Top Metal Songs of 2009
A lot of great metal songs came out in 2009, which is why it has taken us so long to put together a definitive list of the top 10. In the end, there had to be some omissions, and some may seem to be glaring.
For instance, there's nothing from Megadeth's killer new album 'Endgame,' Nile's ferocious 'Those Whom the Gods Detest,' Blut Aus Nord's experimental 'Memoria Vetusta II -- Dialogue with the Stars,' Immortal's icestorm 'All Shall Fail' or Shrinebuilder's spontaneous self-titled space jam. But in the end, we're confident that these 10 songs accurately represent some of the heaviest and most innovative tracks that came out last year.
Mastodon -- 'Oblivion'
Mastodon's latest album, 'Crack the Skye,' is a colossal concept piece about a man who accidentally enters a wormhole during an astral projection and has to summon wandering spirits to help him find his way back home. To do so, they conjure a plot that involves the assassination of Rasputin, and convince the ghost of the deceased dictator to guide the lost soul back to his sleeping body. To pull off such a grandiose storyline, a band has to write some pretty spectacular music. Fortunately, 'Crack the Skye' is Mastodon's finest record in an incredible career.
The first single from the record, 'Oblivion,' is urgent, progressive, entrancing and deceptively melodic, setting the tone for the majestic journey to follow. As important as it is to the cohesion of the record, it stands alone on its own, and features multiple elements -- including clean melodic vocals, textural washes of guitar and a trippy David Gilmour-style solo -- that break Mastodon out of the ripping prog metal mold into which they previously had been cast, and into somewhere loftier and without boundaries. The future is theirs to invent.
Alice in Chains -- 'Check My Brain'
In September 2008, when Alice in Chains announced they were heading into the studio with Comes With the Fall vocalist William DuVall, we were understandably skeptical. Replacing any lead singer is hard enough, but to find someone to fill the shoes of the late Layne Staley, whose dark charisma and personal demons had fueled the pioneering grunge band's three full studio albums in the '90s, was a mighty tall task.
Yet somehow Alice in Chains pulled it off. Their 2009 comeback album, 'Black Turns Into Blue' was harrowing, heavy and bubbled with amazing vocal harmonies that matched the finest past performances of Staley and guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell. The first single from the record, 'Check My Brain,' includes one of the most effective riffs of the year. Composed of a single bent string in three different positions, the tones are queasy and unsettling, complimenting the eerie undercurrent of the vocals, which themselves are as ominous as Black Sabbath and as catchy as Simon and Garfunkel.
Them Crooked Vultures -- 'Mind Eraser, No Chaser'
Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl played with guitarist and vocalist Josh Homme on Queens of the Stone Age's 2002 record 'Songs For the Deaf,' but it took Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones for the two to fully live out their '70s rock fantasies in a modern rock context.
'Mind Eraser, No Chaser' from the band's self-titled debut, is a wonderfully, skewed, surging torrent of thorny guitars, urgent drumming and hipster-rock vocals that's makes us almost as giddy and euphoric as we were the first time we heard Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit.' As great as the song and album are, Them Crooked Vultures were made to play live. In concert, with the addition of ex-Eleven guitarist Alain Johannes they're absolutely mesmerizing, turning five-minute songs into colossal jams reminiscent of the glory days of Kyuss, Cream and, of course, Zeppelin.
Lamb of God -- 'Contractor'
After Lamb of God worked with producer Machine to create the semi-polished sounds of 2009's 'Sacrament,' which featured the quasi-commercial 'Redneck,' the band decided to return more to their thrash and hardcore roots. So, with their old friend Josh Wilbur at the controls, they crafted the street-lethal 'Wrath,' which goes straight for the jugular and then clenches harder.
'Contractor' starts with a southern "whoo-hooo," then tumbles into an avalanche of metallic punk destruction. After a pulse-pounding main rhythm and a shout-along pre-chorus, the song slows into a growled promise from frontman Randy Blythe: "Guaranf---ingteed/Someone will bleed." Anyone who's attended one of Lamb of God's recent shows knows he speaks the truth.
Baroness -- 'Jake Leg"
When Savannah, Ga.'s Baroness released 'Red Album' in 2007, some listeners were critical that they sounded a bit too much like Kylesa, whose frontman Philip Cope produced the record. Others said they were tearing a page from the songbook of their Atlanta neighbors Mastodon. But with 2009's 'Blue Record,' Baroness came into their own with a stunning and striking hybrid of post-metal, prog and riff rock. 'Jake Leg' is Baroness at their catchiest -- an amalgam of insistent beats, angular licks and raw, forcible singing. The rhythms are layered and hypnotic, yet heavier than mercury and the guitars and vocals are interwoven into a tight, alluring tapestry of harmony and discord.
Slayer -- 'Hate Worldwide'
Since original drummer Dave Lombardo rejoined the band in 2001, Slayer have been on an upward ascent that mirrors their glory days with Lombardo in the late '80s. The band's 2009 album, 'World Painted Blood,' is fierce and pounding, but it offers nothing radically new; it's more an affirmation of faith, and nothing exemplifies this with more power than 'Hate Worldwide,' an anti-everything song that could have been on the band's classic 1986 album 'Reign in Blood.' From the serrated, rapid-fire riffs and blasphemous fist-to-the-sky vocals to the cat-strangling solos and uncompromising beats, 'Hate Worldwide' is both a timeless sound and a sound for the times.
Behemoth -- 'Shemhamforash'
We're not sure what the title means, but it's probably something like 'Whiplash Inducer.' After a creepy, minor-key intro, Poland's ugliest death/black metal band blast into full demolition mode. Drummer Inferno explodes with crushing jackhammer beats and barreling fills, while frontman Nergal's churning guitars and demonic vocals keep the song sounding like the soundtrack for a PCP hallucination. The brutality is nearly constant from start to finish, the musicians pausing just long enough to insert touches of melody that reassure us we're not actually at a construction site in Hell.
Converge -- 'Axe to Fall'
Deathcore or metalcore bands that think they're heavy or bad-ass should get a taste of Converge's latest album, 'Axe to Fall,' a bruising slab of hardcore ferocity, metal intensity and untamed energy that bursts out of the speakers like maggots from dead animals in a time lapse video. The title track pulls no punches, and is divided into three distinct sections. There's the bashing-skull-against-concrete pre-verse, the herky-jerky verse with the flailing guitars that sound like broken shards of a technical death metal solo, and the breakdown that ends the song. Of the three, only the latter is anything short of eye gouging. And its all over in less than two minutes, leaving the listener drained and hungering for more.
Divine Heresy -- 'Facebreaker'
A blazing combination of breakneck speed and infectious melody from Divine Heresy's second album 'Bringer of Plagues,' 'Facebreaker' is undeniable proof that brutality and beauty can coexist without one consuming or weakening the other. Guitarist Dino Cazares virtually conceived the formula in Fear Factory before the dawn of metalcore, and here he implements it seamlessly with vocal Travis Neal, bassist Joe Payne and drummer Tim Yeung. If nothing else, 'Facebreaker" set the stage for Cazares and Fear Factory vocalist Burton C. Bell to co-create the band's best album in years, 'Mechanize.'
Heaven & Hell – 'Bible Black'
We'll probably take some flack for the inclusion of this old-school sounding metal burner in our top 10, but we're ready to defend our decision to the death (or at least until someone throws something at us that's heavier than an eraser). Hell, what's not to like?
The song rocks as it sways and easily could have fit on either 1980's 'Heaven and Hell' or 1981's 'Mob Rules.' There's that familiar melancholy guitar arpeggio and those beautiful vibrato-laden vocals that open the song before it builds into a lumbering stomp replete with wobbling guitar thunder and meandering basslines that many have imitated but only Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler can successfully pull off. Here's to Dio's quick recovery from stomach cancer and a rapid follow-up album that'll leave skeptics slackjawed.