(We’re delighted to bring you a special guest post today from New Zealand’s Steff Metal, who among many other activities is the creator of the wonderful STEFF METAL blog. She has a special list for us from down under.)
After reading all the end-of-year lists posted on NCS, and writing my own (Top Ten Metal Albums of 2011), I realised that – despite a few notable exceptions – these lists were once again dominated by the metal powerhouses of the US and Europe. Sure, we don’t exactly have a down-under equivalent to Fleshgod Apocalypse or Origin, but NZ and Australian bands are putting out more and more decent metal albums every year.
I’ve been trying to focus more on reviewing and promoting local metal acts, and what better way to do this than to pick some of the best Kiwi and Aussie releases of 2011?
1. Ulcerate – The Destroyers of All (Willowtip Records, New Zealand)
There’s nothing I can say about The Destroyers of All that hasn’t been said by a zillion other writers who’ve placed this in their top albums for 2011 – simply a stunning piece of experimental death metal. Flawless drumming, dissonant riffs, jarring, doom-laden vocals – the personification of extreme metal perfection. I’ve been going to Ulcerate shows for the better part of 8 years now, and I reckon you’d be thick to miss them on their upcoming tour.
2. Heresiarch – Hammer of Intransigence (Dark Descent Records, New Zealand)
Loud, barbaric and blasphemous – this is Conqueror worship at it’s violent best. You won’t find Heresiarch bringing anything new to the black/death sound, but Hammer of Intransigence is a tight, ritualistic ear-raping, and it delivers it with gusto. The stand-out song for me is the closer “Intransigent”, which mixes slower, doomy passages in with the barbaric slaughter. And, not that it has any effect on their sound, but the album art alone is worth buying this album for.
3. Mournful Congregation – The Book of Kings (20 Buck Spin, Australia)
Good funeral doom can be hard to find these days, as many bands seem to lose themselves in the style without focusing on the emotion behind the music. But the four tracks of The Book of Kings break this unfortunate mould: they build melancholy without melodrama, extolling suffering with a glimmer of hope. The elegant compositions comprise layer after layer of harrowing sorrow and contemplative misery. The sparse vocals never overwhelm, and the guitar tone and riffs bear an uncommon warmth.
4. Woods of Desolation – Torn Beyond Reason (Northern Silence Productions, Australia)
Far removed from the scathing war metal of Heresiarch’s EP above, Torn Beyond Reason has a dreamlike quality – this is the kind of contemplative black metal I really love. Richly layered instrumentation and sweeping compositions combined with blistering riffs make this an album that constantly surprises you. Formed by members of the BM band Austere, Torn Beyond Reason shows a natural progression of that band’s sound.
5. Lamort – A Cold Godless Machine (independent, Australia)
Named after the Death card in the tarot deck, Lamort’s sound could best be described as symphonic extreme metal. A Cold Godless Machine combines fast, heavy riffs, growls, screams and operatic vocals, choirs and orchestral sections, and some seriously wicked drumming. Lamort toured NZ in late 2011 and have been building a loyal following in Melbourne for the last couple of years. They are currently working on their first full length to be released in 2012, and I reckon they’re heading for big things.
6. The House of Capricorn – In the Devil’s Days (Swamps of One Tree Hill, New Zealand)
I reviewed In The Devil’s Days on my blog earlier this year, and, being a doom album, it falls into that reviled category of “clean singing”. However, the groovy riffs and deep, rich bass of “All Hail to the Netherworld” and “To Carry the Lantern” wouldn’t exactly work with black metal gargling. I’m not much of a fan of the slower tracks on this record, but the fuzzy atmosphere of the faster stoner rock tracks more than make up for it.
7. Voyager – The Meaning of I (Sensory, Australia)
I reviewed The Meaning of I earlier this year and concluded it’s progressive metal without the wankery. This is an album stuffed to bursting with melodic, catchy songs that don’t stray from their purpose. The vocals, while clean, have a rough edge and an odd tone that gives Voyager a truly unique sound. The standout track is definitely “Iron Dream”, a tribute to Type O Negative’s Peter Steele featuring a singer who mimics his voice perfectly.
8. Demolition – Kill Zone (Rock Star Records, Australia)
Thrash metal with a heavy, prominent bass sound and some seriously wicked riffs. Dual guitars lay down a heavy melodic foundation for some of the best speed drumming I’ve heard in a thrash album this year. While Kill Zone isn’t exactly anything new, it’s a solid, well-produced records and if you like your thrash in the vein of Testament, Evile, and Voivod, you will not be disappointed with Demolition.
9. Orpheus – Bleed the Way (Rock Star Records, Australia)
Listening to Bleed the Way, you wouldn’t expect to discover that this is the debut album of a Melbourne band. Orpheus’ meaty riffs, pounding bass, and symphonic keyboard melody place their sound alongside the popular Euro-melo-death bands. Tracks like “Unscathed” and the slower and more rhythmic “A Thousand Times” show off this band’s talent for atmosphere and composition. Orpheus will definitely be a band to watch on our side of the world.
10. In Dread Response – Embers in the Spiritless Void (Dead Boy Records, New Zealand)
Aggressive death metal with overarching melody and faultless musicianship, In Dread Response have been building a steady following in New Zealand since the release of their debut album in 2008. Songs like “Through Chasms” demonstrate their attention to details – lyrics that weave graven images in your mind, relentless double kick and layers of riffs that create drama and tension, and almost classical solos that deliver exactly what they promise.