(This is the third in Andy Synn’s week-long series of posts looking back at albums released this year. Andy previously provided his lists of the year’s Great albums, and the Good ones, and in the days to come, he’ll also provide his lists of The Critical Top 10 and Personal Top 10. But today, we have his opinions on the Disappointing releases of 2011. For more explanation of what all this means, plus Andy’s picks for the year’s best EPs, visit this location.)
I’m sorry to say that this year’s “Disappointing” column is largely more negative than last year’s, due to what I perceive as some real flaws and failings which several of the bands mentioned have displayed. Please don’t get personally offended if my dissenting opinion clashes with yours on preferences. I’m merely trying to give an alternative interpretation of events from my own perspective. In addition, as stated last year, “Disappointing” does not necessarily mean “Bad” – several of these records are objectively good, but really come from bands who have demonstrated before that they can do better and achieve more.
I must stress, however, that each of the bands featured in this column is either a band I have enjoyed previously and whose work I was honestly looking forward to, or a band whose work was recommended to me and I expected to enjoy.
Those of you who have followed my reviewing “career” up to this point will know that I hate wasting time with negative reviews, preferring instead to elucidate the positive aspects of the albums I review. You’ll also know that although my preferences are for Black Metal and Melodic Death Metal, I still enjoy bands from across the metal genre-spectrum, including the oft-derided Deathcore genre, several proponents of which I have championed in the past. My aim is to judge them all by their own merits. Though there are some basic forms which should be expected from all the albums I have reviewed, I have found that different genres are best approached from different angles and judged via different criteria.
So here we have it, the various records which left me ultimately disappointed this year. These are the ones who failed to live up to the standards they set themselves with their previous work, or who failed to live up to even the reasonable expectations of quality that we might expect. Please don’t take this personally.
ALL SHALL PERISH – THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS
Disappointingly, I found this record to be a rather empty display of sound and fury, ultimately signifying nothing more than an obsession with style over substance. The superior shred work is impressive, but falters due to the over-abundance of deathcore cliché and predictable lyrical content whose delivery, whilst loud, lacks conviction. This is disappointing when you consider how the progressive tendencies displayed on Awaken The Dreamers have been largely abandoned, and doubly so when you consider that The Price Of Existence still remains one of the most coherent and convincing arguments for the legitimacy of deathcore as a punishing new variant on the death-metal template.
AMON AMARTH – SURTUR RISING
Continuing the familiar formula that has served them so well ever since Versus The World updated their sound for the new millennium, Surtur Rising unfortunately has little to offer besides a poor few good tracks, with the majority of the record being ultimately aimless filler which fails to reach the standards of the material from either of their previous two records. The hallmark of consistency has become an albatross around their necks, as despite a few standout songs the track-listing is a pale reflection of their previous efforts, an unflattering imitation of their own superior works.
ARCH ENEMY – KHAOS LEGIONS
Seemingly a regression in sound from the storming Rise Of The Tyrant, this album sees the band return to the safer, more middle-of-the-road sound of Anthems Of Rebellion. Generic, crowd-pleasing riffs and a vague anti-authoritarian lyrical content does not a revolutionary record make. Arch Enemy seem content to dwell in their familiar rut, producing a record with few surprises, which, barring some stand-out tracks, seems designed to get disaffected crowds of teens chanting along with aimless, almost mindless, dedication.
BORN OF OSIRIS – THE DISCOVERY
I found this album by a band hyped as potential leaders of the new generation to be a rather directionless and uninspiring listen, fundamentally lacking in substance and conviction. The pretensions towards “progression” are unfounded, as the faceless riffing and aimless shredding, combined with a generic post-Meshuggah groove, awkward, unnecessary keyboards, and a rather insipid vocal performance, result in a well-produced, well played album that offers little to nothing new or engaging. This could very well be a case of “the emperor’s new clothes”; for once, the fact that we can’t see anything impressive may just mean there’s nothing to be impressed by.
DEVILDRIVER – BEAST
A definite improvement on the travesty that was Pray For Villains, this record still finds DevlDriver chasing the post-Pantera crowd, producing a more stereotypically American form of groove-thrash that lacks the spiky hooks and keen sharpness of their earlier work. It doesn’t help that the lyrics seem purely designed to soundtrack MMA entrances, their vapid tough-guy aesthetic as unthreatening as it is unintentionally humourous. There are some great riffs scattered here and there throughout the record, but they are hamstrung by some stock and predictable song structures and Dez’s insistence on playing at being the next incarnation of Phil Anselmo’s wayward ego.
MEGADETH – THIRTEEN
An EP’s worth of new material rounded out by re-hashed versions of previously released bonus tracks and b-sides that has “contractual obligation” written all over it. Not good enough Dave.
MORBID ANGEL – ILUD DIVINUM INSANUS
Ok, I’m sure everyone knew this was going to be here, so I’m not going to belabour the point any further. The techno elements are preposterously bad, while the death metal elements are average at best. What’s most insulting is the band’s insistence that this is some sort of misunderstood masterpiece, when there are whole hosts of bands who do death metal better, and with a far superior incorporation of electronic/symphonic and avant-garde elements, than this sub-par effort.
OPETH – HERITAGE
It’s not due to the absence of death metal elements that this album finds itself in the “Disappointing” column; for one thing, Opeth have proven before that they don’t need them to write great songs, and for another, anyone who has kept up with things will know of my aspirations to undermine the “no clean singing” ethos of the site with my constant Exceptions to the Rule and surprising love of non-brutal metal/rock bands. What puts Opeth in the “Disappointing” column is the fact that Heritage is, to me, an ultimately boring and uneventful listening experience. Over-indulgent and unfocussed, the record serves best as a tribute to the spirit of 70’s prog, but offers little to nothing new to the basic formula. There are some good guitar licks and some memorable vocal lines, but overall these songs falter in the face of the overwhelmingly bland delivery that permeates the album.
PRIMORDIAL – REDEMPTION AT THE PURITAN’S HAND
Probably my biggest disappointment of the year, this is somewhere I thought I’d never have to put a Primordial album. There are 3 songs on it that are utterly stunning, incorporating some more overtly black metal and black n roll elements into the group’s now well-established song-writing abilities, but the rest of the material fails to add anything new to the band’s impressive and varied back-catalogue. Indeed, the album as a whole comes across, for the first time ever, as a rehash of their previous work. Their delivery remains as emotive and fiery as ever, it’s just that the songs really aren’t there his time around.
RISE TO REMAIN – CITY OF VULTURES
Presented as another great white hope for British metal , this record is certainly getting a fair amount of attention, but for the life of me I can’t see why. Generic metalcore with some mild trad-metal leanings and some capable, if rather faceless, shredding coupled with an entirely adequate, and entirely unthreatening, vocalist means this record completely fails to justify the hype and interest.
UNEARTH – DARKNESS IN THE LIGHT
Again, definitely a hard decision to make, but Darkness In The Light strikes me as a missed opportunity. Though it has some absolutely killer tracks, it follows the exact formula of their previous records unfalteringly. Indeed one could see the best tracks as mere upgrades of their previous material, while the worst tracks continue to be afflicted with a rather uninspired malaise. I like this record, I really do, but the band seems in dire need of a major shift in direction to renew their internal fire.
As with last year I have selected one album in particular to highlight as amongst the worst of a bad bunch. This year’s entry is in many ways a polar opposite to last year’s selection, but has all its own reasons for being selected as an example of bad music released this year.
LITURGY – AESTHETICA
Honestly, the fact that this is appearing on people’s “Best Of” lists has me absolutely flummoxed. I have no problem with it being tagged as “Black Metal”, or “Cascadian Black Metal”, or “Transcendental Black Metal” or anything like that – after all, genre tags are no guarantee of quality – however, this record is just a bad example of “Black Metal”, or indeed any form of metal at all, no matter which way you slice it. It’s a fundamentally boring and uninteresting listen, start to finish, totally lacking in conviction and power. In fact, it lacks any notable features apart from its essentially unmemorable nature. Despite all the protestations to the contrary, despite all the pretentious claims to its artistic and transcendental value, it comes across as nothing more than a vapid and soulless piece of self-satisfied modern “art”.