Without further ado here is the second part of my top 10 albums of 2010. If you need to refresh your mind about entries 10-6 then check the first instalment.
5. Black Breath – Heavy Breathing
The opening million miles an hour riff and unholy bellow set the tone for Black Breath’s breathtaking debut.
Heavy Breathing is a relentless assault on the senses that draws on Celtic Frost, Entombed and Slayer as well as the most scabrous hardcore. Yet it’s when they take their foot off the pedal to let the distorted riffs breathe that this really comes to life and starts to groove.
There’s something quite feral and evil about these feedback-spiked grime-caked riff monsters (thanks again Kurt Ballou for achieving such a downright nasty guitar tone) built on a foundation of alternating blast beats and d-beat drumming.
Heavy Breathing is something of a stylistic shift from their face-melting debut EP Razor to Oblivion. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on your musical tastes. The band has certainly become more adept at writing songs and memorable riffs, such as the earworm on Wewhocannotbenamed.
Instead of simple white hot blasts of blink and you’ll miss it hardcore-thrash crossover, Black Breath embrace dynamics and the sort of swing that made Wolverine Blues a classic.
4. Black Mountain – Wilderness Heart
The latest opus from Stephen McBean’s psychedelic rock outfit is probably neither heavy enough musically or emotionally to really fit on Monkey Defies Gravity. Bollocks to that though as it really got under my skin.
Ditto to the general critical consensus that Wilderness Heart is inferior to 2008’s In The Future. I could never get into that record despite its alleged Sabbath influence.
Vocals on the bad-trippy and organ-laced Old Fangs strangely reminded me of Brian Molko but fitted the song perfectly. The vocals are generally fantastic, especially so when Amber Webber’s vocals are high in the mix such as the wonderfully delicate acoustic guitar-driven Radiant Hearts.
There’s a real love for 70s heavy rock bubbling through this record with the vocal melodies acting as a counterpoint to the head-nodding grooves and occasionally thunderous stoner riffs.
3. Inter Arma – Sundown
2010 has been a great year for debut albums, especially those that create new hybrid strains of heavy music. Here is another from Virginia quartet Inter Arma.
Starting out as seemingly fairly standard US black metal, a sick little groove kicks in about halfway through the first song and things become increasingly interesting from then on. Amid the blackened elements, there’s a sludgy sort of swing, some almost NWOBHM riffage and a touch of the psych rock guitar jam.
The long songs allow them to flex their chops and sinuously shift between as well as fuse a range of heavy styles while remaining coherent. The throat-shredding vocals make the music seem more extreme than it really is and songs like 2000 Years are actually quite catchy (plus that galloping finale!)
There are clear similarities to First and Second-era Baroness with a nod to that band’s later work in Sundown’s couple of lovely acoustic interludes. Definitely one to watch.
2. Kylesa – Spiral Shadow
Between Kylesa, Baroness, Mastodon and Black Tusk, it seems Savannah, Georgia really has all the best metal tunes of recent years.
Kylesa’s Static Tensions came completely out of leftfield to be one of my two top albums of 2009. Spiral Shadow had a lot to live up to match the propulsive psychedelic sludge perfection of that record.
Indeed on the first couple of play-throughs, all I could focus on was the relative lack of heaviness compared to Static Tensions. The screaming was less abrasive, the double drumming not as tribal, the riffs not as pummelling, the Sabbath worship not as front and centre (try checking Running Red then spin Iron Man).
So why is this my #2 record for 2010? The more you listen to it the more you appreciate the psychedelic elements: the spacey dub effects, the phased guitars, the woozy, laconic riffs and echoey melodies.
The vocals have never complemented each other better either. Laura Pleasants sings rather than scream while Philip Cope is the most intelligible he has ever been.
The song structures contain masterful shifts. Drop Out builds up a full head of steam before a trippy multi-sectioned breakdown. The subsequent build to the screamed climax is absolutely infectious with its filthy guitar tones and galloping drums, raising the hairs on your neck before the final section kicks and switches the mood again.
Much has been made of the 90s alternative influence, perhaps strongest on their most accessible track yet Don’t Look Back, but don’t let it put you off. Kylesa are still heavy they have just become even more experimental and thoughtful.
1. Kvelertak – S/T
Its exuberant and joyous collision of hardcore punk, black metal and turbo-charged hard rock is like an adrenaline shot to the heart. Kvelertak have been an absolute revelation.
One moment the furious blastbeats and howling tremolo-picked guitar lines you might expect from a Norwegian metal band, the next pick sliding and sleazy stadium-sized hard rock melodic hooks, rounded off with perfectly placed gang vocals. It’s an irresistible tsunami of sound.
The band took a risk by singing in Norwegian rather than English but it works in their favour. The eye-popping, vein-bursting blackened screaming becomes just another instrument and it’s just so much fun bellowing along with your own half-baked interpretations.
There’s not a weak song on the album and it’s testament to how well Kvelertak combine their influences that there’s not another band quite like them. “Black and roll” might not be a new concept – Darkthrone have been fusing black metal and crust punk for a while – but it has never sounded this good or this much fun.
Kvelertak have got Kurt Ballou to thank for that. The Converge axeman and engineer extraordinaire gives the band an immense sound that literally bursts out of the speakers. Everything sounds huge but full of textural detail.
I can’t wait for the follow-up.
Special mentions also go to: Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit and High on Fire – Snakes for the Divine as I haven’t been able to give these undeniably good albums the attention they deserve. Yet.