2003: The Top Ten Best (And Worst) Metal CDs Of 2003

by Riley McDonald

I have something shocking to admit, my faithful friends and audience, I, Alexander de Lar -- I mean Riley McDonald -- have not been as avid a music listener as I have led you to believe, at least, not for CDs of this year. As a matter of fact, I did not totally get into listening to releases from 2003 until the dying days of October. By early November I had started the blueprints for what was originally to be The Top Ten CDs of 2003 Extravaganza. Unfortunately, by the time I had delved into the hordes of pop and rock albums released, I realized there were very, very few worth any mention.

At first, I was dismayed that I couldn't do my list, and then something hit me. Annoyed, I turned around to see what it was, and two CDs had fallen off my bureau. Looking down at them, I saw proverbial ying and the yang, a CD I loved and cherished, lying right on top of another one I despised. Putting two and two together, I decided to return to my roots of metal, and write about the ten best and worst CDs of this fine year.

Now, like with all things, the bad news must come first, so here are the Top Ten Worst Metal Albums of 2003:

10. Opeth - Damnation

I know I gave this a fairly high "C" rating, but it's been a slow year for bad releases, so cut me some slack.

Michael Akerfeldt's main project continues to turn away from its metal roots in favour for ripping off Tool and Pink Floyd. Though there are some redeeming factors on this album, they are too few and far between to save this album from overall tedium.

9. Marduk - World Funeral

One of the band's that tries so hard to be underground black metal ends up failing miserably….again. Now, I'll give them credit, the opening sample was brilliant (in terms of opening the album, and scaring the living daylights out of me), but from then on it just drags on and on. Now, many of the more-mainstream metal fans enjoy Marduk, and will enjoy this, but there are so many more bands in the same vein as Marduk, but much better, that are ignored.

8. Arch Enemy - Anthems of Rebellion

This album makes me get on my knees and pray for a Carcass reunion. Michael Ammott's guitar talents are wasted on this band, who are no where near as technical, or as good. And vocalist Angela Gossow's vocals are simply awful (not that I'm against female vocalists, because I'm not, but I just can't stand hers). In all, it seems like a failed hybrid of American thrash and Gothenburg melodic metal. Skip it.

7. Agoraphobic Nosebleed - Altered States of America

A fine grind album this ain't. Far from the musical innovation of Napalm Death, or the raw power of Bolt Thrower, Agoraphobic Nosebleed (agoraphobia meaning fear of open or crowded spaces) load up the album with 99 songs, the longest barely passing one minute in length. There is no strength on any of the instrumental fronts, and the lyrics are disgusting, barely comprehensible tidbits of extremely racist, sexist jargon. To put it bluntly: this albums sucks, big time. Avoid it at all costs.

6. Fleshgrind - Murder Without End

Yawn-inducing, unimaginative death metal from America, coming off as a clone of fellow extreme metallers Deicide. The riffs are boring and one-dimensional, and the drums are nothing special. The vocals are the usual American style, sounding more like burping than singing. A disaster not even the greatest of musical producers could fix, steer clear of this.

5. Dimmu Borgir - Death Cult Armageddon

Oh, I can't stand this band. Their first two albums (For All Tid and Stormblast) were inventive, interesting, yet cold black metal, and now it's become cheesy, "epic" pseudo-black metal. The lyrics are insufferable, and the keyboards are completely unnecessary. Looking at their continually downward progression from the mediocre Enthrone Darkness Triumphant to this monstrosity, there's a snowball's chance in hell that Shagrath and friends will return to the good ole days.

4. Passenger - Passenger

Side project of Anders, vocalist for Gothenburg's most famous melodic metal band, In Flames. The single off this album, "In Reverse," is a symbol for everything wrong with metal today. The keyboards are monotonous and annoying, the chorus sounds like Korn with an electronica twist, and the chorus is reminiscent to *NSYNC. The rest of the album follows those same parameters, and I challenge anyone to listen to this entire album without cringing. Though I am not a fan of In Flames either, I highly recommend everyone check them out instead of this bomb.

3. Cradle of Filth - Damnation and a Day

The title sounds like it's trying to top Opeth's album, and top it does (in terms of being worse). This band, hailing from the sacred lands of England, who have spawned countless musical prodigies, coined the term "pseudo-black metal". Though I never liked Cradle of Filth (mainly due to frontman Dani Filth's god-awful "singing"), this album was tagged as a concept album about the evils in the bible, which piqued my interest. Despite some good lyrics, the rest of this album wasn't worth it. The keyboards were boring, and used too often, and they weren't very good, and Filth still amazes me with unbelievably bad singing. If you want to check out a Cradle of Filth album, check out their earlier discography, definitely not this one.

2. Metallica - St. Anger

You all knew this one would be on the list, but I bet you're surprised it hasn't scored head spot. Regardless, this album is the king of cheese. Unlike many other metal fans, who claim Metallica started to suck when they released The Black Album, I lost interest in them after Ride the Lightning, regained hope after listening to …And Justice for All, and then quickly watched them crash and burn. Reluctantly, I borrowed this album from a from a friend, and as soon as I heard the opening note, I shut it off. After days of rehabilitation, I braved this album once again, hoping to find something good. Did I? Nope. Among the many things that were wrong with this album (no solos; awful lyrics) the one that sticks out like a sharpened sword is the drumming. I don't know what went wrong there, but Lars sounds like he's playing on some garbage cans. It's so upfront and relentless it gives me a headache just listening to it. Note to Metallica: turn down the drums, crank up the solos, think about some lyrics, and you might just make an interesting album.

1. Six Feet Under - Bringer of Blood

Oh Chris Barnes, you've fallen so far.

This is the new band for the former growling vocalist of famous death metal band Cannibal Corpse. The band's ninth release continues to push the boundaries of stupidity. The vocals sound mix of a hoarse whisper and a half-assed growl. The guitar is just churning out the same, down-tuned riff perpetually, and I wonder why they even have bassist Terry Butler (not the bass god from Black Sabbath) is even there. Boring, distasteful, awful, and every other bad word you can think of goes hand-in-hand with this "album."

Now, to lift your spirits, I give you The Top Ten Best Metal CDs of 2003!

10. Radiation 4 - Wonderland

From the sunny skies of California come one strange and exciting metal act. Most people have stated (and I tend to agree) that this exceptional foursome is like a metalized version of Mike Patton's band Mr. Bungle. This band is very odd indeed. They have the scream and the crushing guitars of metal, but fuse many different musical styles into this in the process, including what I think is a xylophone. This is definitely one of the most innovative records I've ever heard. If you're looking for something other than straight, thrashy metal, check this one out.

9. Agent Steel - Order of the Illuminati

The fourth full-length album by the super-heavy American power metal band is another masterpiece. The guitars shred away, and Bruce Hall's voice is superb (if sounding like a Halford rip-off at times). Tracks like Ten Fists of Nations and Apocalypse (World Without Windows) are head-banging, thrash-tastic, sing-along anthems. An album not metalhead should be without.

8. Planet X - Moonbabies

Purely mind-blowing, all instrumental progressive metal, filled with a post-modern, spacey feel, and astonishing keyboard work by prodigy Derek Sherinian (former Dream Theater, KISS, and Alice Cooper member). Though metal, the album is permeated with jazz. With lighting jazz leads and heavy riffs on the guitar, followed up with manic time changes by the drums, this is some of the best metal fusion I've heard since Atheist, and best guitaring since Satriani.

7. Aborted - Goremageddon: The Saw and the Carnage Done

With an album title like that, you know you're in for some death metal brutality, and the Belgian quintet doesn't disappoint. The album opens with a sample from a Hellraiser movie, and that's big points in my book. Unlike Fleshgrind and Six Feet Under, the guitar put forth by Bart and Thjis are heavy, but have actual talent flowing from it. Most of the vocals are the usual incomprehensible growls, but occasionally there's a decipherable scream. Fans of extreme metal: this is the album for you.

6. Kreator - Live Kreation

I've been on a live album binge lately, and while most range from fairly good to purely awful, Kreator is a happy exception. This double-album contains all the hits from part of the Holy Trinity of German thrash metal. Unlike many other live albums (I'm looking at you, Dio) this one spans throughout Kreator's entire discography, playing some older tracks, but still having the classics (Phobia, Betrayer, Coma of Souls, Tormentor etc.). The band is in perfect form, and Mille Petrozza's vocals are in top shape. Out of all the live albums I've heard this year, this is easily the best.

5. Rune - The End of Nothing

Blistering metal that's a combination of death, grind, thrash and doom. Despite heavy research into the band, I've found nothing on them, so I'll focus on the album. The entire instrumental section is rock solid, and the vocals leg-crippling screams. The last track on the album, Ethereal Bleeding, is a dark, eerie instrumental, ending with a Christian Bale's final soliloquy in the movie American Psycho. Keep an eye on this band, I think they'll hit it big very soon.

4. Anathema - A Natural Disaster

One word is needed to describe this album: beautiful. However, I'll need more words to fill up this review, so let's get on with it. Much like Opeth, this isn't metal per se, more of ambient, atmospheric mix between Radiohead and Coldplay, but because of their earlier days of doom metal, they've been permanently given that title, for better or worse. The crowning moment of this album would have to be the fourth track, "Are You There," a stirring, tear-jerking, insurmountable opus. As I've stated, not quite metal, but for fans of Radiohead, check these guys out, I swear you won't be disappointed.

3. Ballistic - Ballistic

Debut release from this fledgling band, populated by veteran members.
Vocalist Tom Gattis has been an avid metalist since '78, playing in the bands Deuce (which featured future Megadeth guitar prodigy Marty Friedman), Tension, and Wardog, now has this fierce thrash band, with power metal overtones, and they seem to have the most fun out of any band I've ever listened to, they're so laid-back. They also have a great ability I've dubbed "genre-switching" where they sound like Exodus at one moment, and DragonForce the next. "Corpse Stacked High" is a ripping, amazingly fun, headbanging anthem that every metalhead will enjoy. I hope to hear a lot more from this band in the next few years.

2. Green Carnation - A Blessing in Disguise

Another veteran from the scene, Tchort, continues with his original band, after a short stint with black metal kings, fittingly named Emperor. Back with his original band, he changed their style, from blitzing death metal, to dark, dreary doom metal. This album is the second one in the doom genre, after the release of the breathtaking one-song album Light of Day, Day of Darkness, they return to make another fantastic ride. Tchort's thundering guitar riffs are exceptional, while Kjetil Nordus' tranquil vocals balance out the guitar nicely. The lyrics are very insightful and deep as well, but that is to be expected. This album is one wild ride, and this quick review cannot do it justice.


1. Vital Remains - Dechristianize

After several years without gaining as much attention as their peers Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel, the boys in Vital Remains decided to recruit David Benton, the lead vocalist of Deicide, and in doing so, catapulted into the limelight of death metal. The album begins ominously, with a sample from the movie Jesus of Nazareth, with O Fortuna playing over top, before Benton lets out the ferocious growl: LET THE KILLING BEGIN! And kill this album does. With many death metal albums, each song ranges from 2-4 minutes in length, and they seem to crank out the same riff every time, getting rather tedious after awhile. Remains on the other hand, have their shortest song clocking in at 6:17, and manage to keep it fresh, with the usual blazing riffs, but they don't hold a candle to the solos, which are among the greatest I've ever heard in my life. The title track has some of the most complex, technical that have ever graced my CD case. The only flaw with this album is the lyrics, which are the usual Benton-I-Hate-God fest. But really, who pays attention to the lyrics in death metal? If you were to get one album this year, this would be the one I'd recommend.


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