End of the year and of the decade too this time. A moment to look back and reflect on what was accomplished, what was missed, what good and bad was experienced by us throughout these 10 years. In music too. As you know already what this post will be about from the title, I won’t delay presenting the list so let’s delve into the best metal albums of this decade right away.
In absolutely no particular order:
Mgła – Exercises in Futility
Dark in a sense that hasn’t been reached often in black metal recently, pounding, with magnificent interplaying between the guitar and the drums, Mgła released Exercises in Futility in 2015 and topped most of the lists of best album of that year. Not everyone agreed and I do understand how their music can take some time digesting. I did take mine too.
Their take on black metal is not too far from the roots of the genre, at least the 90s wave of it, but innovative enough to sound fresh. Unrelentingly cruel, with top level songwriting and a production not of a trve black metal album either. This is the sound of evolution of a genre, which was followed by soul and musically by this year’s Age Of Excuse (previously reviewed on its own here). Black metal for the third millennium.
Vektor – Terminal Redux
I wouldn’t have expected a Death-influenced thrash/death metal band would sound so fresh in 2016 but Vektor did. Their take of thrash metal with futuristic, Kill’Em All influences is refreshing yet anchored in the classics of the subgenre. It is technical too, with riff after riff developing throughout the songs of Terminal Redux.
Vektor seem to have a clear vision of what they want to achieve with their music and are slowly working towards it, album after album. This 2016 effort is the first concept one also, proving the band has ambition. And they better have it as their skills are top notch. On their way to become the Voivod/Death of this millennium.
Behemoth – The Satanist
Controversies aside, which I suspect have helped a great deal Behemoth becoming as big as they are today, The Satanist is objectively an hell of an album. No pun intended. Heavy, dark, doomy, relentless in its proceeding like a dark apocalyptic soundtrack, hellish in the singing, The Satanist is proof that the Behemoth are among the most capable metal bands nowadays and here to stay a long, long time. Capable not as being just talented but aware of their potential and expressing it in a coherent, clear way to produce quality music, not wasting any of it.
I admit I loved also the successor I Loved You At Your Darkest, perhaps even more than this one. Yet undoubtedly The Satanist is the highest achievement for Behemoth in many years, a better written death/black metal mixture with a hint of doom that will keep you hooked, and scared, for many listens. Heavy, hard, gloomy, crushing.
Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit
While clearly not at the same levels of the Mantle or Pale Folklore, the penultimate album of the Portland band was still good enough to enter the best ones of the 2010-2019 decade. It would have definitely not entered the previous one as the predecessors would tower over it.
Let’s be clear: Marrow of the Spirit is a great album, way more rock-oriented, groovier, and slightly more accessible to new listeners than the usual Agalloch. Yet at the same time to achieve all this it sheds some of the evocativeness, some atmosphere, it sounds more “fun” but less deep. It’s a solid 8, well composed, enjoyable and still keeping faith to the Agalloch name. It is more “modern” sounding, helped by a better production. As a fan of Agalloch I couldn’t stop thinking of the previous albums when listening to Marrow of the Spirit, which it marred my enjoyment of it. Coming back to it in more recent years I’ve reevaluated it and do believe it deserves a spot among the best metal albums of this decade.
Triptykon – Melana Chasmata
Suffocating. An heavy, relentless assault on your ears is this 2014 entry from Triptykon (basically the successor band of the legendary Celtic Frost). Quite appropriately for the title, that roughly translates from greek to “black, deep depressions/valleys”. A Slayer of the 2010s, taking the hardest parts of Celtic Frost and making it the core of the sound.
Not an easy listen by any standards, but an excellent extreme heavy metal album, proof that you don’t have to go to death/black metal to make extreme music of high quality these days but you can simply get close to either. Bonus point for the amazing cover by the, again, legendary artist H.R. Giger of Alien movie franchise fame (R.I.P.).
Zeal & Ardour – Stranger Fruit
Sometimes heavy metal graces us with albums that answer the most strange “what if” questions. In the case of Zeal & Ardour it is: what if we mixed black metal with soul and African American chants?
As weird as it may sounds, the amalgama is perfectly working. Zeal & Ardour have written one of the most avantgarde metal albums in many years, and definitely the most avantgarde of this list. Some Burzum, some post black metal, lots of religious chants from the southern USA, some electronic and a Tom Waitesque voice to lead it all. Hard to describe the album as each song takes one influence over another, rendering a succession of unsettling sounds into a thematically cohesive album. The Devil Is Fine, the first of the band, opened many doors, and Stranger Fruit showed how many paths these doors can lead to. It is a testament of how vital heavy metal can still be 50 years and counting into its history. We will keep hearing about Zeal & Ardour, I’m sure.
Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
I already wrote a review of this album when it came out so I won’t talk about it much here. Many would have chosen Sunbather over Ordinary Corrupt Human Love but I believe the latest one is more cohesive, reaches higher songwriting peaks and has a stronger emotional side that greatly enhances the listening experience. It is in some parts better than Sunbather while being on par with it in others. As I prefer a strong emotional component in my music, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love tops the Deafheaven discography so far and deservedly enters the list of the best metal albums of the decade. I’m greatly curious where Deafheaven will go in the next decade and I’d bet that another album of them will be in 10 years on the list of the best one of the 2020s decade too.
Ghost – Meliora
I heard somebody saying that “we live in a Ghost world” and I believe it is an accurate description of this decade in metal. Ghost sit in the delicate spot where a band makes music of comparable quality to the forefathers of its genre, very accessible to the great public and with a clear image of itself to be instantly recognizable by anyone. Just with an added sprinkle of controversies and “satanism” to help with the marketing.
Meliora is the greatest of Ghost’s efforts to date and a marvelous example of their music: dark heavy metal, with a rock, perhaps even radio, oriented approach. Nothing is extremely complicated in Ghost music but all sounds damn well done, like they were the Iron Maiden of the 2010s. Tobias Forge’s voice is characteristic and clear, other than being an overall great frontman. The band seems to have a level of professionalism and quality higher than those of the same age in average, and producing great songs one after another, without seemingly any effort. Cirice and From The Pinnacle To The Pit are already classics of heavy metal, He Is is probably the best metal ballad of this decade. If there’s a band I’d bet we’d still hear about them in 20 years, Ghost would be the one.
Rammstein – Rammstein
A similar review as for Agalloch can be written about the latest Rammstein. It’s Rammstein, it’s fun, it’s somewhat simpler than the previous efforts, it has some great moments but it’s not the best of their discography.
At this point nobody needs any introduction to Rammstein. Their latest album is as groovy, ironic, provocative, dance-able and heavy as any of their discography. After a 10 years absence many expected something different, perhaps some innovations, but Rammstein kept faithful to their sound and gave fans more of the same. Which is more of great music. It won’t go down in history as their best album but they’re so big that even a “just good” one is enough to be among the best metal albums of the decade. Effortlessly too. Giants.
Ihsahn – After
Ihsahn is completely unable to produce a bad album, and we should all be grateful for any of his efforts. It is hard to point at his best one from this decade among the five he released in 10 years. My choice falls on the 2010 one, After. Any other would have been worthy of this list, yet After tops all because it has a more atmospheric and epic tinge, a post-black metal aura mixed with progressiveness that makes it slightly less experimental than Ihsahn’s latest albums but keep it from having those 1-2 songs that sound weird.
All the songs here flow very well from one to another, keeping a more tight connection between each one. A theme, sort of. Undercurrent has to be one of the most well written metal song of the last decade (if not 2 decades even). A clever use of the saxophone highlights After, donating to it an unique sound. More sax in metal is direly needed, and After proves it.
Enslaved – Axioma Ethica Odini
Arguably all Enslaved albums are between the good and the excellent. They’ve since found the perfect formula of progressive viking/black metal to work with and are perfectioning it to death. Any of their albums of this decade could have made it to this list but Axioma Ethica Odini is the one that best represents their sound for me.
The opening and title track is a manifesto of progressive black metal. The ending clean vocals part is top 3 best moments in metal of the decade, no doubt. The rest winds along black metal blasts, rasping vocals, keyboards parts and a few arpeggios. The atmosphere is strong and leaves a lasting memory, as only the great albums can do. I wouldn’t expect ever any revolution in Enslaved sound but if it keeps on these quality levels, we will have another entry of them for the next best metal albums of the decade lists too.
Darkthrone – Circle The Wagons
I bet most of the best metal albums of the decade lists won’t include this one but I feel like it should. It came out right at the beginning of the decade and it was the last of the “black’n’roll” series of Darkthrone albums, and arguably the best of it. It is far from their best in songwriting or experimentation or pure atmosphere but it wasn’t the objective of Circle The Wagons. The album is pure fun for lovers of rock and roll with a black metal attitude, and it all the right chords in being so. If you are looking instead for sheer quality songwriting, Old Star would better fit your ears.
Not all the albums have to be perfectly composed or extremely atmospheric. Bands like Ac/Dc or Motorhead wouldn’t be considered great otherwise. Circle The Wagons works extremely well in being an album of great, straightforward, metal. Accessible, even. Sometimes one needs a well composed but easier sound and Darkthrone delivered with this 2010 effort.
Sólstafir – Svartir Sandar
Icelandic metal was big this decade. Svartidauði, Misþyrming, Sinmara have all released excellent albums but Sólstafir earns the crown of the best release this decade with the 2012 double album Svartir Sandar.
If there will ever be a branch of western movies made in Iceland, Svartir Sandar would be the perfect soundtrack for them. Post rock influences over an extreme metal base (the band started as a black metal one) for this mostly mid-tempo monumental release that proved that the small island in the north has nothing to be ashamed of compared to the larger cousins like Norway and Sweden. Hard, but not too hard, wailing singing, a few spoken words intermezzos, pounding riffs and a spacial element that gives the whole album a eerie but breathy feeling, made Svartir Sandar a special album, still unbeaten in Sólstafir discography.
Panopticon – The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness