Aggressive Tendencies: Year in Review 2009

Aggressive Tendencies: Year in Review 2009
1. Converge
2. Coalesce
3. Napalm Death
4. Mastodon
5. Voivod
6. Baroness
7. Sunn O)))
8. Burnt By The Sun
9. Katatonia
10. Vader

1. Converge Axe To Fall (Epitaph)
This seventh studio effort from Salem, Massachusetts-based metal/hardcore quartet Converge is viciously aggressive yet deftly creative. Its 13 tracks advance the Converge legacy without fail via a fine culmination of incensed passion tempered by creative exploration. Still, vocalist Jake Bannon sees it as no different than its predecessors. "We approached things the same as always. We know what we like to do. We're fans of music [that] tells a story in some positive way or has a true emotional connection with the artist. That has shaped how we wrote. We never force any ideas. We live our lives and do our things. Axe To Fall is no different."

Yet it is modestly deviant. Axe To Fall boasts vigorously clashing dynamics based on crackling distortion and thundering, complex rhythms, reinforced by guest musicians including members of Genghis Tron, Cave-In, Entombed and Neurosis.

Bannon notes that maintaining their internal identity ― guitarist Kurt Ballou, bassist Nate Newton and drummer Ben Koller ― yet allowing trusted colleagues to influence Axe To Fall insured innovation without eccentricity. The results successfully oscillate between divinely acrimonious hardcore and lumbering, epic metallic moments like closer "Wretched World."

"The most honest way we could approach creating music was to introvert and internalize everything. Outside opinions are appreciated but it'll never dictate who we are. It hasn't in 20 years. But working with select people on select songs brought in excitement and challenge. It tested us; broke our habitual recording process [since] we know our strengths and weaknesses. Working with others changed the chemistry... or else you're doing the same thing. To be successful, it takes a good amount of risk. We're not afraid of that."
Keith Carman

2. Coalesce Ox (Relapse)
Charging vehemently into the fray of modern metal and hardcore without missing a beat, Kansas City's Coalesce prove that a group can simultaneously push their genre forward while clobbering their imitators, despite a ten-year absence. While tastefully updating their sound by utilizing more dynamic and groove than ever before, efforts were made to leave their deftly structured, technically proficient approach blissfully intact. Sean Ingram's poignant lyrical ruminations and coarse bellowing dress some of the year's finest songwriting, packaged in a whirlwind, under-produced recording that reinvigorates noisecore for the new millennium. Kids raised on bands that have made careers out of aping this sound can see for themselves how it should be done.
Max Deneau

3. Napalm Death Time Waits for No Slave (Century Media)
With this, Napalm Death completed the best extreme metal hat-trick of the '00s: three insanely good, memorable and aggressive grindcore albums delivered over five years. This one takes the slightly experimental death metal vibe of Napalm classic Utopia Banished and adds a lot of the unhinged, near-crust punk energy the band has perfected over the last decade. The result is a disc that gets the job done like only wizened grind vets can.
Greg Pratt

4. Mastodon Crack the Skye (Reprise)
Despite sceptical fans who prepared to abandon Mastodon when Crack the Skye was rumoured to be even more proggier than 2006's Blood Mountain, Atlanta's finest created a collection of yes, progressive, but deeply emotional and expansive songs ― all while staying true to their metal foundation. Brent Hinds recovered from his brutal beating in 2007 a more mature and a more impassioned singer and guitarist, and drummer/co-lyricist Brann Dailor adds poignancy to the album that pays homage to his late sister. Pain and loss encapsulates this album, but so does redemption and virtuosity.
Laina Dawes

5. Voivod Infini (Sonic Unyon)
Infini ― like every album from Quebec metal legends Voivod ― rocked hard, classy and skilful, but after the last headbang, those heads remained lowered out of respect for the late Piggy, whose last recorded axe work graced this disc. While metalheads await word on the band's future, they can pass the time with this album, which nailed down the straight-ahead punked-up metal that defined the band's Newsted era, while also having enough moments of 'vod dissonance and quirkiness for the old-schoolers.
Greg Pratt

6. Baroness Blue Album (Relapse)
Cryptic and atmospheric while still based in thick, brawny riffs, Baroness' sophomore opus Blue Record is a wealth of vast, progressive sludge/doom metal. Boasting 12 undulating, incredibly melodic and diverse tracks, it reveals everything from ungainly girth and fury to subtle, intricate doses of alluring sensuality before exploding back into beastly, distorted onslaughts at the drop of a hat. Over and again, Blue Record asserts Baroness' ever-improving ability to intensify an already stunning and dynamic attack.
Keith Carman

7. Sunn O))) Monoliths & Dimensions (Southern Lord)
After years spent in the dark hiding behind growling, impenetrable drone and those iconic druid cloaks, California's Sunn O))) took a monumental step toward the light. The gambit paid off on their seventh album by introducing a range of intricate textures and 30-plus collaborators that saw everything from a Viennese women's choir to a harp and flute duo resonate with their patented gut-rumbling noise. With Monoliths & Dimensions, Sunn O))) established they truly know no boundaries by showing us there's hope in all of that doom of theirs.
Cam Lindsay

8. Burnt By The Sun Heart of Darkness (Relapse)
Sticking to what they do best, Burnt By The Sun's third, and sadly final effort is a merciless, by-the-throat affair, offering no respite. Municipal Waste drummer Dave Witte and other ex-members of Human Remains are the guilty parties, stacking one breastplate-shattering thrash/groove riff atop the next with unprecedented aggression, supported by their thickest production yet. Front-man Mike Olender elevates his approach considerably, spewing the most capriciously potent vocal performance of the year. Heart of Darkness is grinding metallic hardcore that hearkens back to a time when unifying these disparate strands of heavy music made sense, and produced classic albums which defied the "metalcore" label with trailblazing impunity.
Max Deneau

9. Katatonia Night is the New Day (Peaceville)
At first, Night is the New Day seems familiar and easy if you're already versed in the moody atmospheres, rumbling riffs, contemplative interludes, and plaintive melodies Katatonia do so well. It's the subtlety that gets you as the record's complexity unfolds, intensity peaking beyond aggression, little twists and subversions escaping the push and pull between emotion and power. Unsurprisingly drawing on metal and post-rock this is more than both, and that enigmatic "more" is the best part.
Laura Wiebe Taylor

10. Vader Necropolis (Nuclear Blast)
Poland's Vader return to the extreme metal scene with their classic sound intact, yet they've managed to capture some new flavour. Founder Piotr Wiwczarek enlisted a brand new line-up for Necropolis and the change definitely shines through for the better. Necropolis is the legendary death metal band's eighth studio album and the new members ― including Decapitated guitarist Waclaw "Vogg" Kieltyka ― have brought a distinct and refreshingly new sound. With blasting drum beats and head-spinning riffs and leads, all anchored by Wiwczarek's trademarked intense, deep vocals, Necropolis is a brutal album that showcases the revamped Vader as a powerful force.
Denise Falzon