(This is the second in Andy Synn’s week-long series of posts looking back at albums released this year. Yesterday, Andy provided his list of the year’s Great albums, and in the days to come, he’ll also provide his list of the most “Disappointing” albums of the year, followed by his lists of The Critical Top 10 and Personal Top 10 of the year. For more explanation of what all this means, plus Andy’s picks for the year’s best EPs, visit this location.)
The “Good” albums this year cross the boundaries of genres and generations, bridging Hardcore and Black Metal, Power Metal and Prog, Deathcore, Death Metal, and Djent. Arguably less overwhelmingly “progressive” than yesterday’s list of the year’s Greatest albums, today’s list of the “Good” (and occasionally ugly) face of modern metal still packs in a hell of a lot of variety and impressive quality.
The “Good” rating is quite a wide one, as several of these albums were just edged off the “Great” list and, in a less impressive year (or perhaps even when considered at another time), might well have been considered among the best the year had to offer. On the other hand, several of these albums came close to being considered for my “Disappointing” list, not because they were bad albums, but simply because they could/should have been better. In the end though, I took into account not only my personal feelings but also a consideration of wider critical opinions and a further re-evaluation of my own critical standards to conclude that these albums, though perhaps not fully capitalising on the hype and expectations laid upon their shoulders, deserved to be considered “Good” representations of 2011’s musical skills and compositions.
So here we have it, the rest of this year’s albums which I would gladly recommend to anyone with more than a passing interest in the metallic arts and all they have to offer. Though they all have their flaws, and some are clearly “more equal” than others, each deserves its spot on the list on the strength of its own merits.
AMORPHIS – THE BEGINNING OF TIMES
Consistently good, frequently great, this album is a real grower that initially didn’t click with me, but over time came to unfold and reveal itself like an exotic flower. Surprisingly heavy and chunky in parts, as well as indulgently progressive in nature, this album really takes time to blossom, but is worth the investment.
ANAAL NATHRAKH – PASSION
More of a step sideways than a step forward from the blackened grind stalwarts, the band seemingly taking some time to explore themselves internally a bit more, instead of pushing further outwards. The throw-away nature of certain songs fits oddly with the more majestic grimness of others, showcasing a dichotomous album of opposing sides.
BAHRRECHT – NUIT DE NEIGE
Recreating and building upon past glories of a bygone era, this record is an enigmatic beast, concealing its true self beneath layers of lies and deception. Inter-mixing blasting savagery with imperial majesty and tribal mysticism, its murky malevolence only occasionally conceals its technical mastery and compositional nous.
BLUT AUS NORD – 777: SECT(S)
Dark ambience and haunting atmospherics combined with the characteristically precise application of blackened misanthropy. The first of two albums this year by these French esoteric artists favours subtlety over savagery; Sect(s) serves as a welcome introduction to the upcoming trilogy.
CARNIFEX – UNTIL I FEEL NOTHING
To my mind, Carnifex is the most legitimately death-metal leaning of all the top tier deathcore acts, and Until I Feel Nothing captures a raw and impassioned spirit, hamstrung only slightly by some oddly awkward vocal arrangements and breakdowns.
CHIMAIRA – THE AGE OF HELL
For most of its run-time this album consists of a series of great songs, filled to bursting with blistering screams, intricate drum-work, and scorching lead guitar lines. It is weakened by some less developed, or less effective material, but overall sees the band remaining defiant in the face of adversity.
COMMUNIC – THE BOTTOM DEEP
Despite some occasional flaws, this is an impressive release from the Norwegian three-piece and an overall darker affair than we have seen before from them, the group shifting focus slightly from their characteristically expressive melodic nuances to a gloomier form of self-absorbed introspection.
CROWBAR – SEVER THE WICKED HAND
Another album teetering on the edge of greatness, with Sever The Wicked Hand Crowbar find themselves once more in the enviable position of never having produced a single bad record, this album continuing their unbroken run of form.
EARTH CRISIS – NEUTRALIZE THE THREAT
With laser-sighted focus and explosive aggression, Earth Crisis retain the hardcore crown on points, if not by knockout. Their punishing metallic riffs still put Slayer to shame, encompassing both mechanical precision and fulsome melody without losing any of their thrashing power or bite.
EVERGREY – THE GLORIOUS COLLISION
Once again showcasing their ability to craft captivating hooks and dizzying guitar leads with aplomb, Evergrey get back to what they do best, delivering a plethora of sharp-edged riffs, swirling keyboard melodies and grandiose vocal refrains, afflicted by only occasional lapses into melodrama and angst.
THE FAMINE – ARCHITECTS OF GUILT
Crunchy, vicious and filthily groovy, the swansong of the group takes their biting death metal and amps it up several notches in terms of tortuous technicality and sheer intensity. The vocals spit venom and bitterness while the riffs roll and rumble with unadulterated power.
THE HAUNTED – UNSEEN
Hated by some, loved by others, I definitely find the record to be a good one, far better than the ultimately forgettable Versus. It swings and grooves with a confident swagger and a “fuck-you” attitude throughout, mixing pseudo-thrash riffage with obtuse melody and cryptic structuring.
KITTIE – I’VE FAILED YOU
Blistering and venomous, the latest incarnation of Kittie sees the dark metal coven weaving a wicked spell of machine-gun drumming, thrashing riffs, and wailing banshee solos together into a bleak tapestry of searing sorrow. The vocals of Morgan Lander remain particularly impressive throughout, her devilish screams matched by her angelic crooning.
LANDMINE MARATHON – GALLOWS
A rip-roaring thrill ride from start to finish, this album sees a step up from the band in terms of both the variety of composition and the power of production values on offer, the group taking their visceral, punk-infused death-grind hybrid to new levels, slowly beginning to step out from the shadow of their influences.
MERCENARY – METAMORPHOSIS
An unexpected pleasure, Mercenary defied their doubters by producing a record of impressive highs with only a few sparse lows. The Melodic Power Death Metal quintet rose phoenix-like from the ashes of their previous incarnation, rippling with new-found power and renewed vitality.
NIGHTRAGE – INSIDIOUS
A definite step up from its uneven predecessor, Insidious sees the band finding a more consistent approach to their core sound, accented by the impressive profusion of guest artists. The downside is that these guest parts tend to overshadow the efforts of the rest of the band, particularly the often limited range of vocalist Antony Hämäläinen.
NOCTEM – OBLIVION
Oblivion is a captivating and intriguing listen, its creators cranking out a seemingly effortless series of blackened hymns of controlled chaos and beautiful blasphemy that deserve a wider audience and greater exposure. It easily stands up to the efforts of its many peers and sees the band slowly starting to outdistance their competitors.
OBSCURA – OMNIVIUM
Good, but not great. A controversial opinion perhaps, but I really feel like this follow-up to the stunning Cosmogenesis fails to recapture the same spark and vitality. It is, however, a thoroughly good record on its own merits, despite some of the vaunted black metal influences being a fundamentally awkward fit.
PROTEST THE HERO – SCURRILOUS
Reining in their madcap approach a little, Protest The Hero’s latest album trades “crazy” for “clever”, accentuating the clever nuances of agile riffage and soaring vocal melodies with more developed and compelling song structures and interesting new lyrical angles.
SAMAEL – LUX MUNDI
As always, the New Age Black Metal masters deliver the goods with their pneumatic riffs and shining electronic embellishments. Though not as scathing as predecessor Above, the new album continues to find new ways to develop the group’s distinctive formula of post-millenial black metal beauty.
SEPTIC FLESH – THE GREAT MASS
Powerful and grandiose, the massive symphonic elements do at times have a tendency to overwhelm the more death-metal moments, this skewed balance slightly reducing the album’s impact when compared to the awe-inspiring heaviness of Communion.
SUIDAKRA – THE BOOK OF DOWTH
With the band still battling on through trials and adversity, The Book Of Dowth contains a vast array of striking, strident riffs and blazing drumming, ratcheting up the intensity of the group’s folk-infused melodic death metal attack without neglecting the clever nuances for which they have become famous.
SYLOSIS – EDGE OF THE EARTH
The newest album from another act that has battled through their share of adversity, Edge Of The Earth sees a marked shift in approach from the UK metal warriors. Now reduced to a quartet, the group made a conscious decision to abandon the more popular metalcore influences of previous years in favour of a more consistently and classically metallic approach.
TESSERACT – ONE
Perhaps one of the few saving graces of the seemingly already bankrupt “djent” sub-genre, Tesseract have the advantage of riding the crest of the first wave of breakout artists, exposing their exceptional talents without fear of drowning beneath a torrent of clones.
TIMES OF GRACE – THE HYMN OF A BROKEN MAN
A spiritual successor to Alive Or Just Breathing in all but name, the impetus provided by Adam Dutkiewicz’s injury, mixed with the undeniable chemistry he shares with Jesse Leach, resulted in an unexpectedly complex and endlessly uplifting collection of songs that outshines the recent KsE material with remarkable ease.
TYR – THE LAY OF THRYM
Continuing their impressive career trajectory, with The Lay Of Thrym the Faroese Vikings develop and refine their pagan progressive metal into a set of more coherent and concise songs that reflect their rich cultural background and their abundant musical talents in equal measure.