(Today we’re happy to welcome another visitor from The (sadly departed) Number of the Blog: Snagon shares with us his list of the Top 25 albums of 2011.)
2011 marked the end of my life as a boyfriend (I’m engaged), the beginning of my teaching career, and the end of the place where my blogging started, The Number Of The Blog. For all these endings and beginnings I have had my fair share of great new music to take along for this journey and thus my list holds a tremendous amount of personal emotion for me. For now we have the honorable mentions.
Anaal Nathrakh – Passion, Anthrax – Worship Music, Antichrist – Forbidden World, The Black Dahlia Murder – Ritual, Boris – Heavy Rocks, Charred Walls Of The Damned – Cold Winds On Timeless Days, Craft – Void, Dream Theater – A Dramatic Turn Of Events, Haemorrhage – Hospital Carnage, Jungle Rot – Kill On Command, Manilla Road – Playground Of The Damned, Necrophagia – Deathtrip 69, Opeth – Heritage, Pentagram – Last Rites, Razorblade Handgrenade – Tales From The Bricks, Revocation – Chaos Of Forms, SSS – Problems To The Answer, Today Is The Day – Pain Is A Warning, Toxic Holocaust, Conjure And Command, Yob – Atma
I listened to a ton of music this year so you must wonder how I was able to talk about only 25 of the new 2011 albums; just read on below and behold, the majesty of balance.
#25 All Pigs Must Die – God Is War
As I am a lover of lots of things old school, when something sounds like a metallic tinged version of Discharge, color me intrigued. This is the band’s second official release and Southern Lord is really taking the bull by the horns when it comes to this particular sound. Very rarely does a hardcore band of this day and age have riffs that smash you straight across the face but APMD has them in excess as the furiosity does very little in the way of taking things easy. This album is best suited to kick you in the ass instead of a morning coffee. The slowed down sections are so distorted and have this world-falling-down feeling, but just add even more to what this album is able to accomplish by taking many different bands’ worth of influence and making for an excellent and cohesive album.
#24 Machine Head – Unto The Locust
It has been a long time in the world of metal from when Machine Head released The Blackening which was put out all the way back in 2007. This hasn’t been nearly enough time to quell Robb Flynn’s anger; he is actually quite well pissed still. The album’s opener ‘I Am Hell (Sonata In C#)’ sounds like it could have very well followed the very last track of the previous album. This album as a whole seems like a logical progression for Machine Head, who are still able to churn out quality metal even after the horror that was The Burning Red and Supercharger. Other stand-out tracks are ‘Be Still And Know’ and ‘Locust’; a mainstream metal band well worth your time.
#23 Crowbar – Sever The Wicked Hand
Kirk Windstein has never considered his personal band, Crowbar, to be a mainstream band, and quite frankly they aren’t, but when looking at the NOLA sludge scene they have seemingly become the most popular band out of that particular area. With Sever The Wicked Hand the band puts together a near completely new lineup and their first album since 2005. Windstein’s gruff vocals are the perfect complement to this long and drawn out style of metal that he has long since made his own. ‘Isolation (Desperation)’ has enough slow riffs that bring about the band’s signature style and even then the band can surprise you with tracks like ‘Liquid Sky And Cold Black Earth’, which also move slowly but also convey a sense of beauty in helplessness. It’s great to see a band like this stay together and put out quality albums after a long break. Boy, 2011 seems to have a lot of these.
#22 Exhumed – All Guts, No Glory
Being the lover of all iterations of Carcass that I am, I sure do love what Exhumed has modeled their career after. Early-era Carcass is sure to get a medical degree in musical butchery. Matt Harvey knows all too much about vile bands he has been a part of, such as Repulsion, Gravehill, and NOLA sludge metallers Noothgrush. The fast paced action of All Guts, No Glory has you wondering,“How did it take 8 years to come up with this great material?” This sounds as fresh as the dead corpse of Carcass now smells and without blatant ripping off either. ‘As Hammer To Anvil’ will hook you, and ‘I Rot Within’ will disembowel you, in the best way possible.
#21 Autopsy – Macabre Eternal
Chris Reifert’s name is synonymous with all things old school death metal, and so his band’s inclusion on this list should come as a surprise to no one. Autopsy perfected the death doom style back in 1991 with Mental Funeral. Many other bands have attempted this style with nowhere nearly as good results. It is almost impossible to duplicate both Reifert’s drumming as well as his vocal style; the mere fact that they exist in unison is something that is nearly impossible to comprehend. The reinvigorated Reifert and Co.’s first album in 16 years sounds like it belongs somewhere around the year 1992, as far as where this band has been during their short career. Album opener ‘Hand Of Darkness’ is a great sampler of the highs and lows, fasts and slows, that this album gives without notice. It’s one of the year’s best death metal albums.
#20 Landmine Marathon – Gallows
Before you extreme metalheads shoot me, this is my first LP exposure to Arizona’s Landmine Marathon and their lethal vocalist Grace Perry. This very grindy version of death metal is a welcome addition to things that female-fronted metal bands can do well. From her small frame Perry can amass some great filthy and dirty vocals while her dual lead guitarists throw in plenty of speedy sections chock full of melody too. What a smorgasbord of different styles coming together into one package. This fast-paced, grind-influenced assault holds tracks such as ‘Three Snake Leaves’, ‘Liver And Lungs’, and ‘Knife from My Sleeve’ to up the ante, and adds up to nearly a half an hour’s worth of pain.
#19 Disma – Towards The Megalith
Slow and evil, with a large amount of love for NY death metal stalwarts Incantation, New Jersey’s Disma rises. I won’t be the first to point out that this isn’t a step in the direction of something new, but what it is, is something old becoming new again. 2011 represented a large class of death metal hearkening back to the glory days of the genre. This album, however, covers some of the mid-90’s NYDM, a side of things that isn’t explored enough. Featuring members of the defunct NJ band Funebrarum, and former members of Incantation themselves, the band really allows you to hear this dark and evil death metal from the horse’s mouth. ‘Chasm Of Oceanus’ is a 7-minute long test of ups and downs with a massive guitar tone, one that is quite difficult to escape. Not even the darkest nightmares could ever hold this band back.
#18 Leviathan – True Traitor, True Whore
Breaking up is a tough thing to do, unless you are the one man band Leviathan, whose lone member Wrest has had a rather tough year. Wrest’s former girlfriend accused him of abuse; this has gotten so bad that he is facing some serious jail time. Why do I bring this up, you may ask? Well, this album is basically his response to these allegations from his former girlfriend, as the album’s title references. This is angry, atmospheric, as well as heartfelt, black metal. There are plenty of angry moments, but these are placed around the emotional core of the album. Wrest had his heart broken and as a person who has felt that before, I can sympathize with him as well. All of this comes full circle during the track ‘Contrary Pulse’; there is enough raw emotion in that track to stop even the toughest man in his tracks. This is the break-up album to end them all in the world of ambient black metal, clearly offering more than the standard black metal fare.
#17 Bastard Priest – Ghouls Of The Endless Night
Swedish death metal! What better way to segue into this than to let you know what this is! This is no-frills Swedish death metal of 1990 reborn in 2011 with a fresh and brash buzzsaw sound, with equally old school production, easily upping the ante for the old school aficionado that I am. Matt Mendoza handles the drums and vocals with the mysterious Inventor handling both bass and guitar. This 2nd album continues the trend started in Sweden of bringing back this great sound much like the legendary Entombed and Dismember. Daniel Akeroth, author of Swedish Death Metal, must smile more each day that bands like this one find their way out of the woodwork and into the ears of maniacs such as myself.
#16 Skeletonwitch – Forever Abomination
One of the finest thrash bands to grace Ohio since ever, Skeletonwitch continue their trend of releasing kick-ass metal each and every time they enter the recording studio. Complete with Chance Garnette’s vocal-chord-shredding style of vocals, while his brother Nate and Scott Hedrick make the guitar duo work. This core of the band has been together since 2003 and it shows as they are, more than ever, a well-oiled machine. Album opener ‘This Horrifying Force (The Desire To Kill)’ starts off with some melody and then kicks right in, barely giving you a chance to catch your breath. New drummer Dustin Boltjes makes his presence felt as his double-bass work is quite excellent when put up next to the rest of the band’s great instrumental performances. A touring band that works hard all the time, Skeletonwitch are as good as they have ever been, if not even more so.
#15 Absu – Abzu
Proscriptor McGovern is a total maniac; there you go. Ever since I saw him and his band open for Immortal back in February, I knew this new album would not disappoint; boy, was I ever right. This is blackened thrash metal with much more emphasis on the blackened side of things. High-pitched screams from behind the drum kit let you know Proscriptor is one talented dude and pulls no punches when it comes to his mythological take on metal, much like my pick last year of Melechesh (a band of which he was a member). There is a lot packed into the nearly 36 minutes of this album — acoustic sections, tremolo picking, and glorious atmosphere. If you require the feeling of time travel to a long distant past, I think ‘Circles Of The Oath’ and ‘Abraxas Connexus’ would be right up your alley.
#14 The Gates Of Slumber – The Wretch
What kind of old school metal head would I be if I didn’t find some of the finest doom metal that you’ll hear in 2011? Not a very good one, that’s for sure. Indiana’s The Gates Of Slumber have become a very excellent force in the field of old school doom, from the guitar tone to the murky production, so much so that the band’s previous release Hymns Of Blood And Thunder made the #2 spot on my 2009 list back on TNOTB. This album is quite excellent, but not as good as the prior album, as the slow and bass-heavy sections stand out above Karl Simon’s vocal style, which can be an acquired taste. ‘Day Of Farewell’ is a great throwback to the Master Of Reality days of Black Sabbath, with the slow playing and immense sound of the band as a collective. Barely a short track exists on this album, and that is a very good thing, as each riff gets repeated a few times, allowing the listener to become totally immersed in the sound that is created here. This is my particular favorite pure doom metal album of the year.
#13 Vektor – Outer Isolation
If you want to be a technical thrash band, then who better to emulate than Voivod? If you want to throw in some Coroner for good measure, then you have got a volatile mix that the metal world may not yet be ready for. The band’s first release Black Future went largely unnoticed, but with Outer Isolation the band has gained notoriety and some excellent press. Piggy’s guitar sound is largely alive and well in Erik Nelson’s playing. You can even hear a bit of Snake as well as Ron Broder and Mille Petrozza in there; this makes for both dirty and shrill vocals that have the whole band sounding technical, as those sounds are not easily made by most humans. ‘Cosmic Cortex’ is a 10 and half minute epic of an opener and is largely in the vein of Dimension Hatross, with a touch of Mental Vortex and just amazing technical flourish. One of the big up and comers of the thrash metal scene for sure.
#12 Mastodon – The Hunter
One thing I can never hide is my pure love of this Georgia quartet. They helped me move toward modern metal back in 2006 and I haven’t been able to escape their charm since. The Hunter is closer to Leviathan than it is Crack The Skye, as the rough edge that used to be a staple of the band makes a triumphant return on tracks such as ‘Black Tongue’, and ‘Blasteroid’, with some fun experimentation with vocal melodies on ‘Curl Of The Burl’ and ‘All The Heavy Lifting’. Mastodon has made it to the mainstream, yet still remain nothing to scoff at, as Brann Dailor’s drumming ability puts him head and shoulders above many modern drummers. I hope they can keep this great level of balance for years to come.
#11 Graveyard – Hisingen Blues
This album took me way too long to get, but is easily one of the most accessible albums of 2011. Graveyard play some of the finest hard rock of the late 60’s and early 70’s, with major influences being The Groundhogs, Sir Lord Baltimore, Blue Cheer, among others — showing other new bands like Witchcraft, Wolfmother, and Witch a thing or two about making some kick-ass hard rock. This makes a metal list because these bluesy riffs are the very foundation for heavy metal and thus fall into the proto-metal scheme of things. This 2nd album has launched them much further than their s/t and shows that Sweden isn’t all about death metal. ‘Buying Truth’ is full of so many great riffs, you’ll wonder where they keep coming from.
#10 Trap Them – Darker Handcraft
If you love metallic hardcore, then these guys are for you. You get lots of parts GBH, Discharge, and Amebix, yet when you least expect it you are bashed over the head with some Entombed guitar tone, making for a really unique combination. As TNOTB’s former author Alex P called them: “Entombed-core”; I can’t think of a better way to describe them. The music is both fast and slow and Trap Them don’t let you know when these tempo changes are coming either. Whether it be ‘The Facts’ or ‘Evictionaries’, this band’s style is damn near close to what so many other bands have attempted but have failed to create. Trap Them are simply one of the very best in metal today and officially putting Rhode Island on the metal radar.
#9 Vreid – V
Hailing from the black metal capital of the world, Vreid’s members know just how to put that chilling cold behind each and every one of their albums, with V being no exception. The band’s lyrical content is steeped in the rich storyline of WWII Scandinavia, filled with feelings of why do we need to be involved and kill or fight off the Nazis. Lots of this is encapsulated in the drumming on ‘The Sound Of The River’ or the guitar mastery on ‘Wolverine Bastards’. Hatred and emotion are nearly balanced throughout, and it makes for one of the deepest listens that 2011 has to offer. This is melodic black metal that isn’t afraid to soothe off its dark edge with some beauty.
#8 Midnight – Satanic Royalty
Cheese is often reserved for power metal, but Ohio’s Midnight make sure you get not only cheese but also a ton of rocking out and dirty sleazy — Venom-styled metal. Midnight really digs down into the Venom catalog; however, they clearly know how to play their instruments. ‘Lust, Filth and Sleaze’ is a modern day version of the Venom song ‘Poison’, and tracks like ‘You Can’t Stop Steel’ dare you not to bang your head or sing along. Filthy, rockin, and cheese; the lyrics would make you laugh, but your head will be banging too hard to notice what they really mean. One of the finest examples of a throwback type of band. This era of NWOBHM often gets overlooked as kind of a joke; I can assure you that this band is far from that.
#7 Blood Ceremony – Living With The Ancients
Alia O’Brien and her occult crew know just what their crowd is, and summoning the devil with her pipes as well as her flute never sounded so good. The Jefferson Airplane and Coven love comes at you in the form of her vocal style and the overt occultism. The riffs and flute are torn from some of the Black Sabbath and Jethro Tull tomes. The rock atmosphere along with some incredible flute playing add layers upon layers to this retro-rock revival group. The organ playing can be traced at some points back to Deep Purple’s legendary John Lord and that alone is a testament to just how diverse the band can be. From the hard riffing and praise to a pagan god on ‘The Great God Pan’ to the excellent flute work on ‘Coven Tree’ and ‘Night Of The Magicians’, you get a taste of the style of music that the bands being drawn from were going for around 1969-1970, and it sounds so fresh 40 years later.
#6 Wormrot – Dirge
2010’s top album winners (from my list) return with their 2nd full length and it is more of the same great grindcore. Terrorizer, Napalm Death, and Brutal Truth have clearly had their fair share of impact on this Singaporean grind trio. Arif’s vocals sound just as brutal as they have ever been while Raysid writes some excellent riffs to go on over the top of them. ‘Deceased Occupation’, ‘Spot A Pathetic’, and ‘Principle Of Puppet Warfare’ make for some more great grindcore with riffs that bring you back to grindcore’s birth around 1987. With more grind bands coming out of the woodwork as we speak, Wormrot remains a great story to come from nowhere and take the world by storm year in and year out.
#5 Cormorant – Dwellings
Arthur Von Nagel is one hell of a nice guy; I say this because while going back and forth on Facebook about the new Zelda game, I had yet to give Cormorant a fair shot. While I’m sorry about that, there is nothing sorry about how good his band’s most recent output is. This album is so deep and immersive, it actually reminds me of what Axioma Ethica Odini did for me last year. Von Nagel’s vocal style and bass playing are excellent, easily giving tracks like ‘The First Man’ and ‘Junta’ more than enough ground on which to stand. Opeth failed at making music for the grand scale this year, but allowed 2011 to be Cormorant’s coming out party, as they are clearly a cut above the other progressive metal bands this year. Matt Solis and Nick Cohon paint a very beautiful picture as Brennan Kunkel fills in the gaps with great drum fills. A spectacular atmosphere and excellent musicianship make it hard to believe that this band is still unsigned. I’d love to see these guys in concert because in a live setting it could only get better.
#4 In Solitude – The World The Flesh The Devil
The album here is a close combination of what Mercyful Fate and Ghost have done in the past, as the music seems to invoke a shroud of mystery about the band, and Pelle Åhman’s vocal style sounds like a combination of The Nameless Ghoul and King Diamond, making for a very unique sound that really fits the music especially well. ‘Poisoned, Blessed and Burned’ is a great example of this as Åhman wails and the combination comes full circle. Niklas Lindstrom and recent addition to the band Henrik Palm become a huge part of the sound as the guitar lines seem somewhere between Dave Murray and Hank Shermann. This is quite the viable guitar duo, just like the good ol’ days. Some of the songs on the album that rely heavily on guitar really soar because of Palm’s style of play, such as with ‘We Were Never Here’, ‘To Her Darkness’, and ‘Serpents Are Rising’. Åhman’s brother Gottfrid becomes another integral cog to In Solitude’s approach; most classic heavy metal bands have a great bassist on hand and they tend to make their presence felt, much as Mercyful Fate’s Timi Hansen and Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris did. The bass may be subtle at parts, but take it away and In Solitude loses a good deal of their sound.
#3 Rotten Sound – Cursed
Cursed is the epitome of what it means to be grindcore in the year 2011. Most grindcore albums have more than a touch of punk to their sound, but you won’t find that here. This is grind with a basis of metal, metal, and more metal. Focusing on some of the tracks, I have found the following:
‘Self’ appears to be a rustier number than most of the album’s tracks and it is a welcome change and a call back to grindcore’s more punkish roots (hello Amebix, Extreme Noise Terror, and Discharge). The buzz-out riffs near the midsection of the song really help out a rhythm section that is usually lacking in the lowly world of grind as well.
‘Green’ brings more and more pain with more fast and furious music; that makes grindcore one of the most formidable and right-to-the-point genres of music out there. Barely a breath is taken and we move to the track ‘Machinery’, and the drums sound like they are nearly falling apart before the guitars help to slow down (slightly) the madness that is taking place at this current point and time during the album. As we come toward the end of this album, the songs don’t get worse — they continue to build upon each of the songs before them, such as the marvelous ‘Exploit’ as it begins to sound more and more like classic Scandinavian death metal before kicking back into gear of the more modern crust punk bands such as Sweden’s Disfear. I have to say that in my grindcore travels I had yet to run into Rotten Sound for a long period of time, and I for damned sure have enjoyed my stay with them during Cursed. For drug-crazed grind freaks and death metallers alike.
#2 Inquisition – Ominous Doctrines Of The Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm
With my love of Immortal fully intact, it should come as no surprise that I love Inquisition, complete with their corpse-painted faces and tremolo-picked riffs. The band differs here in that they focus more on the occult and rituals than they do snow and ice. This may be due to the band’s Columbian roots, far away from the cold of Norway, from which the band gets a great deal of its sound. Now based in the US, Inquisition has unleashed it’s 5th album in 2011 (in the US, 2010 everywhere else), and thus became a major contender for the top of my chart. Dagon’s vocal style sounds like a froggier version of Abbath and he makes his guitar sound just as mysterious as where he gets the ability to make his vocals sound the way they do.
Incubus backs him up with his great drumming ability as the velocity constantly kicks up, as even the slowest sections of the album have some of the best drum sections. Dagon digs at the back of his throat on ‘Upon The Fire Winged Demon’ and ‘Cosmic Invocation Rites’, while his guitar makes you feel as though you are in outer space — a vicious combination and an unparalleled one in this year of 2011 that should make even the slightest fan of black metal squeal with glee. ‘Crepuscular Battle Hymn’ might be the fastest thing I have heard all year, with an intro that doesn’t quit and pinch harmonics that sound like the guitar may explode from near perfect sound. The black metal album of the year and nearly the best of the entire year, this album is absolutely not to be missed.
#1 40 Watt Sun – The Inside Room
Topping my list this year is a band who offer more than sheer loud and lumbering riffs and feature a vocalist without equal; 40 Watt Sun are all about emotion. Patrick Walker’s former band,the formidable Warning, broke up on the heels of their magnum opus Watching From A Distance, a powerful, moving and emotive album that left nary a dry eye in the house. Metal music isn’t supposed to touch on so many different themes like this, is it? Well, this band surely seems to think so; with loud riffs surrounding you and Walker tugging at your heart strings, I’d find it hard for anybody to not see the beauty in their music.
This may be classified as doom metal, as the riffs will surely remind you of that genre, but when you hear the vocals behind them this is clearly not your standard Black Sabbath or Candlemass rip-off. Spong’s bass playing makes its presence felt on moving tracks such as ‘Carry Me Home’ and ‘Restless’, as Walker rips through not only your eardrums but also your very core. A band that gets so much more from a listen than any other and a truly memorable experience. In a year when many great things have happened for me, this is my fall-back music to sit down and reflect to, and will be for a very long time to come. My album of the year by a long shot and I implore you to check this out.
Well did I miss anything? How did this turn out? Let me know in the comments. Glad to be a part of NCS.