Matt’s Albums of the Decade, Part 1: #190 through #101

At the beginning of this decade, I lugged around not one but two binders of physical compact discs which I had purchased with money in order to listen to music I enjoyed. This rapidly became consolidated onto an iPod, which held thousands of albums, some of which I had purchased with money, giving me access to anything I already enjoyed at any time. Then a few years ago, I lost this device, which permanently changed my listening habits. I switched to carrying around an older iPhone with very limited space, so even with the streaming power of Tidal (yes, Tidal), I could only keep a handful of albums offline for regular access. Instead, for fresh content, I sunk deeper into the world of podcasts—especially football podcasts, which consumed multiple thousands of hours of listening time that might have been invested in music at an earlier time in my life.

At the beginning of this decade, I was an obsessive list-maker, stuff-ranker, absolute arbiter of quality with objectively correct taste whose opinions were fact because they were based on specific, curated criteria. I doubled down on this by about 2013, starting to catalogue my music experiences with a spreadsheet of new releases, along with my thoughts and ratings on them. But as the years went by and life got busy, keeping up with wave after wave of new music became more of a burden than a joy, and it became more difficult to stop and smell the roses. A lot of albums wouldn’t stick the way they used to, and even if I appreciated them, I wouldn’t listen to them over and over like in years past. Only the absolute cream of the modern crop made it into permanent rotation, while I spent hours resting in the comfort of nostalgic Final Fantasy OST playlists, exploring the decades-spanning catalogues of artists like Prince and Kylie Minogue, or sinking whole workdays into a 10-hour loop of “Beneath the Mask” from Persona 5. I also gradually, gratefully, softened on my selfish perspective of objectivity, which made it more difficult to have concrete opinions and ratings for the music I respected. That made selecting the albums for this list, and ranking them in strict order, more of a challenge than I expected it to be. I did it to honour my old self, though, and I worked very hard on arranging them properly; I still don’t entirely agree with myself, but I don’t think I ever will, and eventually this had to get done.

Over this decade, I watched trends in the metal world be born and die, from generic djent (\(\frac{4}{4}\) Meshuggah ripoffs) to jazz-influenced nu-prog to deathcore to blackgaze to re-thrash (stop trying to make Power Trip happen) to heavy synth… I lamented as incredible, creative work got persistently overlooked and underrated (see: everything below) while mass-appealing, lowest-common-denominator dreck got heaped with praise (The Contortionist’s Language, aka baby’s first prog metal album; Mgła’s straightforward, uninventive black metal; Gojira’s entire existence). Such is life, I guess. Here’s my desperate attempt to remedy that by giving credit to both well-known acts who succeeded in creating great music and little-known gems that should be given more attention.

The most difficult decision I had to make was whether video game soundtracks should be included here or whether they represented a different qualitative category of music entirely. I decided to omit them, but I want to give special praise to the two which captured an enormous amount of my listening time in recent years: Shoji Meguro’s jazz-fusion-laden work on Persona 5, and Lena Raine’s stunning compositions in Celeste. Both of these could be top-20 “albums” if considered as such.

190. Mantric – The Descent (#15 of 2010)

The end of Extol’s original run, with the very out-of-left-field proggy post-thrash album The Blueprint Dives, suddenly made a lot more sense when viewed in the light of this debut from most of the same members. The Descent was a tasty new spin on the uniquely Norwegian fusion of metal innovation and post-punk attitude.

189. Boris – New Album (#15 of 2011)

Boris’s discography is perhaps the most challenging to evaluate as a whole; each individual album must be weighed on its own merits. I gravitate toward the poppier, lighter end of their spectrum, with New Album being the best incarnation of that.

188. Montecharge – Demons or Someone Else (#16 of 2019)

A shining example of why you don’t submit your end-of-year (or decade!) lists until January, Montecharge dropped a monster album of noisy blackened hardcore right at the buzzer and it takes no prisoners.

CTEBCM review

187. Morbus Chron – Sweven (#15 of 2014)

What if mid-00s Enslaved were a proggy death metal band instead of a proggy black metal band? Sweven. Dreamy, abstract variations on the standard death metal œuvre.

186. Sunpocrisy – Eyegasm, Hallelujah! (#20 of 2015)

A high contender for the weirdest-named album of the decade. But if you can get past that, this Italian group offers supremely innovative and harmonious progressive post-metal, far more creative than your dime-store Cult of NeurIsis clone.

185. Shining – Blackjazz (#14 of 2010)

The mighty have fallen with their recent work, but at the beginning of the decade there was no other band as committed to infusing the chaotic ferocity of black metal with genuine improvisational jazz techniques. Nobody else has done it quite the same way since, either.

184. Ihsahn – Arktis (#19 of 2016)

The best album from a storied discography, Arktis shows Ihsahn in peak form crafting wonderfully creative prog with tinges of black and melodeath, able to mellifluously swerve between extremes.

183. Kayo Dot – Coyote (#13 of 2010)

As a longtime fan of all things Toby Driver, I bought into the avant-jazz of Blue Lambency Downward but still scratched my head at the directional shift on the darker, more abstract Coyote. I still kind of do. I think this album has some brilliant ideas, but the overall product strikes me as a watered-down version of a better Driver project that ranks a few spots higher.

182. Leprous – The Congregation (#19 of 2015)

Few bands took the progressive metal world by storm like Leprous this decade. The Congregation saw them beginning a transition toward lighter fare, with somewhat more straightforward and accessible compositions. Einar’s voice started to steal the spotlight by this point, but the instrumental performances, especially Baard Kolstad’s absurd proficiency on drums, radiated strongly here.

181. Katharos ⅩⅢ – Palindrome (#15 of 2019)

Nominally a dark jazz/metal album, once you dig in, you find there’s only a cameo appearance of metal in one or two songs, while the remainder of the album’s runtime is dominated beautifully by string-laden orchestrations in the Bohren & der Club of Gore style. Honestly probably would’ve been better without the hint of metal, just fully committing to the darkly romantic jazz which they execute so well.

180. Skrillex – Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites (#12 of 2010)

Remember dubstep? No, not that dubstep, the crazy stuff that was everywhere for nine months or so, that was eventually pejoratively deemed “brostep”. The djent of the electronic world. That dubstep. That was fun. I liked it. And while Skrillex never managed to crank out a single complete album, the EP that launched him into the mainstream remains the best expression of the style.

179. Fen – Carrion Skies (#14 of 2014)

A strong runner-up for band of the decade, I found this release a bit less inspired than its predecessor but still a valuable torch-bearer of these Brits’ proggy brand of post-black. Plenty more to come on Fen‘s excellence later.

178. A Forest of Stars – Opportunistic Thieves of Spring (#11 of 2010)

Much like the previous entry, this album suffers because the bar for it was set too high. A Forest of Stars stunned listeners with their Victorian-influenced, gloomy psychedelic black sound on 2008’s The Corpse of Rebirth; this album stretched and reshaped those ideas, but could not possibly have improved upon them, and as such is considerably less memorable.

177. Ageless Oblivion – Penthos (#13 of 2014)

Penthos rides the fence between modern dissonant death and classic punishing tech death, with spices of brutality and melodeath scattered throughout. A very comprehensive summary of what death metal did right in this era.

176. Abigail Williams – Walk beyond the Dark (#14 of 2019)

Ken Sorceron and company have, at times, struggles to find their own voice, spending the better part of their career as trend-chasers, always ending up a bit behind the times. With The Accuser and Walk beyond the Dark, it seems they have settled into a suitable niche, and the strength of the compositions on this latest album evinces that. Most of the album’s songs balance intensity and atmosphere, permeated with savvy multi-layered riffing and dynamic drumming. Check out the long centrepiece, “Black Waves”: it opens with cello, lurches forward with black and doom riffs, then gradually builds to a brutal and majestic climax.

175. Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race (#13 of 2019)

This feels like too low a rating for this rightfully lauded slab of sci-fi death metal, and maybe time will bear that out. I thoroughly enjoy this work, with its eighteen-minute second side in particular standing out—though I’m not even entirely convinced I prefer it to Starspawn? Either way, this Colorado group is at the cutting edge of modern death.

174. Haunter – Sacramental Death Qualia (#12 of 2019)

At first seeming to be part of that modern, dissonant-influenced collective of death metal groups, Haunter rapidly and consistently reveal new layers of their sound throughout Sacramental Death Qualia—whether acoustic interludes reminiscent of Opeth’s finer days or turbulent expanses of misty doom. There is much more than meets the eye beneath the surface of this record.

173. Trevor Something – Ultraparanoia (#29 of 2018)

No artist captures the intersection of nostalgic retrowave with melancholic, existential dream pop better than Trevor Something. It was tough to leave Death Dream off this list, but it mixes some filler tracks in with its highlights. In contrast, I was so completely blown away by Ultraparanoia all the way through that it was impossible not to recognize and praise. This is music that makes your soul ache.

172. Stellar Descent – Moss (#11 of 2019)

Not to be confused with Starless Domain, another project from the same members, Stellar Descent craft expansive, organic waves of black metal-adjacent percussion and distortion woven through with ethereal synth pads and delicate acoustic guitar. Reminiscent of Fauna’s Rain or Skagos’s Ást, but even lower-intensity and yet more mentally engaging. This is genuinely something different.

171. Chaos Moon – Eschaton Mémoire (#23 of 2017)

Brooding, longform, and infectiously melodic, Eschaton Mémoire fills a void that few other acts can satiate. This album blends elements from the dissonant, orthodox, and post-black subgenres into a tight, tense sonic voyage.

CTEBCM review

170. Cameron Graves – Planetary Prince (#22 of 2017)

One of many excellent albums from Kamasi Washington’s West Coast Get Down collective, Planetary Prince showcases pianist and keyboardist Cameron Graves in peak form with long, winding demonstrations of classic jazz sonority mixed with virtuosic improvisational performance.

169. In Human Form – Opening of the Eye by the Death of the I (#18 of 2016)

At first listen, this album struck me as a jazzy twist on the Krallice sound. But it’s actually quite a bit more nuanced, progressive, and cerebral than that quick description suggests. The record’s three long songs are forged with aggressively complex guitar and bass work that leans toward the avant-garde end of the spectrum.

168. Means End – The Didact (#22 of 2013)

If you absolutely insist on trying to redeem djent, you won’t find a better way to do it than by mixing it with the powerful, operatic bellows of Robert Luciani. Complex and intricate melodic underpinnings gird his soaring vocal performance masterfully, producing potently addictive modern metal anthems.

167. Poppy – Am I a Girl? (#28 of 2018)

Metal as the blood may be that courses through my veins, I will never not be a sucker for catchy and creative female-fronted pop. Viral sensation Poppy twisted and inverted the very fabric of stardom with her surreal videos, then leveraged that novelty into a couple of surprisingly tasteful album. Am I a Girl? straddles the worlds of bubblegum pop and metal in a fresh way, dissimilar to peers like Babymetal—more pure, in some regard.

166. Altar of Plagues – Mammal (#14 of 2011)

Heading into the decade, “post-black metal” had not yet quite come to mean “blackgaze” as it eventually would. Rather, people imagined an intersection of black metal’s speed and ferocity with post-metal’s sludgy atmosphere, and nobody nailed that synthesis like early Altar of Plagues. Mammal is not quite as good as White Tomb from the previous decade, but its four sprawling tracks still provide a unique vision for what that alternate path of post-black looks like ideally.

165. Balaclava – Crimes of Faith (#13 of 2011)

Blackened crust, we hardly knew ye. There are only a few bands attempting what Balaclava perfected, and unfortunately they disappeared as quickly as they came. The songs on Crimes of Faith scream with vigour and fury, like a more grounded and carefully crafted Nails at times.

164. Départe – Failure, Subside (#17 of 2016)

In some ways, Départe could be lumped in with a collection of Ulcerate ripoffs, as they practice that sort of dissonant post-death style. However, they amplify the “post-” aspect much greater, with spacious and patiently flowing songs peppered with clean and harsh vocal contrasts. Resting between Ulcerate and Fallujah or Kardashev, Failure, Subside claims its own space and invites listeners into its somber newness.

163. Mare Cognitum – Luminiferous Aether (#16 of 2016)

One of the most important voices in modern black metal, Jacob Buczarski’s solo project weaves transcendent black metal melodies with a cosmic slant but without drifting off their tethers into the vacuous waste of ambient space. Mare Cognitum stays soaked with atmosphere, but never far away from contrapuntal shredding leads guiding the way through a stellar ocean of blast beats.

CTEBCM review

162. Southern Empire – Civilisation (#27 of 2018)

There’s always a place for good, traditional prog metal done right. That’s what Southern Empire is. And frankly, that’s all it is. That’s okay. Do you like Dream Theater, IQ, and Haken? You do? Enjoy. You don’t? Move along.

161. Bushwhacker – A Fistful of Poison (#10 of 2019)

With the cover art of a Western paperback and the lyrical narrative of a hillbilly Nile tribute band, this post-thrash magnum opus comes way out of left field and absolutely crushes what it does. The musicianship could be a touch more finessed, but the ambitious concept and theatrical structure of the album more than make up for any flaws in the composition.

CTEBCM review

160. Native Construct – Quiet World (#18 of 2015)

Did somebody ask for finessed musicianship? Because that’s exactly what this Between the Buried and Me-wannabe group offers in spades. It’s very clear what Quiet World is trying to be, but it succeeds so capably on its own merits that it doesn’t matter. Exceptional performance and dynamic songwriting all around.

CTEBCM review

159. Ancestors – In Dreams and Time (#16 of 2012)

Synth-drenched, gritty sludge with grunge vocals is a pretty rare combination, but my goodness does it work. Black Sabbath meets “Black Hole Sun”? Massive songs tantalize with surprising chord progressions and vocal melodies, culminating in the nineteen-minute closer “First Light”. If there’s anything remotely like a modern analogue to Iron Butterfly, it might as well be these guys.

158. Vexovoid – Call of the Starforger (#21 of 2017)

Italian Vektor worship, and a more than adequate replacement for a band I can no longer support. The production here is considerably better than on Terminal Redux, making the technical thrash a smoother listen, and the technicality is also dialed back about 10%—simpler to wrap your brain around, yet no less impressive in its display of skill.

CTEBCM review

157. Tesseract – Altered State (#21 of 2013)

With this album, I actually thought Tesseract had hit on something huge. There’s a semblance of radio friendliness in these powerful, huge hooks and the slickly modern production. Skeptic though I am of most bands like this, I could not resist the allure of Altered State.

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156. Tartar Lamb Ⅱ – Polyimage of Known Exits (#12 of 2011)

As promised, here’s the album that Coyote could have been. Tartar Lamb Ⅱ takes Kayo Dot’s fearless dark sensibilities and complements them with smoother saxophones, layers of noise and haunting synthetic soundscapes. The result marries Kayo Dot’s experimentation with post-rock and dark jazz in pristine harmony.

155. IQ – The Road of Bones (#12 of 2014)

A clinic in maintaining relevance, this eleventh album from the British neo-prog giants contains two discs packed to the gills with beautifully written and gorgeously sung material in the classic prog style with contemporary flair. IQ rely more heavily on keyboards and synthesizers than many of their peers, and these electronic components sound as fresh as ever here.

154. Elysian Blaze – Blood Geometry (#15 of 2012)

I’m not even sure how to describe this album. Over two hours of truly harrowing, occult-ritual blackness that touches on dark ambience and primal metal in equal measure. One of my favourite zone-out-at-work picks, if only because it’s almost impossible to take in with complete focus.

153. Esoteric – Paragon of Dissonance (#11 of 2011)

Esoteric’s funeral doom is designed to break your mind. They lull you to complacency with long, slowly-droning passages of dense distorted psychedelia, then half an hour later an accelerando comes out of nowhere to completely reorient your reality. They veer sparingly into death-doom, mostly content to stay at a snail’s pace, and their brand of doom is better for it.

152. Transatlantic – Kaleidoscope (#11 of 2014)

While the opening and closing epics on this supergroup’s fourth release are as good as anything they’ve ever done, the three tracks in the middle wash out the album’s overall quality. Still, nobody knows how to do classy traditional prog like Neal Morse and crew.

151. Meganeko – Technokinesis (#15 of 2016)

Though too short, Technokinesis pulls off an impossible feat by blending almost every good subgenre of electronic music into one delicious frappé: Justice’s hard house, Skrillex’s comical heaviness, Anamanaguchi’s chiptune bubbliness, and more.

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150. Malikliya – 誄 (Shinobigo) / Condolence (#9 of 2019)

After a breathtaking EP in 2014 that introduced us to Malikliya’s synthesis of Japanese dream pop vocals with melodic blackgaze riffing, we had to wait five long years for a full length to emerge. It finally did right before the close of the decade, and while no individual track matches to the glory of “Whisper of Fog”, the product was well worth the wait.

149. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange (#14 of 2012)

Few artists have the ingenuity and talent to execute a ten-minute prog-R&B epic like “Pyramids”. Frank Ocean not only pulled that off, but surrounded it with a variety of catchy, emotion-fueled smooth hip-hop tracks that threw down a huge gauntlet for other acts to follow.

148. Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit (#10 of 2010)

One of the original kings of the Cascadian strain of black metal, Agalloch found their ideal form on this release. Despite being surpassed in their own style by the likes of Wolves in the Throne Room and Fen, this album remains worth revisiting now and then.

147. Kayo Dot – Coffins on Io (#10 of 2014)

After shedding their metal skin with the monstrous Hubardo, Kayo Dot quickly reanimated themselves with a very different aesthetic on the synth-driven, post-retrowave alien oddity of Coffins on Io. I find this album much more accessible and engaging than their more avant-garde works like Coyote—from the delicate lilt of the tripartite opener “The Mortality of Doves” to the unhinged fear of “The Assassination of Adam”, this album opened up a novel path for a band that refuses to become stale.

146. Fen – Epoch (#10 of 2011)

In case you needed to understand how underrated this British troupe is, “The Gibbet Elms” prominently features a harmonic counterpoint \(\frac{15}{16}\) guitar-bass part. Fen make atmospheric black metal for the thinking mind, and Epoch is just one of many examples of their unique creative genius. The album is misty, ethereal and strewn with synth for a shining, polished final product.

145. So Hideous – Last Poem / First Light (#20 of 2013)

Though the band would get more acclaim for their ambitious, orchestral follow-up Laurestine, I remain far more fond of their debut. It has a more authentic and desperate feel; the raw emotion is centre stage rather than being buried beneath layers of strings (that ultimately only function as glorified synth pads). One of the better offerings in the blackened hardcore œuvre.

144. The Tea Club – Grappling (#17 of 2015)

This remarkable Philadelphia group, already the best young prog band in the scene, leveled up their skills with the addition of keyboardist Joe Dorsey for Grappling. While Dorsey’s contributions accentuate the McGowan brothers’ harmonic ingenuity perfectly on brilliant pieces like “The Magnet”, I find the compositions lacking some of the magic that certain earlier albums exuded (which will be praised accordingly below).

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143. Inter arma – Paradise Gallows (#14 of 2016)

Richmond’s paragons of blackened sludge check in on this countdown for the first of many times with their most ethereal, intangible collection of songs. This album never quite sank in for me the way some of their others did.

142. Swallow the Sun – Emerald Forest and the Blackbird (#13 of 2012)

None of these Finns’ full-length albums ever lived up to the promise of the breathtaking Plague of Butterflies thirty-five-minute, single-track EP. But Emerald Forest and the Blackbird came as close as any of their follow-ups, with its gloomy melodicism and powerful death/doom vibes leading the charge.

141. Joanna Newsom – Divers (#16 of 2015)

Maybe a little bit of a legacy pick here: I was very late on the Joanna Newsom train, and Ys quickly became a top-10 all-time favourite for me. Divers showcases a more mellowed-out, pop-sensible side of the songstress, but there are still moments of magical beauty in her unparalleled harp skills and vocal cadences.

140. A Silver Mt. Zion – Kollaps tradixionales (#9 of 2010)

Efrim Menuck’s enigmatic Godspeed offshoot has never sounded better than on this array of apocalyptic post-folk songs. From the hopeful refrain of “There Is a Light” to the frenetic momentum of “I Built Myself a Metal Bird”, all the way to the aching closing stanzas of “‘Piphany Rambler”, the juxtaposed lamentation and optimism are palpable and beautiful.

139. Neurosis – Honor Found in Decay (#12 of 2012)

After 2007’s Given to the Rising, one might worry that Neurosis had been overly influenced by their own followers, sounding—while strong—like a somewhat derivative version of themselves. Honor Found in Decay brought back many key elements of their earlier albums like A Sun that Never Sets and Through Silver in Blood, with a more raw and aggressive temperament, and some new tricks up its sleeve as well.

138. We Pyrrhic Conquerors – The End Is Nigh (#20 of 2017)

The libertine compositional approach of zeuhl seems impossible to approximate with a solo project. Yet We Pyrrhic Conquerors overcomes this hurdle by leveraging sound clips of instrumental recordings from Joey Bishop’s full band, Falling into Birds, and rearranging them into completely new material. The result is an intricate and brilliant endeavour.

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137. Huldra – Monuments, Monoliths (#19 of 2013)

I had to check multiple times that this wasn’t a new Aaron Turner venture, as Huldra’s vocalist mimics the Isis frontman’s tone perfectly. The band as a whole does a pretty good late-era Isis impression, with multiple long, patiently unfolding post-metal tracks with the classic light-to-heavy progression. The finest example of this is the gigantic “Ursidae”, which may be one of the two or three best climaxes in the genre.

136. Thou – Summit (#8 of 2010)

Icons of dense, progressive Southern sludge, Thou demonstrate skilful songwriting chops with meaty rhythms and melodic hooks. The twinkling drift through the introduction of “By Endurance We Conquer” that gives way to a subdued blast-beat addition is a sublime piece of craftsmanship.

135. Leprous – Coal (#18 of 2013)

Coal reflects the peak of “early” Leprous, when they were still focused on merging metallic edge with Einar’s soaring vocal timbre. The up-and-down calisthenics of “The Valley”’s chorus and the angelic high notes of the title track highlight an outstanding album.

134. Yellow Eyes – Hammer of Night (#17 of 2013)

The seeds of experimentation that would come to define Yellow Eyes’s sound are somewhat nascent on their debut, but the way they weave Krallice-inspired riffs into textures both repulsive and enchanting has never been better. They’d end up getting weirder and better, but as a pure statement of New York black metal, Hammer of Night is one of my favourite go-to records.

133. The Ruins of Beverast – Exuvia (#19 of 2017)

Take a concoction of top-tier atmospheric black metal and bold funeral doom, add in a splash of Native American mythos, and you end up with the finest album in The Ruins of Beverast’s lauded catalogue. Alexander von Meilenwald launches full-speed-ahead on the end of “Surtur barbaar maritime”, brings in haunting female wails on “The Pythia’s Pale Wolves”, and dwells on hypnotic motifs in “Exuvia” and “Takitum tootem (Trance)”. The album writhes in ayahuasca and peyote, and emerges as a vision unlike any seen in the metal realm before it.

132. Soldat Hans – Dress Rehearsal (#9 of 2014)

This Swiss sextet offers a unique sound best summarized as “metal Godspeed”. Their longform sonic excursions cover vast, apocalyptic territory, meandering through mires of droning organ and sparse melody, occasionally cresting in tidal waves of crushing weight. Dress Rehearsal has all these elements, but is not quite as grounded and tractable as its successor.

131. Der Weg einer Freiheit – Finisterre (#18 of 2017)

Post-black metal that really embraces the blackness, Der Weg einer Freiheit are as likely to pummel the listener with a barrage of blasts as they are to dial things back for an ambient interlude. Their piercing guitar lines and relentless drum battery are a cut above any peers, and they know how to use both in crafting vicious tracks.

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130. Castevet – Obsian (#16 of 2013)

This album in general is a fantastic blend of mathy post-hardcore and black metal, but let’s get right to the point: the ending of “The Curve” is one of the 10 best riffs of the decade. That mid-tempo double bass roll with the jangly guitar melody and Nick McMaster’s athletic bass groove over it is nothing short of perfection.

129. The Hirsch Effekt – Holon : Agnosie (#15 of 2015)

Very few bands can cram as many musical ideas into as tight a space as The Hirsch Effekt. Their musical mania would gel into something more well-formed later, but on 2015’s Holon : Agnosie all the ingredients are there—heavy and dynamic instrumentation, technically designed track structures, screaming and singing in balance, accents of string and brass rounding things out. They can go full-blown mathcore on “Bezoar”, or enchantingly melodic on “Emphysema”.

128. Vaults of Zin – Kadath (#13 of 2016)

What’s better than zeuhl? Metal zeuhl! Very, very few artists have ever attempted anything like this stylistic fusion, but Vaults of Zin knocked it out of the park with this chaotic, disjointed doom-sludge effort. Freed from the constraints of tempo and structure, the band travel from pole to pole touching every checkpoint along the way.

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127. Akhlys – The Dreaming I (#14 of 2015)

Naas Alcameth was all over the occult black metal scene with a variety of projects this decade, but nowhere was his horrifying vision more fully crystallized than on The Dreaming I. Oppressive bleakness manifests in both ambient despondence and teeth-gnashing brutality. This is an album that sounds perfectly like its cover art.

126. Ronald Bruner, Jr. – Triumph (#17 of 2017)

Drum-driven jazz that incorporates influences from the classic titans as well as modern fusion, electronic, and R&B elements. An otherwise simple pop song like “Take the Time” is given effusive energy by Bruner’s fluttering bass drum, while longer excursions like “Geode Deode” showcase Bruner’s dizzying versatility behind the kit.

125. Krallice – Diotima (#9 of 2011)

The last truly great Krallice album, Diotima was packed to the brim with interweaving melodic ideas and creative percussion rhythms from the masterful Lev Weinstein. The one-two punch of “Litany of Regrets” and “Telluric Rings” is one of the standout moment of this band’s storied career.

124. Dream the Electric Sleep – Heretics (#8 of 2014)

Out of nowhere, this Kentucky group blessed us with one of the catchiest and most underrated progressive rock albums of the decade, replete with influences of American and midwest emo and suffused with multilayered popesque vocal sensibilities. From the tender swing groove of “Elizabeth” to the piercing ache of “To Love Is to Leave” to the driving pulses of “The Name You Fear”, this album runs deep with rewarding richness. (The less said about its follow-up, the better, unfortunately.)

123. Lantlôs – Neon (#7 of 2010)

We are now officially into the territory where every single album feels like it’s ranked too low, because there’s just too many good albums. Not naming Heretics or Neon among the 100 best albums of the decade feels criminal. Lantlôs’s sophomore effort was as good as blackgaze would ever get, with “These Nights Were Ours” crystallizing everything the genre ever hoped to achieve into a five-minute snapshot of sheer nostalgic bliss.

122. Enslaved – Axiōma ethica Odini (#6 of 2010)

The run Enslaved had from 2006’s Ruun to 2012’s Riitiir is a stretch of quality almost unparalleled by any band, much less a band with eight albums already under their belt by that point. The perpetual reinvention of this Norwegian titan led them into proggier and more atmospheric territory this decade, with this album expanding a bit on its predecessor Vertebrae and featuring several memorable and inventive songs.

121. Redshift Pilots – Lurker (#12 of 2016)

We’ll get to this band’s masterwork later—much later—but the brilliance that would manifest there was already nascent on this short debut. Somewhere in the void of post-everything, their intense metallic atmospheres and soaring vocals carve out a space all their own.

120. Frontierer – Unloved (#26 of 2018)

Frontierer play music that makes you think they don’t want you to live to hear the end of the album. Unloved is one gut punch after another, with furious vocals, powerfully mixed guitars, and electronic glitch elements dragging the album, and its listeners’ souls, into the digital wasteland. Not for the faint of heart, and easily the greatest accomplishment of the modern brutal-mathcore movement.

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119. Yellow Eyes – Immersion Trench Reverie (#16 of 2017)

This album encapsulates everything Yellow Eyes is capable of being: vicious and visceral black metal riffs, but meticulously crafted with a sense of outsider art, mixed with samples and field recordings to formulate a deeply immersive and transportive experience. As always, the production can be grating at first, but on this specific album I think it rewards the effort to adjust your ears to it. Everything makes sense when you enter their world.

118. Antisoph – Antisoph (#25 of 2018)

Progressive metal that merges black, heavy, and thrash, with a totally unexpected vocal delivery as the cherry on top. The music is technical and fascinating by itself, but that wild vocal timbre takes this album to another level.

117. Fen – Winter (#15 of 2017)

More brilliance from these Brits, Winter is Fen’s most expansive effort to date, and features more of their signature sound with lots of breathing room. I am particularly fond of the root major-to-minor-and-back shift in “Ⅰ (Pathway)” and the way their arpeggiated chords shimmer above the fog of their rhythm section. The production on this effort is stellar and aptly glorifies the intricacy of the compositions.

CTEBCM review

116. Contemplator – Sonance (#11 of 2016)

Instrumental metal is generally not appealing to me, so it takes something special to engage my interest. Only a couple of bands pulled that off this decade; Contemplator accomplished it using dynamic violin above complex and rapidly-changing math rock-influenced metal grooves. The performances here are outstanding, naturally, but the way each measure is put together is expert craftsmanship, and Christian Pacaud’s prominent and restless bass work ties everything together.

CTEBCM review

115. Fire-Toolz – Skinless X-1 (#24 of 2018)

Angel Marcloid had a wildly prolific decade, using the Fire-Toolz brand to bring together black metal and vaporwave like nobody else. On this, her fourth album under the moniker, the scratchy vocals float more ethereally over spacious and detailed samples, references and synth motifs. More adventurous and expressive than Interbeing before it, Skinless X-1 displays Angel on her surest footing presenting a bewildering and unique musical vision.

114. Cult Leader – A Patient Man (#23 of 2018)

I continue to be somewhat perplexed by Cult Leader’s decision to dedicate so much of this album to brooding acoustic tracks. But the intense and expressive blackened hardcore they excel at shines brightly when they choose to illuminate it.

113. Setentia – Darkness Transcend (#10 of 2016)

Among the best of the Ulcerate clones, Setentia amplify their dissonant take on death metal with copious shredding and suffocating atmosphere. One of the best double-bass-showcase albums in recent memory.

CTEBCM review

112. Immortal Bird – Empress/Abscess (#13 of 2015)

Another virulent and sludgy take on blackened hardcore, with the soul-devouring vortex of Rae Amitay’s vocals leading the charge. Crisp, bright guitarwork and a dose of raw punk energy give this short album a razor-sharp edge.

111. Plebeian Grandstand – False Highs, True Lows (#9 of 2016)

Make it three in a row for the burgeoning blackened hardcore subgenre. This one, though, is far and away the darkest and most aggressive take, informed by dissonant black paragons like Deathspell Omega and Dodecahedron. Ivo Kaltchev’s blasting brutality gives an almost-grindcore atmosphere to parts of this album, but the band is equally apt at unsettling ambient breaks, like the seven-minute “Tame the Shapes”, which functions as an extended intro to closing track “Eros Culture”.

CTEBCM review

110. The Midnight – Endless Summer (#8 of 2016)

Exhausted after all that violent blackened hardcore energy? Might I interest you in a nostalgic trip to the mid-80s with sparkling synth and sax, confidently cool vocal deliveries, and some of the most hook-laden pop to come out of the Outrun/synthwave style? I was certainly interested, as Endless Summer refused to exit my work and car playlists long into the fall and winter.

109. Inter arma – Sky Burial (#15 of 2013)

Inter arma’s debut was quite a system shock to the metal scene, as there was nothing else out there that blended vast swaths of Neurosis-worshipping post-metal with psychedelic, almost ritualistic guitar and vocal elements. I mean, what are you supposed to do with a pummeling track like “‘sblood”? Every aspect radiates both immediacy and future potential on this release.

108. Enslaved – E (#14 of 2017)

I don’t think you’ll find a stronger front-to-back discography in the metal world than Enslaved’s fourteen evenly-spaced full-lengths. The only hiccup in their catalog, to my eyes, was 2015’s uninspired In Times, but they redeemed themselves more than fully with the energized, modernized flair of E. With fresh blood injected into their lineup, the band returned to classic form with epic, anthemic Viking-prog.

107. Persefone – Aathma (#13 of 2017)

Nobody does progressive melodeath better than Andorra’s Persefone. To my ears, Aathma is slightly more disjointed and doesn’t stick in the memory as well as some of their earlier work, though the four-part title suite is certainly among the band’s finest achievements. Not sure about the use of two intro tracks before a real song comes in, but whatever. Shake things up!

106. Slugdge – Esoteric Malacology (#22 of 2018)

If you are an exercise-minded individual, there might not be a better album to blast at the gym than Slugdge’s slime-soaked fourth album. They combine a balls-out intensity with a surprisingly nuanced compositional style, leading to machine-gun drums and riffs with rare harmonic intelligence.

105. Ryan Porter – The Optimist (#21 of 2018)

If you like modern jazz, you should like Kamasi Washington. And if you like Kamasi Washington, you should like his trombonist, Ryan Porter. Featuring mostly the same band members, Porter steers them toward funkier and somewhat more technically-minded improvisations, but fails to capture the gut-level magic that Washington inspires.

104. Haken – Visions (#8 of 2011)

Dream Theater was reborn for the modern prog masses in the remarkable works of Haken. Their debut Aquarius was phenomenal, and probably deserves a spot on this list too, but here I’ve chosen to highlight Visions, which refines their sound with bigger guitar riffs, more tasteful keyboards and orchestration, a more pensive narrative concept, and slightly (but only slightly) less cheese. “Shapeshifter” and the epic title track stand out as perfect examples of their prowess.

103. Malthusian – Across Deaths (#20 of 2018)

One of the bleakest and most pessimistic death metal albums in recent years, Malthusian’s long-awaited debut strangled listeners with the sounds of a scorched and barren landscape. Their murky dissonance proved fertile ground for both brutal heaviness and chaotic ambiance, both executed to perfection on thirteen-minute album centerpiece “Primal Attunement: The Gloom Epoch”.

CTEBCM review

102. Cult of Luna – Vertikal (#14 of 2013)

As post-metal’s light began to die out after a productive decade in the aughts, bands had to push the envelope to avoid becoming tired and played-out. Cult of Luna did this by amplifying their use of electronic elements, with brilliant results. Their typical heavy grooves, present on tracks like “I the Weapon” and “Synchronicity”, were buffeted by melodic synth textures, while the nineteen-minute opus “Vicarious Redemption” leaned even harder into industrial and even dubstep influences to present a fresh vision for the genre’s future.

101. Kardashev – The Almanac (#12 of 2017)

The last time I wrote about Kardashev, I compared them to a cross between Fallujah and Sigur Rós, and I stand by that. Gentle clean vocals glide above thunderous clouds of thickly textured guitar riffs, with some moments as catchy as any radio-rock could ever hope to be and others as vicious as any modern black metal act. “Between Sky and Sea” hits both of these extremes, and if that song doesn’t get stuck in your head forever after one listen, I can’t help you.

On March 9 2020, this entry was posted.