Washington Think Tank: When Does an Album of the Year Become an All-Time Favorite?


Every December, the entire metal blogosphere collectively loses its crap in a giant ego-stroking endeavor known as “listmania.” Top ten albums are trotted out. Elusive and illusory trophies are proffered for the very best releases to crush our dicks in an album cycle. Fans compare, argue, and get utterly butthurt about whose list is the very best. In all that frenzy of annual self-congratulation, though, perhaps we’re losing sight of what’s most important. The entire point of annual year-end-lists, or at least what we all pretend is the point, is to celebrate the very best this musical genre we all love can produce. Amid the hype of last year’s listmania, though, David Parnell, guitarist of Hadean, asked some of us in the Facebook group how often our yearly favorites get added to our lists of favorite albums of all time. It’s a simple question, but it actually gave me pause because the implications are pretty immense. If we are indeed celebrating the very heights to which metal as an art can rise, should the newest albums we praise regularly find positions among our favorite albums ever, or is there something more than taste and artistic value that causes the classics to predominate our own personal collections of most-treasured records?

Today’s question: “When does an album of the year become an all-time favorite?”

After David posed his question, I began thinking back to some of my favorite albums released within this decade. Though there have been so, so many albums that have meant the world to me, the only one from recent years that I can at this point in time consider an all-time favorite (i.e., if I had the wherewithal to choose my ten favorite albums ever, it would appear on the list) is Cult of Luna‘s Vertikal. That album is an impenetrable fortress of dark atmosphere, alluring mystery, and utterly masterful musicianship. It is peerless, praiseworthy, and priceless; Vertikal, as with the very best albums, elevated metal to an art and redrew the lines that define this genre we love. Despite its 2013 release, it is a timeless classic, a metropolis whose streets I often find myself wandering yet again, lost deep in thought, simply absorbing the sights and smells and sounds engulfing my soul.

Vertikal is just one album of many that I have truly enjoyed in this decade, yet it’s the only one I would write into my ultimate top ten. The reason for that, I think, is that the albums we love the most deeply are often there for a number of reasons beyond simple technical ability, artistic merit, or groundbreaking legacy. In many cases, nostalgia is an even more powerful adjudicator, one able to tip the scales even against better judgement.

As an illustration, my favorite metal album of all time is …And Justice for All. There have obviously been better thrash albums released in history, and you could easily make the argument that Metallica’s own Master of Puppets or Ride the Lightning is in fact the superior record, but Justice reminds me of learning to love metal, of growing up, and of a million other memories. There is an immense chain of nostalgia binding Justice solidly in its place, and the older I get, the less I think anything will ever supplant it.

So now it’s your turn to respond. Have any albums released in this decade found their way into your list of all-time favorites? What is your favorite album ever? Do you view music through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia? Sound off in the comments below.

Don’t know what the Washington Think Tank is? This is a periodic column where your former President poses a pressing question and allows the top minds at the Toilet ov Hell to investigate his query.

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