As 2011 draws to a close, end-of-year ‘best-of’ lists are cropping up thither and yon. Not to be left out of the action, we at OneMetal decided to task the members of our music team with each coming up with a list of what they thought the best five releases of 2011 were. The resulting lists – compiled after many hours of head-scratching, re-listening to records, and suddenly cursing when a much-loved yet mysteriously forgotten-about CD once more presented itself for attention to cause yet another bout of frenzied re-evaluation and re-ordering – stand as a testament both to the diverse tastes of the OneMetal music team and to the largely outstanding quality of music released this year.
The lists show that long-established artists who chose to branch out in new directions had their efforts received rather warmly in some quarters of the OneMetal music team – Korn‘s collaborative effort with dubstep noisemakers makes an appearance, as does Opeth‘s foray into full-blown progressive rock. The ‘djent’ scene produced some highly-regarded releases too, with bands like Circles and Uneven Structure cropping up in our top picks and showing that the scene has far more to offer than simple Meshuggah-cloning.
There are a few eyebrow-raising picks, too – I certainly never expected to see London-based ska/punk/hip-hop collective The King Blues turning up in a list of OneMetal staff’s favourite releases of 2011, but it’s hard to argue with the irresistable infectiousness of tracks like ‘The Future’s Not What It Used To Be’.
Whatever your tastes in music of the more alternative variety, you’re sure to stumble over some releases covered here that may just have escaped your notice, but that are definitely more than worth your time and attention. So, without further ado – here are the OneMetal Music Team’s top releases of 2011.
5. The Empire Shall Fall – Volume I: Solar Plexus
Jesse Leach’s progressive crew hailing from Providence, RI unleashed the first in their series of 3 EP’s that will eventually be collated into a single album only very recently, but such is its impact that it has barged its way into my top 5 already. Heavy, progressive, vibey and soulful, this tops their debut in every conceivable way.
4. Emmure – Speaker Of The Dead
If you’ve ever listened to Emmure before, you should know what to expect by now. Heavier than a weight watcher’s meeting and with lyrics that will bait every straight laced prude in existence; Emmure aren’t aiming to please. What they have done is up everything a huge step: I dare you to listen to ‘Solar Flare Homicide’ and stay still.
3. Times of Grace – The Hymn Of A Broken Man
Bleak, cathartic and a thoroughly spiritual experience, Adam D of Killswitch Engage fame partners once more with Jesse Leach (I’m a fanboy, alright?) to create an album that rivals Killswitch‘s lauded debut. Dark and brooding, this exposes every piece of both artists, sometimes to an almost uncomfortable degree. Fantastic live material too.
2. Skindred – Union Black
The UK’s best live band have brought their finest album to date, full of ragga beats, dancehall madness and the irreplaceable Benji Webbe. Unmistakably British, Union Black never drops pace throughout an album that one minute draws from hardcore (The dubstep-fuelled beatdown on ‘Game Over’), and the next Dizzee Rascal (the lightspeed rapping on ‘Living A Lie’). On any other year, this would have been the runaway number 1. Except…
1. Machine Head – Unto The Locust
My editorial overlords have granted me up to a hundred words to talk about Machine Head‘s Unto The Locust, but I don’t need them. The band’s previous release The Blackening stands as my second favourite album of all time, and I like Unto The Locust just as much as it. A literally near-perfect album, in this writer’s opinion.
5. Sylosis – Edge of the Earth
Under a huge amount of pressure to at least match their fantastic debut Conclusion of an Age, Sylosis decided not only to top it, but to shatter any doubts about their new line up (guitarist Josh MIddleton now taking vocal duties) in one go. Complex and aggressive, Edge of the Earth manages to be angry and beautiful at once, which is neither easy to imagine or produce. Seriously.
4. Protest the Hero – Scurrilous
Truly defining the term ‘progressive’, Canadian quintet Protest The Hero‘s third album Scurrilous is bizarre, metal as hell and oddly addictive. Sounding in some places like what could be a very interesting new direction for The Darkness, quirky, odd timing makes this an album as clever as it is compelling. I have girly hand-hearts for it.
3. Asking Alexandria – Reckless and Relentless
Yes, true METAL folks, I may as well have said Maroon 5, but Reckless and Relentless is a mindless weekend party album which never fails to liven my mood up on a miserable, grey weekday. Peppering chunky rock riffs and screams with clean vocals, synthy bits and breakdowns, it may not be quite as clever as it thinks it is, but it manages to rock my world nonetheless.
2. Machine Head – Unto The Locust
I am in an eternal battle with my inner voice about whether this album is as good or better than 2007′s The Blackening. While ‘Halo’ remains, without a doubt, the best song anyone has ever written (yes, EVER), Unto The Locust (the track ‘Locust’ in particular) has moments of such tingle-inducing brilliance that it actually manages to make me feel a tiny bit sick. This, obviously, is a good thing.
1. Exit Ten – Give Me Infinity
I raved enough about this in my review for OneMetal, but this is an incredibly mature and beautifully crafted offering from what used to be merely a ‘quite good’ rock band relying on catchy hooks and interesting hair. Give Me Infinity has the capacity to be catchy, epic and eery in turns, and still manages to make me breathless even after the 2000th listen.
5. Devin Townsend Project – Ghost
I know this isn’t exactly the most kvlt album to come out this year, but a single, unbroken listen to this album feels as if Devin himself is reaching out and directly massaging your brain. It might not have blistering solos or intense blast beats, but sometimes all that is needed is an oasis of calm, which Ghost is perfectly eager to provide.
4. Dragonland – Under The Grey Banner
While they seem to be doomed to forever be overshadowed by the *other* band with “dragon” in their name, Dragonland have managed to release an absolutely fantastic album. With symphonic swoops that would fit perfectly into the soundtrack of Lord of The Rings and some incredible vocals, Under The Grey Banner is the modern power metal album to beat.
3. Machine Head – Unto the Locust
Personally, I think that The Blackening is the best metal album I have ever heard. While that might be a bit controversial, few would argue that it was an easy album to follow. Unto The Locust does just that, moving from the pure rage that powered The Blackening to a more restrained, focused sound. From the anthemic ‘Who We Are’ to the more subdued ‘Darkness Within’, Machine Head have proven that not only can they set an incredibly high standard, but they can maintain it too.
2. Devin Townsend Project – Deconstruction
Part progressive metal, part extreme metal and part pure insanity burned onto a disc, Deconstruction is the album that Devin Townsend’s fans have been screaming for ever since Strapping Young Lad swansong The New Black. Just as Ghost provides a beautiful soundscape of calm, Deconstruction creates an irresistible wall of chaos that effortlessly carries the listener through its crazed meanderings.
1. In Flames – Sounds Of A Playground Fading
A return to form from melo-death’s brightest stars. Combining and improving upon all of the best points of Reroute To Remain and Come Clarity, this is one of the best examples of the balance between melody and brutality there is. In a genre where many bands get by through mimicking In Flames’ discography, this is a rare, innovative album that I have been listening to constantly ever since it was released. This is the In Flames of the new decade.
5. Cloudkicker – Let Yourself Be Huge
Cloudkicker is Ben Sharp. Over the past few years the notoriously media shy musician has distributed his music entirely on Bandcamp, and despite offering every release for absolute zero, he has received enough funds to make any future projects financially sustainable. An inspiration for countless “bedroom guitarists” Let Yourself Be Huge takes a step away from his previous math-metal persona. It is still centered around loops, layers and different time signatures, but with a heavy dose of acoustic guitar and a constant pace, this release has a very mellow feel and surely complements all your “djent” albums that have been bought throughout this year.
4. The Devin Townsend Project – Deconstruction
Through unleashing a new set of projects this year, Devin Townsend has undoubtedly coaxed some new fans from the murky shadows. Alongside Ghost, Deconstruction completes his tetralogy album concept, exploring the “different states” of his musical moods. Although at times this album can seem as mad as a pancake, this mystical, colourful and grandiose sounding extreme metal release will keep you guessing throughout and interested right to the end. Once the album finishes it will leave you feeling overwhelmed for days.
3. Pulling Teeth – Funerary
Well, it is disappointing to hear that Pulling Teeth have called it a day. This very personal album marked a zenith for their darkened hardcore sound, but “as a band we have accomplished everything that we have set out to do. Life is short. It’s time to move on and do other things.” Get this album and completely lose yourself in it. Finding a more meaningful and balls-out aggressive hardcore album from this year will be very difficult.
2. Mastodon – The Hunter
Mastodon have finally released a punchy and succinct album that doesn’t get too carried away with the lengthy and cumbersome tracks of past releases. The Hunter is a smack- in-your-face rock album investigated fully by the members involved, whether that be in the form of eclectic jazz drumming or hidden folk/country licks. It will leave you in awe of just how far this band has come. They could literally do anything next.
1. Opeth – Heritage
Despite being a contender for perhaps worst album cover of the year award, Opeth’s polemic artwork for Heritage reinforces the change in musical path on this album. A move away from the deep growls and blackened metal of the past few releases, the intricate and jazzed up prog-rock that this album resonates not only explores the wonderful virtuosity of the band, but also freshens up their live repertoire.
5. Will Haven – Voir Dire
Whilst a lot of metal from the 90s is typically best left in that particular decade, Sacramento-based noisemakers Will Haven were always ahead of their time. Their comeback album (which sees them reuniting with vocalist Grady Avenell) sounds so vicious and vital that you’d simply have to be a prize twat to label them a legacy act. Truly awesome stuff.
4. Revocation – Chaos of Forms
Like most right-thinking individuals, I love me some fast, dirty, techy, death-leaning thrash metal. Naturally, then, I was pretty pleased that back in August, Boston, Masachusetts-based death/thrash quartet Revocation‘s third album Chaos of Forms served a big, heaping plate full of the stuff. I’ve been greedily eating it up ever since.
3. Torchbearer – The Dirty Swagger
This one took me totally by surprise. New Jersey-based hardcore mob Torchbearer supply huge, angst-ridden slabs of brutal hardcore noise, with some of the most effectively raw production I’ve heard in an age. If you’re a Converge fan – and really, if you’re reading this, there stands a chance that you are – you really should be checking this one out.
2. Opeth – Heritage
Arguably metal’s most divisive album of 2011. I love listening to Opeth playing death metal, but I’ve got many great records I can go back to for that. This has to be the warmest, best sounding record of the year. Add in great songwriting, and a chance to really hear Mikael’s clean vocals, and you’ve a record I’ll going back to for years.
1. Uneven Structure – Februus
I wouldn’t describe myself as the biggest “djent” fan. A lot of it is too clean and clinical for me, and whilst I understand how clever it is, I don’t find myself connecting on an emotional level. This is the polar opposite. Deep, lush and organic sounding. Brutal, and then fragile. This is a hugely ambitious record, and a success on every level. I genuinely hear something different in this every time I play it. Can’t wait to catch them live next year.
5. The Wounded Kings – Chapel of the Black Hand
This one hasn’t been featured on OM but it makes my personal Top 5 for thoroughly fulfilling my penchant for all things doom. Returning with a new lineup (including, I must say, one former and one current member of Ishmael), this is fuzzed-out, incense-scented trad doom that keeps the faith but has a punchy present-day production. Run this through with the harrowing vocals of rising star Sharie Neyland – part Jus Oborn and part Diamanda Galas – and you have yourself a pretty essential doom album.
4. Arkona – Slovo
Lush and merciless in equal measure, Slovo completely won me over to folk metal thanks to its authentic (and rather pretty) instrumentation and uncompromising metal wallop. A very odd addition to my personal Top 5, but it made me want to buy some mead just to slosh around the place and let me tell you, anything that makes me want to waste booze on the floor has to be special.
3. Indian – Guiltless
If you’re a fan of doom, sludge and/or black metal, this will be your wet dream as all three genres roll into one chilling bundle. From the bleak zombie trudge of the title track to the earsplitting cacophony of noise and screaming that closes the album, Guiltless is a tough and literally terrifying listen which will deeply affect the listener for a very long time.
2. Paul Catten – Themes and Variations For Strings And Electronics
Like a focused and much more sinister Mike Patton, Paul Catten’s creepily cerebral soundtrack of white noise, screaming-robot feedback and ominous lulls (plus a healthy scattering of loopy theremin) is a must for anyone who appreciates the art of orchestrated noise. It’s not easy listening by any stretch and it’ll take a few listens to thoroughly engage with this record but believe me, your patience will be rewarded!
1. Pulling Teeth – Funerary
Hands-down the most powerful album I’ve heard this year, I also nominate Funerary as the best album I’ve had the pleasure to cover for OM so far. Written in the midst of personal tragedies and largely inspired by them, its devastating blend of furious hardcore and soul-crushing doom raised goosebumps and even provoked a couple of tears from this writer. If anyone’s heard a more visceral, ‘real’ album than this in the past year, I urge you to get in touch and correct me.
5. Lower Than Atlantis – World Record
My least metal choice of these 5 albums, but still a big step above a lot of other releases this year. British rock doesn’t get more honest or direct than LTA in 2011, after the success of the hardcore Far Q the guys took a more melodic tone, and one for the better. Frontman Mike Duce is certainly an outspoken and candid individual but his songwriting has matured so much with ‘Beech Like The Tree’ and ‘Deadliest Catch’ that his choruses will stick with you for months. A great representation of talented and forward thinking British musicians and a cracking album.
4. Opeth – Heritage
The lack of growled vocals on this record never seemed like a bad thing to me when it was announced; honestly I’ve always been more of a fan of Opeth’s softer side. Heritage contained some of the best prog of the year, which at first was difficult to get into – but once I was in, I found some of the best music Mikael has ever put his name to. Tracks like the single ‘The Devil’s Orchard’ and ‘Slither’ stand out in this sure-to-be Opeth classic.
3. The Black Dahlia Murder – Ritual
I’ve never claimed to be an expert on the heaviest end of the metal spectrum, but this album blew me away, almost literally. It’s melodic death metal at its finest; the band may have their naysayers, but undeservedly – especially after you hear ‘Moonlight Equilibrium’ and it knocks you on your arse. Stupidly heavy and fast, paired with brutal guitar work that puts most of this year’s releases to shame. If you haven’t heard it yet and you like fantastic metal, do yourself a favour and give Ritual a listen because you will love it.
2. Machine Head – Unto The Locust
Massive, just massive. A lot of debate was created over whether Machine Head could top The Blackening, and in my humble (albeit often deluded) opinion they completely have. Unto The Locust boasts bigger anthems and a less drawn out approach to songwriting than their previous release, containing bigger riffs on tracks like ‘I Am Hell’ and greater emotion with ‘Darkness Within’. Machine Head have got more rhythm and groove than ever it seems right now and they’re only going to get bigger with the help of this as, in my opinion, their best album to date.
1. Mastodon – The Hunter
I don’t know how they keep doing it. If you weren’t a fan of Mastodon before you may be now, their most accessible album is like a ‘best of’ in that it takes elements from all of their previous efforts and melds them into one massive beast. Whether it’s the swaggering strut of ‘Curl Of The Burl’ or the beauty of the title track – one of the best things they have ever done. The catchy songs, the great riffing, the mad imagery and the mind blowing drumming put together make my favourite album of the year. It’s brilliant. End of.
5. Exhumed – All Guts, No Glory
In short – slashing, bludgeoning, grinding gore-soaked death metal at its pinnacle. All Guts, No Glory – Legendary goregrind quartet Exhumed‘s first entirely new album since 2003′s Anatomy Is Destiny – just about kept the new Cormorant record out of my top five, it’s THAT good. A marvellous and welcome return from a brilliant band.
4. While Heaven Wept – Fear Of Infinity
Few bands get the doom thing right in quite the same way as While Heaven Wept, and Fear Of Infinity cements their place at the top of the pile. With a more aggressive edge to the first few tracks than we’ve heard from them before, and yet more epic, smooth emotional goodness later on, While Heaven Wept have set themselves and everyone else a very hard act to follow.
3. Vektor – Outer Isolation
Absolutely the best thrash album to be released in 2011, among some tough competition from the likes of Evile and Havok. Vektor‘s cybered-up progressive take on the genre recalls Voivod at their finest, yet adds a dash of Absu‘s bonkers black metal to the mix to move them so far ahead of the pack they may as well be beaming it to us from the future.
2. Will Haven – Voir Dire
Comeback of the year? Almost certainly. Original vocalist Grady Avenell’s return seems to have re-energised one of the finest bands of noisemakers of the last twenty years, with Voir Dire erasing memories of the disappointing The Heirophant by being a snarling, lurching trip through some of the blackest, bleakest regions of the musical landscape.
1. Black Dahlia Murder – Ritual
Anyone who knows anything about me won’t be entirely surprised by this, I guess. The Black Dahlia Murder shifted gear with Ritual – the songs, the production and the packaging all come together to make one of the most cohesive releases from anyone in 2011. A genuinely unsettling atmosphere, unmatched shredding from both guitarists, and Trevor Strnad’s best vocal and lyrical performance yet – a fully-deserved 5/5 review, and easily my album of the year.
5. Will Haven – Voir Dire
It’s Grady Fucking Avenell! That’s all you need to know. But not only that, Slipknot‘s Chris Fehn is on bass duty – someone who knows a thing or two about putting brutality down on disc. Voir Dire is an album that’s rife with dark undertones, headbanging riffs and Avenell’s signature scream powering it ever onward. ‘When The Walls Close In’ showcases exactly why this band are just as important now as they were back in the late 90s. We’ve missed you guys.
4. Korn – The Path Of Totality
A controversial album amongst the metal community, but Korn‘s leap into dubstep is bass-wobblingly fantastic. Featuring some of the biggest names in the current incarnation of dubstep including Skrillex and Noisia, Korn have melded their own heavy, bassy metal with huge drops, high tempo drum beats and synths galore. ‘Narcissistic Cannibal’ and ‘Get Up!’ are already doing the rounds in your local rock club, whilst ‘Way Too Far’ and ‘Burn The Obedient’ keep Korn‘s spirit of metal alive. Embrace something different.
3. Machine Head – Unto The Locust
Since Machine Head really broke into the mainstream with 2004′s Through The Ashes Of Empires, Rob Flynn and co. have been steadily producing bigger, angrier and altogether more accessible songs. Straight from the off, Rob Flynn’s gruff voice rises above the thumping drums and crunchy riffs, exactly what you need from one of the hottest bands in metal. ‘Locust’ and ‘Pearls Before The Swine’ prove the band’s song-writing ability and just how heavy they can be, whilst closer ‘Who We Are’ is guaranteed to become next year’s metal festival anthem.
2. The King Blues – Punk & Poetry
Itch and his London posse have managed to condense their political and emotional feelings into one outstanding record that is littered with messages of hope, despair and change. From the anti-establishment anthem ‘We Are Fucking Angry’ to the bleak outlook on Britain in ‘The Future’s Not What It Used To Be’, The King Blues have a lot to say and do so with catchy lyrics, danceable tunes and raw passion.
1. Mastodon – The Hunter
Not just the best Mastodon album but probably the most impressive album of 2011. For a band who have been so consistently innovative, The Hunter takes their prog-metal stylings to a new level. From the full-on metallic blast of ‘Blasteroid’ to the bigger, traditional monster-concept of ‘Creature Lives’, The Hunter is a heavy metal masterpiece that only gets better over time.
5. Anterior – Echoes of the Fallen
My God, this is a band who know how to make heads bang. There’s not a lot I can say that I didn’t already say in my review. These are five men who understand the art of the riff and the precise science of how to balance weight with melody. Three months after this album first captivated me, I still maintain that they have one of the best guitar pairings in British metal. This album should come with a repetitive strain injury warning (take that how you will, you filthy-minded urchins).
4. Draconian – A Rose for the Apocalypse
From Anders Jacobsson’s opening roar it’s clear that this is going to be an album as powerful and majestic as it is beautiful and haunting. The Beauty and The Beast vocal duo and the quiet-loud dynamic is used to full effect to create a sonic masterpiece that has a timeless quality to it. The brilliance of this album is that the riffs and drum beats are so simple that few musicians would have the balls to put them to tape or even the ability to conceive of them, and that’s what makes this album so heavy. Doom metal at its finest. Utterly woeful.
3. Darkest Hour – The Human Romance
Perhaps the most melodic of their albums. Darkest Hour are no strangers to evolution, but just listen to those racing, schizophrenic guitars. Unlike previous releases it’s less the technical, lightspeed virtuosity that makes this album so good; it’s the overwhelming sense that this is a band who believe in what they’re doing and are in love with what they believe. John Henry’s enraged, feral vocals expose a tortured soul and when he screams ‘some things just never go away,’ you’d better believe him. The poets amongst you will want to check this out for the lyrics.
2. Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones
Not an obvious choice for a metal website; I was never a fan of Turner the first time around, but that all changed in a tent in Reading in 2008. This is an honest album by a man who plays with more passion than a Tori Black film and this is his most experimental effort yet, featuring a cappella vocals and a glorious celebration of atheism. Frank sings about real, everyman issues wrapped up in layers of poetry. And if you don’t think he belongs on this website, take a listen to ‘One Foot Before The Other’. It sounds more dangerous than putting Bring Me The Horizon as main support for Slayer.
1. Machine Head – Unto The Locust
This album sounds HUGE. Which probably explains why it’s so easy to get lost in. The layered vocals, the twisting complexity of the riffs, Dave McClain’s drumming which is more powerful than Slipknot‘s three percussionists combined; everything about this album is anthemic. Even the melodic ‘Darkness Within’, which initially sat uneasily with me, is a brave and progressive piece of song-writing. The riffs, the beats, the solos!
5. The Bronx – Mariachi El Bronx II
A bit of a leftfield choice, particularly considering the absence from my list of Devin Townsend, Protest the Hero and, most notably Opeth (what can I say? I just wasn’t much of a fan of Heritage ["burn the heretic!"]), but for sheer enjoyment and super-fun-happy-music-times, Mariachi El Bronx II has been my go-to album since its release in September, and has without a doubt been my second-most played record of the latter half of the year (after The Hunter, obvs.) Not only that, having caught the band live in November, I can also confirm that they’re a hell of a lot of fun to watch too. Sure, I’ll concede that if it wasn’t a band from our realm doing it, then I guess we wouldn’t care that much. But it is, and we do, so there.
4. Trap Them – Darker Handcraft
Kurt Ballou’s Midas Touch in the studio seems to show no sign of abating. Having produced a number of my favourite albums over the last few years (Kvelertak, Black Breath, Nails, Torche, Doomriders, and of course, Converge), he’s been at it again, this time with Seattle’s Trap Them. Blending Entombed-like buzzsaw guitars with a hardcore punk sensibility (much like Black Breath‘s Heavy Breathing did in 2010), Darker Handcraft is inarguably one of the most abrasive albums of 2011: it’s scuzzy, brutal, and in parts, just downright filthy. And that’s why I like it so damn much.
3. The Black Dahlia Murder – Ritual
Rob’s already got this one covered (both here and in his review of the album back in June) so I’ll keep the gushing to a minimum… Topping 2009′s Deflorate was always going to be a tall order, but somehow, Detroit’s The Black Dahlia Murder have managed that feat. They haven’t exactly reinvented the wheel, but by adding more hooks and greater musical variety than found in their previous output (and even the odd orchestral moment thrown in for good measure), Ritual signifies a band perfecting, rather than progressing, their already pretty-damn-brutal sound.
2. Turbowolf – Turbowolf
Having been doing the rounds for a number of years already, touring their arses off and raising their profile using only the power of infinitely catchy riffs and incendiary live performances (along with some rather plum support slots), 2011 saw Bristol’s Turbowolf finally land a richly-deserved record deal, the result of which is their eponymous debut album. Mixing crunchy guitar hooks, a memorable vocal performance and groovy synth-led psychedelia, Turbowolf is a finely-crafted record that showcases what this band can really do, and it’s great to be able to finally blast through my headphones the tracks that first made me take notice of Turbowolf in the live setting earlier in the year.
1. Mastodon – The Hunter
Providing further evidence that Mastodon can do no wrong (at least as far as this writer is concerned), put simply, The Hunter condenses all of the best bits of the band’s previous output into 13 uncharacteristically concise yet at the same time typically awesome tracks. The heaviness that was slightly lacking from Crack the Skye is back (at least in certain places), but at the same time the band have retained the more out-there tendencies of later albums, and combined the two to create without a doubt the best album of 2011 (in my humble opinion, anyway; if you’d like to read more Mastodon-based obsequiousness, look no further than my recent review of the aforementioned album…)
5. Dakesis – Trial By Fire
Trial by Fire is Birmingham power metallers Dakesis’s debut full length, but don’t let that fool you into thinking this is some rough quality demo shoehorned into Onemetal’s Best of 2011 list thanks to sexual favours and free gig tickets. Rather, from the quality of the material on display here, you wouldn’t guess that Dakesis are an unsigned band. Every song on this CD is well crafted and catchy, and the music behind the melodies is supple and intricate. Definitely a band to watch out for.
4. Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage
An appropriate swan-song for Washingtonians Wolves in the Throne Room, Celestial Lineage is as delicate and beautiful as it is bleak and raw. If my masculinity wasn’t threatened by the floweriness of such a statement, I could almost say it evokes the majesty of seasonal change in a forest; sodden grottoes steeped in brutal cold and bleak lifelessness serving only as a prelude to the new growth of spring. It also allows them the rare accolade of retiring without having released a bad album.
3. Fleshgod Apocalypse – Agony
The tired cliché in metal journalism of bands combining brutality and melody robs the application of that statement to Fleshgod Apocalypse’s Agony with any real weight, so to qualify, while every metal band that doesn’t play drone combines melody and brutality to some degree, in Agony, Fleshgod have defined combining melody and brutality. Their wickedly barbed hooks will be stuck in your ears for weeks and they mix orchestral arrangements and death metal with a sophistication that Behemoth and Vader can only dream of.
2. Symphony X – Iconoclast
Definitely a grower, Iconoclast is like a girl who won’t put out until the fifth date, but the eventual eargasms are much more satisfying for the wait. Not as immediate previous Symphony X albums, it does have the advantage of revealing further glories with each listen. Moving away from Symphony X’s neoclassical roots into groovier pentatonic territory, Iconoclast makes you bang your head rather than bask in the glory of epic arrangements and diatonic scale cascades. Russel Allen is also the greatest clean vocalist in any genre, and that is a scientific fact.
1. Origin – Entity
Do any other tech death bands even know what songwriting is? Not only are Origin one of the most preposterously skilled group of instrumentalists to grace the genre they manage to frame that within the context of hooks and memorable riffs. All this is wrapped up in a production job that (In contrast to past Origin releases) actually allows you to hear what’s happening, and you have an album that punches above its weight, being accessible to the general metal consumer without scrimping on the unholy widdle that rubs the tech heads up the right way.
5. Alice Cooper – Welcome 2 My Nightmare
There aren’t many artists of The Coop’s vintage that are still making albums that reflect what made them great in the first place, but Welcome 2 My Nightmare harks back to his classic early – mid 70′s period but with one foot placed firmly placed in the now. Forget Marilyn Manson or Rob Zombie, this fun slice of shock rock shows the pretenders how it’s done.
4. Misfits – The Devil’s Rain
I know there are those naysayers who don’t quite get why I like this album so much but just like the Alice Cooper album, this is quite simply a rocking good time. Great punk n’ roll songs about ghouls and monsters played by a band that do it a damn sight better than a lot of bands half their age. Just because it hasn’t got Danzig on it…grumble grumble…not proper line-up…moan moan…
3. Sick Of It All – Nonstop
I don’t think I really need to justify why this is in my top 5 list; however, since my editorial overlords pay me in scraps of bacon by the word, I suppose I’d best have a go. Simply put, it’s Sick Of It All – almost indisputably the best hardcore band in the world – playing some of their best-loved, most crowd-pleasingly classic tunes with a brand-new, beefed-up, crunchy metal production. ‘Nuff said.
2. Anthrax – Worship Music
And to think it could have gone so wrong! Being an Anthrax fan that preferred the edgier tones of John Bush on the mic, I didn’t have high hopes for the return of warbler extraordinaire Joey Belladonna but one listen to Worship Music blows all preconceptions out of the window. Singing songs that obviously weren’t written with him in mind, Belladonna becomes the main attraction on an album that stands head and shoulders above anything released by any of The Big Four for the last few years.
1. Machine Head – Unto The Locust
Despite having been a Machine Head fan since day one, I was never that enamoured by The Blackening. Some said that album was their Master of Puppets, but to me it was more like …And Justice For All – all very clever, but an album I have to be in the right mood to listen to, and that mood rarely comes. Unto The Locust was much more like it; long and complex songs that don’t sound long and complex, and which were recorded with a passion and drive rarely seen in a band that have been around for nearly two decades. There isn’t much I can say about it that hasn’t been said already, but for an album that represents everything that’s great about the music we love it doesn’t get much better than this. A proper modern classic.
5. Circles – The Compass
2011 saw the nascent ‘djent’ scene start to grow in confidence and scope, with bands quietly unveiling releases that took the polyrhythmic technicality of the style into newer territory. With their debut mini-album The Compass, Circles showed that accessibility, melody, and genuinely memorable hooks could live side-by-side with djent’s trademark technical bludgeon – fusing down-tuned riffs and odd time signatures with singer Perry Kakridas’ Mike Patton-influenced vocal dexterity and flourishes of electronica to create an addictive, emotive brew.
4. Pulling Teeth – Funerary
The Baltimore-based hardcore wrecking crew recently announced that they were splitting up, having “…accomplished everything that we set out to do.” That’s a statement that’s easy to believe given the emotionally devastating swansong that is Funerary – a genuinely-tortured sounding album born of personal anguish that spits fury, bile and grief in all directions.
3. 3 – The Ghost You Gave To Me
The Ghost You Gave To Me was perhaps the best blind-pick I made out of the review queue this year – somehow, 3 had been completely unknown to me up until giving this album a listen. The band’s fusion of influences from basically the last three decades of progressive rock into a sound both compositionally intricate, yet liberally sprinkled with earworm hooks made The Ghost You Gave To Me one of my most-played albums in 2011.
2. Uneven Structure – Februus
While Circles were fusing pop sensibilities to djent’s existing framework, labelmates Uneven Structure busied themselves with further exploring the ambient, progressive possibilities of the style. The result was Februus – an album almost overwhelming in its scope, weaving ambient cloudbursts and soulful clean vocals seamlessly together with passages of thunderous heaviness that landed all the more potently for their juxtaposition with plateaus of meditative beauty.
1. Hammers Of Misfortune – 17th Street
Line-up shuffles are nothing new in the history of Hammers Of Misfortune, but the addition of gutiarist/vocalist Leila Abdul-Rauf and vocalist Joe Hutton to John Cobbett’s band of prog/folk/trad-metallers certainly made an appreciable impact this time round – Abdul-Rauf re-inspiring Cobbett to write for the electric guitar again ensured that the album is a festival of inventive, memorable riffs, while Hutton’s booming, charismatic vocals bring Cobbett’s lyrical tales of urban decay, social isolation and gentrification to thrilling life.