Auditory Assault: Top 10 11 Albums of 2007

Intro…

The year started off slowly but really picked up steam in the last few months. Usually it’s pretty easy for me to pick out 10 obvious standouts, but this year it just wasn’t as easy. I went back and forth with the top two over the past few weeks, and actually spent most of December listening only to my top picks while driving to and from work (when I do most of my listening). In the end, I culled things down to 11 solid releases. It just didn’t seem right leaving any of these albums off the list.

Just missing the list included solid releases from Dimmu Borgir, Linkin Park (with what I consider the band’s best effort to date), Megadeth and Ozzy Osbourne.

So, without further ado…

Best albums of 2007…


Machine Head
The Blackening
(Roadrunner Records)

“May the hands of god strike them down”

Machine Head has finally reached a point in its career where it’s ready to take chances and push the boundaries of its sound. Take the opener, “Clenching the Fists of Dissent.” The 10-minute plus epic veers through tempo-shifts and moods, from an unexpected acoustic opening to an assault of riffs that twist and spin, creating a layer of sound and moods that pull the listener through a meat grinder of emotion. Flynn and Phil Demmel (on lead guitar) are as tight as ever, trading solos and pushing each other’s performance in something akin to a brotherly game of one-upmanship that keeps things from ever becoming boring. Adam Duce’s bass work seethes with aggression on tracks like “Beautiful Mourning” and “Now I Lay Thee Down,” while Dave McClain never misses a blast beat.

As a unit, Machine Head hasn’t sounded this tight in a decade. The harmonies (from Flynn and Duce) have never soared so high, while the band maneuvers through a mine field of musical directions, mapping out a metallic journey that’s hard to ignore.

Of particular note are the blistering “Aesthetics of Hate” (inspired by the murder of Dimebag Darrell) and album closer “A Farewell to Arms,” a 10-minute cornucopia of style that seems to draw inspiration from every corner of metal.

When all is said and done, The Blackening will stand as a touchstone in the band’s career. In this new, young millennium, the album is justification for Machine Head to stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Mastodon, Lamb of God and Killswitch Engage and consider itself one of the best metal has to offer. And what other metal band which debuted in the mid-’90s can do the same?


Foo Fighters
Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
(RCA Records)

“Echoes and silence, patience and grace / All of these moments I‘ll never replace / No fear of my heart, absence of faith / And all I want is to be home.”

Long gone are the days when Dave Grohl crafted quirky, catchy anthems like the ones on the Foo Fighters’ 1995 self-titled debut. Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace is a slow-burn album; aside from “The Pretender,” “But Honestly” and perhaps “Erase/Replace,” nothing immediately jumps up and grabs your attention. But after a spin or two, it’s clear that the band has crafted a classic album. Everything is twice what it should be—the melody twice as haunting, the rock twice as bombastic. By the time the piano ballad “Home” pops up to close the set, you can’t help but shake your head at exactly what this album represents and want to immediately start it again. Picking between this and Machine Head’s effort for album of the year was by no means an easy task.


Vanessa Carlton
Heroes & Thieves
(The Inc./Universal Motown)

“Someday our bones, here they will lie, and so we sing … As the years move along and soldiers and heroes come home … and they carry a song / Let’s make this our story, let’s live in the glory / Time, it fades away, precious as a song … cause someday we’ll be gone.”

It was clear with her 2002 debut, Be Not Nobody, that Vanessa Carlton could craft an excellent song. But while that album was hit-or-miss at times, and its follow-up Harmonium was considered forgettable (at least by some), Heroes & Thieves shows what can happen if Carlton is allowed to let loose and really put effort into an album.

While Machine Head and the Foo Fighters ranked higher on this list, Heroes & Thieves got more the most play from me this year. Shockingly, every single track hits the perfect mark. The melody and mood of “Home,” the phenomenal lyrics for “More Than This,” the bombast of “Nolita Fairytale” and then everything else in between. The piano composition here is fantastic, the backing band does fine work, and the production really lets Carlton’s voice shine (a pleasant change from the last album).

In the end, this album is so addictive it almost drives you crazy, with different songs constantly looping through my mind almost daily… but how can that be a bad thing?


Between the Buried and Me
Colors
(Victory Records)

“The monsters are made, and we have proven that we will be one of them”

There isn’t another genre-bending band this extreme in the music scene today. The band incorporates so many elements to its sound, with a calculated precision, that upon the first couple of listens it’s almost hard to wrap your mind around what has been created. Colors isn’t really an album as much it is a journey across a musical soundscape. Sure, the album is split into eight tracks, but each bleeds into the next, shifting from genre to genre at a sometimes breakneck pace, but always with a purpose.

There’s a little bit on everything on here: From the melodic vocal bridge on “Informal Gluttony” and the driving drumming throughout “White Walls” to the mellow, psychedelic guitar play on “Viridian;” the intricate prog guitar work on the mammoth “Ants of the Sky” (an 13-plus-minute opus) to the absolutely breathtaking guitar play on “Prequel to the Sequel” (giving way to the almost polka-esque breakdown mid-way through the song). Take “Sun of Nothing” with its rapid-fire drum and death metal opening, to the acoustic guitar bridges and combination clean and hardcore vocals, to the jazz-influenced mid-song breakdown, the European metal-flavored guitar riffs… this song just seems to have a little of everything.

Each minute of Colors is a surprise. The band does a fantastic job of pushing the boundaries of the music it creates.


Obituary
Xecutioner’s Return
(Candlelight Records)

“I‘m the one you see, I‘m the one to find / I’m the course of these lies”

Who would have thought that Obituary—a band all but left for dead (no pun intended)—would ever be able to re-capture its Cause of Death-era magic? With Xecutioner’s Return, the band manages to release an album no one thought it was still capable of creating. From the classic-sounding “Evil Ways” to the haunting “In Your Head,” to the seven-minute opus “Contrast the Dead,” Obituary proves it has a lot more to offer fans. The classic Obituary sound —the slow, sludgy guitar—is back in full effect. Tracks like “Feel the Pain” and “Bloodshot” crawl out of the speakers like a corpse. But the band still manages to incorporate a faster thrash feel to songs like “Drop Dead,” or the guitar solos on “Seal Your Fate” and “Face Your God,” creating an absolute avalanche of seething metal.


Atreyu
Lead Sails Paper Anchor
(Hollywood Records)

“Seems like doomsday has come early this year / The last angel has gone”

Atreyu does a great job of updating an ’80s hard-rock groove with a modern metal sensibility, while sprinkling in the slightest amount of hardcore growls (a nod to the genre that got them to the dance, so to speak). The band is turning into a less aggressive Trivium. Exploding out of the gate with “Doomsday,” the band unleashes a barrage of thick riffs and assaulting rhythm that continues throughout the album.

Recalling a bygone era, songs like “Honor,” “Becoming the Bull” and “Slow Burn” would sound perfect pouring out of the PA at a huge stadium. Add to that the progression of the band’s sound, most notably the killer guitar solos that litter the album, most notably on “Falling Down,” “Can’t Happen Here” and “When Two Are One.” And if the band wasn’t wearing its influences on its sleeves enough for you, throw in a sick cover of Faith No More’s “Epic” (which closes out the set as a hidden track) for good measure. Even when the band manages to slow things down a few times—on the title-track or on “Lose It”—there’s still an air of urgency to the sound. And that’s not even the best Atreyu has to offer—check out “Blow.” Apart from Velvet Revolver on rare occasions, or perhaps Buckcherry, no band has better captured that gritty L.A.-scene, sleazy rock sound reminiscent of Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction.

This is the album that solidifies Atreyu’s place among the rock elite newcomers.


Down
over the under
(Down Records)

“You want nothing in return”

With a fresh and sober Phil Anselmo at the helm, Down manages to craft what is possibly the best album of its career. Opener “Three Sons and One Star” comes across like a breath of fresh air—the guitar is crisp, the drumming turgid with purpose, and Anselmo hasn’t sounded so fresh in a long time. The band maintains that muddy (by now) trademark sound, but pulls in a fair helping of blues-inspired riffs and vocals to temper the straightforward metal approach. Of note is the killer harmony Anselmo throws out mid-way through the song. One of metal’s greatest vocalists is back with a vengeance.

The rest of the album plays out just as well. There’s some fantastic groove on “n.o.d.” and “On March of the Saints” is probably one of the strongest songs the band has written, both from a musical and lyrical standpoint. The blues guitar work on “Never Try” works phenomenally with Anselmo’s wails. “His Majesty the Desert,” a psychedelic interlude of sorts, is the perfect breather before the band tears into “Pillamyd.” And the eight-minute “Nothing in Return” acts as the perfect closer, with layer upon layer of influence—classic rock, metal, blues—and Anselmo doing a great job at simply singing (instead of the usual wails or screams that made him famous).


The Autumn Offering
Fear Will Cast No Shadow
(Victory Records)

“I’ve been lost in endless seas and my heart died long ago / And I curse my failures as I fall from you”

Somewhere between Trivium, Atreyu and Avenged Sevenfold lies The Autumn Offering. But the band has one thing going for it that the others don’t—it still has a raw edge to the music that gives it this air of dangerousness.

On Fear Will Cast No Shadow the band’s full array of talent is on show. There’s the technically proficient guitar work permeating “The Castaway” (one of the year’s best metal songs, hands down), the insanely catchy vocals on “Silence and Goodbye” (which is eerily reminiscent of Trivium’s “Dying in Your Arms”), and the melody twisted around a metallic core on “A Great Distance” is fantastic.

But while the band does a good job with the melody and straightforward metal, it’s just as comfortable with the more extreme ends of its sound. Even with the deathly growls on “A Great Distance,” the straight-forward assault on “Crown Yourself a King, Kill Yourself a Queen,” or the rapid-fire title track, nothing is so out of left field that it sounds out of place.


Ministry
The Last Sucker
(13th Planet Records)

“Judgment day’s upon us and I see no one cares”

This is exactly what you’d expect from one of industrial metal’s most destructive acts. This album sees Ministry return to the form heard in the band’s landmark 1992 album, Psalm 69. The one-two punch from openers “Let’s Go” and “Watch Yourself” are vintage Ministry—machine-gun riffing with an electronic tinge and Jourgensen’s robotic bark spewing forth verses with plenty of topical sound bites incorporated into the mix. But unlike 1992, Ministry is much more focused in its delivery these days. Each song drops like a precision-guided missile. “Life Is Good” plays like the soundtrack to a forgotten wasteland, while Jourgensen takes aim at the Vice President of the United States with “The Dick Song” and the foreboding dirge of the title track spills from the speakers like a crippling sludge.

But it’s the album-closing “End of Days (Pt. 2)”, which features Fear Factory frontman Burton Bell sharing vocal duties, that steals the show. The 10-minute marathon seethes with this haunting, melodic riff that sounds (dare I say) beautiful. Add to that Jourgensen and Bell trading off verses and chanting between a repetitive chorus of children chanting “it’s just the end of days” as the drums and guitars push forward in this massive, layered masterpiece—truly the band’s finest moment. A bulk of the song features a lengthy sample of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell speech, and the entire package is just impossible to ignore.

Love or hate his message, Jourgensen has undoubtedly crafted the perfect swan song.


Mandy Moore
Wild Hope
(Firm Music)

“I’m looking forward to looking back on these days”

Mandy Moore gets her heart broken and crafts THE album of her career. This album was criminally overlooked this year, but it’s a fantastic collection of adult contemporary easy rock, a far cry from her earlier pop style but no surprise to anyone who checked out her release of covers (2003’s Coverage). The lyrics are cutting and melancholic, the music perfectly complementary to Moore’s haunting vocals (superbly on display on the album closer “Gardenia” where Moore sings backed by only a piano). But it’s not a complete downer. The up-tempo “Looking Forward to Looking Back,” “All Good Things” and “Nothing that You Are” are probably the brighter sparks on the album, and even the overly-simplistic “Extraordinary” is just long enough to not overstay its welcome.

It’s absurd this album hasn’t received more exposure. Moore’s history was overshadowed by her contemporaries at the time, so that’s an easy stigma to escape. And her best work has been done on the past couple of albums. She’s smart, lyrically, and her voice and approach is unlike anything else permeating the scene. There’s no reason we can’t expect a long career filled with great albums if Moore chose to continue down this musical path.


The Warriors
Genuine Sense of Outrage
(Victory Records)

“Whoever thought the price of punishment could justify the rights of ignorants”

This is a turgid album, as the band does a hell of a job packing as much sick hardcore into each song as possible (13 tracks clocking in at just over half an hour). The infectious title track, with the mosh-pit breakdown chant of “this is a genuine sense of outrage” joins the breakneck drumming on “New Sun Rising,” the out-of-leftfield mellower moments on “Silence Is Bliss” and crisp, angry vocals that at times seem to channel Billy Graziadei of Biohazard. And unlike some other bands, The Warriors do a great job at varying up the songs and vocals enough to keep the tracks from blending together. Tracks like “Nothing Lasts” or “Odium Vice” are just as strong as opener “The Ruthless Sweep.”

Everything has a sense of urgency; this album seems to have come out of nowhere and impresses completely. Songs like “Destroying Cenodoxus,” “Nothing Lasts” and “Your Time Is Near” could easily fit on any best-of hardcore collection. And keep an ear open for a special vocal appearance from none other than Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister.

Notable mentions…

Worst music news of the year: John Bush officially leaves Anthrax after months of speculation.

Most impressive debut album: The Almost’s shockingly good Southern Weather (Aaron Roderick Gillespie pulls a Dave Grohl performs all instruments and singing all tracks.)

Most underwhelming release: Eddie Vedder half-asses the soundtrack to Into the Wild.

Best song from a soundtrack (movie or television): “Falling Slowly” (from the movie Once).

Best cover song: Mandy Moore covers Rihanna’s “Umbrella” during a live performance.

Best guest appearance on a song: Lenny Kilmister on The Warriors “Price of Punishment.”

Best duet: New Found Glory team up with Lisa Loeb to cover her hit “Stay.”

In closing…

Quite the year for a wide variety of music. That’s why it just seemed impossible for me to limit this list to the usual top 10 format. Not to mention that a lot of great albums began to logjam toward the end of the year. After one of two spins, I usually decide whether a release belongs on my year end list, and I just didn’t see one of these 11 not making the list. There’s a wide-range of music here, albeit a little heavy on the louder side of things, but I highly recommend any of these albums if you were looking to pick up some great music.

And that’s that. As always, drop me a line. Until next time, I’ll be here at Machine Gun Funk/Inside Pulse making sure no metal news falls through the cracks.

Take it easy…

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