2001 Music Year in Review

January 22nd, 2002

Instead of just listing my top 20 albums of 2001, I’m going to list all the 2001 albums I’ve bought up until now. It turns out I bought 47 CDs from 2001 (which is down from previous years) and if forced to rank them in some order, this is how I’d do it.

I’m starting with my least favorite albums at the top, and will continue until I get to my most favorite albums at the bottom. So if you just want to hear about the albums I really like (which is probably the more useful endeavor), feel free to scroll straight to the end. As usual, there’s nothing set-in-stone about this list, and if you asked me to remake the list today, the same album could easily differ by five places or more. I wrote some comments about each album, but they generally aren’t very descriptive in nature; they’re more in the form of comparisons to other works, or simply semi-related ramblings that popped into my head. So if you have any questions about any of the bands/albums, feel free to ask!

Ok, on with it!

Yep, not my thing. Too slow and unmetal, but without interesting non-metal facets.

PECCATUM – Amor Fati
I wasn’t crazy about the first Peccatum, but somehow I bought this one anyway. It’s probably a little better, but still nothing I have the urge to listen too much.

I kinda like their first album of melodic, black-ish metal, and the first song on this new one is excellent, but the rest doesn’t really live up to it.

NIGHT IN GALES – Necrodynamic
The ever-continuing evolution of Night in Gales has brought them from melodic black-ish death metal in the early Gothenburg vein, all the way to this album of dirty retro-thrash. I loved their changes over their first three albums, but they may have gone a bit too far for me on this one.

It has parts that are excellent (the super-melodic or rhythmically catchy parts), but then other parts just kind of beat me over the head with their brutal, cyber-black attack.

MOONSPELL – Darkness and Hope
I really like the daring and experimental Butterfly Effect, so it was a bit of a surprise that Moonspell reverted to a “safe” rehashing of the Irreligious style, only much less inspired.

ULVER – Silence Teaches You How to Sing
Not completely worthless, but it’s more of something I’d put into a CD changer to use as a break between real albums, rather than something I’d pull out to listen to by itself.

SAVATAGE – Poets & Madmen
There’s nothing really bad about it, but nothing really great, either. I feel that they kind of got stuck in between a grandiose rock opera, and straight-up heavy metal record. I probably would have enjoyed either of those options more than this mix of the two.

GOVINDA – Erotic Rhythms From Earth
This is kinda what Ulver’s Perdition City might sound like, if Perdition City wasn’t created by a genius. Oh, and also if the theme was about erotic rhythms from earth instead of a perdition city.

AGALLOCH – Of Wind, Stone, and Pillor
While all the songs on this EP are pretty good, it makes you realize that Agalloch is really not an “EP band”. The continuity and overall atmosphere is a major part of what makes “Pale Folklore” so great, and of course that’s all destroyed on a mish-mash disc like this.

FINNTROLL – Jaktens Tid
More “mature” than their first one, and I was pretty impressed on the first listen, but I haven’t gone back to it that much.

MADDER MORTEM – All Flesh is Grass
Can’t really find any problems with this one, but I haven’t found myself pulling it out that often. It’s cool to have female-led metal that stays heavy though.

ESTRADASPHERE – The Silent Elk of Yesterday
All the live tracks are great (and what a great live band they are), but none of the four new songs impressed me much, not even the pure black metal song.

RAKOTH – Jabberworks
A lot of interesting ideas and a very unique, identifiable sound. I was hoping for an improvement in drums and vocals from “Planeshift”, and while there is some improvement, it’s not as great as I’d hoped.

I don’t really understand what makes this different from Pan-Thy-Monium, but hey, Pan-Thy-Monium is cool too so I don’t mind. Perhaps this is a little more melodic. Still weird as fuck though. Would probably rate higher if it wasn’t a 3-song EP novelty item.

KOROVAKILL – Waterhells
This is some harsh stuff. Sometimes I love how it all fits together with the theme, and sometimes it just gives me a headache.

AMORPHIS – Am Universum
Well, it’s now obvious that Amorphis’s once-blistering evolutionary pace has settled down quite a bit. This is a good, quality record that I place on about the same level as Tuonela, but it’s nothing I’m gonna go apeshit about.

This is a surprisingly ambitious death/black/thrash record, almost like a less-weird version of Hollenthon. More listens might make it rise in the rankings.

BORKNAGAR – Empiricism
On paper this album looks great, and it has some excellent songs on it (most notably “The Genuine Pulse”), but like all Borknagar records, the highlights greatly outshine the rest of the album. And the wall-of-sound production that masked this variability in “Quintessence” is replaced by a crystal-clear sound that hides nothing.

GRAVE DIGGER – The Grave Digger
I had pretty high hopes for this one, with Manni the Man from Rage coming on board, and lots of extremely positive early reviews. Well, the style is fairly different (the closest thing they’ve done to Heart of Darkness since then), and it’s definitely better than the rather mediocre Excalibur, but it doesn’t live up to the masterpiece “Tunes of War”, or even “Heart of Darkness”.

NOCTURNAL WINDS – Of Art and Suffering
Good second album from this relatively unknown Finnish band playing. I still prefer the excellent hyper-melodic black/death of “Everlasting Fall”, but this album shows quite a bit more stylistic variety while maintaining a sound that keeps them separate from the pack.

ARCH ENEMY – Wages of Sin
“Burning Bridges” was a top-10 album for me a couple years ago, and this one pretty much follows the same formula, but either the songs just aren’t quite as good or I’m more used to the formula. Still a high-quality album though. The most obvious difference is the vocals, which are excellent, but in a more conventional style than Johan Liiva, whom I felt had finally made a breakthrough performance on “Burning Bridges”.

TOOL – Lateralus
My first foray into the world of Tool. Sometimes the extreme length of the album and the similar “color” in which the whole thing is painted can get tedious, but then other times it offers a hell of a ride. I’ve been surprised at how catchy and memorable it can be too, once it’s had a lot of time to sink in.

An improvement over “Regret”, and although there isn’t a return of the epic elements of their first two albums, this is made up for by an intensity and drive not often heard in what can be labeled a “gothic” album.

WINDS – Of Entity and Mind
Very cool debut EP of piano-led lite-prog metal. Something along the lines of Fates Warning, but with that Norwegian post-black metal touch. Looking forward to their full-length release.

SOLEFALD – Pills Against the Ageless Ills
Solefald ignores the trend of artsy bands and actually gets heavier with each album. The themes of this concept album fly over my head a little bit, and I still prefer the more black metal aesthetic of “The Linear Scaffold” over their newer, more “urban” style, but this is highly original and enjoyable stuff anyway way you look at it. The vocal arrangements are extraordinary on this one.

EBONY TEARS – Evil as Hell
The Ebony Tears of today has basically nothing to do musically with the Ebony Tears of “Tortua Insomniae”, but surprisingly, they’re almost as good in their current style as they were on their debut. I’d call “Evil as Hell” really heavy thrash metal with some Meshuggah tendancies that still hangs onto some melodies here and there. The drumming and production are excellent, but it’s the riffs that hold the whole thing together. On this album they’ve expanded the three-minute At the Gates-like blasts of their previous album (“Handful of Nothing”) into more fleshed-out, 5 to 6 minute songs which helps a good bit.

TOP 20

ENSLAVED – Monumension
“Mardraum” was my surprise album of last year. I’m pretty sure this album won’t reach as high on my list, although I’m still absorbing it. Overall the style of heavy black/death metal with weird riffs and psychedelic tendancies seems fairly similar, although of course it doesn’t sound as new to me this time around.

THERION – Secret of the Runes
I skipped over “Deggial”, so I figured it was time to dip back into Therion again. The first song blew me away and made me think we were returning to “Lepaca Kliffoth”. Unfortunately, the whole album doesn’t keep up that style, but the rest doesn’t really turn into a letdown either. I think the key is that Johnsson remembered the importance of guitars in creating the backbone of his songs; after all, the groundbreaking “Theli” is a much more guitar-based album than most people probably remember. Oh, and the two cover songs on the digipak version are great too.

FALCONER – Falconer
I’ve always liked Mithotyn, who were one of the most melodic Viking/black metal bands, even with black metal vocals. So I was a bit scared if clean melodic vocals mixed with the melodic music (and make no mistake, Falconer’s music is the exact same style as Mithotyn’s) would create a terrible mess. Thankfully, it works out very nicely, thanks in no small part to the non-traditional mid-range clean vocal style. Very good power metal which was transformed from black metal by a simple change in vocalist.

SIGH – Imaginary Sonicscape
My favorite Sigh album is still the relatively “normal” Infidel Art. I love the weirdness present on “Hail Horror Hail” and “Scenario IV”, but I never felt that those albums had enough meat underneath to hold together all the weirdness. On this album, plenty of the weirdness is still there, but there are also a cohesiveness to it that makes it work much better than the previous efforts. The songs are also at a more consistent level, and there is even a reasonably contiguous laid-back atmosphere that permeates the whole thing.

HOLLENTHON – With Vilest of Worms to Dwell
Martin Schirenc continues the brilliant and unique style he invented on Domus Mundi. There has been some development, mostly in vocal and production quality, but overall the basic idea stays the same. I have no problem with that, since no one else is making this type of music. There aren’t many musical styles where the word “menacing” comes to mind, but it does for this, although “majestic” is another word that applies just as well.

ICED EARTH – Horror Show
It’s always hard for me to judge Iced Earth albums since I’m so involved with the band, but I’m pretty sure I like this one. At first I felt it was pretty much a pure continuation of “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, but I gradually realized it’s yet another step in the Iced Earth legacy. It might not have the extreme highlights of “Something Wicked…” (though there ARE some great tracks), but I think I might like it more due to the consistency. And even if there are some songs I’m not in love with, I consider it a luxury to be able to identify and single out every song on an individual basis. There are a lot of bands I can’t do that with anymore.

SLEEPLESS – Winds Blow Higher
A laid-back, atmospheric non-metal offering from The End Records with comparisons to Anathema, Ulver, and Pink Floyd. And though its definitely laid back, this duo also manages to infuse a lot more bite than you’d expect. It’s also surprisingly musical for the style, especially in the bass playing that often carries the song. It shifts from bits of dreaminess to bits of jazziness, but most importantly it brings with it a pervasive…..c’mon, say it with me: atmosphere!

I must be the world’s only Dismal Euphony fan. Not that I’m utterly nuts over them, but I really enjoy their last three albums, and I hardly ever hear anyone else talk about them. This one is interesting, because it mixes their last two albums together while throwing in a little new stuff. Some of the style and groove of “All Little Devils” is there, except this is less playful. The male/female vocal mix has also undergone a slight evolution. Then from “Autumn Leaves” comes the cold, dirty production, and some of the bizarre soundscapes. There is a hint of static that appears throughout the album, which makes it seem as if the album is balancing right at the edge of stability and chaos.

GODGORY – Way Beyond
Godgory is another band that already had three excellent albums that very few people seem to be aware of. And their fourth keeps the streak going strong. As is their style, the album opens with an incredible song “Final Journey”, which is probably my favorite of the year. The melodic-death-doom-acoustic-atmospheric sound from their previous albums remains basically intact. The main difference from the last album (“Resurrection”) is that the difference between the “atmospheric songs” and the “heavy songs” is smoothed out, which makes for a more varied listen. This would have ranked even higher if two of the seven tracks were not remakes from earlier albums.

DIMMU BORGIR – Puritancial Euphoric Misanthropia
This is the ultimate example of success through refinement. There is nothing new here at all, this style has been done before, but never has it been done this well. The funny thing is, I thought I’d had enough of Dimmu Borgir after the so-so Spiritual Black Dimensions. They didn’t seem to be changing much, so I didn’t have much hope for the future. And I was right, they didn’t change much at all. They just did everything RIGHT. From the riffs, to the melodies, to the drumming, to the production, it’s all at the pinnacle of this style. I can’t imagine how they could top this, so I’d say either they’ll have to develop a new style, or retire.

TOP 10

ANATHEMA – A Fine Day to Exit
This one took a few listens to start growing on me, but once it started, it just kept growing and growing, and I don’t think it’s stopped yet. The coolest part is how it started growing from the ends. I immediately liked the first and last songs, then I thought the second and second-to-last songs were pretty good, and so on. It’s definitely their most laid-back album so far, clearly outside the realm of metal, and solidly within the boundaries of atmospheric rock. This, “Judgement”, and “Alternative 4” form a remarkable triumvirate of high-quality albums, all obviously Anathema, but all with their own clear identities.

NAERVAER – Skiftninger
By the name, I thought this would be some sort of Viking black metal. Boy, was I wrong. It’s actually some weird, minimalist music with some folk-ish and psychedelic elements. Spare acoustics, accordion, xylophone and other various instruments make appearances, but the best description is the one given by their label: “pure mood music”. Though it doesn’t sound much like Ulver’s “Kveldssanger”, it evokes the feeling of a dark forest at night just as well. Also notable is that it’s well-entwined with the In the Woods… camp, which you can tell without looking at the liner notes.

AVANTASIA – The Metal Opera
I don’t but that much happy German power metal these days, and don’t own any Edguy, but this one sounded just too good to pass up. Luckily, I was right, it was exactly what I was looking for, pure and simple power metal, bombastic and glorious, but not completely without a soul. The obvious attraction to most people is the collection of singers, and for me, it’s great to hear one of my all-time favorites, Michael Kiske, singing power metal again. However, even though he only gets a few lines, I think David DeFeis totally steals the whole show on this one. Sign me up for part 2!

DIABLERIE – Seraphyde
Mix together The Kovenant’s “Animatronic” with Covenant’s “Nexus Polaris”, add some more heavy electronics, crank up the intensity several notches, and you’ll have something close to “Seraphyde”. This is one hell of a debut from this Finnish band. It has an aura of drive and ambition surrounding it that I’d only expect from a much more experienced band. Sometimes pummeling you with a brutal cyber-attack, sometimes teasing you with a catchy piano melody, and always mixing and shifting within its style, it really forces you to pay attention to what they’re doing. I’ll be really curious to watch where they go in the future.

VIRGO – s/t
Ah, yes, you were wondering when we’d get to the wuss-rock? Here it is! Andre Matos is my favorite singer with no balls, and I’ve always been a pretty big fan of Sascha Paeth’s Heaven’s Gate. Still, I didn’t know if I’d be ready to stomach something as non-metal and potentially fruity as this. Well, not only can I stomach it, I wouldn’t mind a whole lot more. Though there IS a lot of fruitness (that all works beautifully), there are some slightly more manly numbers as well. Each song has a clear identity, whether it reminds me of gospel, Dawson’s Creek, or porno music, and I don’t think there’s a single song on the album that I don’t like.

ULVER – Perdition City
How amazing is Ulver? Sure, any band can release albums in vastly different styles, but I can’t imagine anyone being this effective at every style they try. The entirely acoustic “Kveldssanger” perfectly captured the “dark forest at night” feel, and heavily electronic Perdition City perfectly captures the “dark city at night” feel. It’s like they have some sort of machine that just sucks an atmosphere out of the air and squirts it down on a CD. At first I just thought the album was just pretty good, but then a listen while at the edge of sleep just completely enveloped me, and since then I’ve seen that it’s yet another monumental achievement for Garm and his crew.

KATATONIA – Last Fair Deal Gone Down
What I knew of Katatonia before this was their Brave Murder Day album, which I find not exactly enthralling and their performance at the Milwaukee Metalfest a couple years ago, which bored the crap out of me. So I had no idea how much I’d end up liking this album. I don’t think this is quite metal, although it’s a heavier version of rock than say, Anathema is playing these days. It’s very guitar-based, but the vocals are also an obvious highlight. Very catchy songs that don’t differ a whole lot from one another, but they form an extremely solid album that thankfully isn’t nearly as depressing as their past reputation might lead you to believe.

I have the first three Diabolical Masquerade albums, and I think they’re good, but none of them even come close to touching this. What makes it even more amazing is that the main composer here is also the main composer of Katatonia, so not only did he create two very different albums this year, they both ended up right near the top of my list. Although I’m sure Dan Swano’s helping hand didn’t hurt on this one. The idea of one album-length song broken into bits averaging a minute or less was a brilliant one, as it allows great ideas to come, do their thing, and leave before they wear out their welcome. Even better, it’s done without ever feeling disjointed. And for at least the second half of the album, it seems as if each segment is better than the one before it.

RAGE – Welcome to the Other Side
Rage is my favorite band, but they became my favorite band years ago, after putting out a handful of albums between the late 80s and early 90s that I love. It would have been perfectly reasonable to expect them to slowly fade away, as most bands do, but instead, they did something amazing, even unprecedented. They grew and changed, but all the while kept on making albums with an undeniable level of quality, that would stand up against any of the albums from their “golden years”. Now, with their fifteenth album, they released something that not only compares with the mythical golden years, it might even surpass them. Of course, this probably shouldn’t be any surprise, as Rage has always been less of a sprinter and more of a marathon runner; they are more likely to impress not through a single hit song or album, but rather through their long-term evolution and their remarkable consistency.

MAUDLIN OF THE WELL – Bath / Leaving Your Body Map
Ok, this is two albums, but they go together. I could write a pages-long description of this band’s sound (and I have!), talking about the wide range of musical styles, the bizarre changes, the variety of instrumentation, etc., but that wouldn’t tell you a thing about why this band is at the top (uh, bottom) of my list. To be sure, the style and the weirdness are one of the things I really like, and it’s what first drew me into the band. But to me, all that is just a means to an end. This is in stark contrast to a lot of other “kitchen sink” bands, who seem to throw in everything but the kitchen sink just because they’re able to. Maudlin of the Well does it for a purpose. They are able to conjure up a very complex, very specific, yet very undefinable mood, feeling, and atmosphere, and communicate it all to the listener. Whether anyone else feels the same thing, or whether what I feel is anywhere near what the band intended, I have no idea. I also have no answer to the question of how the band was able to figure out the bizarre formula that would produce such an unexpected result. I could never reverse-engineer it in a million years. And that’s what makes this a great band, and me a mere listener.

Comments are closed.