It’s hard to make this kind of broad list, I just want to say that from the get-go. How do you do this? Do you choose your favorites, or do you choose the genre defining records? Because saying, for example, that some of the following records are really genre defining wouldn’t be true. On the other hand, these are the records that when I go back and look at the 2000s I think of pretty immediately as some of the best stuff and the things that I keep coming back to.
But the 2000s have been an interesting time for metal in a lot of ways. One of the things that happened was that death metal and death metal-influenced music really hit the mainstream in a lot of ways. For the first time since the 1980s there were larger groups of young people who really started getting into metal and there is an entire generation of musicians who have been influenced by the heavy metal of the 80s and the underground of the 1990s (particularly black and death metal). While I believe that metal is on the ebb again (in a popular music sense) and will once again retreat underground to lick its wounds and come up with something fascinating, interesting and new, the 2000s have been a great time to be a fan of the genre.
This list is going to take a lot of hits. I can already hear some of them, and some of them will come out of left field. But, as usual, I refuse to apologize for my taste. The focus on “magazine metal” bands will probably irritate some, and others will argue that my choices from one genre or another aren’t representative of the best of that genre during the period (specifically death metal in this case). But when I look back on the last 9 years, these are the ones that stand out. And trust me, there’s some stuff that I wish I could get on there, but I didn’t include an honorable mentions section since I expanded the list to 15. But there are some amazing records (Moonsorrow‘s Hävitetty, Anata‘s Under a Stone with No Inscription and The Conductor’s Departure, Agalloch‘s The Mantle, Turisas‘ The Varangian Way, Necrophagist‘s Epitaph, Ásmegin‘s Hin Vordende Sod & Sø¸, Absu‘s Tara, Rhapsody‘s Power of the Dragonflame, Anathema‘s A Fine Day to Exit, Nile‘s Black Seeds of Vengeance, Otyg‘s Sagovindars Boning, Obscura‘s Cosmogenesis, Watain‘s Sworn to the Dark, Akercocke‘s Antichrist, Enslaved‘s Below the Lights are just a few of my major oversights) that came out during this period that haven’t ended up on this list and I’m aware of that.
Anyway, I hope you find this list enjoyable, shocking, provocative and maybe even dead on. Backwards this time…
#(ish): Unearth // The Stings of Conscience  – For #(ish) I thought I’d include something that no one expected to see on this list (and something that I sort of rediscovered myself as I was writing it). This record came out in 2001 and I have to say at the time it made me very interested in the up-and-coming metalcore scene. I had a friend who was really into punk and hardcore who showed it to me and it was… well, great! This record is melodic and awesome while still having the originality and freshness of the time and the guitar playing to match it. There is an energy to this album that still comes across, in my opinion, and it should be fairly obvious to anyone who gives this record a chance that these guys were for real. Metalcore has since become a joke and Unearth hasn’t produced anything I liked since, but this album is a time-capsule of awesome.
#15: Ihsahn // angL  – One of the finest progressive records of the decade, Ihsahn‘s angL definitely was an awakening for me. This was like the best Emperor material with a progressive sensibility that I hadn’t been expected. This record has rarely left my playlist since I first got it in 2007. I have been consistently proseltyzing about this album to everyone who will listen. If you like Emperor and you like progressive music, you should definitely thinking about getting this album because it is a truly fantastic record that will be hard to match. This might not be on this list in 5 years time for me, I dunno (the list above is filled with records that could be in this spot), but for the time being I think I have to put this album here because it’s just such a damn fine piece of work.
#14: Fleshgod Apocalypse // Oracles  – There are few bands who have ever done the technical metal thing as well as it’s done on this album. What’s so good about Fleshgod is how they blend the melodic metal with the technical stuff so seamlessly by making it neo-classical. This may be the first neo-classical death metal band and I think more bands should consider giving this kind of thing a try. From start to finish Oracles is chalk full of baroque harmonies and arrangements and it’s still balls-to-the-walls and wicked heavy. There have been a lot of great death metal records in the last 10 years, but I think that this is one of the ones that I’ve listened to the most and that’s mainly ’cause it’s awesome and original.
#13: Orphaned Land // Mabool  – Really, Orphaned Land is just a damn impressive band. While their earlier material feels a bit halting and isn’t perfection, Mabool just blew me away when I picked it up. I found it in the new releases section of one of my favorite old record stores in Minneapolis, MN (which has sadly shut down after the death of the owner) and listened to it on the drive back home and was just blown away by the material on here. While the production could have been better (see it’s follow up from 2010), the song-writing here is amazing. And not only that, but this really signaled the beginning of the global era of metal which, with the dawn of the Internet, downloading and webzines has really just expanded outwards. Mabool was the beginning of this realization for me, that we were beyond Scandinavia now and that there was no way to know what kind of mind-blowing music we would get. This is really one of the best records from the era, for sure.
#12: Amon Amarth // With Oden on Our Side  – Another band that I have listened to a ton in the last decade has been Amon Amarth. These guys are just tremendously talented and tremendously good at what they do. This music is never, ever complicated. It is never anymore than the melodic death metal in the veins of Unleashed and other Swedish death metal bands and it is never anything that much more than pretty damn entertaining, solid death metal. Except once. I’m not sure exactly what makes With Oden on Our Side better than previous records, but for whatever reason it just all clicked on this album. “Valhall Awaits Me,” “Cry of the Black Bird,” “Prediction of Warfare” all of these tracks makes me rock out every single time. Seeing them live on this tour was amazing because all of these songs just drove the whole crowd into a total frenzy. These guys have a lot of good records, but With Oden on Our Side definitely is the crowning jewel.
#11: Amorphis // Eclipse  | Silent Waters  | Skyforger  – I know, I’m cheating by putting three records on here at the same time, but I have to say that for me this is a trilogy even if it’s not exactly meant to be one. These three albums are probably the finest string of records from any band in the decade and, on top of that, this is the best band re-branding and resurrection from obscurity that I can possibly think of. Eclipse burst out the door for me and I was totally hooked. And I have been singing the praises of the “new” vocalist Tomi Joutsen since he joined the band. The only time I’ve ever witnessed a band come out with this kind of passion and produce these kind of fantastic records is when it’s a young band, and Amorphis has been doin’ this a long, damn time. So more power to ’em. Buy all three of these albums.
#10: Katatonia // The Great Cold Distance  – This was a torturous decision for me. Choosing between this record and Last Fair Deal Gone Down just hurt like hell because both of these records are such great albums and such fantastic writing. I finally decided I’d go with The Great Cold Distance because this is the first Katatonia record that I just loved instantly since Brave Murder Day. These guys define a bit of the trend of leaving metal behind as we understood it from the 90s to the 2000s. These guys weren’t the only ones who left those roots behind. Anathema, In Flames, Paradise Lost and others abandoned their roots and starting doing other shit. But Katatonia just got better and better while the others were hit and miss or, well, worse. For me The Great Cold Distance was the culmination of this sound and it is a record that lives on.
#9: Primordial // To the Nameless Dead  – Primordial is one of those bands that has become sort of iconic in this era against what one would actually have expected to happen. With very unconventional clean vocals and long, fairly simplistic songs, these records shouldn’t be the bee’s knees. But there is an energy to Primordial‘s material that cannot be denied. Choosing between this record and 2005’s The Gathering Wilderness was pretty damn tough (largely because my favorite song by the band is “The Coffin Ships”), but I think that To the Nameless Dead is the more consistent of the two and is a record that I have consistently come back to. Every track on here is 5/5. And, actually, 2007 was a damn good year.
#8: Taake // Over Bjoergvin Graater Himmerik  – There was a while when black metal was doing exactly what I wanted from it. In the early 2000s a group of Norwegian bands (and American bands) came out that sounded like they were more influenced by 80s thrash and melodic metal than others. The result were some fantastic records that really still get me excited. For me, the peak of this group was definitely Over Bjoergvin Graater Himmerik which includes some of the wickedest riffing and best black metal vocals since Garm quit doing black metal vocals. Taake‘s first three are all recommended from this Angry Metal Guy, but …Bjoergvin… is the best.
#7: Vintersorg // Visions from the Spiral Generator  – So Vintersorg is often an afterthought for a lot of people, and I’ve always thought that was a shame. The records of his that tend to get love are actually from the late 90s and I get that. I, too, was reared up on Till Fjälls and Ã–demarkens Son, but one record that has always been overlooked for its pure brilliance and progressive approach and that is truly unique (largely due to the drums of Asgier Mickelsen and the bass of Steve DiGiorgio). Also, Mr. V was one of the first to sort of break away from what he was doing and just change course mid-career with great success. He decided that singing songs to Sweden wasn’t really as fulfilling as writing about quantum mechanics and more power to him! In any case, I think Visions is one of my favorite albums by him and it certainly is among the best records I own from those years.
#6: Cynic // Traced in Air  – Oh, this record has generated a hell of a lot of hate since it came out. All the true metal guys have their panties in a bundle because this ‘magazine metal’ band has gotten so popular. You know what I say? Fuck those dudes. This record is great. And what’s good about it? Well, it’s basically just a progressive album. It’s not exactly the most metal thing I’ve ever heard, and as a sucker for progressive metal I hadn’t expected this to be anywhere near so interesting as what it ended up being. The musicianship is fantastic, the vocals are great and the song-writing is out of the box. It’s damn hard to compete with a record of this caliber and few do. Also, what the outcome of this record’s release will be is yet to be seen. We have not seen how influential this record will be in a decade, but I think it’s foolish to underestimate it.
#5: BLAZE // Tenth Dimension  – When Blaze Bayley left Iron Maiden I think I was among the very few who were genuinely disappointed about it. While Virtual XI had been a lackluster record, The X Factor had definitely turned my crank and appealed to a darker side of me. So I went actively seeking out his project afterwards and I’d have to say that BLAZE, the band which followed, is probably one of the best-kept secrets of the early 2000s, and that is a shame of tremendous proportion. There are a number of things that went wrong for the band early on, but Silicon Messiah and its concept record follow-up Tenth Dimension are Andy Sneap-produced ingenuity. This record had some of the most thoughtful and interesting material that Blaze Bayley ever wrote and it saw the end of what was a formidable band line-up including two fantastic guitarists, a great bassist with some writing chops and Jeff Singer on the drums (he deserves a special mention for being the nerdiest looking awesome drummer ever). The band never recovered from this album, but I have listened to this record so many times and sang a long at the top of my lungs like mad. It is genius and it has been sadly ignored.
#4: Enslaved // Vertebrae  – This one is going to ruffle some feathers, I’m sure. But as far as I’m concerned Enslaved nailed their perfect album in 2008 with what is easily my favorite in their long and storied career. This one was a long time coming and it really just… ruled. One of the things that made this record so cool was the clean vocals on it that were totally unexpected. Since Isa the band had been mixing more cleans in, but their usage on Vertebrae was surprising but actually quite welcome. As the band produced some of their most interesting material in a progressive sense, they doubled out that approach by putting in beautifully seamless cleans and still keeping the black metal visible. I was pleasantly surprised when I got this record, but the most pleasant surprise is how years later I still want to pull it out and listen to it. Often.
#3: Shining // V:/Halmstad  – With song titles like “Besvikelsens Dystra Monotoni” (The Depressing Monotony of Disappointment) and “Neka Morgondagen” (Deny the Future), I got hit right over the head with this record and have yet to let it go. While I’m a big fan of the band’s entire discography Halmstad really got stuck on me. Really, Shining gives meaning to “depressive” black metal in a way that no other band really does for me. This music isn’t evil like the other black metal bands that are so influential in the modern era, but instead the music is beautiful and mournful while still being raw, selfish and most of all, self-destructive. Few bands convince me of what they’re singing. When most bands sing about Satan, I could care less. But I believe Kvarforth. And that’s what makes this record a truly significantly awesome record.
#2: Symphony X // V: The New Mythology Suite  – The first record you hear from a band is usually the one you love the best, right? I mean, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son converted me to an Iron Maiden fan at the tender age of 6 when my brother got it for Christmas in 1988 and I can’t ever get over that album. The same is true for V: A New Mythology Suite because, well… I just can’t get over it. This record is the perfect example of what a progressive power metal band’s concept records should sound like hands down. This is 62 minutes of heavy metal symphony done right and with the expertise that only these guys have ever shown. Other bands try, but no one produces music that is as catchy and yet still technically amazing as Symphony X. While Paradise Lost did come close for me, it’s hard to imagine any power metal record ever outstripping this record.
#1: Opeth // Ghost Reveries  – This is bound to be the most controversial of all of the CDs on this list. And I get it, Blackwater Park is considered to be the band’s crowning opus and really the record that pushed the band into the mainstream. And when it came out I loved that record. I’ve listened to every Opeth album dozens to hundreds of times, I’m sure, and I’m to the point where I think that Ghost Reveries is not just the finest album they ever produced but the epitome of their sound hitherto this point. While BWP definitely belongs on this list, so does Ghost Reveries and even more so because this was Åkerfeldt taking the band to its ultimate conclusion and nailing it. What makes the record so cool is that because of the tuning choice they made, they were forced to change how they were writing. This makes for an interesting and dynamic record, but it also adds a level of unfamiliarity into the mix. This record is perfect from the first note to the heartbreaking last and is easily the best album of the entire era, in my opinion