Lesser Known Saint

Axel’s Top Ten Albums of 2010


Most of the guys in the band (and in our circle of friends) like to do a year-end list. Jim hit you with his list last week. I’m doing mine a bit differently. For me, ranking the albums is incredibly hard and essentially an exercise in futility, so I’m just presenting them alphabetically by artist. Also, I limited my list to 10 albums, so I could go into each one in a little more detail.

All the Way Rider – City of Champions

When your friends make music, it can make life really hard…if the music they make sucks. Should you tell them the truth, or spare their feelings? It’s an eternal battle with no good answer. Thankfully, I don’t have this problem when it comes to City of Champions. The boys in All the Way Rider dropped a killer, killer album. The riffing, the vocals, everything just exudes a killer rock vibe and a careful attention to detail.

I have to say, though: at the risk of giving our buddy Rocky an even bigger head, the drumming is definitely my favorite part of this album. Groovy yet inventive beats, and just enough flash to tell you he’s one of the best drummers around. As a guitarist, I naturally tend to lock on guitar parts first when listening to music; not so with City of Champions. I am locked into the drums from the very beginning, and I find myself coming back to them naturally as the album progresses.

This is a stellar release, and it’s one that makes me proud to be a small part of the scene along with All the Way Rider.

Listen to City of Champions in its entirety at All the Way Rider’s Bandcamp site here.

Anathema – We’re Here Because We’re Here

Anathema has been one of my favorite bands for almost a decade now, but they are a pleasure that few people I know share. It’s a real shame, because they are amazing. Further, We’re Here Because We’re Here could very well be their best release to date.

Anathema takes cues from bands like Pink Floyd and Radiohead, but they come up with a sound that is much more melancholy and dark than either of those bands. With this release they also throw a bit of post rock into the mix (which can probably partly explain why I like it so much). Their music is dynamic and constantly flowing, with big explosive climaxes capping off their softer, more introspective moments.

Check Anathema out here. There’s a few songs from WHBWH on there (though unfortunately not my favorite, the opener Thin Air).

Cloudkicker – Beacons

Cloudkicker keeps delivering killer release after killer release, and I honestly don’t know how he does it. Beacons is a technical and musical masterpiece, and it is truly inspirational how professional and well-made one man can make his music. And I specifically use the word inspirational, because as much as I love music and am influenced by a myriad of bands, I can honestly say that at the moment Cloudkicker/Ben Sharp is my biggest musical inspiration. Releases like Beacons are the reason that today, in 2011, I want to grab a guitar and write songs.

Anyway, that’s enough gushing. My favorite Cloudkicker release is Portmanteau, but it’s hard to argue that Beacons isn’t Cloudkicker’s best release. It’s a mature and cohesive album , with musical themes subtly weaving the whole album together.

Seriously, listen to Cloudkicker. You can get all his music for free here.

Comeback Kid – Symptoms + Cures

Comeback Kid is a really special band, and this album really kicked my ass when I first heard it. Their last two are some of my favorite albums, and I was very happy that this album did not disappoint.

I’m a metalhead at heart, so it takes a little something extra for me to really get into a hardcore/punk band like this. With Comeback Kid, that little something is simple, brutal honesty. You can tell that these guys really feel every note they put into this record. At the same time, though, their songs have structure and dynamics, really taking the listener through an experience.

It also doesn’t hurt that their songs are really damn fast and in-your-face. They make me want to windmill punch the shit out of people, and after all is said and done that’s the most important thing one can say about a band like this.

Check them out here.

The Dillinger Escape Plan – Option Paralysis

One of the best concerts of 2010 for me was catching DEP at The Rock. They were absolutely incredible, probably the best that I had ever seen them. Thankfully the ferocity of that performance is captured in Option Paralysis.

One of my favorite albums of all time is Miss Machine. While Option Paralysis doesn’t top it, I think that it’s a better album than Ire Works, which is a step in the right direction. Ire Works is a wonderful album in its own right, but it just doesn’t feel quite up to par as a Dillinger release. Option Paralysis takes some of what they did on Ire Works and cranks up the anger and ferocity up a few welcome notches.

Where Ire Works left me thinking, “oh, there’s some really great, catchy hooks, it’s cool that Dillinger is thinking outside the box,” Option Paralysis left me thinking “holy shit, what the hell was that?!” It’s the reaction I want to have when listening to them; the sensation that the metal world isn’t quite sitting on a steady foundation and all it would take to send the whole mess back to the drawing board is a band like DEP playing crazy shit on their instruments and lighting shit on fire on the stage.

Check out DEP here (as if you haven’t heard them before).

Fear Factory – Mechanize

Fear Factory’s entry on this list makes me incredibly happy. The teenage Axel that desperately wanted a seven-string guitar just to play machine gun riffs on that low string like Dino is deliriously happy to have a Fear Factory album that surpasses anything they did in the nineties.

Mechanize is unrelenting. With all due respect to the rest of the band, Dino’s riffing is the star here, and it has never been better. When you keep in mind that I’m calling Dino’s riffs the star in an album that also includes Gene Hoglan’s drumming, you can get an idea of how much I love these riffs. If I was playing thrash, this is the kind of thrash I would want to play. And funny enough, that’s pretty much how I felt when I was a kid.

Fear Factory has put some songs from Mechanize up here.

Intronaut – Valley of Smoke

Intronaut and I have a sordid history. Everyone in LKS basically thought I was an idiot because I never really gave the band the time of day with the first few releases. It’s not that I never listened to them, or that I thought they were bad, it’s just that I didn’t get what the big deal was.

It took seeing them live, opening for Mastodon, for the seeds of self-doubt to be planted. I started listening to Null, then Void, then Prehistoricisms, and it just clicked. They are masters of their game, way heavier and mature than many of their peers. Valley of Smoke continues to cement them as one of the best bands out there. The opening track actually made me laugh out loud with how disgustingly, crushingly heavy it was.

The best part though, is how deftly they balance their heaviness with thoughtful and tasteful bits of jazz-influenced sections. This album adds clean vocals as well, which I think add a wonderful new layer to their sound; they don’t sound tacked on at all like they do in some heavy bands.

The stupid heavy song I mentioned is Elegy, and they have it on their MySpace page here.

Ion Dissonance – Cursed

I don’t have much to say about this album except to tell a story. I am a computer engineer by trade, and I work in a cubicle, coding my life away. Thankfully I can listen to music while at work, and I put this album on one day that I was in the mood for some heavy shit.

I then spent the next 49 minutes in my chair, sweating with the effort it took to restrain myself from moshing my balls off right then and there. I don’t mean figuratively sweating, either. I was literally, honestly sweating.
In 2010, Ion Dissonance proved to me that the breakdown is not dead, and for that they get a spot in my top ten.

Break your neck by clicking here.

Soilwork – The Panic Broadcast

Now that In Flames has become a sad shadow of their former selves, the discerning die-hard Swedish melodic death metal fan must depend on Soilwork to deliver the goods. The Panic Broadcast does that in spades, delivering a killer album with what may be the best song they’ve ever written in the album opener, “Late for the Kill, Early for the Slaughter.”

While not every song is as good as that one, the album still shreds. The riffing is as good as it’s ever been, and the slower songs have catchy vocal lines to complement the instrumental work.

It’s just Soilwork, doing what they and thousands of others do, only they’re still doing it better than anyone.

Get your Swedish bone tickled here.

Wintersleep – New Inheritors

New Inheritors is not perfect. The album sees Wintersleep experimenting a little bit with their sound, and not all of the experiments are fully successful. Then there’s the weirdness with the singer, and how he sounds different on every single release (seriously, what’s up with that?).

That being said, it’s still a fantastic album that left me completely satisfied. Songs like “Experiencing the Jewel” have that wonderful sparse feel that I loved about Untitled. Then there’s songs like Mirror Matter, where out of nowhere one day I will find myself humming the outro. Wintersleep strikes this amazing balance with their take on rock, where they can be incredibly full and lush at one moment and yet sparse and nearly inaudible the next. New Inheritors strikes this balance, and while I admit it’s not as good as their last two albums, it’s still an amazingly imaginative album.

Check them out here.

And now for some let-downs

In addition to my favorite albums of the year, I decided this time around to run down some of my disappointments this year. Now, these are albums that I still consider to be ok. I haven’t eliminated them from my collection yet, which is more than I can say for a lot of albums that come out last year (the new Open Hand jumps to mind, what a mess). But these are albums that I feel are seriously lacking when considering previous releases by the bands that delivered them.

The Abominable Iron Sloth – The Id Will Overcome

Their self-titled album is a slab of dirty, stupid, heavy, sludgy riffs. One of my favorite riffs of all time (it’s my ringtone, actually) is the opening riff to “Hats Made of Veal and That New Car Scent.” It’s heavy in the same way that Sabbath was heavy. These dirty, stupid, heavy, sludgy riffs were delivered by a band that sounds like they just don’t give a fuck. It’s awesome.

Along the line, they lost something, something I can’t quite put my finger on. On the surface everything is the same: heaviness intact, sludgy vibe is there. But it’s just missing something. And whatever that something is, it’s enough to make this album on of the year’s biggest disappointments for me. It’s not bad, but it’s tepid, which is even worse for a band like this.

Minus the Bear – OMNI

I can’t even begin to describe what happened with this album. You know why? Because I barely remember listening to it. And that is a criminal sin for a band that delivered the poppy masterpiece that is Menos El Oso.

Nevermore – The Obsidian Conspiracy

This is the first time that I’ve ever laughed at Warrel Dane, and I didn’t enjoy the experience. I mean, how many times can this guy welcome me to terrible places? “Welcome to this violent station.” “Welcome to your grave.” “Welcome to the underground.” “Welcome to planet hate.” Thanks for the kind greeting(s), Warrel, but I hope you don’t mind if I don’t stay long.

But shit, this is Nevermore, right? Who cares about terrible lyrics? Well, unfortunately the rest of the music isn’t much better. It’s hard to believe this album came from Jeff Loomis, the same man who just prior to this mess delivered This Godless Endeavor (one of the few albums left that can still give me goosebumps with mere sweep picking).

It’s really unforgivable. Here’s hoping they can turn it around for the next one.

Periphery – Periphery

I’ve been waiting for this album for 4 years too, just like Rug and Jim. The difference is that I didn’t wait for it with baited breath, frantically refreshing the internet until the golden download was bestowed upon me.

This album is a disappointment because of all the squandered potential. All the individual members of this band are astonishingly good at their instruments. Bulb is undeniably a creative guitarist and songwriter. But all of this exciting possibility is crushed under the weight of unflinchingly perfect production. Every note on this album feels like it’s been engineered by committee to deliver maximum Awesome™, then sent to a focus group to assure that its achieving an acceptable level of Kickass™ per second.

The result is music played by robots, and there’s a reason I don’t listen to techno.

Torche – Songs for Singles

This one probably stings most of all. Torche. Performers of the heaviest goddamn set I have seen since Black Sabbath. The same guys that made it feel like The Varsity was hosting a thunderstorm instead of a rock show. And they drop this? This fluffy slice of clouds and good cheer? This happy, bouncy romp through a field of daffodils?

I don’t want to sound like I can’t listen to music that’s not dark and dreary. I can stand happy music. But for fuck’s sake, Torche, there’s a balance that needs to be struck here.

What’s most upsetting is that they struck that balance pretty much perfectly before this album. Their previous releases all had this jovial smirk behind the thunder. When I saw them live, they were all grinning from ear to ear. They’ve never been a dark band, but they’ve never been a sacharine band either. I just don’t know what happened with this one.

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