Despite a disappointing comeback album for the legendary Atheist, death metal had a strong showing in 2010. There were brutal albums, technical albums, and a few that managed to do both. Black metal had an even stronger year, assuming that you consider its progressive and atmospheric subgenres to be black metal. Hell, there were even a few thrash metal albums heavy enough to make this guide. Point being, whatever type of extreme metal you like, there’s something for you among these ten albums.
Marrow of the Spirit
After exploring their more mellow side on The White EP, Agalloch have returned with their fourth full length album, and their best since 2002’s masterful The Mantle. Marrow of the Spirit is almost the opposite of the aforementioned White EP, as Agalloch have turned their sound into a full fledged black metal assault, using the softer post-rock moments as a way to build to the heavier ones. Those dark and brutal moments are easily the highlights of Marrow of the Spirit, as five of the non-intro songs build to those at their climax. Maybe it’s a little predictable, but Agalloch have enough variety to prevent that from becoming an issue. Marrow of the Spirit isn’t quite a masterpiece, but you’d be hard pressed to find a better atmospheric black metal album released since the last Agalloch record.
An Autumn for Crippled Children
The debut album from An Autumn for Crippled Children combines the despair of doom metal with the extreme sound of black metal. It’s an interesting combination that works flawlessly on Lost. This is extreme metal with strong emotion, and it’s almost ambient in nature, as the band gets the most out of each heavy note. It’s not quite at a My Dying Bride level of despair, but An Autumn for Crippled Children’s heavy black metal sound makes this is a dark album that comes shockingly close to being truly depressing.
With the possible exception of Atheist’s Jupiter, the latest release from Deathspell Omega may be the most technical album of 2010. The band’s absolutely insane instrumentation is mind blowing to say the least, and their raw black metal core is still at large. This is modern black with the precision of technical death metal, and I can’t say I’ve ever heard this kind of instrumental mastery performed with blackened growls and the tin-y black metal drums. It does sacrifice some of the emotion of past Deathspell albums, but not to the same extent as the aforementioned Atheist album. Any metalhead with appreciation for fast and heavy music will not be disappointed by Paracletus.
Axioma Ethica Odini
Enslaved have mellowed out a bit on Axioma Ethica Odini, but the new side of the black/viking metal band only makes them better. Axioma Ethica Odini is a progressive black metal album, similar to Opeth but with black metal replacing the death influences. The clean vocals are actually quite good, and the lighter sections only make the black metal parts more powerful when they come in. If you’ve listened to the last few Enslaved albums, you’ll know that a full on prog album is what the band has been building up to, and Axioma Ethica Odini is that album. Thankfully Enslvaed are excellent at what they do, and any open minded fan of metal would be wise to give one of the best albums of 2010 a close listen.
It’s amazing how much of a difference one musician can make. The drumming has never been the reason to listen to Fear Factory, but legendary Death and Strapping Young Lad drummer Gene Hoglan makes Mechanize the album of the year for fans of double bass and ridiculous fills. Hoglan is still an absolute beast, and his drumming makes Fear Factory far heavier than they’ve ever been, and even downright brutal. Former Strapping Young Lad bassist Byron Stroud also plays on the album, so it’s no coincidence that Mechanize is one of the heaviest industrial albums released by a band that isn’t Strapping. Fear Factory have truly made their way into extreme metal, and the result couldn’t be better.
Belief is the Death of Intelligence
Blackened crust punk band Fukpig have made an album that repulses and amazes in equal measure. For fans crust know that both elements are essential. The instrumentation is fast and heavy, the production is raw, and the vocals are the type of disgusting growling that even casual metalheads will have a hard time digesting. Again, being accessible is not an option for this kind of music, and Belief is the Death of Intelligence is about as inaccessible as possible, while still containing positive qualities. The instrumentation, in particular, is quite impressive, as is the surprising amount of variety. There are moments where the music will slow down and change up in ways that aren’t typical for crust. Belief is the Death of Intelligence is a repulsive and disgusting album that just happens to be great. There are probably only twelve people in the world who could stand this type of music, but I’d recommend this album to all twelve. If you have the stomach for inaccessible heavy metal with song titles like “Sadism in the Name of God” and “All of You Are Cunts and I Hope You Fucking Die,” then by all means give this a listen.
Majesty and Decay
It’s not often that such a brutal death metal album is as accessible as Majesty and Decay. This is an album that gets its brutality from exceptionally technical and fast instrumentation, but it doesn’t necessarily rely on its technicality to work. The songwriting is strong enough to allow for creative riffs, outside of the album’s technical core, but Majesty and Decay never strays from its brutality. That’s definitely a good thing, and death metal fans wouldn’t have it any other way. However, Immolation have crafted and album that can also convert non death fans, as it keeps the brutality strictly in the music, and not in the production. It’s not necessarily the best death metal album of the year, but it may be the easiest to recommend.
Nile may be the most famous extreme metal band to incorporate Middle Eastern influences into their sound, but they aren’t necessarily the most effective at doing it. Melechesh released an absolutely masterful Middle Eastern black metal album in 2006, and while The Epignesis doesn’t necessarily do much to expand the band’s sound, it’s another technical beast of an album that has enough unique influences to set it apart from the black metal pack. The songs are appropriately fast and heavy, and the Middle Eastern parts still provide a nice break from the insanity that few albums are able to provide. Here’s hoping that Melechesh can improve on their sound and try something different for their next release, but for now their sound is still fresh and there’s no denying their mastery of technical metal.
Prior to Ironbound, Overkill had released fourteen studio albums. Twelve of those fourteen have received at least 3 stars on this site, while none have gotten less than 2 and a half. With that in mind, It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the fifteenth album from this extraordinarily consistent thrash band has earned another 3 stars. Ironbound is more old school thrash metal, but with death metal influences to make it far heavier than any thrash album released in the 1980’s. This is the evolution of heavy thrash, and this classic band that has been around since the genre’s beginnings continues to progress with some of the fastest and most brutal metal released all year.
Scenes from Hell
Sigh have combined everything from psychedelic rock to power metal into their symphonic black metal sound. Scenes from Hell is the album where Sigh takes a break from experimenting and instead focuses on that core black metal. While it doesn’t reach the same heights as some of their past work, it’s actually quite refreshing to hear this side of Sigh, as they play symphonic black metal better than just about any other band in the genre. Scenes from Hell works exceptionally well, and Sigh’s sound is strong and varied enough to work across a full album, even without the experimentation. This is the type of heavy and creative black metal that all but the purest fans of the genre should be able to appreciate.