Friday, January 31, 2020

Best of the 2010s, Part 1: Alestorm through Delain

It’s not until you sit down and actually start combing through the hundreds of records you’ve listened to over a decade that you realize how daunting the task of picking favorites over that period of time is. I barely remember who the guy occupying my body in 2010 was, much less where his head was musically when he picked his Top 10 for that year. It seems like both just yesterday and a lifetime ago.

After a bit of mild agonizing, I’ve chosen 30 favorites for the decade. It’s a completely random number because, basically, that’s as far as I could narrow the list – and even at that, there were a couple of tough cuts. They’re listed in alphabetical order because I didn’t have the fortitude to attempt to rank them 1-30, and if I had, it might be another decade before I’d be able to finalize the list. I’ve also limited it to one album per artist, even though several of the artists on the list had multiple records that I would have liked to include. As always, I stress that I am in no way saying these are the “best” albums of the 2010s, only my favorites, and I’m sure that I’ll kick myself for forgetting something as soon as it’s published. Still, off we go …

ALESTORM – NO GRAVE BUT THE SEA (2017): If I had to name my artist of the decade, it would probably be Alestorm. No band brought me more pure, unadulterated fun and joy in the 2010s, and every album they released was a contender. It came down to a tough choice between this one and 2011’s Back Through Time, but in the end, I think No Grave but the Sea may be their best piratical adventure to date. It has some of the most memorable melodies, an injection of heaviness in the form of an increased presence of keyboardist Elliot Vernon’s harsh vocals – and as always, Christopher Bowes’ quirky and silly sense of humor. Oh, and it spawned the profane anthem about an anchor that will likely close every show they do from now on with a rousing, drunken sing-along.

AMON AMARTH – DECEIVER OF THE GODS (2013): Though the last couple of outings from the Vikings of Amon Amarth have been mildly disappointing for me, they were riding high with this one. The transition from death metal to more melodic tunes with traditional metal and NWOBHM influences continued. Disappointing, perhaps, to some fans of their more extreme roots, but exactly what I was looking for from the band. I never fail to crank up “Father of the Wolf,” “Shape Shifter” or the grooving “Hel,” which featured a prominent guest shot from former Candlemass vocalist Messiah Marcolin.

AMORPHIS – UNDER THE RED CLOUD (2015): Though I was a fan of some of Amorphis’ early music, particularly 1996’s Elegy, the later evolution of the band is the one that intrigues and entrances me. Mixing the brutal heaviness of their earliest work with mesmerizing melodies, 2009’s Skyforger was the pinnacle of their power for me, but Under the Red Cloud is a very close second. The sound isn’t a great departure from what Amorphis has done before or since, but they brought in a lot of traditional instrumentation and added a stronger folk-metal bent to the songs. For the perfect blend of raging power and melodic beauty, it’s hard to beat.

ANTHRAX – FOR ALL KINGS (2016): I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong, and in this case, I was dead wrong. When it was announced that vocalist Joey Belladonna was rejoining Anthrax, I did a lot of bitching, moaning and predicting the demise of the band. I was a huge fan of the John Bush era and the grittier, less cartoonish sound he brought. As it turns out, the two most recent albums that Anthrax released with Belladonna were two of my absolute favorite of the past 10 years. (We won’t talk about the covers EP because it’s best forgotten). For All Kings was a definite contender for album of the decade in my mind – Top 5 at least, if I were ranking. The songs were great, the hooks were huge, and Anthrax was firing on all cylinders. Tunes like “Monster at the End” and “Blood Eagle Wings” remain staples of my daily listening, and their live show was also one of my favorite of the decade.

ANTI-MORTEM – NEW SOUTHERN (2014): There are a couple of real shames on this list, and Anti-Mortem is one of them. New Southern is an absolutely incredible record, a potent blend of hard-rock hooks, thrash attitude and Southern swagger. They were one of my favorite new artists of the decade, and also one of the shortest-lived. Less than a year after this album was released, the band was no more. Brothers Larado Romo (vocals) and Nevada Romo (guitars) decided they wanted to explore new musical styles, though both would later join Texas Hippie Coalition, not exactly a great stylistic departure. Guitarist Zain Smith went on to form Locust Grove, which I like, but it’s not the same. If I could have one more album from any band that broke up in the 2010s, Anti-Mortem would be it.

BLACKBERRY SMOKE – THE WHIPPOORWILL (2012): This one is tough. I consider it quite possibly the finest album of the last decade. Certainly, it’s the most important on this list to me for reasons beyond music. But I can’t listen to it. Haven’t listened to it in years. The Whippoorwill arrived during the absolute darkest days of my personal life, and every song on the album connected deeply with me – from the anthem of my life at the time, “Ain’t Much Left of Me” to the mournful title track to the defiant “Leave a Scar.” I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch or exaggeration to say that this album played a huge role in my being able to pull myself out of that abyss to be sitting here and writing this in 2020. The songwriting is superb and personal, and musically, it strikes the perfect balance between contemplative country and brash Southern rock. But there are just too many emotions tied up in this album for me, and it takes me to a place that I never want to visit again. That’s a shame because it’s a fantastic record, and Blackberry Smoke has never come close to matching it.

ALICE COOPER – WELCOME 2 MY NIGHTMARE (2011): Album sequels suck. They never live up to the original record. It’s a rule. But it’s apparently just another rule that Alice Cooper ignores. The songs here range from garage rockers (“Caffeine,” “I’ll Bite Your Face Off”) to pop (“What Baby Wants”) to disco (“Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever”) to surf rock (“Ghouls Gone Wild”) and even a Vaudevillian number (“Last Man on Earth”). In true Alice fashion, he recruits a couple of strange bedfellows. In addition to guest spots by expected artists like Rob Zombie and guitarist John 5, he also brought in pop singer Kesha and country star Vince Gill, who plays a mean guitar solo on “Runaway Train.” It’s dark, zany and fun, Alice at his best.

DAREDEVIL SQUADRON – OUT OF THE SUN (2010): My introduction to Daredevil Squadron guitarist Angus Clark and vocalist Andrew Ross came as touring members of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. When I discovered they had another band, I had to check it out, and I was not disappointed. Out of the Sun is an interesting slab of hard rock that bounces all over the spectrum. There are trad-metal songs, like the Iron Maiden-influenced title track, 1980s sleaze rockers in “The Punishment Fits” and “Back Lounge,” progressive pieces, a nod to Thin Lizzy and a blues-rock track in the mix. Sadly, the band has only been sporadically active since this record, releasing a single every now and then, including “Them” in 2019, but I’m still hopeful for a full-length follow-up.

THE DEAD DAISIES – MAKE SOME NOISE (2016): This is my favorite of the revolving lineups of the Dead Daisies. I’ve been a vocal fan of the John Corabi-era of Motley Crue, and the addition of Corabi on the mic and Doug Aldrich on guitar really elevated this record above the Dead Daisies’ debut in my opinion. It’s a simple, straight-up hard rock record, but it’s fantastic for what it is. “We All Fall Down” would definitely make my list of favorite songs of the decade.

DELAIN – THE HUMAN CONTRADICTION (2014): I’d heard Delain’s previous two albums and kind of liked them, but the lead single from this record, “Stardust,” just blew me away. Charlotte Wessels’ vocals on the song were stunning, and the dreamy number was an instant classic for me. It sent me running to hear the rest, and I absolutely loved it. With guest shots from Marco Hietala (Nightwish) and Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy), the album showed influences from 1980s pop, early 1990s alternative, power metal and just a small touch of melodic death. It’s a potent combination, and Wessels’ incredible vocals are the icing on top.

To be continued...

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