It was a good year of music for me, marked by some great new metal albums from some of my Scandinavian favorites, and also a return to some of the prog- and jam-rock sounds from my younger years. The order is hardest to softest, musically.
Lamb of God - Wrath
I’ll start with one of the heaviest records on my list and one that certainly got a pretty heavy rotation on my Zune and while at work. Out of Richmond VA, LoG runs that interesting line between death metal and thrash, but with a seriously good groove hiding in all the noise and growling.
Wrath is Lamb of God’s sixth album.
Mastodon - Crack the Skye
Mastodon are often classified as progressive metal or sometimes stoner metal. I’ve been listening to them on and off for years, probably starting back in the late 90s when I was really into Kyuss (predecessor to QotSA). There 2009 album Crack the Skye dragged me back to their fold. Heavy and melodic at the same time, it has more of a consistent feel to it from start to finish that much of their previous work.
Crack the Skye is Mastodon’s fourth studio album and will certainly stay in my rotation throughout 2010.
Scar Symmetry - Dark Matter Dimensions
Holographic Universe, the third album from Sweden’s Scar Symmetry, was easily one of the best metal albums of 2008, and when I heard that they’d replaced their singer from that album with two people I was afraid it wouldn’t work out. But the new singers, Robert Karlsson and Lars Palmqvist hit the sound right on the nail. Often classified as melodic death metal, Scar Symmetry has fast guitars and a nice mix of clean signing and deep growls. Their late 2009 release titled Dark Matter Dimensions is still in my playlist.
Dark Matter Dimensions is Scar Symmetry’s fourth studio album.
Amorphis - Skyforger
Finland’s Amorphis started out the late 80s as a death metal act but as they’ve evolved it has become more progressive or folk metal. It still has some of the growls of death metal but with a much more melodic and structured sound as well. Amorphis pulls a lot of their lyrical content from the Kalevala, a book and epic poem of Finnish folklore, and this album stays true to that with a set of songs all told from the perspective of the character Ilmarinen
Skyforger is Amorphis’s ninth studio album.
Isis - Wavering Radiant
Founded in Boston, but now hailing from Los Angeles, Isis is often called sludge metal of post-metal. Long, acoustically dense songs characterize their sound it sometimes makes you think of bands like Pink Floyd while at other times you think you’re listening to a European death metal band. All-in-all it is great stuff, even if it does take a bit of getting used to.
Wavering Radiant is Isis’s fifth studio album.
Katatonia - Night is the New Day
Katatonia is another Swedish metal favorite. Characterized by doom and gloom lyrics, and a sound that varies from death metal to a more progressive sound. Occasionally reminiscent of Opeth’s sound, their 2009 release continues the mellowing of their music while still keeping the same great sound.
Night is the New Day is Katatonia’s eighth studio album.
Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures
Next we drop into the non-metal section of my list with something I certainly didn’t expect: a musical collaboration between bassist John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), drummer Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighers, Probot and more), and guitarist/vocalist Josh Homme (mastermind behind Kyuss, QotSA and the Desert Sessions).
Both Grohl and Homme are masters of the hook rock song and this album doesn’t let you down. It may not be the best album of 2009 but it is a great listen and something everyone should give a turn on the player.
Steven Wilson - Insurgentes
Plain and simple, Steven Wilson is a genius. Founder of the amazing prog-rock band Porcupine Tree and producer of the monumental Blackwater Park by Opeth, Steven has his hands on released his first full length Insurgentes in 2009. A must have for prog-rock fans.
Phish - Joy
Phish is a band I’ve been into since college and my love for their sound didn’t die when they went on indefinite hiatus in 2004. For me their albums were always good, but the love I had for them will always be rooted in their live performances. Joy followed up Phish’s 2009 return to the stage with an excellent album produced by Steve Lillywhite, who also produced the band’s 1996 album Billy Breathes. The album has a pure Phish sound that is a delight to listen to (even my wife likes it). The only downside for me was that I didn’t get to see them on tour this year when they returned to Red Rocks Amphitheatre. But at least I have the bootlegs of the show!
Joy is Phish’s fourteenth studio album.
E-603 - Torn Up
Now this one is probably going to surprise people who don’t realize that when I say I like everything I really mean it. E-603 is the stage name of Ethan Ward, a mash-up artist from New Hampshire. His sound is much like that popularized by Girl Talk (aka Greg Gillis) in that it is almost entire composed of samples from other artists work. But unlike more traditional two- or three-song mashups like those produces by Wax Audio (e.g. Whole Lotta Sabbath), E-603 and Girl Talk make whole new songs out of dozens of pieces. It is a lot of fun to listen to and will keep you constantly guessing as you hear something and say, “Wait a minute… I know that sample!”
Torn Up is E-603’s second album and is available for free download from his site.