KOALA BEAR WINGERSCHMIDT’S 2011 YEAR-END F*CKFEST
Junior & I are presiding over an orgy of opinions, and you’re all invited to lube up and slide in….
Just when it seems like life can’t get any crazier, inevitably it does and another layer of the shell gets peeled away to reveal a whole new set of criteria for perspective. This year clean became the new heavy and introspective vulnerability came back in style (but did it ever really leave though?). So many great albums came out — old masters taking new forms, young turks carving new terrain, plenty of new sounds coming out of nowhere….frankly it’s been near-impossible to fashion this list in a distinguishable order. But I wasn’t about to give up, no way José!
So let’s get crackin.
You – love – IT.
And it loves you :)
THE LUCKY THIRTEEN
Between the Buried and Me – The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues
“Specular Reflection”, the first song on this 3-track half-hour EP, is the most epic prog metal tune of the year and worth the price of admission alone. From the orchestral opening through a plethora of peaks and valleys, this one fucking slays. There was a period earlier this year when I used to go to the gym and listen to that track over and over again. So much strength and so much…..prog. Bonkers. The other two songs are definitely good but uneven compared to the opening gem. Looking forward to the follow-up full-length in this two-part series.
Ulcerate – The Destroyers of All
This drummer is clearly on drugs. Sounds like some kind of mixture of steroids and crack cocaine. And I would religiously ingest whatever concoction he’s brewed up in his kiwi cauldron if I could play drums like that. Far and away the most shining technical achievement of the year, The Destroyers of All yields a nonstop display of tech-forward gutteral death metal that relentlessly captivates with every dazzling twist and turn. There is always a method to this madness, and without fail this New Zealand band will rock your face off.
Touché Amoré – Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me
Further proof that good things come in small packages. This album clocks in just under 21 minutes total and only one of the thirteen songs is over two minutes. But each of these powerful pellets packs a pervasive punch. Touché Amoré have this raucous spirit that seems to say “if you want to battle us, be prepared to drink a lot and all walk away with black eyes, bloody lips, and broken noses.” This band is delightfully The Hold Steady of melodic punk and hardcore. And behind every jam is a tone of positivity, conjuring images of frosty beer mugs spilling over during furious toasts & cheerses and your best friend screaming in your face with a smile and that wicked glint in his eye.
MetalSucks’ own “#1 Modern Metal Guitarist” Dave Davidson has riffs and solos for decades. This guy’s musical storytelling prowess is through the roof. Vince swears he has a big dick too. But while such guitar theatrics have perhaps overshadowed the stop-on-a-dime rhythm section in the past, on Chaos drummer Phil Dubois-Coyne truly shines, barreling through insane double-kick patterns and blast beats and whatever the fuck it is that you need. Whatchoo need baby? I’ve been out of town the last few times Revocation has played NYC, here’s hoping I’m around for the next one.
This album was unexpected but makes perfect sense. Previously Opeth has always created engulfing progressive music for anyone willing to take the ride, but on Heritage Mikael & his groovy posse of sassy Swedes set a real mood in a way they’ve never done before. The biggest change, of course, is no heavy vocals, but regardless this is a dense work filled with tasty grooves and lush melodic passages throughout. To be frank, this one is much less a m3Tal album than a dark version of an early 70s classic prog excursion a la Deep Purple, meaning that in addition to heaps of finely cut guitar lines, Heritage is resplendent with wailing organ swells and boppy organic jams that know how to funk and when to keep it chill, a step in the right direction at this juncture for such a masterful but sometimes overambitious band.
Animals as Leaders – Weightless
Tosin Abasi and company have really refined their sound on this stellar sophomore release, and I for one love love love the sequenced drums and electronics that are interspersed throughout this dazzling collection of songs. I may have been in the minority in thinking that while always jaw-droppingly impressive with regards to technique, AAL’s first album was a bit too wanky to be legendary. But the inclusion of drummer Navene Koperweis and second 8-string guitarist (!) Javier Reyes in the songwriting process has yielded something more than just a shreddathon uber-progfest — this time around the hooks and melodies seem more focused, and the band now has the confidence and wherewithal to settle into simpler fare at times, hypnotic grooves that methodically arrest the listener into submission. Naturally there’s plenty of fancy fingerwork throughout, but Tosin really digs into some of those solos with a more seasoned attack, and it shines every time. Electronic layers/interludes only add to the magic. More please!
East of the Wall – The Apologist
Once again this group has fashioned a dense, rich album filled with elegant songs of the utmost caliber. Under the helm of engineer/mixmaster Andrew Schneider EOTW sounds more vibrant than ever, and the clear production continually supports the lavish soundscapes which unfold in all sorts of surprising and mature songwriting directions, sonically, melodically, rhythmically, emotionally, and sensually. The guitars purr and sing, the buttery bass tones slip and slide delicately in and out of your earholes, and the drums continually find thrilling ways to interact with every nuance. If Bill Bruford played metal it would sound like this! Too bad these Jersey bastardos are such raging a-holes, cuz their music kills…
This is one of the most original and arresting releases of the year. I was grabbed the first time I heard it but several listens in still feel like I have a long way to go before I really comprehend its full majesty. The magnitude of this band’s collective force and artistry is almost unfathomable. Yes, it’s challenging, but once you truly see the light it is tenfold rewarding. Tiger Flowers’ madcap live antics never fail to decimate every room and create a circus sideshow of raucous hilarity (largely due to unrestrained Andy Kaufman-esque between-song banter), but on this recording the group is nothing but serious, and they deliver brutality and introspection wrapped in a truly artful and honest raw package. Speaking of which, get ready for Jesse’s dick at their next show.
This unearthed gem is a bit of a deceptive entry on a best-of-2011 list, since it was recorded and mixed back in 2008 and finally released this year after a lengthy battle with the band’s former record label…..but regardless, this thorough, powerful album deserves umpteen praises, no matter the specifics of the release situation. After many spins I’m still trying to put my finger on Memfis’ sound (a good thing), but one thing is for certain: this is a deliberate, carefully constructed musical experience that bobs and weaves through a variety of moods and sounds. One can clearly hear traces of King Crimson, Opeth, Mastodon, Burst (one of those guys makes a guest appearance as well), but there’s also plenty of breakneck speed runs and black metal strumming sections that makes it hard to classify as one thing. Which we like! I’m so curious what this band has been working on for the last few years……you love sharing, Memfis :)
Perhaps the most artful and diverse album of the year, this one summons the spirit of Ink & Dagger and The Refused to create a spectacular journey of musical storytelling. The acoustic chamber-like sections and simple single electric guitar with harmonized vocal parts perfectly contrast with the fire and fury of the myriad sharply aggressive moments. The obvious comparison for some of the uptempo jaunts would certainly be Torche, but allusions aside this record is fiercely original. So many of these riffs and chord progressions go in deliriously unexpected places that culminate in powerful harmonic crescendos and ultimately, unique resolutions. Breathy/yelpy female vocals working in tandem with throaty male screaming (and singing) is a welcome aspect as well. Definitely a start-to-finish-er. Although I could do without the wigger beatz at the very end.
The manner in which this group blends atmospheric guitar work with pummeling heavy riff pocket grooves and tribal tom acrobatics is fucking devastating. And the production is flawless, superbly engineered, mixed and mastered for maximum thunder. Not to mention the strong undercurrent of earnest melody in between every syncopated progression. The ability to merge complex passages with straightforward runs rarely comes naturally or easy for most, but these guys have it in spades. Every time things get bananas, soon enough they settle into a hooky section that anchors the music in accessibility. And the drummer’s penchant for holding solid quarter notes on his crash induces headbanging every time. This album came right in the nick of time, and I can’t wait to see Czar live.
There is an absence of pretension on this new offering from our fave Netherlandians, no simple task for such an epic progressive band. But Dualism only brings the best that Textures has to show, with extremely heartfelt playing and vocals from beginning to end. The compositions are stellar, filled with fantastic polyrhythmic explosions and striking that perfect balance of brutality & emotion every time. New vocalist Daniel de Jongh is a welcome addition and sings and screams his fucking face off. Us MetalSuckers finally got to see these guys live this Fall, and to be expected they blew us all away. Textures for life!
After all the smoke cleared regarding the ‘don’s “predictable new sound” it turns out most folk (aside from Vince Neilstein) can’t help but appreciate this stripped-down song-first record, and rightfully so. Trading in the uber progginess of Crack the Skye allowed for twice as many shorter (and tighter from a composition point of view) songs and a return to an earlier form. But this time the power of Remission and Leviathan, returning in furious flashes, is oft juxtaposed with a triumphant major-key melodic sense that creates a deeper harmonic sound and mood. This album is undeniably balls-out aggressive in so many places, but there’s a haunting subtext to a great deal of the songs as well. I could listen to the inspiring and soulful hooks of “Stargasm” and “Octopus Has No Friends” about a zillion times in a row and still want to hear them again. Not to mention some of the other scorchers, whoa boy! Anyone who defensively rips on the “clean” vocals is either not really listening or has a special fear of harmony and melody. And by special I mean retarded.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR TO GET STONED TO
This fanciful legion of doom is back with a vengance, and thankfully those crazy yobsters mean business in the best possible way. Atma feels like dragging a porcupine through murky quicksand in a thick swap in the dead of night, and happening upon a couple of toothless hillbillies boning in a tent. I get stoned just putting this thing on, but with actual ganj it’s a no-brainer. As in, what do you always need your brain for anyway??
BEST NON-METAL ALBUM OF THE YEAR
White Denim – D
This Southern-fried melange of indie rock, groovy prog, delicate folk, classic rock, bluesy jamband elements and much more creates an amazing blend that is infectious the whole way through. Vocalist/guitarist James Petralli plays and sings with all of his heart, and creates some of the most beautiful hooks of the year. Lush guitar work helps create a bed for the wonderful vocals, and White Denim’s rhythm section soars through ludicrous changes with the greatest of ease, syncopating so many of the bouncy numbers to a deliciously controlled frenzy. Perhaps most impressive is that every member is always playing to the song and contributing to the collective unit, so each composition feels perfectly layered and balanced. And experiencing this band live is like going to the world’s happiest church/synagogue/sex ranch and losing yourself in the gorgeous chaos… This Jew for Jeebus loves this band!
Part lion, part nice boy, part mad dog, koala bear at heart, Kip Wingerschmidt wishes you a happy whatever and is off to eat a scallop…