Farewell, 2011: Alkahest’s Top 20 Albums Of 2011

This is probably one of the better years for me since I began listening to metal. I don’t know if it’s due to a broadened taste, me actually paying more attention this year, or if the genre decided to collectively progress, but 2011 was just absolutely fantastic. I knew six months ago that compiling a best-of list for this year would be tricky, and of course it was!

Here’s the thing with my personal top-20 that you’ve probably read of in other lists; after the first couple of albums, the list is completely arbitrary and depending on my mood of the day, this list could be shuffled all about and perhaps replaced. My list also doesn’t follow our ratings scale and essentially came down to what I felt I enjoyed the most this year. So if you’re thinking to yourself, “hey, Alkahest gave X a 4 and Y a 5, then why is X listed higher?”…

Well, you’re going to have to figure that one out on your own, I guess. I’m fickle. Let us begin!

20. Fleshgod Apocalypse – Agony

Their major metal label debut on Nuclear Blast Records helped Italian death metallers Fleshgod Apocalypse break out this year. Agony sounds like the music you might find on Darth Vader’s iPod: Symphonic, epic, and absolutely punishing.

Recommended tracks: “The Violation,” “The Betrayal”

19. Protest the Hero – Scurrilous

Admittedly, Scurrilous was a bit of a disappointment when I first heard it. Where was the passion and brilliant storytelling present on the previous records? My expectations might have been a bit too high, admittedly. While I still feel that Scurrilous isn’t their best work, it still manages to be an excellent album that shows a bit of the less serious side of these Canadian progressive goofballs. At the end of the day, I was able to sit back and realize that they crafted an album better than most managed to this year, even when they weren’t at the top of their game.

Recommended tracks: “C’est La Vie,” “Hair-Trigger,” “Dunsel”

18. Thomas Giles – Pulse

Pulse caught me completely off-guard. This solo album from Between the Buried and Me‘s Tommy Rogers explores his more varied influences in electronic, acoustic, and even a touch of avant garde. Metal Blade sent out promos the very day after it was announced (back in late 2010!) and I was just floored by it. This more serious endeavor contrasts to the tongue-in-cheek Giles techno/dance album released back in 2004. I hope Tommy manages to make a follow up of Pulse in the coming years, as his abilities as a singer/songwriter are top-notch.

Recommended tracks: “Sleep Shake,” “Mr. Bird,” “Armchair Travel”

17. Beyond Creation – The Aura

Progressive/tech death done absolutely right. These Canadians released what is easily one of the more interesting death metal records this year. It also helps that pretty much any death metal record can be improved with some fretless bass. This is the perfect blend of melody, brutality, and prog. Don’t let this more obscure album pass you by.

Recommended tracks: “Coexistence,” “Omnipresent Perception,” “The Aura”

16. Betraying The Martyrs – Breathe In Life

The debut album by Paris, France’s Betraying The Martyrs took me by surprise. Breathe in Life is the near perfect mix of deathcore brutality, metalcore melodicism, and progressive influence. This record is fun and absolutely catchy, and seeing them perform live this year was one of my personal highlights of 2011.

Recommended tracks: “Man Made Disaster,” “Leave It All Behind,” “Life Is Precious”

15. Rwake – Rest

Misanthropic, apocalyptic, and just a little pissed off, southern sludge metallers Rwake’s latest album Rest is a massive and forward-thinking ode to telling the world to go fuck itself. Rwake manages to find the balance in this almost primal anger and intelligence that is really refreshing.

Recommended Tracks: “It Was Beautiful But Now It’s Sour,” “Was Only A Dream”

14. Opeth – Heritage

Opeth are one of the most important bands in metal today, without question. Their influence and dedicated fanbase pushed them to metal idoldom over the years, and some think they can do no wrong. I am one of those people, and Heritage was a fantastic record that further explores Opeth’s classic rock and metal roots. This sound has been hinted at for years, so frankly I have no sympathy for those who were disappointed by this outing. It’s their loss, really.

Recommended tracks: “The Devil’s Orchard,” “Slither,” “Folklore”

13. Born of Osiris – The Discovery

I only had a passing interest in Born of Osiris until The Discovery dropped. Their most progressive work yet, The Discovery lives up to its name; seeing Born of Osiris discovering what they’re capable of. If this is the sound that these guys will be settling into, then I’ll happily serve my days as a loyal fan.

Recommended tracks: “Follow The Signs,” “Recreate,” “Dissimulation”

12. The Atlas Moth – An Ache For The Distance

Much like Rwake, The Atlas Moth’s post-stoner atmosphere is both progressive and primal. At times, An Ache For The Distance sounds like a doped up Iron Maiden played at a fifth of the speed, with haunting guitar leads and a sense of melody that counteracts the doom and sludge roots. This album seemed to come out of nowhere this year for me, and I’m glad I stumbled across these guys.

Recommended tracks: “Coffin Varnish,” “Holes In The Desert,” “An Ache For The Distance”

11. Mastodon – The Hunter

While I miss the more overt prog styling and concept of Crack The Skye, The Hunter is still a great album that manages to have a bit of fun in the process. I really don’t have all that much to say about The Hunter other than the fact that it’s quite excellent and you need to stop being an asshole and enjoy this beast.

Recommended tracks: “Black Tongue,” “Curl of the Burl,” “Dry Bone Valley”

10. Ulcerate – Destroyers of All

The Destroyers of All is an absolutely massive record and completely lives up to its title. Bridging the gap between death metal and post-metal, Ulcerate manage to weave dense and dreary soundscapes that are like something out of nightmares. This record also likely has the best drumming of any record I’ve heard all year.

Recommended tracks: “Dead Oceans,” “Omens,” “The Destroyers Of All”

09. White Arms Of Athena – Astrodrama

Astrodrama is like some sort of hybrid of Cynic and Between The Buried And Me fronted by Tom DeLonge while on a wild DMT trip. This band is going to be pushing progressive metal into all sorts of wild psychedelic directions — just listen to the instrumental mid-section of this record and be amazed by the jazz-infused musicianship going on.

Recommended Tracks: “Creationed,” “Recreationed,” “In The Encephalon”

08. Last Chance To Reason – Level 2

Being able to meet these guys and see them perform half of Level 2 just a few weeks ago is easily one of the highlights of my year. Musically, the album flows perfectly from beginning to end in an accessible complexity. Level 2 is a brilliant record that seems to explore the idea of existentialism and self-awareness by means of clever video game and computer metaphors that speaks to prog nerds on several levels.

Recommended tracks: “Upload Complete,” “Temp Files,” “Portal”

7. Fair To Midland – Arrows & Anchors

I wasn’t a fan of Texas prog/alt rock band Fair To Midland before I heard Arrows & Anchors. I almost feel ashamed of having missed out on them earlier! Arrows & Anchors reminded me a bit of Karnivool, but with folky southern flair. If you think that sounds interesting, you would be correct. Don’t let this album pass you by; there’s a reason that Periphery were excited about touring in support of them this year.

Recommended tracks: “Musical Chairs,” “Amarillo Sleeps On My Pillow,” “The Greener Grass”

6. The Human Abstract – Digital Veil

And thus the argument that metal is essentially classical music played on modern distorted instruments, Digital Veil takes metalcore’s edge and combines it with neoclassical compositions and melodies. The return of founding member AJ Minette is this band’s saving grace, whose guitar work dazzles and never fails to impress. Travis Richter’s performance on Digital Veil is superb as well; it’s just a shame that he left the band earlier this year.

Recommended tracks: “Complex Terms,” “Digital Veil,” “Faust”

5. Vildhjarta – Masstaden

Just when you started to think that djent was going stale, Vildhjarta pulled out a surprisingly dark and hypnotic concept record about a metaphorical “City of Seagulls” that is intriguing and downright sinister. I know a lot of people just didn’t get it, but I really think Masstaden was refreshing to both the djent and deathcore genres.

Recommended tracks: “Benblast,” “Traces,” “All These Feelings”

4. Between the Buried and Me – The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues

Between the Buried and Me’s prelude to a much bigger picture is significant and almost large enough to be the big picture in and of itself. Next year will bring a new full-length record from this progressive metal group, but this EP was more than enough to tie over the wait. Three tracks; thirty minutes of what I believe is to be some of their best material yet. I can’t wait to find out what happens to our protagonists in the follow-up to this concept series next year.

Recommended tracks: “Specular Reflection”

3. Uneven Structure – Februus

This record seemed to just come out of nowhere before immediately propelling itself to the greatest heights. We had all anticipated this record for some time here at Heavy Blog, but I for one underestimated how great it was actually going to be. Februus is a concept album taking us through the journey from birth to fulfillment and transcendence via a blend of ambient soundscapes and complex math metal that feels sort of like the offspring of Meshuggah and Pink Floyd. These brilliant Frenchmen have crafted a marvelous record, and hopefully just the start of a long and prolific career.

Recommended tracks: “Awaken,” “Frost,” “Hail”

2. Devin Townsend Project – Deconstruction/Ghost

I’m doubling up on the number two spot. Deal with it. Devin Townsend absolutely killed it this year, wrapping up his 4-album Devin Townsend Project. These two albums were released on the very same day, and they serve as polar opposites, complimenting Devin’s philosophical journey through the bizarre, intense, and ultimately serine. These albums are extremely bold and quirky, and I believe that this is some of the best work Devin has ever done.

Recommended Tracks (Deconstruction): “Juular,” “Sumeria,” “Deconstruction”
                                                 (Ghost): “Feather,” “Kawaii,” “Blackberry”

1. Tesseract – One

This was a tough call to make, but when it came right down to it, no other album has resonated with me and connected on such a level as Tesseract‘s debut album One. Deep, intelligent, and passionate, One has absolutely made my year. One was an instant classic as soon as I heard it. It’s been 10 months since I’ve heard it and I still get chills when I hear it. As such, I was devastated that vocalist Daniel Tompkins left the group, but Elliot Coleman seems to be taking up to his job quite nicely. Hopefully Tesseract’s follow up for next year (very tentatively, anyway) carries the tradition of being both complex and hauntingly emotive.

Recommended tracks: All of “Concealing Fate”

SPECIAL EDITION BONUS TRACKS!

Here’s some albums I wish I could have put on my list:

Aliases – Safer Than Reality
Animals as Leaders – Weightless
Arsonists Get All The Girls – Motherland
Circles – The Compass
Corelia – Nostalgia
Cormorant – Dwellings
Cynic – Carbon-Based Anatomy
Evan Brewer – Alone
iwrestledabearonce – Ruining It For Everybody
The Omega Experiment – Karma EP
Obscura – Omnivium
Returning We Hear The Larks – Proud England
Scale The Summit – The Collective
Tre Watson – Gravestones EP
Vestascention – Breaching the Sound (as it is unofficially called)

That’s it for this year, folks. We’ll see you in January! Hopefully the next year will be just as great for music as this year was!

– Jimmy Rowe

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