COREY MITCHELL’S BLEEDERS’ DIGEST – TOP FIFTEEN METAL ALBUMS OF 2011
Phew! Hopefully, you’ve been reading my Bleeders’ Digests this year to get an idea of what I consider to be the best releases in what has truly been a stellar year for metal. I started this insane venture back in January and have listened to, front to back, 723 metal releases this year!
Since we had an earlier than usual deadline this year to submit our final Top 15 (and because I have a book deadline in December), I’ve only made it through half of the month of October. I did sneak in a few key November releases as well such as the new Animals As Leaders, Megadeth, Vektor, and Cynic. For those of you that read the Bleeders, don’t worry, I’ll catch up on the October, November, and December releases in the new year.
What an amazing year for heavy metal. While I somehow managed to whittle my list down to a Top 15, do yourself a favor and check out my previous Bleeders Digests (links at bottom) for a year’s worth of killer tunes. This is but the top 10% of what I found to be excellent. Most of the reviews here are from my earlier Bleeders columns and the updated notes are from my mid-year top albums list. There are a couple of new reviews in the mix as well.
My Top 15 contains a little bit of everything: thrash, crust, instrumetal, black metal, stoner, doom, punk, grindcore, death metal, hardcore, blackened this and that, and more.
Yes, there is a noticeable lack of Djent, wank, and Ghost. Deal with it.
For the rest of you, enjoy!
15 (TIE). Black Tusk – Set The Dial (Relapse); Mortal Sin – Psychology Of Death (Riot Entertainment); Sólstafir – Svartir Sandar (Season Of Mist)
Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. I’m cheating right off the bat, sort of like a White House press reporter that asks those annoying multi-part questions of the president. These three releases came out later in the year so I haven’t been able to absorb them completely, but they all rock balls hard. Black Tusk has a stoner/D.R.I. thing going for it. Mortal Sin are old ass Australian thrashers that should remind the jackasses in Metallica that decrepit dudes can still thrash and sound good doing it. Finally, Sólstafir’s album is phenomenal. Think Tiamat, Fields of Nephilim, and U2 and you start to get the idea what’s going on.
14. Revocation – Chaos of Forms (Relapse)
I am not a fan of what I call “Wanky BS,” or music that is simply nothing more to me than metallic masturbation. You know, shit that gets pumped around these parts endlessly. While I admire the mastery of the fretboard, I despise the ultra-uber-mega “look at me twiddly-twiddly-dee-dee-dee” jackoffs that have inexplicably overtaken the intermetalwebs. Revocation is wanky metal in a way that does not make me want to slit my wrists. Instead, they’re punchy, catchy, and tastefully groovy. It reminds me of Lazarus A.D. if they were led by solo-era Joe Satriani. As a matter of fact, this should have been the album that L.A.D. should have released this year. CoF covers a multitude of metal styles from tech death to power metal to groove to melodeath to fucking swing laden with organs and horns. It’s a smorgasbord of riffs, memorable choruses, and solid vocals. Indeed, it is minimal wankery that doesn’t turn me off in the least. (Review first appeared 10/17/11)
13. Olde Growth – Olde Growth (Meteorcity)
Updated note – This one kept going up and down in my estimation. One more listen clarified that I was crazy as it fucking rules! Especially coming from a two-piece.
Boston duo’s 2010 debut album gets re-released by MeteorCity and we are all the better for having heard it. Thrashy doom with bass, drum, and vocals only. Strong riffin’, dope smokin’, pit slammin’ metal that will make fans of St. Vitus very, very happy. Ten-minute-plus closer “Awake” is easily one of the best songs of the year. (Review first appeared 6/22/11)
12. Omega Massif – Karpatia (Denovali)
First Kodiak, now Omega Massif. For a guy like me who loves dark, moody, depressing vocal-less music, September was a wonderful Black Christmas. This German sludge instru-metal unit’s second album is the perfect soundtrack to the depravity in one’s life you try so very hard to suppress. It is your true thoughts and emotions wrought through electric chords of doom and destruction, but instead of repulsing you, only serves to intrigue you more. This four-piece cranks out cinematic desolation with no effects, no electronic beeps and blurps, just pure, raw emotive psychoses that brings to mind the best of Neurosis, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Cult of Luna without pilfering from any of those bands. Probably the best instrumental album I’ve heard all year. (Review first appeared 11/1/11)
11. Infestus – ExIst (Debemur Morti Productions)
Updated note – I had no idea Inquisition’s Dagon used to be in Infestus. I don’t believe this record would have been as good with him singing, even though I like his croakals. Simply amazing that Infestus is one man (Andras) because he is such an incredible composer and musician.
I remember reading a comment on another MetalSucks post recently wherein the commenter stated that there is no good new black metal these days. I simply had to laugh as 2011 is turning out to be a stellar year for BM. Horned Almighty, Inquisition, Cavus, Blut Aus Nord, Dragged Into Sunlight, Helrunar, Infernal War, Kriegsmaschine, Deafheaven, Ravencult, Aosoth, and now you can add Infestus to that ever-expanding list. ExIst is EPIC black metal – broad in scope, yet somehow, an intimate listening experience. Of course, since this is a one-man project, that makes sense. Germany’s Andras displays a wide variety of skills on ALL of the instruments, including a mid-range growl that is decipherable, yet still heavy as fuck. Infestus is the antithesis to all of the Last Chance to Reasons and The Human Abstracts and Peripheries that are clogging up MS readers’ ears these days. Simple, yet crushing riffs, beautifully depressing atmospherics, and a sense of danger that does not occur with those other, trendier acts. Infestus is the real fucking deal! (Review first appeared 6/22/11)
10. American Heritage – Sedentary (Translation Loss)
Updated note – Wormrot and Nader Sadek snuck up past this one in my estimation since I first wrote this praise piece back in March. But it is still a stellar record through and through and should be picked up by any Mastodon fan out there.
I grew tired of Mastodon after witnessing their less than stellar live performance at the 2005 Ozzfest in Houston. In fact, I haven’t really cared for them since Leviathan. Thank God/Satan for the rise of American Heritage. They do what Mastodon used to do – rock the fuck out with full-tilt boogie, smashing guitar riffs, and minimal proggy elephant stomping madness. This is a beautiful record that simply destroys most anything else I’ve heard so far this year (save for Horned Almighty and SubRosa). Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher plays bass on one track (he’s one of several guest bassists to appear). (Review first appeared 4/6/11)
9. Vallenfyre – A Fragile King (Century Media)
In 2009, Paradise Lost guitarist Gregor Mackintosh’s father succumbed to cancer. To deal with his grief, Mackintosh penned several songs of an intense, morbid, mournful nature. He gathered together some friends including journeyman drummer Adrian Erlandsson, whom he played with in Paradise Lost, guitarist Hamish Glencross from My Dying Bride, Doom bassist Scoot, and a buddy from a local pub named Mully to help out on additional rhythm guitars. Mackintosh does not play guitar on this release, but rather takes over the microphone and belts out a very 21st-century Tom G. Warrior-esque raspy bellow. The music is a beautiful combination of Entombed/Dismember Swedish death metal guitar tones and PL/MDB doomicide. It’s HAF, DAF (dark as fuck), and will get your blood spurting on the first spin. This is an incredible debut album that explores the pain and fury of one’s man’s journey through grief.
8. Wormrot – Dirge (Earache)
Updated note – RRRROOOAAAARRRRGGGGFUCKRRRGGGHHH!!!!
Holy fuck!! I was lucky enough to catch these guys at the MetalSucks South by South Death party at SXSW this past March. They blew away the rest of the bill including MS faves Kvelertak. Guess what? They do it again with this incredible grindcore insta-classic. Twenty-five songs of unrelenting face pummeling that clocks in at just under 19 minutes. Fast, brutal, bassless, and fucking bad ass! Turn this one up way loud, piss off the sleeping corpses in your local cemetery, and then do it again…and again…and again…. (Review first appeared 6/22/11)
7. Craft – Void (Carnal)
It’s seems as if August’s unintentional theme is old school metal. In Sweden’s Craft, we have OS black metallers who’ve been around since 1994 and haven’t released an album in six years. Thank God/Hail Satan they did because Void is instantly going into my Top 15 releases for this year. It’s not often that you get well-produced black metal with crisp Transylvanian Hunger-era Darkthrone guitar work, perfectly mixed gravelly vocals, and nice punchy (yet simplistic) drum work. This is relatively simple black metal that will make you scream “I Fucking Hate You!” at old ladies as well as steroid-ridden meatheads with equal aplomb. And if you don’t think black metal can be catchy outside of Satyricon, feast your ears on my favorite hit of the 2011 summer, “I Want To Commit Murder.” Never has humming a homicidal ditty been so much fun. Craft makes their Swedish compatriots, Ghost, look like the posers they truly are. (Review first appeared 10/17/11)
6. Nader Sadek – In The Flesh (Season Of Mist)
Updated note – I love the supremely twisted “flesh guitar” video for “Negrido in Necromance,” one of my favorite songs of the year so far.
Easily the best death metal album of 2011 so far and probably on track to be the best for the entire year. Led by Egyptian artist Sadek (who does not play or sing on the album), NS is comprised of some DM/BM heavy hitters including Steve Tucker (Morbid Angel), Travis Ryan (Cattle Decapitation), Tony Norman (Terrorizer/Monstrosity), Flo Mounier (Cryptopsy), Nicholas McMaster (Krallice/Gorguts), and Rune Ericksen (Mayhem). In The Flesh is a concept album about the evolution and abuse of oil and is a beautiful, brutal, straightforward modern near-masterpiece. Hauntingly heavy. (Review first appeared 6/22/11)
I never look at band photos, watch music videos, nor read online reviews of bands I have never heard before when I write up these Bleeders’ Digests. I want to be focused solely on the music and not be influenced by what a band is supposed to be, from either a record label’s PR perspective, an over-obsessive fanboy’s take on the group, or even the band’s own self-professed philosophical underpinnings. I prefer, instead, to go in blind (as it were) and reach my own personal conclusions based strictly on what I hear. After listening to Isolation, I never, in a million years, would have guessed that Harm’s Way is supposed to be a hardcore band. Now, I love hardcore…well, at least old school hardcore à la Cro-Mags, Crumbsuckers, Fearless Iranians From Hell, Scratch Acid, old COC, old D.R.I., The Offenders, M.D.C., etc. Modern-day hardcore, unfortunately, can be a bit repetitive for my tastes. I believe that if Harm’s Way drops the unnecessarily limiting genre tag of “hardcore,” they should succeed in a big ass way.
These guys remind me more of Filth Pig-era Ministry (which is a damn fine thing despite what critics thought back in the day) fronted by latter-era Napalm Death’s Barney Greenway, mixed in with some occasional Godflesh/”Christbait Rising” distorted vox courtesy of Justin Broadrick (early-era Napalm Death guitarist), filtered through Entombed’s guitar rig. Toss in some Earth sludge, a bit of Louder Than Love-era Soundgarden guitar crunch, and a smidge of Adam Grossman/Skrew incrustrial vocal stylings and you begin to get the idea that these guys are way more than just another run-of-the-mill hardcore band. It was only after I formulated my extremely positive opinion of Isolation that I decided to look up Harm’s Way online. I was stunned to find out that their singer, “Johnny Hammers” Ferocious, will pummel anyone into submission
(see below photo), their bassist, John Caution, also sings for Weekend Nachos, and that these guys consider themselves a “straightedge” band.
Don’t limit yourselves guys, simply for the sake of an alleged (or even a fully realized and adhered to) ideology. Of course, push what you believe in, but as is evidenced by this record, you have way more to offer the world than mere lessons in violence and veganism. (Review first appeared 8/10/11)
4. KEN mode – Venerable (Profound Lore)
Updated note – Caught these guys in June and they rocked balls! Bring your earplugs.
This Kurt Ballou (Converge) produced masterstroke brings to mind the best of Helmet (Strap It On, Meantime), Quicksand (Slip), and Poison the Well (You Come Before You). Alternative noise metalcore (not the bastardization the subgenre has evolved into over the past five years) that rumbles rafters and unsettles neighbors. Aggressive, precise, and one mean bitchin’ Camaro of an aural onslaught. Can’t believe I missed these cats at SXSW! (Review first appeared 4/6/11)
3. SubRosa – No Help For the Mighty Ones (Profound Lore)
Updated note – Easily one of the most beautiful and haunting records I’ve heard in years.
If Siouxsie Sioux (of Siouxsie and the Banshees) fronted a funeral doom band, it would be SubRosa. There is so much wonderful depression going on here it is hard to describe. Take the arid desolation of Across Tundras, combine it with the quiet desperation of an angst-filled P.J. Harvey song, mix in some screaming violins from hell, and cross-breed it with a Godspeed You! Black Emperor cacophonous maelstrom and you begin to get the picture. Fans of Agalloch, Grayceon, YOB, Thou, Salome, and Earth will get/dig this. It is pure, brilliant metallic moodiness with plaintive instrumentation, deathly growls, atonal multi-layered group choruses, concrete crawl drumming, and oh so much more. Easily an early favorite for Album of the Year. (Review first appeared 4/6/11)
2. Amebix – Sonic Mass (Easy Action)
Imagine if deep cut Ministry hooked up with Nick Cave, Justin Broadrick, and Lemmy and decided to teach these darn kids today a few lessons in violence. It has been twenty-four years since Amebix’s last release, Monolith. They were resurrected from used record store hell through the sheer will and force of Stone Sour drummer and Amebix fanboy, Ray Mayorga. He joins original Amebix members Rob Miller and Stig to create a fusion of post-rock punk rock with industrial undertones, tribal drum warfare, and anthemic rants that will have you amazed at how well these old farts rock the fuck out! Throw in some old Killing Joke and even Echo & The Bunnymen for a weirdly infectious rockin’ pop twist and vast sonic soundscapes along the lines of Across Tundras for even more layers. It’s no wonder the guys in Neurosis cite Amebix as a major influence on their sound. Sonic Mass instantly jumps near the top of my list for Album of the Year. (Review first appeared 11/1/11)
Wire to motherfucking wire! I am shocked that the first album I previewed in 2011, and also awarded as the first Bleeder of The Month, managed to stay on top of my favorites list AND also stayed in heavy rotation in my various listening units for the entire year. Truly amazing. Listen to it and you’ll soon figure out why if you haven’t already. (11/22/11 – CM)
This post is a re-print of my “Albums To Fuck Your Face Off” selection from way back in January.
Updated note – No less of a Black Metal aficionado than Philip H. Anselmo gave this one his seal of approval. While chauffeuring Philip around downtown Austin in my car during SXSW, he asked me what I was listening to at the time. I popped this one in and he immediately grooved on it so much that music fans walking on the Sixth Street sidewalk spotted him and began yelling at him while he continued to enthusiastically bang his head. He made sure I made him a copy before he left town.
Are there times when you just want to strip away the niceties of everyday life, flush away any remote sense of decorum, and turn off your brain? How often do you wish you had time to throw back a multitude of pints, curse out your God-fearing neighbors, and cause undeterred rampant chaos? Sometimes it’s best to revert back to your cavemanic id, and if you need a soundtrack to accompany your civil disobedience, listen no further than veteran
Norwegian Danish (Thanks, Marco! – CM) black thrashers Horned Almighty’s newest collection of instigation, Necro Spirituals.
These devil punks, led by former Exmortem lead singer Simon “Smerte” Petersen, referred to within HA as simply “S,” unleash unrepentant blackened thrash with runaway locomotive precision — in other words, it’s all-out thrashing chaos with minimal florid distractions such as no grandiose keyboard flourishes, no alt-crowd approval seeking operatic female voices, or any of the other recent trademarks of overblown black metal. HA harkens back to the days of early Floridian-based death metal mixed in with the best punky bits of Darkthrone, combined with some Impaled Nazarene for good measure. We’re talking the Motorhead of black metal — aggressive guitars, straight-ahead drum pummeling, and one-note guttural spews that incite and never bore. Mix in a little Shout at the Devil-era Motley Crue (that’s a good thing, believe it or not), early 21st century Satryicon, and long-forgotten British punk metalheads Rogue Male for additional spice, and you have the first true album of 2011 that will indeed, fuck your face off.
The highlights of Necro Spirituals are many, from the title track, a punchy punk-influenced metal bash that brings to mind pain, pits, and piss; “Fountain of a Thousand Plagues,” a thrashier amped-up treat reminiscent of To Mega Therion-era Celtic Frost (with a beautifully sloppy solo to boot); to the ever-changing tempos of my favorite cut on the record, “In Jubilation and Disgust;” to the one-two slow, sludgy, doom feast knockout punches delivered at the end of the record in the form of “Blasphemous Burden” and “Absolved in the Sight of God.”
Necro Spirituals is the black metal record for metalheads who don’t like black metal. It avoids the trappings of many of today’s bloated symphonic BMers and unapologetically goes straight for the throat. It goes a step further, ala A Serbian Film, and continues the cranial consummation through each additional facial orbital — eye sockets, nasal passages, and, most importantly, ear drums. And you will beg for more.
Necro Spirituals was originally released in Europe last October. It will be released in the United States by Candlelight Records on January 25, 2011. (Review first appeared 1/16/11)
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Corey Mitchell is a best-selling author of several true crime books and is currently helping Philip H. Anselmo write his autobiography.