Pig Destroyer – The Octagonal Stairway Relapse Records
After 2018’s Head Cage, grindcore phenoms Pig Destroyer return with a 25 minute EP featuring a mix of ram-down-your-throat aggression and something sinister. With all that 2020 has given Earth so far, anything from Pig Destroyer feels almost necessary in these trying times to get through the day.
With Head Cage still getting regular spins around the office, the first half of the album feels right at home. With brutal attack and gut-wrenching screams, the title track is fierce and oppressive in nature. The final percussive breakdown among the dissonant guitars produces some of the most intense moments on the album – and it’s just getting started.
The Cavalry arrives fast and hard. With the rasping wails of J.R. Hayes, the song smacks the listener across the face with its ripping-fast guitar from Scott Hull and a deep, dirty bass from newcomer Travis Stone. Lyrics are as poetic as ever, with The Cavalry encompassing the the despair the band is trying to get across with their music. “Mark my words,” Hayes screams as Blake Harrison’s hypnotic electronics fade in, ultimately wrapping the song in sonic darkness.
With Cameraman, drummer Adam Jarvis and Harrison work together to create a disoriented sound from both the electronic ambiance in the background with unforgiving percussion in the foreground. While naturally brutal, the album flips to a more sinister tone as album interlude News Channel 6 feeds into the song Head Cage – a spoken-word track borderlining on just ambient noise. Jarvis’ drums, slow paced for a change, add dramatic flair to the tune as it bleeds into the eleven minute track, Sound Walker.
Guest musician, and ex-Sepultura drummer Iggor Cavalera, adds “field, ambient, noise and drum machine” to the final track which is an intense and slow build of noise and sounds which begins to wave in and out by the songs halfway point. The experimental track is a fitting ending to the EP which arguably is the right kind of medium to add a song like Sound Walker to.
With the ever growing and changing sound of Pig Destroyer, The Octagonal Stairway shows there’s another sonic side to the band which may woo over some different ears while still satisfying the core fans.
Following up from 2017’s semi-autobiographical In the Passing Light of Day, Panther redirects the focus of the band’s music onto the listener: “This album is for you, or someone you know. It is for the restless, the shy, the motormouths, the passionate, the ones who go far beyond the point of reason for what you believe in, the outsiders, the diagnosed, the medicated, the hungry, the sad, the ones walking around daily trying to understand how to fit in with this species, with this era … This is your album.”
The overall theme touches on just that – focusing on mental health and those who are made to feel different in a world that does not understand them. While the lyrics may be the physical understanding, Pain of Salvation manages to make the album sonically reflect those feelings as well.
In first track Accelerator, the intense polyrythms married with the lyrics, “I must be the problem here” add a level of indifference, stress, and confusion for both the listener and the reader – placing both as an observer witnessing someone with mental health issues and not knowing what to do. The musical anomalies brought about by the end of the song continue that reflection.
Moving into a somewhat familiar Pain of Salvation songwriting, Unfuture feels reminiscent of music from Scarsick. The switch in time signatures during the choruses intertwined with the fluctuating singing styles listeners have come to know from singer/songwriter Daniel Gildenlow, comes across almost like an anthem.
And in a complete 180 from Unfuture, Restless Boy sounds like nothing what the band has done before. With vocal encoders and tons of electronics built within to the instrumentation, the song comes across similar to the strange feelings Accelerator tries to portray – but does so in a much sinister, almost intentionally – and intellectually – robotic way.
With Then Wait the album takes another 180 from Restless Boy, bringing about a beautiful, melodic song with gut-wrenching lyrics, asking the listener for understanding and patience. The second-longest song on the album at 7 minutes, the song progresses musically like time – starting with a simple guitar melody and gradually growing into something bigger and more modern-sounding. It climaxes to a haunting and emotionally crushing chorus. While nothing changes lyrically, the progressions within the song build the moment to be much stronger than before for a devastating effect on the listener’s emotions.
Like the rest of the album, songs like Keen to a Fault showcase the brilliance of the band’s progressive music with yet more variations than songs before it. Both music and singing vary greatly, constantly keeping the listener on a wave of sensations. Panther rings electronic similarities to Restless Boy, while Species stands out as yet another separate song on the album which progresses with positivity and hope – almost in an empowering sense.
The final track, Icon, at just over 13 minutes is the longest song on the album and features probably the single most-haunting song Pain of Salvation has ever written. While the song feels like a bit of a drag in the early stages, it builds into a frightening and brutally honest reflection of how the mind works – bookending Panther in the most uncomfortable way – which arguably is what the objective of all the songs on the album have been. After all, the album is for a specific type of listener – the panther, if you will.
Like albums before, Pain of Salvation brings another roller coaster ride of feelings to the fray with Panther. The album is sonic journey with lyrical heart and a message to those who need it. While it may single out those who don’t understand, the inner machinations of Pain of Salvation will keep on ticking without them.
John Petrucci – Terminal Velocity Sound Mind Music
by Derek J. Smith
With the lockdown of COVID-19, Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci finally began work following up his 2005 debut solo album, Suspended Animation. In 2020, Terminal Velocity features a bit of everything you’d expect from Petrucci. Surprisingly, however, there’s a lot more throughout the albums various nooks and crannies that makes Terminal Velocity one of the best things John Petrucci has ever produced – including his prior solo effort and most Dream Theater albums. With the title track as an impactful first song on the album, the listener may feel overloaded: “What else is there could Petrucci have to offer? Did I just hear everything he could do?” The other big question asked: “That was just one song – will Petrucci and former bandmate Mike Portnoy recapture the feeling of working together?”
Put it this way: There were no expectations which could prepare you for the incredible song-writing and musicianship encountered on Terminal Velocity.
The technical versatility may feel daunting but is not at all over-stated. Petrucci said he had a lot of time to write this album over the lockdown from COVID and it absolutely shows. Terminal Velocity is not the technical showcase which one would come to expect from Dream Theater albums. Petrucci’s songs feel well-plotted out all the while produced and written with feeling and emotions in mind. While Terminal Velocity feels as if it crams ideas together similar to Devin Townsend’s opening track on his 2019 album Empath – everything works together and establishes tidbits of what the album will be presenting as the listener gets into it.
The familiar intro to The Oddfather is rather tongue-in-cheek and may put a smile on the face of the listener. The Oddfather features so many delicious riffs in the song, making it feel like an early Dream Theater song with styles somewhat mixed in-between Dream Theater albums Awake and Systematic Chaos. Bassist Dave LaRue is simply brilliant, laying foundation across the track and adding a solid level of depth to the song.
Happy Song delivers just what the title suggests – upbeat progressions with bright and cheery lead solos. Meanwhile, Gemini kicks off with heavy riffs and a hefty dirty bass tone from LaRue, reminiscent of heavy grooves from Liquid Tension Experiment. Yet the song continues its various fluxes with Spanish influences-turned-shuffle, and powers through with a wider mix of different genres in its six-minute existence.
Out of the Blue is a nice, mid-paced song which was unexpectedly needed in the middle of the album, giving the listener a breather and soothing them down from the intensity before it. The song does a slow and progressive build up at the end, making the mid-tempo intro riff to the next song, Glass-Eyed Zombies even that more appreciated. In Glass-Eyed Zombies, the gradual build up of from its introduction is a brilliant way to get the listener up to the speed that marked the first half of the album with a ripping solo and chugging thrash metal rhythms.
The bright, almost operatic The Way Things Fall, lets LaRue shine in a handful of moments while still showcasing Petrucci’s solos. Meanwhile, Snake in My Boot portrays a rocking country-metal hybrid anthem we didn’t know we needed.
In the final track, Temple of Circadia, it’s easy to compare to introductions of Dream Theater’s Bridges in the Sky or The Shattered Fortress, yet much like the entirety of the album, there’s lots for the listener to chew over – from the odd time signatures to the intense polyrhythms Portnoy throws upon the song.
Although it definitely feels like a John Petrucci album – and that Mike Portnoy is certainly a big-name draw – there’s a history between these two musicians which cannot be replicated. One can really tell how the two musicians have bonded together. Despite it being over ten years apart from writing music with one another, the melding of their two minds works brilliantly. The emotional impact of two old friends working together is something which literally cannot be replicated if one tried.
The brilliance the two musicians achieve between one another is not hyperbolic if one reminisces of their halcyon days together. Petrucci and Portnoy are musicians who understand one another and are on the same wavelength when it comes to performance and song writing. Terminal Velocity, even unconsciously, comes together as an album celebrating both music and friendship. It may not have been intentional while writing the album, but it certainly feels that way when listening to it.
If we could only get more honest albums like this from musicians, the world of music would most certainly be a better.
Legendary thrash veterans Testament return with their much-anticipated thirteenth studio album, Titans of Creation. Heavy as always, Testament keeps the listener’s pulse pounding with yet another album to add to their extensive repertoire.
Blasting right out of the gates with Children of the Next Level, Testament keeps up with heavy chugging riffs and double kick gallops – calling for the listener to get the hell out of the way. Following, the seemingly tired thrash metal topic of World War III still feels fresh when Testament sings about it. With WW III, the riffs are intense and feel like they were written in the early days of the band. It is easily one of the best songs on the album.
While WW III is one of the best, Dream Deceiver is definitely one of the catchiest songs, with its sing-along chorus and an Alex Skolnick solo screaming with both melody and strength. It flows into the next song, Night of the Watch – my favourite song on the album – for its dark chorus and brutally battering verses.
It’s until after Night of the Watch where the album sort of loses some steam. City of Angels and what feels like a Megadeth-Sweating-Bullets-inspired song, Ishtars Gate, leave much to be desired from the already impressive set of songs that came before.
The intense False Prophets, the thrashing Code of Hammurabi, and the devastating Curse of Osiris offer nice reprieves, but the listener is at the end of the album at that point. Trying to win the listener back after being pulled away from the aggression is a difficult chore. While Testament almost makes it happen, the removal of one or two tedious songs would probably eliminate the issue.
That being said, the songs from Titans of Creation are still ever-powerful from Testament. However, as a whole they’re a bit of a jumble. With a strong start and solid finish, the lackluster middle could be forgiven since the band offers a near-hour of continuous headbanging.
While there’s nothing truly new or mind-blowing on the album from previous Testament records, Titans of Creation is still a solid release from the California thrash legends.
Green Carnation – Leaves of Yesteryear Season of Mist
Forget Tool’s length between albums. From the ashes rise Green Carnation and their newest album in fourteen years, Leaves of Yesteryear. The modest progressive metal pioneers, well-established because of their 2001 opus, Light of Day, Day of Darkness, come forward with another album with their unique twist on the genre.
Mixing elements from black, doom, and progressive metal, Leaves of Yesteryear is yet another gem from these Norwegian musicians featuring four new songs and a re-recording of a song off of their debut album, My Dark Reflections of Life and Death.
The real beauty within the album derives from the subtle intricacies sprawled throughout. The chorus of title track, for example features a plain sounding trumpet effect from the keyboard. Mixed with the instruments, it becomes epic. As the chorus replays throughout the song, the trumpeting builds with orchestral brilliance.
On Sentinels, the transition from bridge to the final chorus features two measures in 4/4 timing. Traditional songs would use one measure to transition – but Green Carnation’s brilliance extends it to two: the first featuring the music ringing out from the bridge and the second coming in with sustained vocals and a beautifully simplistic drum fill – resetting the tempo of the song. These little bits in the songs seem minor but absolutely add much needed vigor and strength into what some may feel as an overtly virtuoso and stale genre.
The rerecording of My Reflections breathes new life into the song. Despite its twenty year age, it fits well within the album and still feels new. Not many bands can say they’ve accomplished such a feat.
While progressive metal seems to showcase flashy solos and technical unisons, Hounds shows how progressive metal can have both groove and heart. The chorus demands the listener to sing along. The thumping bass keeps a steady groove and features refreshing R&B variations that are not often referenced in the genre.
The album concludes with Solitude – a cover off of Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality. Arguably the weakest song on the album due to its solemn nature, Solitude is haunting, beautiful, and sad – a different kind of feel from most of the album. While the track sorting of the album lets Solitude work best as the last song, it feels strange the album wasn’t bookended with another bolder song as a pick-me-up.
After a long hiatus, Green Carnation returns to form with Leaves of Yesteryear. It’s something familiar of fans who have stuck with the band over the years, while still presenting something different. It’s a complicated album masking itself as simplicity. The Leaves of Yesteryear has depth, courage, and teeth to it. It is definitely one of the best progressive metal albums I’ve heard in the past decade.
Welcome back, Green Carnation. You were sorely missed.
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 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. Cutting 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 recognized entirely!
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.
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.
Not everything needs to be metal, y’know. The first album on this list which 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.
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.
One of a few albums that originally had not ranked 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.
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.
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. It’s a wonderful album.
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.
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.
A modern-day epic, 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.
Bringing 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.
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.
This Agalloch album is VERY closely contended with my #1 and 2. 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.
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. Weather Systems is a triumph for both the mind and ears.
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!