Genre: Heavy Metal
Five decades into their career, and Iron Maiden still managed to make one of the most celebrated metal albums of the year. While many of their New Wave of British Heavy Metal peers have either broken up or have largely been ignored by the general public, Steve Harris and the boys still command arena-sized audiences throughout the world. It's easy to do that when you release an album like The Final Frontier.' Clocking in at over 76 minutes, the 10 song collection finds Maiden firing on all cylinders.
Not only does the album soar with top-notch songwriting and Bruce Dickinson's acrobatic vocals, they also feature white hot solos from the three-headed guitar beast of Adrian Smith, Dave Murray, and Janick Gers. Songs like The Alchemist and Mother of Mercy could have easily been on any of the group's golden era records from the 80s, but that doesn't make them sound dated -- Kevin Shirley's muscular production insures that. The fact that this band isn't in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame already proves how little respect heavy metal still gets in 2010.
Genre: Progressive Metal
Label: Candlelight Records
Formerly of Norwegian black metal superstars Emperor, Vegard Sverre Tveitan aka Ihsahn is no stranger to these best of lists. Way back in January, the guitarist/vocalist came back with After,' his third and most engaging solo album yet. Ihsahn's explorative nature knows no bounds this time out. Everything from 70s progressive rock-kissed guitar parts to John Zorn informed jazz sections are explored on the album. Not content with the limitations of the basic guitar-bass-drums-vocal setup, the Norwegian even brings in a musician named Jorgen Munkeby to play saxophone. Ihsahn also invited Lars K. Norberg to the sessions, and he lends his impeccable fretless bass playing is the ideal complement to former Spiral Architect drummer Asgeir Mickelson's fluid footwork.
Most of After' doesn't fall into the black metal category, but its no-less impactful. The closest you could compare the music to would probably be Opeth. Like them, Ihsahn fully understands the potency of what the right dynamics in a track can do. Go ahead and fire up the song Undercurrent and you'll hear what we're talking about. The cut goes through a battery of emotions, starting with a blizzard of distorted guitars, flowing into quiet verse, and then concluding with a saxophone-led coda. Ihsahn is one of the most gifted people you'll find in the metal community, and if After' is any indication of the caliber of work he can still crank out, we're all in for several years of ass kickings.
Genre: Alternative metal, Experimental rock
Diamond Eyes' is the music comeback of the year. Not to say that Deftones' (2003) and Saturday Night Wrist' (2006) were huge letdowns, but they certainly didn't deliver on the promise of 2000's band watermark, White Pony' opus. But from the opening crunch of its title track, you sensed that Diamond Eyes' might be a different kind of animal. As soon as the track gets going, Stephen Carpenter's one-of-a-kind blend of shoegaze atmospherics and Helmet-like guitar riffing flows through your speakers like skyscraper sized ocean waves. While he's never delivered a weak take throughout the group's discography, his performance on the title cut comes off like some kind of declaration of intent. For the remainder of the 10 songs on the album, Carpenter and his co-conspirators never relent. Chino Moreno offers up one dazzling vocal after the other, especially on the ethereal showstopper Beauty School.
We could go on and on about Diamond Eyes' and its abundant merits, but if there's one thing to take away from the album is how fantastic the guitars are. Whether it's the more nuanced stuff or the monolithic riff frenzies on Diamond Eyes,' the guitars always rise to the occasion. Carpenter is one of rock's most underrated musicians and if anyone has some kind of issue with that statement, they need to check this record out immediately.
Genre: Black metal, doom metal, folk metal
Label: Profound Lore Records
If you've been keeping up with the other year-end lists this year, you've definitely seen Marrow of the Spirit' mentioned already. The fourth album from Portland, Oregon's Agalloch, is one of those rare cases where the reality matches the hype. No other black metal album in 2010 came close to its brilliance. Yes folks, it's that good. Lead by vocalist/guitarist John Haughm, Agalloch had already been on the radar of many metal journalists and musicians by the time Marrow of the Spirit' hit stores. Some might label the combo as thinking man's black metal, but that would be a disservice to Agalloch. There's no reason why their output shouldn't resonate with a wider audience. A song like Ghosts of the Midwinter Fires alone features a variety of styles that can appeal to fans of anything from speedy black and trad-metal to sparse post-rock.
The iTunes way of picking out a track here and a track there, won't do this time out. Marrow of the Spirit' is a journey and the kind of album that should be listened to as an entire piece. Signed to a small indie label called Profound Lore, you might have some trouble finding the CD in your local shop. But do whatever you have to do to find this one folks, it's well worth the hassle.
Genre: Thrash metal
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Perhaps the most consistent thrash band in history, Overkill returned in 2010 with a bastard of an album! The recipe might have been familiar, but its results have rarely been this powerful. On Ironbound,' guitarists Derek Tailer and Dave Linsk volley one meaty riff after the other, revealing a punk/hardcore undercurrent throughout the parts. D.D. Verni's bass guitar tone is still one of the most distinct in the business, with a rattle that cuts through the mix.
But what is Overkill without the banshee wail of Bobby Blitz Ellsworth? No reason to worry he's in top form again and his work on the album is up there with what he did on classic Overkill releases like Under the Influence' and The Years of Decay.' As a matter of fact, Ironbound' carries the same f*ck you attitude as those records. There's nothing fancy about what Overkill does on Ironbound,' but while they refrain on the tech stuff, they make up for it in good ol' songwriting chops. Why fix what isn't broken?
Genre: Progressive/ Experimental Metal
Label: Sumerian Records
A lot of our casual readers might not be acquainted with this band's music yet, but many members of the Ultimate-Guitar community have already become believers. Periphery might have been formed five years ago, but it took them till this year to finally get their debut album out. To say that the American group loves their guitars would be an understatement. Yes, Periphery features THREE guitarists in their ranks! While this could be perceived as some type of publicity gimmick, the band swiftly silences our doubts with opening number, Insomnia. Imagine Cynic, Meshuggah, and Saosin, all writing a tune together and you'd be close to what Periphery pulls off in less than five minutes. The rest of the album doesn't let up, as Periphery unloads a never-ending flurry of mathy riffs and off kilter time signatures.
The brainchild of guitarist/composer Misha Bulb Mansoor, Periphery has the bite of modern metal, but frontman Spencer Sotelo weaves in melodic vocal lines throughout the course of the album. Come to think of it, as complicated as most of Periphery' is, it's still a catchy listen. That's one of the most important facets of what these guys do the melody within the chaos. Other artists are attempting this kind of kitchen sink songwriting approach, but they don't have someone with the smarts of Mansoor putting it all together. With this album, he's shown us that he's a force to be reckoned with.
Genre: Stoner Metal, Heavy Metal, Sludge Metal
Mining from greats like Motorhead and Black Sabbath for inspiration, High on Fire clearly know what kind of band they are and know how to work off their strengths. Over ten years into their career, the power trio unleashed Snakes for the Divine,' their greatest recorded effort yet. Brimming with molten-hot guitars, massive drums, and authoritative vocals, the album found its way into many of your personal music libraries in 2010.
Genre: Black metal
Genre: Norma Evangelium Diaboli
In terms of their expansive recorded output, France's Deathspell Omega has never disappointed. Even with that in mind, we weren't expecting Paracletus' to be as sensational as it is. The culmination in a trilogy of albums, its Deathspell Omega's most accomplished work. The band might have streamlined some of its more avant-garde impulses, but the wild spirit that has always guided their material is still alive and strong on Paracletus.' This title might not be for Ultimate-Guitars readers that only dig straight-forward metal, but if you have left-of-center listening habits, you'll be rewarded by this one.
Genre: Mathcore, avant-garde metal
Genre: Season of Mist
Without Dillinger Escape Plan, half of the so-called metalcore bands out there wouldn't even exist. The New Jersey stalwarts weren't the first band to marry the technicality of death metal with the in-your-face attitude of hardcore, but they definitely have been the most influential. We all know the scene they helped birthed is packed with an army of horrible bands, but don't hold that against DEP. The NJ quintet has never looked backwards. Each new album they've released has been rife with adventurous songwriting and style shifts that lesser artists couldn't even dream of taking on.
Option Paralysis' is another gem in Dillinger's crown. On it, DEP revisit the turbulent nature of their early recordings, with spastic guitar workouts, shouted vocals, and imaginative tempo changes. But not the entire album follows that path. There's a song called Widower that has vocalist Greg Puciato crooning over a piano melody, while other sections on the album showcase the band's penchant for industrial rock. All in all, DEP don't divert too far from their blueprint on Option Paralysis,' but that doesn't mean it's still not one of the most vital albums of the year.
Genre: Deathcore, technical death metal
Staying on the technical side of the spectrum, we arrive at [Id],' the third studio album from Veil of Maya. Although it doesn't even reach the thirty minute mark, [Id]' is a whirlwind of incendiary arrangements and throat-scraping vocals. Since they keep their songs shorter than most of the other groups in the technical metal scene do, Veil of Maya never loses the listener's attention. After a few spins, you'll even find yourself humming along to some of the riffs. Part of a scene which many metalheads call Sumeriancore (after all the bands on signed to the Sumerian record label), VoM aren't reinventing the wheel here, but we'll be damned if they aren't one of the best acts performing progressive death metal.
By Carlos Ramirez Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2010