I'm typically not a big one for gothic metal, but this album is so utterly gorgeous that my typical prejudices around the style just don't feel that important. Here we have dark, delicate passages punctuated by just the right amount of metal heaviness and arguably the most enchanting female vocal work of any metal album I've ever heard. Any time I talk shit about bands like Nightwish, this is the album I point to as a master class in how to do it right.
I have repeatedly called Insomnium the best melodic death metal band in the world today, and for my money this is still their masterpiece. A good decade after At the Gates, Dark Tranquillity, and In Flames cemented their status as the pioneering greats of the sub-genre, Insomnium added their own entry that stands beside those early classics as one of the best albums in the history of melodic death metal.
Amon Amarth's career has been defined by consistent, unadventurous solidity essentially devoid of surprises or letdowns. Amidst their very even catalog, however, one album distinctly stands out to me as the best they've ever been. Slammed full of catchy, thunderous Viking goodness, With Oden on Our Side is not only my go-to Amon Amarth record, it's one of the most enjoyable albums of any genre I've ever heard.
Speaking of Vikings, when I want to listen to some pure Viking metal, there are a small handful of bands and albums I turn to first. Right up there with the likes of Bathory, Windir, and Moonsorrow comes the brilliant Månegarm. In particular, their magnum opus Vargstenen stands as one of the best entries the sub-genre has ever seen. As a side note, while many similar bands simulate their folk instrumentation on keyboards and synthesizers, these guys earn bonus points for actually playing the instruments.
For the past two decades, Primordial have quietly compiled one of the best discographies in the entire metal world. This, the crown jewel in that brilliant career, is one of the most utterly compelling metal albums ever released. When first I sat down to write this list, there were two key albums on my mind, and this was one of them. If you've never heard this unique Irish folk-ish metal outfit, I'd strongly recommend starting here.
Okay, now it's time for some black metal. While Norway is the nation most popularly associated with the sub-genre, most serious black metal fans will know that France has one of the most lush, thriving black metal scenes in the world. The kings of the castle are the endlessly inventive, defiantly idiosyncratic, immeasurably intense Deathspell Omega. They go years between releasing full length albums, but when they do, we get monsters like this.
Beyond Creation are a Canadian technical death metal band with just two albums under their belts. Their debut, thanks in no small part to the brilliance of former-member Dominic Lapointe (my pick as the most skilled bassist in all of metal) stands as my favorite tech-death release. It's crushingly heavy, mind-bendingly complex, and most importantly it's far more coherent and focused than albums of this nature tend to be. Overall, if you're into really fast, heavy, complex stuff you can't really do better than this.
This was the other album I was thinking about when I sat down to put this list together. When I think of my favorite albums in recent years, this is always the first one to come to mind. This Japanese avante-garde outfit create some of the most bizarre, genre-defying work in all of music, seamlessly moving from black metal screams to wild bongo fills and saxophone solos before transitioning back into scorching lead guitar work, often in less than a minute. This is musical mastery at its finest.
Of all the bands on this list, Evoken were the closest to getting two entries. Honestly, even as I write this I'm still waffling back and forth between this and their equally masterful Antithesis of Light. The best funeral doom band in the world, everything these guys touch is amazing. Slow, crushing heaviness is of course the order of the day, but Evoken impart their material with a dark, powerful beauty that is virtually unmatched. My only wish is that they'd release something more often than once every five years.
There is a small, wonderful subset of death metal that I would describe as "chill." Ethereal, dreamlike, and oddly calming for music so heavy, this album slots right beside the criminally underappreciated Gorement masterwork The Ending Quest as one of the absolute best albums ever released in that style. Sadly, these guys broke up after releasing only two full-length records, but before they went they gave us one of the best pieces of death metal to come out in recent memory.
With Opeth now a straight-up prog rock band, the progressive metal throne stands vacant. The best contender to fill that seat is the Australian outfit Ne Obliviscaris. This, their second release, built on the promise of their debut and more. Unfortunately, like Beyond Creation, these guys had one of the best bassists in metal but no longer do. His work on this is some of the best metal bass ever recorded, in my opinion. Special mention also goes out to Tim Charles for probably the best use of a violin in any metal album.
For a long time, the death-doom group Swallow the Sun seemed like they'd be one of those bands with one great album they'd never quite match again. Then they came out with this monumental triple-album, and that all changed. This is one of the biggest, most ambitious, most wonderfully executed metal releases I've ever encountered. Listening to this is a breathtaking journey through darkness and light.
Here, on the other hand, there is no beauty or tenderness to be found. This is ugly, warped, bizarre, horrifying, and absolutely amazing. From the slithering creep of the bass to the discordant chaos of the guitar work, the inhuman vocal work to the looming sense of cosmic dread, this is likely impenetrable and even un-listenable to many, but every bone in my body screamed with excitement when I first listened to this wildly unique, deformed monstrosity of an album.
So there you have it: these are the best metal albums of the past decade plus three years, says me.