Best of 2011—The Metal (Part 1)
Best Metal Albums 2011 (Part 1)
So, 2011, that was an interesting year in metal huh? This year I got organized early and kept a running score of albums I loved, loathed, or thought were decidedly average. I thought it was a magnificent, proactive idea, at least until I checked my list a few weeks back and found I had 63 albums listed as ‘excellent, 9/10 or 10/10’. And so the inevitable culling began.
There are a lot of outstanding albums that aren’t on my list. Obscura, Inquisition, Midnight, Taake, Avulse, Lake of Blood, Anthrax, Primordial (I still can’t believe I didn’t find a space for them), Mastodon, Amebix and Locrian—along with a whole raft of other worthy artists—are all staring at me making me feel guiltier by the minute for leaving them off. Ultimately, there came a point when choices had to be made, so with great regret, I had to leave some behind.
Still, the good news is I finally got it done. You’re welcome to vehemently disagree with my selections—in fact I hope you do, I’d love to read about your choices too. For what it’s worth, and without further ado, here are my choices for the top 45 (or so) metal albums of 2011.
Part 1: 45-21
45. Cathedral—Anniversary (Metal Blade)
Heartbroken and forlorn—that sums up how I felt when I read that Cathedral was calling it a day. But Anniversary was the perfect send-off (at least in live terms, let’s not forget there’s another full-length due in 2012). With a snail-paced crawl through vast swaths of the band’s catalogue, its rough and ready, feedback squealing mix only intensified Cathedral’s theatrical, over-the-top, woebegone aesthetic.
44. Shooting Guns— Born to Deal in Magic: 1952–1976 (Teargas Recording Tree)
It was a given that Shooting Guns were going to make my list as their debut encompasses all my favorite genres of music in a 39-minute romp of space rock, doom, Krautrock and droning passages. Instrumental heavy rock at its finest, Born to Deal in Magic: 1952–1976 was a tumbling and spiralling delight of phantasmagorical explorations.
43. In Solitude— The World, The Flesh, The Devil (Metal Blade)
Portrait—Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae (Metal Blade)
A double-up of NWOBHM and traditional metal-influenced bands that both managed to craft thoroughly retro yet remarkably individual albums this year. In Solitude and Portrait brought all the cocky swagger, the harmonious good times and plenty of the spooky pulpiness of classic metal to the fore, paying due reverence to the masters Mercyful Fate, Maiden and Priest.
42. Aenaon— Cendres Et Sang (Code666)
Greece’s Aenaon produced one of the finest debuts this year. A twisting, interweaving blend of black metal and progressive experimentations, Cendres Et Sang kicked off with a saxophone solo and never looked back for one second. Dynamic and stubbornly avant-garde, there were plenty of unorthodox thrills to be found among all the raging clatter. I’m looking forward to their next album immensely.
41. Azarath—Blasphemers’ Malediction (Witching Hour Productions)
Sonne Adam—Transformation (Imperium Productions)
Miasmal—Miasmal (Detest Records)
A triple shot of mephitic filth and satanic might, these three sat high on my go-to list of underground, truly repulsive death metal. Equal parts loathsome and uncomfortably alluring, all of these albums pumped out plenty of neck-snapping, pummelling bilge that was hateful, spiteful and polluted with gut-wrenching madness. So, quite good then.
40. Liturgy— Aesthethica (Thrill Jockey)
I know you hate Liturgy (and all those ‘transcendental’ debates). But Hunt-Hendrix’s pretentiousness and over-intellectualizations didn’t eclipse the fact that Aesthethica was a grand and ambitious work that easily lived up to expectations. Experimental black metal at its finest; if you can find it in yourself to ignore all the superfluous grandiloquence and controversy then all you’re left with is a superb example of blackened artistry. There, I said it. I loved it.
39. Revocation—Chaos of forms (Relapse)
Blending meticulously structured thrash, jazzy breakdowns, vintage flashes (horns and ’70s keyboards)—all embellished with a technically progressive finish—Chaos of Forms was stunningly complex, completely vicious and a hugely confident release. Back in the day, it was fairly common for a band to take at least three albums to find their sound and define their aesthetic. I hope that Revocation found theirs here; Chaos of Forms slays.
38. Tombs—Path of Totality (Relapse)
Waves of corpulent riffs, understated gothic splendor and a fair amount of post-metal escapism greeted you on Path of Totality. It was a sagacious release and while Tombs weren’t the first band to explore the ugliness of society, not many have been doing it with this level of dexterity. Path of Totality was an enigmatic, seductive album and in its depth there was a beacon of solemnity that spoke to anyone bewildered by the uncaring forces of modernity.
37. Hull—Beyond the Lightless Sky (The End)
With an orchestral-like scope and an adventurous spirit, Beyond the Lightless Sky offered a far more nuanced listening experience than Hull’s debut. The songwriting had matured, and the arrangements were more measured, but this hadn’t reduced the band’s ability to break loose into bursts of unbridled, thrashing noise when appropriate. Truly epic, post(whatever) metal that was as much a journey through sound as it was through time.
36. Rwake—Rest (Relapse)
Rwake’s inventive mix of haunting samples, momentous percussion, funereal doom lyricism, and dual guitar harmonics mark them as leaders in the arena of genuinely progressive metal. Rest‘s fluctuating cadence and combination of aggression and introspection resonated with a hypnotizing, manic energy. Woodland, backcountry sludgy psych of the very highest calibre.
35. Wolvhammer—The Obsidian Plains (Profound Lore)
Wolvhammer’s fiendishly suffocating release, The Obsidian Plains, was a primordial stew of misanthropic blackened crust and doom. It contained all the degradation and pure hatred that results from poverty, neglect and indiscriminate violence. Stacked with rotten riffs and barbed melodies it was a perfect example of the dark catharsis I’m always searching for.
34. Gilead Media
Is it cheating to throw an entire record label on the list? Maybe, but it’s my list so I’ll do what I want. Gilead Media had a phenomenal year with excellent releases from Barghest, False, Fell Voices and Ash Borer—the label’s Bandcamp page is well overdue a visit if you’ve not stopped by before. An honest appraisal of the financial issues the label faced this year was delivered in November and it reminded me that it’s never a good idea to take boutique outfits like Gilead Media for granted. They’re doing it for the love, and we owe them our support.
33. Absu—Abzu (Candlelight)
At a scant 36 minutes, Abzu rushed by in a flurry of croaking, whip-smart exigency. Intensely errant, and dripping with rancour, Absu threw in classic old-school mystical vibes, along with plenty of nefarious and sweeping thrashing riffs, to get their point across damn forcibly. It may have been short, but it was a fine explosive blast of incandescent fervency that said a lot about the value of terseness and economy.
32. Alda—Tahoma (Eternal Warfare)
Falls of Rauros— The Light That Dwells in Rotten Wood (Blindrune)
If you’re a fan of anachronistic metal then Alda and Falls of Rauros deserve your attention. Both released superb albums in 2011 that blended powerful neo-folk elements with raw, naturalistic black metal. While that’s all been done before, the difference was that both these bands had an admirable low-fidelity, atavistic quality that rendered their songs far closer to the elemental spirit of nature than many other metal bands could ever hope to achieve.
31. Loss—Despond (Profound Lore)
“Weathering the Blight”, the title of the first track from Loss’ Despond, summed up the album perfectly. Despond chipped away at you with an erosive tone that took the darkest characteristics of doom and plunged them even further into whirlpools of utter misery. Asphyxiating in both tone and timbre, Loss clearly took great pride in your despair.
30. Gigan— Quasi-Hallucinogenic Sonic Landscapes (Willowtip)
You can imagine these guys head-down in the lab splicing this all together. A drop of proto-electronica here, a dash of unpredictability there, little splashes of Florida’s meanest, and a beaker of left-field nimble-fingered guitar gymnastics. All that experimentation set Gigan way ahead of the tech-metal pack in 2011 with a set of cosmically cavorting, consistently absorbing tunes.
29. Atriarch—Forever the End (Seventh Rule)
Atriarch’s debut was a first-rate piece of ill-tempered noise. A fine lesson in what can be achieved when the dismal über-grinding totality of ritualistic and esoterically inclined metal meets that austere core of gothic post-punk. Mammoth atmospherics and ceremonial howls revealed the band’s unbridled shamanistic potential.
28. Blasphemophagher—The III Command of the Absolute (Nuclear War Now)
Mitochondrion— Parasignosis (Profound Lore)
How could I split these two up? Both were fine examples of death metal stripped back to its chthonic roots. Viscous, undulating torrents of riffs, and gurgling puncture-wound vocals were all wrapped around lacerating maelstroms of horrific themes. Perfectly iniquitous, and brutal as a kick in the teeth, Mitochondrion and Blasphemophagher brought that Orwellian boot to the fore.
27. Glorior Belli—The Great Southern Darkness (Metal Blade)
Uncompromising, unconventional, and with all the crushing emotionality you want from black metal, Glorior Belli’s blend of stoner grooves, doom-laden lyricism and sable sludge made The Great Southern Darkness a fantastic multidimensional listen. With the added bonus of being evil as hell, the band dragged the swamps, trawled the bayous, sat at the crossroads and smashed bottles against the wall—more excellent French eccentricity.
26. Leviathan—True Traitor, True Whore (Profound Lore)
The most controversial and challenging album this year was a hate-filled suppurating wound of rage and frustration. Leviathan frontman Wrest combined a nightmarish set of black metal, gothic and post-punk influences to craft an asphyxiating set of inflammatory, unstable and terrifying tracks.
25. Negative Plane—Stained Glass Revelations (Ajna)
Stained Glass Revelations sounded as if at any moment it might collapse under its own chaotic weight. Reverberating with an echoing mix, its black and lo-fi thrash had a nostalgic atmosphere that accentuated its blasphemous themes. Wafer-thin in parts,Stained Glass Revelations was threadbare, tinny and way too treble heavy—just like the very best old-school blackened metal should be.
24. Aosoth—III (Agonia Records)
Aosoth scraped the crust from the witches’ cauldron with malevolent purpose on III. With a deliberately primitive sound they sidestepped the pretension that’s often associated with over-intellectualized unorthodox black metal, and somehow ended up sounding wholly forward-thinking with an unmistakably retrogressive diabolical thrust. A beautifully repugnant wall of hostile riffs and misanthropy.
23. Krallice—Diotima (Profound Lore)
Diotima, the third album from Krallice, was a veritable overload of sophisticated black metal. Deliberately ignoring the corpse paint pot, this line-up of incredibly talented musicians sculpted some of the finest, most epically inclined, blackened suites in 2011. A riff aficionado’s delight, it spilled over with jaw-dropping moments. An album set to inspire a raft of imitators for years to come.
22. Wolves in the Throne Room— Celestial Lineage (Southern Lord)
The final installment in WITTR’s litany of agrarian black metal found the band reining in their more mountainous, adventurous endeavors to craft their most concise work yet. Condensing all that back-country melancholia brought the band’s preternatural symbolism and cosmic inclinations to the fore, allowing them to concentrate on producing some of the most strikingly creative black metal in years. As gorgeous an end as we could have possibly hoped for.
21. Sólstafir—Svartir Sandar (Season of Mist)
Iceland’s Sólstafir delivered a double-disc dose of psychedelically inclined avant-metal on Svartir Sandar. It was a hugely divergent album—frankly it was just all over the place—but while it enveloped you in waves of murky weirdness and mercurial expressionism you still washed up on shore in one piece eventually. Criminally underrated, Sólstafir’s best work yet combined punchy gothic tribalism with a howling post-punk starkness.