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NICHOLAS PELL’S TOP FIFTEEN METAL ALBUMS OF 2011

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2011 wasn’t exactly a banner year for metal. I see a world of metal caught in transition. The aughts are behind us, and what the new decade will hold is anyone’s guess, really. Of course, none of this is to say that there aren’t nuggets of face-melting joy. Here are fifteen records that stand out from the pack among this year’s crop of metal records, conveniently ranked from least most awesome to most most awesome.


15. Tygers of Pan-Tang, The Spellbound Sessions (self-released)

It really is great to hear that Tygers of Pan-Tang haven’t fallen off. To be sure, one of the main appeals of NWOBHM is the rough, raw production values borrowed from punk. Still, the tunes sound golden cleaned up and you can tell the lads are having a great time digging around in the band’s golden years.

14. Diamond Plate, Generation Why? (Earache)

Everyone has been boners for this band since their appearance on Thrash Clash. Their debut doesn’t disappoint, tastefully incorporating elements of groove and prog into a standout debut that makes this band one to watch.

13. SSS, Problems to the Answer (Earache)

SSS have a broader range of influences than other Brit thrashers and it shows. Their third full length, Problems to the Answer, shows them continuing to synthesize SSD, Infest, and Voorhees on the one hand and Suicidal Tendencies, Beowulf ,and D.R.I. on the other.

Trap Them - Darker Handcraft12. Trap Them, Darker Handcraft (Prosthetic)

Mixing hardcore and metal is always a dicey proposition. For every masterful synthesis like Poison Idea or Inepsy, there’s a hundred quartets of guys from Western Massachusetts in fitted Red Sox caps doing it oh so wrong. Trap Them continue to pull it off, mostly because they crib notes from the punk end of metal. Think grindcore with hardcore flourishes or, if you prefer, hardcore with grindcore notes.

Revocation - Chaos of Forms11. Revocation, Chaos of Forms (Relapse)

While not the most popular opinion in the world, in 2011 thrash’s stock fell and fell hard. Revocation will survive the so-called “New Wave of Thrash Metal”’s demise, mostly because they eschew cliché (after all, they aren’t called “Revokation”) and display a technicality which keeps things fresh.

10. Battle Beast, Steel (Hype Productions)

I’ve heard this record and this band called “corny” more times than I can count. Whatever. All I hear when I listen to this band is some bad ass rock and roll riffs, great harmonic touches and killer production. Battle Beast are part of a new crop of bands reminding people that heavy metal is still just rock and roll.

Absu - Abzu (final)9. Absu, Abzu (Candlelight)

What? You’re too good to relax once in a while or something?

8. Toxic Holocaust, Conjure and Command (Relapse)

People were understandably concerned that TH’s first album as a full band might disappoint. While it’s hard to equal the masterpiece that was …An Overdose of Death, this year’s model Conjure and Command might do just that. The intensity hasn’t let up a shade, and the band displays an incredible technical proficiency for a group so heavily rooted in punk. Toxic Holocaust’s latest might be the Celtic Frost record you always wanted.

7. Vektor, Outer Isolation (Heavy Artillery)

Everyone once in a while, as a writer, I’ll read something that makes me embarrassed to even know how to type. I’d imagine Vektor are like that for a lot of musicians. The riffs on this record weigh about 50 tons, something that the band’s slower and more melodic moments don’t take away from one bit. The apolocalypse has never rocked quite so hard as now.

6. Brutal Truth, End Time (Relapse)

Speaking of heavy metal being rock and roll, I can’t believe that I would ever think a rock sensibility would help a grindcore band, but it works real well for Brutal Truth on End Time. The band incorporates the tough guitar sounds of bands like The Ramones and Metallica along with the dissonance and drone of The Velvet Underground and late-period Black Flag. Oh, and there are blast beats, too.

5. Bastard Noise, Skulldozer (Deep Six)

Obligatory. Bastard Noise are back in a big way. Eric Wood’s revolving project of musicians has found a groove again with the addition of a second singer and a recommitment to purpose. At a time when the term powerviolence gets thrown around like “alternative rock” did in 1994, it’s great to see the OGs showing the new jacks just how the fuck it’s done.

4. Havok, Time is Up (Candlelight)

Despite the vast conspiracy to turn thrash into a joke, some bands want to do more than sing about zombies and beer and zombies drinking beer. You’d never mistake the band for anything other than thrash without adjectives. The band’s prog sensibility mostly means killer riffs you haven’t heard before rather than self-conscious attempts at being “difficult.”

3. Cauldron, Burning Fortune (Earache)

For anyone who doesn’t like this record, I have a broken bottle and a bad attitude. The bulk of power metal aspires to this kind of rugged melody and fails miserably, or else just devolves into self-parody about hobbits or whateverthefuck. What is metal really about? Great riffs, great times, catchy choruses, tasteful use of double kick drum and vague allusions to evil forces hiding just behind the scenes. Check on all fronts.

2. Agoraphobic Nosebleed/Despise You , And On and On… (Relapse)

ANb are a real hit-or-miss band for me, while Despise You are God Tier. They both knock it out of the park on this split, arguably the most anticipated album in extreme hardcore since Infest’s No Man’s Slave. Agoraphobic are at their best, while Despise You stay true to their roots without rehashing the same old, same old. DxYx are as much the sound of Los Angeles as The Doors, X or Guns N’ Roses were. Their side documents the reality of being young, poor, pissed and from the 310.

1. Loud Reed and Metallica, Lulu

Mark my words — this album will universally be regarded as a classic in twenty years, and you will lie about how much you loved it when it first dropped. Entertainment Weekly described it as “your dad’s drunk friend reciting his self-penned erotica over a melting Reload cassette.” Sorry, but what part of that isn’t awesome, exactly? Like the rest of Lou Reed’s career, this is too ahead of its time for its own good. Can anyone seriously claim this isn’t the best they’ve heard from Metallica in twenty years? The vocal trade offs work well and the moments of Reed goading on his backing band are priceless moments in rock. Trust me, you’ll get this one eventually, kids.

-NP

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