KELLHAMMER’S TOP FIFTEEN METAL ALBUMS OF 2011
It was the best of times, it was the most epically lame of times. 2011 saw my first speeding ticket ever, my car totaled, me spend a month in a sling due to surgery necessary after an injury at a Deströyer 666 show five years ago, and start writing for this fine online publication right here. So yeah, this year “suck”ed — but it’s just about over, and there have been some pretty awesome bands come out with new shit to listen to day in and day out. Awwww, there’s that silver lining :)
When I was first asked to submit my year-end list, I have to say, I was a bit intimidated. Not because I’ve never comprised one for public consumption before, but because this year has been, in my mind, a phenomenal year for metal. I can’t tell you how many times I rearranged, added to, subtracted from, and stressed over this list so that it reflected exactly what got me stoked this year. I was lucky enough to see a large chunk of these bands live in 2011, which certainly didn’t hurt in helping me with my painstaking decisions. One band, and I’ll point this out when we get to them, actually swayed me almost entirely after seeing them live, allowing me to listen to the album in a new light and appreciate it on a new level. Don’t you love it when that happens?
15. Tombs, Path of Totality (Relapse)
One theme prevalent in the bands I usually gravitate towards is the marriage of brutality and certain frailness and desperation – a union that Tombs has yet again conquered. With each album, NYC’s experimental black metal masters bowl me over just a little bit more, giving validation to what has turned into a borderline-obsession.
14. Revocation, Chaos of Forms (Relapse)
Looking at the rest of the list I’ve compiled, yeah, this album may seem a tad out of place, but its spot here is well deserved. It. Fucking. RIPS. I’m consistently amazed with all four of these dudes and their damn near-impeccable musicianship, and that’s really brought to life on this album. Admittedly, thrash and technical death are sub-genres I’m not generally super into, but there’s something about Revocation that really set them apart from their peers. There is nothing predictable or generic about them, never has been, and if what they did with Chaos of Forms is any indication, those attributes have no place in their future, either.
13. Black Tusk, Set the Dial (Relapse)
I really liked this album after a few listens. I fucking LOVED it after I saw Black Tusk live a couple times last month. Something about watching all three members rocking out like it’s the last time they’d ever play, stoked on everything and looking like they’re having the time of their lives really brought the entire album to life. Their southern blend of sludge and hardcore with a stoner heart takes the most integral part of each of those genres and combines them effortlessly, creating a most epic concoction.
12. Falls of Rauros, The Light that Dwells in Rotten Wood (Bindrune)
I had first gotten wind of these guys over the summer when Brooklyn Vegan streamed the LP in its entirety, and I was immediately hooked. Holy fucknuts, why am I only just recently discovering this incredible band? Shame on me, I suppose. Strikingly compiled blackened ambiance in a vein similar to that of Agalloch is what you’ll find on this release. With heart melting vocals and startlingly emotive consistency throughout, these New England natives are crushing it.
11. Batillus, Furnace (Seventh Rule)
Furnace is one of those albums that kinda sneaks up on you – inviting you in, intriguing you, and then slowly peels the flesh from your face. The alien-like droning doom Batillus has gifted us here is almost reminiscent of Graves at Sea, but revisited, revamped, and reassessed turning it into a sound all their own. At times delicate, at others unrelenting in it’s violent heaviness – an ebb an flow giving Furnace ample bone melting ammunition throughout this fantastically crafted album.
10. The Proselyte, Sunshine (Teenage Disco Bloodbath)
As I mentioned in my review a couple months back, this band, though local, had eluded me until I was asked to give their album a listen and throw in my two cents. Fast forward to right now, and we’re talking about an album that has thoroughly blown me away listen after listen. The Proselyte have been lovingly referred to as “post-grunge,” and while that distinction may leave an unfamiliar taste in your mouth, it’s actually not so far off and certainly no bad thing. Clean vocal harmonies dominate the album, as do crushing guitar work leading into melodic, articulate guitar-work. Even if this description may leave you saying to yourself “not brutal enough,” check it out — I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
9. The Atlas Moth, An Ache for the Distance (Profound Lore)
Pure alchemy. Exceptionally personal and meticulously composed, Stavros and Co. have created a damn-near masterpiece their second album in. From the waterlike, sweeping guitars, to the clean vs. aggrieved vocals, An Ache for the Distance really didn’t have a chance not making my year-end list. It was fated to be enjoyed, thoroughly and with vigor, from the onset.
8. Deafheaven, Roads to Judah (Deathwish)
While my heart is still heavy over the disbandment of the almighty Ludicra, it’s good to know San Francisco is still churning out solid black metal acts, eager to bring gorgeous tonal landscapes and ethereal-esque screams to eardrums near and far. Roads to Judah is the bands first full-length, though you’d think these guys had been in the game far longer. Right from the onset, the album is pure ambient black metal wonderfulness accompanied by emotionally charged cries throughout. Can’t wait to hear what these guys come out with next, but until then, I’m more than happy with what they came up with on Judah.
7. Morne, Asylum (Profound Lore)
Asylum called my car stereo home for a good portion of this summer, and if you’ve heard it, you’ll understand why. Sure, a band with doom soaked crust tendencies such as Morne may not seem an appropriate summer accompaniment, but it made a surprisingly fantastic, and fitting, soundtrack. I first discovered these dudes when they opened up for Hellshock back in 2008, and while I went for those punks from PDX, I left with a new favorite. Asylum brings all those love-at-first-listen feelings back, but with a staunch reminder that these guys are progressing in a mighty fine way.
6. Exhumed, All Guts, No Glory (Relapse)
It’s been a while since Exhumed has graced us with a new album, and this made me a bit apprehensive about what we were about to hear from them. After announcing they had reformed and were planning on releasing some new material, I’ll admit that while I was glad they were active again, I whole-heartedly expected to be let down by All Guts, No Glory. Thank you, boys, for proving me so completely wrong. It’s almost as if they never disbanded, picking up just were they had left off, continuing to incessantly rattle the skullcaps of gore metal fanatics everywhere. This is the Exhumed I remember.
5. Dark Castle, Surrender to All Life Beyond Form (Profound Lore)
This band is awesomely weird, and I mean that in the most complementary way imaginable. Surrender is experimental without being at all pretentious; it strays from the path less traveled, yet is somehow eerily familiar. From the hauntingly creep-tastic guitar work to the pained, dueling vocals, the epically gifted duo has painted us a horse of an entirely different color – I’m not sure what, exactly, that color is, but I like it a great deal. Still kicking myself for missing them play this year.
4. Wolvhammer, The Obsidian Plains (Profound Lore)
If you’re not already familiar with them, allow me to introduce my new, true-blue obsession: Wolvhammer. This band has successfully grabbed up my favored genres (crust, doom, black metal), threw them in a cauldron, simmered them over an open flame to meld, and came out with The Obsidian Plains. I sense big things of the horizon for these dudes, and I’m damn near salivating over the prospect of potentially seeing them bring their recipe for stone cold desolate crusty goodness to my ears live (please come to Boston, please come to Boston, please…).
Back in 2008, when Middian (a.k.a. Age Eternal through litigious circumstances) decided to call it quits, I was bummed. Then I heard YOB was reforming, and felt a bit better about the whole situation. Of course, The Great Cessation was released not too long after, and all was right with the world. After YOB had successfully proven that they were still delivering their signature blend of sludgy “cosmic” doom in a way only they know how, I couldn’t have been alone in waiting patiently with high hopes for the release of Atma. Getting to see them open for Neurosis this past NYE only added to the excitement of an impending new YOB release. That excitement was sated quickly with the opening riff alone on “Prepare the Ground” – straight-forward and punishingly heavy -enough to sway even the most vehement of doom opposers. Of course, that earthen, carved from stone aspect is effortlessly transformed into that of a more spectral nature, as on “Before We Dreamed of Two.” From start to finish, though, there is one constant aura – mind bending, neck breaking heaviness.
2. Wolves in the Throne Room, Celestial Lineage (Southern Lord)
As soon as I got this album in my inbox for review, I had a feeling it would be gracing my list, and check it out — I was right! Celestial Lineage is of course the close to WITTR’s trilogy (following up Two Hunters and Black Cascade, respectively), and the culmination was carried out beautifully on Lineage, making it arguably the band’s strongest release to date. It encapsulates both grace and brutality in a way Wolves seems to have perfected, invoking visions of vast temperate rainforests haunted by an otherworldly, desperate melancholy. What’s not to love?
1. Black Cobra, Invernal (Southern Lord)
When I heard Black Cobra was coming out with a new album, and that they were going to be recording it mere blocks away from my apartment, I flipped my shit. I love the ever-living fuck out of these guys. It’s just two dudes, but the sound that emanates from each album is massive. They do what they do so well time after time, of course I was anticipating an amazing release. I was not, however, anticipating being this head over heels in love with Invernal. It’s sludgey, it’s thrashy, it’s fast and then slows down, it’s heavy as fuck – if there was a song on here about baby bunnies sneezing in an ornate marble fountain of Jameson and eating nachos with extra guacamole (key), it would quite literally be my favorite thing to ever exist, ever. But there’s not, so it’s gonna just have to settle for my No. 1 album of the year.
Acephalix, Interminable Night (Southern Lord) — Gritty, crusty, death metal fit for your slow and painful demise.
Book of Black Earth, The Cold Testament (Prosthetic) — AAA: Always Amazingly Awesome.
Ghoul, Transmission Zero (Tankcrimes) — Live for metal, DIE FOR GHOUL.
Havok, Time is Up (Candlelight) — The other thrash album I was into this year (also amazing live).
Indian, Guiltless (Relapse)
Krallice, Diotima (Profound Lore) — NYC black metal at it’s best.
Steel Panther, Balls Out (Universal/Island Def Jam) — Totally gratuitous, completely ridiculous, and… too good to stop listening.