Metal Year in Review 2004

Metal Year in Review 2004
You Fail Me (Epitaph)
The juggernaut known as Converge has always been miles ahead of everyone in the underground, but You Fail Me is the riskiest and most rewarding venture for the long-running underground stalwarts. Eschewing the metallic sheen of earlier fare for a more abrasive sonic attack, You Fail Me manages to maintain the all-or-nothing frenetic pace of Jane Doe while throwing in slow eruptions and accusations in all directions, especially inwards. Chris Gramlich

Crimes (V2)
As the commotion from last year's genre-smashing Burn Piano Island, Burn was beginning to die down, Seattle's fiery fivesome hit us in the face with another brick, entitled Crimes. Packed with unconventional hooks, angular riffs and even occasional tuneful singing, their fourth record proves to be as ferocious as anything. Anthemic and explosive, with this next chapter in their rewriting of music, Crimes continues to spit venom and boy does the sting feel good. Cam Lindsay

Miss Machine (Relapse)
Just as their first full-length set the underground metal/hardcore world into a flurry of talk and imitation, Dillinger's long-awaited follow-up caused another hurricane of discussion. The vocals of "new guy" Greg Puciato are what push the album over the top — his diversity and willingness to actually emote is admirable and enjoyable. Far more than just technical wizardry, DEP does a lot more with less on album highlight "Baby's First Coffin" and the incredible "Unretrofied." Greg Pratt

As The Roots Undo (Robotic Empire)
Exorcising demons and exploring musical dimensions exemplifies As The Roots Undo, one of the pinnacles of the year. Having already spawned a significant buzz throughout the artsy hardcore scene, CTTS will doubtlessly drive their brawling, blistering vocals and cumbersome melodies into a design for screamo melancholy in the next generation. Topping this record will be a challenge, but unless their progressive musical
attitude turns sour in the Georgian heat, they're only going to get hotter. Jill Mikkelson

Epitaph (Relapse)
Though the metal community suffered a major loss when death-metal creator and Death front-man Chuck Schuldiner slipped from this mortal coil three years ago, his spirit must've passed into Necrophagist mastermind Muhammed Suicmez. Within the span of two albums, Suicmez has almost single-handedly revitalised the aging technical death metal subgenre while touting his German band's ultra-majestic musicianship. Fret boards aflame, drums disintegrated and throats tortured with every track, Epitaph is an absolute and unequivocal classic. Chris Ayers

Charmer (Jade Tree)
Produced by Converge's Kurt Ballou, Breather Resist's Charmer may have the emo-friendly Jade Tree seal affixed to it, but it certainly doesn't try to mingle with that company. Their dense, unpredictable song structures and viciously deafening malevolence gnashes, claws and tears its way through woofers and tweeters. And yet as brutal and punishing as it sounds, Charmer's not a difficult listen, taking metallic noise rock to a whole new (and accessible) level. Cam Lindsay

Leviathan (Relapse)
Mastodon's sophomore effort finds them performing increasingly more complex ditties based loosely around the novel Moby Dick. Not as Sabbathian sludgecore as their debut, the quartet releases their inner Rush while retaining the Southern rock riffery. Pristinely produced again by Matt Bayles, the band even heads into old school epic territory with the near 14-minute "Hearts Alive"; it makes "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner" look daft by comparison. Sean Palmerston

Ashes of the Wake (Epic)
Lamb of God hit pure thrash perfection with their third full-length. The songs stick with the listener after one spin, the riffs absolutely destroy and the production is so perfect I've actually had screamed conversations with fellow metalheads in bars about it. Fitting that the band's major label debut would sound so resonant, booming and satisfying; it's the first step to metal domination by a band sure to be the next big thing. Greg Pratt

Never Good Enough For You (Tribunal)
Seventeen songs in 30 minutes, Never Good Enough For You effortlessly puts Killwhitneydead on the top of the aggro heap with their patented gore-grind-cum-sample style. Flirtations with black metal and Pantera-like thrash, countless sound clips from films that you've actually seen (Aliens, The Usual Suspects, Harry Potter) and risibly sick song titles like "Nothing Says ‘Party' Like Her Head On A Stick" all make for a white-knuckled ride worth taking again and again. Chris Ayers

Ave End (Napalm)
Like a Frankenstein-ish union of Billy Idol, Type O Negative, and H.I.M., Lacrimas Profundere's Ave End is precariously accessible but darkly irresistible. It's a celebration of suicidal goth-ness and dance your ass off rockiness with a faint hint of the band's previous life in the forbidding halls of doom. On the surface, Ave End differs little from their last couple of albums, but with this sixth release, the band achieves new feats of glorious gloom. Laura Wiebe Taylor

Blackening Canadian Metal
Norwegian black metal is a phrase dangerously close to cliché, denoting an idealised philosophy (especially when prefixed by "true") more than the distinct concepts of genre and place. But since the origin of the term, even the bands that have spawned it have rarely adhered to its strictest definition, and experimentation in black metal has become prevalent, both within and outside of the Norwegian scene.

In few places has the impulse for genre-bending and blending been so pervasively and creatively expressed as in Canada, and the past year has been rife with releases illustrating that fact. Canadian black metal mutations range from the symphonic dabbling of otherwise straightforward bands to an avant-garde where black metal can hardly be isolated as the defining style. Augury's Coalesce situates black metal as one of many elements, including death metal and choirs, and Torments in Withering Existence… by Soul of Darkness pits corpse paint against Swedish melodic death and classical interludes, while the re-release of Moonlyght's Progressive Darkness carries the band's black-infused folk metal to an international audience. At the zenith of this wave of Canadian blackened metal, Pursuit of the Sun, Allure of the Earth, Woods of Ypres's full-length follow-up to their celebrated EP, inflects its deeply emotional black metal with vistas of art-rock and folk. This "trend" of phenomenal Canadian barely-black metal bands shows no sign of abating in 2005, with a new album of chaotic black-goth-death-classical-folk-jazz-electro from Unexpect on the horizon, and the continuing and growing international recognition of our extreme metal scene. Laura Wiebe Taylor

Quebec's Little Label That Could
One thing that became clear as 2004 trudged onwards was that Galy Records, the little record label from Quebec, was becoming a big label. With 16 releases in '04, an impressive amount for any metal label, it is obvious owner Eric Galy is doing something right. Releases included impressive albums from thrash legends Infernal Majesty, Quebec tech-grindsters Neuraxis, melodic thrash from Torn Within, raging black from Magister Dixit and perfect melodic metal from Vancouver's Soulscar; even a dud from Anvil couldn't stop this from being the year of Galy. And unlike many indie labels, it's clear Galy puts a lot of care into its releases, from securing a good sound to having nice art and layout for the majority of discs. Eric's involvement in the metal scene goes back to running a fanzine in 1988 called Stage Dive; in 1989, he began promoting shows for bands, an effort that he continues to this day. He also helps out Quebec bands on tour, often joining along as merch guy, and by selling their goods through his online distribution. Eric's enthusiasm is only matched by his friendliness. And although he plans on releasing fewer CDs in 2005 so he can take a well-deserved breather, folks can look forward to, amongst other things, the debut from Hacride, the second instalment of the low-priced Galy sampler and a Ghoulunatics DVD. Greg Pratt