Nachtmystium (Black Metal/Psychedelic Rock)
Assassins: Black Mettle, Part 1 (3/4)- 2008
Assassins is a difficult album to describe, as it really doesn’t fit into one specific genre. Nachtmystium put a multitude of influences on display, including black/death metal, progressive and psychedelic rock, and even pure heavy metal. It’s a unique combination, and at times underwhelming, but Assassins is an interesting album throughout. Fans of more ambient and progressive black metal bands like Agalloch and Wolves in the Throne Room should check out Nachtmystium’s latest, as it’s up there with Ihsahn's angL and Enslaved's Vertebrae as the best "artistic" black metal album released this year. It may not be brutal enough to satisfy fans that are looking for raw black metal, but Assassins is a far better album than your standard black metal release.
Naglfar (Death/Black Metal)
Harvest (3/4)- 2007
Mixing elements of black, death, and melodic death metal, Naglfar’s newest release is a very solid metal album throughout. Naglfar doesn’t make any drastic changes to their sound, but like many other 2007 death metal albums, it contains some very solid death metal with impressive instrumentals. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call Naglfar one of the more unique extreme metal bands of today, and despite a lack of innovation, they’ve crafted one of the better death metal albums of 2007.
It Was Written (3.5/4)- 1996
Often overshadowed by its prolific predecessor, Nasir Jones’ second album is good enough to be called a classic in its own right. It Was Written is very different from Illmatic, both musically and lyrically, but it doesn’t suffer for it. This is Nas at his deepest and most intellectual, although there are moments where Nas’ metaphors aren’t as clear or powerful as they should be. Since much of the music relies on Nas’ ability to relate his hypothetical and allegorical stories, a few tracks are wasted and left without a coherent point or message. Regardless, most of It Was Written is fantastic, and anyone interested in lyrical hip-hop should be able look past its shortcomings and focus on its moments of high art.
God’s Son (3.5/4)- 2002
God’s Son is a personal and often spiritual album from one of the greatest emcees to ever bless the microphone. There are a few duds, but most of the album works exceptionally well. Nas’ expert flow and lyricism are in full effect, and he’s aided by some surprisingly solid production. God’s Son is easily the most personal album in Nas’ discography, but it’s also one of the best.
Untitled (3.5/4)- 2008
Simply put, Nas' controversial 9th studio album is essential. It's a lyrical journey that ascends to heights beyond what should be a possible for an album. Untitled is pure storytelling, true poetry, and an album that puts its message above all else. Nas isn't looking to recreate Illmatic or to even create another masterpiece. Instead, he has a point, a message, and has armed himself with powerful poetry and intelligent commentary. A few duds keep it from being a musical masterpiece, but as a whole, this is one of the most important albums of the year. Regardless of how big of a hip-hop fan you are, this is an essential purchase.
Nas & Damian Marley (Rap/Hip-Hop)
Distant Relatives (3.5/4)- 2010
The long awaited collaboration between rap legend Nas and genre-bending reggae artist Damian Marley (son of the legendary Bob Marley) more than lives up to its potential. Both musicians are artists in every sense of the word and it shows on Distant Relatives. The theme of the album is Africa, both in terms of its music and lyrics. The music is as African as hip-hop can be, combining tribal singing with traditional African drums. Everything comes across cleanly, and the beats paint an interesting canvas for the artists to go to work. The lyrics aim to not only educate listeners about the struggles of the continent, but also celebrate the rich culture of Africa. This creates a deep lyrical offering, but never one that is overly preachy. There is fun to be had, and the two are never at odds. Even the guests focus on the concept at hand, albeit some better than others. Lil Wayne provides what is easily his best verse in some time on “My Generation,” but both he and that track are the weak link of the album. Thankfully, Wayne’s prescence is more than made up for by Somalian emcee K’naan, who delivers what may be the verse of the year on “Tribes at War.” However, the real strength of Distant Relatives lies in its two main attractions, and both Nas and Damian Marley deliver some of their best material to date. Considering the legacy both men have created for themselves, that is high praise indeed.
The National (Indie Rock)
Boxer (3.5/4)- 2007
Boxer is a perfect example of quality indie rock. On top of being one of the year’s most consistent albums, The National have proven that they know what it takes to play indie rock right. You won’t find tricky riffs or complicated instrumentals, but you will find intelligent lyrics with clever wordplay, soothing guitars that bring the listener into the dark and beautiful world of Boxer, and a large amount of musical variety. Any fan of indie rock should appreciate what The National have accomplished with this album, and Boxer is accessible to warrant a very high recommendation for any fan of alternative rock in general. In fact, anyone that appreciates dark and beautiful music should give Boxer a listen. It’s a superb album, and unlike many other indie gems of the past few years, you don’t need to be a fan of the genre to appreciate the brilliance of this record.
High Violet (4/4)- 2010
It's only recently that The National have been put under the mainstream spotlight, but the Brookyln indie rock band has quietly released some of the finest music of the pest decade. Starting with their self-titled debut in 2001, The National have grown with each album, continuing to polish and perfect their dark blend of chamber pop, High Violet is no exception. In a way, it’s is more of the same for The National, but this the most polished, consistent, and even memorable album to come from the band thus far.
High Violet starts with the gut-wrenching lo-fi tune “Terrible Love.” From the moment Matt Berninger’s vocals enter, it becomes apparent the group’s signature baritone voice has only gotten better. Berninger has a voice with the rare ability to shake its listener to the core, creating the dark ambiance that sets the tone for the barrage of distortion and melodic undertones to follow. However, while the vocals may be the most noticeable aspect of The National on first listen, High Violet is far more than a one-man show. Part of what makes listening to The National such an experience is the aforementioned melodic undertones. They may be subtle, but they work.
“Terrible Love” is only the first of many great tracks on High Violet. “Anyone’s Ghost” is a kind of dark pop rock tune that works far better than it has any right to, and the single “Bloodbuzz Ohio” is simply breathtaking. However, the album’s biggest highlights come in its second half. Tracks like “Runaway,” “Conversation 16,” and “England” takes The National’s chilling ambience to a new level, all without loosing the rock ‘n roll sound at the band’s core.
The music is excellent, the lyrics are excellent, and High Violet is just an incredible album all around. Fans of the band won’t be disappointed, and new listeners are in for a treat. The National have established themselves as one of the best bands in modern rock, and High Violet might very well be the group’s best effort yet.
DIE! (2/4)- 2010
It’s a shame that Necro the producer wastes his beats on Necro the emcee. DIE! is an album of dark, chilling, and often morbid beats, but it’s also an album of poor flow and laughable lyrics that try way too hard to shock its listener. There are no guest spots to be found, making Necro even more unbearable than usual, as his brother Ill Bill as made a welcome appearance on all of his previous albums. Regardless of Necro’s awful rapping and even worse lyricism, DIE! still deserves some praise. Few producers can create such heavy and twisted beats, and Necro proves that again on this release. Just please, please, please let someone else do the rapping next time.
The New Pornographers (Indie Rock/Pop)
Challengers (3/4)- 2007
Often beautiful and always interesting, Challengers is an album that may not rank as the band’s best, but it’s easily among the best alternative albums of 2007. Although the band hates being labeled as a “supergroup,” that’s essentially what The New Pornographers are. They’re a supergroup made up of some of the most creative indie rock musicians of today, and their albums continue to show just how creative indie rock can be. The only thing holding Challengers back from being a must-buy album is that the band has released slightly better albums in the past. If you’re looking to get into the band, this album shouldn’t be your first, but this is an easy recommendation for those who have already delved into the creative world of The New Pornographers.
Nevermore (Progressive Metal)
This Godless Endeavor (4/4)- 2005
This Godless Endeavor is a modern masterpiece that contains elements of just about every subgenre of heavy. Nevermore has evolved their sound into something that is both completely unique and accessible to any fan of rock or metal, and have to put it to use in an ambitious and often beautiful record. Despite being wildly ambitious, it’s just about flawless, and that’s a rare and truly special combination.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (Alternative Rock)
Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! (3.5/4)- 2008
Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! may be a silly little record that takes Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds into strange new directions, but it's also a very large album that stands strong as an album-of-the-year contender. Everything on this album walks the line between comedy and tragedy, poetry and farce, classic Nick Cave and Grinderman (his fantastic 2007 side project), as the result is a hilarious and poetic concept album that takes listen upon listen to even begin to understand. Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! is the rare album that is deep lyrically and creative musically, but doesn't take itself seriously in the slightest. Whether you take this album as an opportunity to laugh out loud, contemplate the story it tells, or to intellectualize religion as a whole, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds have made an album that must be listened to.
The Nightwatchman (Folk Rock)
One Man Revolution (2.5/4)- 2007
Tom Morello is an intelligent man, a great guitar player, and a passionate political activist. Knowing those three things, Morello’s solo debut is a bit of a disappointment. His Nightwatchmen project is essentially a collection of acoustic political folk songs, so it’s a shame that Tom’s knowledge and passion for the subject are missing in favor of generic protest pieces. All things considered, One Man Revolution is a decent album, it’s just impossible to shake the feeling that it’s a wasted opportunity.
Nightwish (Symphonic Metal)
Dark Passion Play (3.5/4)- 2007
Fans of Nightwish that are still mourning the departure of Tarja Turunen should grow up. That may sound harsh, but to pass on an album as spectacular as Dark Passion Play just because Tarja is no longer with the band would be unfortunate. Nightwish is too good of a band to crumble because of one member’s departure, and in a way, the change to a vocalist that isn’t an opera singer works out to their advantage. If there’s one thing that can be said about Dark Passion Play, it’s that it never sounds generic. Nightwish haven’t done anything quite like this before, and the tracks that work (which are most of them) range from stunningly beautiful to exceptionally heavy to just plain epic. There’s a lot to like about Dark Passion Play, and at 70+ minutes of 13 varied tracks, there’s a good chance any fan of music will find something to enjoy.
Nine Inch Nails (Industrial/Alternative Rock)
Year Zero (3/4)- 2007
At this point, Nine Inch Nails deserves a category of their own. Unless you really aren’t into modern music or you’ve been living under a rock for the last ten years, chances are you or the person you’re buying for have already formed an opinion of Nine Inch Nails. If you’re a fan, this is a great album that’s certainly worth getting. If you’re not, then this isn’t going to change your mind. If you’re in between, then your enjoyment of the album will likely depend on what you like about the band. Since Year Zero is a more alternative and industrial album that their early work, fans of that side of Nine Inch Nails will likely enjoy it. However, those looking for a return to Nine Inch Nails’ heavy metal days likely won’t find much to like here. Those who still aren’t sure are advised to get it and give it a try, as Year Zero is a quality album at the very least, and it’s hard not to appreciate a musician as dedicated as Trent Reznor.
The Slip (3.5/4)- 2008
Originally released as a free album early in 2008, The Slip came out of nowhere to be the best Nine Inch Nails album since The Downward Spiral. The album strikes a balance between hard and soft, accessible and unique, and formulaic and experimental. The Slip had a large amount of hype when it first released, so it’s hard to imagine a fan of Trent Reznor that doesn’t already own this in some form. However, this is a great starting point for anyone new to Nine Inch Nails, and any old fans who lost interest after NIN’s more mainstream period may want to give this album a chance. It truly is the best Nine Inch Nails record in more than a decade.
No-Man (Progressive/Art Rock)
Schoolyard Ghosts (3.5/4)- 2008
No-Man, a collaboration between Tim Bowness and Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson, has become a prog band worthy of being called one of the best in the genre. Stylistically, it’s very different from Porcupine Tree, as Schoolyard Ghosts is an atmospheric album that ranges from dream pop to post-rock to more ambient progressive rock, but it still contains much of what makes Porcupine Tree great. As one would expect, the songwriting is superb, and the album as a whole makes for a deep and challenging experience. No-Man is far more than just a Porcupine Tree side project, and Schoolyard Ghosts is far more than just another Steven Wilson album. This is a brilliant record full of beautiful ambiance, deep lyrics, and moments of sheer amazement.
Nonpoint (Hard Rock/Nu-Metal)
To the Pain (2.5/4)- 2005
While they’re far from original, Nonpoint deserve some credit for sticking to their style. By 2005 most bands had abandoned nu-metal, but Nonpoint continued to evolve their sound, and they managed to create one of the best nu-metal albums with To the Pain. Anyone looking for a solid nu-metal record will find it here, and that’s more than can be said about Nonpoint’s contemporaries.