[Disclaimer - This is not a 'ranked' list at all.]
1. Burzum - "Belus"
With the release of Varg Vikernes from prison, half of the black metal scene wanted him dead, and the other half wanted to see if he could make a triumphant return to the music scene. Fortunately, he wasted no time in making the latter presumption a successful manifestation. What we are treated with is probably one of the last few original voices in black metal still beckoning out their branded call... with a bit of a style change from that of Varg's previous work, but still with recognizable and surprising attributes, this album lived up to its expectations in a way that was not expected of it.
2. Alcest - "Écailles de lune"
Alcest has come a long way from its lo-fi, buzzy black metal roots. Neige's prolific solo project had shocked the world with its previous full-length release, and its return ushered in a new slew of experimentation and melody. With extremely catchy hooks, its branded melancholic atmosphere, and an otherworldly theme, Écailles de Lune proved to be a worthy successor to any of Alcest's previous works. Painting a wonderful luminous picture with each hook of Neige's incredible clean guitar tone, this album made quite an impact.
3. Ludicra - "The Tenant"
[Profound Lore Records]
Ludicra are one sick band. Their very existence is one which breathes negativity and spite. All the more reason for me to like their new album, The Tenant.
With passages that stick in one's head for awhile, and cathartic, haunting vocals, this West Coast metal band has offered unto us their best endeavor yet. This band has always been a step ahead of the music scenes that try way too hard to include them.
4. Overkill - "Ironbound"
[Nuclear Blast Records]
Overkill will not die down. After seeing them live this year on their twentieth anniversary tour, and hearing this new album, I have established that thrash bands do not have to wither away and become groove metal simply due to lethargy. No... Bobby Blitz's vocals still resonate strong, the music only gets faster, and the riffing only more memorable. This album pretty much proves that some things still get better with age.
5. Triptykon - "Eparistera Daimones"
[Prowling Death Records]
Celtic Frost is no more... so to what does Tom Warrior turn?
I'll tell you... he turns the volume nob to eleven.
If it were possible for this man's mind to purge something heavier, darker, and more chilling than this, even Satan would be afraid of it, so long as it were to maintain such a ridiculously heavy guitar tone. Some may call this 'Monotheist Part II', but they would be missing something. And part of that 'something' may include the varieties of atmospheres conveyed in this thoroughly crushing masterpiece.
6. Darkthrone - "Circle The Wagons"
Darkthrone do what they want. Plain and simple. Blastbeats and frog vocals? Maybe sometimes. D-beat and old school metal influence? Definitely. Lyrics we can relate to even if they are strange? All of the time. With a settled production that does not take away any 'basement jam' feel, we are given a very personable and real record. And, I must say, the accompanying booklet is impressively thick, and gives total transparency to the making of the album. This may not be as memorable as 'Dark Thrones And Black Flags', but is a perfect album to jam with your friends. It will just make you love this band even more.
7. netra - "Mélancolie urbaine"
[Hypnotic Dirge Records]
I must confess that I have not even heard this whole album yet. However, having a project on the same label has had its benefits and I have heard quite a bit of it, and so I must say that netra's debut full-length on Hypnotic Dirge Records is taking EVERYONE by surprise. Black metal? Check. Ambient? Check. Trip Hop? Uh... what? Okay, I guess check. Performing it very well under those circumstances? Definitely check. With a wonderful, pulsating atmosphere, passages that define the project's sound, and surprises the whole way through each song, this full-length is the most surprising thing to hit the 'experimental' black metal scene since... well, actually, this may be the most surprising thing to hit the 'experimental' black metal scene.
8. Celeste - "Morte(s) Nee(s)"
I will confess another thing... I really am not a big fan of hardcore, and, even more not a fan of hardcore influence in black metal. However, these young Frenchmen have proven to me that the two can coexist together when done right. Crushing, blazing, and infuriating, Celeste came out of the blue, without warning, and offered us this beast of an album that has quite the abrasive atmosphere to it.
9. Truppensturm - "Salute To The Iron Emperors"
Truppensturm are far too underrated for their own good. Come on, guys... this band is not just a Blasphemy rip-off band. With a militant vibe and aesthetic, as well as brutally heavy riffs and consistently brutal drumming, Truppensturm is the soundtrack to modern warfare. This music is what you would have in your head after you bash a soldier in the face with your rifle and kick him down a hill, and then throw a grenade down at the bottom of the hill. Sadistic, sickening, and glorious. Gah, I love this album. You have to love a band called 'Trooper Storm'.
(Disclaimer... I am neither sadistic, sickening, and/or glorious. At least not most of the time.)
10. Deep Mountains - "s/t"
Here is a band I discovered through Hypnotic Dirge's distribution. From Pest Productions in China comes a beautiful melding of folk music, Chinese black metal, and... hey, did I just say Chinese black metal? That should be enough. But no. It's not. They are musical geniuses that incorporate a good amount of haunting, somber clean passages while somehow sounding original, and not yet another black metal band with somber clean passages. Yep. Now buy it.
Overall, this year was very exciting and was great for tours... however, I would have liked if more of the kind of music that I was into this year had been released this year. I often found myself looking to the past to find and discover new favorites from past years. There seemed to be a whole lot of 'post-drone-shoegaze-core-folk-with-emo-tendencies' kinds of albums, which are cool once in a while, but for a guy like me, I need some more straightforward, hard-hitting, pure, sure-of-oneself kind of albums to listen to. I don't care how many 'eclectic' influences your band has... if you don't have a definitive sound, you will not be interesting. All too often, these bands come up with an ultra-hazy sound that doesn't do anything except prove to be 'interesting', and nothing more. 'Interesting' won't get you anywhere... 'groundbreaking' will. Maybe I'm just not 'eclectic' enough (as one could easily assume due to my whole list being of some variation of metal), but this year really did not give me a whole lot of worthy options in other musical realms. If a 'post-drone-shoegaze-core-folk-with-emo-tendencies' album came out that was spectacular, it would have been worth mentioning... just because Aquarius writes a good review for your hastily-recorded album does not mean I will.
Anyway, here's to hoping that next year will usher in more albums devoid of trend and overuse of experimentation. And, here is also to hoping that no more great musicians will pass away anymore... we lost too many this year.
Ceplahophore - 'Peccatoris'
[Barren Meadows Recordings]
(Best ambient/sampling album of the year)
I Shalt Become - 'Poison'
(Making GOOD use of symphonic elements)
Lonndom - 'Viddernas Tolv Kapitel'
(Wonderful folk music with metal roots)
Lantlos - .'neon'
(I'll let Becker cover this one)