Steve’s Favorite Rock & Metal Albums of the Decade (2010-19)

Not that the music community is sitting on the edge of its seat . . . but I thought I’d join in the list making so prevalent here at the close of the 2010’s. When I make these gratuitous lists, I always make sure to say “favorite” instead of “best” because not only are lists so subjective, but chances are I haven’t heard the best albums out there lurking in obscurity or otherwise off my radar. But enjoy these recommendations . . .

— Steve Deaton, Whiteside’s Daughter

rival_sons_-_pressure_and_time10. Rival Sons – Pressure and Time (Earache, 2011). The second album from from these Long Beach rockers, Pressure and Time manages to evoke early Led Zeppelin, while avoiding becoming a mere knock-off like Greta Van Fleet. The songwriting is what sets this LP apart from the retro-70s noise–the first three tracks are the one of the strongest openings I’ve heard in a long time. The cover art by Storm Thorgerson adds that special Hipgnosis classic 70’s vibe.

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9. The Sword – Warp Riders (Kemado, 2010). I’m a sucker for concept albums and this one pushes all the right buttons. This exceeds the usual stoner metal bandwagon on the basis of guitar tones alone, but the concept and songwriting make this a thrilling listen from top to bottom. Warp Riders has much of The Sword’s usual Sabbath riffing, but often pays homage to fellow Texans ZZ Top, most blatantly with the cleverly titled “Tres Brujas” (Three Witches). The drum part on “Lawless Lands” is also a highlight.

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devil_is_fine8. Zeal & Ardor – Devil is Fine (Reflections, 2017). This album is perhaps the weirdest, most original, most bone-chilling music I’ve ever heard. This one-man band, African-Frenchman Manuel Gagneux, fuses Norwegian black metal and Negro spirituals to weave a dark blend of Satanic voodoo from the point of view of an African slave. I’m not easily frightened, but the call and response lyric “Burn the young boy, burn him good” from the second song “In Ashes” actually scares me. Wikipedia calls it avant-garde metal, but this is one you must listen to, as no label quite does it justice.

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7. Opeth – Pale Communion (Roadrunner, 2014). Much to the dismay and irritation of Opeth’s original fans, the 2010’s saw these Swedes dropping the death growls altogether and pursuing more melodic progressive rock (granted, still quite heavy overall). Of their four albums this decade, Pale Communion rises to the top for me–the most memorable vocal and guitar melodies Mikael Akerfeldt may have ever produced. Side guitarist Fredrik Akersson may be my favorite guitarist still working. He has the all the chops of Yngwie but the tasteful phrasing of Gilmour. His soloing on “Cusp of Eternity” is a case in point. The vintage electric pianos and mellotrons are used tastefully as well.

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6. Ghost – Opus Eponymous (Rise Above/Metal Blade, 2010). Ghost is one of the most polarizing bands of the current era–fans either love them or hate them. And the latter group will certainly roll their eyes at my inclusion of two of their albums in this list. Part of the problem, I think, is that they are labeled a metal band, which they aren’t, any more than Blue Oyster Cult is. Even though Ghost-mastermind Tobias Forge claims that BOC was not an obvious influence at the time, a song like “Ritual” has all the elements I love from BOC juxtaposed in one song–big dark heavy riffs and AOR power-pop choruses. This band of Nameless Swedish Ghouls continues to astound.

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5. Witchery — Witchkrieg (Century Media, 2010). These Swedish blackened thrashers do something that most occult metal acts don’t–hooks. Amidst the lightning pace, growls, and screams are riffs as memorable as classic Iommi.  This album received some modest attention because of several guest guitar soloists (including Slayer’s Kerry King, Mercyful Fate’s Hank Shermann, Exodus’s Gary Holt & Lee Altus, and other notables), but for me it is the songwriting that makes this album shine. Opeth fans will note that drummer Martin Axenrot is present and demonstrating that he is one of the best, most versatile drummers alive. “The God Who Fell from the Earth” and “Conqueror’s Return” are standouts.

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4. Wolf People – Fain (Jagjaguwar, 2013). These English lads are often labeled psychedelic rock and they play the British psychedelic festivals, but their music is much more structured and interesting that the meandering sonic experiments of the psychedelic genre. Jack Sharp’s lyrics in some sense create its own universe, not quite the sword and sorcery of Middle Earth, but some sort of timeless Englishness.  And Sharp delivers the story with a voice that entrances in the same way that Peter Gabriel or Steve Winwood do. I love the production here as well–sparse and straightforward. Drums, recorded with two or three mics, punch through beautifully, and drummer Tom Watt always grooves. “Theif” is my favorite track.

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3. Ghost – Meliora (Loma Vista, 2015). Tobias Forge took a bold step for a band in the metal genre–hiring pop producer Klas Ahlund, who has worked with the likes of Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears, and Katy Perry. Nonetheless, the album contains some of Ghost’s heaviest and most memorable riffs (“From the Pinnacle to the Pit” and “Mummy Dust,” for example). The Grammy-winning track “Cirice” has classic metal riffs combined with soaring pop-rock vocal choruses polished beautifully by Ahlund’s production. This album proved to me that this band was much more than the hype about the Papa Emeritus stage show (even as brilliant, ironic, and iconic as the band’s persona is).

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2. The Devil’s Blood – The Thousandfold Epicentre (Van, 2011). These Dutch occult rockers are a recent find for me. Unfortunately the band is no longer active, following the suicide of guitarist/songwriter Selim Lemouchi. Melodic and dark, Selim Lemouchi’s songs should become classics in the rock and metal catalog. Over the heavy, memorable riffs and progressions, Selim’s sister Farida provides vocal leads reminiscent of Grace Slick and double-tracked backing vocals that evoke a haunting Mamas and Papas beauty. Imagine the vocals of “California Dreamin'” with lyrics about Satan or Osiris. And the LP packaging is brilliant as well–a 24-page booklet of lyric art in the style of William Blake’s poetry/art prints.

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1. Rush – Clockwork Angels (Roadrunner, 2012). Clockwork Angels is the album that I, as a lifelong fan, have always wanted Rush to make–a double LP concept. The steampunk story on the album was accompanied by a novel and graphic novel by Peart’s close friend, sci-fi bestseller Kevin J. Anderson. The story by itself is a compelling quest, but the songs return Rush to the glory of their best songwriting, on such classics as Moving Pictures or Signals. Geddy’s gnarly and aggressive bass parts, Alex’s crunchy riffs and inventive solos, and Neil’s thundering intricacies provide the familiar Rush cocktail. Their 20th and final studio album was a perfect way to end a brilliant and honest career.

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Love Gun LP and Conan Comics

c0tikcuuoaa41g1-jpg-largeI am eight years old again.  Tonight, December 28, 2016, I am listening to KISS’s 1977 Love Gun while reading my 1978-79 Conan the Barbarian comic books.  I am returned to my bedroom in Decatur, Mississippi, and hear Ace sing “Shock Me” on my Realistic turntable through my shitty Hitachi receiver and shittier Realistic bookshelf speakers.  I am sitting on the floor by the heater vent reading of Conan’s exploit with a white-haired 15327468_10207280113472974_7731009640782178425_nwitch from the North country with large breasts bulging from an iron bra.  I take a break and stare into the fantasy art of Ken Kelly’s Love Gun cover.  I want to be Space Ace; the Demon scares the living hell out of me; and the Star Child makes my penis feel even smaller.  I’m warm and cozy.  Jimmy Carter is president and there ain’t shit on ABC, NBC, or CBS on a Friday night.

My Favorite Metal Albums of the New Millennium

For what it’s worth (and that ain’t much), here are my favorite metal LPs of the new millennium.  The list reflects the great variety in contemporary metal–thrash, progmetal, death metal, stoner metal, doom metal, metalgaze, and plain ole heavy metal (some are borderline choices for the “metal” category–but “metal” is an eclectic genre for sure).  Enjoy:

15. Opeth, Blackwater Park (Music for Nations, 2001)

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14. Mastodon, Leviathan (Relapse, 2004)

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13. Circus Maximus, The 1st Chapter (Frontiers, 2005)

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12. Katatonia, Night is the New Day (Peaceville, 2009)

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11. Motorhead, Bad Magic (UDR GmbH, 2015)

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10. Black Sabbath, 13 (Universal, 2013)

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9. Electric Wizard, Dopethrone (Rise Above, 2000)

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8. Tool, 10,000 Days (Tool Dissectional/Volcano, 2006)

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7. Saxon, Battering Ram (UDR Music, 2015)

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6. Mastodon, The Hunter (Reprise/Roadrunner, 2011)

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5. Opeth, Watershed (Roadrunner, 2008)

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4. Slayer, Christ Illusion (American, 2006)

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3. Dream Theater, A Dramatic Turn of Events (Roadrunner, 2011)

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2. Wolfmother, Wolfmother (Modular, 2005)

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1. Opeth, Ghost Reveries (Roadrunner, 2005)

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You, the Music Fan, are the Reason the Digital Age Doesn’t Suck

vintage-christmas-lps-albums-records-great-songs-of-xmas-belafonte-lot-10-brk_3519650I’ve always been the kid who hung around the record player. My first memories of vinyl LPs were some scratchy K-Tel type Christmas records that my mom dusted off during the holidays. Not much older than a toddler, I could work the tone arm and I would spin those records over and over. Likewise, at my parents’ small town Baptist church, the child care room for Sunday night services had a turntable. Many Sunday evenings I was the only child there (or one of only a few) and the lady who kept the nursery let me have free reign of the records—mostly Southern gospel stuff but a few soulful black gospel records too (one by Andre Crouch that I wore out). 35When I was in elementary school, my dad (a school teacher) made some extra money in the summers repairing televisions and radios at Estes TV & Appliance on Broad Street in my little hometown of Decatur, Mississippi. Mr. Estes also installed and serviced several juke boxes at bars and restaurants in the surrounding counties, so he always had boxes and boxes of 45s just lying around. Often he would let me rummage through the boxes he’d culled and let me take whatever I wanted. Most of those records I don’t remember and have long since been sold at one of mom’s garage sales—most of them, undoubtedly, pretty terrible and forgettable to have ended up in Mr. Estes’ “free for Steve” pile. But one of those 45s I vividly remember, and wish desperately I could get back. It was the first rock and roll record I ever really fell in love with—“Turn On Your Love Light” (b/w “Fun to be Neat and Clean”) by The Human Beinz. The initial hook was in pretty good.


Now, countless musicians a little older than I am, talk of the life-changing experience of seeing the The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. My road to Damascus experience, though, came at Fred’s Dollar Store, back in the days when that chain sold records. I had heard talk around the playground of this thing called KISS, so I was on the hunt for my first KISS LP. And there in the bins under the fluorescent lights, I first saw the cover of the KISS Alive album and begged my reticent (perhaps frightened) mother to buy it for me. She did! I had the shrinkwrap off before we got to the car, and on the ten minute ride home, I pored over the concert photos of blood, sweat, and fire. Back in my bedroom, on my little turntable with the fold out speakers, I dropped the needle on “You wanted the best, you got the best . . .” and then wham!—here came the opening riff of “Deuce.”
Engrossed in the music, staring at Ace’s space boots and Les Paul, I knew then a guitar was in my future.

In junior high and into high school, I had the good fortune of an older brother who spent his yard mowing money on hi-fi gear and records, and eventually he landed a job at Hooper Sound in Meridian (a locally owned hi-fi dealer). I’m sure my brother got tired of me taking over his bedroom system and record collection—Zeppelin, U2, Steely Dan, The Tubes, Loverboy, Queen, Styx, AC/DC . . . it was heaven! And top it off with the messages coming from the local pulpits that all these records were of the devil! That’s pretty heady (and scary) stuff for an adolescent boy full of hormones!
(Here is a song by Buffalo Nickel about the tragic glory of these times. I love the line: “With music all around me, and I feel that I can use it.”)


So, yeah, I’m a romantic. A true believer, when it comes to rock and roll, tube guitar amps, VU meters, gatefold LP covers, and shiny black, grooved wax. So it’s hard for me to get excited about iTunes, even when the download comes with a PDF of the album art work. Somehow scrolling through the digital images on my iPad while listening to compressed audio from the earbud jack of that same device, pales in comparison to the cardboard album cover, the spinning LP, the glow of the tube amp (or graphic eq spectrum analyzer), and the big ass Cerwin Vega D9s in my brother’s bedroom.

But I’m coming around . . . and here’s why:

After getting a guitar and starting a band in high school, the holy grail has always been “making a record.” Unfortunately, most bands came along in the era that was moving from vinyl to CD—the manufacture of either, though, was out of reach for most indie bands. The machinery of manufacturing, duplication, distribution, publicity, and radio and MTV promotion was astronomically expensive and, as always, controlled by a chosen few. So most indie bands hobbled along making homemade cassette tapes and pedaling them out of the back of the van in the parking lot of whatever stale-piss hole in the wall that dared book them. So, in short, there were always these sentry guards and gatekeepers between the artist and you who sought out new and interesting music.

What I am learning is that the digital age is breaking down many of these barriers. With a little ingenuity, the artist can make a record and find you—the listener seeking new music. In the blogs, internet radio chat rooms, Facebook groups, Bandcamp pages, and Twitter feeds, the artist mingles with the listener and with other artists. The big label gatekeepers are struggling to figure out this new paradigm, but indie artists are used to being creative in finding a market.

So we plow forward with experience and hope, and we are so happy to be finding more and more of you music lovers every day. We thank you for sticking it to the Man by seeking out music beyond the pre-programmed machinery of the music industry.

No longer do artists have to move 500,000 copies and spend millions of dollars for radio and press to find an audience. We and you are now connected. So here is the message: Bands are gonna be making records, both digital and physical, and they hope YOU will cue it up on your digital device, or even better, drop a needle on the opening track. It is a new day.