Here’s an annotated version of the Top 15 of 2004 I submitted to Unrestrained! a couple weeks ago. To avoid second, third and fourth guessing, I assembled this quickly. Aside from the first few albums, don’t read too much into the order of this list. Also, bear in mind that this is Unrestrained!-approved tunage. I’ll have to round up some of my favourite non-metal releases in the near future.
1. Witchcraft - S/T (Rise Above)
For a full review, see U! #25. I need music to take me somewhere else, and this album did it better than any other this year.
2. Anathema - A Natural Disaster (Koch/Music For Nations)
I love Pink Floyd as much as grilled cheese sandwiches, but albums like A Natural Disaster make me not care that Floyd are over and done. The transition between “Balance” and “Closer” is as good as anything on Wish You Were Here, and the title track crushes me with sadness.
3. Woods Of Ypres - Pursuit Of The Sun & Allure Of The Earth (Krankenhaus)
Seasons in the Sun meets Seasons in the Abyss. David Gold’s cottage country black metal is crafted with enthusiasm and class, infused with essences of shuttered-room must and just-dug soil. With melodies that paint scenes as precisely as Colville or Danby, this is my favourite Canadian album of 2004.
4. Mastodon - Leviathan (Relapse)
Suspicious of the hype, I steered clear of their first couple releases. But to hear Mastodon is to love them and be convinced of their importance. They take everything good about heavy metal—power, finesse, ambition, abandon—and make it better. From the album’s opening line (“I think that someone is trying to kill me!”) to the last fading note, I’m pinned down by the overbearing urgency of Leviathan.
5. Isis - Panopticon (Ipecac)
Though it was a fine album (Terrorizer’s album of the year in 2002) I didn’t think Oceanic was quite the breakthrough for Isis that others thought it was. Panopticon does it for me, though. Much like Neurosis, they’ve found the eye of every storm, sticking out a hand occasionally to gauge the surrounding violence, then retreating to the peaceful centre again.
6. TOC - Loss Angeles (InsideOut)
This one came out of nowhere (well, Finland) with a stunningly entertaining and varied batch of songs gleefully exploring expanses inspired by David Lynch and Hunter S Thompson. Like Angel Rat, it has songs that are incredibly sweeping and epic, yet average only five minutes apiece. Neat trick; I wish more bands would learn it.
7. Neurosis - The Eye Of Every Storm (Neurot)
I once read an interview with Neurosis where they said that they’re striving for greatness on the order of Zeppelin or Floyd; otherwise there’s no point in being in a band. As someone who’s done nothing musically but goof off, I pondered that ballsy admission for weeks. A new Neurosis album is an event, and an artifact for serious contemplation and respect. …Every Storm earns it. Unlike disciples Isis, this album isn’t a great leap forward. However, Neurosis made that leap years ago and continues to refine their apocalyptic sludge into a kind of soot-encrusted blues, rich with jagged detail.
8. The Hidden Hand - Mother Teacher Destroyer (Southern Lord)
Really groovy doom rock (not really metal in the modern sense) with strong vocal melodies and thick, smothering production that’s balm for the ears. The combination of Wino and Bruce Falkinburg's songwriting gives the album great depth.
9. Guapo - Five Suns (Cuneiform)
Opens with a gong hit and a turbulent five-part composition that lasts for three quarters of an hour. Bands like this British instrumental keyboard/bass/drums trio are why this blog exists. Progressive rock doesn’t get any more abrasive or demanding. With shows opening for Khanate and Ipecac Records behind them, Guapo will be big in 2005.
10. Wolverine - Cold Light Of Monday (Elitist/Earache)
(cobbled together from U! #24:) Wolverine created an unassuming little progressive rock gem with this well-crafted, tightly arranged concept album. At first, Wolverine seem like slavish adherents to the Anathema/The Gathering school of lush keyboards, tinkling guitars, earnest vocals and the occasional drum loop—but the collision of these elements doesn’t sound forced at all. This album really grew on me.
11. Black Nasa - Deuce (Meteor City)
This album is the cat’s ass with great songs from start to finish. It reminds me a lot of Urge Overkill’s Saturation, as well as Monster Magnet’s more recent straight-up rock direction, minus MM’s sometimes annoying studio gloss. Too bad summer was over when I got this.
12.Clutch - Blast Tyrant (DRT)
It’s been many years since I picked up a new Clutch album, and Blast Tyrant looked too good to pass over. It's a riot.
13. YOB - The Illusion Of Motion (Metal Blade)
Eugene Oregon’s YOB create huge doom metal that alternately grooves and grinds across songs that stretch as wide as the Pacific. With their unique chord voicings, effects, and varied vocals, I find them much more capable and interesting than doom touchstones like Sleep and Electric Wizard.
14. Cult Of Luna - Salvation (Earache)
Salvation stands alongside Panopticon and …Every Storm at times, but after a few listens I’m not sure I enjoy it as much overall. On the positive side, it has atmospheric sections of “eerie b eauty” and a strong sense of dynamics. However, the over-reliance on pounding out 16th-note guitar riffs wears on me after a while and vocal melodies are nonexistent. I’d like to hear them play with time more, the way Isis is starting to do. This was my first real encounter with Cult of Luna. From what I read, the Swedish seven-piece are developing rapidly, so their next album or two should rule the world.
15. Comets On Fire - Blue Cathedral (Sub Pop)
Back to what I said about Witchcraft and Mastodon and records that transport you with their urgency and—above all—abandon. Blue Cathedral just whisks me away into an altered state of Drugachussetts, where the Stooges, Hawkwind, and Sonic Youth jam simultaneously, making music like a spiral sea unending. It’s a glorious noise to get lost in.