Happy 2011, folks. Time for a quick look back at what rocked my socks off in 2010, and a chance for you to spend some of that money you got for Christmas. My Top 10 are absolute must-haves.
1: Purified In Blood - Under Black Skies (Spinefarm)
This Nordic sextet make a mockery of the supposed "difficult second album" by spinning this utter goliath of a record at us. Describing its sheer power in words simply won't do it justice, so here's a simplified attempt. Matt Bayles, crepuscular, bellicose, hardcore, black metal, demented, swaggering, invasive, consummate.
2: Ihsahn – After (Candlelight)
The former Emperor vocalist is clearly a man inspired. Here, a change of pace and direction has breathed new life into his solo career. Where before he's always focussed on finding our weak spots with the use of force, 'After' soaks itself in a devilishly powerful black attack before soothing its way into sublime, inevitably Opeth-esque, meandering rhythms and moods. The genius introduction of jazz sax has lifted proceedings even further, transforming it from mere charred, progressive metal driftwood to a focal point of blindingly brilliant light.
3: Barn Burner - Bangers (Metal Blade)
These Canadian newbies have sparked up and created the burning weld between The Sword and Bison B.C. by adding copious amounts of beer and weed. Clearly making music for the love of it, Barn Burner dig out a conveyor belt of infectious riffs and run them over the wheels of rock n' roll - it's a headbanger's wet dream. Finally, has there ever been a finer track title than 'Beer Today, Bong Tomorrow'?
4: High On Fire - Snakes For The Divine (E1 Entertainment)
From an opening track straight out of left field to an assured powerhouse that invents new ways to deafen as it goes. As usual, the band ram it home by slowing the pace allowing them to stick their brutal hooks in deep. One round of 'Bastard Samurai' and you'll be left gasping.
5: No Hawaii - Snake My Charms (Sound Pollution)
Ranging from deeply progressive melodies to raging hardcore, No Hawaii's debut album presents the kind of dilemma that newcomers to bands like The Ocean and Isis represent. Plenty will dismiss them early on for being too lightweight or not heavy enough, but either move would be a terrible error of judgement. Simply by allowing the monstrous complexity of the whole album to fully invade your senses, you'll rapidly discover their wild inventions are utterly infectious.
6: Lower Than Atlantis - Far Q (Wolf At Your Door)
Having been inspired by 90s grunge bands, you'd expect LTA to batter you with screwball tactics, but what this album achieves above everything else is to powerfully invigorate, combining punk-fuelled aggression with breaks of sublime purity. The fact it's supplied with an assured conviction in their abilities is the ultimate cherry on top.
7: The Contortionist - Exoplanet (Good Fight Music)
Complex beyond belief, 'Exoplanet' manages to effortlessly blend jarring math-metal with spasmodic deathcore and hooky pop rock melodies and still achieve a vital sound that will force you to reassess just what can be achieved with so few musical notes.
8: Chickenhawk - Modern Bodies (Brew Records)
This is imaginative, hopelessly angry, scarily mathematical screamo in the vein of Ghost Of A Thousand or Dillinger Escape Plan that will inexorably draw you kicking and screaming into the pit. There's more going on here than first appears and it'll take a few listens to fully understand where the source is, but a careful listen to 'The Pin' and everything should become clear.
9: Humanfly - Darker Later (Brew Records)
This is sludge, doom, psych and stoner all piled on top of each other in a richly cloying and ultimately fulfilling gloop. Even, the unnecessarily lengthy and over-dramatic guest narrative from Rose Kemp on the 17-minute 'Heavy Black Snow' cannot change just how important this album will prove to be for the band.
10: Bison BC - Dark Ages (Metal Blade)
It's bruising monstrosities like 'Fear Cave' and 'Two-Day Booze' that mark this as the continuation of utter riff domination that littered this album's brutal forerunner, 'Quiet Earth'. This is High On Fire's awesome grunt with Saviours' blistering pace and punk nuts thrown in for good measure.
And the best of the rest;
11: Black Breath - Heavy Breathing (Southern Lord)
12: Iron Maiden - Final Frontier (EMI)
13: The Sword - Warp Riders (Kemado Records)
14: Return To Earth - Automata (Metal Blade)
15: Airbourne - No Guts, No Glory (Roadrunner)
16: Nightfall - Astron Black And The Thirty Tyrants (Metal Blade)
17: Norma Jean - Meridional (Razor & Tie)
18: 65daysofstatic - We Were Exploding Anyway (Hassle Records)
19: Rosaline - The Vitality Theory (Good Fight Music)
20: Hail Of Bullets - On Divine Winds (Metal Blade)
Feel free to leave your own opinions on what I've picked and what I've left out.
My list also online @ MTUK = http://www.metalteamuk.net/bestof2010.htm