If These Trees Could Talk (Post-Rock)
Above the Earth, Below the Sky (3/4)- 2009
While it’s easy to call Above the Earth, Below the Sky a generic post-rock album, it’s not entirely accurate. No, it’s not all that different from what else can be found in the genre, but post-rock is often more about the atmosphere that the music creates than the music itself. If These Trees Could Talk create a much darker and more melancholy soundscape than their peers, making this a worthwhile album for fans of post-rock and ambient music.
Ihsahn (Progressive/Black Metal)
angL (4/4)- 2008
It's really no coincidence that Mikael Akerfeldt appers on what are essentially the two best metal albums released in 2008 thus far. Not only is Akerfeldt the frontman of Opeth, who released yet another masterpiece this year with Watershed, but Mikael also lends his voice to the track "Unhealer" from Ihsahn's angL. angL may not be as good of an album as Opeth's Watershed, but that doesn't mean it isn't a legitimate masterpice in its own right. Even the other 8 tracks that don't feature Akerfeldt are nearly flawless. Ihsahn, who is best known as the frontman of black metal legends Emporer has created an album here that is far more unique, progressive, and down right better than anything he has ever done with Emporer. And make no mistake, Emporer have relased some A-quality albums throughout their career. However, angL is an album that seemlessly bends the line between black and progressive metal, creating a sound that is unlike anything else in music. angL has all of the ambition and creativity of his solo debut, but this time around Ihsahn has lived up to his ambition in just about respect. This is a progressive black metal masterpiece that expertly blends genres and sounds in ways that no one could have expected Quite simply, angL is phenomenal, and there's not much more that can be said without being redudent. Go pick it up as soon as possible.
Ill Bill (Rap/Hip-Hop)
What’s Wrong with Bill? (3/4)- 2004
Even amidst all of his shortcomings, it’s hard to fault Ill Bill. The guy knows his limitations and consistently works around them to create an album that listeners will either love or hate. The lyrics are filled with bold takes on controversial subjects and often border on pornographic. However, it’s done to such an extreme that to criticize it for that reason would be missing the point entirely. This is the hip-hop equivalent to a horror film, and despite Bill’s mediocre flow and often ridiculous lyrical content, there’s something strangely entertaining here. What’s Wrong with Bill? is certainly not for everyone, but it’s doubtful that Ill Bill would have it any other way.
The Hour of Reprisal (3/4)- 2008
Ill Bill isn’t the only rapper that claims to be influenced by metal, but he makes better uses of his metal influences than just about anyone. Containing guests spots from metal musicians such as Howard Jones from Killswitch Engage, Max Cavalera from Soulfly, and two members of Bad Brains, as well as guest rappers Immortal Technique, Raekwon from Wu-Tang Clan, Vinnie Paz from Jedi Mind Tricks, B-Real from Cypress Hill, Everlast from La Coka Nostra, among others, The Hour of Reprisal is an overblown rap-metal record that succeeds by the strengths of its guests. Ill Bill himself is a talented enough emcee, as well as one of the most hardcore and controversial lyricists in the hip-hop underground, but it’s the guests that will make and break the album for you. If the guest list sounds like something you’d like, either on the metal or hip-hop side of things, then The Hour of Reprisal is an album well worth listening to. Just make sure you can stand lyrics about politics, horror films, metal, and porn.
Diabolical Fun (2/4)- 2009
Diabolic Fun is a forgettable album that was likely more fun to make than it is to listen to. Illogic takes a break from introspective lyrics to show off his flow, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, Illogic’s flow is hardly unique, and it doesn’t help that there are far better MC’s out there who can combine complicated rhyming with the type of intelligent lyrics that Illogic shies away from this time around. This is far from Illogic’s best, and is far too one dimensional and familiar to have any staying power.
Immortal Technique (Rap/Hip-Hop)
The 3rd World (3/4)- 2008
It’s unfortunate that The 3rd World is Immortal Technique’s first album in five years. It’s really more of a mixtape than an actual album, and compared to his powerful Revolutionary albums, The 3rd World is somewhat of a disappointment. However, this is a mixtape that is as good as any rap album released this year, and while not as cohesive as his past work, it contains some of Tech’s best individual tracks. It could do without DJ Green Lantern’s trademark shouting and repetitive mixing, but Immortal Technique himself is the real reason that The 3rd World works. Immortal Technique is real rap with a powerful message that isn’t for the faint of heart, but instead for require listening for anyone willing to hear the truth in the form of hip-hop. The 3rd World is easily the most raw album released in 2008, and while it’s no Revolutionary Vol. 2, it’s one of the absolute best hip-hop albums of the 2008.
In Flames (Melodic Death Metal)
Lunar Strain (3/4)- 1994
Lunar Strain is a solid debut album, and an important piece of melodeath history. However, it’s album that looks better on paper in retrospect than it actually sounds. This the only In Flames album to feature Mikael Stanne, who later both the vocalist of Dark Tranquillity, as well as one of the best growlers in heavy metal. An melodeath-era In Flames with Mikael Stanne sounds perfect, but this album happened a few years too early to be as masterful as one might imagine. Stanne’s vocals haven’t fully developed at this point, and he’s only actually featured on eight of ten tracks on this relativity short album. Jesper Stromblad’s songwriting is also underwhelming at times, at least in comparison to what he would create on the band’s next few albums. Lunar Strain is a good album, but the talent is much greater than the product.
In Mourning (Melodic Death Metal/Progressive Metal)
Shrouded Divine (3/4)- 2008
In Mourning’s debut album has drawn comparisons to Opeth, both in the style of their music and even the quality. While Shrouded Divine isn’t anywhere near Opeth’s Watershed, it is a strong melodic death metal album with enough progressive elements to please prog fans. Where In Mourning shines is in the melodeath elements of their music, and that’s where the band separates themselves from other heavy prog metal bands/ Shrouded Divine sounds like Opeth’s heavier elements mixed with a heavier does of the the Gothenburg sound. It’s not necessarily the most original sound out there, but one that works exceptionally well despite its flaws.
Iron & Wine (Folk/Indie Rock)
The Shepherd’s Dog (4/4)- 2004
Iron & Wine’s third album is far more musical experience. A full band playing a variety of different instruments replaces the lo-fi production and minimalist instrumentals, and Sam Beam’s songwriting talent has only grown because of it. The songs are diverse, and the extra instrumentals allow Beam to really bring his beautiful lyrics to life. Rarely do lyrics reach a state where they can be compared to poetry, but that happens to be the case here. The Shepherd’s Dog is pure beauty in the form of folk album, and it’s the type of masterful indie rock and folk hybrid that can be compared to the likes of Elliott Smith or Nick Drake.
Iron Maiden (Heavy Metal)
The Number of the Best (4/4)- 1982
The Number of the Beast is every bit the classic that it’s made out to be. It’s not quite the definitive Iron Maiden, but that says more about the outstanding quality of the band’s other material. Tracks like “Hallowed Be Thy Name” and “Children of the Damned” are still some of the most well written and simply mind blowing songs in heavy metal, and it’s impossible to express just ahead of its time The Number of the Beast is. It’s Maiden’s most accessible album, and also an essential piece of metal history.
A Matter of Life and Death (4/4)- 2006
Not only is A Matter of Life and Death the best Iron Maiden since their glory days in the 80’s, it’s also one of the most extraordinary releases of Maiden’s career. Nearly every guitar riff is as technical as a classic Iron Maiden solo, and Bruce Dickinson’s vocals are just as incredible as they were twenty years ago. The songwriting, however, might just be the most outstanding aspect of A Matter of Life and Death. “Epic” the word that comes to mind when describing the way that technicality of the musicianship comes together with Dickinson's melodic vocals and dark lyrics. It’s simply amazing to behold.