The Year of our Dark Lord Two Thousand and Six was a notably metallic year in terms of quality as well as quantity (probably a bit more quantity, though). Honestly, I haven't heard or cared to hear a great deal of what came out this year, and a lot of what I did hear just sounded like the same old same old. Note to musicians: Being totally awesome at your instrument is not enough anymore - you need to do something different than the next guy. Something, anything, just take some risks and come up with some fresh material, please! No more metal by numbers! As a cynical metalhead, I require increasingly more bizarre music to keep me entertained, as evidenced by my #1 choice.
10. Iron Maiden - A Matter of Life or Death: Possibly the first Maiden album that I would hesitate to slap the old traditional heavy metal sticker on. A definite improvement over "Brave" and "Dance" in songwriting, production, and overall riffery. It actually sounds like they're trying, which is more than I can say for most bands of their, uh, seniority. Play the "Life or Death" drinking game: Listen to this album and take a shot whenever Bruce says "hell"! Why? Because... It's A Matter of Life or Death!
9. Dissection - Reinkaos: Yeah, okay, the songs "Starless Aeon" and "Dark Mother Divine" are pretty weak, but now that all the hype has passed, I've grown to like the rest of the tracks. The only thing "black" about this album is the lyrics - the music sounds like second-wave melodic death, which I have no problem with. As for the lyrics, well... compare these to the lyrics of the latest Slayer album. At least Dissection makes satanism interesting.
8. Leaves' Eyes - Legend Land: This would probably be higher up the list if it wasn't just a short EP, but still, this is premium metal with some of the best female vocals around. Buy this album, it may even help you get your girlfriend into metal!
7. Strapping Young Lad - The New Black: An improvement over "Alien", with more concise riffs and lead guitar work than ever. This album is both playful and heavy, like an innocent child wearing some sort of cyborg body armor.
6. Katatonia - The Great Cold Distance: Katatonia are becoming more and more like themselves, which is one of the greatest compliments I can give to a band. Their most accessible album, yet perhaps their most self-actualized as well. Forget that emo shit, this is True Emotional Heaviness!
5. My Dying Bride - A Line of Deathless Kings: Picture this: You're having sex with a vampiric woman in the rain at night while simultaneously trying to fend off small demonic gargoyle-like creatures that are trying to bite off your naughty parts and eat your feverish lover. Having trouble picturing that? You wouldn't be, if you were listening to My Dying Bride.
4. Ihsahn - The Adversary: Similar to Emperor's last album, but the sound isn't quite as engulfing without Trym's wall-O-drums. A solid comeback for Ihsahn with plenty of instrumental acrobatics and challenging harmonies, as well as more progressive dynamics than we ever heard from Emperor.
3. Eluveitie - Spirit: Free-standing Irish instrumentation somehow coexisting with Dark Tranquillity-like metal would be the simplest way of describing this incredible folk-fusion band. Unfortunately, I can't tell people in person how much this band rules because I have no idea how to pronounce their name.
2. Trollfest - Brakebein: Trollfest is a very trollish, festive band that actually gives Finntroll a run for their money in terms of beer-soaked folk metal atmosphere. After listening to "Brakebein", you'll swear that black metal and polka were meant for each other all along.
1. Unexpect - In a Flesh Aquarium: Combine classical music, circus music, male and female vocals, chaotic piano, industrial textures, and a guitar/drum approach similar to the exploding shrapnel of a hand grenade and you have Unexpect. A formula which could easily become merely weird for the sake of weird is instead crafted into something powerful and meaningful in the hands of these expert musicians.
0. That's it, we've reached zero. Now off you go, into the eerie glow of 2007, a year which will no doubt bring more weather and politics, but also the promise of a new Therion CD. That is my fateful prediction. This has been Another Internet Top 10 List. Thank you for playing Compare & Contrast.