[Not so fast! We have a late addition to our collection of best-of lists! Contributor J Bobski has given us his rundown of albums from 2011 that (bed)rocked thoroughly rocked his shit! – JR]
A lot of cool, progressive, trendy shit came out this year, but I found myself going back to the basics a bit. I definitely favored the things that never go out of style-fat grooves, killer riffs, and memorable songcraft-over adventurous dorkery this year. A lot of ‘djent’ and ‘prog’ albums that you will no doubt find on many a HBIH writer’s list this year simply didn’t do it for me at all. Admittedly, I probably didn’t spend enough time with some of them, but I did try quite a few of them out. I also love me some black metal and grind, but I was so busy jamming the shit out of the albums on this list that I didn’t have much time to get into any of it. I have some catching up to do, no doubt. But for me, 2011 was all about getting hooked on an album and listening to almost nothing else for days, weeks, and maybe months. I listened to my #1 album so many times it’s a wonder I even had time for 14 other albums to fit on this damn list, ya know? Anyhoo, that’s how I tried to structure this list, by how many times I actually listened to an album (so these are my actual favorites, not what I wish were my favorites or what I think you want my favorites to be) Here we go:
Favorite EP of 2011
Drewsif Stalin – Excursion
It’s only an EP, and not an entirely original EP at that, but I think it’s a delightful “Excursion” into the djentisphere that I came back to many, many times. Drewsif’s own comments about it on his Bandcamp page sum it up perfectly, where he declares it “derivative as all shit.” If he had pawned this EP off as some grand, original artistic statement I would have called bullshit immediately, but with that qualifying statement, you can free yourself to enjoy this mostly instrumental Meshuggah-style riff fest, which features two new original tracks, two covers, and two re-recorded Drewsif tunes. The flow is a dandy, and it works. I found myself hitting the repeat button on this one quite a few times. Good stuff.
15. Keith Merrow – Awaken the Stone King
So much instrumental bedroom metal is enjoyable but ultimately boring as all shit. Not this album. This is a prime example of how to do this type of music right-the riffs are great, the song structures are focused and interesting, it’s techy but never alienates the listener, and it’s totally cinematic. It’s like the soundtrack to the best sci-fi action movie never made.
14. Chimaira – The Age of Hell
I’ve loved Chimaira ever since I first heard them almost ten years ago, so I’m a little biased here. Some have cried foul regarding the increased emphasis on melody and atmospheric electronics, but I love it. With guitarists Rob Arnold and Matt DeVries announcing their departures, hopefully this will not be the last (or last good) Chimaira album. But if it is, it’s one hell of a way to go out.
13. Aurora Borealis – Timeline — The Beginning and End of Everything
I had no idea who these guys were before this year, it was just a classic case of randomly checking out a band and going “HOLY SHIT! THEY RULE!” And they do. If you like your death metal with a healthy dose of blackened, psychedelic, adventurous, face ripping groove, check this one out.
12. Last Chance to Reason – Level 2
Simply put, these guys scratch my BTBAM itch in ways that BTBAM can’t even scratch anymore. This album is absolutely delightful. Great vision, great execution, great musicianship. As I said above, I didn’t dork out to much this year, but I fucking dorked out to Level 2, I can assure you. A futuristic, prog metal master stroke
11. Times of Grace – The Hymn of a Broken Man
Not to get all emo on you, but the winter of 2011 was a pretty shitty time for me, and this album got me through it. Fucking powered me through it, in fact. Hell, it wasn’t so bad at all because I was listening to this album all the time. I’ve always been a huge Killswitch fan, but I actually didn’t love Hymn at first-it was a huge grower though. It has all the hallmarks of standard metalcore, yet transcends the genre as well. It doesn’t hurt that Adam D. executes the music (he plays all the instruments) and production perfectly and Jesse Leach throws down the vocal performance of the year throughout. Huge, empowering, enduring, and memorable songs.
10. Hate Eternal – Phoenix Amongst the Ashes
So you’re walking across the street when all of a sudden, BAM! You get smashed by a Mack Truck going 200 mph. It runs you over, crushing every bone in your body, then drags you underneath it for 40 minutes or so before depositing your lifeless ass in a ditch somewhere. That’s what this album sounds like. A vulgar display of death metal power for sure. What it lacks in dynamics it more than makes up for with pure CRUSH, yet with repeated listens it unfolds itself to the listener more and more. I won’t pretend this is some Devin Townsend joint with 400 tracks per song that you keep hearing new things every time you listen to it. But it is kinda like that — it helps if you listen to it loud. Very loud.
9. Unearth – Darkness In The Light
I’ve always been a huge fan of Unearth, but I had a few qualms about this release when I first heard it-namely the lack of progression in their sound and Adam Dutkiewicz’s heavy handed, super polished production that basically Killswitch-ized them-but I got over those issues pretty quickly because the songs fucking SMOKE. Every track has a ripping, downhill momentum about it that is just unstoppable and undeniable. Tons of energy, tons of mosh-tastic riffage and guitar hero solos. A perfect soundtrack for working out, partying, or smashing shit around your house.
8. Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage
Panoramic, imaginative, introspective, spacey, atmospheric black metal done to perfection. Tough to fully describe, but I can tell you that I highly recommend you give this album a listen. It has to be heard to be believed. This is one of the only black metal albums I got into this year, but I got into it hard.
7. TesseracT – One
The entire genre of djent has really been driving me nuts lately. I love, love, LOVE Meshuggah, so in theory I should enjoy a lot of these bands. But I just don’t. Most of it has no danger, no balls, nothing interesting to grab onto. TesseracT aren’t necessarily an exception either. When I’m not in the mood for them, they bore me half to death. But when I am in the mood for them, they are just fantastic. And this album really is fantastic, epic djent with an eye towards crafting actual songs, not just the syncopated-yet-still-4/4-stabbing-away-at-the-low-F-on-my-8-string-and-calling-it-progressive-when-it’s-just-a-riff-salad-disaster that so many djent bands go for. My only problem with One is that the Concealing Fate EP is smack in the middle of the album, and CF is so strong that the songs before it and after it feel almost like mere warm-ups and cool downs, respectively, to the main event.
6. Obscura – Omnivium
Somewhere, Chuck Shuldiner is sitting on his cloud in heaven and smiling down on the glorious genre of music he created almost singlehandedly. He’s probably also blasting the shit out of Omnivium. This album is incredibly Death-y, but moreover it’s just an incredible piece of death metal. Chuck would be proud. A must listen.
5. Suicide Silence – The Black Crown
Yeah, yeah, just shut up and hear me out man. I didn’t necessarily want to put this album so high on my list, but I’ll be damned if I don’t love it. I’m not ashamed of my Suicide Silence fandom, but I am surprised at how much I enjoy this album. I just couldn’t (and still can’t) stop listening to it. It’s catchy, anthemic, heavy as shit, grooves deep, and features what I think is one of the finest production jobs on any album this year. The drum sound and guitar tones are killer, but also not overly processed. Everything sounds very human and sounds like it was performed, not just chopped up to perfection in Pro Tools. I won’t pretend like “they don’t even use Pro Tools man!“ because I’m sure they do, but I think The Black Crown strikes a great balance between modern standards for sonic clarity and a more vintage, human feel that’s missing from quite a few records these days. I understand why you don’t like it, but I don’t really care. Give it another go if you slept on it.
4. The Black Dahlia Murder – Ritual
Siiiiiick, unbelievably proficient death metal. Good lord, these guys have become absolute masters of their craft. They really have gotten better and better with each and every album they’ve put out, and Ritual is no exception. It also does a great job of adding some diversity to the BDM sound, pretty much the only complaint I’ve had of them in the past. Also Ryan Knight delivers the best guitar solos of the year, and Bart Williams and Shannon Lucas prove once and for all that they are one of the best rhythm sections in metal.
3. Devin Townsend Project – Deconstruction
This album disappointed me to no end when I first heard it. I appreciate Devin’s humor and quirkiness, but I was hoping for a very serious return to SYL style heaviness and insanity on Deconstruction, and I got fart sounds and cheeseburgers. In time, I gained some perspective and came around, and boy oh boy did this fucker grow on me. Just an incredible piece of work, and I’m ashamed I ever had a single problem with it. Beautiful.
2. Machine Head – Unto The Locust
Machine Head is probably my favorite band ever. The Blackening has my vote for best metal album of all time, so there was no way Unto the Locust would top it. But it’s the best follow-up MH fans could possibly hope for. And in a way, it’s even cooler than The Blackening. It doesn’t kick your nuts in and get your head banging quite the same way (although songs like “I Am Hell“ are completely devasting), but it’s more melodic, more mature, and more interesting. I could (and sometimes do) listen to this album all day long.
1. Born of Osiris – The Discovery
I haven’t fallen so hard for an album since, well, Machine Head’s The Blackening back in 2007. I could barely call myself a fan of Born of Osiris until I heard this goddamn masterpiece. So legitimately awesome. Every song is just insanely killer. The guitar playing is unreal, the vocals and lyrics are incredible, the songs are well thought-out and ridiculously well written. The synths and electronics push everything over the top in the best way, and I love the production. If you passed over this album, slap yourself and go listen to it now!
– Jeff Bairley