2008 has been quite a year for metal. With numerous monumental releases from January through December, this year has probably been the tightest race I can remember. There are a few albums that are worthy of being in the Top 10 in any other year, that didn't make it this year. That speaks volumes to me about the overall strength of this year. We saw a few bands release material that hadn't in a long time, not to mention the numerous tours of reunited bands. We saw a ton of genre-bending in 2008 and I believe that 2009 will bring much more. 2009 is lining up to be quite a year as well, but before we ring in a new year for metal, let's reflect on the successes (and disappointments) of last year. So I present to you my lists and Top 25 of 2008:
Krallice - Krallice
Black Metal from New York, eh, well Krallice shows that even though New York is not anywhere close to Norway, these four musicians could become the new face of USBM in the years to come.
Swallow the Sun - Plague of Butterflies
Swallow the Sun originally signed on to record 'Plague of Butterflies' as the score to a musical, when the musical shut down they released the track as an EP and even though it clocks in at just over 34 minutes, the transitions keep the listener interested the whole time. Solid Swallow the Sun, not to mention the four re-recordings were a nice touch.
Best live album:
Behemoth - At the Arena of Aion-Live Apostasy
By far one of the best representations of a band live that I remember hearing in quite some time. I didn't think that a band this brutal could be captured so well, it sounds like they are right in front of you. Excellent album, excellent band, and definitely try to check them out live.
In Flames - Sense of Purpose
Despite a few good songs on the record (namely "March to the Shore"), it seems that In Flames (or at least Anders Friden) is sadly diving headfirst into core.
Children of Bodom - Blooddrunk
This excessively keyboard heavy album marked a noticeable decline for one of my favorite bands, especially following an album that I thoroughly enjoyed in 'Are You Dead Yet?'
Six Feet Under - Death Rituals
Maybe 2 good songs on this record and that's so disappointing for one of my favorite brutal death metal bands.
My Dying Bride - An Ode to Woe
This might be the poorest sounding live album I've heard since In Flames' 'The Tokyo Showdown', and I'm sure not a good portrayal of this awesome band live.
Darkthrone - Dark Thrones and Black Flags
This album is just bad, and I'm sure Fenriz could care less about my opinion and I realize black metal is rooted in punk, but this is way too excessive and poorly produced.
Bleeding Through - Declaration
One of the best metalcore albums I've heard in a long time, but this album still isn't worthy of my Top 25 due to the fact that although this album is better than 'The Truth', I still don't think it's better than 'This is Love, This is Murderous'.
Norther - N
A few really strong tracks on this album, but I was looking to fill the void left for Finnish melodic death after Children of Bodom released such a poor effort and I found a better one in Kalmah.
Kataklysm - Prevail
This band did not fall to Honorable Mention because of a poor album, not by a long shot, they always make good albums, the problem is 'Prevail' is just good and doesn't hold a candle to its predecessor.
Hail of Bullets - ...Of Frost and War
These Dutch death metallers put out a nice debut effort with '...Of Frost and War', probably the second best debut of the year; I really enjoyed the World War II concept as well.
Unearth - The March
Still my go-to band for metalcore, but this album suffered the same consequences of Bleeding Through's 'Declaration', better album than 'III: In the Eyes of Fire' but can't touch 'The Oncoming Storm'.
The Sword - Gods on the Earth
Many people love this album; personally I thought it paled in comparison to 'Age of Winters', but its still a good overall album especially for stoner/doom metal.
Hate Eternal - Fury and Flames
Erik Rutan's outfit came up with a solid death metal album with 'Fury and Flames', but the more I listened to it the more I anticipated Cannibal Corpse's next record.
Cynic - Traced in Air
Good return for these progressive tech death Floridians. I really enjoyed the uniqueness of their sound and the layered sing and growl vocals on the record.
Origin - Antithesis
Another solid performance from Origin, however there were better death metal albums start to finish this year.
Becoming the Archetype - Dichotomy
Consistent record from Becoming the Archetype, actually some other sites have praised this album a lot as well, but I still feel that their debut 'Terminate Damnation' is the strongest release this U.S. melodic death band has to offer so far.
Abigail Williams - In the Shadow of a Thousand Suns
This album was a great coming out party for a band on the rise. 'In the Shadow of a Thousand Suns' is the closest the U.S. has come to symphonic black metal in the vein of Dimmu Borgir.
And without further ado, my Top 25:
25. Kalmah - For the Revolution
Children of Bodom take note, this is how you properly play Finnish melodic death metal. Kalmah released 'For the Revolution' back in April and with this release have really come into their own. Production wise their sound is on par with 'The Black Waltz' but I feel these are much better songs all around. Children of Bodom and Norther fans should be salivating to hear this one.
Track to check out: For the Revolution
24. Krallice - Krallice
Krallice pretty much fell into my lap while trying to hear some new USBM. Not to mention this band grabbed my debut of the year award away from Abigail Williams and Hail of Bullets, but Krallice shows most of the other USBM bands how to make properly produced black metal and do it very well. However, this is not for fans of Leviathan or Xasthur for sure.
Track to check out: Wretched Wisdom
23. Keep of Kalessin - Kolossus
This epic piece by Keep of Kalessin songwriting wise is probably one of the strongest of the year. Considering the band took the concept they created on 'Armada' and furthered the symphonic use quite a bit, they did a really good job of stringing all the songs together to take the listener on a symphonic black metal journey. Although the musicianship is amazing, unfortunately there were better albums this year which is why it sits here at 22. Nonetheless, this album is definitely worthy of a listen.
Track to check out: New Empire's Birth
22. Arsis - We Are the Nightmare
Arsis' brand of technical death metal is astounding to say the least. The complexity to the music and overall musicianship is jaw-dropping, especially live. Although 'We Are the Nightmare' is a consistent album, I still feel that their debut will be the best album the band could ever write. Not saying that this album is a step down by any stretch of the imagination because this album is very, very good, it's just not the best. I hope the recent lineup changes don't affect Arsis too much, because this is one of the most consistent bands for technical death metal in the world.
Track to check out: We Are the Nightmare
21. Cult of Luna - Eternal Kingdom
One day, I was looking for a band that had the same sound as bands like Isis, Pelican, and Burst and that's how I stumbled upon Cult of Luna. If you are familiar with those bands, you should have no problem understanding the post-metal atmospheric sludge sound of 'Eternal Kingdom'. This album is an excellent follow-up to 2006's 'Somewhere Along the Highway' and has been a mainstay on my mp3 player for some time. Definitely recommended for any fans of the listed bands above or any fan of atmospheric metal.
Track to check out: Owlwood
20. Daylight Dies - Lost to the Living
Finally Daylight Dies graced us with their follow-up to one of the best albums of 2006, 'Dismantling Devotion' entitled 'Lost to the Living'. Although, I still feel that 'Dismantling Devotion' is a stronger album top to bottom, 'Lost to the Living' has some excellent tracks and has cemented Daylight Dies as the frontrunner in doom metal in the United States and launches them into the conversation as currently one of the best doom metal bands in the world. If you are into melodic doom, I suggest that you check Daylight Dies out as soon as possible.
Track to check out: Descending
19. Grave - Dominion VIII
As with every Grave album, you know exactly what you are going to get: excellently played death metal. Thankfully, Grave doesn't deviate much from the course with their recent offering entitled 'Dominion VIII'. This might be the best album they've released in some time and in effect made Dismember's self-titled album (which you won't see anywhere on this list) 100% expendable. That's how good this album is. If straight ahead death metal is your thing, this album as to be in your collection.
Track to check out: Dark Signs
18. Metallica - Death Magnetic
Yep, that's right boys and girls, 'Death Magnetic' made the list. This is the point where I'm supposed to completely take back all that I've said about Metallica in the past and praise them for finally putting out an album that had balls right? Well, the truth is this album finally had the balls I've been waiting 20 years for Metallica to grow back, but their past sins are neither forgiven nor forgotten. Unlike many people, I liked the production and Rick Rubin did such a better job than Bob Rock ever could have. Yeah, you can hear a few guitar parts here and there that could've been cleaned up but think about the alternative 'St. Anger II', yeah, I think you would take this too. Good album but know this, this is not the new 'Master of Puppets' and if anyone tells you that punch them in the face immediately.
Track to check out: Cyanide
17. The Haunted - Versus
Not that 'Dead Eye' was particularly a bad album; it just wasn't The Haunted, especially after the masterpiece that was 'rEVOLVEr'. So was 'Dead Eye' the experimental album that ended up providing nothing more than a question mark to die-hard The Haunted fans? If 'Versus' is any indication, yes, and The Haunted gave us that necessary redemption album to get us back on their bandwagon. 'Versus' is a lot like 'rEVOLVEr', although there is one misstep which is the track "Skuld" which sounds like a filler from the 'Dead Eye' album and seems out of place which essentially prevented 'Versus' from being a top 15 album. But fear not fans of The Haunted; it appears as though your favorite thrashy melodic death band is back.
Track to check out: Moronic Colossus
16. Enslaved - Vertebrae
After 'Isa' and 'Ruun', Enslaved became one of my favorite bands. Enslaved are not your typical black metal band from Norway, and 'Vertebrae' shows that more than any other album in their excellent collection. 'Vertebrae' is an entirely different kind of animal, and took me quite a while to get into honestly. There is more atmosphere and psychedelic elements on this album than any other album Enslaved has ever released. They tied Nachtmystium for the most blatant Pink Floyd rip-offs of the year, but honestly Enslaved pulled it off quite well. Not their best effort ever, but still 'Vertebrae' is a solid album from start to finish.
Track to check out: Ground
15. Belphegor - Bondage Goat Zombie
Being that I've been a big fan of Belphegor since the release of 'Lucifer Incestus' in 2003, it should come as no surprise that 'Bondage Goat Zombie' ranks at 15. A demonic, sadistic, evil power saturates this entire album. Belphegor have always had pretty much the same sound but this album rivals 'Goatreich - Fleshcult' as their best offering. Black metal? Death metal? A little of both? Who knows, but if you like blast beats, chaotic guitars, and evil growls you should definitely enjoy 'Bondage Goat Zombie'.
Tracks to check out: Stigma Diabolicum, Bondage Goat Zombie
14. Lord Belial - The Black Curse
Swedish quartet Lord Belial have been up and down for me over the years however I think with 'The Black Curse', they've hopefully finally locked me in for good. Their version of black metal includes symphonic, doom, and death metal elements which make Lord Belial fresh each time they release a new album. In the past I have openly doubted their ability to write the complete song, but with the release of 'The Black Curse' they have definitely figured out that their epic form of black metal deserves to be given the proper time allotment (usually 5:00+ per song) in order to fulfill their full intentions. Thankfully, this album does that, and in effect, solidifies the band's validity in the modern black metal world.
Tracks to check out: Trumpets of Doom, Sworn
13. Meshuggah - ObZen
Well, Meshuggah fans, we got our wish. Finally, a Meshuggah album that can hold a candle to 'Chaosphere', 'Destroy Erase Improve', and 'Nothing'. All it took was a little faith that these guys would finally get it together and they sure as hell did with 'ObZen'. This album has all the quintessential parts that make Meshuggah what they are: crazy guitars, a man vs. machine atmosphere, a thunderous and frantic rhythm section, and Jens' insane screams. 'ObZen' definitely puts Meshuggah back on the map.
Tracks to check out: Bleed, Combustion
12. Testament - Formation of Damnation
I've honestly never really been a thrash guy, so for a thrash band to come anywhere close to cracking my Top 10 is almost questionable even to me. But if any band deserves it, it's Testament. And if any album deserves it, it's definitely 'Formation of Damnation'. That being said, of all the thrash bands that I've listened to, Testament sticks out and always has. I really enjoy Chuck Billy's vocals and Skolnick's leads and solos, but I have to say that Bostaph coming back paid dividends for this band. 'Formation of Damnation' puts Testament back to the forefront of thrash where they belong. Definite pickup for any fan of thrash.
Tracks to check out: More than Meets the Eye, Henchman Ride
11. Gorgoroth - True Norwegian Black Metal : Live at Grieghallen
Gorgoroth is such a divisive band. You either love them or you hate them. But regardless, you must at least respect that they are probably the quintessential black metal band in the world right now. With Infernus leaving Gorgoroth in the middle of recording 'True Norwegian Black Metal : Live at Grieghallen', there are many questions that remain unanswered in regards to this record. You might have never heard this album considering the Norwegian patent office forced Regain to pull it off the shelves after only a few weeks after its release. Nonetheless, this is basically a re-record of the best songs Gorgoroth have had to offer since its inception. The production is amazing and I will say that Gaahl does an excellent job on the vocals of the older songs. The only problem is I can't make this a Top 10 record even though this is probably one of the best collections of songs released this year because these songs weren't released in 2008. Therefore, here it sits right outside of the Top 10. However, if you are a fan of this band, FIND THIS ALBUM.
Tracks to check out: Bergtrollets Hevn, Unchain my Heart!!!
10. Amon Amarth - Twilight of the Thunder God
I'm sure it's not surprising that Amon Amarth album opens my Top 10 but this album is definitely worth it. I've been a fan of this band for a very long time and they continue to pummel listeners with brutal yet melodic Viking death metal. 'Twilight of the Thunder God' is just the latest installment and it's definitely one of their best. Due to the complete domination of 'With Oden on Our Side', I was skeptical that Johan Hegg and the boys could create something close to equal to their previous effort but with this entire album is proof that Amon Amarth isn't losing any steam whatsoever. Definite pickup for any fan of death metal.
Tracks to check out: Guardians of Asgaard, Twilight of the Thunder God
9. Cradle of Filth - Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder
Well, I guess Cradle of Filth hasn't forgotten their roots after all. With the past few albums seemingly catering to the masses with catchier, yet not blatantly mainstream, music, Cradle of Filth have channeled 'Midian' and 'Cruelty and the Beast' to bring the listener 'Godspeed on a Devil's Thunder'. This concept album is based on the life of Gilles de Rais, to learn more about the life of this man take a look at my review for the album. Regardless, the concept of the album is just about as dark as you can get and the music follows suit, with some of the darkest tracks Cradle has made in quite some time. As polarizing as this band is, 'Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder' is definitely worth a listen for any fan of symphonic / gothic metal.
Tracks to check out: Honey and Sulphur, The 13th Caesar
8. Nachtmystium - Assassins: The Black Meddle Part I
'Assassins...' ranking this high on my list is a surprise even to me. Although USBM has come a long way recently with bands like Wolves in the Throne Room, Xasthur, and Leviathan, still I didn't think Nachtmystium would be the band that cracks my Top 10 but this album is worth it. Even though Nachtmystium hasn't taken the path of the bands listed above, their version of psychedelic black metal was one that I ate up. Nachtmystium has grown by leaps and bounds from 'Instinct Decay' as far as production and songwriting goes and that is shown on 'Assassins..." even with the heavy Pink Floyd influence coming through around every corner. I actually think that (along with Enslaved 'Vertebrae') that that influence was some of the reason why I liked this album as much as I did. If you are into black metal and are open to psychedelic influences, this might just be the band for you.
Tracks to check out: Ghosts of Grace, Assassins
7. Opeth - Watershed
Another major surprise on my list is Opeth's 'Watershed'. I have made it pretty well known my dislike for a majority of Opeth's recent albums and I figured 'Watershed' was just going to be the next in line for my bashing, but with an open mind I picked up this album and was completely floored. It honestly sounds like they figured out how to make every transition in their music work which was my biggest issue with the band. Perhaps that has something to do with Peter Lindgren leaving the band (?) but nonetheless, Opeth have created a masterpiece and should be praised for getting it right on this album after a few missteps recently.
Tracks to check out: Heir Apparent, Porcelain Heart
6. Gojira - The Way of All Flesh
I had a feeling that these guys were going to put out something that would completely floor me and sure enough Gojira did not disappoint by giving us an excellent album in 'The Way of All Flesh'. I definitely enjoyed 'From Mars to Sirius' and after seeing them live with Children of Bodom and Amon Amarth a few years ago, I thought these guys would give us something special and I was extremely happy with this album. These four French groovy death metal musicians have succeeded in separating themselves from most of the genre with excellent musicianship, refreshingly unique songwriting, and an atmosphere that cannot be denied. Great album from a band that I'm sure we are going to hear much more from in the future.
Tracks to check out: Vacuity, A Sight to Behold, Oroborus
5. Eluveitie - Slania
Before Paganfest in April of 2008, I had no idea who Eluveitie even was. I was never that big on pagan metal but these guys completely blew me away with their performance and thankfully they had just released 'Slania' for me to check out as well and wow, I was stunned. Not only are all the instruments that make up this band well accounted for production wise but the musicianship of each was astounding. I love the instrumental songs on the album and feel they provide for a nice change of pace from the folky melodic death metal spit forth by Eluveitie. 'Slania' appears to be just a stepping stone as well, considering Eluveitie are planning on releasing their next album soon in 2009. Don't miss this one though; check out 'Slania' immediately, you will not regret it.
Tracks to check out: Inis Mona, Bloodstained Ground, Anagantios
4. Alghanzanth - Wreath of Thevelat
While checking up on Swallow the Sun's latest dealings and trying to figure out what else these guys were up to, I stumbled upon Mikko's other band, Finnish black metal outfit, Alghazanth. Although I had never heard of them before, I picked them up immediately and found that this is probably the black metal album released this year (other than my #1 which I'm sure will have detractors). Everything on this album is perfect as far as black metal standards go and the best part about this album is that the production is the best I've heard from a black metal band in a long time. The songwriting is amazing as well and the transitions are flawless. In another year this could've been #1, black metal fans definitely check out 'Wreath of Thevelat'.
Tracks to check out: Moving Mountains, The Phosphorescent, On Blackening Soil
3. Burst - Lazarus Bird
After 'Origo' was released back in 2006, Burst's next record was personally one of my most anticipated albums of this year. 'Lazarus Bird' is a different animal than 'Origo' but I believe it is an improved offering top to bottom which is tough to say because of how much I enjoyed 'Origo'. 'Lazarus Bird' shows all that Burst had to offer on 'Origo' but multiplied by 10. The diversity of the music, the atmosphere that varies with each track but fits a grander purpose when listening to the entire album, the top-notch musicianship, the transitions that take the listener on a ride of pure complexity, and not to mention the amazing songwriting that this band has to offer pushed 'Lazarus Bird' to #3 for good reason. This band is simply amazing. Recommended to any fan of metal.
Tracks to check out: I exterminate the I, Nineteenhundred, Cripple God
2. Bloodbath - The Fathomless Mastery
Akerfeldt's return to Bloodbath was actually a bit somber to me personally seeing as how much I've always enjoyed Tagtgren's music regardless of whether it was with Hypocrisy, Bloodbath, Pain, etc. But nonetheless, it actually turned out to be the right move considering this was a head and shoulders better release than 'Nightmares Made Flesh'. 'The Fathomless Mastery' simply shows every death metal band the right way to do it. No bullshit here, Bloodbath come straight to your throat from the start and don't ever deviate. I guess it helps having some of the best musicians in metal in your band as well but still, Bloodbath shows exactly what a death metal album should be and how it is done perfectly. Great songwriting + great musicianship = excellent album. Bloodbath is raping and pillaging its way to the top of the death metal throne, I suggest you take notice.
Tracks to check out: At the Behest of the Death, Treasonous
And finally: 1. Satyricon - The Age of Nero
2008 marked the year that I became a full-fledged fan of Satyricon. 'The Age of Nero' solidified Satyricon as my new favorite band to be honest with you. These guys are flat out amazing. And much like Darkthrone whose music has changed over the years, they don't care what you think about their music, they are in it for the expression and to create excellent music regardless of what genre people want to classify them as. Are they black metal anymore? Yes and no. There are definitely elements of this album that only a black metal band would have, but at the same time, these are just great songs. There is melody from start to finish, everything fits, and everything makes sense. There is nothing drastic here though, which honestly is one of 'The Age of Nero's best attributes. This album is almost a compilation of Satyricon from 'Dark Medieval Times' through 'Now, Diabolical'. If you liked anything from Satyricon in the past there is a least a song or two that you will enjoy on this album. And if the listener loosens their grip on the classification of this band, they will enjoy what was simply a great all-around album and more than worthy of my #1 ranking for 2008.
Tracks to check out: Black Crow on a Tombstone, Commando, Die by My Hand, Sign of the Trident, My Skin is Cold
Yet another year comes to a close, and I will say this, 2009 has a lot of work to do to compare to 2008. However, I am definitely looking forward to releases from Cannibal Corpse, Lamb of God, Shining, Immortal, Eluveitie, Blut Aus Nord, Dark Funeral, Susperia, Disarmonia Mundi, Absu, Black Messiah, My Dying Bride, Wolves in the Throne Room, Amorphis, Insomnium, Lacuna Coil, Neaera, Isis, Emperor (live), 1349, Old Man's Child, Graveworm, Pantheon I, Vader, Behemoth, Belphegor, Paradise Lost, Borknager, Hypocrisy, Crowbar, Carpathian Forest, Novembers Doom, Gorgoroth, Obituary. Yeah, a lot of promise; hope it delivers. Til next time, stay brutal,