You know it’s been a good year for music when:
- a) your first draft for the ‘Top 20 For 2011’ initially contains more than twice the required amount and took 5 revised versions to get right
- b) you have to miss out on records from some great artists like Fuck The Facts, Pathology, Amon Amath, Autopsy and Hate Eternal due to the sheer volume of great records released
20. Mitochondrion – Parasignosis
Dark, disfigured and unnervingly creepy. 2011 kicked off with this twisted and maligned monstrosity of blackened death metal that felt like the record Portal should’ve released instead of Swarth. It’s not an easy listen by any means, the whole record seems designed to challenge you to pick out any human aspects of the whirling tempest of hate so whilst it fell out favour during the relatively sunny and more carefree months, I found myself indulging in Parasignosis all over again the minute the leaves started to fall. Definitely a winter record.
19. Aliases – Safer Than Reality
Like any self-respecting tech metal fan from the UK, I loved SikTh. However, they were a band that broke up at the right time – they had two great albums that became classics and left it at that leaving behind an untainted legacy. Thankfully, Aliases shows that the guitar work of Pin doesn’t start and end with SikTh. Safer Than Reality is tactfully technical and contains as many melodic leads as it does skronky moments that ensure no fret is left untapped, easily making it one of my favourite records of 2011 despite it’s unfortunately short running length.
18. Skeltonwitch – Forever Abomination
You know when records are just indescribably good? That’s exactly what Forever Abomination is — a record devoid of gimmicks that works just because. Blackened thrash is a niche that takes an extraordinary band to do something that’s still exciting in 2011 and Skeletonwitch provide exactly that with cutting riffs and searing solos that never seem to let up. Tracks like “Reduced To The Failure Of Prayer” and “Choke Upon Betrayal” are just balls to the wall thrash and, personally, I cannot wait to see them live in 2012.
17. Cynic – Carbon-Based Anatomy
Well not really Carbon Based Anatomy… Essentially, I included this release just based on the merits of “Box Up My Bones” — a transcendent and glorious track that epitomizes everything I love about Cynic. Everything from Masvidal’s soothing vocals to the technical and proficient playing of Reinert and Malone all come together on this track and propel it to the status of the definitive Cynic track. Since their comeback release Traced In Air it seems that they take the quality over quantity mantra extremely seriously as the actual songs on display here are range from mind-blowing to satisfying, it’s just a shame it needs to be awash with interludes.
16. Xerath – II
Djent, like deathcore before it in 2010, took a huge portion of the limelight in 2011 and it’s fascinating to watch how the emerging trends always end up branching off into the same three groups; the innovators, the imitators and the ones who do something genuinely interesting with the sound. Xerath lie distinctly in that last section. Coming from a more traditional background of influences including Dream Theater, Rush and Meshuggah, Xerath straddle the line of what it means to considered a djent band and in the meantime create interesting and dynamic music like II. If you’re part of the primary Heavy Blog audience that loves prog and djent, then you have no good reason to ignore this record any longer!
15. Rotten Sound – Cursed
Grind is hardly known for it’s ability to be varied but Cursed is exactly that. Ranging from huge mid-tempo riffs to blistering d-beat through traditional grind and everything in between, Rotten Sound cover a lot of ground in a short time with Cursed and come off better for it. Easily one of the best grindcore records of the year from a band that had a lot to prove after their equally amazing previous effort, Cycles.
14. Circles – The Compass
Despite being just an EP, there’s a lot of strong material The Compass that seems to effortlessly combine both catchy songs and technicality. The only way I could get close to describing their sound would be that it’s like Faith No More discovered a new love for Meshuggah and got Mike Patton to calm the fuck down. Tracks like “Eye Embedded” and “The Frontline” are instant classics that could easily appeal to everyone from casual radio rock fans to people with an interest in challenging music and that’s one of the main reasons The Compass is such an important precursor to a band who will go on to be huge if they can keep up this momentum.
13. Steel Panther – Balls Out
Do I even need to explain this choice? By this point in time, you’ve probably already made your decision as to whether Steel Panther are any good or not and it probably hinges on whether you like the crude humour. Personally, I love it. I’ll still giggle like a school girl at the phrase ‘burping the worm’ and enjoy tracks about sex-bots from the future and Tiger Woods’ infidelity. Balls Out is a fun album and if you go into it looking for anything else, you’re going to be severely disappointed. Plus it contains the only worthwhile contribution to music Chad Kroeger will ever make.
12. Gridlink – Orphan
The ‘difficult second album’ clearly had no effect on Gridlink. Although Jon Chang and co. had a lot to live up to after Amber Gray, Orphan easily tops it with just over ten minutes of frantic and relentless grindcore. It’s just one of those albums that ends perfectly at the right time, never overstaying it’s welcome and instead leaving you to reach for the repeat button.
11. Fleshgod Apocalypse – Agony
While I was initially a little disappointed with Agony, repeat listens left it to unravel itself as a complex and layered death metal classic. Fleshgod Apocalypse have made an album that makes 90% of modern death metal bands look lazy and uninspired, an album that doesn’t stall for breath for a whole fifty minutes and an album that invokes every self-respecting metalhead to attempt either air-guitar or air-drumming despite the fact that neither your head nor your hands can keep up.
10. Leprous – Bilateral
I can’t be sure whether it’s just the artwork but when I hear Leprous, all I can think of is that this is how it would sound if The Mars Volta had more metal sensibilities and cut the extraneous sections. Bilateral embodies the word prog and in a year where Opeth released a record it seems strange to say that Leprous came out on top. Despite their reputation as Ihsahn‘s backing band, it’s here where they have free reign of the sound that it really works, so much so that I would happily say that Bilateral tops Ihsahn’s After.
09. Red Fang – Murder The Mountains
Red Fang are something special. To take a genre like stoner rock and make it as interesting and palatable to so many people takes a really good band and Red Fang are exactly that. Murder The Mountains is a straight forward hard rock record with consistently good tracks throughout — no gimmicks, no pretentious noodling and no breakdowns. ‘Nuff said.
08. Cerebral Bore – Maniacal Miscreation
When I first heard Maniacal Miscreation, I wasn’t exactly blown away. However, as the months went on, it never left my iPod. Slowly but surely Cerebral Bore got their hooks in and by the time August rolled around and I was front and center for their set at Bloodstock, it was a no-brainer. Maniacal Miscreation is a great album that reels between pummeling death metal and ridiculous slams, leaving me with that same feeling I got when I first heard great bands like Suffocation and Nile.
07. The Human Abstract – Digital Veil
If my ravings about Circles and others hadn’t already given it away, I initially got into extreme metal due to my love of technical music and over time I’ve become more and more appreciative of bands that create musically interesting songs while maintaining a level of melody. It’s a Catch 22 but Digital Veil is a prime example of it — beautifully constructed down to the last detail with guitar lines weaving themselves amongst proficient drumming. It’s all entirely competent without being superfluous and, while it may be a tired saying, there’s always something new to discover each time you listen. I can’t wait to hear more.
06. The Black Dahlia Murder – Ritual
I’ve honestly never been a fan of The Black Dahlia Murder. Believe me, I’ve tried with both Nocturnal and Deflorate. I ended up seeing them live and even in my drunken stupor they could only muster a ‘yeah it was alright’. Therefore, Ritual was going to be another disappointment, right? Wrong. I can’t put my finger on exactly what has changed but this entire record seems like a whole new level compared to the material I had previously heard. “A Shrine To Madness” and “Malenchantments Of The Necrosphere” are of particular note, containing all the quintessential components for great melodic death metal tracks and the rest of the album follows in a similar vein. Maybe I’m missing out on not enjoying their back catalogue as much but, as of now, I’m starting to hear the reason why The Black Dahlia Murder are so popular.
05. Trap Them – Darker Handcraft
Trap Them are another band that I was well acquainted with but never really appreciated. However, thanks have to go to blogger/boner enthusiast Monsoon Cobra over at Mouthful Of Acid for convincing me to give it a try. Dear god am I glad I did because Darker Handcraft is a sickeningly crusty hardcore masterpiece, full of great tracks ranging from all-out assault in ‘Damage Prose‘ to a mid-tempo stomp in “The Facts“, both of which I would kill to see live. Easily the best hardcore record since Converge‘s Axe To Fall.
04. Revocation – Chaos Of Forms
After Existence Is Futile, I’d resigned myself to the idea that Revocation probably wouldn’t top it. I mean it IS one hell of an album but, thankfully, so is Chaos Of Forms. Full of guitar wizardry and musical acrobatics, it takes the same logical steps Metallica did nearly 30 years ago with the transition between the rough and raw Kill ‘Em All and the more refined and subtle Ride The Lightening. With this in mind, Revocation are still set to make their Master Of Puppets and its going to be one hell of a spectacle to watch.
03. Tesseract – One
Just after the release, there were a few nay-sayers waxing about how Tesseract missed the popularity train and were too lax in their release schedule for One. That may be true, if they’d have brought out One in 2010 then maybe we’d be discussing Tesseract in the same breath as Meshuggah and Animals As Leaders, rather than Periphery. But, to be honest, who cares? Great music transcends trends and popularity contests and a great record should be nothing more or less than that. Tesseract make it worth the wait by taking djent beyond it’s base ideas and instead exploring meandering song structures, riffs that move beyond simple Meshuggah pilfering and even clean singing that isn’t overtly whiny. [Mandatory Controversial Statement] Once again it takes a British band to show the rest of the world how it’s really done. [/Mandatory Controversial Statement]
02. Decapitated – Carnival Is Forever
To be fair, I probably would’ve loved this album even if it was mediocre. My love affair with Decapitated started long ago and for a band to make a comeback like this is just unbelievable. Vogg is clearly one of the most talented musicians in extreme metal today with his penchant for making death metal exciting again through juddering and relentless riffing, back that up with a brand new line-up who are far beyond competent. It’s easy to lie to yourself and pretend you love an album that’s pretty average, it’s even easier to love an album that deserves it.
01. The Devin Townsend Project – Deconstruction
As a Devin Townsend fan, I’m spoilt. This guy pumps out material like most guys get through Kleenexes and it’s a great problem to have. There’s no such thing as a bad Devin Townsend release but sometimes it all comes together perfectly and makes something timeless. Deconstruction is a huge and expansive album that contains more great ideas than many bands can come up with in an entire career — bombastic orchestras, a stable equilibrium of intelligent lyrics and poop jokes, a guest list that reads like a who’s-who of metal and naturally killer songs to go alongside it all. I’ll leave you with Alkahest’s brilliant review to essentially get across the point I’m trying to make.
That was my 2011 in a nutshell. There’s a list of nearly the same length full of albums that I felt bad cutting out and even more records that I’m just discovering at this moment like Dead In The Dirt, Exhumed, Primus and even the new Vektor album to get me through to 2012. So thank you to all the great bands who release amazing music, thank you to the record labels that support that, thank you to the venues, the promoters, the roadies, the oft-neglected merch guy/gal, the bloggers, the elitists, the posers and everyone in between. And thank you for taking the time to read it all – have a happy holiday season, drink and be merry. Then drink some more.
Also, listen to Slayer and Faith No More. There’s nothing more festive than that.