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SHANBOMB’S TOP FIFTEEN METAL ALBUMS OF 2011

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No doubt about it; 2011 has been a pretty swingin’ year for music —the year I had kind of expected 2010 to be (probably because about half of the albums I was anticipating came out so late anyway…). New Limp Bizkit, KoRn, Nickelback, and Soulja Boy? Am I in heaven?

15. Skindred, Union Black (BMG)

Ragga punk metal. Nuff said.

14. Crossfade, We All Bleed (Eleven Seven Music)

This selection probably has you asking any number of questions, such as, “These guys are still around?”, “Who gives a shit?”, “Why does this writer give a shit?”, and “Why should I read any further than this?” Well, as it turns out, Crossfade are still around and after being dropped from their major label and enduring some severe bouts of depression and drug abuse, and they rallied and released an album that’s really worth hearing. No, they still don’t sound like Last Chance to Reason, Revocation, or whatever other bands are popular on this site, but if you dig Alter Bridge, Dark New Day, or Alice in Chains, and like a little prog with your angst, We All Bleed will be well worth your time. Oh, and the last song is over ten minutes long. Just sayin’.

13. Tasters, Reckless Till the End (Nuclear Blast)

Tasters is an Italian metalcore band recently who signed to Nuclear Blast, and their debut album is one of very, very few metalcore records worth hearing this year. That’s about all I’m going to say about them or show you of them. It’s too easy to be biased by how a band visually represents themselves, so check out their music for yourself and draw your own conclusion.

12. Defeater, Empty Days & Sleepless Nights (Bridge Nine)

I’m generally not a hardcore guy, but I can recognize a damn good hardcore album all the same, and Empty Days & Sleepless Nights is just that. The additional acoustic disc feels kind of tacked on, but the main part of the release is totally worth the price of admission. Irrefutable proof that emotional hardcore is not, in fact, emo. I always see The Fighter or The Departed playing in the background of my mind when listening to this record — and that’s not a bad thing!

11. Oh, Sleeper, Children of Fire (Solid State)

I’m not sure why it is I’ve always passed over Oh, Sleeper; it’s probably because they’re pretty fervently Christian, sounded a little too much like Underoath (another band I’ve overcome a bit of a mental aversion to), and snubbed by just about every self-respecting metalhead I know. Hearing “Endseekers,” the opening track on their latest release, this past summer, made me really question my motives. Oh, Sleeper no longer sound like a marginally better version of Underoath; they sound like Thrice if they were totally balls to the wall. And that’s fine by me!

10. Dead Letter Circus, This is the Warning (Sumerian)

I guess if you go by the American release date, this is fair game. If you like Karivool, Cog, and Aussie alternative in general, then Dead Letter Circus’ debut will really rock your socks off. Unbelievably powerful and crisp vocals with forward-thinking electronic proggy rock.

Believer - Transhuman9. Believer, Transhuman (Metal Blade)

An album and band that have gotten no attention this year. I had long written off this Pennsylvania technical thrash outfit for having a fairly one dimensional sound that, while not unimpressive, was pretty difficult to listen to for more than a couple songs. Their most recent work, the conceptual Transhuman, finally addresses a liability that fans have long complained about — extremely monotone vocals. On this album, the band emphasizes melody and composition like they never have before. Imagine a cross between Cynic and Nevermore fronted by Dexter Holland and you’ve got a rough idea of what’s in store on Transhuman.

8. Fair to Midland, Arrows and Anchors (eOne)

Another album I’ve been waiting forever for. Unfortunately, much like TesseracT’s debut, my opinion of it is tarnished a little by opening too many Hanukkah (or Christmas) presents too early. I, like many fans, heard about half of the album in demo form months before its release, and sampled most of the others live. Regardless, the songs are good and the bigger production supports the epic qualities of their music in ways Fables of the Mayfly was unable to do. And Darroh is still a beast.

Animals as Leaders - Weightless7. Animals as Leaders, Weightless (Prosthetic)

Animals as Leaders; you know them — they’re pretty good. It took a long time for me to get into their self-titled album, so I suppose it’s only fitting that their follow-up should take a comparable amount of time to digest. On this outing Misha Mansoor was excluded from the equation and drummer Navene Koperweis and rhythm guitarist Javier Reyes contributed to the writing of the record. While the chops and technical “holy-shitting” are all in tact, Weightless has a much more reserved and human feel to it. Superior Drummer be damned — that’s a real kit you’re hearing and a real drummer taking a dump on whatever prior concept you had of rhythm. AAL’s sophomore effort does lack a bit of the over-the-top, stratospheric sound of their debut, but repeated listens show the depth and quality of this work.

6. Septicflesh, The Great Mass (Season of Mist)

Symphonic metal and brutal death metal are two genres I almost never listen to, but for some reason Greece’s Septicflesh have cracked through my defenses. The heaviness is always upfront and never upstaged by the wealth of classical instrumentation woven into the riffs and double kicks. Maybe that’s it: The Great Mass doesn’t sound like an extreme metal band with an orchestra superimposed on top. The dozens of musicians involved in this project sound like a singular unit, and that’s a quite a feat.

5. Crownevict, We Are the Enemy (self-released)

If this name looks at all familiar, it’s probably because you saw them in my Unsigned and Unholy post a couple weeks ago, and no doubt now love them just as much as I do! Yeah, these guys sound like Deftones, but with some really killer modern influences that take what could be a very derivative release and make it garden fresh. We Are the Enemy won’t appeal to everyone, but those who love good alt-metal will be all over this.

4. Steven Wilson,  Grace for Drowning (Kscope)

While I enjoyed Steven Wilson’s first solo effort, Insurgentes, it didn’t really grab me in the same way his work with his main project had. It was an outlet for himself, and not for a bunch of fanboys expecting the familiar X, Y, and Z. Nevertheless, I was pretty blown away by his follow up. Grace for Drowning is a total reinvention of Mr. Wilson as a solo artist. The two disk collection both reaches back and forward in the prolific songwriter’s history, mixing 70’s prog with industrial touches and jazz fusion. Despite lacking the metal heft much of his recent work has pushed (it seems both he and Mikael have tired of metal), the songs have some of the most sinister and chilling moments you’re bound to hear from any band in 2011.

Tesseract - One3. TesseracT, One (Century Media)

I probably don’t need to make anyone aware of this release. It was a long time coming and very much worth the wait. The influence of Acle Kahney’s atmosphere-over-wank style of leadwork has had a tremendous influence on a number of comparable acts that have picked up stream recently (Oh hai, Uneven Structures, Oh hai, Vildhjarta). Djent with pop sensibility, you could say; and one of the most pure and emotional voices on top. Dan Tompkins will be missed.

2. Dir En Grey, Dum Spiro Spero (The End)

I wasn’t really sure where to put this one in the ranking; taken as a whole, the new album by the Japanese noise-makers is entirely too long and the tracks seem almost accidentally thrown into order. But the best material on the record still totals about forty-eight minutes, and it’s pretty mind-blowing to boot! Dir En Grey have been gradually creating a style of heavy music over their last few albums that is utterly unclassifiable, and Dum Spiro Spero could be their crowning jewel. The group finally got a truly metal production job and, while that isn’t always a good thing, it makes their sound on this outing the most destructive it’s ever been. One of the most evil-sounding releases in any genre this year.


1. Textures, Dualism (Nuclear Blast)

Textures is apparently a band I’ll travel to another state just to shake hands with. I drove down to New York a few months ago with a friend to hear Dualism at the group’s album listening party, where the record was utterly and completely inaudible, drowned out by drunken yells from all directions. The guys were one of the nicest groups of musicians I’ve ever met in person, though maybe having a few beers with them and chatting about the Netherlands and their metal scene made me listen to their album through rose-colored speakers when I finally heard it in the week that followed. The fact that I still find myself spinning the record at least once a week, months after its release, is evidence of that not at all being the case. New vocalist Daniel de Jongh is a perfect heir to his predecessor’s post, with a massive range and clean soulful tone that is every bit as impressive, if not more so live. While Textures have never been a djent band per se, their last album, the phenomenal Silhouettes, had enough in common with the then rising Periphery (whom they recently supported in the States) to lump them in with the pack. On Dualism, the group steps even further from the now tired trend, with post and art rock influences in their softer material and some real bruisers that rival the best work in their catalogue.

-BS

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