DAVE MUSTEIN’S TOP FIFTEEN METAL ALBUMS OF 2011
Making this list in 2011 seemed like a much bigger…. thing, I guess, than making this list in 2010 was. Maybe it’s because one specific album didn’t really stick out to me the same way things like Ihsahn’s After or Anaal Nathrakh’s In the Constellation of the Black Widow did in previous years. But the thing I really did notice this year was the hideous amount of catchiness in the music I enjoyed. So much of what I listened to felt samey and generic, but the things that really made an impression primarily capitalized on hooks, memorable riffs, and headbanging choruses. Technicality stopped being as impressive to me as it used to be.
Which is probably why the albums on my list are generally a bit weird, and also why the majority of readers are going to hate the albums I put on my “disappointments” list. Please feel free to express your overly self-righteous rage in the comments. Hooray for the evolution and adaptation of musical tastes.
15. The Human Abstract, Digital Veil (eOne)
At one point, Digital Veil was my unconditional favorite for 2011. It was proof that ____core music could actually be original and refreshing in this day and age. Of course, I then proceeded to listen to the album again and realized that it wasn’t the glorious beacon of hope for core-based metal I thought that it had been. But the songwriting is so superior to that of the majority of other releases this year that it absolutely has to be on this list somewhere, and it’s still a reminder of the validity of core as an influence of metal. Just because there’s a lot of crap out there doesn’t mean that it’s all crap.
14. Machine Head, Unto the Locust (Roadrunner)
It was utterly futile for anyone to hope for the second coming of The Blackening. And everyone knows that. But Unto the Locust is probably the closest anyone could ever get. Anthems like the title track and “I Am Hell” are undoubtedly going to be played for a significant amount of time, as they’re a great example of more classic American metal done the way American metal should be done: straightforward and slamming.
13. Deivos, Demiurge of the Void (Unique Leader)
Ok, I lied ealier. One technical release did impress me this year, primarily for its technicality and heaviness. Deivos, a little-known Polish death metal crew, put out a classic example of brutal, technical metal done right. No, this form of metal isn’t particularly unique, but it’s pretty rare to hear it done this well, and it’s also rare to hear production like this on such an obscure outfit. It’s fast death metal that doesn’t give a fuck, and it isn’t samey like many of the other artists in the genre. Their riffs are refreshing as opposed to generic, and their solos display a lot of eccentricity. Grooves stay intact here as well; it’s ideal headbangers’ music.
12. Arsonsists Get All the Girls, Motherland (Century Media)
I have a bit of a soft spot for Arsonists Get All the Girls, despite the fact that they’re a deathcore band. But at this point I think my enjoyment of the band goes beyond a mere guilty pleasure. Gone are the days of Nintendo covers; instead, they’ve been replaced by legitimate riffing interlaid with keyboards that actually add something to the band as a whole. Yes, there are still plenty of breakdowns, but they don’t dominate the songs by any means — their effect is more along the lines of what Suffocation used to do, before the whole breakdown concept was popularized by core metal. Surprising things like the piano interlude “West Cliffs” also make this a great listen; the band is no longer a novelty, and they can do some really fucking cool things.
11. Nekrogoblikon, Stench (self-released)
We’ve been hyping this one for more than three years at this point, but it finally got released despite label catastrophes and countless delays, and it delivered like I hoped it would. Stench, to me, is what all folk-influenced melodic metal should be: rampant with killer riffs, howling vocals, and, of course, keyboard shenanigans . The band members definitely don’t take themselves too seriously, but they’ve moved way beyond the mediocre comedic aspects of Goblin Island. The production has increased thousandfold in quality, and the art for the album is fantastic as well.
10. Septicflesh, The Great Mass (Season of Mist)
The buzz for The Great Mass was pretty subdued, which wasn’t helped by the fact that Septicflesh were thrown onto tours on which they were completely out of place. So by and large this release went unnoticed in the metal community. It’s too bad, because I can’t think of a better example of orchestral symphonic black metal off the top of my head. Things like “Oceans of Grey” are good examples of how (sorry for using this word, but) epic beyond belief the album really is.
9. Omnium Gatherum, New World Shadows (Lifeforce)
It’s been quite a long time since a melodic death metal release made me sit up and pay attention beyond something like, “well that was a cool riff.” But New World Shadows managed to do just that. It’s not just that their specific brand of melodeath has great riffs and good production; it’s that songs like “Soul Journeys” have all of that and also don’t conform to the typical rhythmic structures of most modern melodeath songs. The band doesn’t seem to be bound by conventions the same way most other melodeath bands are, and that makes their music that much more listenable. No matter how good the riffs may be, there’s gotta be more to make a release really stand out, and Omnium Gatherum definitely have that extra oomph.
8. Unexpect, Fables of the Sleepless Empire (self-released)
It took a long-ass fucking time to get this released after 2007’s In a Flesh Aquarium, but damn, it was worth it. Fables is another bizarre cavalcade of sweeping violin riffs, soaring female vocals, and experimental metal, but the band has matured in the last four years. The nine-string bass is still present, but it’s not thrust in the listener’s face the same way it had been done before, and the musicians sound like they’ve spent an insane amount of time coordinating with each other. Complete spontaneity wass great and all, but there really isn’t much of a comparison between the band’s synergy on Fables and on Aquarium. The songwriting’s improved, too, and things feel altogether a lot more coherent with this band than they ever had before.
7. Jesu, Ascension (Caldo Verde)
There isn’t an ideal way to describe Jesu’s beauty without listening to Ascension, but Justin Broadrick has somehow done it yet again — he’s melded glorious heaviness with ethereal calm. It stands out among so many other releases this year because of the way harmony and discord play around each other throughout the album. But Ascension is not a mere continuation of the last release. It’s another world entirely from the gut-wrenchingly heavy works of early Jesu, as well as the floating, almost-upbeat tracks of Why Are We Not Perfect — yet it preserves the very essence of both Jesu elements. Apparently, Broadrick will never run out of ways to make soul-gougingly beautiful music. The Japanese bonus tracks, especially the alternative version of “King of Kings,” are even more phenomenal.
6. The Devin Townsend Project, Deconstruction (Inside/Out)
Given that everyone everywhere has already heard and loved Deconstruction, I can spare some details. It’s the craziest, heart-poundingest train wreck of an album I’ve heard in a while, and almost every song on it is flawless. The songs are so seemingly random, yet so well coordinated. And the huge scope of musical styles (partially thanks to the insane amount of guests on the album) leads to Deconstruction being one of the most varied and interesting releases of the year. The only reason this isn’t number one on my list is because it’s a little hard to take in so much music at once.
5. Anaal Nathrakh, Passion (Candlelight)
Much like In the Constellation of the Black Widow, the album is a chaotic blend of fast-paced black metal and bizarre progressive elements. Passion feels a bit blacker to me than the band’s other releases have, but that doesn’t alter its enjoyability in the slightest. If organized chaos could manifest itself in a single band, that band would be Anaal Nathrakh, who are capable of stirring up all the strangest emotions in each listener. This is fucked-up music, no question, and it’s beautiful for being as fucked up as it is. It may sound strange to feel happy while listening to Nathrakh, but it’s definitely possible, and it happens on Passion. Amidst the total violence of tracks like “Le Diabolique Est L’ami Du Simple” is an unexpected peace, and it’s unbelievably cool to experience.
4. Born of Osiris, The Discovery (Sumerian)
I know, I know — I was shocked as well. But after enjoying “Recreate” early in the year, I listened to the album more and more, bringing me to the realization that Born of Osiris had actually gotten their shit together and become a legitimate band. No more two-minute long, breakdown-riddled wankfests; instead, they’ve been replaced by actual songs with actual riffs and actual structure. The album is full of insanely catchy hooks, the solos are killer, and the keyboards aren’t just there to add a line of text to the band’s CD booklets. The songs are well-structured and don’t get boring.
3. Thot, Obscured by the Wind (White Leaves)
Thot are not a complex band in the slightest, and that’s why they’re so awesome. The last thing I expected when I threw on Obscured by the Wind for the first time was a simple, groove-ridden pile of fun. Disturbingly distorted vocals, hugely fuzzy guitars, random female vocal clips, and generally out-of-left-field musical qualities make this really stand out for me. I do not listen to Thot when I’m aiming for something technical or brutal. But I can put them on for almost any other activity, and that’s such a solid quality in music today — to be able to listen to a release almost indefinitely without getting bored is so rare.
2. Protest the Hero, Scurrilous (Vagrant)
Early in the year, I had absolutely no idea Scurrilous would end up in my top fifteen. Fortress was perpetually in the back of my mind, underscoring anything and everything PTH did. Until I realized that Scurrilous is a completely different beast from its predecessor. That’s not to say they don’t have similarities — both are incredibly technical yet catchy metal releases that aren’t bound by a single genre. But I feel that Scurrilous is actually less focused on guitar work and more focused on vocal performance than Fortress and even Kezia were, and that makes a huge difference. The screams have mostly disappeared on this album, and that makes this album even more fun and approachable than their last two releases. But it’s still got the quintessential PTH elements that make it just that good.
1. The Project Hate MCMXCIX, Bleeding The New Apocalypse (Cum Victriciis In Manibus Armis) (Season of Mist)
This was the album that Fleshgod Apocalypse should have released. Epic, swooping, brutal, and operatic, with fantastic production and amazingly tight playing. Nearly every possible aspect of metal is present on this release, and the songs are long but don’t drag on like so many progressive metal releases. I actually almost didn’t even listen to this record — my friend introduced me to The Project Hate just a week before we turned in our year-end lists — but I’m really happy that I did. Above all, variety entwined with metallic consistency makes this album as good as it is. Tracks like “Iesus Nazarenus, Servus Mei” are a prime example of this, as it’s as heavy as anything else on this list, but also has a reverb-laden female vocal soaring above the electronic-backed riffs that subtly transition into brutal death metal. Grooves aren’t lost here, and there’s absolutely something for everyone. Bleeding is probably going in my top five metal releases of all-time.
EPs that would be on the list if they were full-length:
Job for a Cowboy, Gloom (Metal Blade)
Blotted Science, The Animation of Entomology
All Shall Perish, This is Where it Ends (Nuclear Blast) — You can read my detailed review here. In short, I felt nothing from this release and was honestly kind of upset about it. I liked Awaken the Dreamers a lot more than most people, and I was expecting something kind of continuing that trend. Instead, we got a boring, rehashed mishmash of stuff from all the ASP albums that ended up as a very passable, but very generic, deathcore release. The songs aren’t bad — there are some really killer riffs and solos. But we’ve heard almost all of this stuff so many times before that it isn’t worth the time. In a vacuum, this was good. Life is not a vacuum.
Animals as Leaders, Weightless (Prosthetic) — Technical metal is starting to disillusion a lot of people, myself included. It’s much harder to listen to The Faceless on record with the same zest I used to have, Necrophagist seems a lot more normal, and Animals as Leaders somehow just isn’t cutting it for me. I don’t know why — Tosin is still a genius on guitar and the band works together phenomenally. Perhaps there’s only so much one can enjoy in terms of shreddy, progressive, somewhat experimental, metal; Weightless doesn’t hold the same appeal that the first AAL release did. But maybe it’s just me?
Between the Buried and Me, Parallax: The Hypersleep Dialogues (Metal Blade) — BTBAM haven’t truly written a new song in a while. I can’t remember the last time I could listen to any one specific new track and remember riffs from it three days later. Progression is worth nothing if you’re just recycling old material, and I honestly haven’t felt truly inspired by this band since Colors. The Great Misdirect was questionable; Parallax is just boring.
Things I liked that just didn’t have enough oomph to make the list (a.k.a. “honorable mentions”):
Fleshgod Apocalypse, Agony (Nuclear Blast)
Mastodon, The Hunter (Reprise/Warner Bros.)
YOB, Atma (Profound Lore)
Wolves in the Throne Room, Celestial Lineage (Southern Lord)
Cloudkicker, Let Yourself Be Huge (self-released)
2012 should be interesting.