My Top 20 Albums of the Decade (2010-2019)

As 2019 comes to a close, I decided to go back and think about what really impressed me over the last ten years. There was so much new music this decade, one may think it was difficult to come up with a list.

You know what? It was!

On average, I listen to about 40-50 new albums every year. Times that by a decade and holy smokes – that’s a lot of music!

Initially I had started this list with thirty albums that really impressed me. However, I felt that was a bit too long. Cuting down to twenty was surprisingly easy. It was the painstaking task of sorting the top twenty which really took time.

I only put one album from 2019 in my list as I felt most of the albums released this year are still too “fresh” for me to make a decent judgement call on. You’ll notice what I mean when you see songs that were #1 from 20XX suddenly not holding their own – or even on the list at all!

Albums that are labelled “DNR” means they “Did Not Rank.” This may mean they were in my Honorable Mentions from that year, or maybe missed getting on recognized entirely!

ALSO! To save on load times on the page and not to jumble the list, the “Fav. Song” links are not (usually) directed to the exact song, but to what the band released as a single or if applicable, the album itself.

Starting off at number twenty. . .

20. Ozric Tentacles – Technicians of the Sacred (2015 – #3)
Fav. song: Changa Masala

This all instrumental double album from these psychedelic English prog rockers is some of their best work in their over thirty year career. Grooving, atmospheric, and just downright fun – it’s definitely their most accessible album for all listeners.

19. Gridlink – Longhena (2014 – #5)
Fav. song: Island Sun

It’s still something I like to call “beautiful grindcore” – there’s something very angelic to Gridlink’s Longhena. Intense as it may be, there’s a sense of beauty and poetry behind all of the chaos.

18. Riverside – Love, Fear, and the Time Machine (2015 – #1)
Fav. song: Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened By a Hat?)

While not all #1 albums can make it to #1 again, in 2015, Riverside’s LF&tTM hit me in the right spot at the right time. Still melancholic, this prog rock album is most peaceful when listened to in the right mood.

17. Spaceslug – Eye the Tide (2018 – #4)
Fav. song: Spaced by One

This is one heck of a dirty album. Sludge/doom/stoner – whatever the genre you wish to call it, Spaceslug’s Eye the Tide delivers. A couple of years later, I still have a bit of the spaceslug in me.

16. Barenaked Ladies – Fake Nudes (2017 – DNR)
Fav. song: The Township of King

Yet another album that eluded getting ranked before. When one removes the obvious pop-fueled “singles” from the album, what is left is an incredible mix of musicianship and production. Fake Nudes is a relaxing joy to listen to.

15. Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper (2017 – #5)
Fav. song: Mirror Reaper

One of the bleakest albums on the list, Bell Witch’s funeral doom album stretches over an hour and twenty minutes. Foreboding and crushing in darkness, Mirror Reaper is something I play for introspection rather than entertainment.

14. Cannibal Corpse – Torture (2012 – DNR)
Fav. song: Scourge of Iron

One of a few albums that originally “did not rank” before, Torture turned around on me. Impacting, aggressive, intense, great production – all these things and more is why I’ve listened to Torture more than any other Cannibal Corpse album this decade.

13. Khôrada – Salt (2018 – #2)
Fav. song: Seasons Of Salt

Salt is still an album that weirds me out – I still haven’t heard anything like it before. With the strangest of production, composition, and sounds, I feel Khôrada will keep me interested for years to come.

12. Marillion – Fuck Everyone and Run (FEAR) (2016 – #10)
Fav. song: Living in F E A R

FEAR has grown on me a lot over the few years it has been out. I spin it regularly and each time I feel something truly historic and beautiful about it. Marillion created an album which continues to give after all these years.

11. Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar (2017 – #2)
Fav. song: So Falls the World

The production on this album won me over, as did the enchanting journey it provided. It’s a producers delight and brilliant fun with headphones on.

10. Aborted – Retrogore (2016 – #7)
Fav. song: Retrogore

In your face and direct, Retrogore ranks high for being self aware and ridiculously good death metal. It’s fast, brutal, and something I spin regularly for having a good time. It has easily became my favourite album of theirs.

9. YOB – Our Raw Heart (2018 – #1)
Fav. song: Beauty in Falling Leaves

Still an emotional thrill ride, Our Raw Heart delivers with the slow burns of intensity. It’s still one of the most beautiful doom metal albums I’ve ever heard, and most certainly their best sounding release this decade.

8. Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust (2016 – #3)
Fav. song: Pleiades’ Dust

An epic to this day, Pleiades’ Dust is a monument to songwriting. As the song/album ebbs and flows, one can really pick out the instrumentation and true “orchestral” beauty that Gorguts puts into their music.

7. Vektor – Terminal Redux (2016 – #1)
Fav. song: Recharging the Void

An album that still gives me chills by the end of it, Terminal Redux may be one of the best thrash albums I’ve ever heard. With a great story to boot, Vektor knocked it out of the park with such an impactful piece of art.

6. Devin Townsend – Empath (2019 – #1)
Fav. song: Singularity

The only album from 2019 on my list, Empath ranks so high because it certainly deserves it. Much like Khôrada’s Salt, Empath brings something new to the table. For that, it must be recognized.

5. Triptykon – Melana Chasmata (2014 – #1)
Fav. song: Tree of Suffocating Souls

Where would I be without Triptykon? Some of the most extreme and honest music on the list; this album sings right from the depth of the soul. Melana Chasmata something I spin regularly.

4. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase. (2015 – #2)
Fav. song: Happy Returns

Initially getting beat out by Rivierside in 2015, Steven Wilson now jumps ahead of the pack. The metaphorical lyrics, the subtle musical moments and technical prowess – Hand. Cannot. Erase. is truly one of the best concept albums of the decade.

3. Anathema – Weather Systems (2012 – #1)
Fav. song: Untouchable, Part 1 & 2

Anathema’s Weather Systems may be one of the most beautiful, yet surprisingly sad albums to have ever graced this planet. Musically, it’s genius. Lyrically, it’s poetic and sincere.

2. Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit (2010 – DNR)
Fav. song: Black Lake Nidstang

This Agalloch album is VERY closely contended with my #1. I’ve been going back and forth for a couple of weeks debating and choosing one over the other. Alas, I had to decide. But first: Marrow of the Spirit, I believe is the best Agalloch album. Not The Mantle and not Pale Folklore. Don’t @ me. Marrow of the Spirit has something rustic, intense, and intrinsically beautiful lingering among all of the chaos.

1. Triptykon – Eparistera Daimones (2010 – DNR)
Fav. song: The Prolonging

From the incredible album cover created by the late and great H.R. Giger, Eparistera Daimones encapsulates all I love in the heavy metal genre. From start to finish, this album absolutely dominates the listener and refuses to let them breathe. Its lyrical content is brutally honest and the music properly reflects that. Songs like Abyss Within My Soul are heavy in both sound and content. My Pain is hypnotically ethereal yet devastating at the same time. It being the segue into the nineteen minute epic, The Prolonging, is absolute genius.

I debated putting both Triptykon albums in my list. It may seem like both albums in my list here are the same: but they’re most certainly not. Eparistera Daimones, coming out of the ashes of Celtic Frost, has a unique quality and sincerity about it. There’s purposeful cracks in the armor. There’s noticeable pain, bleakness, anger, and darkness. I really cannot stress the honesty of this album enough. It’s a masterpiece and work of art wrapped around in doom, aggression, terror, atmosphere, and chaos. The album is non-apologetic for what it is and proudly wears its wounds.

For those reasons and a ton more, is why Eparistera Daimones is truly one of the greatest albums of the decade.

—–

Questions, concerns, thoughts? Did I miss something? Let me know! And let’s see what the next decade will bring us! If you’d like, you can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Until next time, keep on Space Truckin’!

My Top Albums of 2019

And starting off at number fifteen. . .

15. This Winter Machine – A Tower of Clocks

I don’t recall how I came across this album, but I’m glad I did. This neo-classical prog rock band mends a fine line between being a Marillion clone with some, what I’d call Rush influences, to create a transcendental album that stood out among other prog bands this year. While arguably there’s nothing “new” brought to the table, A Tower of Clocks manages to do everything right. The first few tracks build the album up to something wonderful as it ebbs and flows through various feelings throughout. A solid album from a band that’s now going to be on my radar.

Check out the single for “Justified”:

14. Evergrey – The Atlantic

Evergrey are starting to remind me a lot like Amorphis: staying familiar with an evolving sound. While The Atlantic comes across like a traditional prog-power album, there’s still the ever-looming feeling of despair through Tom Englund’s voice and the bands defeating sound, and sometimes heart-breaking lyrics. However, uplifting moments are found such as with the song End of Silence – which still arguably still sounds bleak. Then there’s songs like Weightless where it really showcases some of the band’s metal prowess – the song building to a powerful booming climax near the end. I was super pleased with how The Atlantic turned out and as always, can’t wait to see what else Evergrey have up their sleeve.

Check out the video for “A Silent Arc”:

13. Exhumed – Horror

In 2016, Aborted released the album Retrogore. As the Aborted title suggested, the album was a throwback to older (1980s) horror films. In 2019, Exhumed’s Horror, while not directly associated to particular horror films, is yet another death/grind album with a shtick towards “retro” horror (as the album cover suggests). It’s fast, dirty, and a a schlock-fest of brutality. The fifteen song album is just shy of thirty minutes with most songs under the two-minute mark, leaving them to be easily digested and not over stay their welcome. They’re good “done-in-one” songs that are quick and to the point. The whole album is just a slaughter. It’s fantastic.

Listen to the full album here:

12. Possessed – Revelations of Oblivion

It only took 33 years, but Possessed is back. And damn, it’s great. This death/thrash album is a huge surprise to hear this year. In fact, it sounds as if the band never went anywhere. The soundscape, production, and tones feel straight out of the 80s with pounding aggression in the drums, heft in the rhythm, and an amazing wail with the guitars. Lead singer/songwriter Jeff Becerra writes intelligently with lyrics that feel honest but still radical. An absolute treat for 2019. I hope this is the start of something bigger.

Check out the single, “No More Room in Hell”:

11. Murg – Strävan

The third album of this Swedish black metal band is one of two black metal albums that really blew me away this year. It’s intense at times, but also falls back into somber feelings. The album fluctuates naturally between the two dichotomies which offers the listener breathing room for reflection. The production, on the other hand, has what I love about the genre: it’s dark and feels homemade. Yet there’s obviously quality and an ear behind the studio to give the album the sounds it’s offering. As with most outstanding black metal albums for me, these riffs gave chills.

Check out the awesome single, “Renhet”:

10. Ed Wynne – Shimmer into Nature

The debut solo album from Ozric Tentacles main song writer – Ed Wynne puts together an infectious groovy album with all the fixings of what makes me love his music: brilliant bass licks, incredible soundscapes, and brilliant rises and falls. Shimmer into Nature effectively does what it says, bringing psychedelic tones, synth, and atmosphere to the fray – all with a tremendously calming effect. A terribly underrated musician, this album is quite frankly, absolutely beautiful.

Listen to “Shim”:

9. Darkthrone – Old Star

Every time Darkthrone releases an album, I feel bad for everyone else. The band evolves so much, I never know what to expect. However, the quality of their output has been nothing short of incredible. As such, here is yet another Darkthrone album on my Top 15 list. This crusty, thrashy, doom album is stunning. It has gentle (and some not-so-subtle) nods to classic heavy metal bands and eras, influenced from the decades of the 70s and 80s. The songs on the album feel simple, but come with great care. The single (and my favourite track), “The Hardship of the Scots,” is a great anthem, while songs like “The Key is Inside the Wall” and “I Muffle Your Inner Choir” come with a certain rock n’ roll elements that keep your head pounding throughout. Truly another great album by this great band.

Listen to the wonderful “The Hardship of the Scots”:

8. Masvidal – Mythical

Paul Masvidal is no stranger to prog or heavy metal. After all, he’s the front man and lead songwriter to the legendary band Cynic. But this solo project? This is something different and certainly may be an acquired taste. Mythical, the first of three albums, well, let me just quote the album: “Each song on [the album] uses ‘Isochronic Tones’ designed by Dr. Stephane Pigeon, creator of the Brian Eno-celebrated website MyNoise. The tones are a groundbreaking type of sound therapy for increasing serotonin, alleviating depression and stress, improving focus, and aiding in restful sleep.” – And Masvidal does just that – and lyrically, well, it’s beautiful poetry.

Listen to the whole album here:

7. Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race

A late-release fpr 2019, Blood Incantation’s Hidden History of the Human Race absolutely knocked it out of the park. The four-song album covers a vast array of death metal styles – from Morbid Angel to Death to Gorguts, then with spacial tones to the likes of Kyuss and Hawkwind. This album delivers the goods with the pulse-pounding first tracks, Slave Species of the Gods and The Giza Power Planet, followed by the two more melodic songs Inner Paths (to Outer Space), and the 18-minute epic, Awakening From The Dream Of Existence To The Multidimensional Nature Of Our Reality (Mirror Of The Soul). While four songs may not seem like much to divulge in with an album, I can guarantee Blood Incantation makes every moment count, and ultimately, brings about one of the most unique, awesome, and most of all – refreshing – albums I’ve heard in recent memory.

Check out the video for “Slave Species of the Gods”:

6. Bent Knee – You Know What They Mean

The year was 2017, and Bent Knee’s “Land Animal” made the third spot on my Top 15 List that year. I feel bad they’re not higher this year, but holy smokes, You Know What They Mean absolutely blows Land Animal out of the water and then some. This album is both a natural evolution for the band, yet is something completely different. It’s heavy, melancholic, moody, rough, loud, subtle, and so many other adjectives I could continue with. There’s a lot of brilliance in this album and I’m so very excited to watch this band explode. Bent Knee will become a household name, not only in the world of progressive music, but beyond. Mark my words, You Know What They Mean has the fixings of bringing Bent Knee to the world.

Watch the video for “Hold Me In”:

5. Wilderun – Veil of Imagination

Opeth and Symphony X had a child and it’s living in Boston. Part of me says “This album shouldn’t be on here because it’s just a clone.” The other part says, “My god, these guys do what Opeth and Symphony X did, but better.” There’s a healthy balance between metal and orchestra. There’s a lack in repetition/recurring riffs, keeping these long songs fresh. It is also very ethereal in many aspects in the production. Readers, I absolutely was taken back by this album. It was as if I was teleported back into 2001/2002 when Opeth’s Blackwater Park and Symphony X’s The Odyssey was released. In fact, if you amalgamate those two specific albums, I’m confident you’ll have Veil of Imagination. It’s certainly fair to bring these strong comparisons to the fold because Wilderun takes the best of both albums and makes it into something new, yet familiar. It’s a hauntingly beautiful, powerful album.

Check out “Far From Where Dreams Unfurl”:

4. Mgła – Age of Excuse

My favourite black metal album of the year, Mgła’s Age of Excuse is stunning. I remember spinning it the first time around while reading. During the track, Age of Excuse III, I paused the album and went “Holy shit, these guitars are riiiiiiiiiiiipping.” I hadn’t been that excited from a black metal album in a long while. But that’s not all! The drums. Oh goodness, the drumming on this album. Age of Excuse II features some extraordinary play with the toms, snare, and various cymbals. But that’s not all! The vocals. The gloom and despair in the voice. The lyrics. The dread and finality of it all. Sure, this album is technically one song at 42 minutes – but it’s such a trip. Give it a listen and learn why Age of Excuse got to be where it is on my list.

Give the full album a listen to:

3. Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance

Had I not seen these guys open for Pig Destroyer earlier this year, I may not have heard this album at all. Tomb Mold’s Planetary Clairvoyance is hands-down my favourite straight-up death metal album of the year. This Toronto-based band knocked it out of the park with this 38-minute album, featuring some of the best guitar riffs I’ve heard this year. In fact, the way everything is pieced together, you can tell Tomb Mold took their time when writing these songs. Most songs only contain a handful of riffs, yet the band manages to leave nothing stale. Somehow the riffs become elevated the more the band repeats them. It’s intriguing stuff. From the opening track to the end, there’s literally something memorable from each song. The title track has some of the dirtiest riffing by the end of the song. It’s just a headbangers delight. I love this album.

Listen to the track “Infinite Resurrection” here:

2. Immortal Bird – Thrive on Neglect

I don’t even know what to call this one: death metal, crust punk, progressive, sludge, thrash, black, grind, hardcore – whatever it is, it’s an absolute blast to indulge. This second album by the Chicago natives has everything I want in my metal and then some. Songs like Avolition are lengthy and provide a wide gamut of offerings for music listeners – easily one of the greatest songs I’ve heard this year. House of Anhedonia has such an incredible ending and juicy riffs that I keep coming back for more. In fact, with absolutely punishing tracks made with excellent composition, lyrics, and production, easily makes Immortal Bird’s release one of my favourite albums of the year.

Listen to the song, “Vestigial Warnings,” that within seconds had won me over:

1. Devin Townsend – Empath

Devin Townsend has outdone himself. I absolutely adored this album. Throughout its journey, Empath features highs and lows, exceptional musicianship, chaos and beauty, and incredible emotion. I could go on to describe what Empath is. So let me just focus on why it’s my album of the year.

Leaving the Devin Townsend Project and going solo, this dynamic album features a plethora of interesting and daunting ideas that come together so wonderfully. From the intriguing Castaway/Genesis introduction to the playful Sprite, the Disney-inspired Why?, and the epic Singularity, each song on the album has its own bit of flair to make it stand-out, yet still be part of one cohesive unit.

The songs are some of Devin’s most challenging, not only as a musician, but sonically as well. The “wall of sound” that comes along with Empath is incredible. In fact, the production on the album arguably may be its only fault as to how “perfect” everything seems to be. Musicians like Chad Kroeger (Nickelback), Anneke van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering), and Frank Zappa alums, Steve Vai, Mike Keneally, and Morgan Ågren, as well as a fully-utilized women’s choir, come together to help bring Empath a life which is truly unique and an absolute wonder to behold.

Part of me wants to dig through every single song and explain its purpose, why they are the way they are, and really delve into the complexities of the production and songwriting process. But that’s not what this review is for. I should only tell you that there were many wonderful moments that made me cry (and still do if it gets me right). This is an album you all should sit back and experience for yourselves. Grab your headphones, some hot chocolate, sit back, and relax. (The 5.1 audio mix is coming out soon which I’m absolutely thrilled for).

Without a doubt, Devin Townsend’s Empath will stick with me for the rest of my life. It is easily one of the most memorable albums I have ever graced upon my ears.

Check out the “overture” of the album, “Genesis”:

Then listen to the Disney-inspired metal song, “Why?”:

Honourable Mentions:

Dream Theater – Distance Over Time

Ares Kingdom – By the Light of Their Destruction

Overkill – The Wings of War

Cerebral Rot – Odious Descent into Decay

Torche – Admission

Borknagar – True North

Rotting Christ – The Heretics

Nebula – Holy Shit

Abbath – Outstrider

Ulver – Drone Activity

Most Disappointed:

Tool – Fear Inoculum

Flying Colors – Third Degree

Amon Amarth – Beserker

Blind Guardian – Legacy of the Dark Lands

Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you? If you’d like, you can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

2019 Readers’ Choice Award Winner

As you may have heard I published my first novel, The Distomos, back in February 2015. Over the past few years, I’ve talked about it, sold some copies of it, and dissected it a little bit.

It’s a great feeling to be able to tell people you’re an author. And it’s even greater when someone else introduces you as one.

As it turns out, if you tell enough people, you win first place in Niagara’s Readers’ Choice Awards.

A big THANK YOU to everyone who voted for me. It means a lot to me – and to be honest – the win completely took me by surprise.

Until next time, Keep on Space Truckin’!

Cover art by Matthew Therrien: MCTherrien.com

ABOUT

Mankind has taken to the stars; maintaining their empires through the belief in God. Peace and prosperity are kept through Church-appointed Templars: the police of the galaxy. But when the Distomos, a secret weapon from the Church falls into the hands of the enemy, two ex-Templars, Kieran Rhet and Normandie Jade, are hired to get it back.

With only a matter of time before interstellar war begins and the Distomos is used, friendships, courage, and faith will be tested when all seems lost.

If you’d like, you can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Honest Reviews: Sleepwait – Sagittarius A*

I’m always on the hunt for new music. In case it wasn’t obvious from my Top 15 Albums of the Year, I enjoy me some good heavy metal and progressive rock. Every so often I’ll be impressed with albums not affiliated in those genres, like the Blade Runner 2049 Soundtrack (2017), Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls (2012), and Anneke & Árstíðir – Verloren Verleden (2016), and not to mention lots of Honorable Mentions.

If you come to me with new music, I’ll most certainly give it a try.

Recently, I reviewed Tool’s Fear Inoculum, and was reached out to a band from Italy called Sleepwait. They asked me to review their debut album, Sagitattius A*. Their reasoning was, “We checked your review of Tool’s “Fear Inoculum,” and thought you are the right person to give us a listen.”

While I was excited that the Tool review received a lot of discussion both on my blog, on my Instagram, and my personal Facebook, I was thrilled to receive an email asking for an album review because of my review.

Let’s dig in with Sleepwait – Sagittarius A*

The debut album of Italy’s Sleepwait – Sagittarius A*

The duo of Sleepwait formed about four years ago after Filippo Bravi (vocals) and Mauro Chiulli (instruments) met on a webportal for musicians. Despite the 300km distance from each other, they dedicated themselves to producing an album close to their hearts. Clearly inspired from bands such as Tool and Alice in Chains, the alternative/grunge rock Sagittarius A* holds nothing back as it explores the influences between the two musicians.

Bookended by reflective The Left and Right Hand of Beauty, the real meat of the album lies within. Songs like the title track, feel like a hybrid between Tool’s Lateralus and A Perfect Circle’s Mer de Noms. Yet further in, the album both expands and contracts between waves of emotions and anthems. The Doubt showcases both the rise and fall of those feelings, with production on the song somewhat distorted to add a feeling of unease to the listener.

A standout song for me was Istanbul, which pulled me back to the days of first listening to Kyuss’ Blues for the Red Sun. The grooves lead for steady head bobbing, followed by an great instrumental outro which hits me right in the nostalgia bone. Flowing into the samples of next song, The Prayer, the stoner rock groove continues for a great little trip until The Doubt brings up the tempo again.

Bravi’s vocals are an interesting blend between Maynard James Keenan from Tool and Serj Tankian from System of a Down. When emphasized, I hear Maynard; when calm, I hear Tankian. There’s a level of balance which Bravi manages to make work with the music. Most times, the vocal harmonies he provides offer different feelings, they hear like they are borderline on droning – which with certain guitar tones and riffs, almost puts the listener into a trance.

The album certainly feels thought-out and purposeful. Songs are placed in a particular order which makes the flow of the album a cohesive work. Nothing comes out as jarring, leaving the listener to sit back and actually be able to absorb the album as its presented. My first listen focused on nostalgia, while the later listens picked up on the smaller nuances the band wanted to achieve, such as the change of recording to the bass guitar in the track Constellations which I had missed before.

While Sagitarrius A* certainly doesn’t bring anything new to the musical table, Sleepwait, in my eyes, have established themselves as solid, competent songwriters and should be lauded for their admiration to their inspiration. While I feel the album does sound like it’s ripped right from the mid-2000s, so did Fear Inoculum. The difference is Sleepwait’s Sagitarrius A* is what I was expecting from Tool’s Fear Inoculum.

With a bit cleaner production and clearer definition of their own sound, I could see Sleepwait turning some heads in the prog rock/metal genre. Sagitarrius A* is just the beginning for this Italian duo.

Sleepwait release their debut album, Sagittarius A* August 29, 2019

Sleepwait on Spotify
Sleepwait on Bandcamp
Sleepwait on Soundcloud

My Thoughts on Tool and Review of Fear Inoculum

It’s 2019 and the unthinkable happened: after thirteen years, Tool released a new album.

Much like Guns N’ Roses with Chinese Democracy, Tool’s newest album, Fear Inoculum, was long-awaited and followed with a very excitable release – Tool’s catalogue was finally on streaming sites like Spotify and Apple Music, the special edition was going to be something different, and now there’s hype that Tool will out-perform Taylor Swift’s new album, Lover. Like, holy moly. It’s Tool, folks. This is supposed to be exiting, right?

Well, yes! For everyone, Tool’s back and going to be better than ever! Heck, Tool is so big, they’ve still been selling out arenas based on their back catalogue. That’s a big deal, no?

Before I divulge you all in my opinion of Fear Inoculum, let me first give you my history with Tool. (My blog, my rules, y’know?)

The Band that Started it All

If it wasn’t obvious from my previous posts of my favourite albums, I love both heavy metal and progressive rock. The way I got into music was a bit on my own. I got into Stone Temple Pilots when I picked up the bass guitar and was blown away (and still am) by their bassist, Robert DeLeo. From the hard rock of STP, I fell into Tool. To age me, Lateralus came out when I was in high school – grade ten. I hadn’t heard bass like the intro to Tool’s Schism before and had to learn more. Tool was on the radio and I definitely took the plunge.

Tool became my go-to band for two to three years. They were THE band that introduced me to heavy metal. I understood Metallica existed, I got Black Sabbath, but Tool was just so relevant to me at the time. I was a starting musician wanting to learn more. I certainly wasn’t going to find bass from Metallica, and definitely not from “going back” to older songs (boy, was I ever naive). Tool had what I was looking for, and I dove in hard.

I was very arrogant with my knowledge of Tool. Not only did I think they were the best band, but I made sure others knew. I remember specifically saying how Danny Carey was a better drummer than Neil Peart because he used less drums than Neil and could sound “bigger.” I know! I cringed while writing that, let alone re-reading it. But I was young and impressionable. It’s what I felt. I went out and bought Tool t-shirts and blasted their albums on my CD walkman I wore on the bus. I made sure it was extra loud so others on the bus could hear how great the music was. Yes, I was one of those kids.

But where does Fear Inoculum fit in?

Embarrassment aside, Tool ultimately helped me learn about even heavier music. I went from Tool to Opeth, to Carcass, and the rest is history. I will always argue that Tool is a gateway band into something heavier.

However, I really dug into the Tool philosophy. I went onto the website regularly and read up on all of the beliefs of the band or what the songs were about. I wasn’t just a fan of the band, I was a believer. I connected to Tool on a much more deeper level than anyone else I knew could have. I mean, they were talking about philosophy to someone who was 15 years old. How couldn’t I get addicted to them? They were so much more than just a band.

I finally scored tickets to see them live with my dad.

The Tipping Point

It was August of 2002, and Tool performed at Copps Coliseum (in Hamilton, Ontario) with Mike Patton’s (from Faith No More) Tomahawk opening.

I was really excited to go. I wore my Tool “pill” shirt and joined the masses at Copps to enjoy what was most certainly going to be the show of the year. I had already been spoiled with seeing bands like Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, and Linkin Park before. Surely Tool was going to give them a run for their money.

The show started and Tomahawk began their performance. About halfway through, the audience started to boo. I mean literally shouting “BOOOOO” at them. Stuff started getting thrown on stage. By the end of Tomahawk’s set, it felt like half of the arena was booing them off. I remember turning to my dad and asking him why people were booing. He didn’t know either. The only thing we could think of was that they just weren’t Tool.

Tomahawk put on a great performance and show. I wasn’t into their music at the time (and certainly hadn’t heard of them up until that point), but they most definitely weren’t worthy of getting booed off the stage. In fact, Mike Patton said about the tour,

Compared to the studio, Tomahawk’s live presentation pulls no punches. ‘It is probably a little bit nastier and a little more poke-you-in-the-eye vibe,’ says Patton. ‘When you are in a situation like this, it is very easy for the people to sit back, eat their popcorn and cotton candy, and ignore you. We’re trying to combat that.’

As a Tool fan, I was embarrassed. I felt that Tool certainly would have said something about disrespecting Tomahawk when they came on stage. Spoiler: they didn’t even mention or thank Tomahawk for performing.

Tomahawk left the stage. Twenty minutes later, the stage went dark. A chugging, familiar bass line began. Tool opened with their big single, Sober. I got chills, and so did the thousands of people around me. You could tell the mood had changed. When the lights flicked on, I could see the band on the stage; them all just standing there. . . . . . vocalist Maynard Keenan with his back to the audience, guitarist Adam Jones, bassist Justin Chancellor standing motionless, and Danny Carey rocking out – the only one who seemed to have any energy to the show. What was going on?

It wasn’t to be a metal show, it was to be an experience, I thought to myself, suddenly feeling a bit underwhelmed, trying to justify what I was witnessing. Sober ended. The Grudge began, followed by Stinkfist. Solid songs, but really lacked dynamics from the band. In fact, look for yourself. I found the whole show. Enjoy.

Tool was performing, but I really couldn’t get into it. But the audience was. They were screaming their heads off to every song. I mean, I knew the songs too, but Tool really wasn’t reaching me during their show. Despite reading the philosophy and digging into the band, I felt left out. And I’m not sure exactly when it clicked that night, but I looked out to the audience and saw everyone with their t-shirts on. “Tool” it said. I was with them. I looked back to the stage and saw Maynard, his back turned to us, and the band not really giving much “oomph” to their performance.

It hit me as I realized the clever double entendre marketing-style the band had been using. We were the literal “tool” and also a literal paycheque to the band. By all means, yes, that’s the music business – but I felt Tool was trying to be so devious in hiding it and I just “woke up.” It was that night, watching the band I loved play live, that the philosophy they tried to teach through their music kind of melted away – and I felt like I saw Tool for the sellouts they were.

And holy moly, before you guys start: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It was in my personal experience that Tool had betrayed me. That I was literally just a tool for them to get my money. Their “experience” didn’t work on me. Did I go home and throw out all of my Tool albums? Heck no, they’re still on my CD shelf. The band still wrote great music. It’s just that I felt that what they did to not just me, but to their audiences – it wasn’t just a band. Tool hit me like a musical version of Scientology. A religion of music, based around their philosophies and beliefs. “Experience our deeper music this way. If you don’t get it, then too bad – you don’t get Tool and we didn’t want you anyway.”

Only I did. They were my favourite band. But I slowly waned off of them as I got into other heavy music. For the remainder of my high school years, I picked up Dream Theater, Devin Townsend, Kyuss, Savatage, Blind Guardian, Opeth, Carcass, and Kreator. I found those bands to be a breath of fresh air than the “mindset” I needed to be in with Tool. These other bands were just as, if not more complicated technically as Tool, and evoked more feelings rather than trying to have the listener “find the hidden message.” It was nice to find a way out.

After Tool came Opeth’s beast of an album, Blackwater Park

In 2006, Tool’s next album, 10,000 Days was released and was not too shabby. It wasn’t anything spectacular in my eyes. It was a nice mix between Ænema and Lateralus (I literally had the muscle memory to remember how to make “Æ.” I’m laughing to myself right now). But it was still something familiar in the “overarching” feel of Tool. “Either you get it or you don’t.”

Somehow between 2006 and 2019, Tool continued to perform arena shows that were completely sold out. They coasted on the strength of their back catalogue as it kept paying the bills. Despite not releasing anything for thirteen years, Tool would continue to tour without new music. On one hand, that’s fantastic to get oneself to that kind of staying power. On the other hand, and me being the jaded Tool fan, I felt they were continuing to milk the rest of their fans. The indoctrinated Tool fan would not dare miss a show because Tool was so much more than a performance.

Pre-Review Preamble

It should go without saying that this review is heavily biased based on everything I’ve written above. Save for Undertow, I have not listened to a Tool album since 10,000 Days was released. I have not listened to Ænema, Lateralus, and Opiate since I OD’ed on them back in high school. I am most definitely in need for a re-listen, but I feel I should be fully transparent with this review. Why?

I made an Instagram video featuring me listening to the album for the first time. It was four short videos, short and sweet.

I had six people message me their thoughts on the album, some positive and negative. In case you don’t follow me on Instagram, (which you should!), I post about albums I listen to all of the time. While six isn’t a big number, I’ve never had anyone give me as much feedback or begin a in-depth discussion about an album like with Tool’s newest.

Tool hit me like a musical version of Scientology. A religion of music, based around their philosophies and beliefs.

Fans of Tool are at the ready to defend. Non-Tool fans are on the attack. I’m a scorned ex-lover of Tool that still appreciates music and am eager to hear what the band has to offer. It’s getting glowing reviews across the board. But where do I stand?

Let’s go:

My Review of Fear Inoculum

Even after thirteen years, Tool’s newest album still carries with it both their fanbase and their sound. Fear Inoculum sonically feels like a continuation from 10,000 Days with a bit more technological play to it. Lots of samples, both in the background and with Danny Carey’s Middle Eastern drum performance, add a lot of intrigue that wasn’t necessarily as focused upon in previous Tool albums.

Unlike previous Tool albums, however, I felt Fear Inoculum had a hard time moving forward. For the first six tracks, everything felt blurred together. Certainly different grooves stood out in different songs – such as the riffing/groove around 8:30 in Invincible and the Schism-sounding grooves around 4:00 in Pneuma. Yet the variety of music felt lacking. When I heard the single/first song on the album, I had hoped the album would change from there. Unfortunately the song seemed to set the pace for the rest of the album.

Although it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; just after a long wait, I had hoped for more variety in Fear Inoculum like with previous albums. Fortunately the final three songs, Culling Voices, Chocolate Chip Trip (CCT), and 7empest, made up for what I felt the rest of the album faltered on.

Culling Voices was really intriguing, finally letting Maynard shine in an album where I felt he played a significantly diminished role in. It was also a slower paced song compared to the rest of the album. However, that pace wasn’t bogged down by the same sort of poly-rhythmic riffing Tool is known for. The lack of Tool being Tool was a pleasant surprise.

With CCT, I cannot help but compare Tool to Blink 182. Without drummer Travis Barker, Blink 182 would not be nearly as powerful as they are. Danny Carey with Tool is the same. Fear Inoculum’s most exciting moments were because of Carey. CCT lets Carey shine and really smacks home the Tool feel with the absolutely unnerving atmosphere he’s performing alongside with.

When 7empest kicks in, we get to the meat and potatoes of the album: the band is hitting hard and man, it’s a hefty Tool song. I could see why it was put on as the last track. All four band members are firing on all cylinders. Maynard’s getting his attitude, Adam Jones is ripping solos, Justin Chancellor is gluing the band, and Danny Carey’s doing what he does best. High school me is totally digging the song. Unfortunately for me, the final track arrived about 65 minutes too late for me.

As the album concluded though, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed as I had awaited for something to really pop-out and surprise me. There really weren’t any major headbanging moments that I found myself rocking out to or even just bobbing my head along with. In fact, I found myself sort of trailing in and out of paying attention. If anything, the album would make for good, moody background noise.

My initial feeling was the whole album reminded me of the last three songs off of Lateralus: Disposition, Reflection, and Triad. Rhythmic grooves, lots o’ reverb, and not much else to them. Aside from the three songs I mentioned above, I cannot say that Fear Inoculum is going to be making a top album list for me. While Fear Inoculum had its moments, I have to confess they’re pretty forgettable.

Production-wise, I’m a bit at odds. The album sounds like it’s straight from the early 2000s, while other moments and songs sound like they’re from an audio interface plugin with default samples. It’s strong, yet playful. It’s an interesting dichotomy for a high-level band, and something I’m actually not familiar with (or why) they would have approached recording an album this way. It’s a good kind of strange, though.

While it had some heft in some songs, Fear Inoculum is easily the least-metal Tool album in their catalogue. Is that a problem? Not at all. For me, however, it made for a bit of a lackluster release. It wasn’t a bad album, but it wasn’t a great album either. But will it impress the Tool fan? Absolutely. Because it has to. It’s Tool.

With me, however, I’d give it a solid 6/10.

Conclusion

Well there you have it! If you managed to get through all of this, good on you. I have always felt like sharing my experience and feelings about the band but never really had a relevant time to do so. Thirteen years later, here we are.

So who did I upset? Who agrees? Questions, comments, or concerns? Let’s have ’em! If you’d like, you can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Until next time, keep on Space Truckin’!

My The Rise of Skywalker Theory: Rey is a Clone

A new Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker trailer dropped and well. . . I feel it’s time to share a theory I’ve had since The Force Awakens (Spoiler alert from here on out).

First, the trailer:

Since The Force Awakens (TFA), I’ve concluded Rey is a clone of Luke Skywalker’s hand from The Empire Strikes Back (TESB). These points have only been reinforced with more Star Wars films. Why? Let me quickly list my points then elaborate on them further:

1. Rey has no knowledge/vision of her parents
2. Rey speaks with a British accent
3. General Hux discussing cloning very briefly in TFA
4. Luke/Vader’s lightsaber “called” to her in TFA
5. Rey’s vision of Cloud City when when she first grabbed the lightsaber
6. Snoke’s non-existent backstory
7. A lot of things in the new films are previously established Star Wars canon, “the Expanded Universe” (EU), now known as “Legends.”
8. It doesn’t break the Jedi Code, keeping the Skywalker lineage clean
9. The new trailer

1. Rey has no knowledge/vision of her parents

In The Last Jedi (TLJ), Rey makes it to Ahch-To and trains with Luke to both try and recruit him and have him train her as a Jedi. Much like how Luke fought a faux Darth Vader in TESB, Rey falls into a cave and sees a silhouette of her “parents.” We get no information on what they look like or even if they’re human. They’re simply shadows. In TFA, all we get is a flashback of Rey’s “parents” flying away on a ship – as if she was left abandoned. As a child, surely one should be able to have any little glimpse of their parents. Heck, in Return of the Jedi (RotJ), Leia said about her mother, “She was, very beautiful, kind, but sad.” Even though Leia WAS A BABY, she still had an idea about her mother. What’s Rey got? Nothing. Why? Because there’s nothing there.

Rey’s parents or shadow puppets?

2. Rey speaks with a British accent

I hope this doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but the reasons why most Imperials speak with a British accent is for one of two reasons: One is that they’re imperialists much like how the British were – George Lucas wanted a direct correlation to the Empire and to real-world history. The second reason is because they’re from the central worlds like Coruscant, Corellia, Chandrila (lots of C’s there), and Alderaan. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn both had accents because they were on Coruscant with the Jedi and raised in central worlds. The Imperials had the accent because they were from main worlds. Mon Mothma and Bail Organa both had semi-British accents (as did Leia in A New Hope (ANH)). Jyn Erso from Rogue One had an accent because of her father raising her with Imperials around.

These accents are important to note because if Rey really did come from a poor world and family were really “filthy junk traders who sold [her] off for drinking money,” she wouldn’t have had the accent. She most definitely would not have picked it up on Jakku. She must have been raised in an Imperial world – or at least a central world. This is backed up further into my next point:

3. General Hux discussing cloning very briefly in TFA

Kylo Ren: How capable are your soldiers, General?
General Hux: I won’t have you question my methods.
Kylo Ren: They’re obviously skilled at committing high treason. Perhaps Leader Snoke should consider using a clone army.
General Hux: My men are exceptionally trained. Programmed from birth.
Kylo Ren: Then they should have no problem retrieving the droid.

This little discussion early in TFA subtly plants the suggestion into the reader’s mind that cloning IS A THING yet we don’t hear about it again.

In ANH, cloning was loosely talked about with Luke, Leia, and Obi-Wan, as the two Skywalker’s mentioned Obi-Wan serving with Anakin (or Bail) in the Clone Wars. Outside of that (and the prequels), we’re led to believe that’s all there is to cloning – only cloned Stormtroopers (but more with that on point 8). However, here we know that the bad guys, the First Order, are ACTIVELY using clones for the first time since the prequels (or in the Star Wars timeline, 60-80 years later). And like I said, that’s weird because cloning was not relevant in the original Star Wars trilogy, nor has cloning been relevant in the first two films of the new trilogy. So why bring it up at all? And I can’t help but feel that clones will probably have British accents like the rest of the First Order too. . .

4. Luke/Vader’s lightsaber “called” to her in TFA

A lot of this will be reinforced in point 7, however I think it’s important to let you know that in the Timothy Zahn book series, the Thrawn trilogy, Grand Admiral Thrawn has Luke Skywalker’s hand, cut off by Darth Vader in TESB, and clones it to create the cringe-worthy clone named “Luuke.” (I know, right?)

To make things really interesting, and to kind of sprinkle in point 5, with Rey’s vision of Cloud City, one could see how the blood of a Skywalker could want to “call out” to the lightsaber. To hit the point home even further, Rey touched the lightsaber and immediately found herself in Cloud City. Now most people would assume that it’s because “that’s where the lightsaber was last.” Perhaps it was Rey “remembering” when she was on Cloud City? A deja vu, if you may. However, it’s the Skywalker blood that’s having the deja vu. How can Rey not remember her parents, yet have a vision of some place she’s never been to?

♫”We built this Cloud City and Rey’s a clone.”♫

6. Snoke’s non-existent backstory

One thing I absolutely despise in storytelling is how the storyteller will purposefully leave out important information to make the “big reveal” feel stronger – films that loosely reveal information that helps develop a backstory – either with flashbacks or some sort of prophecy. With Snoke, it honestly feels more “hidden” than anything. There was tons of time to slip a line or two in about Snoke’s backstory. But what does the audience get? Nothing! Not a single damn thing. Films that purposefully hide plot points behind reveals is simply lazy storytelling. For a while, I was feeling frustration that there was lazy storytelling in TFA and TLJ. I really ripped into The Last Jedi over that one, actually.

However, I’ve come to the more comfortable conclusion that they’re purposefully not telling us because this “clone” reveal is going to be so huge that any glimpse into Snoke’s past would have said too much. If anything, since we know Emperor Palpatine is back, I’ll bet you Snoke was a failed clone of Emperor Palpatine – hence the disfigured face and, well, everything.

Speaking of hiding plot points, and to reinforce point 3: I wonder why General Hux – or for that matter, director J.J. Abrams – had cloning mentioned in TFA at all if cloning hadn’t been necessary to any plot point in the new films yet? . . . hmm.

7. A lot of things in the new films are previously established from the Star Wars EU, now known as “Legends.”

A lot has been borrowed from the original Star Wars EU, previously established in earlier books, video games, and comics. I mentioned in my review of The Last Jedi, that “Leia’s use of the Force bubble is something pulled from the EU/Legends in the book, The Courtship of Princess Leia.”

We also have lots of other tidbits from the EU, such as:
– The Hammerhead class Republic cruiser in Rogue One, which originated from the Knights of the Old Republic video game
– Kylo Ren being named “Ben,” which is what Luke and Mara Jade call their son
– The Sun Crusher and Starkiller Base both have the ability to wipe out systems, not just planets
– Exar Kun was an evil force that helped wreck Luke’s New Jedi Order. Look at what Kylo Ren did.
– Kylo Ren, a Solo, turned to the dark side. Just like Han and Leia’s son, Jacen Solo, turning to the dark side and becoming Darth Caedus
– Death Troopers looking like Shadowtroopers from Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
– In Solo: A Star Wars Story, L3-37 (ugh) is very similar named and looking like LE-BO2D9, or “Leebo,” Dash Rendar’s droid from Shadows of the Empire
– Swoop bikes and Dash Rendar’s Outrider from Shadows of the Empire were added into the Special Edition of ANH
– Darth Maul’s double-bladed lightsaber was originally created with Exar Kun
– Kylo Ren’s crossguard lightsaber first originated out of the Star Wars comic books
– Grand Admiral Thrawn from the Star Wars TV series is originally from the EU books
– I’ll admit I’m speculating here, but in the Thrawn trilogy by Zahn, Leia feels the presence of Palpatine where he died in space over Endor. In a later book by Zahn, the Emperor returns as a clone. From the first teaser trailer, we hear the Emperor laugh over the destroyed Death Star on Endor. . .

Believe me, there’s more. But what I’m trying to get at, is that the Star Wars films aren’t without influence from things considered “non-canon.” The idea of Rey being a clone isn’t too far fetched when cloning characters is literally within the confines of the fantasy world Star Wars has built. We hear the Emperor laughing in the first teaser trailer for The Rise of Skywalker (TRoS). Is it that wrong to assume he’s back as a clone?

8. It doesn’t break the Jedi Code, keeping the Skywalker lineage clean

This is my big one: Anakin Skywalker falls in love with Padmé Amidala and marries her. That is forbidden by the Jedi Order because jealousy, temptation, and fear of loss could ultimately turn one to the dark side. Anakin breaks the Jedi Order, falls in love, and turns to the dark side. He becomes Darth Vader, the ultimate bad guy.

Padmé, however, gives birth to Luke and Leia. Leia is not a Jedi technically, so she’s in clear. Also, because Star Wars borrows from the real world, Ben is a Solo, not a Skywalker, because of his dad.

The clone of Rey, however, would be the perfect way to wipe the slate clean for the Skywalker lineage. Not only would Rey be a Skywalker, but she would be a way for Luke to “have a child” without ever having to break the Jedi Order. This Rey clone would keep the Skywalker lineage in check, and thus keep the Jedi, or even a neutral “Jedi” path, safe (that link/idea is also from the EU and has been heavily suggested from fans). It’s also called, “The Rise of Skywalker,” not “The Rise of Solo,” so it can’t be talking about Ben. What a better way to keep Luke’s lineage/nobility to the Jedi Order than to just clone him than have him “break the rules.”

9. The new trailer

Ah. The face of someone who has complete control of their mind. Definitely not a clone. . . ?

And finally we come to the new trailer that has dropped. We see Rey with a double-bladed lightsaber (which I’ve already established came from the Expanded Universe). Doesn’t she look a bit. . . stoic? Seems familiar to one Luuke Skywalker.

Mentally, he was little more than a mindless drone, an extension of Joruus C’baoth’s will. The clone was created for C’baoth’s use as a tool, and he obeyed the insane Jedi Master’s every command instantly. The clone was devoid of any sense of individuality and showed no recognizable sign of emotion until the end of his bout with [Luke] Skywalker, when he shrieked and attacked Mara Jade in fury after a viewscreen blew up in his face. Skywalker considered the clone to be thoroughly evil, a twisted perversion of himself.

While I’m not suggesting that there’s going to be TWO Rey’s in TRoS, it wouldn’t surprise me if she became the Luuke in this example – the extension of the Emperor’s mind to fight Kylo Ren or something. I’m not sure, of course. However, when you think of a mindless drone, that certainly is the face of one, no? From that short clip, Rey’s mind is gone, and I’m suggesting, is under Palpatine’s will.

I have to say, the more information that comes out about the film, unless it explicitly shows “these are Rey’s parents!” I have to continue my rationale that Rey, is indeed, a clone of Luke Skywalker’s hand. Not to mention the film’s called “The Rise of Skywalker” and (spoiler!) there’s no other Skywalkers left save for Kylo Ren – but he’s never really been considered a Skywalker and I feel his inclusion to becoming one would be lame and not well-received by fans. That being said, those fears didn’t stop them from making The Last Jedi, so what do I know?

Thoughts, concerns, or arguments to be had? Let’s go! If you’d like, you can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Until next time, keep on Space Truckin’.

My Top Albums of 2018

And starting off at number fifteen. . .

15. Ungfell – Mythen, Mären, Pestilenz

This Swiss band’s second release, Ungfell’s black/folk metal blend is raw and unfiltered. With a ripping bass lines and fearful screams, this album comes out to be one of the better black metal albums I’ve heard this year. While moments may seem chaotic, the band does feature peaceful – if not even tranquil, melodic moments – which made for an album that really stands out.

Listen to the whole album here:
https://ungfell.bandcamp.com/album/mythen-m-ren-pestilenz

14. Judas Priest – Firepower

Legends. When Judas Priest released Redeemer of Souls in 2014, I considered it to be their best album since Painkiller. While Firepower cannot be compared to it, it is one helluva beastly album. The riffs are crisp, songwriting strong, and Halford just rips it. Their song Flame Thrower stands out as one of the neatest songs on the album – giving me throwbacks to Sad Wings of Destiny days (I know, right?) While the album may not be the strongest in the Priest catalog, it certainly is a powerhouse not to be reckoned with against other albums in 2018.

See the music video to “Spectre”:

13. Amorphis – Queen of Time

Amorphis rarely can do any wrong. With Queen of Time, the band shows yet again that they are one of the greatest modern metal bands. Queen of Time is actually a great representation of where the band has gone over the past decade. If anything, it showcases how strong the band is with their storytelling without making it feel like the same song after song, album after album (lookin’ at you, Amon Amarth). Queen of Time is quite simply a testament to the ever-evolving Amorphis musicianship.

Check out the video to “Amongst Stars” here:

12. Torture Rack – Malefic Humiliation

I can hear Anakin Skywalker saying, “Now THIS is death metal!” The brutality from this American band reminds me of recent releases from newer death metal bands such as Rude and Outre-Tombe. Given that this is only the second album from Torture Rack, it feels like they’re seasoned veterans of the genre. With pounding songs like “Mace Face” and annihilating riffs like in “Lurking in the Undercroft,” this album makes me excited to hear what else this band has to offer.

Listen to the album here:
https://listen.20buckspin.com/album/malefic-humiliation

11. Satan – Cruel Magic

New Wave of British Heavy Metal at its finest. Their third album since their return in 2013, Cruel Magic just crushes. Never missing a beat or sounding tired. Vocalist Brian Ross dominates and arguably is the highlight of the album with his very powerful range. Right off the bat, the first track, “Into the Mouth of Eternity” sets the pace for the rest of the unrelenting album, making Cruel Magic’s release one of the highlights of this year.

Check out the album here:
https://satanuk.bandcamp.com/album/cruel-magic

10. The Tangent – Proxy

Whenever The Tangent releases something, you have to stop and give it a listen because there’s always something musically going on that’ll stick with you. Leader Andy Tillison groups together like-minded musicians for a blissful mix of different genres: blending and fusing into one another seamlessly. From jazz fusion, prog rock, funk, alternative, and much more, each song stands out on its own yet still ties together on the album. It’s dramatic, powerful, and makes for one incredible audio experience.

Watch the lyric video for “The Adulthood Lie” here:

9. Sear Bliss – Letters from the Edge

Experimental would be an understatement. After a six year hiatus, the Hungarian black metal outfit return with yet another strange, yet familiar album. It’s grand in its scope and feels triumphant throughout. It’s hard to really put a pin on why I really enjoy this album because there’s a lot offered. I’d recommend you give it a listen for yourself.

Check out the album here:
https://searblisshhr.bandcamp.com/album/letters-from-the-edge

8. Outre-Tombe – Nécrovortex

The third band on my list with their second album! Outre-Tombe from Quebec arguably outdid themselves after their 2015 debut (which surely would’ve made my Top 15 had I heard it in time). Nécrovortex is classic death metal that’s fast, demanding, pounding, and brilliantly crafted. While the production is a lot cleaner than traditional death metal usually sounds, it doesn’t take away from the overall feel of the album – making for one of the best sounding traditional death metal albums this year.

Listen to the full album here:
https://templeofmystery.bandcamp.com/album/n-crovortex

7. Altars of Grief – Iris

Yet another second release, these Canadian metal heads offer an exquisite and sometimes gut-wrenching take on blackened doom metal. With parts often feeling greatly inspired by the late David Gold and Woods of Ypres, Altars of Grief come at you with eight well-thought out and crushing songs that really make me miss the halcyon days of their Canadian counterpart. I can’t get enough of this album.

Listen to the album here:
https://altarsofgrief.bandcamp.com/album/iris

6. Ihsahn – Ámr

Guys, it’s Ihsahn. Since I’ve started doing my Top 15s, he’s always been mentioned. While Arktis was a bit of a letdown, Ámr comes back and wipes the slate clean. Boldly starting the album with electric-sounding keyboards, the album unfolds into constrained progressive chaos. It’s haunting and powerful. Unlike previous albums, however, Ámr is probably one of Ihsahn’s most “straight-forward” sounding albums with songs not ever veering into too far extremes. It sounds like a safe, but in reality, it’s anything but.

Watch the music video for “Arcana Imperii” here:

5. Panopticon – The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness (I and II)

This is a beautiful album. At just under two hours, this double-album features some of the most natural and inspiring music I have ever heard. Crossing multiple genres: country, black metal, bluegrass, folk rock, and more, Panopticon’s release is nothing short of incredible. There’s so much to offer on this album that I really struggle to find a favourite moment or song. Everything is just that good. Broken up into two larger movements, the music obviously contrasts one another – yet it all flows seamlessly together.

Check out the Bandcamp here:
https://thetruepanopticon.bandcamp.com/album/the-scars-of-man-on-the-once-nameless-wilderness-i-and-ii

4. Spaceslug – Eye the Tide

Damn, this is a dirty album. Right from the first track “Obsolith,” you can just feel the mud spill from the opening bass lines as it slowly trudges you into the droning chorus. The Polish outfit Spaceslug delivers one of the best sludgy doom/stoner metal albums I’ve heard in a while. While sometimes melodic, the band ebbs and flows with the groove: weighing heavier down and gradually building back up. It’s easy to become immersed with the infectious tone and groove. In fact, think I’ve got a bit of the spaceslug in me.

Get lost in the album here:
https://spaceslug.bandcamp.com/album/eye-the-tide

3. Stone Temple Pilots – Stone Temple Pilots

I never would have picked up the bass guitar if it wasn’t for Stone Temple Pilots. This band essentially started me on the musical journey I’m on today. Bias aside, I can’t believe the band put out this album. Much like Amorphis’ release, I feel like STP’s newest is a culmination of everything the band has ever done into one album. I feel hints of No. 4 with “Roll Me Under,” the simplistic beauty of Tiny Music with “Thought She’d Be Mine,” and serenity from Shangri-La Dee Da in “The Art of Letting Go.” But the songs are so much more than “throwbacks” of the past. With new singer, Jeff Gutt, there’s a new breath of fresh air in this band and I can’t wait to see where it takes them.

Listen to the single “Meadow”:

2. Khôrada – Salt

After the demise of Agalloch and Giant Squid comes Khôrada: bone-chillingly powerful music, and as their Bandcamp states, “At once atmospheric, aggressive and apocalyptic, the album’s emotion is driven by the band members’ view of today’s world.” And holy moly, does it ever. From the incredible layered textures from vocalist Aaron John Gregory and the emotional ferocity of Don Anderson’s guitar, this album, in my eyes, opened me up to new standards not only in song writing, but in album production as well. It’s well worth your listen as I can almost guarantee you’ve never heard anything like this before.

Listen to the haunting song “Ossify” here:

1. YOB – Our Raw Heart

Upon first listen, I had a gut feeling that this was going to be my Album of the Year. And yet after months since its release, the album’s still unsurpassed. The American doom metal band’s eighth studio album, Our Raw Heart, wins me over with the most emotional roller coaster ride of the year. Much like my top album from last year, YOB’s album was also inspired by a health issue – this time from lead guitarist/singer/songwriter Mike Scheidt.

Ironically, this may be one of the most uplifting doom metal albums I have ever heard. Each track builds and releases in powerful ways that are vastly different from one another. Yet all of that doesn’t matter as the album both feels and flows as one cohesive piece.

The first track “Ablaze” pulls the listener into a trance which slowly builds up and releases into the emotional chorus. Feeding into the next song, “The Screen” – heavy chugging riffing with growls which subtly reveal the pain behind.

Additional highlights come from the 16-minute “Beauty in Falling Leaves” where you can just hear the raw agony in Scheidt’s voice. It’s absolutely stunning. In the same subject, the guitar tones on this album are simply outstanding and compliment the vocals in some of the most powerful ways. For case-in-point, the title track wraps up the album with a slow burn of inspiration, beauty, and elevation.

Our Raw Heart seems to showcase the chaos in the world, yet it still manages to stop you; telling you to take a breath, and to really see the beauty in falling leaves. With that juxtaposition, Our Raw Heart easily takes the top spot as my Album of the Year.

Listen to my Album of Year:

Honourable Mentions:

Ulthar – Cosmovore

The Sea Within – The Sea Within

Riverside – Vale of Tears

Kamelot – The Shadow Theory

Pig Destroyer – Head Cage

Chris Caffery – The Jester’s Court

Ails – The Unraveling

Sleep – The Sciences

Augury – Illusive Golden Age

Vreid – Lifehunger

Most Disappointed:

Summoning – With Doom We Come

Portal – Ion

Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you?