Saturday, January 9, 2010

A decade of favorites

I wasn’t going to do this, but since everyone else is making a list, like a lemming, I’m going to dive right off the cliff. I didn’t quite realize what kind of task this would be until I started trying to put it together. A decade’s worth of music is a massive amount to cover. I've spent the last couple of weeks revisiting some of these records and trying to narrow down my list. Still, I’m sure I missed something glaring that will hit me as I look at this list a little later on. I’m in no way claiming these to be the “best” of the decade, only my personal favorite records. I won’t even try to put these in numeric order, because that would be impossible for me. So, here are my favorite 20 records of the past decade, in alphabetical order, along with 40 or so more thrown in for good measure. (I've provided links to my original reviews, where available, and to Amazon where they're not.)

Favorites of the decade
Anthrax – We’ve Come for You All (2003). This record is incredibly underrated. I think it’s one of the best in the Anthrax catalog, on par with their classic “Among the Living.” Great soul, great groove and great songs.
Black Label Society – Stronger than Death (2000). For me, the second record from Zakk Wylde’s BLS is by far the best. While I like most all of their records, this one just has more power and more impact. Honorable mentions: 1919 Eternal (2002), The Blessed Hellride (2003), Hangover Music, Vol. 4 (2004), Mafia (2005).
Disturbed – The Sickness (2000). The debut from Disturbed, with frontman David Draiman’s manic vocal delivery that wasn’t quite like anything we’d heard before, sliced through the same-sounding nu-metal crowd. Honorable mention: Indestructible (2008).
Down – III: Over the Under (2007). I knew there would be a Down record on the list, but it was a tough choice between this one and Down II. In the end, Over the Under has had the more long-lasting impact on me, so it’s my Southern sludge choice for this list. Honorable mention: Down II: A Bustle in Your Hedgerow (2002).
Godsmack – Faceless (2003). Perhaps the most refined release from Godsmack, it shows the band at the height of its power. On par with their debut and possibly better.
Hank III – Straight to Hell (2006). Finally, Hank III was allowed, for the most part, to be himself and not forced to try to be a carbon copy of his grandfather. It’s raw and raucous with wild, irreverent tunes and also some rock-solid, sincere country moments.
Heaven and Hell – The Devil You Know (2009). I won’t deny that nostalgia may play a part in this pick, but no one can argue that this isn’t a rock solid record. Easily better than anything from the Black Sabbath camp since the Heaven and Hell record.
Iced Earth – The Glorious Burden (2004). This record was a perfect storm for Iced Earth. Jon Schaffer was writing songs about something he was passionate about – history – and new singer Tim “Ripper” Owens brought vitality to those songs. It’s worth making the list for the Gettysburg trilogy alone.
Iron Maiden – Brave New World (2000). Bruce Dickinson returned, and so did the classic Maiden sound. This record is on par with their 1980s output, though the records that followed became a little self-indulgent. “Dream of Mirrors” would also be one of my favorite song choices for the decade. (But I’m not getting in that deep).
Kiuas – The Spirit of Ukko (2005). This will be the most obscure band on my list, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. They blend power, traditional and death metal in a potent combination. This is one of the few records that absolutely blew me away in this decade. Honorable mention: The New Dark Age (2008).
Lamb of God – Sacrament (2006). A lot of longtime Lamb of God fans saw this record as something of a sellout, but it remains my favorite of their catalog. They found some better grooves here, and previously monotone singer Randy Blythe learned to inject a little variety and feeling into his vocals. Honorable mention: Ashes of the Wake (2004).
Megadeth – United Abominations (2007). An unlikely comeback record from a band that just a short time earlier had been declared dead by founder Dave Mustaine. He returned from a career-threatening nerve injury to revisit the band’s more metallic roots. Honrorable mention: Endgame (2009).
Metallica – Death Magnetic (2008). I never thought that I’d feel about Metallica again the same way that I felt in the 1980s, but this record put me firmly back in the fold. It wasn’t a return to their classic sound, but certainly an evolution into a new sound with elements of the past.
Opeth – Blackwater Park (2001). This shows one of the most creative and diverse bands in the metal genres at the height of its power. It’s at times brutal, at times beautiful, but always entertaining. Honorable mention: Watershed (2008).
Pantera – Reinventing the Steel (2000). Unfortunately, this was destined to be the final Pantera album after guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott was murdered on stage with his band Damageplan in 2004. Fortunately, it was a top-notch effort on par with their best work.
Savatage – Poets and Madmen (2001). It’s been far too long since we’ve heard from Savatage (though we’ve certainly heard plenty from the members). Jon Oliva took back the vocal duties completely for this record and made fans remember why they loved his voice to begin with.
Shadows Fall – The Art of Balance (2002). Though the following records have certainly been disappointing, this one was outstanding. It had a perfect blend of thrash, hardcore and more progressive elements.
Shooter Jennings – Electric Rodeo (2006). The junior Jennings’ blend of traditional country and rock was, for me, at its best here. “Bad Magick” remains one of my favorite songs of the decade. Honorable mention: Put the O Back in Country (2005).
Soilwork – Sworn to a Great Divide (2007). The band finally found a perfect blend of melody and heaviness on this record. It’s filled with memorable tunes and might be their best work to date. Honorable mention: Natural Born Chaos (2002), Figure Number Five (2003).
Trans-Siberian Orchestra – The Lost Christmas Eve (2004). The final installment in TSO’s Christmas trilogy is the equal of the first. It’s filled with great instrumentals like “Wizards in Winter” and diverse vocal songs, including a favorite of mine “Christmas Nights in Blue.” Honorable mention: Beethoven’s Last Night (2000), Night Castle (2009).

Honorable mentions (again in alphabetical order)
Aerosmith – Honkin' on Bobo (2004).
It's a covers album, so it shouldn't really count, but it did bring the band back to their blues rock roots, giving fans, for the most part, a sound we hadn't heard since the 1970s.
Alestorm – Captain Morgan’s Revenge (2008), Black Sails at Midnight (2009). One of my favorite discoveries of the latter part of the decade. Long may they sail the seas.
Alice Cooper – Brutal Planet (2000), The Eyes of Alice Cooper (2003), Along Came a Spider (2008). Cooper’s heaviest record, and two returns to his creepy 1970s sound, all worthy of his best. I really wanted to find a place for Brutal Planet in the best-of list, but couldn’t take anything out.
Amon Amarth – Versus the World (2003), With Oden on Our Side (2006), Twilight of the Thunder God (2008). Each record as solid as the last, some of the most brutal, yet melodic metal you’ll ever find.
Amorphis – Skyforger (2009). A brilliant record after a long series of mediocre ones. Their best effort since 1996’s Elegy.
Bruce Dickinson – Tyranny of Souls (2005). As always, outstanding work. In recent years, Dickinson’s solo outings have often been more interesting than Maiden records.
Dio – Magica (2000). The last great Dio album (not counting Heaven and Hell). On par with his 1980s output.
God Forbid – IV: The Constitution of Treason (2005). God Forbid is one of the few bands to come steaming out of the metalcore movement of the mid-decade. With more progressive leanings, their work remains impressive.
Hank Williams Jr. – Almeria Club Recordings (2002). Perhaps Hank Jr.'s most solid set of songs since the 1980s. It lacked much of the over-the-top silliness that made him a caricature of himself in the 1990s.
In Flames – Reroute to Remain (2002). Many fans didn’t like the more melodic direction of this record, but that was its appeal for me. I still think it’s one of their best records.
Into Eternity – Buried in Oblivion (2004), Scattering of Ashes (2006). One of the better blends of melodic progressive and aggressive extreme metal that I've ever heard.
Jamey Johnson – That Lonesome Song (2008). A rock solid set of old school, traditional country, especially surprising considering that Johnson wrote one of the most commercial country hits of the decade – Trace Adkins' "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk."
Jon Oliva’s Pain – ‘Tage Mahal (2005), Global Warning (2008). The first, a return to the more metallic Savatage sound of the 1980s, the second, an outstanding record that answered ‘Tage fans’ hopes. Global Warning was a close call for the main list.
Lillian Axe – Waters Rising (2007). After basically disappearing, one of my favorite homegrown bands returns with an impressive outing blending the energy of their early stuff with more progressive leanings.
Machine Head – Through the Ashes of Empires (2003), The Blackening (2007). Two excellent returns from another band that had kind of fallen off the cliff.
Motley Crue – Saints of Los Angeles (2008). After break-ups, fights and a few really awful records, Crue had been left for dead. The reunited band showed there’s still some life and sleaze left, though.
Nevermore – This Godless Endeavor (2005). Power, melody and excellent musicianship – in short, a Nevermore record.
Ozzy Osbourne – Down to Earth (2001). An incredibly underrated effort from the Ozzy camp, this record is filled with memorable songs.
Trivium – The Crusade (2007). I'm not a big fan of Trivium, but I did like this thrash-flavored offering that dropped the monotonous screams and took the band in a more melodic direction.

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