Wow, this year was an amazing year for metal. There were many great technical and progressive albums, which is what I consider to be my ‘main’ genre. A lot of my favorite bands came out with excellent albums, and there were a few surprising newcomers. Some of these I’ve reviewed myself and given a great score, so it won’t be a surprise. Some of these I didn’t have the time to review, which was a shame. Anyway, without further ado, here is my list of top 20 of 2011:
Tre Watson – Gravestones
The reason I’m not giving this an actual rating is because Tre is a close friend of mine, so I can’t be unbiased about this. It’s a really great EP, and especially the last track is a masterpiece. Definitely listen to this.
Substructure – Monolith
These guys just came out of nowhere. They do a great blend of Born of Osiris and The Contortionist, a.k.a progressive spacecore. The reason it’s not in my actual list is because it’s quite short and a bit derivative. It’s still a good listen though.
Empirine – The Great Excursion
These guys perform a technical/progressive death blend of Opeth, Obscura and Cynic. They’re pretty incredible, and we’ve covered them a few times, so you should definitely check them out.
18. Vintersorg – Jordpuls
This was a pretty interesting album, with a unique mix of post-black metal and folk. There were a lot of interesting things, but it was also a bit drab at times. Still, it’s a fine record, and it’s great to listen to in certain moods.
17. Textures – Dualism
I’ve been aware of Textures pretty much since they existed, but their music never excited me. Until Dualism, that is. Maybe it’s the change of singer, but I believe it’s the heavier focus on atmosphere and a fuller sound. The singing is great, and the overall atmosphere is pretty solid.
16. Carach Angren – Death Came Through a Phantom Ship
This album was very weird and enjoyable. I have no idea what the concept of the album is trying to convey, but it’s pretty awesome symphonic black metal. Think Dimmu Borgir in their Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia era, but better. This is definitely a release to take note of. It’s not at the top of my list, but that’s only because there was so much brilliance this year.
15. Iwrestledabearonce – Ruining it For Everybody
Most people think of IWABO as a guilty pleasure, but I genuinely think they’re awesome. They’re really good with their instruments and they make avant-garde metal listenable and headbangable, which is no small feat. This album was more and better of the same from IWABO, so there’s not much else to say. It’s crazy and good!
14. Scar Symmetry – The Unseen Empire
Well, this album is basically a mixture of Bon Jovi and melodic death metal. That’s kind of a good thing. The songs are ridiculously catchy, but there’s also a lot of good riffing too. It’s not as good as their previous efforts, but it’s still full of very memorable songs with interesting twists to them.
13. Across the Sun – Before The Night Takes Us
Yeah, these guys are a mix of Dream Theater and Killswitch Engage. But they take the good parts of each to make some quite catchy music. The album drags a bit near the end, but the songs that are memorable are really good.
12. Last Chance to Reason – Level 2
Wow, this album is mindblowing. There’s so much going on at any given time, and everything is so well constructed. My only complaint is that sometimes it’s too complicated, sacrificing song quality. Still, the songwriting here is insane in a good way, and this is definitely a must-listen.
11. Vildhjarta – Måsstaden
I am definitely not a djent fan, but Vildhjarta have grabbed my attention like no other. They have a very dark and heavy sound, and the ambience they paint is very different from what other djent bands seem to do. This album is very sinister and the chugs will punch into your soul.
10. Trivium – In Waves
Alright, I admit that I’m a huge Trivium fan. But this album was a bit of a disappointment for me. I was expecting them to further their progressive sound, but they went back to their roots instead. While this feels like a bit of a cop-out, it’s undeniable that the song on this record are among the best songs they’ve ever made. Yes, Trivium are so good that even their worst (in my opinion) album still makes my top 10 in a year with amazing albums. These songs will be stuck in your head for months.
9. Oakhelm – Echtra
This is an album that I stumbled upon completely by accident. And it blew me away. This is a great and incredibly oldschool blend of folk, black and viking metal. And they’re from fucking Portland. Which is just odd, because I would have thought these guys were as Norwegian as it gets. If you’re a fan of the older eras of black metal, this should be a treat for you.
8. Fallujah – The Harvest Wombs
I’ve been expecting this album for quite a while. It ended up being better than expected. ‘Blackened Tech Death’ was pretty much the fresh breath that every metal fan needed, and Fallujah have gone above and beyond the call. The riffing is very solid and there’s always a curveball in each song, making things more interesting. This album is definitely a milestone in the genre. A must-listen.
7. Sleep Terror – The Cuts 2004-2011
Sleep Terror is the brain child of Luke Jaeger, who is a guitar virtuoso who performs technical death metal. I’ve been a fan of his since his 2004 album, but he’s been quite off the radar since. Apparently he’s finally decided to make some new songs and put it all together in a new compilation album. This album is probably the best value you can get this year in terms of guitar notes played per dollar, and you can grab it here.
6. Born of Osiris – The Discovery
Seeing as Born of Osiris‘s first album is my all-time favorite, I was expecting this album to be a masterpiece. It was quite close, but not as good as I expected. The problem is their over-reliance on chugs – they could have had a lot more riffs – but the songs are all great otherwise and the dreamy sound of the album is a very welcome break and a forward step for metal.
5. The Odious – That Night A Forest Grew
Yet another album that came out of nowhere and blew me away. Progressive death metal with stoner undertones and a very unique sound. All the songs flow into each other and it all builds together in an incredible climax. I love this EP/album, and you should listen to it too.
4. Betraying the Martyrs – Breathe In Life
At first; I really, really hated this album. It had everything I disliked about modern deathcore, with the simplistic riffing, very digital guitar tone and layered vocals that are supposed to sound heavy. After repeat listens though, I get used to all of it and even started to appreciate it. But the selling points for me wasn’t all these elements, it was the symphonic elements and great songwriting. The songs are written very well, and there isn’t a single ‘bad song’. The production is also great, bringing everything together in a clear way that makes it all audible. And I’m a sucker for keyboards.
3. Fleshgod Apocalypse – Agony
Speaking of keyboards, this album is INSANE. This is what classical music would be if it was made today by a death metal band. Yes, the drumming is insane, but even that’s beside the point. The songs are all catchy, really heavy and incredibly epic. I can’t stop listening to this album. This album is perfect, and gets me unbelievably pumped. Not only the crushing, absolutely insane heaviness, but also the orchestration is so empowering that that this album feels like a drug.
Okay, now I’ll have my two favorite albums of the year, and I’ll both number them #1, because I can’t decide. Deal with it.
1. Leprous – Bilateral
This Norwegian progressive metal masterpiece took me completely by surprise. I don’t usually like softer music a lot, but the sheer emotion and quality of this album just moved me. The haunting voice of Einar Solberg is the centerpiece, but not the center of attention. Every instrument hits every single note the right way, every song feels like years of effort has been put into making them sound incredible, and it definitely shows. I’ve listened to this album so much that I feel its absence when I’m not listening to it. Not as a ‘stuck in my head’ way but more like an addiction. This album is just pure magic.
1. Obscura – Omnivium
Obscura are without doubt the true inheritors of the throne that Chuck Schuldiner left empty when he died ten year ago. Their music is very intricate and it transcends being ‘just music’. Just like Death, their music is based on philosophy and is very well written. Every single riff is very intricate, and you discover more each time you listen. The songs are all very distinct, with each of them having their own flavor, and they get really, really heavy. It’s totally obscure (ha!) at times, but if you take the time to really get into this album, you’ll be rewarded, because it is unlike anything else. I definitely think this album is better than Cosmogenesis, which was more of an easy listening album whereas this album is like a riddle that you have to pay attention to. This is my favorite album of the genre, and the more I listen to it the more I fall in love with it. If you listen to one album this year (for some weird reason), make it this one.
Death – The Sound of Perseverance (Reissue)
This album is among the greatest of all time, and it’s the late Chuck Schuldiner’s final masterpiece. It’s been reissued with a new, better mix and two extra discs worth of material. The discs contain b-sides and early demos of the songs, which is always cool to listen to. You owe it to yourself to get this album.
That’s all folks! Take care of yourselves and enjoy the new year. This year was incredible for metal, and I hope next year will be as good as 2011. Make sure you listen to at least some of these albums during the holiday!
– Noyan Tokgozoglu