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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

2010 Holiday Buyer’s Guide- Power/Symphonic/Folk Metal

-Accessible Metal
-Alternative Rock
-Extreme Metal
-Power/Symphonic/Folk Metal


While new albums from legends and modern greats helped, power, symphonic, and folk metal were all plagued in 2010 by copycats and unoriginal new albums. It gets a little old listening to identical album after identical album, all ripping off the same few bands. Symphonic metal in particular had an off year, although that’s to be expected in year without albums from Nightwish, Epica, Within Temptation, and other major bands. Outside of the garbage, however, there were ten albums that made the cut for this list.


wicked symphony angel of babylon

The Wicked Symphony / Angel of Babylon

Avantasia released not one, but two albums this year. Both are concept albums that continue the story of The Scarecrow from 2008. This means that two of the best power metal albums of the year can be purchased in the same package, and nerds like me who enjoy Avantasia’s epic fantasy stories should rejoice. Even if you aren’t a power metal fan, the music on these albums is really pretty accessible. Songs like “Dying for an Angel” wouldn’t sound out of place in a playlist of 80’s metal, and there’s a variety of talented vocalists that differ from the usual power metal affair. The Wicked Symphony and Angel of Babylon are two incredibly entertaining releases, and any fan of metal should give them a listen.


at the edges of time

Blind Guardian
At the Edge of Time

At the Edge of Time is typical Blind Guardian. That is to say, it’s to say it’s an album that takes an overdone power metal sound and somehow makes it fresh. There are songs on At the Edge of Time that are just plain epic, and purists should rejoice in knowing that there are no pop-influenced tracks like “Another Stranger Me” from their last album. Even the single “A Voice in the Dark” is fast and heavy, while still managing to be catchy. Vocalist Hansi Kürsch is once again the highlight of the band, as his soaring vocals continue to redefine what’s possible in heavy metal. With albums like this, it’s no wonder that so many power metal acts continue to copy Blind Guardian. However, no one can pull it off like the original, and At the Edge of Time is farther proof of that.


ancestral romance

Dark Moor
Ancestral Romance

Dark Moor is a band that keeps getting better and more original with each release. Back in 2000, they were a power metal group with a ton of potential, and ten years later they’ve released one of the best symphonic and power metal hybrids since Kamelot’s The Black Halo. The melodies are catchy and memorable, and there are genuinely progressive moments as well. There are even a few songs written in Spanish, which isn’t exactly common with power metal. The point is, Dark Moor are paving their own path. Ancestral Romance is a strikingly original and memorable album, and it’s a great listen for any power or symphonic metal fan.


everything remains as it never was

Everything Remains as It Never Was

Eluveitie is the band for metalheads who wish Korpiklaani was a little more heavy and serious. Everything Remains as It Never Was is a folk metal album that proves the genres can be mixed in a serious and artistic manner, and without adding in a barrage of other genres (i.e. Agalloch and Negura Bunget). Eluveitie is pure folk mixed with pure heavy metal, and the result is a solid album that can appeal to just about any metalhead. The album’s only major flaw is that Eluveitie will occasionally recycle ideas from their last album, Slania, and for that reason I would point newcomers in the direction that album first. Still, Everything Remains as It Never Was is a worthwhile album that is very different from most other records in its genre.


red silent tides

Red Silent Tides

If there’s one band that proves why power, symphonic, and folk metal are grouped together on this guide, it’s Elvenking. After trying their hand at traditional folk music, Elvenking have returned to their power/symphonic/folk metal roots. It’s kind of more of the same, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While most power metal bands continue to copy Blind Guardian and Helloween, it’s still refreshing to hear a band in the genre with an original sound. Red Silent Tides is worth picking up if you’re a fan of either power, symphonic, or folk metal.




Equilibrium have added a significant symphonic element to their sound on Rekreatur. This can make their growled vocals seem a little forced at times, but for the most part Rekreatur marks a step in the right direction for one of metal’s most interesting folk groups. The atmosphere is closer to Korpiklaani than Eluveitie, as the band has the same type of fast party sound as the former, but the music is creative enough to warrant praise outside of just being fun and catchy. This is really well made folk metal, and it’s worthy of standing beside Equilibrium’s masterful Sagas from two years ago.


7 sinners

7 Sinners

These legendary power metal musicians don’t do much in the way of innovation these days, but neither do most power metal bands. Helloween’s classic sound is still widely copied by their contemporaries, and sometimes a new album from the band that created the sound and still does it the best is just what the genre needs. If you aren’t already a Helloween fan, 7 Sinners won’t do much to change that. However, fans of the band are genre should know what they’re getting into here, and chances are they’re going to like it.


safe manticora


Manticora’s Safe is anything but what the title suggests. This may be a return of Manticora’s less experimental side, but it’s also the best album the band has released in some time. This is hard hitting power metal with heavy riffs and dark ambience. The vocals may be high pitched, but the instrumentation is more technical and original than all but the absolute best power metal albums. Safe is an album that can appeal to metalheads who usually avoid modern power metal, as it distances itself from the trends of the genre. However, the traditional power metal elements that it does have are executed brilliantly, and it’s one of the best and most original power metal records of 2010.


virsetele pamintului

Negură Bunget
Vîrstele pămîntului

More folk than their usual offering, Vîrstele pămîntului is another solid album from one of the most interesting black/folk bands of today. There are moments of beautiful instrumentation, as well as heavy blackened sections. The two mix quite nicely, and it never gets tiring hearing the folk sections build into their heavier counterparts. Vîrstele pămîntului is one of the heaviest folk metal albums of the year, and it’s recommended to any fan of the genre willing to give something a little more brutal a try.


gravity of light

Gravity of Light

Tarot may not be Marco Hietala’s most famous band, as he’s best known as the bassist for Nightwish, but this power metal band has quietly been one of metal’s most consistent acts since the late 80’s. Gravity of Light is no exception, as it’s another solid album with strong hooks, heavy riffs, and Marco’s trademark vocals. He’s often overshadowed by Tarja Turunen and Anette Olzon in Nightwish, but Hietala really is a strong vocalist. His voice is much lower than the typical power metal singer, but that makes his vibrato stand out even more. Songs like “Gone” and “Satan is Dead” are great examples of this, as his speaker rattling voice gives the songs a powerful edge. Gravity of Light isn’t exactly new territory for Tarot, but it’s another collection of quality songs from one of metal’s most overlooked bands.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

2010 Holiday Buyer’s Guide- Electronic

-Accessible Metal
-Alternative Rock
-Extreme Metal
-Power/Symphonic/Folk Metal


From a personal standpoint, electronic music has made a huge impression on me in 2010. I’ve been obsessed with the genre through parts of the past year, due in no small part to the massive amount of great electronic albums released in 2010. From trip-hop to house to dance to downtempo to indie electronica, and even to minimalist techno, numerous subgenres of electronic had strong showings this year. It goes without saying that this is one of the strongest categories on this guide.


third party

Blue Sky Black Death
Third Party

An indie electronic album may not be what fans of Blue Sky Black Death were expecting with their latest album, but the production duo known mostly for trip-hop and hardcore hip-hop have teamed up with Boy in Static vocalist Alexander Chen to make such an album. It definitely takes some getting used to, and Chen’s vocals don’t always fit with the instrumentals, but Third Party is a surprisingly polished record. The beats are exceptionally well made, creating a psychedelic atmosphere that’s closer to dream pop than anything else in the electronic genre. There’s a lot of fuzzy distortion, although it probably would have been better with a more varied vocalist. The production is far too experimental to waste on such uninspired singing. As a fan of the duo, I hope Blue Sky Black Death return to hip-hop, as that’s clearly where their strength lies. However, as a one time thing, Third Party really is a great album.




For a collection of singles released throughout the year, the oddly titled 4x4=12 is surprisingly cohesive. Listening to it as a whole sounds like one epic song, although that that doesn’t mean that Deadmau5’s songs sound the same. Joel Zimmerman is an absolute master of building tension, and there’s a mind blowing moment when the last track, “Everything Before,” hits, showing just how Deadmau5 has far brought his music without ever stopping the beat. There are even a few instances of dubstep, such as on the masterful “Raise Your Weapon,” where a beautiful beat subtlety builds over guest vocals from Greta Svabo Bech until it turns into a version of dubstep only the mau5 could create. The songs with SOFI on vocals are somewhat of a misstep, however. She works relatively well on “Sofi Needs a Ladder,” but “One Trick Pony” is difficult to listen to a result of her voice. Still, there’s a lot to like here. The songs work as singles, are absolutely epic when played in a single session, and are incredibly accessible for music listeners who aren’t usually into dance music.


a bright cold day

A Bright Cold Day

Liz Fullerton and Jedi Mind Tricks producer Stoupe are a match made in trip-hop heaven. Stoupe’s production fits perfectly in a trip-hop sound, but his variety and experimentation in Jedi Mind Tricks hasn’t quite made it over to Dutch. Stoupe will often return to territory he explored earlier in the record, and as such the album starts to run out of ideas towards the end. Still, the first half is incredible, and Fullerton is perfect match for Stoupe’s beats. A Bright Cold Day is hopefully only the start of Dutch, but even as a flawed debut there is a lot for trip-hop fans to like.


safe in the steep cliffs

Safe in the Steep Clouds

The second solo album from the man behind most of the beats from Sadistik’s The Balancing Act (one of the best and most underappreciated hip-hop albums of the last decade), is one of the best trip-hop albums of 2010. Emancipator’s Safe in Steep Clouds is a gorgeous album. It can start to get a little repetitive towards the end, but there are enough beautiful soundscapes on the album’s first 45 minutes to make up for its weak ending. Emancipator’s style is almost minimalist in nature, as he tends to keep the same beat going throughout, only adding small elements to it when necessary. It actually works quite well most of the time, although it certainly won’t appeal to trip-hop fans used to catchier artists like Massive Attack and Portishead.



Flying Lotus

Cosmogramma is not only the best album so far from experimental producer Flying Lotus, but it’s his first album of actual art. While Flying Lotus has always shown a great deal of talent, his overly experimental approach has never really amounted to anything more than just that- an experiment. With two full length albums under his belt, Flying Lotus has learned from his mistakes and created an album that lives up to his enormous potential. Cosmogramma is as cohesive as an experimental electronic album can be, and the songs have a great deal of tension and build up. Be warned that this album still isn’t all that accessible, but anyone willing to embrace their avant-garde side will be rewarded with an ambitious and creative record that simply cannot be brushed aside.


lucky shiner

Gold Panda
Lucky Shiner

Every year there seems to be at least one talented new producer who comes out of nowhere to take a trend and do something completely crazy with it. Nosaj Thing did it with glitch last year, and Deadmau5 did it with house the year before. With dubstep emerging as the new trend in underground dance music, Gold Panda has burst onto the scene to turn the growing genre on its head. Just to be clear, Lucky Shiner isn’t necessarily a dubstep album, but it does share a number of qualities with the genre. For one thing, Gold Panda doesn’t do a lot of building. His beats are chaotic, and while he changes things up frequently the chaos never really ends. However, Gold Panda takes the dubstep structure and puts some truly unique elements into it. There is a strong psychedelic atmosphere throughout Lucky Shiner, and there are even a few moments of glitch-hop thrown in for good measure. Panda puts a number of different sounds into his beats, but most of it works. Lucky Shiner is an impressive debut, and one that this talented producer will hopefully build on in the future.


this is happening

LCD Soundsystem
This is Happening

As a fan of LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver, I was a little disappointed when I first heard This is Happening. It wasn’t that it was bad, but after hearing a highly artistic electronic album with emotional lyrics and hypnotizing beats, it felt a little strange to hear James Murphy go back to pure dance music. The more I listened to the album though, the more I realized that as far as dance music goes This Happening does just everything right. It’s catchy as hell, the beats change at just the right moments, and I’ll be damned if this isn’t one of the most accessible dance albums out there. This is great dance music, highly original and very effective, and as long as you don’t expect another Sound of Silver it’s hard to image an electronic fan not being entertained by This is Happening.


black noise

Pantha du Prince
Black Noise

Approaching music from a minimalist style is one of the hardest things a musician can do. As an electronic artist, there is always a temptation to speed things up, adding in unnecessary sounds or removing others too early. However, if an artist can be patient and really explore the sounds they’ve created, the listener is forced to do the same. Pantha du Prince has achieved this on Black Noise, and listening to it can be a mind bending experience. It’s hard not to get lost in the downtempo beats, and even after numerous listens I still feel me eyes well up. Black Noise is a masterful album, and one that anyone with the patience for minimalist art should experience.


eyelid movies

Eyelid Movies

One of my personal favorite albums of 2010, Phantogram’s Eyelid Movies is a trippy, dreamy, and atmospheric album that takes Mezzanine-influenced trip-hop and combines it with elements of 80’s alternative rock. Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter make for an excellent duo, both in terms of production and vocals. They both have their own styles that blend perfectly together, creating a multi-layered mesh of trip-hop that’s catchy and atmospheric in equal measure. Eyelid Movies is highly original and incredibly entertaining, and it’s an absolutely fantastic debut.


the brothel

Susanne Sundfør
The Brothel

Susanne Sundfør’s The Brothel is a strikingly beautiful yet undeniably catchy album. Her brand of electronic art pop is somewhat similar to that of Imogen Heap, but The Brothel is more ambitious than anything else I’ve heard in that style. The beats are extremely varied, using violins, keyboards, pianos, and other instruments to create unique electro beats for Susanne Sundfør’s vocals. The vocals are beautiful and help make the melodies incredibly catchy, and it’s worth mentioning again that the beats are just incredible. There are moments where the electronic influences are completely removed and beautiful orchestral and piano parts take their place. The Brothel is a fantastic album from start to finish, and it’s the type of gorgeous accessible electronica that deserves a far larger audience than it will ultimately get.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

2010 Holiday Buyer’s Guide- Progressive

-Accessible Metal
-Alternative Rock
-Extreme Metal
-Power/Symphonic/Folk Metal


Sometimes you have to accept that you’re a nerd and give into the lure of progressive rock. As a prog man myself, I mean that in the best way possible. Despite not having a new Opeth or Porcupine Tree album, 2010 saw the release of a number of quality prog record. Many were long delayed and highly anticipated releases, some more than five years in the making. They may not be from the biggest names in the genre, but here are ten worthwhile albums for the prog fan in all of us.




A progressive rock album with some electronic and art rock influences, Demians’ Mute builds on the promise of 2008’s Building an Empire, and is one of the year’s best progressive albums. Nicolas Chapel, the multi-instrumentalist behind Demians, is quickly becoming an exceptional songwriter. He layers his songs with subtleties, both lyrically and instrumentally, and his voice has improved dramatically since his last release. There is a lot to like about Mute, and it’s a great album for any fan of progressive music.


missa atropos

Missa Atropos

After the incredible Tick Tock, it’s not at all surprising that Gazpacho has released what may be the best progressive rock album of 2010. Missa Atropos is an outstanding prog album that is simply impossible to describe in less than a paragraph. This is gorgeous music, reminiscent of bands like Radiohead, Porcupine Tree, and Pink Floyd in how combines simple beauty with experimentation and a wide of variety of influences outside of just rock and metal. Anyone who likes progressive or art rock should absolutely give Missa Atropos a listen. It’s an outstanding album, and one of the best records of 2010.




Aquarius is the type of album that uses progressive music’s ambiguous boundaries to its advantage. It's possible to mix just about anything into prog music if done right, so while their core sound is similar to familiar progressive rock and metal, Haken mix things up when you least expect. There are some jazz sections, heavy riffs and growls that seem to come out of nowhere, and even some interesting Middle Eastern influences. More than half of the seven songs exceed the 10 minute mark, so Haken build these unique sections into their songs quite well. The tracks have a ton of variety as a result, and it makes for a very interesting listen.




Ihsahn’s voice is clearly starting to fade, but the former Emperor frontman is still one of the best songwriters in metal. After is a progressive death metal album, somewhat similar to modern-era Opeth. However, if it was just a black metal Opeth clone with a worse vocalist it wouldn’t be much of anything. That’s where Ihsahn’s songwriting talent comes in. He plays to his strengths, using his faded growls at the most opportune times, and then singing when the melody is at its strongest. He also employs Jørgen Munkeby to play saxophone on the album, which is as epic as it is odd. After has its flaws, but it’s an interesting and unique album that earns a recommend to fans of heavier prog music.


valley of smoke

Valley of Smoke

Sludge metallers Intronaut have turned into a progressive metal band on Valley of Smoke, an album that seamlessly blends prog and sludge music. About half of the album is made up of cleaner prog rock, while there are still moments of heavy sludge and distortion. Think of it as a more lo-fi version of Mastodon’s Crack the Skye, with a slightly better emphasis on the sludge elements. The mix works quite well, and it keeps Intronaut’s somewhat generic (though still entertaining) sludge from getting old. This is a step in the right direction for the band, and an exceptional album in its own right.


lunatic soul 2

Lunatic Soul
Lunatic Soul II

Lunatic Soul is the more atmospheric side of Riverside frontman Mariusz Duda. Riverside has moved father into the realm of traditional progressive rock, so it makes sense that Duda has put his ambient influences into a solo project. Lunatic Soul is still progressive rock, but it’s stripped of some of Riverside’s heavier influences, and instead focuses on the aforementioned atmospheric side. These influences were used much better in Riverside’s early albums, but it’ still great to hear this side of Mariusz Duda. He’s an exceptionally talented musician and songwriter, and as a result he makes Lunatic Soul II work.


the obsidian conspiracy

The Obsidian Conspiracy

It’s always interesting to hear which direction a band takes after making the album they’ve built up to their whole career. Nevermore reached that point with This Godless Endeavor in 2005, and The Obsidian Conspiracy sees the band not really changing direction at all. This is simply more Nevermore, and while it doesn’t reach the same level of mind blowing epic prog metal of their last album, more Nevermore is always a good thing. They are still one of the most unique bands in modern metal music, mixing together progressive, thrash, power, and traditional heavy metal. The Obsidian Conspiracy is a solid album, and one that can be enjoyed be any metalhead or prog fan.


the never ending way or orwarrior

Orphaned Land
The Never Ending Way of Orwarrior

Orphaned Land is another prog band coming off a masterpiece. 2004’s Mabool was an absolute gem, and one of the best albums released last decade. It took six years for the long delayed follow up to finally be released, but The Never Ending Way or Orwarrior does not disappoint. This is an exceptional release from the only band that can be classified as “Jewish progressive folk death metal.” Yes, Orphaned Land is band that combines elements of prog, folk, death metal, and traditional Jewish music. The contrasting influences never sounds forced, each song is different from the last, and most of the album is strangely accessible. It doesn’t come close to Mabool, but The Never Ending Way of Orwarrior is an album that can be recommended to just about anyone.


the great escape

Seventh Wonder
The Great Escape

Seventh Wonder’s fourth studio albums has somehow managed to surpass the last three. The Great Escape is an absolutely incredible prog metal release, marked by impressive vocals, amazing solos, and an extraordinary amount of variety. The first six tracks are excellent, but the biggest highlight here is the epic 30 minute title track. That song could be very well be the best of 2010, and it’s one of the most impressive prog epics of modern day. Take notice prog fan. Seventh Wonder have reached incredible new heights, and The Great Escape is one of the year’s best albums.


x spocks beard

Spock’s Beard

Spock’s Beard have a hard time making up for the loss of lead songwriter Neal Morse. The three studio albums since his departure have been ranged from bad to mediocre at best, so it’s a both a surprise and a relief that Spock’s Beard have return to form with their tenth full length album. X is a return to the melodic prog of early Spock’s Beard, and a more importantly a return to actual songs. There are a fewer moments of showing off, something that plagued the last three albums, making this legendary prog band sound like a poor man’s modern Dream Theater. Instead the songs incorporate actual emotion, and the band has managed to do this without removing the impressive instrumentals. As a whole, X is a very solid album, and easily the best Spock’s Beard album since 2002’s Snow.

2010 Holiday Buyer’s Guide- Post-Rock/Ambient/Shoegaze

-Accessible Metal
-Alternative Rock
-Extreme Metal
-Power/Symphonic/Folk Metal


While post-rock, ambient, and shoegaze often go together, the three genres had very different years. Shoegaze is represented in this guide by two “album of the year” contenders from France, while ambient had a number of great releases as well in 2010. Post-rock had a mostly disappointing year in 2010, marked by uncharacteristically poor albums from some of the genre’s best bands.


ecailles de lune

Écailles de lune

Neige (born Stéphane Paut) has to be one of the best musicians in music today. His debut album for Alcest, Souvenirs d'un autre monde, was an absolute masterpiece. Not only was it one of the best albums of the decade, but it marked one of the few times I’ve been completely speechless after listening to an album. Écailles de lune is the second Alcest album, and it continues the gorgeous black metal-influenced shoegaze of the first. This time around there’s a little more emphasis on the atmospheric black metal side of the music, as it can get quite a bit heavier than Souvenirs d'un autre monde. There are moments of pure beauty and moments of pure chaos, but it’s when the two blend together that Écailles de lune is at its best. At times it can take a little long to get those moments, especially on the album’s latter half, but Écailles de lune is still a masterful follow up to one the best albums of the past decade.



Brendan Perry

The second solo album from Dead Can Dance’s Brendan Perry sounds a lot more like classic Dead Can Dance than his first. This is the same gorgeous ethereal darkwave that made Dead Can Dance such an influential group, although it’s missing some of the originality of those early records. Perry sticks close to style of his former group, and while Ark doesn’t a hold candle to anything in Dead Can Dance’s discography, it’s still very good. If you’re a fan of Dead Can Dance or other classic darkwave bands, chances are you’ll enjoy this album.


i vigilante

Crippled Black Phoenix
I, Vigilante

Quite possibly the best pure post-rock album of 2010, I, Vigilante is beautiful at its core, but it can also heavy and psychedelic at times. Crippled Black Phoenix consists of members of Electric Wizard, Portishead, Iron Monkey, Mogwai, and  Borknagar just to name a few, so it’s not a surprise that this supergroup is far from ordinary. They had a number of great ideas that were only decently executed on their first two albums, but I , Vigilante is the first Crippled Black Phoenix album that really takes advantage of the talent at hand. It’s clearly post-rock, but the influences of the aforementioned bands are easy to spot, especially Electric Wizard. This is a great original post-rock album, and I look forward to hearing where Crippled Black Phoenix goes from here.




2010 was a surprisingly good year for Japanese ambient screamo. The genre had two albums considered for a place on this guide (the other being Paraselene by Heaven in Her Arms), but ultimately Envy’s Recitation was the one that made the cut. Needless to say, this is a unique album, as post-rock and screamo don’t necessarily seem like genres that would mix. The first time an inhale scream comes in over the beautiful post-rock instrumentals it can sound strange, but anyone who can tolerate screamed vocals should be able to get used to it. The heavy screaming actually adds an interesting element to the music, contrasting the simple beauty of post-rock with an incredibly dark and raw sound. Granted, other post-rock have been able to contrast light and dark emotions with just the post-rock elements, but the way Envy do it is interesting enough. Recitation is the better of the two ambient screamo albums released in 2010, but anyone interested in this style should give both albums a listen.


chasing after shadows

Chasing After Shadows… Living with the Ghosts

Some post-rock albums make you think. Others bring out emotions. Others, like Hammock’s Chasing After Shadows, are just plain beautiful. This is a very simple album, and not necessarily an original one. However, it doesn’t try to do anything more than that. Hammock have set out to make a beautiful album, and Chasing After Shadows is enjoyable simply for that reason. It won’t set the post-rock world on fire, and Hammock have certainly released better and more ambitious albums, but it deserves some credit for accomplishing what it sets out to do.


Septembre et ses dernières pensées

Les Discrets
Septembre et ses dernières pensées

It’s hard to believe Septembre et ses dernières pensées is Les Discrets’ full length debut. This is a masterful album in every respect, and it’s one of the best albums of 2010. Les Discrets released a split last year with Alcest, so it’s no surprise that the album this is most reminiscent of is Alcest’s Souvenirs d'un autre monde. Much like Alcest’s debut, Septembre et ses dernières pensées combines elements of shoegaze, post-rock, and black metal, but the way those genres are combined is a bit unusual. Usually black metal is the most prevalent genre of the three, but here it’s comes second to shoegaze. This gives the music a raw sound that doesn’t overpower the gorgeous melodies and atmosphere. Septembre et ses dernières pensées is a brilliant album, and one that belongs in the collection of every music fan. It’s one of the best albums of 2010, and one of the finest shoegaze albums of recent memory.


the centauri agent

Natural Snow Buildings
The Centauri Agent

Natural Snow Buildings haven’t been around for much longer than a decade, but they’ve released a seemingly infinite number of albums. None have come close to the two disc epic, The Dance of the Moon and the Sun. The Centauri Agent is a space-influenced drone album, and one of the best the Natural Snow Buildings have released since their peak in 2006. Like the aforementioned album, this is a two disc epic with a length of almost two hours, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Natural Snow Buildings vary their sound, exploring new territory with each song, but they’re at their best when they stick to the simpler post-rock influenced sounds of the first disc. Still, there’s a lot of quality music here, and it’s impossible not to recommend.


siberian winter

Nautic Depths
Siberian Winter

Coming off their masterful North Passage in 2008, Mathias Grassow and Tomas Weiss have solidified their place among modern ambient’s best musicians. Siberian Winter only strengthens their repertoire, combining elements of drone and dark ambient to create what may be the most atmospheric album of 2010. Rarely do subtle noises work so effectively in music, and there is a strong attention to detail throughout. Obviously, it requires patience to listen to an album like Siberian Winter, but anyone with interest in ambient and minimalist art will be in for a treat.


jupiter temple

Nihil Novi Sub Sole
The Jupiter Temple

The debut album from Nihil Novi Sub Sole, a dark ambient project from members of various black and doom metal bands, is one of the most haunting albums of 2010. It’s slow, dark, and downright frightening at times, and does exactly what ambient music should- put its listener in specific state of mind. This is an album for fans of dark music only, but its combination of classical, darkwave, and ambient is irresistible for those who do.


horror forsaken


Although most of the album can be downloaded legally for free, it’s worth tracking down all of Horror/Forsaken. This is dark ambient that aims to haunt and scare the listener, and it almost sounds like a soundtrack to a horror film. VoidWork play with volume quite a bit, intensifying noises and softening others as the songs build. There’s much more at play here than the tension usually found in music, and it’s really quite amazing how some of the most beautiful sounds you’ll ever hear can turn into dark drones over a period of just minutes.

2010 Holiday Buyer’s Guide- Alternative Rock

-Accessible Metal
-Alternative Rock
-Extreme Metal
-Power/Symphonic/Folk Metal


Not to be confused with “Indie,” “Alternative Rock” covers everything in alternative rock music outside of indie rock. This category contains albums from the alternative, hard rock, stoner rock, post-hardcore, and post-grunge genres, but it goes without saying that alternative music dominated yet again by indie rock. However, there were a number of non-indie alternative rock albums released in 2010. Most of those albums seemed to copy either Nickelback or Godsmack, but after weeding through the garbage, I’ve come up with ten quality alternative rock records that earned a recommendation from this past year.



The Black Keys

The Black Keys have been one of the most consistent bands of the past decade. Just about everything they’ve put out is worthwhile, and with the exception of The Black Lips, they’re possibly the best modern garage rock band. Brothers is yet another solid album from The Black Keys, one that keeps their hard rock sound in tact while throwing in a few moments of experimentation. No, there’s nothing from Blackroc or other Dan Auerbach projects, as this is clearly The Black Keys. However, there are still moments where the bands strays from rock and can surprise you.It’s moments like those that prevents the Keys’ sound from getting old. This is a band that knows how to change their sound up just enough with new album, and The Black Keys’ solid album streak now stands at six as a result.



Dead Confederate

The second Dead Confederate album isn’t necessarily a departure from the sound of Wrecking Ball, but it definitely isn’t the album fans of their first were expecting. Sugar sounds more like the 80’s alternative rock that influenced bands like My Morning Jacket and the grunge bands that heavily influenced the sound of Wrecking Ball. While Sugar doesn’t have the same rock hard vibe that made Wrecking Ball one of my personal favorite albums of 2008, the more indie-like Sugar is objectively just as good. There are some very well written songs here, none better than the lo-fi “Run from the Gun.” Sugar is definitely different in some regard, but Dead Confederate are still a great band that any rock fan should check out.


three kings

Dead Meadow
Three Kings

I usually don’t put live recordings on my buyer’s guides, but I have to make an exception for Dead Meadow’s Three Kings. Presented as a soundtrack to a film that comes bundled with the album (which isn’t part of this review, since I don’t feel comfortable critiquing films), Three Kings contains a mixture of new studio material and live recordings of some of Dead Meadow’s more famous songs. Thing is, the songs are mixed together. For example, there will be two or three live recordings followed by a new studio track. The live recordings are great, as expected from a band known for their live shows, and the new tracks are some of the best tracks Dead Meadow has ever recorded. It’s an interesting approach to an album, and again, I’m not sure how well it works as a soundtrack, but strictly as a collection of music Three Kings earns a recommendation.


diamond eyes

Diamond Eyes

In all honesty, I’ve never been the biggest fan of the Deftones. I’ve never understood the hype surrounding them, and I find Chino Moreno to be a horrendous vocalist. However, Moreno and company deserve some credit. Diamond Eyes really is a solid album, and one that marks a huge improvement for the band. Diamond Eyes is full of alternative rock songs that are original and refreshingly uplifting. However, Moreno’s vocals are easily the biggest difference between this and past Defontes albums. Here he sounds likes a professional vocalist, and one that can keep up with the changing music. I still don’t believe that Diamond Eyes is an essential album, or something that can be compared to the better progressive rock albums of 2010, but for radio rock this is definitely one of the year’s best.


american slang

The Gaslight Anthem
American Slang

American Slang is less of a punk album and more of a pure garage rock record, but this is still the same Gaslight Anthem that rock fans fell in love a few years back. They’ve been compared to The Killers, but the big difference is The Gaslight Anthem actually know how to write songs. This is intelligent music with a hard edge, the kind of punk that evolved with the times, not dumbed down to reach a new and younger audience. As previously mentioned, their garage rock influences are much more prevalent this time around, but that’s’ far from a band thing. It’s still good old fashioned rock music made by musicians who know how to love their influences while still doing their own thing.


grinderman 2

Grinderman 2

The follow up to Nick Cave’s Grinderman album, is really more of the same, but in no way is that a bad thing. Grinderman is the heavier, more perverted side of the legendary rock musician, and while Grinderman 2 doesn’t have anything that rivals the amazing “No Pussy Blues,” there are a good number of noisy hard rock tunes that probably shouldn’t be played anywhere near children. It’s great to hear Nick Cave continuing Grinderman, as it’s a welcome side of this astounding musician that isn’t often heard, and it’s no secret that some of Cave’s best music are the songs he doesn’t take as seriously.


heavy metal fruit

Heavy Metal Fruit

Motorpsycho’s sound doesn’t really have anything in common with heavy metal, but Heavy Metal Fruit is a very solid psychedelic album. The longer tracks sound like heavier versions of the jam parts of early King Crimson songs, which is definitely a good thing. Modern jam music rarely has the same psychedelic elements that it used to, so hearing a throwback to that era is actually refreshing. Motorpsycho don’t necessarily progress with each album, but they don’t need to either. Heavy Metal Fruit is another sold hour of hearing this talented band jam, and fans of psychedelic rock won’t be disappointed.


tapestry of webs

Past Lives
Tapestry of Webs

It’s a little strange to hear post-hardcore with modern indie rock influences. Yes, it exists, but it’s rarely good. Enter Past Lives, a band born from the ashes of popular Seattle hardcore band The Blood Brothers. This is an indie-fied post-hardcore band that works. The lyrics are great, the music is chaotic and original, and there’s a lot less screaming than what you may expect from a post-hardcore album. Tapestry of Webs seems like the natural progression of Blood Brothers, so it’s a little hard to call it a debut, but it’s a more mature post-hardcore album that should appeal to both fans of hardcore and alternative rock.


spacetrip on a paper plane

Sahara Surfers
Spacetrip on a Paper Plane

Sahara Surfers may be the first female-fronted stoner rock band I’ve ever heard. Women tend to have a higher voice than men, so for a genre that so often has bass and baritone singers, it’s definitely an odd fit. However, Sahara Surfers’ Julia Überbacher works surprisingly well for this psychedelic stoner band. She keeps her voice low, but she also can also raise it when the music reaches its climax, making for a very interesting sound. The instrumentals are classic stoner rock in the realm of Clutch or Down. That is to say, it’s incredibly bluesy and riff oriented. Spacetrip on a Paper Plane is a little on the short side, but it’s a very solid debut from a band with a ton of promise.




After releasing one of the most refreshing radio rock records of 2007, it’s almost criminal that Stereoside’s music never actually made it to radio. They’ve remained in the underground, and with their self titled they’ve crafted another accessible hard rock album that takes the popular post-grunge sound of modern rock and actually does something original with it. The songs are catchy, heavy, and raw, similar in that regard to the grunge music that influences most songs on active rock radio. This is what radio rock would sound like if band’s actually wrote original songs instead of just copying each other, and Stereoside is proof that post-grunge can be done well. With the possible exception of Hurt, Stereoside are the best band playing this style of music right now, and anyone who likes rock music needs to give this band a listen.