, like Mastodon and Isis, and when each song lays its ideas in front of you, they make perfect sense, as if you’ve heard the song before in a dream long ago and were just now remembering them. Yeah, that’s how I describe how a good album hits me, but just because my description is cheesy, don’t feel like Baroness will be, too. This music is beyond cool, and a great way to sum up everything that’s great about the current metal scene.
2. The Ocean – Precambrian
85 minutes of music is hard to sit through, but I’ve done it over and over this month. Two discs, one with five heavy tracks influenced by hardcore and tech metal but belonging only to the overlying realm of all things heavy, one with nine tracks of pure meditative bliss, pummeling through progressive-minded epics that ebb and flow like the best of Isis. Each and every single track on Precambrian has something amazing to bang your head to, something to surprise you and defy expectations, something to drift away to on a cold winter evening. If you were as underwhelmed by this band’s previous output as I was, have no worries: this band’s full potential has been reached, and this is their masterpiece. Easily the best value of the year.
3. Car Bomb – Centralia
The most underrated album of the year should be considered the new Calculating Infinity. Actually, I like this better than Calculating Infinity: the vocals are way more diverse and aggressive, there are more surprises, and the recording is a step above. I’m guessing these guys got lost in the shuffle of great high-profile 2007 releases. What a shame, because any band that can pull off the strict technical theatrics on Centralia and keep such a jazzy, playful feel without sounding like a mess – on their first album, no less! – is bound for greatness. I would like to recognize their greatness hear before they hit it big: Centralia is an instant classic that you will hear about again and again in the future; if I had any kind of reputation to risk, I’d risk it right here!
4. THE END – Elementary
Are you kidding me? A talented but derivative tech-core band gives up and goes prog metal, and it actually sounds this good? Lots of bands THINK they can do this, and end up writing the most pathetic album of their meaningless careers. The End showed up this year and shocked everyone, critics especially, with an album filled head to toe with catchy melodies, a perfect crunchy guitar sound, and excellent song structures, the latter of which would be assumed impossible for anyone playing tech-core these days that don’t end in “Plan.” If they had left off the two drifty, ambient songs, this would have been number one this year. This one’s infinitely listenable and highly recommended for all.
5. Hacride – Amoeba
I guess it’s really hard for technical metal bands to write music that doesn’t sound like Meshuggah. Few of them even seem to try. French band Hacride decided to try, and they succeeded in spades. They added flamenco to many tracks, even covered a song by a real flamenco band, and poured themselves into some Opeth-like acoustic breaks, all adding depth and originality to their sounds. Even all of that doesn’t explain why I loved Amoeba so much, though. The truth is, I absolutely loved how Hacride built a sound that wasn’t married to the start-stop chugs of this kind of band. “Technical” describes it, but doesn’t define it. I would place them closer to Gojira than Meshuggah, and I mean that as a compliment here. The overall effect was astounding, and worth much more praise than it received this year.
6. The Dillinger Escape Plan – Ire Works
This band is hemorrhaging fans like crazy. They’re supposed to be the most technical hardcore band alive, and yet they insist on experimenting with electronic sounds and pop structures. Even after switching around band members (again) and writing much of the record with a drum machine (later performed by an actual drummer, thank god), the end result is something of a miracle: it all works, and it’s all amazing. All of it. I suppose my only complaint is that some of the experimental stuff is so good that it tends to overshadow the meat-and-potatoes hardcore stuff. Otherwise, this is everything I look for in my music: fresh, interesting sounds, the wow-factor of good performances, the promise of more to come. Hopefully the lack of DEP fans who accept their changes won’t affect their brilliant style.
7. Alcest – Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde
Even though Ulver’s latest almost topped it, it’s Alcest that made the most achingly beautiful record I heard in 2007. Really now, if you had told me that black metal sensibilities could produce something this beautiful, I wouldn’t have believed you. Somehow, though, Alcest redirect screeching guitars and blast beats away from that wall of noise I hear on other highly acclaimed black metal albums and create something more dreamlike and peaceful. I fell asleep at night to the sounds of this album more than any other this year. If you’re not a metal fan, and for some reason you’re reading my list anyway, here’s the first album on my list you might actually connect with. The second one would be the number 8:
8. Porcupine Tree – Fear of a Blank Planet
My listening habits are focused on music, not on lyrics. Still, I was skeptical about this release by one of my favorite bands because the song content is so focused on alienated adolescence, a topic that old fogey progressive rock champs like Porcupine Tree should probably stay away from if they don’t want to sound fake. The music here cannot be denied, however, and after several months of growing, my first Porcupine Tree live experience (one of my favorite 2007 moments), and an incredible EP reinforcing the album material called Nil Recurring, Porcupine Tree have left no doubt in my mind that their latest effort belongs on my list. No matter what you listen to, if you haven’t heard these guys yet, you’re missing out on something huge.
9. Pig Destroyer – Phantom Limb
It’s a testament to how good this album is that I can put a band named “Pig Destroyer” on my fancy-pants list without feeling embarrassed. Even though this is the “#1 album of the year” according to Decibel Magazine, I picked it up almost regretfully. I just started liking grindcore this year, beginning with See You Next Tuesday’s early 2007 release, which I found myself spinning quite a bit after hearing their live show. When I heard Pig Destroyer, though, it was a real smack in the face. I’ve never heard anything quite this brutal, and they don’t even have a bassist. For someone who thought he would never geek out over sheer aggression again, it was nice to get so fucking excited again over nothing but kick-ass riffs and metallic insanity. I’m addicted.
10. HORSE the band – A Natural Death
I’ve heard that Horse is a like ‘em or loathe ‘em type deal, but I just don’t see how anyone can hate these guys. Perhaps they take them to be immature jokesters playing off the cheeky Jackass/YouTube culture of ironic, over-the-top comedy (god, my cultural commentary sucks). I guess they fit that mold. Truth be told, however, they write some damn entertaining metal, and I’m talking about the MUSIC here: it’s catchy, it’s technical, it’s diverse, and most of all, it all fits together perfectly, just like Baroness and Mastodon. Unfortunately, this disc is not as tight as their last one, especially with overly sarcastic nonsense like “Sex Raptor” forcing you to hit the skip button. A disc with songs as good as “Hyperborea,” “Murder,” and “Red Tornado” easily earns it a spot on my list anyway. Why isn’t all metal this fun?
Ulver – Shadows of the Sun
Let me put it this way: There are moments on Ulver’s new disc that should instantly make it my number one album of the year. However, the album as a whole gets a little aimless, and it’s often without any real substance.
Neurosis – Given to the Rising
I’ve tried so hard to get into this band. They’re supposed to be classic, and they’ve influenced a ton of bands I like. Nothing moved me quite like their brand new one, though. It’s massive.
PsyOpus – Our Puzzling Encounters Considered
More virtuosic than Car Bomb, but not quite as well written, either. Still, it’s a much better listen than their first. PsyOpus have the ability to write a classic with the kind of talent they wield, and on this one you get a strong sense of how close they came.
Others Considered (Somewhat organized by interest):
Yakuza - Transmutations
Riverside – Rapid Eye Movement
Machine Head - The Blackening
Akercocke – Antichrist
See You Next Tuesday - Parasite
Between the Buried and Me - Colors
Oceansize – Frames
Witchcraft – The Alchemist
Sieges Even - Paramount
The White Stripes – Icky Thump
Deathspell Omega – Fas – Ite, Maledicti, In Ignem Aeternum
Architect – All Is Not Lost
Hella – There’s No 666 In Outer Space
Pain of Salvation - Scarsick
Melt-Banana – Bambi’s Dilemma
Queens of the Stone Age – Era Vulgaris
The Number Twelve Looks Like You - Mongrel
Korpiklaani - Tervaskanto
Rosetta – Wake/Lift
Irepress – Samus Octology
Deftones – Saturday Night Wrist
Dream Theater – Systematic Chaos
Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero
Devin Townsend – Ziltoid the Omnicient
Behold…the Arctopus – Skullgrid
Jesu - Conqueror
Moonsorrow – V: Havitetty
Electric Wizard – Witchcult Today
High on Fire – Death Is This Communion
Dodheimsgard – Supervillain Outcast
Radiohead – In Rainbows
Alchemist – Tripsis
Watain – Sworn to a Great Divide
Pelican – City of Echoes
A Life Once Lost – Iron Gag
Explosions in the Sky – All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone
Soilwork – Sworn to a Great Divide
The Field – From Here We Go Sublime