By Shane Breathnach for The Metal Voice
With less than two weeks left in the decade, I imagine my very subjective opinion will be clear cut. 2010 – 2020 was the decade that my musical tastes, stood their ground and barely evolved beyond my already established taste. This short listing includes a handful of underrated classics as well as the staple releases from the established forerunners of the genres. As always, there’s a handful of releases I hold very near and dear, that just didn’t make the cut…..But what can you do?
10. Clutch – Psychic Warfare
Clutch’s 2015 release was my introduction to the Maryland outfit. I found their classic blend of southern tinged hard rock to be instantly accessible, and send their tracks out far and wide. Clutch from my own experience are almost unheard of in Europe amongst casual rock fans, but with tracks like “X-Ray Visions”, “Firebirds” and “A Quick Death in Texas” it’s hard to see why. It’s a solid all round record that never lags, its energy matched only by their stellar live show.
9. Metallica – Hardwired….. to Self-Destruct
Fully aware of the collective groans of a certain facet of metal fans, I’m plowing ahead with this entry. Metallica are likely only second to Tool when it comes to studio procrastination, so personally any new material deserves at least a spin through. Hardwired, for lack of any reason to exist as a double album, is Metallica’s best album since 1991. Devoid of the hideously over-compressed production that plagued Death Magnetic, the songs feel more organic and hard hitting. “Hardwired” is a strong opener, reminiscent of Battery, but the album’s highlight are “Now That Were Dead”, a solid mid-tempo rocker with a killer riff and chorus and “Spit out the Bone”, which even the most militant of Metallica’s critics would find difficult to criticize.
8. Blaze Bayley – Promise and Terror
I’ve always been a militant defender of Blaze Bayley, the contentious vocalist of Iron Maiden from the mid to late 90s. X-Factor to me stands as their most mature and immersive album all the same, and prompted me to delve into Blaze Bayley’s body of solo work. Promise and Terror makes the grade, as not my personal favorite but as the most accomplished of his works, musically, lyrically and conceptually. The songs are epic in scope, tightly structured and Bayley’s vocals are at their most bombastic and brooding. For those of you that still believe he can’t hold a candle to Bruce Dickinson, I would point you towards tracks such as “Time to Dare” and “The Trace of Things That Have no Words” to change your mind.
7. Slash – Slash
While I’ve always considered Saul Hudson to be a talented if not highly overrated guitarist, his first solo album outside Slash’s Snakepit was a pleasant surprise. The album is bursting with great tracks, and whilst the motif of having a new vocalist for every track, sans Myles Kennedy who doubles up on Starlight and Back to Cali, might seem a little gimmicky, the album functions excellently as a showcase for some great classic rock and roll musicians coming together, doing what they do best. Highlights of the album include the straightforward rocker “Doctor Alibi” with Lemmy taking the helm and “Promise” featuring the late Chris Cornell. It’s not conceptually deep, nor is it particularly groundbreaking, but in covering old ground, it’s one of the best all round rock albums of the last ten years.
6. Firepower – Judas Priest
Judas Priest’s eighteenth studio album “Firepower” stands to me as the bands most essential album since 1990s “Painkiller”. As much as I loved Nostradamus, the two hour conceptual cornucopia that strangely was my introduction to the band’s oeuvre, I can see why long time fans were so eager for the band to get back to basics. “Firepower” sounds personally like its ripped straight out of the annals of their late 80's career. I was blown away by the sheer energy of the album. It’s got a sleek, well polished production that bolsters the great songwriting. An album in the same vein as Screaming for Vengeance or Defenders of the Faith, it’s a modern classic. Standout tracks include the title track, and the mid tempo rocker “Flame Thrower”.
5. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt
Pearl Jam… in my own divisive opinion are the most important band of the difficult to define “grunge” genre. With albums like V.S. and the overplayed but definitely not overrated “Ten”, Pearl Jam established themselves as one of the most authentic and consistent bands of the last twenty years. Lightning Bolt takes the 5th place spot, not for its cultural impact but for the strength of its songs, the rare authenticity seldom seen in a bands tenth studio album. Eddie Vedder as always is the MVP of the outfit, hitting songs like “Sirens” and “Mind your Manners” out of the park with his powerful but restrained performance. It’s no frills, solid rock music and six years after its release is still in my continuous rotation.
4. Blackstar – David Bowie
Scarcely clearing the bar for what I designate as “rock”, “Blackstar” the almost posthumous album by the late great Bowie, is one of the rare few albums that deserves such critical praise that a recently deceased artist almost universally receives after their death. Blackstar is an album made with the aforementioned knowledge of his forthcoming end and in of itself is all the more artistically valid for it. The album is brooding, melancholic and decidedly un-commercial. Though it stands as a mere eight tracks, its many thematic idiosyncrasies allow the album to always feels in a word “huge”. “Lazarus” is perhaps the albums opus, a slow drawling track laced in despair and tenor saxophone. It’s not an LP anyone would blast from their car stereos, but an absolute classic that encapsulates his musical brilliance even in the twilight years of his illustrious career.
3. Iron Maiden – The Final Frontier
Many fans believed, myself included that this would be Iron Maiden’s final studio album when it was initially released. Whilst also enjoying their most recent effort “The Book of Souls”, I personally felt that Frontier was overall the stronger effort. Despite the albums open “Satellite 15”, a pointless mishmash of sound effects and tremolo, the title track kicks the album off in style with a classic Maiden riff and catchy chorus to boot. The albums highlights are the two closing tracks, “The Talisman”, a classic Janick Gers track, that features Bruce Dickinson at his operatic best and “When the Wild Wind Blows” is Maiden at their most self-indulgent, which in my own opinion is never a bad thing.
2. Tool – Fear Inocculum
Tool were an outfit that never garnered more than fleeting interest from myself as a metal enthusiast back during the pinnacle of their popularity circa 2006. It wasn’t until talk of a new album surfaced on the internet that I decided to revisit their body of work and was instantly hooked. Whilst critically praised by most, the critics of the album, comparatively few as they are, seem to nitpicking at the very details that drew them to their early work. Fear Inoculum is sustained by a series of preposterously protracted tracks, laden with ambiance and atmosphere, vague melancholy lyrics with not a hint of a “hit single” in sight. In short, it’s in line with more or less everything else they’ve put out. Musically it’s challenging, meant to be consumed as a whole, and the hooks don’t immediately present themselves, but tracks like “7empest” and “Pneuma” stand as arguably the most ambitious and sonically brilliant of the bands career.
1. Alice in Chains – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here
Alice in Chains exploded back onto the scene with 2008’s “Black Gives Way to Blue”. It was polished and tightly structured but lost none of the bands signature lugubriousness. The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, continues in the same vein. William DuVall’s presence is a little more notable on the album, playing a cutting lead guitar on the standout track “Phantom Limb”. The dynamics range of haunting acoustic work and sludgy metal has always been the trade work sound of the Seattle outfit, and fans of their early work will find plenty to love on this record. “Low Ceiling” features one of the best instrumental breaks I’ve heard from the outfit, “Choke” is every bit the equal of their acoustic classic “Nutshell” and the harmonies of “Scalpel” show a rare glimpse of a conventional hook. It’s a competent record through and through. Devil Put Dinosaurs Here refines a well established sound, without treading through the muddied waters of their former glories. That’s personally why it takes the top spot for me.
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