A Great Year for Metal
Normally, this time of year is when I am compiling and painstakingly ranking my 'Best Of' list for the year, because I am under the dubious delusion that any of you care. But this year is different, for 2006 there is just no fucking way I can pare my list down to 10, or 13, or any manageable number at all. Part of it is just that I have listened to a LOT more releases this year, and so my choices are wider than they have been in the past, but as I look back over 2006, I am forced to the conclusion that this isn't the total explanation, and that the year just past was just a great fucking year for metal. I've read some people commenting that this has been a weak metal year, and I just don't get that idea at all - unless they mean fewer big, overhyped albums by lame-ass has-been bands. So here I'm going to discourse on the greatest albums this year, and why they were great, and so forth, in a more free-form fashion than just a rigid listing. In fact, only one album is going to be ranked at all, thus:
Any year the mighty Summoning release an album, it's going to be one of the best, and this is no exception. There were many, many fine album released this year, as I will be illustrating, but nothing can touch this one. Nothing.
Who would have thought? This was the year when not only did a bunch of stalwart Death Metal bands release new albums, but they all kicked ass! Three of the great old Death bands all reversed trends of suckiness with the best albums of their careers. In no especial order:
Amon Amarth have been in a slump since The Crusher, but this year they rose up and smote us all mightily, proving that their hammer still has some bang left in it. With Oden On Our Side just smoked, and I'd call it the Death album of 2006 if it weren't for:
Holy crap, a Deicide album that's not worthless shit! It feels like 1990 all over again. Actually this album is not just a comeback, but a reboot of the whole band. With a new guitar team and some killer new material, Deicide reclaim the crown.
And there's more. The last time Unleashed put out a killer album was…well, never really. But Midvinterblut made a believer out of me. Who can argue with lyrics like "Resurrect yeah so I can vomit on the body of Christ!" You can't compete with shit like that man.
We can't forget Vader. This ancient and powerful Death Metal band finally released a worthy follow-up album to Litany. I've always liked Vader, but they never blew me away, not until this one. I love this armored killing machine of an album.
There were other great releases this year as well, not so well-publicized, but no less destructive:
Lair of the What? Never heard of this band until they stomped my ass flat, burned down my city, and slaughtered my kindred like lambs on the altar of Typhon. Nobody has kicked this much ass since the old days of Celtic Frost except maybe Usurper, and Usurper have never put out an album this flat-out horrific. Destined for greatness.
Nicklas keeps plugging away, making album after great album. I though Envenom was a little too Doomy, but this one gets the Death back in Runemagick's Doomdeath. Crushing shit.
Who ever heard of this band? Not me, but Ares Kingdom prove you don't have to puke about gore or play 1,000 miles an hour to make killer Death Metal. Packed with Thrashy goodness, this debut album is sure to satisfy.
I was thinking this was a thin year for Black Metal, until I counted up the good releases. The bands I'm listing this year run the gamut from old to new, from folky to extreme, but they all prove that Black Metal is alive and growing like that black fungus behind your drywall. If I had to pick one album above the others it would be:
Of all the Black Metal albums released this year, this one owns all the rest. If you don't have it, get it. It goes on my shelf with The Ruins Of Beverast, Summoning, and Nehemah. It's that good. I stand in awe.
The last album by the great Belenos also turns out to be their best. Awesome Pagan Black Metal with haunting instrumental interludes, a great coda to a great band.
The beast from the mideast strikes back with the massive follow-up to the much-worshipped Sphynx. Maybe not quite as good, but even at 90% power Melechesh smoke almost everything else.
Some people are dissing this, saying it's weak, but I frankly think this is their best work since Maradraum. After years of tinkering, Enslaved have finally hit the sound they have been aiming for since Below The Lights – and it was worth getting right.
A strange, understated Pagan Metal masterwork from the universally killer roster of the Van label. I don't know much about this band, I just know I love this disc.
As always, true metal stands proud. There may have been fewer good releases in this genre, there may have been a lot of half-assed albums like Zandelle, but these releases proved again why we call it metal in the first place.
After two disappointing albums, Falconer finally have come back to what their fans wanted in the first place – heavy, melodic folky metal with old singer Mathias Blad back at the helm. This was certainly the biggest turnaround for a melodic metal band this year.
Pharaoh have been getting buzz for years, but this time it all paid off with one of the best discs of the year. The Longest Night is heavy, melodic, and catchy as hell, with songs destined to become classics. This was one not to miss. If you missed it, then fix that now.
WOLLLLLLLLLLFFFF! After years of building their underground power, Wolf finally break out with a real killer of a disc. The Black Flame moves this Swedish band from the also-rans to the big leagues. Pure old-school metal killing.
Doom is always a small genre, filled with often little-known bands who toil forever in the shadow of giants like My Dying Bride, Candlemass, and Saint Vitus. So the list of quality Doom albums is always short in any given year, this year being no exception. I present to you the two best examples to be released in 2006, one traditional, one Funeral in the extreme.
Isole are the inheritors of Candlemass, Solitude Aeturnus, and the great unsung Solstice. Isole put it all together with classic heaviness, memorable songwriting, and the beauty and sadness required for the best Doom. I'd say this band is destined for great things, but they're already doing great things.
Holy fuck these maniacs make Paradise Lost's Gothic sound like a Sonata Arctica album. Tomb Of The Ancient King is the kvltest Doom release imaginable, and a more ungodly crushing album is hard to conceive of. If you want to hear the heaviest, most merciless, most hateful Funeral Doom ever made, then you must get this.
Here are some more albums that are all awesome, even if they don't fit in a neat category. Don't assume because I'm listing them last that they are any less cool.
This is a reissue, but so what? Torture were a great unknown Thrash band back in the old days, and this is a quality reissue of their only full-length album. Heavy, megacrunching old-style Thrash mayhem is the only thing on this menu.
Ahh, the great and powerful Bal-Sagoth finally release their greatest work. Call forth the legions! Summon the iron phalanx! Send forth the hordes to conquer in our name, and the name of the Star-Gods whom we serve, the Masters have returned! If it were not for the inimitable Summoning, this album would get my top spot, no question. Kneel fool.
Yes, you heard me right. After many years of avoiding this band and being underimpressed with many of their lauded works, Blind Guardian have finally released a truly great album. Just because this will be on a lot of top lists doesn't mean it isn't awesome. Detractors take heed.
So despite what some have said, I think this was a really good year for metal, you just had to dig a little deeper than the usual uber-hyped big-label junk to get to the good stuff, but that's almost always the way. And as usual, there were albums that were much worse than I would have hoped, which brings me to:
This band keeps doing the same thing over and over again. Snore.
This wasn't a bad album at all, but nowhere near as good as I hoped, and nowhere near as good as people said it was.
Every good band makes one lame album, this was it.
This wasn't really a 'disappointment', because I knew it would suck, I just underestimated how low the 'Ryche has sunk, and just how bad an album they were capable of. Horrible beyond description.
So when did Belphegor stop giving a fuck? Did I miss something?
So that's it. 2006 was a great year with some killer albums, and 2007 looks to be just as strong, with a lot of good shit set to come out. Yeah, metal sure is dead. Yeeeaaaah.
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