What. A. Year.
Can’t say much else. I probably had 30 albums to try to squeeze into 20 spots and 15 into the top 10 this year. There was just so much wicked stuff I’d put in the 8-10 scoring range, and that’s not counting how lazy I got from about September and on with digesting new stuff. Regardless, as seen in the variety below, this was a killer year for heavy music of all styles. And when something sucked, it often did so in such glorious fashion as to provide unintentional entertainment. Overall, old legends returned to form, others shat on their legacy even more, and some newer favorites confirmed their status as true masters. Plus I got to see Immortal, Motorhead, and Absu live. Finally.
A special note about a certain weekend in Chicago. The 40 Watt Sun getaway was a time for the ages. The gathering of friends new and old, food and beer, chaos, that entrancing hour of music, and strange goings on like a late night spinning of A Love Supreme… that was perfect dudes. Thanks to y’all.
So now… TO THE JAMS!
1. AZARATH – BLASPHEMERS’ MALEDICTIONS
Holy shit. HOLY SHIT. That was my jaw-dropping, stuck-on-devil-grinning, utterly wide-eyed response to Blasphemers’ Maledictions from Poland’s Azarath. By the end of just one spin, I knew that this felt like an album of the year type. After 30 or so spins, it got the spot. I listened over and over, knowing that this straightforward of attack is rarely what hits me so hard, but there was no avoiding the truth: this is the most destructive and absolutely devastating death metal album I’ve heard in a long goddamn time. Complete and total annihilation. Listen to “The Abjection” and admit that you too fucking want some.
2. 40 WATT SUN – THE INSIDE ROOM
Lots of musicians try to bare their souls for the listener in an effort to appear naked and honest, but not too many quite achieve this like Patrick Walker. His follow-up to Warning may in fact surpass that act, and offers enough of a doomy difference to stand alone. Very, very alone. Minimal riffs (plus the only metal I’ve ever seen delivered with a capo) and rhythms are merely a vehicle to support Walker’s inimitable vocals, but that is not to say that each detail isn’t expertly crafted. From the fuzz to the echo of the voice, every ounce of The Inside Room is both fresh and eternal, harrowing and renewing. Song of the DECADE nominee: “Carry Me Home”
3. VREID – V
Vreid is getting increasingly difficult to pigeonhole into some sort of actual “genre,” but I’m going to go out on a short limb here and just call them great heavy metal. The return of Windir teammate Strom seems to have injected the band with an added touch of prog and melody, turning V into an album that is nearly as classic as 2009’s unbelievable Milorg. Best of all, this is the album that showed Vreid can turn out the monsters in succession, without having to toss out a couple decent albums in between. From the opener through incredible closer “Then We Die” this one is a complete beast worthy of all the popularity this band is gaining.
4. ARGUS – BOLDLY STRIDE THE DOOMED
Along with the unstoppable Pharaoh, Argus gets my vote for the top flag bearers of the old guard, despite not being of the old guard. This might be a heavy metal record, but something about Boldly Stride the Doomed is just smooth, and it isn’t just Butch Balich’s golden pipes. The leads, riffs, and just-intense-enough attitude makes up the kind of metal album that is trad enough to please the old guy you see at shows wearing the Witchfinder General jacket, but doomy and clever enough for the younguns. The debut was great, but Boldly might just be a classic. Also… 400,000 NUMBER THE SARACEN HORDE!!!
5. ARCH / MATHEOS –
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t grow up on Fates Warning. In fact, I really didn’t hear much of the band until seeing them live with Dream Theater several years back. That said, the full length reunion of misters Arch and Matheos is nothing short of stunning. Jim Matheos’ expanded frameworks give John Arch the perfect spaces to do whatever exactly it is he does (create melodies while simultaneously ignoring them). Add a stellar backing band and you get an album that easily ranks among the best progfests of recent memory, and the lead album in a fall that got me feeling proggier than I had in ages. Highlight to hear: “Stained Glass Sky”
6. VEKTOR – OUTER ISOLATION
It’s thrash. It’s brash. It’s brash thrash! That’ll do. Seriously, after getting my ass handed to me by Black Future, there is little doubt that Outer Isolation was towards the top of the anticipated list for the year. And what did these upstarts from Arizona go and do? They went and made the most rip-roarin’, ax-shreddin’, down right skull crushin’ thrash album of the year. Someone must have found a new vein in the riff mines of the Bay Area and Deutschland, because there be riffs in these here riffs. RIFFS. Oodles and oodles of riffs, and gallops, and insane leads. It’s a wild ride, one that makes the entire “thrash revival” thing seem oh so meaningless.
7. SUBROSA – NO HELP FOR THE MIGHTY ONES
The inclusion of No Help for the Mighty Ones is not only for the incomparably gorgeous music, but because when I had a time of need, SubRosa was there. When attempting to get my study skills back for a professional certification, this was at the top of my book-hittin’ playlist. It was the kind of thing I could allow to sink into the background or dominate my attention, working on a variety of levels. Most importantly, it appeals to the doom metal guy in me, the bluegrass fan, soul, rock, etc etc etc, without seeming even the slightest bit schizo. Truly brilliant and inspired. Song of the year nominee: “Stonecarver”
8. DREAM THEATER –
A DRAMATIC TURN OF EVENTS
Easy, easy recipient of both the 2011 Happy Fanboy and Comeback of the Year awards. I’m not going to suggest that this is as objectively good as some of the other stuff on here, but as a long time fan, hearing them return to what made them great was such a breath of fresh air to me. After several years of excessive bullshit (mostly MIKE PORTNOY’S UTTERLY HORRID VOCALS), A Dramatic Turn of Events is a glorious exhibition of quality prog metal that puts the song first, and the band members second. Because of this, both sides are better. Kudos guys, and welcome to the fold Mr. Mangini.
9. DARKEST ERA – THE LAST CARESS OF LIGHT
While most will be rightfully lauding the new Primordial album , it was their group of protégées that sunk in a bit deeper for me. Darkest Era‘s classic rock adaptation of the folkish Irish metal thing was so well written and refreshingly unexhausting that the familiar riff patterns mattered not to me, at all. The Last Caress of Light carries a similar emotional heft to their veteran countrymen, but the feel here is less ultimate and more reflective. Honestly, about halfway through the year I thought this one might have a shorter shelf life, but recent returns have proven even more fruitful, and I’m quite excited to hear when these cats do next. Now tour The States, dammit. Song of the year candidate: “To Face the Black Tide”
10. BLUT AUS NORD – 777-SECT(S)
11. BLUT AUS NORD – 777-THE DESANCTIFICATION
Vindsval and company are releasing music at an exponential rate. And guess what, the quality is becoming more and more consistent. It’s fucking astounding. The first two parts of the 777 trilogy see the band somewhat referencing the industrial landscapes of The Work Which Transforms God, relying even more (and oh so gloriously) on a big ol’ heap of Godflesh beats and rhythms. It’s a shame that The Cosmosophy couldn’t get released in 2011 as well, because the link between parts 1 and 2 suggest that this is going to be a true trilogy. But, both still work brilliantly on their own. The hot, almost dance-ready dissonance of Sect(s) is both alike and very different than the deeper, darker Desanctification, but both do that weird thing that Blut Aus Nord does as well as anyone out there. Both sound like only one band, but both sound like only one album. Such has been truth of their past, and I expect will also be true of their future. Sink in, dance along, drift off, take it any way you like.
REST OF THE 20…
12. Vader – Welcome to the Morbid Reich
13. Hammers of Misfortune – 17th Street
14. Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage
15. Burzum – Fallen
16. Ravencult – Morbid Blood
17. Valborg – Barbarian (Song of the year nominee: “Samantha Alive”)
18. Absu – Abzu
19. Grayceon – All We Destroy
20. Negative Plane – Stained Glass Revelations
BEST EPS OF 2011:
Twas a pretty good year for the extended play as well, what with the almost-full-length beauty topping this list and a few free offerings as well. Right to it!
1. Giant Squid – Cenotes
There isn’t much else to say here that I didn’t already say in my review, just that I found out REALLY late that this was actually an EP, making some of my comments a tad dickish. Oh well, my lack of research can’t change how peerless this band is, and how continually gorgeous and deep their music is becoming. Very well done, bring on the next voyage.
2. Corsair – Ghosts of Proxima Centauri
This is great and all, quite so actually, but release a full length already would ya guys and gal?
3. Enslaved – The Sleeping Gods
Free Enslaved? Yes please.
THE HONORABLE MENTIONS:
Primordial, Pentagram, Hell, Loss, Amorphis, Ave Maria, Crowbar, End of Level Boss, Glorior Belli, Johann Wolfgang Pozoj, Klabautamann, Manilla Road, Moonsorrow, Tombs, Ulcerate, Novembers Doom, Owl, Pyrrhon, Rwake, Saille, Sorgeldom, Thy Catafalque, and any number of other albums that rocked me for a day or a week this year. There was a lot.
MY NON-METAL FAVORITES…
…were all albums we reviewed here, because I was lazy this year:
1. Devin Townsend Project – Ghost
2. Earth – Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1
PLEASANT (AND KINDA OVERLOOKED) SURPRISES:
Blut Aus Nord – The Mystical Beast of Rebellion
A reissue of a minor classic and very out of print album that includes another album’s worth of new material? Sure. That new material being on par with the unbelievable 777 albums? Even better.
Enslaved – Thorn
This one really went under the radar, most likely intentionally. But for those who missed it, it’s a quick 7″ vinyl of Enslaved going old school, sounding like a combo of Vikingligr Veldi and Drudkh.
Just don’t have time to digest it all. The following either haven’t had their fair amount of listening or literally got me addicted in the last couple of weeks since I submitted my votes: Esoteric, Woburn House, While Heaven Wept, The Atlas Moth, The Wounded Kings, Midnight, Lvcifyre, and Yob.