There are children who are starting to be able to lie to their parents pretty convincingly who were born on the first day I posted something at AMG. There have been 130 (+/- 13) generations of mosquitoes who have been hatched, lived, sucked blood, laid eggs and died since I started this humble little blog. Djent became a thing and we all became annoyed with it. Dio and Peter Steele died and Black Sabbath actually reunited. Actually, quite a bit has changed since I started this little blog. Let me wax nostalgic for a minute or three.
Back in 2009, I started Angry Metal Guy. Without getting too biographical, the title of the blog was actually rooted in a joke that I had with my girlfriend about me and how I hate everything. In any case, having just moved to Sweden a year and half prior and finished my bachelors degree a few months before, I was unemployed, bored, and starved for good, quality metal that I could not actually afford. I also had opinions. Lots of them. And really, they were well-formulated opinions that reflected some kind of esoteric truth about metal. So what did I do? I took advantage of full album feeds on MySpace to start reviewing records on my newly purchased website “angrymetalguy.com.” On May 19th, 2009 I produced my first WordPress post entitled “Hello World.” I then changed the name to “Amorphis – Skyforger on MySpace.” Finally, I uploaded some reviews I’d done for my personal blog and backdated them to look like I was productive. No one cared. The website had the theme “Grunge,” which is about as metal as WordPress can even look. It was pretty fugly.
No one cared, that is, but the very kindly lady who had Nuclear Blast and Century Media’s promotional duties in Sweden1. I sent her my glowing review of Amorphis – Skyforger—AMG’s very first 5/5—and I began to get promotional material from her. That’s how easy it was. In some ways, despite the fact that no one cared even the tiniest little bit, those were the days. I was (literally) writing for myself and for no one else with the ‘payment’ of free music. And I wrote quite a bit. My goal was to update three or four times a week, but by the time Steel Druhm posted his first review, my goal was to post five reviews a week. Part of the benefits of being post-bachelors degree and pre-job was an inordinate amount of free time to spend listening to metal and writing about it.
I rode that horse pretty hard, but it really caught up to me in the summer of ’11—when I was wearing an onion on my belt, as was the fashion in those days. That summer when I took my yearly vacation to the north, I realized I was so burned out. I listened to nothing but Camel and Meatloaf‘s track “Objects in the Rearview Mirror May Be Closer than They Appear” repeatedly while detoxing from the intense stress of forcing Steel Druhm to review metalcore and making the website work and grow. Druhm managed to keep the website going, and more importantly when I returned we were able to keep the site growing. Because up has been the trajectory of Angry Metal Guy: constant growth, like some kind of post-communist economy growing on the backs of its newly (or at least differently) exploited workers (in this case those poor schlubs were Steel Druhm and myself). AngryMetalGuy.com became a job, and I became a pretty decent administrator.
Since then the staff has grown. I have continued to take a back seat in the day-to-day stuff while pursuing a PhD (and writing my Master’s thesis). We have gotten huge in South Africa, have received ironic blurb stickers from a band whose record I panned, been thanked by bands I love (like Wildernessking and The 11th Hour!) in their discs, and we get thousands of visitors every day, many of whom are stumbling on Angry Metal Guy (dot com) for the first time.
I no longer live in the north of Sweden (now I live in the middle of Sweden), and I no longer am unemployed (I got a master’s degree and now a job at a university as a doctoral student); but I do still hate things, I do have really strong opinions, and—contrary to what people think after my most recent Top 10(ish) Records o’ 2013, I still do like metal.
The point of this post isn’t just to wax nostalgic about my time as Angry Metal Guy, though, it’s actually to drop some reflexive knowledge on yo’ asses in the terms of which records really stuck with me from my Top 10(ish) Records posts since 2009. Since there are 55 records on my 5 Top 10(ish) lists, I am giving myself 15(ish) of these as the best o’ the best since starting at AMG. One final thought, though, before I go. Lists like this give the lie to any rating system, and mine is a perfect example of this. The interaction of music with the individual is something personal and strange, and things that hit just that spot at one time might do nothing for you later. There will be things on this list that you didn’t expect to see and other things you really did expect to see in spots you would never have imagined seeing them. That’s the beauty of music and the beauty of taste, and the danger of setting up “measurements” of something as deeply personal as music.
Oh, also, I’m aware that without you, dear reader, this blog wouldn’t be the successful endeavor it is today. So thank you all for coming in the first time, and thank you all for sticking around despite us—most likely—having panned your favorite band’s new record.
#(ish): Turisas // Stand up and Fight – [#N/A in 2011 – Century Media Records] — This album wasn’t on my Top 10(ish) from 2011, but I have no idea why! Looking at that list, there are certain things that easily could have been dropped from the list and replaced with a record that I gave a 4.5/5.0 for a reason. What Stand up and Fight has managed to do is just to stick around in my playlist since it was released. The unique combination of the stupendously epic sounds, complemented by a beautiful use of orchestration, with Nygård’s obvious ’80s rock influences and progressive tendencies makes for an album that presses all the right buttons. “Take the Day!” has an “Eye of the Tiger” pulse that sticks, while “End of an Empire” and “The Bosphorus Freezes Over” and the Finnish Men’s Epic Choir caress my desire for epic showtunes in my records about Vikings traveling to the Byzantine Empire. Stand up and Fight holds a special place in my heart, and like so many records that grow on the listener, it has set deep roots.
#15: Shining // VII: Född förlorare – [#3 in 2011 – Spinefarm] — While Shining obviously peaked with V: Halmstad, Född förlorare was a return to form after a weird and uncomfortable movement into shreddy territory and not-so-hot writing on VI. Unlike its predecessor, the record just works. Kvarforth sounds tortured enough and the composition sparks with passion and tension. And, I’ll be honest, there isn’t an album I’ve heard in my time at Angry Metal Guy that annoys my girlfriend more than this one, which definitely gives it the bonus of being music in a weaponized form. In any case, Född förlorare was a return to form that I’ve come back to time and again. It added some detail to the fine blade that Kvarforth had crafted through V, and deserves a hat-tip if nothing else. The Landberk cover shines, and the album ranks as the best Opeth record I’ve heard since starting at the blog.
#14: Sigh // Scenes from Hell – [#3 in 2010 – The End Records] — When Scenes from Hell dropped in 2010, I really had no idea what to expect. The scene had flipped a collective titty over 2007’s Hangman’s Hymn, but I had never really gotten into the record. Still, from the very opening strains of Scenes from Hell it was obvious to me that I was listening to an extraordinarily special record. One of the things that might turn people off to it is that it’s produced in a weird and claustrophobic way, but I like that. The orchestra and the band sound like they’re competing for air, and it gives it such a different feel from the over-produced classical black metal bands like Dimmu Borgir or Septicflesh. There’s something that still feels raw about Scenes from Hell, and the orchestrations on the album are a league above what everyone else had done. This record could have been done without the distorted guitars and it still would have been metal as fuck. I still can’t get over the “bridge” in “L’art de Mourir.” Scenes from Hell is just an elite record, and you’ll never quite hear anything like it ever again.
#13: Demiurg // Slakthus Gamleby [#7 in 2010 – Cyclone Empire] — After the release of The 11th Hour‘s excellent Burden of Grief I did an interview with the band’s mainman Ed Warby. During that conversation he told me that he was working on a record that was Rogga Johansson’s “Cadillac” project—that is, the one that wasn’t specifically about gutting nuns or anything. So when I got my greedy little paws on Slakthus Gamleby, the band’s 2010 release, I was stoked. This album features not just Johansson and Warby, but one Dan Swanö (you might have heard of him) and Johan Berglund from The Grotesquery and Marjen Welman of Autumn. The result is a death metal project with doomy tones but a really Bloodbath/Vorum feel when one isn’t being serenaded with haunting female vocals or Warby’s awesome doom tones. This is one of the classiest, coolest, and most underrated records I’ve heard while reviewing here. I urge everyone to give it a shot, because it’s fucking great.
#12: Flesghod Apocalypse // Oracles [#3 in 2009 – Willowtip] — For once I have a little scene cred, ’cause I got in on the ground floor with Fleshgod Apocalypse‘s first album, and let me tell you a secret—it’s their best. Oh, I know, that’s what we say about all the bands, but with Fleshgod Apocalypse it’s definitely true. First, while the production on this record is nothing to write home about, it’s definitely better than the follow-ups. Second, what Fleshgod was doing on Oracles was something that was new, fascinating, and remarkably entertaining in a way that can’t be overstated. Like their Italian brethren in [Luca Turilli’s] Rhapsody [of Fire], these sons of the culture capital of the world draw upon their cultural heritage to create metal, much like all the Scandinavians who have done similar things. The thing is, Italian culture is way more tied up in opera and classical music than folkvisor and excessive drinking. At least when they did their excessive drinking it was done with fine, powdered wigs on. In any case, Oracles is the perfect distillation of this classical tradition into stunning technical death metal. It’s hard to get into this record because the DRUMS ARE SO FUCKING LOUD but give it some time and compartmentalize the guitars, and you can’t help walking away from this record impressed.
#11: Riverside // Anno Domini High Definition [#6 in 2009 – InsideOut Recordings] — Poland’s Riverside was a band that I knew nothing about when I first popped in their newest record back in 2009. One of the benefits of walking into a record totally clueless is the propensity of getting floored by what you hear. ADHD (ugh) floored me. While I was a bit nervous at first about Mariusz Duda’s vocal approach and lyrics, but all I needed was to get into the record and begin experiencing the layers. While heavy—a drive that betrays the band’s background in metal—it was uncompromisingly progressive and unabashedly modern. In fact, Riverside nailed the sound I want from modern prog so well that I have a difficulty getting over ADHD. When they released their new album, it was ADHD I compared it to, and every time I hear a band that sounds like Fates Warning or Dream Theater, I think “man, I want to listen to Riverside.” ADHD has amazing songwriting and performances, the production is excellent and it has that “full-length x factor” that makes it extremely difficult to turn off once it’s started. So, I’ll write the next entry in 45 minutes…
#10: The Human Abstract // The Digital Veil [#4 in 2011 – E1 Records] — The Human Abstract is a hyper-modern American metal band that many would call “metalcore.” I guess I don’t care so much what they’re called, so long as they produce elite music, and I can definitely say that The Digital Veil was elite—if overproduced as fuck. Still, what The Human Abstract was trying to do—blending the modern technical metalcore/techy melodeath sound with neo-classical guitar skills, with a Muse-like vocal approach—was an awesome idea and worked perfectly. I was pretty much hooked form the opening of “Elegiac,” but “Faust” and “Antebellum” and the very cool and epic “Patterns” all kept me guessing and firmly infatuated in these kids’ vision for the metal they wanted to produce. The only thing that makes the record worse than anything else I’ve heard since I’ve been reviewing is the way that it was produced with such dated sounds and techniques. A remastering is in order, but it was good of these guys to produce their magnum opus before calling it quits.
#9: Diablo Swing Orchestra // Pandora’s Piñata [#3 in 2012 – Candlelight Records] — Angry Metal Guy shouldn’t be such a playful guy, but one of the things you may have noticed about me is that over time I’ve been getting more and more interested in playful and interesting metal. While the metal world gets stupid over the new true thing—be it more extreme or more “techy” or whatever—I find myself drawn to bands that are more creative, more melodic, more eclectic. Diablo Swing Orchestra‘s 2012 opus Pandora’s Piñata is the perfect example of how music in the metal genre can be made swinging, fascinating, entertaining and still have a bit of a heavy side and the darkness we all long for. The record is epic, but this ensemble doesn’t take itself too damned seriously, which—similar to Solefald or Finntroll—gives them a leg up on the competition. This is one of the coolest and most fun records I own and it still makes me nod my head and drops a good groove riff from time-to-time. DSO does the Swedish scene credit by not sounding like Entombed. Hurra!
#8: The Ocean // Pelagial [#1 in 2013 – Metal Blade] — For a list of the five year anniversary, it’s actually kind of an interesting statement that The Ocean is the only 2013 thing on this list. That’s not to say that the albums on my Top 10(ish) from this year aren’t great, but it illustrates just how strong other years were. In any case, Pelagial—as I’m sure you’re all aware—is a monster record from a really cool band who’s doing really unique and interesting stuff. While it needs to be given some time to ripen to see where it would land in 5 years time, Pelagial is simply a cool record. I’ve written so many blurbs about it that I really am not sure what more to say at this case that I haven’t already said here or here. Just look at the albums that it’s surrounded by and you’ll see that it’s a compliment to The Ocean to be in this group. Let me just say that I hope these guys can really continue to produce albums that are as truly epic as Pelagial is. This is going to be a hard standard to meet.
#7: Moonsorrow // Varjoina kuljemme kuolleiden maassa [#1 in 2011 – Spinefarm] — For some people Varjoinna kuljemme kuolleiden maassa was a disappointment. Many of my friends who are big Moonsorrow fans didn’t “feel” Vkkm in the way that I apparently did. But for me, Moonsorrow‘s 2011 slab of extraordinarily epic metal is a standing testament to the fact that 17 minute songs can be just as entertaining as 3 minute songs. While it’s true that V: Hävittety might be a stronger album, Vkkm threads the needle of being extremely epic and ponderous, but also melodic and emotional. After the 6 minute mark of “Tähdetön” it’s hard to turn away from the aural experience you’re being subjected to. These guys blend black metal and the Scandinavian style of epic black metal into something entirely unique and world-changing. They take the epic scope of a story and turn it into something immense, ridiculously hard to swallow in a single bite, and then they dare you to sit down for the ride. Varjoina kuljemme kuolleiden maassa is still one of the finest albums I’ve heard in my time at Angry Metal Guy. There may be more accessible albums that I come back to more frequently, but there’s something to be said for treating the album format like Russian writers treated the novel.
#6: Rhapsody of Fire // The Frozen Tears of Angels [#2 in 2010 – Nuclear Blast] — I don’t think you can underestimate just how important The Frozen Tears of Angels really was when given how lost to metal Rhapsody had seemed until it dropped. After being embroiled in some kind of weird legal battle with eminent poseur, functional psychopath, and old guy Joey DeMaio—who subsequently stole their sound but didn’t have the talent to make it work—it was like a blast of fresh air when The Frozen Tears of Angels came barreling out of my speakers. Sure, it’s mastered to death, but the music speaks for itself. There is an energy from this record that simply pops, it’s in the songwriting, and the performances, but especially the guitar work. Turilli topped his best work ever on The Frozen Tears of Angels and created some of the most memorable guitar solos I’ve ever heard throughout the whole record. This album also opened the floodgates for a series of releases, all of which ranged between pretty good and amazing, so it’s safe to say that they really did rise a bit like a phoenix from the flames. The Frozen Tears of Angels is power metal done right. Take that, DeMaio.
#5: Sabaton // Carolus Rex (Swedish) [#1 in 2012 – Nuclear Blast] — Sabaton is not my favorite band. They’re not even close. Their specific brand of dude metal hasn’t ever thrilled me before. But Carolus Rex just pressed every single button I had. It was catchy, melodic, heavy and—most importantly—it was in Swedish about Swedish history. To say that this one was in some ways a bit of a shoe-in is probably true. Still, that I’m a nerd doesn’t change what this album does so well. Firstly, the songs are well-written, they’re fun to listen to, and the melodies are catchy. Secondly, hearing a band actually sing power metal in Swedish is nice for a change, because bands are so limited by their English language skills. Sabaton are no poets in English, and they’re not going to win a Nobel Prize for their Swedish lyrics, either, but Carolus Rex isn’t hampered by cheesy, unlistenable lyrics that get in the way of the band’s otherwise interesting ideas. Songs like “En livstid i krig,” “Carolus Rex,” and “Ruina imperii” are successful because of the use of Swedish and it bolsters my theory that bands should do what they’re good at, not what they think they should do. This is a record I’ll be listening to for a very, very long time.
#4: The Black Dahlia Murder // Ritual [#6 in 2011 – Metal Blade] — The Black Dahlia Murder is one of those bands that I thought was on a decline—which, let’s be frank—is inevitable. So when Ritual dropped in 2011 I was not ready for it all. I like the band, I love their brand of post-At the Gates melodeath with a blasty side and a dynamic vocalist. But they’d gotten a little tired. Ritual changed that by adding Ryan “Motherfuckin'” Knight to the lineup and adding dynamic writing and new ideas to their repertoire. Add amazing cover art, and the best production job of their career, and Ritual is just the beastly record that I as a fan was waiting for. Every song is a victory, the guitar solos are life-changing, and—as bands are wont to do from time to time—they broke the barrier of their sound and, according to an interview that I did with Trevor that never got published2, finally broke them into the upper echelon of metal bands touring and recording music today. What’s cool about that is that tracks like “On Stirring Seas of Salted Blood” and “Blood in the Ink” saw the band moving away from their bread and butter sound for something newer, epicer, awesomer, and—honestly—stupefying. This was not my Record o’ the Year, but I actually listen to it a hell of a lot 3 years later. Take that for what it is.
#3: The 11th Hour // Burden of Grief [#7 in 2009 – Napalm Records] — Ed Warby’s vision seems to be a vision I share. His influence on the Demiurg stuff helped to bring it to the fore in my mind and rank on this list; but his true genius is seen in the deeply personal and ponderously heavy Burden of Grief which dropped in 2009. Burden of Grief was one of those watermarked promos I got back in the day from Napalm Records, and I knew that I liked Ed pretty well when I received this one, and he had made the watermarks as unobtrusive as possible. This helped me focus on the music—and holy shit, was it some music to focus on. I have never been a big fan of doom, but Warby’s haunting voice is only matched by his haunting use of melody and intuitive understanding for song construction. Burden of Grief shows off not only the man’s feel for melody, but his death metal credentials. While the record isn’t “riffy” like more traditional death metal fare, it is heavy and the use of Rogga’s beastly growls to punctuate these tracks helps to make the record feel simultaneously depressing and deadly. The production on this record is thick and loud, but the feel is simply leaden. When I got a new pair of speakers the first thing I did was pop in Burden of Grief and just sit in front of them in awe. So, so good.
#2: Guilt Machine // On this Perfect Day [#4 in 2009 – Mascot Records] — The astute reader has noticed that when I rank Arjen Lucassen’s material, I rate it as “X/Guilt Machine.” That’s because On this Perfect Day is, well, a perfect record. True, it’s not a heavy record, but the tones are dark and mysterious and the writing is epic. The tracks never get shorter than 6 minutes and the production tones are layered with clean tones and synthesizer—frankly, much like Arjen’s post-Guilt Machine material. What makes On this Perfect Day such a phenomenal record is its completeness. I hear a lot of people say that the iPod changed the way they listened to music, but On this Perfect Day is a record that needs time, patience, space, and excellent equipment to really appreciate. Though some things about On this Perfect Day were immediate: Belgian pop-singer Jasper Steverlinck’s performance is a true stand-out in the Arjen Lucassen tradition of finding the best vocalists available. At times, I’m amazed at how much he reminds me of Freddie Mercury. And, of course, the melodies and composition here are outstanding. Put the concept, the emotional feel, the amazing writing, production and the outstanding vocal performances together and you have one of the best records ever written. That this album didn’t go over with Arjen’s fans is a mystery. Guilt Machine made me an Arjen fan.
#1: Orphaned Land // The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR [#1 in 2010 – Century Media Records] — I write this blurb after having heard the news that guitarist Yossi has left Orphaned Land. His sound is integral to the band, and to this album. The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR was a record that literally raised the bar for everything that I heard after it. I had discovered Mabool a few years earlier in the “new releases” of a CD store after having heard of the band by word of mouth from a German friend of mine. I picked it up and loved it, though I had some minor critiques—I didn’t think Kobi was a great death metal vocalist and he had some tone issues at times—I still gave it a 10/10 and eagerly awaited their next record. When ORwarriOR was announced the anticipation for me cannot be overstated. I had been looking forward to this album forever, and then I found out that Steven Wilson was working on it with the band. When I received a copy of the album it would have been easy for me to be disappointed—instead, I was blown away. I hadn’t even expected anything to ever be this good. ORwarriOR was easily the best record I’d listened to since Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.
It should come as no surprise that this is still the best album I’ve heard in the 5 years that I’ve been reviewing here at Angry Metal Guy. In fact, it’s basically among my favorite albums ever. There is nothing to critique here—the songwriting is epic, it flows, the performances are amazing and the production is ridiculously good, especially given that Wilson’s skills were then squashed into a DR6 record. This is what a band sounds like when they are firing on all cylinders. Orphaned Land was a finely tuned machine and ORwarriOR is a masterpiece. I mean this literally—it not only is the best work the band ever did, but it expanded the heavy metal genre in directions no one saw coming.
Pile o’ Shame / Things that Probably Belonged on Year End Lists that I Missed:
The Dear Hunter // Act III: Life and Death [2009 – Triple Crown Records] — Yeah, this ain’t metal. But man it’s fucking good. The Dear Hunter is essentially a progressive rock band in the most traditional sense—they’re experimental, they don’t find themselves kept in line by a set of constrictive genre rules and even when they write poppy stuff, it sure ain’t boilerplate crap. It’s epic, it’s fun, it’s cool. Act III is a ride that shows off everything you need to know about this band and it’s an immensely entertaining ride—orchestras, Queen harmonies, and a 40 genre-style-changes later, you’ll just want to start the disc over again. The downside for a lot of metal dudes is going to be the vocals, which wander the “indie rock” lines a bit much at times—but if you like prog, you’ll love Act III: Life and Death.
Vorum // Grim Death Awaits [2009 – Woodcut Records] — Retro-death done right. These Ålanders produced one of the most uncompromising records of 2009 and it flew right under my radar until 2010. The riffs on Grim Death Awaits are sharp, the song-writing is absolutely no bullshit—tracks clocking in at 4:20 at the very top, and that’s double the average song. Grim Death Awaits is a brutal, extreme, and entertaining listening experience that will knock death metal fans out of the park.
Claws // Absorbed in the Nethervoid [2009 – Razorback Records] — Finnish death metal from 2009? Why, yes! More of it! Absorbed in the Nethervoid and Grim Death Awaits both landed on my lists because they’re good at very similar things and they’re both standout. Absorbed in the Nethervoid has more of the old Entombed feel, and that rawness works so good. Again, these songs aren’t long, most of them are about 3:20 and the riffs and groove are sick. Ain’t no denyin’, Claws is good shit.
Beyond Creation // The Aura [2011 – PRC Music] — Just when I was wrapping up the 2011 lists, someone pointed out Beyond Creation‘s epic opus The Aura which had dropped that year with little to-do (and was later re-released by Seasons of MIst because it’s awesome). I tried to get a hold of the CD from the label, but they kindly informed me that they were closed for vacation—for the next 3 months. That’s how fucking independent this release was. All that aside, Beyond Creation does tech death metal right, with amazing feats of fretless bass that put Cynic to shame. This record is heavy, it’s brutal, it’s technical, and if the drums didn’t sound so canned it’d be even better. Still, worth checking if you never got around to it. It belonged on that list.
Crimfall // As the Path Unfolds… [2009 – Napalm Records] — I was pretty dismissive of Crimfall when I first heard them, and they never made my list for 2009. But they definitely stuck around, like those really excellent records do. At some point I pulled it back out and realized what a terrible mistake I’d made. While I’d given the album a good score, it was a much more interesting and innovative record than I’d really thought at the time. It boiled down the Finnish metal scene down into its various parts and built a sound that really worked well with all of them. Helena Haaparanta’s vocal performance is excellent and the writing just works. This was a grower and unfortunately, the reviewing business doesn’t give you much time to let growers grow.
Mors Principium Est // …and Death Said Live [2012 – AFM] — Never release your album in December. Mors got released on December 5th of 2012 and basically ended up a footnote in my Best of list. The problem with that? The record is a beast of melodic death metal prowess. It’s gotta be one of the best melodeath albums to be released since the huge rush on melodeath in the late 90s and early 2000s. It’s a sound that a lot of people are tired of, but Mors does it right—heavy, fast, melodic, and very little navel-gazing. This should never have been overlooked.