Once more unto the breach, dear friends. It seems we’re often the last out of our contemporary blogs to put up our ‘best of’ lists, and I think that’s a sure sign that we’ve given it much more thought, and as such are the definitive authority on music for all time ever — NOT that we’re simply too lazy to put it up earlier, and need filler for the time between Christmas and New Year (despite this being all we will be posting).
I talked last year about perhaps how arrogant it is to create these lists and pass judgement on the artistic merits of the year’s music; like there are only ten slots and the rest is tripe, and who am I whose opinions are more worthwhile than yours?
That still holds true to some extent, because we’ve met a lot of new friends this year who have shown us a ton of great stuff – but so does the fact that we work our asses off to listen to all this stuff, and also because, once again, I, and the others after me, filled out the damn application.
I feel this is going to become a continuing theme. I don’t mean it guys; I love you really. As you already have with my fellows, feel free to tell me what you think, and in particular what a huge bag of shite I’m talking; I won’t get offended, honest!
Up at this end of the spectrum, you’re getting your full-on, down to the wire, best ten-only lists (at least with myself and Dormition) – none of this copping out. It was tough, but these are the haggard survivors of the process, but are my personal favourites from the year; based not on technicality, on brutality, or how accomplished I think the release is. No, these are honestly the ten records (and not necessarily albums) that best represent my musical year; that gave me a certain feeling, and that I have come back to again and again, and will continue to do so long into 2012. The same was true of last year’s list; despite my obligations to the new, I still listen the shit out of the old.
BRING FORTH MINE LIST!
As much as I fucking love Frank Turner, and as un-metal as a couple of my entries are, I couldn’t genuinely include a largely acoustic album in my official top ten.
That said, England Keep My Bones needs mentioning for several reasons, not least of all because the man himself is heavily involved in the British heavy music scene. Having fronted Refused-inspired post-hardcore quartet Million Dead in the first half of the last decade, he has always kept the punk ethos alive in his music, and even now is in a grindcore side project.
The album is quintessentially English, with little touches here and there that tie it to the man and his roots, but it’s also intelligent, uplifting, and beautiful in equal measure.
Favorite tracks: ‘Glory Hallelujah’, ‘I Am Disappeared’, ‘Wessex Boy’
letlive. – Fake History
This almost – almost – made it, but I once again had a crisis of conscience. Yes, Epitaph did put out Fake History in 2011…but it was a rerelease with bonus tracks of the original put out on Tragic Hero on 2010. Talk about nitty gritty reasons, but its official exclusion allowed another to make the list, so no harm done. I’m still going to rant and rave about how brilliant this record is.
letlive. are what Glassjaw used to be, now; full of righteousness, fury, and seething vitriol. They’re fronted by an equally passionate frontman; a talented lyricist and poet, who spits out his lines with utter conviction over pitch-perfect punk riffs. It’s something of a romance for me as such, extolling virtues of music that I love, but don’t come across very often.
Favorite tracks: ‘The Sick, Sick, 6.8 Billion’, ‘Enemigos/Enemies’, ‘Muther’
THE LIST PROPER
10. Circles – The Compass
There are probably few songs this year that I’ve gone on about as much as ‘Clouds Are Gathering‘; especially not ones that have built up my expectation to such a degree that the record it has prefaced would surely be a disappointment?
Thankfully, Australia’s Circles’ delivered in cork hat-wearing, shrimp-barbie-ing upside-down spades. Whether you call it an EP or mini-album, here lie six tracks of some of the catchiest metal I’ve heard in years. Perfectly weighted in that middle zone between popular ‘djentiness’ and genuine songwriting ability, The Compass is so very easy to listen to – yet never boring or simple
Favorite tracks: ‘Clouds Are Gathering’, ‘The Frontline’, ‘Ruins’
09. East Of The Wall – The Apologist
Evan mentioned at the beginning of the week the difficulty we all had with reviewing this record; both he and I tackled it before our glorious leader eventually stepped up, but I honestly think it’s the vocals that push this a league above the other great post-metal albums that came out this year – Russian Circles‘ Empros to name but one.
You’ve got the pounding riffs and thundering drums of which we know East Of The Wall to be effortlessly capable, but what drives this above its predecessor Ressentiment (which only came out last year, remember) and the aforementioned 2011 contemporaries is the clean vocals and their accompanying sections. Brilliant acoustic sections will see the drums dropping to half-tempo, jazzy interludes breaking in, yet still managing to flow seamlessly between this and the meatier base of the record. It’s the measured way in which this is done that really marks this album as special.
Favorite tracks: ‘My Favourite Society Guy’, ‘The Apologist’, ‘Whiskey Sipper’
08. Last Chance To Reason – Level 2
Last Chance To Reason’s sophomore release was one that was highly anticipated amongst my Heavy Blog kin, but it was one took a while to sink in for me – which is possibly why I now think it’s the bee’s honeyed vagenis. There’s something about Level 2‘s tone that I didn’t really get at first, but it’s actually easily one of its main strengths. Reverence to the most holy words “erase”, “code” and “virus” aside, the record’s devotion to its digital theme, with marauding viruses and the philosophy of programming and digital rebirth, lends a cohesiveness to the entire experience. When done well, I think a concept album has something infinitely more interesting over an album of ‘mere’ songs.
Combine this with an incredibly talented set of individuals, and you’ve got something extremely exciting for the future as well. In particular for me, Michael Lessard’s talent with his own voice, whose lows Gein described in his review as “earth-erupting”, combined with interesting vocal layering techniques, sounds perfect in this aforementioned dark, digital narrative. These guys can only get better.
Favorite tracks: ‘The Prototype’, ‘Apotheosis’, ‘Upload Complete’
07. The Matador – Descent Into The Maelstrom
The second Australian entry on my list, The Matador have the virtue of being the only band here to have made it on to the list without ever having been signed or having a major PR campaign. Call this luck if you will – we get a lot of music sent to us that we simply don’t have time to listen to, so that they managed to break through is partly god fortune – but I honestly consider it my good fortune that they deigned us worthy enough to send to us this absolute fucking masterpiece of atmospheric post-metal.
Based thematically on the Edgar Allen Poe short story of the same name, Descent Into The Maelstrom is dichotomous; at times lush and beautiful, and at others dark and aggressive, as Poe’s work is wont to inspire, and carrying the associated melancholy perfectly. I was captured from the first listen, and I’ll be lauding these guys long into the next record.
Favorite tracks: ‘Vurt’, ‘Kingdom of Glass’, ‘Parallax Error’
06. Scale The Summit – The Collective
Instrumental music is something I went through a big phase of loving about five years ago, and then I think I found my fill. When you’re listening to the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, This Will Destroy You and Explosions In The Sky on a regular and repeated basis, it takes a lot to cut the mustard. A few have crept in in the intervening time – most notably Cloudkicker and …And So I Watch You From Afar – but this year a coveted spot on my instrumental mantle has been taken by Scale The Summit.
I almost feel like I’m floating when I listen to The Collective. It probably appeals to me because my star sign is aquatic don’tcha know.
Aaah, I kid with the astrological bullshit! It’s true though; there is an astral, soaring sort of feel to the record. It’s just ‘metal’ enough to hold my attention indefinitely, but freeform enough to allow you to get a little lost in it, meaning it’s great whether you’re listening actively or passively. Good for any mood, as they say.
Favorite tracks: ‘Whales’, ‘Origin Of Species’, ‘Balkan’
05. The Human Abstract – Digital Veil
Out of these few hallowed albums, Digital Veil gets the smartie prize – which is hardly a surprise when driving creative force A.J. Minette left The Human Abstract to study musical composition during the band’s last album. The attention to compositional theory is there to anyone who cares to look closely enough; octatonic scales and Sonata forms flying all over the place, and lyrics concerning Dostoevsky and observances regarding the word ‘progress’ in relation to art, amongst others.
All of this only greatened my appreciation of Digital Veil, but this is just additions to a deep respect for a great sounding record. There are some truly stimulating air guitar moments nestled among that intelligence which, for me, marks what is so great about metal.
Favorite tracks: ‘Complex Terms’, ‘Patterns‘, ‘Antebellum’
04. Glassjaw – The Coloring Book
Back in January I wrote a pathetic love letter to the abusive partner in my life that is Glassjaw, when they compiled various tracks they’ve released over the past eight barren years as the Our Color Green EP. Thankfully they didn’t stop there, and a couple of months later they started flinging out this gem for free at their shows across the world. Full of new material, I’d heard it before I saw them in March (paired somewhat bizarrely with Napalm Death), but experiencing its pulsing, rhythmic majesty in person really cemented what an awesome record it is. And that’s not even having liked it all that much initially.
It’s less vitriolic than we’re used to from Glassjaw, but it’s no less accomplished. The Coloring Book has an electric swagger, with pulsing bass lines and an cogent combination of latin-style drumming and the ever charismatic Daryl Palumbo’s crooning vocals. Seriously; I could marry that guy’s voice.
Favorite tracks: ‘Black Nurse’, ‘Miracles In Inches’, ‘Stations Of The New Cross’
03. Devin Townsend Project – Deconstruction
An album both gargantuan in its scope and magnitude, and at the same time personal and nerdy – as only Devin Townsend can pull off.
It may seem a given that this album place so highly on so many of our lists, given how much we collectively go on about him, but my admiration for the man isn’t as fervent as some of my peers. I’ll let you in on a secret: this is the only album Devin Townsend has produced that I listen to on a regular basis. I hadn’t even bothered with him that much before this year, having enjoyed Addicted! and appreciated its virtue without feeling the need to come back to it all that often, or follow the rabbit hole any deeper. I like Ziltoid The Omniscient for its humour and theatre. I also thought Ghost, Deconstruction‘s twin, was pretty but not all that arresting.
Deconstruction is fucking genius though, isn’t it? Grand on a scale that hasn’t been matched by much this year, rich to a point that I feel a compulsion to occupy it somehow, and consistently hilarious in an incredibly juvenile, free-spirited way. The honour of watching it played in its entirety only compounded my admiration for the man and the piece of music, and hell, on what other album can you hear Joe Duplantier, Oderus Ungerus, Paul Masvidal, and Greg Puciato (amongst many others) all in one place?
Helps that we were the architect of that last cameo coming about. You’re welcome.
Favorite tracks: ‘The Mighty Masturbator’, ‘Sumeria’, ‘Juular’
02. White Arms Of Athena – Astrodrama
I talked earlier this year about Astrodrama being a curve ball. Although it officially came out in August, I was treated to an early listen, and it has honestly been blowing my mind all year. There’s only one album I have come back to more often (any guesses which spot that one has taken?) this year, and for a band that languished in relative obscurity twelve months ago (and are still criminally underrated), it had to have taken something extraordinary to capture.
It seems I have a soft spot for newcomers (my number one last year was Iron Thrones’ The Wretched Sun), but this isn’t born of any particular hipsterism or hyperbole. I genuinely believe that Astrodrama is one of the year’s greats. It nestles bouts of pure caustic brutality, which they handle so well, between expansive, proggy sections that rival Between The Buried And Me in scope. A particular warmth is achieved through the wonderfully organic guitar tones, and the production is simply sublime. Astrodrama is a majestic piece of work that flows exquisitely through its four acts, exploring themes of altruistic encouragement, the nature of life, and time travel. Heady stuff so early in this young band’s career, and I can’t wait for what is to come.
Favorite tracks: ‘Recreationed‘, ‘Creationed’, ‘Ascend’
01. TesseracT – One
And so here we are. Given last year’s gushing over One‘s prelude, the marvellous Concealing Fate EP – which you will probably know forms the core of this album – it was going to take something monumental to make me dislike this record. I understand this might be rather contentious to some, but I really don’t care. I don’t care that ‘old material’ is recycled; I’m not judging it on marketing strategy. I don’t care that ‘djent’, the genre or chord or sound or whatever the myriad arguments claim it is, has become bloated and unoriginal; TesseracT have crafted something beautiful and lasting here.
I don’t know if they were the first band to do the whole ambidjent thing (I call it that for lack of a more apt and honed term for what I mean), but they are certainly the best in my eyes. The majesty of ‘Concealing Fate‘ – a flowing movement of a song in six parts – aside, the ‘extra’ tracks only add to the magic. My preference lies with the tail end of the album, but there is not one song on the album that I dislike.
Vocal maestro Dan Tompkins has left the band now, but I know he’ll be able to look back at this record and be proud of what he accomplished with them. His soaring and transcendent clean defines One for me, and it’s a love that will be hard to replace.
Favorite tracks: ‘Eden‘, ‘Concealing Fate’, ‘April’
It became apparent as I compiled this list how my tastes are changing. Two or three years ago I listened to a whole lot of post-metal and artists that are the lauded masters of their given style, such as Converge , The Dillinger Escape Plan and Botch. Nowadays I’ve found my taste softening. If you know the music of the bands I’ve just talked about, you’ll note that only one of them uses harsh vocals exclusively (The Human Abstract), and most use them sparsely. You probably don’t care in the slightest, but it was interesting to note.
That’s it really, but I’m going to go on and include some odds and sods, and stuff I still think deserves a nod. Our glorious leader Lord Jimmy of Alkahest’s list, the ‘final word’ as it were, will go up later, but from me and all the rest of the guys, thanks for a great year, and we’ll see you in 2012!
Song Of The Year: Circles – ‘Clouds Are Gathering‘
Video Of The Year: Down I Go – ‘Poseidon‘
Live Performance Of The Year
A final special mention must go to Vestascension. Although their album Breaching The Sound is not yet completed, we’ve heard eight out of the twelve, to the tune of approximately forty five minutes, and it’s been a stunning ride. I really can’t wait for the rest.
– Chris Grenville