Monday, January 11, 2010

fun.:Aim and Ignite (4/5)

Joshua's Non-Metal Picks for 2009
#10 of 10

2009: 2009
Genre: Indie Power Pop
Label: Nettwork
TRT: 42:15

This is one of the most upbeat, happy and feel-good album I've heard in a long time. A collaborative effort between guys from The Format, Anathallo and Steel Train, they seem to have named their band after the sort of music they wanted to play.

So sing along and shake dat ass.

01 Be Calm
02 Benson Hedges
03 All the Pretty Girls
04 I Wanna Be the One
05 At Least I'm Not As Sad (As I Used To Be)
06 Light a Roman Candle With Me
07 Walking the Dog
08 Barlights
09 The Gambler
10 Take Your Time (Coming Home)

Search Amazon for fun.

Fever Ray: Fever Ray (4.5/5)

Joshua's Non-Metal Picks for 2009
#8 of 10

Year: 2009
Genre: Dark Atmospheric Electro Ambience
Label: Mute
TRT: 48:09

The debut from the female half of The Knife brings a much darker, contemplative feel to the sound she created with her brother.

My initial impression of this release was "The Knife lite", but after multiple listens the atmosphere finally enveloped me, and changed my thinking. This is very much a mood piece, and likely will not immediately grab your attention either.

The most striking element of this project for me is the lyrics. Karin Dreijer Andersson really bares her soul here, and we get an intimate look into her life with tracks such as "Seven" and "Keep the Streets Empty For Me". Those tracks are especially touching, but the entire album has a very contemplative and morose atmosphere.

The music is not as actively catchy or attention grabbing as many tracks from The Knife, but they're very layered and once you sink your teeth into them, they'll stick in your mind all the same.

EDIT: apparently blogspot received a complaint about the download link, so it has been removed. sorry for any inconveniance.

01 If I Had a Heart
02 When I Grow Up
03 Dry and Dusty
04 Seven
05 Triangle Walk
06 Concrete Walls
07 Now's the Only Time I Know
08 I'm Not Done
09 Keep the Streets Empty for Me
10 Coconut

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Telefon Tel Aviv: Immolate Yourself (4/5)

Joshua's Non-Metal Picks for 2009
#9 of 10

Year: 2009
Genre: Electro Synth Pop
Label: Bpitch Control
TRT: 46:16

Having been a big fan of their past two releases, I had very high expectations for this album. Unfortunately, this often leads to disappointment.

While that was initially the case here, [i]Immolate Yourself[/i] was able to make a come back upon multiple listens. Instead of the glitchy IDM of 2001's [Album40458] or the smooth R & B flavored electronic stylings of 2004's [Album111651], we find a more straight-forward sound reminiscent of the late 80's synth pop or new wave movement.

Though not as progressive as their previous work, I was able to really get into their new sound after reading an article about their new methods and goals, where they basically stated that they felt they'd already done everything they could do with their old conventions, and wanted to go in a different direction with this album, and I can certainly respect that. I realized I'd made the mistake of confusing "this is not what I expected" with "this is not good".

Tragically, half of the duo that made up [b]Telefon Tel Aviv[/b] passed away in 2009, so Rest in Peace good sir, you will be remembered through your works for years to come.

01 The Birds
02 Your Mouth
03 M
04 Helen of Troy
05 Mostly Translucent
06 Stay Away From Being Maybe
07 Made a Tree on the Wold
08 Your Every Idol
09 You Are the Worst Thing in the World
10 Immolate Yourself

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Black Moth Super Rainbow: Eating Us (4.5/5)

Joshua's Non-Metal Picks for 2009
#7 of 10

Year: 2009
Genre: Psychedelic Hippie Picnic
Label: Graveface
TRT: 35:52

While always interesting, this band has usually failed to really wow me. I always regarded them as an excellent live experience that fell short on recorded media.

Then they went and released this gem of an album. Quirky, glitchy, psychedelic and fun as hell. Tobacco and the gang really outdid himself this time around. This album puts a smile on my face every time.

And when I saw them perform on the tour for this album, they even exceeded my previous live experience of them, leading me to the conclusion that this band has yet to peak, and will only continue to build on the creativity and innovation they've produced so far.

01 Born on a Day the Sun Didn't Shine
02 Dark Bubbles
03 Twin of Myself
04 Gold Splatter
05 Iron Lemonade
06 Tooth Decay
07 Fields are Breathing
08 Smile the Day After Tomorrow
09 The Sticky
10 Bubblegum Animals
11 American Face Dust
12 Intitled Hidden Track

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Espers: III (4.5/5)

Joshua's Non-Metal Picks for 2009
#6 of 10

Year: 2009
Genre: Psychedelic Folk Rock
Label: Drag City
TRT: 47:25

It's getting to the point where I think this band can do no wrong.

Three full lengths and an EP, and not a single misstep anywhere to be found. They have truly mastered their craft.

Their craft of course being trippy psych folk that refuse to dip into the realm of "freak folk for the sake of being called freak folk". They also manage to maintain a "classic folk" vibe, even though the things they're doing are quite progressive and modern.

Meg Baird continues to wow with her angelic voice leading the way, with front man Greg Weeks chiming in from time to time. The music isn't as "bombastic" as it was at times on II, which was a little disappointing, but this album is still absolutely gorgeous.

01 I Can't See Clear
02 The Road of Golden Dust
03 Caroline
04 The Pearl
05 That Which Darkly Thrives
06 Sightings
07 Meridian
08 Another Moon Song
09 Colony
10 Trollslända

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Saxon Shore: It Dosen't Matter (4.5/5)

Joshua's Non-Metal Picks for 2009
#5 of 10

Year: 2009
Genre: Post-Rock
Label: &Records
TRT: 75:41

Saxon Shore has been around for a while. Even so, they're often overlooked. I've always regarded them as a sort of pioneering older brother, who's siblings come behind and perfect their example.

With this album, Saxon Shore has stepped up their game, and established themselves as a post rock heavy weight. Everything about this album is far and away better than anything they've released previously. The build ups are better, the quiet parts are better, the pretty parts are prettier, and the climaxes are orgasmic. The addition of ethereal female vocals is also executed tastefully.

All in all, this album has the potential to become my favorite post rock album ever. Check back in five years for an update.

01 Nothing Changes
02 Thanks for Being Away
03 Tweleven
04 This Place
05 Sustained Combustion
06 Bar Clearing Good Times
07 What Keeps Us Up
08 Small Steps
09 Tokyo 412am
10 Goodnight, So Long
11 Amber, Ember, Glow
12 Secret Fire, Blinding Light

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Clark: Totems Flare (4.5/5)

Joshua's Non-Metal Picks for 2009
#4 of 10

Year: 2009
Genre: Progressive Electronic Music
Label: Warp
TRT: 44:59

When a torrent notification popped up in my inbox, I was a little confused. Last year's Turning Dragon was fantastic, and the Growls Garden EP had already been a pleasant surprise in 2009.

Well, turns out that was an extended single for Growls Garden, and what do you know, Christopher Clark is releasing high caliber albums in back to back years.

Totems Flare is really the next logical step for Clark to take, blending the textured elements and subtle atmospheres of 2006's Body Riddle with the more aggressive tone and timbre of Turning Dragon. All with his signature impeccable production.

The result is nothing short of beautiful, and if you're at all in to electronic music, you really need to check it out. Clark is leading the way to music of the future.

01 Outside Plume
02 Growls Garden
03 Rainbow Voodoo
04 Look Into the Heart Now
05 Luxman Furs
06 Totem Crackerjack
07 Future Daniel
08 Primary Balloon Landing
09 Talis
10 Suns of Temper
11 Absence

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Tegan and Sara: Sainthood (5/5)

Joshua's Non-Metal Picks for 2009
#3 0f 10

Year: 2009
Genre: Electro Pop Rock
Label: Sire
TRT: 36:57

Sainthood is chock full of catchy and inventive pop songs just screaming to be played on the radio. It's infectious and addictive, and I like it more every time I listen. One thing that struck me upon repeated listens, is that different songs would jump out at me each time. That's something I don't come across often, if ever.

The lyrical focus is not as dark as 2007's The Con, at least not at first blush. But upon further inspection, it becomes clear that they still have the same level of urgency, even if their hearts are no longer on their sleeve. Their vocal runs are also as clever as ever, half the time that's what gets stuck in my head for days.

And once again, they hit the perfect album length of 37:00, which is just a tad shorter than you want it to be, causing back to back listens on a regular basis.

Another couple albums of this caliber, and I'd be hard pressed not to list them among my favorite acts.

01 Arrow
02 Don't Rush
03 Hell
04 On Directing
05 Red Belt
06 The Cure
07 Northshore
08 Night Watch
09 Alligator
10 Paperback Head
11 The Ocean
12 Sentimental Tune
13 Someday

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Zu: Carboniferous (5/5)

Joshua's Non-Metal Picks for 2009
#2 of 10

Year: 2009
Genre: Instrumental Progressive Rock Insanity
Label: Ipecac
TRT: 50:14

Imagine the band Shining walking down a dark alley late at night, and all of a sudden John Zorn's saxophone jumps it from behind and...has it's way.

This is dark, dirty, and unsettling instrumental craziness. This album really grabbed my attention from the start, and keeps me coming back for more, even though it scares me a little bit.

A truly progressive band.

01 Ostia
02 Cthonian
03 Carbon
04 Beata Viscera
05 Erinys
06 Soulympics
07 Axion
08 Mimosa Hostilis
09 Obsidian
10 Orc

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mewithoutYou: It's All Crazy! It's All False! It's All a Dream! It's Alright (5/5)

Joshua's Non-Metal Picks for 2009
#1 of 10

Year: 2009
Genre: Progressive Modern Rock
Label: Tooth & Nail
TRT: 44:55

mewithoutYou has made a long dusty trip from their first full length under that moniker, and the random EPs before it. Back then, they were a group of kids from Philly in their early twenties with a pants load of questions about who they were, who God was, and what the hell we're all doing on this speck of dust in the eye of the cosmos.

A --> B: Life is very much about "me me me", focusing on themes of heartbreak, rejection, failure and disappointment in the day to day. You can hear intense urgency and passion in Aaron Weiss' voice and words, and you just want to raise your fist and pump it at the perceived injustices of the world.

In the following releases, we see change and maturation in the bands style and attitude. Catch For Us the Foxes begins the process of turning eyes from "me" to "others", and gaining perspective.

When we reach 2006's offering Brother, Sister, there's a stark difference in tone and setting from A --> B Life. Instead of "I said I'd not be coming back, but I'm coming back (and you better be alone)" we hear "I'm still technically a virgin after 27 years and that's never bothered me before, what's maybe 50 more?".

Much has changed since 2002 it seems. Weiss and company have apparently learned a few things since then, had some personal revelations, and grown through adversity. This album has left the angst in the past (for the most part), and instead focuses on sharing the insights and wisdom gleaned over the years and passing on a little of it.

This drastic change is perfectly framed by the opening track from their latest release. Instead of angrily lamenting all the tragic events that have befallen "me me me", the first track of It's All Crazy! It's All False! It's All a Dream! It's Alright is humbly entitled every thought a Thought of You, setting the tone for an album that is surprisingly uplifting, happy and whimsical.

Most of the songs are stories, allegorical and dense overall, but every now and then there is a little nugget sitting there plain as day to be picked up. I know I'm going to be spending the next few years trying to decipher whats being imparted by songs such as Cattail Down, Timothy Hay, and especially Fig With a Bellyache (which I kinda sorta think is one giant oblique and convoluted metaphor for sex...), while the message behind the King Beetle on a Coconut Estate or the Angel of Death came to David's room are readily apparent. The music is folksy and bright (again, for the most part) as opposed to the dark post-hardcore aggressive sound showcased on previous albums.

Many fans felt let down by this release, because it is drastically different from a lot of what mewithoutYou has previously released. And while I can understand their vexation, and this is probably my "least favorite" of their material, all of their albums are 5 star releases, and I know I'll only continue to grow fonder and fonder of all of them as the years pass.

It was rumored for awhile that this would be their last album and tour, but they've recently stated that they have every intention of continuing to make music for a long time, and don't know how those rumors got started. However, if this were to be their last hoorah, it would be the perfect final chapter in the book of "mewithoutYou", Their discography chronicling the hardships and joys, the failures and triumphs, the falling down and the getting up that occurs on the sojourn to becoming a better person.

01 every thought a Thought of You
02 the Fox, the Crow, and the Cookie
03 the Angel of Death came to David's room
04 goodbye, I!
05 a Stick, a Carrot and String
06 bullet to Binary (pt. two)
07 Timothy Hay
08 Fig with a Bellyache
09 Cattail Down
10 the King Beetle on a Coconut Estate
11 Allah, Allah, Allah

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

HORSE the Band: Desperate Living (4/5)

Joshua's Top 10 Metal Albums of 2009
#10 of 10

Year: 2009
Genre: Progressive Metalcore
Label: Vagrant
TRT: 54:03

Love them, hate them, it's hard to deny that they're a really fun band.

Personally, they've always been a band that takes a while to click with me, and outside of their debut, this one was the fastest to do so.

They've matured a little over the years, and gotten away from their "LOL NINTENDOCORE" aesthetic, but the familiar bleeps and blops are still present and a fairly prominent force in their music, and I for one really enjoy that aspect of their sound.

The vocals are still a bit iffy, and their lyrics are still mostly ridiculous (though it's claimed that they're "much deeper than they appear on the surface" or something...), but all in all...they're just a fun band to listen to, and boy do they know how to write a breakdown.

01 Cloudwalker
02 Desperate Living
03 The Failure of All Things!
04 HORSE the Song (featuring K-SLAX)
05 Science Police
06 Shapeshift (featuring Jamie Stewart)
07 Between the Trees
08 Golden Mummy Golden Bird
09 Lord Gold Wand of Unyielding (featuring Lord Gold and His Purple Majesty)
10 Big Business (featuring Ed Edge)
11 Rape Escape (featuring Valentina Lisitsa)
12 Arrive

NOTE: Apparently blogspot received a complaint about the link, so it has been removed. sorry for any inconvenience.

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Blut Aus Nord: Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue With the Stars (4/5)

Joshua's Top 10 Metal Albums of 2009
#9 of 10

Year: 2009
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal
Label: Candlelight Records
TRT: 59:56

This French outfit has been around for 15 years, and until recently it was a one man act rather than an actual band.

Regardless, Vindsval and his motley entourage have released seven albums in that amount of time, all of them solid, but also mostly remaining relatively out of the limelight.

Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue With the Stars is no different, it's the band doing what they do best. Cold atmospheric sound-scapes filled with blood freezing screams and spine chilling ferocity.

But what I like the most about their style is the layers and textures underneath the blast beats and banshees, really subtle stuff that you don't necessarily notice at first, but is intrinsic to the whole.

I love multifaceted music that offers even more fulfillment over time.

01 Acceptance (aske)
02 Disciple's Libration (Lost in the Nine Worlds)
03 The Cosmic Echoes of Non-Matter (Immaterial Voices of the Fathers)
04 Translucent Body of Air (Sutta Anapanasati)
05 The Formless Sphere (Beyond the Reason)
06 ...the Meditant (Dialogue With the Stars)
07 The Alcove of Angels (Vipassana)
08 Antithesis of the Flesh (...and Then Arises a New Essence)
09 Elevation

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Nadja: Numbness (4/5)

Joshua's Top 10 Metal Albums of 2009
#8 of 10

Year: 2009
Genre: Doomgaze
Label: Happy Prince
TRT: 71:12

As I've stated before, Nadja has really been letting me down of late with a lot of uninteresting releases, but this is vintage Nadja (literally). Warm and lush and textured, you get lost and overwhelmed as the waves of a sonic ocean crash over your head and drag you out to sea, filling your lungs with humming static and swirling atmospheres as you succumb to...Numbness...

Everything here has been released before, but aside from the Kids in the Hall cover, it's all new to me. Regardless of when or where it was previously available, this is a solid album. And God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is one of the best christmas arrangements I've ever heard.

01 Veil of Disillusion
02 God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
03 Long Dark Twenties
04 Alien in My Own Skin
05 Time Is Our Disease
06 Numb

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Shelter Red: Strike a Mortal Terror (4/5)

Joshua's Top 10 Metal Albums of 2009
#7 of 10

Year: 2009
Genre: Progressive Instrumental Metal
Label: Sound vs. Silence
TRT: 31:23

New on my RADAR this year, but already on their second release, and boy is it a doozy.

Barely clocking in over half and hour, but with enough energy and badassery to fill an album twice that length. Very groovy, very heavy, and pretty solid on the technical side of things as well.

They're sort of like a cross between Russian Circles and Irepress, with a touch of Animals as Leaders to spice things up.

01 Strike a Mortal Terror
02 Inferno
03 This Is a Lost Ambition
04 The Moralist
05 Dejanira
06 A Confusion of Tongues
07 Last Rites for the Dying

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Transitional: Stomach of the Sun (4/5)

Joshua's Top 10 Metal Albums of 2009
#6 of 10

Year: 2009
Genre: Atmospheric Drone Metal
Label: Conspiracy
TRT: 68:18

I was really looking forward to this release after their debut EP last year.

When it finally came out, I couldn't find it for download or purchase anywhere. Eventually a 112kbs version surfaced, which I assume was ripped directly from the stream that their label had up for awhile.

Even at that less than desirable quality, I could tell this album was worth owning. Finally I was able to track down a physical copy of my own, and I was not disappointed.

While their choice to open the album up with a 13+ minute directionless drone track is a little questionable, the rest of the album more than balances it out. Huge wall of noise paintings framed with meaty sludge riffs galore, and minimal vocals here and there for atmosphere and flavor.

I look forward to more great things from this English duo.

01 Vacant Monolith Rotation
02 Pyramid
03 In My Collapse
04 Drowning
05 Blue Sky Fall
06 Hideaway
07 El Baron
08 Stomach of the Sun
09 Worst Eyes Shut

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A Storm of Light: Forgive Us Our Trespasses (4.5/5)

Joshua's Top 10 Metal Albums of 2009
#5 of 10

Year: 2009
Genre: Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Label: Neurot
TRT: 59:35

Shortly after I bought Primitive North, this album dropped in my lap. I had no idea it was coming out, and so needless to say, I was elated.

And once again, Josh Graham and company do not disappoint.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses is a sort of apology to our planet, chronicling the human race through time, and ostinsebly our impending demise. Graham again goes to great lengths to set the mood and atmosphere, commisioning help from spoken word artist Lydia Lunch and the indemnable Jarboe, among others.

As far as I'm concerned, this album cements A Storm of Light as a sludge metal mainstay, as they continue to be the shining star in the sea of underachieving contemporaries.

01 Alpha (Law of Nature Part I)
02 Amber Waves of Grey
03 Tempest
04 The light in Their Eyes
05 Trouble is Near
06 Arc of Failure (Law of Nature Part II)
07 Midnight
08 Across the Wilderness
09 Time Our Savior (Law of Nature Part III)
10 Omega

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A Storm of Light & Nadja: Primitive North (4.5/5)

Joshua's Top 10 Metal Albums of 2009
#4 of 10

Year: 2009
Genre: Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Label: Robotic Empire
TRT: 66:04

A Storm of Light released a full length last year to mixed reviews. I for one loved it, but many accused Josh Graham (formerly of Red Sparowes and Battle of Mice) of, as one critic put it, "sounding too much like Neurosis without actually being Neurosis".

With this split release, Graham may have taken note and adjusted his style, because these two tracks are probably the best they've released to date, and many of the critics that lambasted the first album are grudgingly admitting improvement.

While there still exists a strong Neurosis vibe, the band seems to have added a lot more of their own style to these tracks. Huge atmospheres, texture upon texture, and even adding female vocals to the mix, all executed beautifully.

I've been disappointed with recent Nadja releases, including the seemingly dime a dozen splits and collaborations that Aidan Baker keeps insisting on releasing.

But the Nadja output is solid here. Instead of mindless drones and boring feedback, this track actually has a destination in mind. And the journey there is quite fulfilling, as Nadja takes you through a spacey and atmospheric trip leading to the eventual peak and descent into swirling nothingness.

The other three tracks are "remixes" of the original tracks, done by the the other band.

I also want to mention that the packaging for this vinyl-only release is absolutely spectacular. The artwork is intricate and stunning, very conceptual and deep.

Pressed on teal plastic, the records themselves are a sight to behold, but the real kicker is the D side. marvelous silver etchings vining their way across the surface and forming intricate patterns around the image of a raging polar bear...does it get any more badass than that?

01 Brother (A Storm of Light)
02 Sister (A Storm of Light)
03 I Make From Your Eyes the Sun (Nadja)
04 Brother (Nadja remix)
05 I Make From Your Eyes the Sun (A Storm of Light remix)

Search Amazon for A Storm of Light and Nadja

Converge: Axe to Fall (4.5/5)

Joshua's Top 10 Metal Albums of 2009
#3 of 10

Year: 2009
Genre: Progressive Metalcore
Label: Epitaph
TRT: 42:04

While I find it nigh impossible to deny the power and passion of Jacob Bannon and company, they don't always wow me with their delivery.

Jane Doe is a masterpiece, You Fail Me is also a great album, but 2006's No Heroes left me wanting and prevented me from getting too hyped up about a new Converge release.

Well, Axe to Fall has been stuck in my face since I first heard it, and simply refuses to dislodge itself from my head.

The first four tracks are such a whirlwind of fury, I'm slightly scared for my well being and the well being of those around me when it's on, because I find myself with an insatiable desire to RAGE.

After that, things get a bit sludgier and a bit heavier, and while the pace slows down considerably, the intensity certainly doesn't. While there are a couple moments that might drag comparatively, there's nothing egregious and as soon as things pick back up, you'll forget what it was that even bothered you.

While it doesn't surpass Jane Doe, it sure as hell bites and scratches and claws it's way to the same level.

01 Dark Horse
02 Reap What You Sow
03 Axe to Fall
04 Effigy
05 Worms Will Feed
06 Wishing Well
07 Damages
08 Losing Battle
09 Dead Beat
10 Cutter
11 Slave Driver
12 Cruel Bloom
13 Wretched World

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Depressed Mode: ...For Death... (4.5/5)

Joshua's Top 10 Metal Albums of 2009
#2 of 10

Year: 2009
Genre: Dooooooooooooom
Label: Firedoom Music
TRT: 45:51

Depressed Mode

Depressed Mode made the transition from "joke band" to "serious musical project" with alarming alacrity, but then they're not exactly new to the scene , boasting members of Shape of Despair and Tyrant among their ranks.

As I stated in my review of their debut album, they've mastered the artful balance of mid-paced and snail-paced, using female vocals, keys, piano and strings as the dark threads used to weave this somber tapestry of death and doom.

It's crushing and beautiful, just the way I like my metal.

01 Death Multiplies
02 She’s Frozen
03 Loving a Shadow
04 The Scent
05 Prologue to Thousand Skies
06 Tunnel of Pain
07 A Glimpse of Tomorrow
08 A Sigh
09 ...For Death...

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Animals as Leaders: Animals as Leaders (5/5)

Joshua's Top 10 Metal Album of 2009
#1 of 10

Year: 2009
Genre: Progressive Polymetric Metal
Label: Prosthetic Records
TRT: 51:50

This is the latest offering from Tosin Abasi (Reflux), and it's the best thing he's ever done. Initially Abasi rejected the idea of releasing a solo instrumental album, feeling it would be "egotistical and unnecessary".

I for one am thrilled that he decided to put aside his misgivings, and essentially prove himself wrong.

Here we have an incredible collection of groovy tracks that are actual songs, not just an excuse for some virtuoso to demonstrate their guitar wankery to the world. This album is actually a lot of fun to listen to, because it's a good album, not simply because it's technically proficient.

Having said that, Abasi is surely at the top of his game with this release, and there are many "WTF" moments that leave me reeling every time.

Abasi enlisted Misha Mansoor (also known as Bulb) of Periphery renown to help with the production, and it's rumored he actually helped with a bit of the writing and playing at times.

01 Tempting Time
02 Soroya
03 Thoroughly at Home
04 On Impulse
05 Tessitura
06 Behaving Badly
07 The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing
09 Inamorata
10 Point to Point
11 Modern Meat
12 Song of Solomon

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