SATAN ROSENBLOOM’S TOP FIFTEEN METAL ALBUMS OF 2011
This was an incredible year for metal, with major players and up-and-comers alike releasing stellar material in almost every subgenre. There were some clear winners for me, but a number of spots on Top 15 could easily have gone to any of the albums on my “honorable mention” list, so I partially picked this based on which of my favorite albums I invested more time into. Please check out any of the bands you haven’t heard here – they need and deserve your support.
15. Ed Gein, Bad Luck (Black Market Activities)
Don’t be pissed that Ed Gein gave us just 22 minutes of new music after a six-year wait – the kind of in-the-red metallic hardcore they put to tape on Bad Luck doesn’t take long to make its impact. Fast, hateful, uncomplicated and constantly teetering on the edge of falling apart, this is ACTION MUSIC.
14. Drugs of Faith, Corroded (Selfmadegod)
Genre descriptors fail bands like Drugs of Faith. Too groovy for grindcore, too herky-jerky for rock ‘n roll and too extreme for post-hardcore, the decade-old Virginia trio’s first full-length mashes all of the above into a highly personalized stew. Corroded oughta appeal to fans of guitarist Richard “The Grindfather” Johnson’s other band, Agoraphobic Nosebleed…but it’s also got a great beat, and you can dance to it!
Even if it sucked, this new band featuring Gregor Mackintosh, Hamish Glencross and Adrian Erlandsson would be worth listening to solely for the folks involved. So what makes this collaborative album worthy of best-of inclusion where, say, Lulu isn’t? It capitalizes on the strengths of its members without an ounce of compromise. There’s precious little experimentation on A Fragile King, just superior death/doom songs performed by a bunch of old hands at this game. Burly up-tempo numbers like “Cathedrals of Dread” and “Humanity Wept” rage appropriately. But as expected from anything involving members of My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost, the slow stuff is the best. Sucks that Mackintosh had to suffer the death of his father before he wrote the album. But there must be some solace that knowing his dad’s passing resulted in such a soulful, inspired album.
It’s weird to me that band is such an anomaly in modern metal. What could be better than the combination of killer riffs, epic song structures, three-part vocal harmonies and instantly singable melodies that never get cheesy? More aggressive than the pastoral stuff of their last couple albums, 17th Street invests more heart, humanity and musicality than we usually get from ‘70s-influenced heavy music. These guys are the cornerstones of an amazing San Francisco metal scene, and 17th Street makes it clear why.
To those that would dismiss Chicago’s American Heritage as Mastodon clones, I would submit the following counter-arguments:
- There is more raw punk energy in Sedentary’s second half than Mastodon’s entire body of work.
- The Leviathan-era Mastodon that American Heritage sound most like no longer exists, and a healthy section of metalheads wish it did. So quit yer bellyachin’.
- Mastodon have toured and recorded a split with American Heritage, and Bill Kelliher guests on Sedentary. If the band’s good enough for Mastodon, they should be good enough for you.
- When’s the last time that Mastodon invited a different celebrity guest bassist to play on each track? The liner notes are half the fun.
- HAVE YOU FUCKING HEARD THIS ALBUM??? IT’S SO GOOD.
When last we caught up with Chicago’s Harpoon, on the Double Gnarly/Triple Suicide album, they were proffering some pretty good grindy thrash with mediocre programmed drums. The only part of their sound that remains intact on Deception Among Birds is the synthetic drums (which have improved slightly in verisimilitude) – everything else about the album represents a shocking leap into the undefined and unknown. There’s a little bit o’ black, a little bit o’ punk, a little bit o’ Baroness-style melodic prog, and too many other delicious morsels buried deep in the album to resist. What a pleasant surprise!
As if we needed any more evidence that black metal’s most forward-thinking exponents can rival the avant-garde of any form of music, here comes the bewildering debut from Botanist, a one-man show from San Francisco’s Otrebor that replaces guitars with hammered dulcimer to inscribe its 40 paeans to the dominion of flora. Those tinny tonalities take some getting used to, but it’s a testament to Otrebor’s craft and vision that I: The Suicide Tree / II: A Rose from the Dead is just as expressive as the best black metal.
Brutal Truth gets better with age in the exact opposite way as fine wine. The band you hear on End Time is more freakish, more unwieldy than ever, the kind of aging that you do when you’re moving ever closer to death. Newish guitarist Erik Burke (also in Sulaco, whose Build and Burn was another great 2011 record) continues to increase the band’s oddball quotient with his bizarre harmonies, but don’t discount the importance of the Brutal Truth’s three mainstay members, each among grindcore’s great iconoclasts. End Time would be a terrific soundtrack to the apocalypse.
There was a shit-ton of terrific old-school death metal in 2011. Goreaphobia topped it all for me with their second full-length album in 23 years, following fast on the heels of 2009’s awesome Mortal Repulsion. It’s fascinating how much more vibrant Goreaphobia is than the many other throwback bands that weren’t there for death metal’s beginnings. Apocalyptic Necromancy brims with twin guitar licks, thrash gallops, searing solos and boatloads of imagination. Defying expectations, the band actually sounds LESS bound to genre orthodoxy than its contemporaries, with catchy, headbangable songs that don’t sound calcified in someone else’s vision of the past.
I don’t know about your face, but my face was thoroughly fucked off by Grayceon’s third album All We Destroy, just as I predicted it would be. While Grayceon’s instrumentation – cello, drums and finger-picked electric guitar – makes them unique, it’s not what makes them special. That would be the way they put together their music. Grayceon’s music traverses wide swaths of emotional and sonic terrain, sometimes going for cinematic open textures, sometimes chunky thrash riffing, sometimes crushing heaviness, sometimes medieval delicacy. They’ve had this wide-open sense of composition (as distinct from songwriting) since their first album, but it’s peaked with All We Destroy, the band’s third. “Shellmounds” might be the most powerful tune in their canon, and the 17-minute “We Can” the most ornately orchestrated. All the more impressive that cellist/vocalist Jackie Perez-Gratz was also partially responsible for Giant Squid’s Cenotes, another one of 2011’s best.
Arguably, the stage for this album was set by the more outré wing of French black metal (think Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord, Merrimack, Arkhon Infaustus), who have taken a slithery, blurry approach to harmony for years. But it took some real cojónes for Glorior Belli to weave the “blue notes” of American blues into black metal. If that were all that were cool about The Great Southern Darkness, this album wouldn’t be on this list. Thankfully the band wrote a batch of actual songs that use black metal as a funnel rather than a set of genre restrictions. It’s as panoramic, surprising and listenable an album as I heard all year.
If Revolver ever pulled their heads out of their asses, shitcanned the “Hottest Chicks in Metal” issue and instead published a “Most Talented Chicks in Metal” issue, Witch Mountain’s Uta Plotkin could be the 2011 cover girl. Her scorching, soulful pipes top off Witch Mountain’s first record in a decade, a totally badass platter of groovy doom. Plotkin’s performance amplifies the glory of the three musicians behind her, who swing harder than any metal band I can think of. Drummer Nate Carson (owner of Nanotear Booking) keeps the proceedings loose but propulsive, while guitarist Rob Wrong fills in the deep grooves with wah wah solos that would make the Hendrix tattoo on his left shoulder smile. These guys sound something like St. Vitus fronted by Grace Slick. Who knew that doom metal could be so sexy? Name your price here: http://witchmountain.bandcamp.com/album/south-of-salem
In true Revocation fashion, one of the catchiest riffs on their third album Chaos of Forms (the first one from “Harlot”) is in 7/8 time. So is the phenomenal guitar solo break. It’s just one of the many subtle quirks that Revocation write into their tasty, economical death-thrash songs that make their albums such refreshing listens, front to back. Then there’s lead guitarist/singer Dave Davidson, who rightfully took the #1 spot on our Top 25 Modern Metal Guitarists list earlier this year. His gonzo, blues-rich shredding is the only thing that could make these songs any more awesome than they already are.
Pyrrhon’s debut EP Fever Kingdoms made it to my Top 15 of 2010 list, and they have far surpassed themselves with the full-length follow-up. Songs like “Idiot Circles” and “The Architect Confesses (Spittlestrand Hair)” throw out the death metal rulebook, with guitars that do stuff other than riff and solo, drums that treat cymbals as equal partners with kick and snare, bass that plays nearly everything other than the chord root and harmonies that slash in unresolved dissonance, then just sit there to fester until something even more ugly comes along. All that and one of the most intriguing lyric sheets that death metal’s got. And despite the massive scope of their sound, Pyrrhon maintain the same virulent mood the entire way through. Bands like this give me hope that death metal still has plenty of new territory to explore.
1. Moab, Ab Ovo (Kemado)
Maybe this says more about me than about the year in metal, but I was most drawn to the ugly or messy, noisy or swingin’ records this year, the ones that feel fuzzy and ooze passion, regardless of style. No record embodied those qualities better to me than the debut from L.A. power trio Moab. Ab Ovo compresses an entire universe of downtuned riffs into a taut 39 minutes, rife with analog warmth, huge hooks and astonishing instrumental interplay. Sure, Moab’s songs reach for an obvious Sabbathian heaviness, and the singer sounds like a far more talented Ozzy. But calling this band a throwback ain’t right – like its title (translated as “from the beginning”) would suggest, Ab Ovo feels both rooted in the past and startlingly fresh.
Baring Teeth, Atrophy (Willowtip)
Beardfish, Mammoth (InsideOut Music)
Dark Castle, Surrender To All Life Beyond Form (Profound Lore)
Einherjer, Norrøn (Indie Recordings)Exhumed, All Guts, No Glory (Relapse)
Giant Squid, Cenotes (Translation Loss)
Gigan, Quasi-Hallucinogenic Sonic Landscapes (Willowtip)
Helms Alee, Weatherhead (Hydra Head)
Hexentanz, Nekrokrafte (Agonia)
Infestus, E x i s t (Debemur Morti Productions)
Krisiun, The Great Execution (Century Media)
Landmine Marathon, Gallows (Prosthetic)
Liturgy, Aesthetica (Thrill Jockey)
Nader Sadek, In the Flesh (Season of Mist)
Obsequiae, Suspended in the Brume of Eos (Bindrune)
Smohalla, Resilience (Scratch the Surface)
Today Is the Day, Pain Is a Warning (Black Market Activities)
True Widow, As High As The Highest Heavens And From The Center To The Circumference Of The Earth (Kemado)
Unkind, Harhakuvat (Relapse)
Wormrot, Dirge (Earache)