Friday, February 26, 2010

The Top 50 Albums of the Last Decade: 2008

Once again, the ground rules: each band can only be on the list once. Each year is allotted five albums, i.e., 5 for 2000, 5 for 2001, and so on. I do not attempt to rank them from 1 to 50, or even 1 to 5 within a year, because they are all excellent. Ranking them would be a pointless endeavor.

Also, instead of filling out all 50 slots, I actually have only picked 3 for each year, because, as I learned with my last top X list, I don't know everything about metal (though I do know a lot more than I did then). I probably am unaware of at least two other great metal albums in each of these years, and I want to encourage you to add the rest by commenting.

Without further ado, the list for 2008.

Cynic: Traced in Air

A reunion album 15 years after their debut, it's surprising these masters of jazz fusion-inspired progressive technical death metal haven't lost their roots. Instead, they've stuck to the original formula, and over a decade and a half these accomplished musicians (some former members of the legendary Death) evolved and refined the style significantly. As John A. Hanson of Sputnikmusic wrote (giving the album a perfect score),
While some may have expected the 15 years and band member changes to perhaps cause a giant shift in sound which would have caused either a renaissance or a dilution of Cynic’s sound, all that happened in 15 years was the maturation of Paul Masvidal, Sean Reinart and Sean Malone to the point where Traced in Air sounds like the older, futuristic, spacey cousin of the already futuristic, spacey Focus. Which means it's arguably the weirdest metal album released this year, and almost undoubtedly the best.
The vocals are strange, the death growls making some appearances, but mostly sticking to the computer-like clean vocals they had on the debut album. The music is complex and simultaneously brutal and beautiful, as Hanson noted in his summary, "Traced in Air is essentially the audible recording of the element of Air, in all of its beauty and rage, and one could not ask for anything more." My only complaint is the album is incredibly short (like its predecessor), clocking in at little more than 34 minutes. Top tracks include "The Space for This," "Integral Birth," and especially "Adam's Murmur."

Gojira: The Way of All Flesh

Technical death metal is the order of the day here, and these French masters of the genre also include progressive, thrash, and groove metal elements in their fourth studio album. The lyrics deal with death and its place in the cycle of life, and as always with this band, the environment. I can't praise it enough, so I'll let Chad Bowar of help:
The Way Of All Flesh is a complex effort that takes a few listens to fully unravel and appreciate. Gojira's sound blends death, progressive and thrash metal, and they add a few industrial parts on this CD as well. Some tracks are dense and technical, with waves of riffs and pummeling blast beats that are brutal and intense.
Other songs leave a little more room to breathe, with mellower progressive sections and groovier riffs. The Way Of All Flesh has a lot of diversity in tempos, textures, intensities and song lengths that help keep the listener fully engaged at all times.
There are shorter, focused songs in the 3 to 4 minute range, and more epic and complex tracks like "The Art Of Dying," which clocks in at nearly 10 minutes. . . .
Vocalist Joe Duplantier has a distinctive sound, and his death metal vocals are both intense and understandable. He's brutal, but also uses excellent technique that makes it a bit more accessible. . . .
With The Way Of All Flesh Gojira cements their place as one of the elite bands in extreme metal.
I couldn't have said it better myself. Top tracks include "Oroborus," "The Art of Dying," and "Vacuity," though there is no low point in the record.

Metallica: Death Magnetic

With the help of legendary producer Rick Rubin, the all-time kings of metal return to their thrash metal roots. As I noted previously, the album is definitely their best since Master of Puppets, and quite possibly their second best album ever. It combines the ferocity and power of their early work with the polish and maturity of their later work (St. Anger excluded, though I still think that album deserves its place in their catalog). The Wikipedia article notes something of interest: "The album is the band's fifth consecutive studio album to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 in the United States, making Metallica the first band ever to achieve five consecutive number one debuts." That's impressive, but not nearly as impressive as the album itself, which is completely and uncompromisingly heavy, replete with the band's legendary guitar solos. Critically, it's almost universally accepted as Metallica being Metallica again, their best work in at least two decades. My favorite track is "All Nightmare Long," but the only track I can't see as a staple of their live sets is "The Unforgiven III."

Be sure to add your picks for the remaining two 2008 albums in the comments, and come back next week for the last post in the top 50 albums of the last decade, 2009, a year still fresh in memory. When they're all posted, you can see the whole list by clicking here.


  1. 2008 was the first year I developed a Top 10 list on my own blog. My list was as follows:

    10. Nocturnal Fear: Code of Violence (U.S. thrash metal band that sounds like German bands from the 1980's).
    9. Holy Moses: Agony of Death (return of German thrash metal band from 1980's).
    8. Septicflesh: Communion (Greek black/death metal band with folk and symphonic elements).
    7. The Gates of Slumber: Conqueror (traditional doom metal).
    6. Hail of Bullets: ...Of Frost and War (lead singer of Asphyx and Pestilence with the musicians from Thanatos on concept album about WWII).
    5. Lair of the Minotaur: War Metal Battle Master (thrash/doom).
    4. Toxic Holocaust: An Overdose of Death (thrash metal band influenced by early Celtic Frost, Sodom, Venom, and Bathory).
    3. Mictlantecuhtli: Warriors of the Black Sun (U.S. black metal band dealing with Aztec mythology).
    2. Eluveitie: Slania (Celtic folk/melodic death metal band).
    1. Grand Magus: Iron Will (Swedish traditional/doom metal band that sounds like Cirith Ungol and Trouble).

  2. The only one of those I'm really familiar with is Eluveitie. That is an excellent album, and one I considered for this list (but got knocked off because the other ones were so tremendously great).

    They just came out with a new one--I think on the 19th. I haven't had a chance to listen to it yet, but I'll definitely be doing a review when I do.

  3. Yeah, the new Eluveitie is on my list of albums to track down. It's not always easy finding stuff in Norfolk though. There's always online ordering.