(As our Listmania series winds down, today we welcome another fellow blogger, whose moniker you may also recognize from his NCS comments. Check out his diverse year-end list of new discoveries below, and be sure to check out the Valley of Steel blog, too.)
Hello, NCS readers! Sitting here on the long bus ride from the Valley to my job in Pittsburgh, I am given the opportunity to do a lot of reflecting. For example, today I am reflecting on the fact that it is FUCKING COLD enough outside to FREEZE A POLAR BEAR’S NUTS OFF. But, since it is also the dawn of a new year, many people like to take the time to reflect back on the year that has just concluded, as well as looking ahead to the one that is just beginning. So I have written posts that look in both of those directions. This first one addresses some of the great music I have discovered during 2011, and if Islander chooses to publish it and if you all don’t completely hate it, there will be a second post to follow which discusses what YOU want the future of metal to look like.
Over the past month or so, I have seen literally OODLES of year-end lists all over the internet. In fact, this website alone has featured damn near an oodle and a half. Many of them (not the ones on NCS, specifically, but just some of those I have seen around) seem to just re-shuffle the same few “big name” releases in various orders, with a couple controversial or “surprise” entries to almost make each list worth reading.
Well, I almost didn’t make my own list, because I really didn’t see the point of just rehashing the same old thing YET AGAIN. The more I thought about it, though, I realized the beneficial part of reading these lists, which is that you might find something new that you otherwise would have missed out on. With that in mind, I spent a lot of time thinking about the joy of discovering new music, and how much awesome music I discovered in 2011. So, then I decided to make a list of some of that music, to share with YOU.
In making this list, I knew there had to be some constraints. For example, I decided to avoid new music by artists with whom I was already familiar. I’ve been listening to Anthrax and Megadeth for the past twenty years, and Crowbar for probably about eighteen; Pentagram, Yob, Opeth, Primordial — all of these have been slightly more recent discoveries for me, but still, it isn’t really news that I liked a new album by somebody I already liked, is it? So the list had to be bands that I was either unaware of, or at least hadn’t heard, prior to 2011.
Also, to lend a semblance of relevance to this list, I chose to restrict it to bands who actually had a new release in 2011, not just any album that I happened to hear for the first time. Sadly, this eliminated some of my favorite new finds, such as Estonian experimental/doom duo Talbot and Swedish sludgey doomsters Kongh, both of which are incredible, but who missed the cutoff by releasing their latest recordings in 2010 (Talbot’s EOS EP – download it here) and 2009 (Kongh’s full-length Shadows of the Shapeless – hear it here.
Finally, I decided to leave any bands whose albums I have already reviewed on my own blog out of consideration. With a couple exceptions, over the past few months I have mostly written about bands that were also either brand-new or at least new to me, but it seemed more beneficial (to you, the reader — see how thoughtful I am?) to cover material that I haven’t already discussed at length elsewhere. So without any further delay, here is…
THE TOP* 11 OF 2011, BROUGHT TO YOU BY VALLEY OF STEEL
11. In Solitude – The World, The Flesh, The Devil
There are plenty of bands springing up nowadays who are practically note-for-note clones of Black Sabbath. On the other hand, this Swedish trad-metal band definitely demonstrate a Sabbathy influence on their second full-length album, but they also show growth beyond that inspiration, instead following in the footsteps of later NWOBHM or trad-metal groups of that era (such as Mercyful Fate). Here’s the title track:
10. Battle Path – Storm & Stress
Doomy, deathy, blacky, avant-gardey, dark experimentalism from Tennessee. They started out as “Black Majesty” (and even released this album under that name originally) but then changed it when they found there was another band using that moniker.
9. Wiht – The Harrowing of the North
Long-form psychedelic sludge from Britain. This album only has two tracks, but the average length is around sixteen minutes. Nevertheless, it manages to hold the listener’s attention, mostly via oppressive heaviness. Coincidentally, oppression seems to be the theme that inspired the album, according to the description given on Bandcamp.
8. Graveyard – Hisingen Blues
I’ll assume you’ve heard of these hard-rocking Swedes before, but I hadn’t — until early 2011 when their second album was released, to much fanfare. This is blues in the Led Zeppelin or Cream sense of the word, rather than the Robert Johnson or Muddy Waters kind. Either way, it has been rocking my socks off all year, especially this song…
7. Oak Pantheon – The Void
Atmospheric black metal band that has, in my opinion, a greater claim of authenticity than most other USBM scenes. This is due to the fact that they come from Minnesota, which (as far as I know) is under at least six feet of snow for about 300 days per year. Suck it, Cascadia.
6. De Staat – Machinery
Somewhere between alt-pop and indie-rock, this Dutch band is definitely not metal, but once I had just the smallest bite of the infectious groove on this record, I was helplessly hooked. Below is a video for my favorite song on the album, which swings more than anything I’ve heard since Edwyn Collins, but I’d recommend seeking out the whole album– especially if you’ve ever secretly found yourself bopping along to any song by Beck or Gorillaz.
5. Borracho – Splitting Sky
Fuzzy, grungy, balls-out stoner metal from the District of Columbia. This debut LP was just released on vinyl; also now available is their 7″ single from the album, in the original English version (“Concentric Circles”) or en espaÒol (“CÌrculos ConcÈntricos”).
4. Batillus – Furnace
Blackened post-industrial sludge-doom from Brooklyn; every bit as heavy as the supertanker from which they took their name. This was not their first release, but it’s the first one I heard, and I believe the first one to use a vocalist.
3. Yggdrasil – Irrbloss
Swedish metal, with some folk elements as well as some blackened elements. The band’s name comes from a myth about the tree of life, and the album title is a reference to legends about will o’ the wisps; there is very little that is airy or phantagasmoric about the music, though. Here is their officially released video for the song “Bergtagen”:
2. The Hanna Barbarians – Syzygy
Once again, not-quite-metal, this Texan bunch play a hard-rockin’ hybrid of southern-fried blues and psychedelia, somewhere between fellow statesmen Reverend Horton Heat and Butthole Surfers. Also, is that the coolest band name ever, or what?
1. USX – The Valley Path
This band from the heart of Appalachia is also known as U.S. Christmas, but I prefer to use the acronym, since that is also the name of a steel company here in Pittsburgh. Plus, the album title has a valley in it, so how could I not love this, right? One single, 38-minute track, this record follows in the tradition of sprawling, epic songs like “Thick as a Brick” in that it has themes that come and go throughout its running time, dynamics that build up and fall down, and requires a hefty devotion of your time and attention to get through it. Except this track is also very atmospheric, mournful, and sometimes depressing. But it’s worth the investment. As I recall, my wife was out of town for a friend’s baby shower the first time I listened to this, and so I had free reign over the house, and could turn the stereo ALL THE WAY UP and sit in a dark room and just let the sound wash over me. I’d highly recommend it.
A Denizen of the Valley
* – Disclaimer: Obviously I did not hear everything that was released in 2011 — or even everything that I received or downloaded, at least not yet, so I probably won’t ever be able to say DEFINITIVELY which ones were the ACTUAL top releases of the year.