Kyle McGinn Top 30 of the 2010s

Sunday, 12th January 2020

In a decade that was defined by music being utilized by streaming services and easy access, it goes without say that there was an abundance of choice for those who wanted to do some digging. An explosion of bands also meant that both newcomers and veterans needed to do something to stand out from the growing pack. So as boundaries were pushed and so many genres were expanded, it left a bounty of strong releases.

As such, the decision was made to only place one release per band to ‘spread the wealth,’ so to speak. What was intriguing in getting this list prepped was being able to see how some albums have changed in hearing them up to ten years later. Some favorites through the years dipped a bit, and some others have only grown stronger with time. All in all, it was a great trip back through the decade to spend some time with the albums that really defined it from a personal perspective.

30. Amiensus – Ascension (Self-Released)
Amiensus delivered a bit of everything they could offer with 2015’s Ascension. Covering some aggressive black/death metal as well as some folk-ish atmospheres (and much in between), there’s just a great flow and breadth that this album delivers. All of it equally awe-inspiring in tone.

29. The Kennedy Veil – Trinity of Falsehood (Unique Leader)
An absolute adrenaline rush from beginning to end, there are few albums that really hit so consistently hard as Trinity of Falsehood. It’s downright brutal and ready to take your breath away, but also retains quite a bit of memorability and groove. The perfect album to crank loud and unleash some rage.

28. Gorod – A Perfect Absolution (Unique Leader)
Full of intricate and flashy riffwork to match its still impressive cover art, A Perfect Absolution saw Gorod really attempt to flesh out it’s progressive and jazzy tech-death into something even stronger. It’s tight, densely packed 40-minutes, and may require a few listenings to unpack it fully but it’s still a very thrilling ride eight years later.

27. Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days (Prosthetic)
Many thought Mercenary’s glory days were over after their “Century Media era.” But Through Our Darkest Days held its head up high and delivered that same level of epic melodeath/power/prog that made the band an absolute powerhouse. Why this band never really garnered the proper amount of attention is still a headscratcher considering how high-class most of the discography is.

26. Beyond the Black – Heart of the Hurricane (Napalm)
Looked at my many genre fans as the future leaders in symphonic metal, Beyond the Black continues to get stronger with each release. Able to swing heavy riffs just as easily as sweeping ballads, Heart of the Hurricane certainly gives them claim to the throne, with no small part due to Jennifer Haben’s absolutely riveting vocal presence. Few bands in this field can capture that enigmatic quality that Beyond the Black executes with ease.

25. Gojira – L’Enfant Sauvage (Roadrunner)
If there was an album that could be described as ‘packed with jackhammer riffs,’ it’s definitely this one. Each track on L’Enfant Sauvage has those moments where you just have to headbang away like your life depends on it (outside of the toe-tapper “The Wild Healer”). There’s a reason why Gojira really took off in this decade, and this album really demonstrates why. Completely explosive from beginning to end.

24. Spawn of Possession – Incurso (Relapse)
Completely and thoroughly over the top in terms of technicality, what really made Incurso stand out was also it’s ability to be insidiously memorable. A spike in dynamics compared with some of their previous material while keeping the tech at a dizzying high made it surprisingly digestible. Many revere Spawn of Posession at near Necrophagist levels, and this release was truly their pinnacle.

23. Solution .45 – For Aeons Past (AFM Records)
Many were disappointed when Christian Älvestam left Scar Symmetry, but it was easy to get excited when hearing the first notes of Solution .45. Catchy melodic death metal in the vein of Soilwork et al, it allowed Älvestam to deliver those bellowing growls and oh-so-glorious clean vocals in the same fashion as his best works (Unmoored, Scar Symmetry), with equally potent musicianship encircling them. Pure melodic bliss.

22. Idle Hands – Mana (Eisenwald)
Working off of one of the most addictive and catchy formulas in recent memory, it’s clear that Mana is going to be an album that is cherished for a long time to come. The cool retro vibes, the killer gothic vocals, and pure heavy metal fireworks all merge together to create something that stands out in the metal community. It will be curious to see how the band takes flight in the new decade as well.

21. Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction (Metal Blade)
If Monolith of Inhumanity started getting more eyes on Cattle Decapitation, it was The Anthropocene Extinction that really solidified them as one of death metal’s hottest commodities, and for good reason. Thought-provoking lyrics (and wild vocals), relentless drumming, and a plethora of wicked riffs made the album an absolute pleasure to engage in.

20. Aether Realm – Tarot (Primitive Ways Records)
Deftly handling a mixture that could be described as both jovial and epic, Aether Realm really things to the next level with Tarot. Folk/death/progressive – whatever you want to describe it as, there’s plenty of excellent musicianship that keeps you at the edge of your seat (or dancing on top of it) for its 70-minute runtime. Check out “The Sun, The Moon, The Star” – one of the strongest 20-minute tracks you’ll encounter.

19. Dark Tranquillity – Atoma (Century Media)
Without a doubt, Dark Tranquillity’s finest offering of the decade but it’s arguably one of the strongest and most consistent releases of their career. Melding together some razorsharp riffing, atmospheric synths, and some thoughtful inclusions of Mikael Stanne’s clean vocals – it’s a joy to sit down with. Dark Tranquillity continues to be the torchbearers of the original Gothenburg melodeath squad.

18. Cellar Darling – The Spell (Nuclear Blast)
The Spell is something truly special. There’s no other way to put it. It hosts a genuinely moving story that can rival a legitimate short story (checking out the audiobook is a must). But at the same time, it’s a soaring piece of progressive metal that shows the band pushing the boundaries further than their debut. A multimedia experience that is one of a kind and not to be missed.

17. Wilderun – To Sleep at the Edge of the Earth (Self-Released)
Sleep saw Wilderun starting to progress and evolve from a mere ‘folk metal’ act and into something more. The gorgeous arrangements make the whole release ooze a cinematic flair that enhances the progressive/folk-y riffing and turns it into something awe-inspiring and goosebump-inducing. Some heavy and rousing sections offer balance to some mellow and introspective ones to make it feel like a ‘complete’ listen.

16. Deadlock – Bizarro World (Lifeforce)
Deadlock had some inconsistency through the years, but when they were on – they were on. Bizarro World is their best release, mostly because their spirit of experimentation is here but they don’t overextend it. Instead, we are offered the most consistent batch of tracks from the band, from ragers like “Falling Skywards” to the gorgeous “State of Decay.” Deadlock’s beauty and the beast melodeath formula always felt unique, and this one really nailed ‘their sound.’

15. Devin Townsend Project – Epicloud (InsideOut)
With all of Devin Townsend’s productivity in the last decade, it’s tough to pick a favorite. But Epicloud’s catchy and saccharine core really gives it the edge over his other releases. It’s poppy, over-the-top, and just reeks of the creativity that could only come from the mind of Devin Townsend. It’s the musical equivalent of a warm, inviting blanket that dissolves all the sorrows of the world as you listen.

14. Allegaeon – Proponent for Sentience (Metal Blade)
The first Allegaeon album to feature Riley McShane on vocals, it’s also an album that’s a mountain of glorious melodic death metal riffs. Taking their ever-evolving approach to technically-inclined melodeath, there’s just so much fun to be had in the riffs and solos that they unload in buckets. Plus, let’s face it – “Extermination” features a McShane/Bjorn Strid vocal trade off with soaring Allegaeon riffs and melodies. Can’t get much better than that!

13. Black Crown Initiate – The Wreckage of Stars (eOne)
With the growing hype surrounding them from the glorious Song of the Crippled Bull, there were a lot of expectations for this album coming in. But they upped the ante and provided some amazing contrasts throughout the album with throttling heaviness and prog/tech glory (“The Fractured One”) with equally potent melody (“Withering Waves”). The way that these elements combined provided a listen that was unrivaled, and opened some eyes in regards to the blend of progressive melodies and brutality.

12. Delain – Moonbathers (Napalm)
Moonbathers took the Delain formula and refined it to an addictive point. Indulging in some poppy elements as well as more epic and bombastic ones, it’s really covers all of the bases that has made the band a notable one for more than a decade now. Between Charlotte Wessels’ enigmatic and playful vocals, Martijn Westerholt’s excellent arrangments, and guitars that aren’t afraid to rock a little bit – the sky is really the limit. Something that Moonbathers embodies as an album.

11. Son of Aurelius – Under a Western Sun (Self-Released)
An all-too-underappreciated gem of an album is the best way to describe this one. Some ragged on it upon release for not continuing the tech-death fury of the debut, but Under a Western Sun is something far greater. A one-of-a-kind mixture of prog and death metal that earned some extra emotion due to Riley McShane’s phenomenal clean vocals, which are prominently featured. Shame it was so polarizing, as there’s been nothing quite like it before or since – but those who love this one, really love it.

10. Amaranthe – Massive Addictive (Spinefarm)
Amaranthe entered the decade with a sound that felt unique within the metal world. Something that combined super poppy structures, bouncy electronics, a 3-pronged vocal approach, and melodic death metal riffing in a way that was a breath of fresh air. The title of this one really sums it up – extraordinarily catchy, but still an album that still receives regular play and a big grin from beginning to end. Amaranthe is just plain fun.

9. Anathema – Weather Systems (The End Records)
Truth be told, if the band had just released “Untouchable” parts 1 & 2 as a single, it’d still be on this list. Few songs are more emotionally affecting and flat-out beautiful. But that’s something that one has come to expect from Anathema in their releases. Weather Systems is enthralling from beginning to end, with an emotional gutpunch that can’t be matched by many acts.

8. Blood Stain Child – Epsilon (Coroner Records)
There was nothing quite like Epsilon when it came out. A melodic death metal core with trance elements and even J-pop influences, it stood out (even down to its anime-inspired cover). The only album to feature Sophia Aslanides on vocals (who later built the equally unique and captivating Season of Ghosts), you can dance and headbang simultaneously to the completely addictive sound. It still sounds fresh and innovative today (9 years later), but sadly it never really got the attention it deserved.

7. Fit for an Autopsy – The Sea of Tragic Beasts (Nuclear Blast)
It was tough to put such a recent release so high in the list, but as I’ve stated before, The Sea of Tragic Beasts gives me exactly what I want out of a metal release. It’s downright heavy and punishing at points, but there’s also some melody (and melancholy) that enriches the experience. In the latter part of the decade, this album really defines the multitude of emotions that can be put into a legitimately pulverizing extreme metal release.

6. Ghost Brigade – Until Fear No Longer Defines Us (Season of Mist)
There’s a whole lot of gloom to be had with any Ghost Brigade release, but this one sits as their most memorable overall. There’s so many layers to the tracks – they are accessible to start, but really show their full beauty with repeated listens. The way Ghost Brigade went from mellow and mournful to explosive doom really allowed them to run the gamut, emotionally. But it’s also another case of a band that never really got their due, in comparison to other like-minded bands. Still bummed by their disbanding.

5. Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name (Metal Blade)
If Fallujah opened the doors for emotive death metal in the ‘10s, Rivers of Nihil effectively kicked it down with this release. It’s undeniably heavy, but it’s also full of gut-wrenching sorrow – rightfully impressing a lot of people upon its release. You can thrash away to some of the tracks, but others are going to put you into reflection and hit ‘right in the feels.’ The way that Rivers has evolved from their early days is impressive, and this moment was not just an accomplishment for them, but death metal as a whole.

4. Obscura – Omnivium (Relapse)
To this scribe, this is still the benchmark for progressive/tech death metal. There’s so much to absorb and take in with each listen, and despite being almost a decade removed from its debut, there’s still much to dig in and discover. The blend of blazing technical prowess to the murky and stomping (“Ocean Gateways” forever). The sci-fi vibes, the musicianship, and the stunning melodies all add up to an experience that waves the flag high for progressive death metal. This is the album that really established Obscura as a force to be reckoned with.

3. Fear Factory – Mechanize (Candlelight)
Bringing the much anticipated reunion of vocalist Burton C. Bell back with guitarist Dino Cazares, Mechanize still stands as one of the brightest spots in the FF discography. Utterly extreme (arguably the most so since their debut), the Gene Hoglan/Cazares drum/riff mechanization is devastating (check out “Christploitation”), but sweet spots like “Final Exit” and “Fear Campaign” ensured that melodic side stayed present. Fear Factory revolutionized the genre with Demanufacture, but it was albums like this that proved they were still a venerable force to be reckoned with even in their later years.

2. The Night Flight Orchestra – Sometimes the World Ain’t Enough (Nuclear Blast)
Who would have thought that a bunch of metalheads could do classic rock so damn well? Everything about TNFO is sheer bliss and fun. The type of thing you can just crank the windows down and crank on a late night drive and sing along with. Complete perfection in the ability to pull from the late ‘70s/early ‘80s with reverence but also keep it feeling fresh. Even though it was released in 2018, there have been few albums that I’ve listened to more in the decade. There’s never a bad time to put this one in and play it loud.

1. Soilwork – The Ride Majestic (Nuclear Blast)
In this last decade, Soilwork had a remarkably high consistency. They shed most of the American/nu-metal influences they indulged in with the mid ‘00s albums and brought about a more melancholic side to their thrashy melodeath. Double-album The Living Infinite proved they were invigorated with a greater sense of purpose, and The Ride Majestic offered a slimmer 50-minutes of melodic death metal perfection. The songs dip into some previous unexplored territory and rich contrasts, keeping the listener on their toes. There’s not much sweeter than the combination of Bjorn Strid’s clean/harsh vocals with the ever-fluid change-ups that make up Soilwork’s musical playing field. Soilwork still reigns supreme in modern metal, and The Ride Majestic exemplifies why.

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