/ New Zealand Bands

Best of 2011—New Zealand Metal and Special Mentions

Best New Zealand Metal 2011.

It’s been a phenomenal year for New Zealand metal, the best in recent memory. With Ulcerate signing to Relapse, Beastwars storming the charts, Cobra Khan releasing their masterful sophomore effort, Diocletian hooking up with Osmose Productions and Head Like a Hole returning after a decade in the wilderness with their best album yet, New Zealand’s metal scene is healthier and more vibrant than it’s ever been.

New Zealand is a very long way from anywhere, and trying to get any of our metal onto a global stage can be a trying endeavor. I could go on at length about the passion and dedication of NZ metal fans (and I will in the future with a post honoring our scene down here) but suffice it to say, if it weren’t for the commitment of fans that work hard to promote NZ metal independently, and many bands firmly adhering to a robust DIY spirit, we’d be a lot more isolated than we are.

I have already posted an interview with Beastwars, extolling the virtues of their classic debut, but if anything the rest of the best NZ metal list reminds us that our metal scene is both diverse and flourishing. Every band on my list is doing something radically different than the others, yet each retains the flavor of Aotearoa and shows the creative fearlessness that has always defined our music scene.

Kia kaha (stay strong) to all those on the list, and all those working hard to keep NZ metal alive and thriving.

5.      Head Like a Hole—Blood Will Out (self released)

‘Blood will out’ is the perfect proverb for this album’s title, as the veteran eccentric alt-metal crew returned with an album that revealed their true nature like never before. HLAH always delivered the unvarnished ugly truth. Sure, whatever nuggets of wisdom they’ve delivered have always come wrapped in the filthiest of packages, but there’s wisdom in all that muckiness, and sometimes you just need to get kicked about a bit to learn a few hard truths. This is who you should be listening to.

4.      Cobra Khan—Adversities (Elevenfiftyseven)

Cobra Khan’s new album took all that was captivating about their debut and added in even more urgency. Easily as belligerent and propulsive as their debut,Adversities was imbued with a sense of chaos and nonconformity that distorted its metallic roots into something else entirely. Pulverizing riffs, electro-pulses and all sorts of ‘core’ aesthetics crashed together in the same song. Sound disjointed? It wasn’t in the slightest, it was just endlessly, spectacularly creative.

3.      The House of Capricorn—In the Devil’s Days (Swamps of One Tree Hill)

In the Devil’s Days was the sophomore release for New Zealand’s premier swampy genii The House of Capricorn. Following up the band’s highly praised debut, the new album conjured up a more seductive brew of foreboding sonic incantations and imposing, ritualistic rock. With a grand overarching story of one man’s journey through the pits of hell (and the revelations to be found within) The House of Capricorn set a new narrative benchmark for what we can expect from our heavier brethren in Aotearoa.

2.      Ulcerate—The Destroyers Of All (Willowtip)

Technically adventurous, New Zealand’s Ulcerate brought icy-cold textures and a Mountains of Madness menace to the fore. We’re immensely proud of our boys, who have gained a raft of international acclaim. It isn’t all sunbeams and Hobbits down this end of the world, and Ulcerate unearthed the festering nucleus of the Antipodes with bursts of fervent devastation.

1.      Beastwars—S/T (Destroy/Universal)

****Enshrouding the listener in a cathartic mix of primeval howls, Beastwars’ debut reeked of torment and the remembrance of abortive expectations. The album’s consistently haunting themes revealed a band working together in genuine (dis)harmony, unafraid to highlight the eternal inconsistencies and conflicts of our own human nature. Every wail, every riff, every bass thump and every cymbal crash served to remind you that this was, above all else, enigmatic and darkened metal, straight from the murky heart of the Antipodes.

Special Mentions 2011.

The most awful, heart-wrenching aspect of drawing up an end of year list is that there are always a few albums that are left sitting in a pile. Sometimes it’s because they aren’t quite ‘metal’ enough, but in my case it’s because my verbosity knows no bounds and my main list was growing way too long. But I couldn’t leave this half-dozen behind. Although they’re not on my big list, that doesn’t diminish their quality one iota. All are superb examples of artistry from their particular genres, and all are thoroughly deserving of effusive praise.

6. Prurient— Bermuda Drain (Hydra Head)

Dominick Fernow had been releasing confrontational blasts of overdriven noise for well over a decade before paring back his manifestly caustic endeavors on Bermuda Drain. Gone was much of the abrasiveness, to be replaced by (somewhat) melodic textures. It was a courageous and inspired move, asBermuda Drain‘s subtleties enriched the accessibility and resonance of Fernow’s work tenfold.

5. Fucked UpDavid Comes to Life (Matador)

Lyrically contorting a tale of love and loss into a complex meta-narrative, Fucked Up’s David Comes to Life is filled with snappy numbers that might seem, at first, to run counter to its epic rock-opera vision. However, it wouldn’t be a Fucked Up album if it wasn’t full of unconventional musical swerves, and with plenty of old-school hardcore grunt the album races through its 18 tracks with plenty of catchy melodies to ensure it never drags.

4. Batillus—Furnace (Seventh Rule)

Way back in the mists of time, ie April, Batillus released the crushing sludgy banquet of Furnace. A singular, relentless assault on the senses, the album’s downtuned franticness was a morass of unrelenting despair. Merging a doom undertow with an Amp-Rep rumble and a NOLA vociferousness made for a summoning call to the flotsam and jetsam of society that was impossible to ignore.

3. Subrosa—No Help for the Mighty Ones (Profound Lore)

Riding high on the ‘genuinely innovate’ list, Subrosa’s bucolic lamentations struck a cord by harnessing all the charm and elegance of vintage Appalachian and English folk and commingling that with buzzing, downtuned doomsday rock. With gorgeous, affecting vocals and violins aplenty there’s a strong current of psychedelic pastoralism that speaks to the Arcadian in all of us.

2. Hateful Abandon—Move (Todestrieb)

Move is an unheralded tour de force of post-punk and industrial totality. The aggregate sum of a society that turned a blind eye to the putrefaction of the spirit till it reared up and bit the hand that supposedly fed it. Dark synth, ice-cold guitars and corpulent, leaching bass are married with a funereal pulse to evoke the hellish personal and inter-personal realities of a world staring down into the face of apocalyptic indifference.

1.** Heinali and Matt— Ain’t No Night (Paradigms)**

Ain’t No Night, by Ukrainian multi-instrumentalist Heinali and Alabama-based spoken word poet Matt Finney, is a vast squall-ridden ocean of gorgeously cinematic shoegaze overlaid with world-weary prose. It’s a spectacular collaboration; the album drifts between gloomy introspection and sweeping emotive highs, evoking a heavy-lidded hypnotic atmosphere that is warm and welcoming, even as Finney speaks of pain and strife eternal.