Best of 2008 - Kurt Von Awesome

1. Torche - Meanderthal
While I have been listening to and admiring Torche since their 2005 self-titled debut, I've always felt that their albums have failed to consistently combine their crushing down-tuned heaviness with their obvious affection for bright (and dare I say it, catchy) hooks and melodies. Meanderthal lays that to rest, and then some--this is, simply, the album where Torche, to my ears at least, finally puts it all together. I'm not sure what the most elegant way is of saying that this album is poppy and heavy as fuck simultaneously, so I'll put it like this: if Michael Jackson circa 1983 had formed a band with Scott Weinrich, this might be what it would have sounded like. And yes, that's a compliment. Ultimately there's not much to say other than that Meanderthal is that most tried and true of oxymorons: an instant classic.

2. Young Widows - Old Wounds
And if you can't get enough of oxymorons, along comes Old Wounds, an album that somehow manages to be epic and minimalistic at the same time. I can't explain how the Young Widows do this, all I can say is give a listen to the album's closer, Swamped and Agitated, and try to disagree. Because you can't. So let's just go ahead and place Old Wounds' epic minimalism alongside such tried-and-true gems as 'jumbo shrimp', 'genuine veneer', and 'tall midget' and move on, shall we?

3. Narrows - Narrows
It's true that Narrows is comprised of a mere three songs, but (a) with a 10:35 running time it was about as long as one of the "full length albums" that almost made this list, and (2) I couldn't in good conscience let the return of Botch's Dave Verellen go by without comment. So here goes: not only does Narrows feature my favorite song title of the year (Life Vests Float, Kids Don't), it is more importantly one of the most enjoyable listening experiences I've had in some time. I think I probably played this EP more than anything else on this list, and it left me wanting more--fortunately, Narrows apparently already has their next record, New Distances, recorded and ready to go. So until that comes out, I'll keep spinning this one, and in the process enjoying the fact that its first track features the nice Andy Kaufman-esque touch of cutting off abruptly, mid-riff. Hopefully, this will forevermore induce panicked thoughts in first-time (or drunk) listeners as they wonder, sincerely, "What the fuck is wrong with my iPod?"

4. These Arms Are Snakes - Tail Swallower and Dove
If I was a shameless public relations agent looking to get his ass kicked as quickly and thoroughly as possible, I would probably write something about this album like "These Arms Are Snakes? More Like, These Guys Are Awesome!" Fortunately, I'm not such a person. So, I'll write this instead: for some reason, These Arms Are Snakes seem to cause critics and fans alike to trip over themselves while trying to classify the band--as but the two most prominent examples, Wikipedia lists them variably as Post-hardcore, Experimental, Math rock, and Art punk, while AllMusic throws the Noise-Rock and Screamo tags at them. All or none of that may or may not be technically true, but to me such things are largely beside the point--these guys are simply a kick-ass rock and roll band who seem to get better with each subsequent release, and Tail Swallower and Dove only continues this trend. It is one of the most consistent albums, from start to finish, that I've heard in a while--a lot of the credit for this must go to the rhythm section of Chris Common and Brian Cook, who drive the album forward with irrepressible groove while guitarist Ryan Frederiksen (also a member of Narrows, dontcha know) and Steve Snere trade guitar and vocal lines overtop. In short, it makes for 43 minutes and 52 seconds of bliss, regardless of how you want to classify it.

5. Trap Them - Seizures in Barren Praise
Perhaps the most BROOTAL release of the year by any band, listening to Trap Them's second full-length is the aural equivalent of being wilded by a gang of gibbons that are jacked up on crystal meth. But in a good way.

6. Disfear - Live the Storm
The big news of 2008 as far as fans of Tomas Lindberg were concerned was of course the At the Gates reunion, which while exciting seems to have overshadowed one of Lindberg's numerous other projects, Disfear. That's a shame, because Live the Storm, released by the Swedish D-beaters way back in January, was easily one of the best of the year (hence its inclusion on both my top ten and Zak's, duh). More importantly, it has established itself as a solid contender for the coveted crown of "Best Album to Feature the Same Drum Beat on Every Song", which has been held by AC/DC since the 1983 release of Flick of the Switch.

7. Blacktusk - Passage Through Purgatory
I've been listening to this record since it came out, and I still don't know if "blacktusk" is one word or two. My guess is that it's one word, but then the question becomes: is the 'T' capitalized or not? I guess if you make a record as pulverizing as this you don't have to worry about grammatically confusing people. No, instead you worry about how to make a good record even better. Blacktusk's answer: to include a DVD with the album that features a slideshow, live performances, and music videos, one of which finds the band riding around in something called the doom wagon, fighting zombies. If that doesn't convince you to check these guys out, I guess nothing will.

8. Early Graves - We: The Guillotine
Halfway through this album, on the aptly titled Rest, Early Graves take a slight, two-minute break from bashing you in the skull with huge riffs and thundering drums. After giving you a few moments to catch your breath and/or to seek medical attention, they then continue on with the aforementioned skull bashing. That's what I like about Early Graves: not only are they ferocious as fuck, but they're also considerate.

9. Opeth - Watershed
Has Opeth made a bad album yet? Let me answer that for you: shit no. Every time they release a new album, I think the same thing: this is the one where they fall flat on their genre-straddling asses. And every time, I'm proven wrong. Watershed is, needless to say, no exception to this. There's not much to say about this album that hasn't been written elsewhere, so I'll simply ask: the jam in the middle of The Lotus Eater--what other "metal" band could even attempt something like this, let alone pull it off? I'll answer that question for you as well: no one. To me Opeth is like that kid you knew in high school who was substantially smarter than everyone around him--he was fun to hang out with, up until you met up with him the summer after freshman year of college and he had started storing his urine in jars and would only talk about superstring theory. In other words, Opeth is too advanced for their own good; but at least up until they plunge off the deep end, we can keep on enjoying them.

10. An Albatross - The An Albatross Family Album
Perhaps realizing that there was no way they could top the brilliance of their last album's title (Blessphemy...of the Peace Beast Feastgiver and the Bear Warp Kumite), An Albatross follow things up with the subdued-sounding The An Albatross Family Album. Fortunately, the only thing restrained about this album is its title. Picking up where Blessphemy left off, An Albatross take their already extreme psychedelic formula and somehow manage to extend it even further. Sure, the album features sub-2 minute spazz fests, familiar ground for An Albatross; the difference this time around, however, is that the band stretches out multiple times on extended tracks almost seven minutes in length, to great effect. Listening to this album makes me wish there were more bands out there attempting this particular flavor of extreme music--you know, screamo free jazz freakouts with flutes (You read that right: this album features FLUTES. I know, crazy, right?). Then again, perhaps there aren't because no one else is really capable of pulling it off. I suppose you could say that An Albatross are like a one-armed guy juggling flaming bowling pins: no one has a clue how they do what they do, but damned if it isn't impressive.

Honorable Mention aka Just Missed the Cut aka A Shit-Ton of Albums Released This Year That Were Also Pretty Damn Good:
The Bronx - The Bronx, Coffins - Buried Death, Conifer - Crown Fire, Gridlink - Amber Grey, Modey Lemon - Season of Sweets, Victims - Killer, Withered - Folie Circulaire

Album Cover of the Year:
Deadbird - Twilight Ritual

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