(In this post, The Number of the Blog’s groverXIII provides his lists of 2011’s best EPs, albums, and videos. To hear music from the selected albums and EPs, click on the artwork.)
2011 was quite a year for music. I won’t lie… I’m generally a pretty positive guy when it comes to music, which is how I ended up with 75 honorable mentions (and probably more, if I were to go through my massive “albums I listened to” list with a fine-toothed comb). This list isn’t entirely metal, of course, but rather my favorite albums of the year regardless of genre. I had begun my rundown of the following honorable mentions over at TNOTB, but they were lost in our Viking funeral and I don’t have the patience to redo them, so I’m kicking things off with a simple list, in alphabetical order, of albums that I listened to in 2011 and enjoyed, but didn’t quite make my top 25.
There are a lot of big-name releases in the honorable mentions, and lest you think I didn’t like them, bear in mind that these are albums that I did like. If I were to list every album that I listened to in 2011, well, we’d be here for a long fucking time. Anyway, honorable mentions. BEHOLD.
Amon Amarth – Surtur Rising
Amorphis – The Beginning Of Times
Animals As Leaders – Weightless
Arkan – Salam
Barn Burner – Bangers II: Scum Of The Earth
Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
Beyond Creation – The Aura
Blood Ceremony – Living With The Ancients
Blotted Science – The Animation Of Entomology
Blue Stahli – Blue Stahli
Boy Hits Car – Stealing Fire
Celldweller – The Complete Cellout, Vol. 01
Christian Muenzner – Time Warp
Cloudkicker – Let Yourself Be Huge
Dalriada – Ígéret
Dan Dankmeyer – Arcologies/Origin
Demisery – Hive Of Mutation
Devil – Time To Repent
Double Dragon – Sons Of Asena
Dream Theater – A Dramatic Turn Of Events
Dropkick Murphys – Going Out In Style
Elder – Dead Roots Stirring
Entrails – The Tomb Awaits
Essence – Lost In Violence
Evan Brewer – Alone
Fleshgod Apocalypse – Agony
Giant Of The Mountain – Mother Hydra
Glitter Wizard – Solar Hits
Grayceon – All We Destroy
Hammers Of Misfortune – 17th Street
Hell – Human Remains
Iced Earth – Dystopia
Insomnium – One For Sorrow
KMFDM – WTF?!
Korpiklaani – Ukon Wacka
Leprous – Bilateral
Lo-Pan – Salvador
Machine Head – Unto The Locust
Mastodon – The Hunter
MC Frontalot – Solved
Measure The Redshift – Outside The Spectrum
Megachurch – Megachurch 2: Judgment Day
Megadeth – TH1RT3EN
Midnight – Satanic Royalty
Oak Pantheon – The Void
Obscura – Omnivium
Orchid – Carpicorn
Ordinance – Internal Monologues
Orwell – AVOHFASIH
Paul Wardingham – Assimilate Regenerate
Pentagram – Last Rites
Premonition 13 – 13
Puscifer – Conditions Of My Parole
Rodrigo y Gabriela – Live In France
Sabaton – World War Live – Battle Of The Baltic Sea
Saul Williams – Volcanic Sunlight
Septic Flesh – The Great Mass
Shroud Eater – ThunderNoise
Skeletonwitch – Forever Abomination
Skindred – Union Black
Spiralmountain – Spiralmountain
Suidakra – Book Of Dowth
Sungrazer – Mirador
The Dead Exs – Resurrection
The Global Warming Extravaganza – Debaucherous Adventure
Thomas Giles – Pulse
Thorr-Axe – Wall Of Spears
Toxic Holocaust – Conjure And Command
Tre Watson – Death Of A Monarch
Trollfest – En Kvest For Den Hellige Gral
Turisas – Stand Up And Fight
Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats – Blood Lust
Vader – Welcome To The Morbid Reich
Vomitron – No NES For The Wicked
Warbringer – Worlds Torn Asunder
World Under Blood – Tactical
I found myself listening to a lot of EPs/demos this year, in large part due to the rise of Bandcamp. There were a lot of excellent bands posting their EPs and demos on Bandcamp, many for free, and I discovered a shitload of good new bands as a result. Here are my ten favorite EPs/demos of 2011.
10- The Blue Screen Of Death – The Blue Screen Of Death
The Blue Screen Of Death are a Southampton instrumental stoner rock band who had submitted their demo for consideration over at TNOTB a while back, and between the fantastic fuzzed-out grooves and the wonderfully weird, tennis-centric video for ‘Shove It’ (more on that later), I kinda fell in love. I’m a sucker for desert rock.
9- Shardborne – Aeonian Sequence
I’m also a sucker for instrumental prog metal, and Limerick’s Shardborne delivered that in fine form on their Aeonian Sequence EP. Musically, they remind a great deal of Odyssey (more on them later), combining bits of Rush, Dream Theater, and even a hint of Amon Amarth in some of their guitar leads.
8- From Exile – Just Like You Imagined
I like From Exile. I love Nine Inch Nails. And I love From Exile covering Nine Inch Nails, which is what they did to perfection on the Just Like You Imagined EP. They managed to put their own instrumentally-driven spin on four very different NIN tracks (including my personal favorite, ‘Ruiner’), and more importantly, they made the songs their own without totally fucking them up.
7- Returning We Hear The Larks – Proud England
Jak Noble is the fucking man. He already had a number of fantastic releases under his belt, but he did not rest on his laurels one bit, taking his particular ambient style of djent to the next level and adding his impressively versatile vocals to the mix. With Proud England, he showed just how much potential he really has, and in the process established himself as an artist to keep your eye on.
6- Gorod – Transcendence
Gorod had already established themselves as my favorite tech-death band with the fantastic Process Of A New Decline, my 2009 album of the year. Transcendence wasn’t the new album I was hoping for, but it had a fantastic re-recording of ‘Earth Pus’, their cover of Cynic’s ‘Textures’, and fantastic acoustic reimaginings of ‘Earth Pus’ and ‘Blackout’. The EP’s centerpiece, though, proved to be the expansive 15-minute title track, easily the most progressive material they’ve ever recorded.
5- XII Boar – XII
The proud tradition of the power trio lives on with the UK’s XII Boar, a band after mine own Roman-numeral-loving black heart. Their self-titled EP is four quick tracks of stoner metal, something of a mix of High On Fire and Motörhead, and it will rock your balls off. These guys have a new EP coming very soon, and I can only hope that it matches this release’s intensity and swagger.
4- Bispora – The Cycle
Sacramento’s Bispora came from nowhere to truly blow my mind with The Cycle, a 4-track EP consisting of one long song with recurring motifs. These guys skillfully mix death metal with experimental and progressive tendencies, honed nicely by the EP’s brief runtime. Even though it’s only around 16 minutes long, The Cycle feels like a full, satisfying listen, and it should serve to get you sufficiently excited for the forthcoming album The Pineal Chronicles.
3- The Odious – That Night A Forest Grew
Speaking of experimental/progressive death metal, The Odious rose from Portland to lay waste to my eardrums. That Night A Forest Grew features a fantastic weird streak, starting with the fantastic album art and best displayed with the odd clean break on ‘Threads’. The Odious are also working on new material, and I’m already mentally setting aside a spot on my 2012 year-end list.
2- Tre Watson – Gravestones
My ongoing platonic relationship with Tre Watson very nearly became non-platonic following the release of Gravestones, Tre’s most experimental and varied work to date. The EP’s finale, the 18-minute ‘Dancing On Gravestones’, is worth the price of admission by itself (the price being merely the time needed to download the EP) with its choir vocals, varied riffing, and electronic interludes. If you somehow missed this, it’s time that you rectified that grievous error.
1- Between The Buried And Me – The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues
Come on… it’s Between The Buried And Me. Packing more into three songs than Slayer did into entire albums, BTBAM simply knocked me on my ass with The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues. There’s not really much that needs to be said other than it’s BTBAM at their spastic, epic, massive best. If I were to combine my EP list with my album list, this would still be right up at the top.
Alright, now to the heart of the list: the albums. This list took a great deal of thought, and several of the albums on the list started on the honorable mentions list and got shuffled around, but I think I’ve finally come up with a final order. Anyway, onward and upward.
25- Death Grips – Exmilitary
This was a late addition, and it’s a rap album, but it’s a rap album unlike anything else I have ever heard. Death Grips is loud, aggressive, glitchy, messy, angry, and uncompromising, sort of the rap equivalent of black metal. There isn’t a lot of skill here in terms of MC Ride’s flow, but he has a unique cadence that perfectly fits the insane, industrial-esque beats of Hella drummer Zach Hill. The whole thing is available for free, and it’s an ugly, mesmerizing listen from start to finish.
24- Polkadot Cadaver – Sex Offender
Polkadot Cadaver are not quite Dog Fashion Disco, the maniacal Mr. Bungle-worshipping Baltimore quintet that preceded them, but they do have Todd Smith, John Ensminger, and Jasan Stepp of DFD, and that’s close enough for me. Sex Offender has all of the weird, fucked-up sex-and-violence depravity that fans have come to expect, and that’s all that I could ask for. The Mike Patton influence is still strongly on display, but Polkadot Cadaver continue to slog their own trail through piles of dead hookers, teenage vampires, prosthetic limbs, and cocaine.
23- Cut Your Teeth – CYTII
Cut Your Teeth unleashed their second helping of blistering crossover thrash metal with CYTII and found a special place in my heart. There’s no experimentation to be found here, no sprawling song structures, just pedal-to-the-metal thrash. The album is unrelenting, only slowing down on the final track, a cover of Pat Travers’ ‘Snortin’ Whiskey’ that still manages to fit perfectly with the album’s tone. Oh, and they released one of my favorite videos of the year (more on that later).
22- Absu – Abzu
Abzu kicks off with a scream heavily reminiscent of the Tom Araya scream, and with that we are off and running. Absu’s patented brand of blackened thrash (or thrashing black, if you prefer) has been honed razor-sharp on Abzu, propelled by an arsenal of riffs and the endlessly creative drumming of Proscriptor McGovern. Add in some fantastically arcane song titles and album art, and you’ve got the total package.
21- Opeth – Heritage
Alright, so it’s not quite the Opeth album a lot of people were hoping for. I think we can agree that this was a logical direction for the band, though, and so we got an entire album of Opeth paying tribute to their prog-rock roots. And really, once I got past the lack of death metal, I still rather enjoyed Heritage for what it was. I mean, if I really get to feeling nostalgic, I’ve still got a whole bunch of old Opeth albums that I can go back and listen to. I don’t know where Opeth goes from here, but I will be listening nonetheless.
20- Last Chance To Reason – Level 2
I don’t know how many people knew about Last Chance To Reason after their first album, Lvl 1, but after Level 2, I think it’s safe to say that folks are taking notice. A big part of the reason is the band’s move away from their more hardcore roots in favor of BTBAM-esque prog and clean vocals, but they do it in such a way that they do not at any point feel derivative. It’s a testament to the band’s talent and songwriting prowess that they truly distinguish themselves from a number of excellent bands influenced by BTBAM.
19- The Heavy Eyes – Heavy Eyes
It makes perfect sense that The Heavy Eyes, a band who meld stoner rock with the blues so seamlessly, would hail from Memphis. I mean, Memphis’ role in the creation and establishment of both rock music and the blues cannot be overstated. And The Heavy Eyes embody everything that is great about modern blues rock on their debut album. It’s rough around the edges, as it should be, with rough production that brings to mind images of the band playing in a smoky, dusty bar. This is, undoubtedly, one of the finest stoner rock albums of the year.
18- The Human Abstract – Digital Veil
Prior to Digital Veil, I had never listened to The Human Abstract. As such, I had no pre-conceived notions about the band and how they would be affected by lineup changes, because I didn’t really know anything about their previous singer. All I know is that Digital Veil is a fantastic album of technical, progressive metal, done in a similar vein as Last Chance To Reason and BTBAM, but wholly its own thing.
17- Jesse Dangerously – Humble & Brilliant
Jesse Dangerously, self-proclaimed Halifax Rap Legend, is one of my favorite rappers ever, and Humble & Brilliant was one of my most hotly-anticipated albums of the year. It turned out to be a bit of a challenging listen for me, and I can’t really place my finger on why exactly. Maybe it was the massive number of rather unconventional samples fighting Jesse’s voice for my attention. But I was patient with it, allowed Jesse’s brilliant lyrics to work their way into my brain, and sure enough, the album began to click. And once it clicked, it grabbed on and didn’t let go.
16- Angelspit – Hello My Name Is
I don’t listen to a lot of industrial, but when I do, it’s usually Angelspit. I don’t know what it is about Angelspit’s fucked-up lyrics and muscular, aggressive sound, but it just fucking gets me. I’m an addict. Hello My Name Is represents Angelspit’s first album as a five-piece (if you count their visuals guy, as they do) and it also represents an expansion of their sound, and so it took a little bit of getting used to, but goddamn, I still love these guys.
15- I’ll Eat Your Face – Hot Brains Terror
My favorite Irish cartoon supergrind adventure pals, I’ll Eat Your Face, were unable to repeat the feat they pulled off last year of taking the top spot, but Hot Brains Terror is still a blast of HOT GRIND POWER. The sheer amount of weirdness and brilliance that these guys pack into twenty minutes is mind-boggling, and the realization that beneath all this insanity, these guys are actually insanely talented, is a wonderful thing.
14- Vektor – Outer Isolation
Vektor have released the thrash album of the year and managed to live up to the staggering hype that built following their brilliant debut, Black Future. Vektor continue to push the boundaries of the normally narrow thrash metal subgenre and have firmly established themselves as one of the best thrash bands out there, bar none. World, take note: this is how it should be done.
13- Devin Townsend Project – Deconstruction
Just when I think we’ve plumbed the depths of Devin Townsend’s demented mind, he reaches down and pulls out something else that is completely unexpected. Deconstruction was not the return to Strapping Young Lad that people may have been hoping for, but it was still a massive, chaotic album in its own way. Even now, having heard the album numerous times, I still discover something new every time I listen to it. Staggering.
12- Supercommuter – Products Of Science
The final rap album on the list, Supercommuter is the former vocalist for Optimus Rhyme rapping over chiptunes, to fantastic results. It helps that Wheelie Cyberman is another of my favorite rappers of all time, and his robotic lyrics are perfectly suited to his 8-bit accompaniment. When it comes to rap music, as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t get any better than this.
11- Graveyard – Hisingen Blues
Over the last few years, the 70s hard rock revival has kicked into high gear, and few bands pull it off as well as Graveyard. This was especially true on Hisingen Blues, which rocked as hard as all get-out through a wonderful layer of retro fuzz. It’s not hard to listen to the album and be transported back to the days of Sir Lord Baltimore, Atomic Rooster, and Captain Beyond. There may be people who complain that it’s all derivative and unoriginal, but really, there are a lot worse bands to draw influence from, no?
10- Sahara Surfers – Sonar Pilot
My favorite stoner rock album of the year comes from Austria, where Sahara Surfers tread the line between Kyuss and Colour Haze with some soulful female vocals. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve gotten lost in this album and its fuzzed-out guitars, and yet I can’t stop listening to it. The label has made the album available as a free download available here (http://www.soundzero.net/sahara_surfers_sonar_pilot.zip), so there’s no excuse to not check it out!
9- Keith Merrow – Awaken The Stone King
The first new album I heard in 2011, released on Jan. 1, I think it says a lot that Awaken The Stone King made it the whole year and still stayed pretty high on my list. Keith is a friend of mine, but I’m also a huge fan of his, and I’m constantly in awe of the caliber of music that he puts together in his home studio. His death metal project Demisery made my honorable mentions, but it’s his solo stuff that truly does it for me, and Awaken The Stone King might be his best work yet.
8- Falconer – Armod
As far as I’m concerned, there is no power metal band in the world better than Falconer, whether they’re singing in English or their native Swedish. Mathias Blad, theatrically-trained singer and actor, has a voice unlike anyone in power metal, and when you pair him with the powerful riffs of Stefan Weinerhall, greatness abounds. Armod finds Falconer upping the folk side of their sound as well, and the results are as fantastic as ever.
7- Protest The Hero – Scurrilous
Scurrilous was basically Protest The Hero going about their business as usual, which is probably the only reason that it’s not higher on my list. It’s not the revelation that Fortress was, but it stands as proof that Protest The Hero treading water are still head and shoulders above most bands out there. It’s a testament to just how talented these guys are that technicality and songwriting of this degree could be considered routine for a band.
6- Fair To Midland – Arrows & Anchors
Fair To Midland may not be a metal band, but they know how to put it down like few metal bands do. Rock bands certainly don’t make music like this any more, at least not if they want to get played on the radio, but fortunately Fair To Midland don’t seem to be too concerned with that, and for that I am quite grateful, because Arrows & Anchors is quite simply one of the best albums of the year in any genre.
5- Odyssey – An Abstract Existence
In a year filled with fantastic instrumental releases, none of them managed to capture my attention like Spokane’s Odyssey. Too few people have heard of these guys, and it’s a damn shame, because they are phenomenally talented and truly understand what progressive metal is about. This is music made for the love of music, and there is no art so pure as that.
4- Cormorant – Dwellings
Seeing as we’re talking about music made for the love of music, Cormorant released an absolute masterpiece this year with Dwellings. Following the strong Metazoa, Cormorant managed to completely one-up everything about that album on Dwellings, no small feat to be certain. The pure, unfiltered emotion present on Dwellings is not something you can take for granted, and if these guys don’t rule the world some time in the next few years, then we can be assured that there is something wrong with society.
3- Primus – Green Naugahyde
Primus are my favorite band ever. I think that should about cover it. The fact that this isn’t even a particularly strong Primus album in the context of their discography, and it’s still this high on my list, should indicate just how much I love this album, and Primus in general. Les Claypool is a genius and a bass deity, Larry LaLonde is a truly underrated guitarist, and new old drummer Jay Lane fits in perfectly. Here’s hoping it’s not another ten years before we get another new Primus album.
2- Thy Catafalque – Rengeteg
Speaking of musical geniuses, Tamás Kátai fits that label pretty well in my eyes. Thy Catafalque is solely his project now, with guest vocals from Attila Bakos and Ágnes Tóth, and while Rengeteg may not be as experimental as its predecessors, that’s not to say that it isn’t experimental. As always, Kátai has produced an album filled with mesmerizing riffs and transcendent melodies, and songs that may seem simple are in fact deceptively deep and layered, with subtleties lurking at every turn.
1- UneXpecT – Fables Of The Sleepless Empire
I’ve had a pretty good idea that this would be my album of the year for quite some time, and it’s because this is bar none the most unique, creative, energetic, beautiful, chaotic album that I have heard all year. UneXpecT harnessed the madness and disorder of their previous releases and channeled it with improved songwriting into an album that is not so much an album as it is an experience. Combine two guitars, three vocalists, a violin, a keyboard, a nine-string bass, and drums together, and you’re either going to have a mess, or you’re going to have something special, and in this case, you’ve got something special. It’s going to be an acquired taste, and I know that there are going to be a lot of people who don’t get it, or aren’t interested, but I also know that there will be people who do give this album a chance and will discover what I am speaking of. I can only hope that you do.
Now, for an added treat, my favorite videos of the year, in no particular order.
Fair To Midland – ‘Musical Chairs’
The setting is interesting, but the true strength of this video is the spastic, energetic performance of frontman Darroh Sudderth, who is a madman.
Protest The Hero – ‘Hair Trigger’
Somehow, these guys just seem to have that knack for making ridiculously entertaining videos, and ‘Hair Trigger’ does not disappoint.
Cut Your Teeth – ‘Stallion’
This is the best use of helmet-cam I’ve ever seen, and a perfect way to capture the energy of the band and its music.
Musth – ‘Fish And Ships’
This video scares the living shit out of me. That’s not an easy thing to do.
Mastodon – ‘Curl Of The Burl’
The album may have been a bit inconsistent, but this video is solid fucking gold. Mastodon is another one of those bands that consistently make great videos.
Mastodon – ‘Deathbound’
See what I mean?
Red Fang – ‘Wires’
Red Fang only have two videos under their belts (with a third coming), but thus far, they’ve been rock fucking solid as well, even if the album didn’t necessarily float my boat.
Primus – ‘Tragedy’s A’ Comin’
Les Claypool in a lobster suit. ‘nuff said.
MC Frontalot – ‘Critical Hit’
Because MC Frontalot always entertains, and making fun of pop culture is a guaranteed way of getting my attention. This is the second video on the list with a cameo by Brian Posehn, which is also a good way to get my attention.
Beastie Boys – ‘Make Some Noise’
Most epic music video ever? Probably. Most celebrity cameos in a music video? Probably. And that’s not even counting the full half-hour ‘Fight For Your Right (Revisited)’ video.
Here’s hoping 2012 is as good to me as 2011 was!