Thursday, December 30, 2010

Top 20 of 2010: 16 - 20

Finishing up my Top 20 of 2010 (besides the honorable mentions of course) almost brings a tear to my eye. It's been a year full of ups and downs - both personal and within the musical soundscape. The year was rocked by the monumental deaths of Ronnie James Dio (Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Solo, Heaven & Hell) and Peter Steele (Carnivore, Type O Negative), and I'm sure others. But we move on, being stronger and more metal with each passing day.

16. sHEAVY - Disfigurine
One of my favorite bands, and another act to release two albums within one year, sHEAVY continues to do the seemingly impossible: consistently evolve their sound, and yet stay the same. Eight albums in, and I can still hear the basic influences of Black Sabbath and Kyuss that was present on the first record. Disfigurine keeps up the tradition of a sHEAVY album every two or three years, except that this time, it was predated by the sonically different The Golden Age of Daredevils, which was released in May of this year. You see The Golden Age of Daredevils was given birth through the group competing in the RPM Challenge, held every February, which holds that musicians of all genres complete a full album (10 songs or 30 minutes) within the month. There are lots of applicants, and one of the bands I like quite a bit, Snailface, is directly from this challenge. Anyway, so sHEAVY joined the challenge, recorded The Golden Age of Daredevils and decided to release it (why not, seeing as you've already recorded it). The album from the RPM Challenge was a bit different then previous LPs from the group so I was a tad worried about their future, but all my worries were cast aside after I heard Disfigurine. The group picked up a new guitarist, so the sound has evolved a bit, this album being more straight-forward stoner rock, then their very doomy predecessors, but it's still all good. It's just the beginning of a new chapter for the band. While Disfigurine is not their best release, how could I compile a list of the best albums of the year without including these amazing rockers?

17. The Soulbreaker Company - Itaca
There are three types of psychedelic stoner bands; those that use it as a throw-back to 70s rock (retro-rock), those that only add it as a touch to boost their stoner style a bit, and those that dive full in, being more psychedelic then stoner, and encompassing many sounds into their music. The Soulbreaker Company is of this third variety. The songs off of Itaca have you wading up to you eardrums in psychy-goodness. The songs incorporate many different sounds and styles (I swear there is a sax in there somewhere!) and change between them in an almost progressive rock style. Besides this interesting, churning promotion of sound, another stand out is the vocals, the sultry-blues oriented sounds coming from Jony Moreno's voice are simply superb. I would have bought this band as a solely instrumental act, but Moreno is icing on the cake. I had already listened to The Soulbreaker Company's other releases, months before I heard this one; I really enjoyed their first, Hot Smoke & Heavy Blues (can't find a link), but couldn't get a real grip on their second, The Pink Alchemist. All of my doubts have been torn asunder after listening to Itaca.

18. Stonebride - Summon The Waves
Stonebride gets the award for the best followup album of the year with Summon The Waves, a progressive, semi-psychedelic venture into the world of doom metal. I listened to their debut, Inner Seasons, some time ago and I really didn't like what I heard. It wasn't bad, it just sounded uninspired and flat. I regret to admit that I carried that same torch into my listening of Stonebride's second album, in that I had low expectations and really didn't care to listen to it at all - actually now that I think of it, I can't see why I would have even bothered with this album, there must have been a lot of good reviews out about it or something. For whatever reason that I decided to listen to it, I'm glad I did. Summon The Waves was a neat spin to the doom genre, wherein it was heavy and slow and soul-crushing, but it was also on the progressive side, and - at parts - a bit uplifting. The music was epic in scope, and although the vocals weren't 100% understandable, they were still clean enough not to be labeled as sludge, something I like to hear. This is another album that you just have to hear for yourself, no words I say will adequately spin the tale of Summon The Waves, and so I won't really try (except for the top bit, but ignore all that). This is by far the best Stonebride album (of the two), and is a really great pillar into the world of prog-doom, something that you don't heave enough of, in my humble opinion.

19. Titan - Sweet Dreams (See Review)
Aside from maybe Cloudkicker, Titan is the best (mostly) instrumental progressive metal act that I discovered this year.I say mostly instrumental because the group does have one song with vocals on Sweet Dreams, but it is their weakest track so I won't waste our time with more about it here. It is the instrumentation that I want to focus on, the pure rhythm and melodies that rocked this release. Honestly I don't know why they would spend all of this time and energy on being instrumental and then soil the work with one song with maybe a minute or two of actual vocals, it just seems like a waste. Anyway, the music; it is superb. Aside from their last song, "Maximum Soverdrive," which tends to drag a bit (I believe only because of the length), Sweet Dreams is cover to cover prog excess at it's best. Long songs, trippy melodies, shredding guitars, Titan does it all right. It's hard to describe instrumental pieces, which is why my review has dissoved into this collection of one-liners that sounds like it belongs in an infomercial, not on a site that tries to be (semi)serious in the world of music. Oh well, I am what I am and that's all that I am.

20. Wino - Adrift
One of the last albums of the year I heard, and I will be kicking myself for this folly for several months yet. More classic rock then doom, Wino's second release, Adrift, is something that you can put on, lean back and soak in. It is an easy listen, not to harsh sonically, and definitely worth while. I would suggest this one to any fan of rock or metal, as it spans both of these genres. It is almost all acoustic, the only electric segments are for a solo or for added emphasis. It sounds odd, a man of such heavy metal and doom esteem, to release an (mostly) acoustic album, but for some reason it works. Wino's rugged voice - whether it's that was naturally or it's from his years on the road, who knows - really blends nicely with the simplicity of the music on the album; I couldn't imagine a wailing or shouting singer having much success with these albums. Adrift would most likely be within my top 5 album releases of 2010... if of course I had ranked these in any fashion.

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