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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Heavy Planet's Top Ten Albums Of 2008

Well, with a minuscule amount of anticipation, here are my Top 10 Albums of 2008.

10. Isole-Bliss Of Solitude


Once in a while when things get busy behind the scenes here, an album or three isn’t snatched up to review right away. After noticing nobody had picked Bliss Of Solitude for a little while, the latest and most prolific release from long-running Swedish doom masters Isole, and having never heard a single note of music by the band previously, I figured what the hell? Why not? I almost feel like the kid on the playground who accidentally found the winning prize during a scavenger hunt when all the other kids were looking in totally different areas. Their recent signing to Napalm Records finally gives this longtime veteran act some much-deserved exposure, with the metal realm that much better off for it, and those of us who enjoy healthy amounts of majestic classic/current doom in our metal diets will gorge ourselves sick with this masterpiece.

Bliss… is propelled by the multi-textured vocals of guitarist Daniel Bryntse, lead guitarist Crister Olsson, and bassist Henrik Lindenmo, with voices that have an ethereal sort of wispy, floating quality to them. The only serious growling is shown during brief moments of opening salvo “By Blood” and the huge eleven minute closer “Shadowstone”, as the songs in-between are mostly smoothly vocalized in breathy, Akerfeldt-esque cleans. This lack of predictably roaring vocals all the time creates a very interesting dynamic between the softer and heavier parts of the songs, but the assembly isn’t so varied that it feels as if you’re going through hills and valleys. It’s a very stable album, and the way the songs remain captivating in lieu of extremity is fresh and unique.

Musically, Isole are more in tuned with Candlemass, Opeth and Daylight Dies than, say, Abandon or Thee Plague Of Gentlemen. The heaviness is derived more from the riffs and arrangements themselves rather than the tuning of the guitars, or the weight of the vocal growls. Not much dust gathers on these guys, because this album moves almost constantly with chugging chords, airy atmospherics, and strong individual ideas that do well to separate the tracks from each other while still retaining the integrity of the seamless flow. It’s hard to come up with a highlight since there really is absolutely no low point I can determine, as if Isole were purely focused on making each moment of this disc into a highlight with no weak tracks, and no filler.

Some writers have expressed feeling a great deal of sadness coming off this album, but I don’t hear anything miserable going on here at all. In fact, if doom could be called spectacular, this would be it in my estimation. While the vocals don’t travel a very expansive or operatic note span, the melodies are vibrant and mighty with rich, robust tones and confident chanting harmonies, blending so fluidly with the chugging riffs as a more melodic guitar often floats above everything. All the while drummer Jonas Lindstrom contributes a colorful, soulful backbone with his momentous drumming expertise, and what makes tracks like “From A Clouded Sky” so effectively massive is when the graceful leads come into play, as the solos likewise lift the percussion into similarly energetic patterns. It’s as if all four players are working from the same mind, and the results are incredible.

Bliss Of Solitude is an apt title, for sitting alone with this album playing loudly either during rain or shine can bring about feelings of sheer rapture. I’ve struggled with scoring this album for far too long, as even at my most nitpicky I can’t find a whole lot of bad things to say about Isole’s latest. Each and every one of these seven tracks is a total standout, from “Imprisoned In Sorrow”, to “Aska”, to the title track, and “Dying”, nothing is taken for granted. I was floored, and give this record my absolute highest possible recommendation along with a guaranteed spot on my year-end best list. A simply brilliant, unexpected gift. (Jim Branson, MetalReview.com)

09. Ironweed-Indian Ladder


Ironweed's debut album, Indian Ladder, was named after a wilderness area just west of the group's native Albany, NY, but their steel-plated heavy rock style has little in common with the great outdoors, in most every other sense. Surely it's eco-friendly and all that, but there's still enough electricity coursing through these songs to start a sizeable forest fire, so let's hope the band's bookings don't involve too many outdoor festivals. All kidding aside, Ironweed's music generally straddles the borderline between groovy stoner rock and straight up heavy metal, meaning mid-paced, head-nodding affairs like "Rid the Earth" and the wah-wah pedal-happy "Penny for Your Prayers" are evenly matched against more aggressive, riff-driven juggernauts like "This Faithless Will" and "Death of Me." But Ironweed are even more prone to blur the lines between the two, by mashing both tendencies together into single songs like "A World Away," "Thorn," and "Vertigo," which, coincidentally tend to be album standouts. Or else, they strike into less predictable territory with the rather funky "Lost and Forgotten," whose jumpy main riff harks back to the early '90s funk metal craze, or "Disconnect," whose doom-like chorus sounds a little out of sorts, but works nevertheless. But if one had to pick the strongest suit to hang Ironweed's potential success on, it would have to be singer Jeff Andrews, whose emotionally charged delivery and frankly stupendous range, could really help the band stand out from the post-stoner rock pack, and improve their crossover appeal, to boot. They still aren't likely to sniff the charts with guitars this vicious and carnivorous, but one can safely predict that many a fan of heavy-ass rock & roll will be including Indian Ladder on their best-of 2008 list. (Eduardo Rivadavia, AllMusic.com)

08. Metallica-Death Magnetic


It’s hard to say who detests Metallica more: the post–“Black Album”/post-therapy bandmembers themselves (if their lyrics are to be believed), or their fans, whose twisted hate of their idols could be said to exceed the self-hate of the men in black. Since Metallica’s albums tend to be spaced apart by half a decade, each new record has been, for the faithful, a frustrating game of Lucy-pulling-the-football-away-from-Charlie-Brown: first the agony-inducing bummer that was the double dose of Load and ReLoad, then the quizzical ugliness of group-therapy by-product St. Anger. Well, listening to this new Rick Rubin–produced record in all its glory, I can only say, “Huzzah!” (or rather, “Huzzah-ahhh!”, as James Hetfield might put it). First and foremost: anyone who saw the Some Kind of Monster documentary and remembers the debate on whether there should be guitar solos will be pleased to hear that Mssrs. Hammett and Hetfield finally decided to change their votes to “yes”: the lead break that comes in at 5:33 of “The Unforgiven III” might be the most face-melting moment in the Metallica discography. Of special note is the 10-minute instrumental “Suicide and Redemption”: listening to it, you almost forget that there are supposed to be words in rock songs, since it’s filled with building riffs, escalating volleys of tension and release, and moments of frantic drum abandon from Lars Ulrich that should do a lot to redeem his standing in Modern Drummer’s Drummer of the Year polls. In summation: I give this one FOUR STARZ-AHH!! (Daniel Brockman, ThePhoenix.com)-Love it or hate it, I happen to love it.

07. Freedom Hawk-Sunlight


“Sunlight” is the excellent full-length debut from Virginia hard rock outfit Freedom Hawk. This group is solid. Driven by powerful drum beats and excellently crafted guitar work, Freedom Hawk have composed nine exceptional hard rock tracks that dabble in metal and psychedelic and have a certain timeless quality to them. Attributing to this timelessness is the lead singer’s vocal performance. His melodic high-pitched vocals are reminiscent of Ozzy Osbourne with traces of Robert Plant. The songs are a lot of fun, meant to be played loud, and will immediately have you either bobbing your head or using your lap as a drum kit. “Sunlight” is well-produced, clean and ready to boom out of a pair of speakers. The title track, “Sunlight,” is a fun track with a great rocking arrangement that gets your head bobbing and features some great drum and guitar work. “Going Down” is a stripped down track with a slow drum beat and minimal guitar work that displays the fantastic vocal capabilities of the lead singer. “Sunlight” takes us back to a time where making hard rock wasn’t about making a lot of noise but rather about making very good music. Freedom Hawk have crafted a gem, and fans of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and classic hard rock are going to want to pick this one up. (Chris & the RadioIndy.com Reviewer Team)

06. Bigelf-Cheat The Gallows


Sound: What do you get when you combine The Beatles, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple? Well, if you also add in a touch of twisted carnival music, then you get Los Angeles band Bigelf’s latest album Cheat The Gallows. If you revel in the rock anthems of the 1970s but don’t mind a bit of experimental soloing in the mix (even more than what was done in that era), it’s likely that Bigelf will be a godsend for you. Cheat The Gallows does have it's wacky moments, but it stands out from most of the bulk of music out there today. Bigelf has been deemed psychedelic/progressive rock, and that’s a pretty accurate assessment. So long story short, you’re in for a bit of a ride on Cheat The Gallows.

Things get off to a colorful start with “Gravest Show On Earth,” which does give the effect of a ringmaster calling in the crowds. Everything is big in this number, guitars and horns exploding throughout. There is even what sounds like a sitar (although it’s likely synth or a guitar effects), and later there is sampled applause to give the effect of an eager audience. It’s the perfect song to transition into “Blackball,” which nearly goes into Mr. Bungle territory with it's organ-driven carnival music touch.

While most of the songs are reminiscent of a big Deep Purple number, there is a little Beatles action in “The Game.” It’s the vocals that really set the tone, and they are definitely a nod to anything from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It’s a mid-tempo, fairly psychedelic track that is really brought to life with the amazing guitar work. About halfway through there’s a large buildup to the guitar solo, which is unbelievably bluesy and quite retrained in comparison to some of the tracks.

Given the fact that pretty much every song on Cheat The Gallows could be described as “grand,” it’s not necessarily a huge shock that the closing number is somewhat of an epic number running about 11 ½ minutes. After a rather loud and unusual intro, “Counting Sheep” transitions quickly into a mellow, Pink Floydish section. Periodically a darker, distorted section takes over, which sounds all the cooler with the layered horns on top of it all. Some might think it goes on too long, but there’s enough happening instrumentally to keep things fresh throughout. // 9

Lyrics and Singing: The lyrical aspect of Cheat The Gallows smartly reflects what is happening musically. Rather than a lot of talk about emotions, Bigelf creates almost a cinematic experience with their lyrics. They might not seem like much on paper, but each line does seem to be a perfect hit for whatever might be happening with the instruments accompanying it. Whether that be a line like “Now I’m sinking, sinking” (during the trippy “The Evils of Rock & Roll”) or “Witness for yourself the crime; I’m sure you’ll have a grand old time” (sung over the circus-themed “Gravest Show On Earth), you sense the band is taking you on a specific journey. // 9

Impression: While there is tons of experimentation going on within Cheat The Gallows, there is also a heavy dose of the classic rock sound. Tracks like “Superstar” and “Hydra” could easily be products of the 1970s rock scene, and they rely on killer riffs alone. Bigelf might be considered unusual in some respects because of their tendency to put several, varying musical sections in one song, but they prove enough on Cheat The Gallows that underneath all of the effects, horns, and synth are many songs that could hold their own among some of the best classic rock bands’ material. // 9 (Ultimate-Guitar.com)

05. The Gates Of Slumber-Conquerer


There are many twisted branches in the doom metal tree—all of which grew from the seed of the almighty Black Sabbath. You have your classic post-Sabbath bands like Trouble, Pentagram and Witchfinder General. Then you have your goth-influenced doom like My Dying Bride and Paradise lost, and the death dirge/funeral doom of Skepticism, Esoteric and Asunder. And don’t forget sludge, which gave us bands like Eyehategod, Iron Monkey and Noothgrush. The list goes on and on.

Conqueror, the new record by Indiana doom trio the Gates of Slumber, falls into a category I like to call “Bands that count Wino as a member and bands that sound like Wino should be a member.” If you’ve heard the Gates of Slumber, you’ll agree there’s really no getting around this classification.

GoS definitely display influences of Sabbath, Cirith Ungol and Manilla Road, but the main influence is Wino…and more importantly Saint Vitus. The Vitus vibe is strong throughout Conqueror, and especially in Karl Simon’s voice and phrasing, which owe a debt to Wino’s trademark delivery.

Like Wino, Simon has the ability to come up with the kind of vocal parts that get stuck in your head without you knowing. I was walking around singing the chorus to “Children Of Satan” and I had no idea where the hell it came from. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized it was Gates of Slumber.

Conqueror is not only a really solid first listen, it continues to grow on me with each play. Maybe that has something to do with the level of sincerity that comes through in these songs. This is definitely not the sound of doom metal played by a bunch of young kids who were into hardcore a year ago. This is the sound of commitment, delivered by some old-school metalheads who live hard and have a record collection that would blow your mind.

Minsk multi-instrumentalist Sanford Parker did the producing, mixing and engineering on Conqueror. A good choice, considering GoS’s style of music calls for the much warmer fat tones of an analog recording, which is Parker’s forte.

Musically, the Gates of Slumber are pretty damn solid. In general when they keep the tempo in the mid-paced metal area, they are the strongest. When they slow it down on songs like the title track and “To Kill and Be King” they lose me a little. They are still good songs, but they seem to get bogged down and somehow become less interesting.

Simon writes really tight rhythm and main riff parts, and has some truly classic solos. Jason McCash is a fantastic bass player; he combines great tone and killer riffage. He also seems to know just when to restrain himself, and when to come forward with some great, lead bass playing during the solo section, as in songs like “Trapped in the Web.”

Simon’s lyrics are pretty classic doom metal territory, focusing mostly on the Gates of Slumber’s favorite topics: Conan the Barbarian and the works of Robert E. Howard (check the insane cover art). Gates of Slumber are not just vaguely into the Conan mythos, they’re practically scholars of the whole Cimmerian world. When Simon is not singing about Conan, he digs into some more topical fare. The track, “Children of Satan” addresses the situation in Darfur, which proves other people can talk about Darfur besides Coldplay. Thank god.

I also really love that they provide explanations for each of the songs. It had me pining for the days of getting a new Chokehold record. Most of the time the explanations are not so much about the lyrics, but more what the band was thinking when they wrote the song. Take the explanation for “Ice Worm,” for example. They say “The riff reminds me of Orodruin and Cirith Ungol fighting with Budgie and Quartz…Ross the Boss steps in playing a Dio hook for the chorus.” What else can I say? Awesome.

When I first listened to Conquerer I thought it was a pretty alright doom record, but figured it would eventually fall to the wayside. Much like Saint Vitus, there are a few moments on the album that walk the fine line between killer classic doom metal band, and weird bar band playing at Shucky O’Malley’s sports bar on killer wings night. Luckily those are few and far between.

But I’m pleased to report that I’ve found myself listening to Conqueror more and more, and it’s definitely a grower with some great songs. Can’t wait to see them live in December. DOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMM!!!!! (Geoff Garlock, Metalkult.com)

04. The Sword-Gods Of The Earth


Austin, Texas’ metal merchants, The Sword, have been labeled many things by critics in their very short career. The most offensive would definitely be “hipster metal,” for which Decibel magazine even had a round table discussion dissecting the term. I’ve never been one to let a band’s fan base (no matter how offensive it may be) get in the way of how I feel about the music. So getting past all of the silly labeling, which I’ve been guilty of from time to time, The Sword is simply an old-fashioned styled heavy metal band. There are no breakdowns, screaming, or grind parts to be found in their material. This combo has more in common with forgotten bands like Trapeze, Witchfinder General, and St. Vitus than they do with anything remotely modern in sound. “Gods of the Earth” is the band’s second album of complete 70’s blessed guitar worship.

Things start off nicely with the death march of “The Sundering.” The instrumental features all the components that make these southern boys so highly touted. The whip-smart riffing of guitarists Kyle Shutt and John D. Cronise (who also takes up vocal duties), Bryan Richie’s fluid bass runs, and Trivett Wingo’s loose yet spot-on drum attack combine to bring the kind of instrumental attack most bands flooding the current scene couldn’t hold a candle to.

The Thin Lizzy styled guitar harmonies that start off “How Heavy This Axe” make way for a Dio-era Black Sabbath inspired stomp, and it’s the exact kind of song that was custom-made for Guitar Hero. Actually, the entire album is one riff monster after the other! The hurricanes that try to pass off as guitar parts on “To Take the Black” bob and weave through the song with as much attitude as the song title would suggest. It doesn’t let up for a second. The bluesy slugfest of “Lords” will have you reaching for the volume knob with its Marshall-stacked onslaught. The best part is that there aren’t any unnecessary space-fillers on the record. Every section, from top to bottom, makes sense within the structuring of the songs.

Cronise’s vocals are melodic enough to carry the melodies, but they never overwhelm the songs. He also knows when to step back and let the instrumental sections do the talking, so to speak. His phrasing is nuanced, economic, and ultimately tasteful on “Gods of the Earth.” His vocal hooks on “Maiden, Mother & Crone” could even help earn the band some rock radio airplay alongside bands like Wolfmother and Queens of the Stone Age. Cronise’s lyrics are largely inspired by the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, so having that blare out of speakers all over the country would crack me up. What The Sword have done on this new album is prove they are much more than just a marquee name for some kind of revivalist movement or corny genre label. Sure, the band obviously is indebted to all of the other groups I've mentioned, but they do it with class and might. Check out the band when they hit your city as great as this stuff is on record, its straight-up lethal in a live setting.

Highs: The balls-out riff mayhem found throughout the entire span of the album.

Lows: With Cronise’s unique voice, it would be great to see the band branch out and do something softer like Black Sabbath did on “Changes” next time out.

Bottom line: If you love the sound of gargantuan guitars and infectious hooks, this one is a must-have. (Carlos, MetalUnderground.com)

03. Protest The Hero-Fortress


Sound: Protest The Hero is your typical progressive metalcore band with a hint of hardcore punk. In 2006, they released “Kezia”. Highly acclaimed by critics, the album was at the top of everyone’s lists for the year. “Kezia” was a concept album following the story of a woman known as Kezia. The band’s new work, “Fortress”, takes a different step than “Kezia” did. “Fortress” focuses more on goddess worship, Ganghis Khan, and Irish mythology. While the general themes may seem odd, they don’t really cut into the music at all. When you first listen to “Fortress”, you immediately start with the first single, “Bloodmeat”. The song immediately begins with an explosion of guitars, drums, and bass. Soon after, the vocals of Rody Walker enter in to complete the sound. The song is definitely one of the few songs that you could put out as a single that is marketable to most fans of rock music in general. The song has a ending that sort of fakes the listener out, then comes back in with a heavy ending that truly introduces the rest of the album to the listener. The tempo suddenly picks up with “The Dissentience”, which is a fast moving song with a driving guitar and bass line throughout the song. The album’s third track, “Bone Marrow”, can only be described as a clever combination of metal and almost classical music. You can hear almost a violin tone in the background of the track, but do not think that this song is at all softer than any other song that the band has made. It is heavy hitting, eventually building up to a breakdown where screams and whispers combine saying “the royalty must die.” The song eventually ends with driving guitar sweeps that, surprisingly, lead into a piano/acoustic guitar duet to soften the mood. This sort of fakes you out as “Sequoia Throne” begins with it's driving guitar tapping and drum beats. The song sounds like a typical Protest The Hero song, including the normal heavy moving guitar, bass, and drums with the combination of Rudy Walker’s continuous switch from cynical screaming to mellow undertone singing. “Palms Read” starts in with a heavy sort of guitar/drums duel, but it suddenly picks up into more of a melodic guitar line. This switch between heavy and light happens throughout this song. The song is one of the mellower, lighter songs to the album. That being said, the song actually ends, then immediately breaks down into an instrumental for the ages. This instrumental continues into “Limb From Limb”. The track is hard hitting and defiantly shows a heavier instrumental side to the album. During the instrumental beak, they also utilize a keyboard; guest soloed by Vadim of Dragonforce. They just use it to make a few cool video game sounding effects, but it is really unnecessary to track. The song itself really shows one of the band’s major qualities, the ability to use timing. You can really see who timing really affects their music as they time out when a different guitar riff enters and leaves into the music. It is shown throughout the album, but you can really see it in “Limb From Limb”. The track attempts to transition into “Spoils”, but it really doesn’t transition well, as it goes from near silence into a melodic guitar riff. The song itself definitely helps the album transition even more into the heavier sounding section, as it leads into “Wretch”. The song is intense. It truly utilizes the band’s potential in 4 minutes and 12 seconds. It demonstrates sweeps, tapping, heavy hitting drum beats, and moving bass riffs. The song immediately transitions into “”Goddess Bound”, which also truly utilizes the band’s instrumentals and vocals. The combination of the two truly sends shivers down your spine with this track. I am starting to doubt Protest The Hero can truly write a concluding track. The final track, “Goddess Gagged”, really doesn’t make it feel like the album is complete. You almost want to believe that there is more to the album after this track. PTH also did this in “Kezia” with “A Plateful Of Our Dead”. The closer just doesn’t fit like it should in a normal album. It almost sounds like it should be in the middle of the album. Putting this aside, the album has a few minor flaws that any normal album would have. // 8

Lyrics and Singing: The lyrics of this album are both brilliant and fit well with the music itself. Bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi writes all the band’s lyrics, and his lyrics truly define the music that is within the album. The album itself is about conquest and mentions Genghis Khan and Flidais by name in the lyrics. One of my favorite lyrics can be found in “Wretch”: "Suppressed and unaddressed the simple fact remains unspoken, in silence left unbroken, on a bed bound and gagged with culture, language, myth and law: our goddess gave birth to your god - From a wounded womb where her flesh scarred and raw - Our goddess gave birth to your god." In that lyric alone, not only do you see the cleverness of the lyrics, but you also see a statement that can define the general feeling portrayed from the album. The lyrics of the album truly make up for the albums minor flaws in it's music. // 10

Impression: Protest The Hero has a strong fan base in Canada, the US, and around the world. This album will both please their fans of past albums, and give something to those who doubted they would last at all. “Fortress” is truly written for everyone, including people who just like rock and alternative music in general. The vocals, guitar and bass riffs, and drum beats will be stuck in your head, not for their catchiness, but for the general amazement you feel from hearing them. “Fortress” improves upon “Kezia” in so many ways, though it really doesn’t replace “Kezia”. It really is on even ground with “Kezia” in my opinion. That being said, the band has released something that they needed to release. This album truly will define the band down the road. Everyone will enjoy this album, no matter what their taste is in rock or metal or hardcore music. // 10 (Ultimate-Guitar.com)

02. Gojira-The Way Of All Flesh


After all is said and done, The Way Of All Flesh is a good album. You should know. The entire album has been streaming for awhile now, and you've probably already picked which side you're on. I'm still on the fence. It's the outer-struggle that Gojira make with their brand of life-after-death-metal that painted such a beautiful picture in 2005, and it's making it difficult for me to readjust the scale. Said portrait, From Mars To Sirius, is an impactive, tidal wave of an album whose wrath of melody and homeopathic approach make for something seismic. The wide-open spaces, the choruses that climb mountains; it flows like a river runs through it. A collection of bridled emotion distributed in moderation that snowballed into the size of a planet, was packaged, and then shipped out, and has been talked about ever since. So ample time spent with Flesh squashed the question of "By what distance does it surpass their previous amalgamonster?", because in my opinion it doesn't. Now I'm left trying to figure out how close it comes.

The pattern that follows would be the easiest pictograph you'd ever have to deal with. First album: Terra Incognita = open hand; voyeurstic. Second album: The Link = closed fist; dehydrated. Third: From Mars To Sirius = an open hand; a conduit. So in keeping with tradition, Flesh is the new closed fist. Even the cover art was a dead give-away. These twelve songs feel like a bone-by-bone tour of the Gojira skeleton, sans the veins that bind them. If you call it a machine, I'll call these compositions the cogs in its wheel. The production embraces it. The songwriting fully endorses it. It's the sound of tying off the charismatic loose-ends of 2005. Much like The Link cut the fray in 2003. And it is reminiscent of that one in more than just the surgery, it's also just as percussive. At the heart of this band is a big drum. The strings, the throat, and the sticks, all in unison to the point of it being zen-like and trance-inducing; more times than not, they can raise the dead. In that respect, the "dry" and compressed overall sound on Flesh that push the drums to the forefront, make guillotines of the guitars, and sporadically raises hell through demonizing-distorted vocal effects, achieves that hypnotism, but only when paired with a significant other: the songs, and this happens about half of the time. If some of the synth-driven experimentation isn't bordering on Euro-club tackiness ("A Sight To Behold"), than the others either exhaust themselves ("Yama's Messengers"), or feel all too uncomfortably familiar ("Wolf Down The Earth", "The Silver Cord"). But the remainder will swallow the earth whole. The pinch and chunk riffing; the hairpin turns of "Toxic Garbage Island", the shamanism-by-way-of-Meshuggah in "The Art Of Dying", the dominant-trait collective inside of "Esoteric Surgery", and the iron flagship for this entire affair, the bleak creep and crawl of "Vacuity" (I don't care what anybody says, this track kills, and the vile vocal delivery is an accessory to murder), all make Flesh a nice place to visit, but not to live. Kinda nice to hear the influence of friends made along the way too, as Lamb Of God's Randy Blythe trades banter on the implosive "Adoration For None". I'll even go as far as to say that some of Flesh feels the slight touch of a certain Cavalera. Conspiracy? I don't really think so, but sometimes we become the company that we keep. And you can't deny some of its cro-magnon qualities.

So.... I will buy this. If I can find a poster, I will hang it. When they come around, I will go see them. I'll buy a shirt. If the drummer throws his drumsticks, I will try to catch one. I will most-heartedly support this, because it's a monster in its own right. But as for my mode of travel until the next one drops, I'm gonna ride the whale into 2010 or so. (Sasha Horn, MetalReview.com)

Drum roll please...

01. Opeth-Watershed


When in comes to Opeth, I’m in the rare camp that believes they are in fact a brilliant yet slightly overrated band that’s been treading water since, My Arms, Your Hearse; still my favorite Opeth album. I had hoped that the much hyped The Ghost Reveries would have fixed my general apathy towards the band, but I have not listened to that album since 2005 (nor any Opeth other than MAYH for that matter). However, Watershed sees the band once again rise above the masses and deliver an utterly amazing effort that rekindles the creativity and brilliance of their storied early career.

Basically, most folks tend to gush over an Opeth album because it’s simply a new Opeth album, but on Watershed, the reason to gush is that it's simply a lucidly wonderful album in its own right, not just another Opeth album, and I’m actually gushing.

I’ll warn you right away, the resultant ‘return’ is not due to a sway back to the band's heavier ways, as to be honest I found Watershed, in its entirety to be the bands ‘cleanest’ or ‘lightest’ overall effort, with an almost Damnation like sense of acoustic prevalence at times. But it marks a progression and expansion of the band's signature light/dark textures to heights of sublimely progressive and enveloping ambiance and brilliant musical juxtapositions.

On the light side, amazing acoustic opener “Coil” sets the tone for the album with Åkerfeldt dueting with folk vocalist Nathalie Lorichs to provide one of the most beautiful and elegant acoustic numbers I’ve heard in years, and highlighting Åkerfeldt’s much improved clean vocals. “Burden” sees more (seven minutes worth) of blissful, acoustic proggy-ness and sees Åkerfeldt in an even more somber and introspective mood than usual while the lengthy “Hessian Peel”, “Porcelain Heart” and closer “Hex Omega” features in depth and vast forays into ultra proggy and orchestrated, flute and piano laced introspection. Even the likes of “The Lotus Eaters” and “Porcelain Heart” contain extended moments of pristine acoustics weaved into the heavier moments. Not that Opeth have never done that before, but on Watershed they seem so much more integral and interwoven to the entire song rather than a simple mood piece or interlude; just listen to the shifts in “Porcelain Heart”- just stunning.

And speaking of the heavier moments, when Opeth do bring the thunder, they bring it like they have not in many years. For example, second track “Heir Apparent” is about as dense, menacing and atonal as I’ve ever heard Opeth, and standout track “The Lotus Eaters” even with its bizarre mid song disco shift has blast beats weaving brilliantly with Åkerfeldt’s clean and growled vocals. And while the growls and harsher moments are relatively infrequent, they arrive with such well placed timing and artful tenacity, they complete the album's overall prose with a subtle harshness that still offsets the album's far more frequent, extended instrumental and elegant segments.

Ultimately when you hear tracks like “The Lotus Eaters”, “Porcelain Heart” and “Hessian Peel”, they all have that “Demon of the Fall” vibe of greatness and seminal live favorite feel that’s been missing for about a decade now (though admittedly “Ghost of Perdition” came close), that elevates the album into classic territory and a sees Opeth further cement their legacy in the annals of metal artistry.

Bravo. (Erik Thomas, MetalReview.com)

Well, there you have it. These are just some of the incredible releases from 2008. I'm sure there will be plenty of awesome releases in 2009 as well. In the meantime, check out some of my readers top lists from 2008.


Adrenalin O.D. - The Wacky Hi-Jinks Of... (reissue)
Disfear - Live The Storm
Melvins - Nude With Boots
Motorhead - Motorizer
Toxic Holocaust - An Overdose of Death


1.Ufomammut – Idolum
2.Colour Haze – All
3.Brant Bjork – Punk Rock Guilt
4.The Sword – Lords of the Earth
5.Grails – Doomsdayer’s Holiday
6.Burst – Lazarus Bird
7.Lords of the North – st
8.Torche - Meanderthal
9.Cult of Luna – Eternal Kingdom
10.Grand Magus – Iron Will


1. Danava – Unonou
2. The Sword – Gods of Earth
3. Black Stone Cherry – Folklore and Superstition
4. The Melvins – Nude with Boots
5. StoneRider – Three Legs of Trouble
6. Jaded Sun – Gypsy Trip
7. Leather Nun America – Absence of Light
8. Whiskey Myers – Road of Life
9. Soilent Green - Inevitable Collapse In The Presence Of Conviction
10. Torche – Meanderthal


1) Dirty Elegance - Ode To Bartleby
2) Halou - Halou
3) Sigur Ros - Med sud I eyrum vid spilum endalaust
4) Portishead - Third
5) Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles

Thanks to everyone that submitted their lists.


  1. This chart is funny....

  2. Is it too late to add Bison's "Quiet Earth" to my list? I just picked it up and love it!

  3. Never too late. That one just missed my list.


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