One of the most misunderstood and controversial genres of music, extreme metal is truly a unique form of art. Fans of black and death metal had a number of good albums to treat themselves to over the past year, and if you’re shopping for a metalhead, here are ten of the heaviest and most brutal albums released in 2008.
We are the Nightmare
It’s no surprise that Arsis’ latest album is good. This is one immensely talented band, and they seem to get more technically complex with each release. Purely from a guitarists’ perspective, these are some of the most complicated riffs found in any 2008 album, and once again, no death metal fan should be surprised. What may be a surprise to some, and the main reason We are the Nightmare achieves greatness, is due to the shocking amount of subtlety and progression on this record. Musically, there is far more here than great solos and complicated riffs. There is actual melody to the solos, uniqueness to the chord progression, and just a sense of true emotion that is often missing from death metal. Even things as subtle as using the same riff to start and end the album makes this a true experience, as well as a great technical death metal album. While it may be too extreme to appeal to anyone outside of the death metal community, Arsis has created an album that deserves to be listened to by any open-minded music fan.
The Fathomless Mastery
If there’s one 2008 album that exemplifies what metal is all about, it’s Bloodbath’s The Fathomless Mastery. The members of Bloodbath are comprised of members of Opeth and Katatonia (including Opeth vocalist Mikael Akerfeldt) and it’s essentially their way of paying tribute to classic death metal. Unlike Opeth and Katatonia, Bloodbath follows a specific formula, as it stays true to its death metal roots. It’s doubtful that anyone is expecting The Fathomless Mastery to be some kind of progressive concept album, as what you’re getting here is a brutal death metal album by some of the most talented musicians in the genre, but just make sure you know that isn't anything like Opeth before you buy it. If you’re into death metal, however, The Fathomless Mastery is essential. Obviously, it’s nothing the genre hasn’t seen before, but it’s a brutal tribute to the death metal gods.
Grave of the Archangels
Dead Congregation is pure old-school death metal in its purest form. Grave of the Archangels is as heavy and brutal of an album as you’ll find, and it’s one with very few flaws. The band clearly borrows from classic death bands like Morbid Angel and Incarnation, but considering that this is a debut album that masterfully recreates the pure brutality often lost in modern death metal, it’s really more of a good than a bad. There are also some moments of atmospheric experimentation that only add to the darkness of the music. From start to finish, Grave of the Archangels is classic death metal at its finest. This is a great album for fans of old-school death metal, and anyone looking for a truly brutal experience will find it here.
It’s hard to say exactly what genre Enslaved fits under, as they seem to consistently reinvent their sound, and it’s also hard to say just who Vertebrae will most appeal to. Regardless of whether black metal fans will appreciate Enslaved’s more progressive side, Vertebrae is a phenomenal album that deserves to find an audience. Along with Wolves in the Throne Room, Agalloch, and Emperor, Enslaved plays the most progressive and creative brand of black metal out there. Vertebrae is less of a black metal album than Enslaved purists may want, but it’s also one of the most unique and experimental albums Enslaved has put out. I’m not sure quite who to recommend Vertebrae to, other than to simply recommend it to anyone willing to listen. It’s a great album that deserves an audience from any and all open-minded metalheads.
Fury and Flames
Hate Eternal’s Fury and Flames is hardly an essential album, but it is another quality death metal release from Morbid Angel’s Erik Rutan. From a technical stand point, Fury and Flames is typical death metal. It features impressive musicianship, but nothing particularly unique musically or lyrically. However, Hate Eternal has put more into their brutality than most. This is not just a brutal album for the sake of being brutal, but instead an album that uses its brutality to convey emotion. While many death metal albums are an emotionless exercise in technical musicianship and brutality, Hate Eternal blends their brutality with genuine anger to create an experience that is more than just mindless brutality. Pure death metal fans might not notice it, but anyone looking for a more emotional death metal album will find it here.
Massive Conspiracy Against All Life
Jeff Whitehead, the man behind one-man atmospheric black metal band Leviathan, and has crafted one dark and haunting album with Massive Conspiracy Against All Life. If you want an album full of dark atmospheric music that will send chills down your spine, this is as good of an album as there is. It’s appropriately disturbing and hard to listen to, and I mean that in the best way possible. Leviathan is an intentionally dark and inaccessible project that is definitely not for everyone. Anyone who appreciates dark and disturbing music, however, should check out this atmospheric black metal release. No 2008 album came close to reaching the level of darkness found in Massive Conspiracy Against All Life.
One of the best metal albums of 2008, Meshuggah’s latest release is an essential purchase for any metalhead. ObZen is a brutal album with some of the most technical musicianship you’ll ever hear, but it’s also creative in its brutality. Few extreme bands use as many musical styles as Meshuggah, and even fewer manage to remain as brutal while doing it. The band’s problem has always been consistency, but ObZen fixes that. The albums starts off blazing with ridiculously fast drumming and brutal bass-driven riffs, and it never lets up. Even through the massive amount of variation within each song, ObZen is manages to be a pure extreme metal that is as artistic as any indie album released in 08.
Assassins: Black Meddle, Part 1
Assassins is a difficult album to describe, as it really doesn’t fit into one specific genre. Nachtmystium put a multitude of influences on display, including black/death metal, progressive and psychedelic rock, and even pure heavy metal. It’s a unique combination, and at times underwhelming, but Assassins is an interesting album throughout. Fans of more ambient and progressive black metal bands like Agalloch and Wolves in the Throne Room should check out Nachtmystium’s latest this holiday season, as it’s up there with Ihsahn's angL and Enslaved's Vertebrae as the best "artistic" black metal album released this year. It may not be brutal enough to satisfy fans that are looking for raw black metal, but Assassins is a far better album than your standard black metal release.
While Origin’s Antithesis doesn’t stray from the death metal formula, this is one of the strongest death metal albums releases this year. The musicianship here is both technically masterful and incredibly brutal, and anyone who appreciates true death metal will find a lot to love with Antithesis. The speed and technically of Origin is staggering, and again, anyone who is looking for an album full of impressive technical musicianship will find it here. Antithesis is a simple album and one that it almost pointless to analyze, but it’s also one of the best death metal albums of 2008. If you’re looking for the fastest and most brutal album of the year, Antithesis is certainly an album worth looking at.
Septic Flesh is death metal with melody. However, they are not melodic death metal. Septic Flesh is instead a technical death metal band with goth and symphonic metal influences. The result is a sound that combines the brutality of death metal with the melody of symphonic to create a rather unique mixture. Granted, Septic Flesh don't do anything new other than combining the two genres. Their brand of death metal is pretty typical, and the same can be said for their gothic and symphonic influences. Still, Communion is a death metal album with a unique sound that should appeal to fans of the genre. The technical death elements are performed expertly, and the melody shows up in all the right places. It’s not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but instead a death metal album that is very easy to recommend.