The 50 best albums of 2009
In global terms, 2009 felt a lot like the calm after the storm. With Barack Obama moving into the White House on January 20 and Britain still at the tail end of New Labour, the upheaval of the preceding years had settled in the political sphere, with little foreshadowing of the rightward lurch to come. The news was filled with minor milestones: the miracle on the Hudson; the death of the uber-controversial ‘Prince Of Pop’ Michael Jackson; Rage Against The Machine’s heroic reclamation of the UK Christmas Number One. People seemed happy just getting on with getting on. A decade down the line, it all seems oddly mundane.
Rock was in a hell of a place, however. With the late-’90s and early-’00s explosions of pop-punk, nu-metal and post-grunge alternative having subsided, a new breed were beginning to emerge. Reactionaries to the sophomoric tendencies of those gaudier genres, they forced a new wave of intellectualism into heavy music – from the ponderous prog of Mastodon and Baroness to the more heavyweight terror of Cobalt and Yob. Metal classicism took a spike, too. Although neither of them released a record across these specific 12 months, Iron Maiden’s miraculous noughties resurrection and the return of Metallica after over a decade away had emboldened old-schoolers and revivalists alike. Diversity flourished, with hardcore-stalwarts The Bronx and Frank Turner exploring folkier sounds from opposite sides of the Atlantic and Rammstein bringing non-Enlish language representation to stadium rock. Perhaps most thrillingly, hardcore punk was at an all-time high, with everyone from Converge to Gallows billowing with righteous rage.
A lot can change in 10 years but, happily, the majority of the acts featured here are still around. So how exactly did these records shape the careers that followed? As Dave Mustaine once noted, hindsight is 20/20, so, as always, sit back and enjoy this 100 per cent exhaustive, incontrovertible rundown.
All complaints should absolutely be filed in the comments section…
50. Them Crooked Vultures – Them Crooked Vultures
Even if Them Crooked Vultures never quite fulfilled the promise of its constituent parts, the 13 songs of their sole LP still fascinate. Bringing together Queens Of The Stone Age / Kyuss’ Josh Homme on guitars and vocals, Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl rediscovering his Nirvana-honed mojo behind the drumkit and Led fucking Zeppelin legend John Paul Jones on bass, the likes of New Fang and Mind Eraser, No Chaser pulsate with sunbeaten cool.
49. Kreator – Hordes Of Chaos
On one hand, the twelfth album from Teutonic Thrash legends Kreator does exactly what any right thinking metalhead would expect – flying the Flag Of Hate with the bare minimum of millennial embellishment. For the stiffer-necked connoisseurs, however, the sheer unshackled mania bristling through the likes of Amok Run, Destroy What Destroys You and the fist-pumping title track felt like an unhinged return to the uncompromising violence of their mid-’80s glory days. Still a pleasure to kill…
48. Madina Lake – Attics To Eden
Madina Lake’s sugar-tinged alt.rock was always a joy to delve into. The Chicagoans second album might not quite have matched the freshly-cracked excitement of 2007 debut From Them, Through Us, To You, but the heartfelt excitement still burns in these 12 tracks. On June 30, 2010, following the release of subsequent EP The Dresden Codex, bassist Matthew Leone would be severely attacked and suffer a fractured skull – an injury from which the band never really recovered – but the music here remains a monument to happier times.
47. Killswitch Engage – Killswitch Engage
When Killswitch Engage released their second self-titled LP, there were concerns they might have run out of fresh ideas. Although the subsequent departure of vocalist Howard Jones seemed to vindicate the doubters, the music said differently. From the sheer brutality of The Forgotten, via heavy emo banger The Return and the studded-on metal of A Light In A Darkened World, these were the sounds of the Massachusetts mob breaking free from the stagnant metalcore pool they’d helped precipitate.
46. Fightstar – Be Human
If it ain’t Busted, why fix it? That seemed to be the question three albums in, as Charlie Simpson’s alt. rock ‘other band’ fought fatigue on album number three. The results were certainly something to behold. Critics saw the unashamed bombast and blasts of orchestral experimentation on tracks like The English Way, Never Change and Mercury Summer as signs of the band lashing against the dying of the light. Kinder eyes, however, admired the big-hearted earnestness and unfettered ambition on show.
45. Paradise Lost – Faith Divides Us, Death Unites Us
It’s grim up north. Halifax death-doom pioneers Paradise Lost had were a well-established force – pushing into their third decade as a band – at the point they unfurled Faith Divides Us… The inky darkness, twisty melodies and rich gothic atmospherics on show on their epic twelfth LP, however, confirmed complacency hadn’t watered down the intensity of their brooding melancholia and serrated gallows humour. Tracks like I Remain and Last Regret match the morbity of that 1538 woodcut of The Abbot from Danse Macabre on the cover. Ghoulishly good.
44. All Time Low – Nothing Personal
It can be difficult, sometimes, to appreciate bubblegum pop-punk until its stuck in our heads for a decade or two. This third LP from the Baltimore bros came at a thrilling point in their evolution from the upstarts behind Dear Maria to the arena-conquering stars we know today. There are glaring missteps – the band themselves have all but disowned Hello, Brooklyn and Too Much – but lead single Weightless was immediately recognisable as “a three-minute rush of punk smothered in pop fairy dust”, while the radio-friendly bombast of Lost In Stereo has deservedly become one of the band’s signatures.
43. Billy Talent – Billy Talent III
Is three the magic number? Almost. Following the razor-sharp pop-punk / hardcore blend of their 2003 debut and the globe-conquering anthems of its 2006 follow-up, expectations for the Ontario heroes third offering were, understandably, sky high. Refusing to ‘sell-out’ in the fashion of so many forbears who’d followed similar paths, critics mistook the business-as-usual attitude of Billy Talent III for getting stuck in a rut. With the benefit of retrospect, however, tracks like Rusted From The Rain and Devil On My Shoulder pack shed-loads of punch.
42. The Mars Volta – Octahedron
Four records and six years on from ground-breaking 2003 debut De-Loused In The Comatorium, El Paso experimentalists The Mars Volta had thoroughly emerged from the shadow of Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodríguez-López’s previous outfit At The Drive-In. Elevating TMV’s frantic rhythms and clattering percussion to something like arena-readiness, Octahedron isn’t their finest release, but the vertiginous desire of these compositions ensures that they’ve lost none of their dizzying impact in the years since.
41. Propagandhi – Supporting Caste
Were Propagandhi about to chill out on album five? Were they fuck! A band living on the cutting edge of political punk, the Canadian ‘veganarchists’ refused to calm themselves even as the planet leaned to the left at the tail end of the noughties. Weaving in energy and serrated edge from heavy metal, the apocalyptic power of Night Letters and the splatter movie imagery running through Human(e) Meat (The Flensing Of Sandor Katz) felt like the benchmarks from a group of rebels never without good cause.
40. Slayer – World Painted Blood
You’ve got to love Slayer’s capacity for hate. Where 2006’s Christ Illusion reunited the ‘classic’ line-up for the first time since 1990, World Painted Blood was the sound of their getting up to speed. Psychopathy Red toyed excitedly with the story of Soviet serial killer Andrei Chikatilo while Hate Worldwide and the overpowered title-track strained with the luridly Technicolor, blood vessel popping aggression that characterised the thrash mainstays’ later era. They could’ve stuck a song called ‘Go Fuck Yourself’ on here, with no less subtlety.
39. Muse – The Resistance
Some fools thought Muse had managed to go completely over-the-top with Black Holes And Revelations. They were quickly proven wrong. The Teignmouth trio’s fifth LP saw them take the run-up, hop and skip towards totally jumping the shark. Hiring uber-producer Rick Rubin before deciding to ditch his recordings and re-record themselves was a bold move. Then again, coming across as caricature-colossal impressions of classic prog-rock, the likes of Uprising, Undisclosed Desires, Resistance and that closing three-part mini-epic (billed as Symphony) were bold-as-fuck sounds.
38. Evile – Infected Nations
Huddersfield thrash-revivalists Evile didn’t fuck around. Moving on from the template set by 2007’s Enter The Grave, this sophomore offering felt several times more mature and complex again than their contemporaries brainlessly aping the classic Bay Area sound. Calling to mind Metallica’s …And Justice For All as well as late-’80s acts of a darker disposition, theirs was a nightmare sound delivered with merciless velocity. Sadly, bassist Mike Alexander would tragically pass away following a pulmonary embolism onOctober 5 and things would never be the same.
37. Sunn O))) – Monoliths And Dimensions
Proof that ‘high-brow’ and ‘ear-wrecking’ were not mutually-exclusive values in metal, the Seattle drone overlords sixth LP felt like a storming statement. Heralded as ‘Illusory, beautiful and not entirely linear’, Monoliths And Dimensions saw core duo Anderson & O’Malley collaborate with artists as varied as Mayhem’s Attila Csihar, Earth’s Dylan Carlson, Australian drone master Oren Ambarchi and vocalist Jessika Kenney to stunningly complex effect. Exploring new levels of expanse, the constituent elements could’ve resembled symphonic metal in another reality. As they are, they push the boundaries of high-minded heaviness, until 17-minute closer Alice (dedicated to jazz harpist Alice Coltrane who died in 2007) flourishes with new levels of airiness and elegance.
36. Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown
When you’re already on top of the world, how do you step on up? That was the problem Green Day tackled on 21st Century Breakdown. With 2004’s American Idiot, the East Bay punks-cum-global superstars had delivered the sort of rock blockbuster that wasn’t supposed to exist anymore – perhaps the last of its kind. Album eight was almost predestined to be an honourable step down. Unfolding as a second rock opera, this one delivered a snapshot of everyday existence in its era. Channelling the blue collar avant garde of Springsteen and the proto-pop-punk of The Clash, tracks like 21 Guns and Know Your Enemy lacked the pointedness of their predecessors but still railed firmly with feelings of alienation, anger and political outrage.
35. Yob – The Great Cessation
A decade ago, Yob’s importance in American metal was just becoming apparent. Their fifth album – and first since the 2006 – 2008 hiatus – found the cosmic doomsters from Eugene, Oregon falling into the tectonic groove they would ride right to the apex of the metal underground. Actively combining – rather than just flitting between – mind-bending psychedelia and skull-crushing heaviosity, the sheer weight of Burning The Altar and relative minimalism in The Lie That Is Sin came on like sounds from a new-age Sabbath – and hinted tantalisingly towards the awesome power of the records that would follow.
34. The Wildhearts – ¡Chutzpah!
Say what you will about The Wildhearts, but they’ve never been short of chutzpah. A band who once turned up to Kerrang!’s London offices to trash the place (in response to reports of ‘numerous internal problems’), you could always expect the unexpected from the irrepressible Geordie rockers. Their ebullient eighth LP saw them veer out of the sort-of comfort-zone into downright quirky territory. From slamming opener The Jackson Whites to the cheekily effervescent pop-rock of You Are Proof That Not All Women Are Insane, of course, this was still giddily amusing stuff. So much fun, in fact, that they’ve only recently followed this up with May 3’s Renaissance Man.
33. Future Of The Left – Travels With Myself And Another
Looking for a one-way trip to the Brit-rock outskirts? Look no further. Although Cardiff alt. mob Future Of The Left – set up by ex-Mclusky members Andrew Falkous and Jack Egglestone and, even in 2009, having long since having eclipsed that previous band – continue to be one of the UK’s most criminally-underrated outfits today, their cracking second LP deserves particular attention. Named after Martha Gellhorn’s 1978 travel biography, it’s chock-full of tracks overflowing with that droll Welsh wit and caustic noise like You Need Satan More Than He Needs You and Land Of My Formers.
32. The Ghost Of A Thousand – New Hopes, New Demonstrations
Burning hot and fast, Brighton hardcore punks The Ghost Of A Thousand were never going to last. Their second (and final) album harked back to the anarchic attitude of ’70s punk, riding somewhat on the unheralded success of Gallows, yet pulsating with its very own strain of pissed-off aggro. Tugging, at times, towards the sleazy stadium sounds of Guns N’ Roses and Motley Crüe, the melting-pot wasn’t all ear-shrivellingly bitter, but the fury of tracks like Knees, Toes, Teeth and Nobody Likes A Hero ensured they brought it to an energetic boil regardless.
31. Heaven & Hell – The Devil You Know
It feels almost unthinkable now, but the last Black Sabbath record to feature diminutive legend Ronnie James Dio (the band renamed after their first LP together following some incomprehensible legal wrangling) felt like something of a disappointment on its release. Hell, it even ended up with a sniffy 2K rating in Kerrang!. Yes, it still pales in comparison to classics like Mob Rules, but retrospect has cast it in a kinder light. There’s an ominous, lurching dread about songs like Bible Black and The Turn Of The Screw that (given Dio’s death the following Spring) feels like part of an ever more moving farewell.
30. Behemoth – Evangelion
Already nine albums into their sprawling legacy, when Polish black metallers Behemoth emerged with a title taken from the Greek phrase for ‘spreading the good word of God’ and artwork depicting The Great Harlot Of Babylon, fans knew what they were in for. With the dark festivity crackling through tracks like Demigod and The Apostacy, they didn’t disappoint. Following frontman Nergal’s diagnosis with Leukaemia in August 2010, and the delays, side projects and stylistic developments since, Evangelion would turn out to be the end-of-an-era of sorts. Looking back, it feels like a devilishly momentous milestone.
29. Alexisonfire – Old Crows/Young Cardinals
Many fans never believed that Alexisonfire would last ‘til 2009, let alone that they’d still be bothering festival stages today. Their fourth album, though, felt like the statement of energy, passion and gravitas needed from a band planning to stick around. Exploring themes of transition throughout, the Ontario screamo figureheads flaunted a more frayed punk edge and contemplative attitude on the likes of Born And Raised. They have yet to release a follow-up (and, with guitarist Wade MacMeil taking up vocals in Gallows shortly after, they’ve hardly had the chance) but there’s a flighty timelessness here that suggests anything’s possible.
28. Steel Panther – Feel The Steel
Altogether now: ‘Fuck The Goo Goo Dolls – they can suuuck my balls!’ Los Angeles faux-metallers Steel Panther might’ve been kicking around for years before their debut LP actually hit shelves – the tracks Fat Girl, Stripper Girl, Hell’s On Fire and Death To All But Metal are all re-recordings – but like glam-rock supermen, their powers increased tenfold when they stepped into the international spotlight. Farcical without undermining their core hard-rocking values, songs like Eatin’ Ain’t Cheatin’ and Asian Hooker trampled the line of good taste, but in sending-up the outrageous excesses of the genre’s past there’s an argument that they actually helped shape a brighter future.
27. Lamb Of God – Wrath
Rarely has a record delivered on its title like this… Coming after 2006’s breathtaking, breakthrough fifth LP Sacrament, album six was always going to suffer from wildly inflated expectations. While Wrath couldn’t quite match the sunburnt swagger and gut-wrenching grooves of its predecessor, it didn’t mark the swerve into commercial territory some detractors had been predicting for Virginian titans Lamb Of God, either. There’s a refinement – a disorienting beauty – about mid-album highlight Grace, but from Contractor to Set To Fail, everything else sounded like the mosh-masters doubling-down on sheer serrated chaos.
26. Placebo – Battle For The Sun
‘I need a change of skin’, croons frontman Brian Molko on Kitty Litter, album opener to his band’s delightfully fitful fifth LP. Although what unfolds thereafter isn’t exactly a complete about turn from the London alt.rockers, there’s an injection of optimism into their tried and tested pop-goth-rock formula. Ashtray Heart stretches for a light on the horizon. The title-track errs close to their trademark, ’80s-style jaunty angst – with a little extra spring in its step. For What It’s Worth can’t help but flaunt what it’s got as an impressively muscular radio-rock nugget. Some argue this was the sound of Placebo on autopilot. Given how well they’d mastered their art, it makes for a hell of a smooth ride regardless.
25. Megadeth – Endgame
One for the shred-heads. The noughties as a whole marked a resurgence for Megadeth, but their furious 12thLP was very much the icing on the cake. Arguably their strongest release since 1990 career-high Rust In Peace, Endgame built on momentum gathered across 2004’s The System Has Failed and 2007’s United Abominations with frontman Dave Mustaine leaving behind personal controversy (political and religious) to deliver a ferocious performance and some of his most ruthless songwriting. Conscripting prodigious six-stringer Chris Broderick, the likes of opening instrumental Dialetic Chaos, 1,320 and Head Crusher see a tornado of riffs traded to delirious effect.
24. Leathermouth – Xø
Four years before the eventual dissolution of My Chemical Romance, guitarist Frank Iero dropped a delicious hint at the hardcore to come. The banged-out van to My Chem’s luxury tour bus, LeATHERMØUTH offered a return to the scuzzier textures and sandpaper abrasion of hardcore. There was a furious spontaneity about tracks like I Am Going To Kill The President Of The United States Of America and My Love Has Gone Flat that felt occasionally hit-and-miss – but somehow all the more exciting for it. In the years since, Frank has negotiated triumph and tragedy to accomplish other, equally-fascinating things, but few have captured the same throat-ripping feel as Xø.
23. Twin Atlantic – Vivarium
From twisted beginnings, great bands grow. It’s difficult, these days, to fully appreciate just how thrillingly unkempt Twin Atlantic felt a decade ago. Before the stadium sheen of Free and Great Divide – and, indeed, the scuzzier grooves of GLA – turned them into the airwave-owning Brit-rock behemoth we now know, Vivarium introduced us to a quartet of fresh-faced Glaswegians flirting with the anthemic angularity of their countrymen Biffy Clyro, while chucking about further-flung influences as diverse as Rage Against The Machine, Smashing Pumpkins and blink-182. You’re Turning Into John Wayne hinted at Sam McTrusty’s all-conquering pop-songwriting genius but, from end to end, this album is full of treats that have aged remarkably well.
22. Napalm Death – Time Waits For No Slave
There’s no such thing as a bad Napalm Death album. Even still, the Brummie grind overlords had been on a remarkable roll since 2000’s Enemy Of The Music Business, with 2005’s The Code Is Red… Long Live The Code staking a claim as perhaps their finest album outright. Reeling in ’80s hardcore and d‑beat influences, Time Waits For No Slave felt a little less adventurous, but offered rock-solid heaviosity in the trade-off. From the 100mph chaos of Life And Limb to the more mid-paced – whisper it: quasi-melodic – dynamism of Procrastination, there was a fist-to-the-face satisfaction throughout. And, in the endless smash of On The Brink Of Extinction, they birthed a righteous environmental anthem for the ages.
21. Anaal Nathrakh – In The Constellation Of The Black Widow
Another ferocious cut from the Birmingham underground’s uber-heavy hotbed. The fifth LP from Anaal Nathrakh packed in heart-stopping quantities of nihilism and apocalyptic abandon, with elements of black metal and industrial streaked bloodily into the mix. Taking its title from a passage in Norwegian writer Jens Bjørneboe’s Moment Of Freedom and its illustration from French Victorian printmaker Gustave Doré’s illustrations to The Raven, the raw power and unhinged fury of tracks like I Am The Wrath Of Gods And The Desolation Of The Earth came heavily underwritten by their creators’ cultured intellects. Still, from the second that title-track hits, you’ll struggle to fill your head with anything other than unbridled terror.
20. Architects – Hollow Crown
What a difference a decade makes. They might own the genre now but, even for Architects, standing out from the rest of an overloaded metalcore scene felt like heavy work in 2009. The likes of Trivium, Killswitch Engage and As I Lay Dying were pushing onto ever grander stages. The Dillinger Escape Plan’s staccato rhythms, Converge’s howling severity and the Meshuggah’s low-end technicality provided higher-brow influence. Every upstart able to smash out a breakdown seemed to be getting in on the act. Credit, then, to the Searle brothers, Sam Carter and the gang for standing out from the crowd with this 5K-rated third LP. Carefully layered and brilliantly crafted, tracks like Early Grave and Follow The Water might’ve fallen out of circulation as the Brighton lads have moved into more massive rooms, but they were absolutely integral in putting them there.
19. My Dying Bride – For Lies I Sire
Remember when we said it’s grim up north? We weren’t fucking about. At the time of release, vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe noted that the Bradford misanthropes’ tenth LP might just contain the most depressing music they’d ever committed to record. For My Dying Bride, that’s really quite a statement. True to their word, though, the dark poetry and gorgeous melancholia running through sorrowful epic My Body, A Funeral, and harder-edged cuts like A Chapter In Loathing were the stuff of vampiric delight. Although those velvety, gothic textures replaced some of the deathly bludgeon with which MDB crept onto the scene, this proved a deliciously miserabilist change of pace.
18. Kylesa – Static Tensions
There’s an almost unbelievable absurdity to the argument that Kylesa’s smashing fourth LP was only the third best prog-metal record to emerge from the American state of Georgia in 2009. Heavier, more awkward and far less accessible than the sounds being generated by their brethren in Baroness and Mastodon, the 10 tracks of Static Tensions felt like a deliciously unhinged alternative. From the supercharged sludge of Scapegoat through the tumbledown mania of Said And Done to Unknown Awareness’ throbbing psychedelia and the ravenous snarl of Nature’s Predators, the music here burns the soul like darkly psychedelic nightmare fuel. Laura Pleasants’ feminine vocals bring little respite, instead adding another layer of gleeful perplexity to the mix.
17. Mariachi El Bronx – El Bronx
We’ll be honest: when Los Angeles’ hardcore-punk figureheads The Bronx announced that they would be releasing (and touring) a full LP of Mariachi music, we had to wonder whether they were taking the piss or had gone completely insane. It was an extra special surprise, then, when the debut LP from their charango-wielding alter egos Mariachi El Bronx arrived not just as a fascinating musical alternative, but a window into the Mexican-American culture in which most of the band came of age. Tracks like Slave Labour and Silver Or Lead crux on the key contradiction of all great folk songs – bittersweet lyrics heaped on uplifting melodies. A tequila shot to the heart.
16. Every Time I Die – New Junk Aesthetic
The fifth album from Buffalo metalcore bruisers Every Time I Die had a difficult birthing process. “This is my least-favourite record,” winced vocalist Keith Buckley, during a career-retrospective with K! in November 2017. “I had severe writer’s block and just wanted to [deliver something] good enough to be able to make the next album.” ETID have never been the sort to wilt under pressure, however. As such, in the merciless likes of Organ Grinder, and appearances from The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato (The Marvellous Slut), Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz (After One Quarter Of A revolution) and Matt Caughthran of The Bronx (The Sweet Life), New Junk Aesthetic still fizzed with enough electricity to spark the national grid.
15. And So I Watch You From Afar – And So I Watch You From Afar
Northern Irish North Coast post-rockers And So I watch You From Afar were already a big deal locally by the time their self-titled LP dropped. The sheer weirdness therein, however, would prove to be their resounding introduction to the wider world. Folding elements of twisted prog and math-rock into ostensibly uplifting song structures, listening to these tracks felt like a brakes off traverse of the absurdist landscape on their excellent album art. From the percussive introduction of Set Guitars To Kill through the ponderous, plonking sprawl of A Little Bit Of Solidarity Goes A Long Way to the crashing cosmic rock of I Capture Castles, they’re compositions that feel as bafflingly cutting edge now as they did back then.
14. Pearl Jam – Backspacer
Any worries Pearl Jam might fall victim to the ponderousness of middle-age were quickly laid to rest on their snappy ninth LP. Less ruminative than what had gone before – and considered by some to be less consequential for it – Backspacer felt like the Seattle legends stripping back, cutting loose and learning to have a little fun. From the opening salvo of Gonna See My Friend, Got Some and The Fixer, the dampers were off and a whole goodwill store’s worth of classic rock textures were being chucked to the wind with punky abandon. Even on its more fragile interludes – Just Breathe, for instance, finds frontman Eddie Vedder revisiting the acoustic wonder of his Into The Wild soundtrack – there’s an irresistible lightness of spirit.
13. The Prodigy – Invaders Must Die
18 years into their peerless, neon-streaked reign over rave-rock, Essex outlaws The Prodigy seemed to be stuck in a creative rut. With only the shapeshifting mediocre of 2004’s Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned having dropped since 1997’s The Fat Of The Land, they needed an adrenaline shot to get things back on track. Invaders Must Die worked a treat. Refusing to reinvent the wheel, the pumped-up drum‘n’bass of Warrior’s Dance, Omen’s spring-loaded techno and the punky aggro of Run With The Wolves instead delivered a no-frills return to the formula with which they’d made their name. Both electro and rock might’ve moved on in the interim, but this was room-rattling proof The Prodigy could still kill the old way.
12. Rammstein – Liebe Ist Für Alle Da
‘You have a pussy… I have a dick‑a… So what’s the problem? Let’s do it quick!’ Translating (auf Englisch) as ‘Love Is For Everyone’, the sixth LP from Berlin behemoth Rammstein would mark their final ascent to the top of the metal mountain. The meld of gargantuan riffage, pumping industrial synths and an intoxicatingly dark sense of humour was already a proven formula, but felt unimpeachably reinforced the moment Rammlied thumped into life. Perhaps most memorably, they ramped up the sexuality to collar-loosening levels here, with Ich Tu Dir Weh (I Hurt You) toying with Sadomasochistic imagery, the Jonas Åkerlund-directed (absolutely NSFW) music video for Pussy dropping on a porn site, and a collector’s edition of the album available with six dildos reportedly modelled after the band’s, er, members. It’s just much filthy fun today.
11. Paramore – Brand New Eyes
The darker the storm cloud, the more irresistible the silver lining. If 2007 breakthrough Riot! elevated Tennessee pop-punks Paramore into the mainstream on a bubble of lightweight angst, treacly melodies and sheer earnestness (for pessimists, they were definitely pretty optimistic), the follow-up feels like their pin-sharp transition into maturity. It’s there in the song titles (Feeling Sorry, Misguided Ghosts, Brick By Boring Brick); it’s in the dissected butterfly on the artwork; it’s flowing through the music itself. Brilliantly, though, even the shifting greys of adulthood weren’t enough to blot out their billion megawatt pop sensibilities, with Hayley Williams confidently hoisting herself towards pop-rock superstardom – the vocal performances on stunningly layered cuts like Turn It Off simply aching out of the speakers.
10. Cobalt – Gin
Sometimes a record’s lack of exposure seems to heighten its mystique. It feels like that’s the case with the third LP from Denver black metal duo Cobalt. Forever transcending frostbitten genre convention in favour of fathomless depth and captivating dynamics, the Coloradoans thrive on music that’s as enigmatic as it is abstruse. Here, however, they feel focused on wielding the raw, wounded emotion and avant-garde experimentalism of previous releases to utterly devastating effect. Waves of dissonant guitar break upon rock solid beats. Vocals range from jagged roar to brittle rasp. The atmosphere retains an ethereal air of foreboding. It’s impossible not to be consumed by each tortured intricacy and forlorn melody, drawn ever deeper into Gin’s hopeless, aberrant brilliance.
9. Thrice – Beggars
After the expanded (overblown?) excess work of their Alchemy Index series, the ten tracks of Beggars felt like Thrice thrillingly tightening their focus. Working at the height of their considerable powers, vocalist Dustin Kensrue and his men seemed to be aiming for a more upbeat, energetic step forward. In the crashing riffage of All The World Is Mad, the expansive balladry of Wood & Wire and Great Exchange, Circles’ ambient beauty, the flailing six-strings of At The Last and the more traditionalist post-hardcore of Talking Through Glass, this felt like the Californian quartet exploring every facet of their brilliance as they edged towards real maturity. The range of emotion they manage to plumb still, ahem, beggars belief.
8. Frank Turner – Poetry Of The Deed
Say what you will about Frank Turner, but the enduring appeal of the folk-punk troubadour’s intimate storytelling remains second to none. Three albums in, some of the Million Dead hardcore still pined for more heavyweight output from that band’s wayward frontman but – in conjunction with his inspired sophomore effort Love, Ire & Song – Poetry Of The Deed cemented his status as a singer-songwriter supreme. ‘There’s no such thing as rock stars, there’s just people who play music’, he pleads on Try This At Home, but despite his insistent self-identification as an everyman, the clarity of his songwriting and charismatic warmth of his delivery are one in a million. They’re there in the footloose ramble of The Road; in the piano-led dreaminess of Our Lady Of The Campfires; in the fragile romanticism of Journey Of the Magi. Back then, few would’ve bet on Frank’s graduation from back bars to headlining Ally Pally and Wembley Arena, but such was the magic being soaked up by his grassroots support.
7. Alice In Chains – Black Gives Way To Blue
Miracles do happen. Following the tragic passing of inimitable vocalist Layne Stanley in 2002, it felt like it’d take something almost supernatural for Alice In Chains to ever follow-up 1995’s self-titled third LP. Accordingly, William DuVall – previously a hardcore singer based in Atlanta, Georgia – felt truly heaven-sent. Virtually indistinguishable from Layne in pitch, tone and delivery, he felt like the hero who could bring them back from the dead. His initial live performances with the band seemed like exercises in uncanny rock karaoke, but this record was the stuff of earth-shaking rejuvenation. From the trademark snarl of Check My Brain via the irresistible chuggery of Last Of My Kind to the comparatively understated title-track (featuring none other than Elton bleedin’ John on piano), fans were awestruck. BGWTB was an ultimate victory, both in rejuvenating one of hard rock’s greatest ever acts, and in ensuring that Layne’s legacy could live on.
6. Mastodon – Crack The Skye
There are two ways to look at Mastodon’s fourth LP. Putting aside the heft and blunt force of influences like Metallica and Slayer in favour of the proggy experimentalism of King Crimson and Opeth, riffhounds couldn’t help but feel aggrieved by Crack The Skye’s relatively lightweight labyrinthine weirdness. For more open-minded fans, though, these songs were only as confounding as they were exhilarating. Structured around the barely comprehensible concept of a paraplegic boy whose soul becomes detached while astral projecting (and is then transplanted into the body of mad monk Rasputin in Tsarist Russia), it’s a wild, unruly listen. Shot through with potent, personal emotion, though, the willingness to risk reinvention on early tracks Oblivion and Divinations, and the sheer unbridled ambition of 10 minute, three part masterwork The Czar and luxuriant, 13 minute closer The Last Baron ensure that progsters still worship at CTS’ twisted altar today.
5. Converge – Axe To Fall
Seared through with soulfulness and savagery, the seventh album from Converge felt like brutal confirmation that the overlords of Massachusetts metalcore would not be stopped. Having defined the genre throughout the noughties – their trademark attack clicking into place on 2001 watershed Jane Doe before evolving through 2004’s You Fail Me and 2006 landmark No Heroes – Axe To Fall felt like the exclamation mark with which to decimate at the decade’s end. With now legendary guitarist Kurt Ballou drawing liberally from the raw volume of early ’80s thrash while vocalist Jacob Bannon dials up his aurally intimidating, emotionally devastating attack, the deathly-bleak Worms Will Feed, the furious Effigy (featuring three-quarters of acclaimed contemporaries Cave In) and cataclysmic, seven minute closer Wretched World remain unmatched.
4. Enter Shikari – Common Dreads
Difficult second album syndrome? Forget about it, mate. Where 2007’s Take To the Skies brimmed with Enter Shikari’s early raw promise and disparate iconography – reaching #4 on the UK album charts despite dropping on the band’s own Ambush Reality label – Common Dreads was a far more strident step forward. From the moment we first witnessed Solidarity warping from its opening, up-tempo trance beat through waves of punk riffage and a dubstep-splattered breakdown to its transcendent, choral pay-off, there was no question this was electronicore on another level. Chucking the kitchen sink at it, the album unfolds as a thousand moments of genius crammed into one. Rou Reynolds screaming ‘Thou shalt not pass!’ on Juggernauts. The pedal-to-the-metal political outrage and drum‘n’bass beats of Zzzonked. The halcyon nostalgia – all cider hangovers and Sega Mega Drive – of Hectic. ‘We have greatness within us’, claimed Step Up. This was its most breathless outpouring.
3. Baroness – The Blue Album
By their second album, Georgian sludge-metallers Baroness were already feeling disenfranchised with the world of heavy music. “We played a lot with metalcore bands who were frustrated because they felt they had to put a beatdown part in every song,” frontman John Baizley told K! recently. “I decided we would put in so many different things that people would never expect anything to happen twice.” Veering away from the punchy volume that Converge had brought into vogue, they went for weirder influences, from classic rockers like Queen to the more abstruse alt.rock of Radiohead and Massive Attack. The result remains one of the most inspired rock records of the past few decades – its value in the brilliance of tracks like A Horse Called Golgotha, The Sweetest Curse and Jake Leg as much as in the increasingly-vertiginous musical path it set the band on, with their freeform experimentation infiltrating writing, recording and even the production itself. “I said to [producer] John Congleton,” Baizley remembers, with a smile, “‘Why don’t we make this so dynamic you gave to turn it up on the quiet tracks and back down on the loud ones?!’ We knew what 100 per cent of our capabilities were, and we tried to write at 125 per cent. We could barely play those songs.”
2. Biffy Clyro – Only Revolutions
Named after the 2006 conceptual novel by American postmodern horror writer Mark Z Danielewski [look it up, seriously], Biffy Clyro’s fifth album was resounding proof that the Ayrshire rockers could take their seats at rock’s high table without sacrificing the intoxicating strangeness that had lifted them there. Fourth album Puzzle had seen a turning of the tide as the band began to shift away from the patent Nirvana influence of their early releases. Compositions were unfurling with greater scope and head-spinning grandeur, while upmarket critics started heralding their clash of ‘Celtic exuberance and Calvinist understatement’. On the back of heroic singles Mountains and The Captain, Only Revolutions would ensure their crossover into the mainstream proper. And, although the memory of X Factor 2010 winner Matt Cardle brutalising Many Of Horror will not soon be forgotten, the elevation of Bubbles’ irresistible guitar-lines, the stripped back God & Satan, Born On A Horse’s funky strut and the bonkers falsetto shot through Cloud Of Stink to the grandest stages felt like a fair exchange.
1. Gallows – Grey Britain
Gallows’ scourging second album was meant as a warning, not an instruction manual. Not that you’d know it in 2019. Ranked K!’s album of the year at the end of 2009, the proven brutally prophetic power of Grey Britain has only reinforced its position as the most important album of those 12 months. Signing a major-label contract with Warner Brothers, fans dreaded that Gallows might sell-out with a shift into poppier territory. They needn’t have worried. A final statement with fiery frontman Frank Carter at the helm, it burned instead with a strange blend of compassionate rage and nihilistic swagger. “We were antagonising everyone that we could get our hands on,” Frank told us earlier this year. Indeed, from the unhinged fury of London Is The Reason via the runaway nihilism of Leeches to the razorblade aggression of Black Eyes and The Riverbed’s apocalyptic spread, it still raises goosebumps and lurches the stomach today. “Ultimately, it was a record that got us fired,” the singer grins, wryly reflecting on A&R expectations gob-flecked and chucked in the bin. “I’m very proud of that. I think the label assumed that we were going to be the next crossover rock/pop band. That was never realistically going to happen. We could’ve written a much softer record, but in the end, we wrote the record we felt the world deserved. If I had the opportunity to go back and do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
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