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Despite Ozzy’s strange ascension to water-cooler topic, 2002 found metal still plenty sneered at by the musical establishment. No big shock there. The eye-opener of the year? Turning on the tube and seeing guitar acts—read: the White Stripes and the Strokes—pulling patented indie-rock maneuvers in front of huge audiences. It took about a decade, but, yeah, the underground alternative to grunge (remember that?) finally assumed its place in the mainstream. Even indie icon Pavement, which was once about as inventive and clever as semipopular rock got, was treated to an archival double-disc reissue—treatment usually reserved for long-gone acts from the LP era.
This revolution or institutionalization or whatever you want to call it coincided with my personal search for guitar-based idiosyncrasies outside the indie/punk community. Because if one thing was clear about the music scene this past year, it was this: Outsider rock moved further outside. Never before have I listened to, and enjoyed, more heavy stuff—so much so that my girlfriend recently instituted a “no-double-bass-drum” policy whenever she’s within hearing range of the stereo. As far as 2002 goes, these metallic offerings provided the year’s only reminders of what “indie” really means to me:
1. Sons of Northern Darkness, Immortal File under classic: Ten months after its release, this sublime merger of thrash and black metal still lives in the CD player. And in a year when Lord of the Rings raked in millions and W. spieled about the Axis of Evil, the arctic-kingdoms-and-frost-demon lyrics make about as much sense as anything.
2. Remission, Mastodon The only thing more insane than the vocalist-bassist’s facial hair is the band’s shape-shifting machinery of riffage and polyrhythm. While classic dual-ax harmonies keep things grounded, the drummer speeds around his kit the way Faulkner writes, never opting for a simple phrase when a complex one works even better.
3. Monumension, Enslaved The Hammer of the Gods drives these wannabe Vikings to new lands: Dig the unforced fusion of corrosive black metal, arena-ready stupid-rock, analog-era psych, and misty-morning folk. The OK Computer of Nordic heaviness. (And so what if it came out in 2001? Only Web-dwelling nerds managed to pick up this late-in-the-year French import before February.)
4. Frozen Corpse Stuffed With Dope, Agoraphobic Nosebleed Programming ridiculously fast blast-beats only a robot could play, Bethesda, Md.’s, Scott Hull uses a drum machine not as a surrogate for a flesh-and-blood rhythmist, but for its superhuman capabilities. It’s a stroke of grindcore genius well-matched to thick, sticky guitars and a bevy of Hull pals growling juvenile (but not unfunny) satire.
5. Wages of Sin, Arch Enemy Although embarrassingly slick at times (dig the Tubular Bells intro), the Swedish quintet’s fourth studio disc transcends its low points with some of the most triumphant, fist-pumping morbidity this side of guitarist Michael Amott’s old band Carcass. That new singer Angela Gossow could’ve been a Blue Crush extra is nothing but a plus.
6. 2nd 18/04 Norildivoth Crallos-Lomrixth Urthiln, Orthrelm In a good-to-great year of hard rockin’ art-tweakage (see: Flying Luttenbachers, Fucking Champs, Ruins, etc.), Orthrelm earns the top-10 nod for having the least comprehensible worldview. The D.C. instrumental duo’s oeuvre all but defenestrates pop tradition in favor of constantly shifting streams of simultaneous guitar and drum solos.
7. Kylesa, Kylesa Not much in the way of orthodoxy here: These Georgian punks populate their kind-of-sloppy-yet-technical debut with dulcimer, samples, and femme vox. If that doesn’t sound headbangin’ enough, the skeletons ‘n’ spears Pushead cover art should put your doubts to rest.
8. An Anthology of Dead Ends, Botch These guys always gave better than they got, excelling at speedy, barbaric math rock that truly slays. Their low-stakes aesthetic—too indie to be metal, too metal to be indie—no doubt contributed to the posthumousness of this release.
9. Deliverance, Opeth Determined to drag death metal out of One-Idea Land, these Swedes offer up two: godlike riffage and mellowed-out art-rock. Often a bit sissy for these ears, Opeth nonetheless wins this year’s Sam Peckinpah Award for reviving an old genre (in this case prog) and giving it some teeth.
10. I Get Wet, Andrew W.K. This ex-Bulb Records party animal ain’t exactly underground anymore. But the extreme beats-per-minute of his full-length Bat Out of Hell impersonation and his unhinged live presence almost make up for those Expedia.com and Coors Light commercials. Besides, this is without a doubt the loudest disc of the year. CP