In reading many of the already published year end lists one common thread seemed to emerge throughout: Everyone’s musical tastes seem to have shifted or adapted, even if only slightly (from repping death metal to now repping melo-death) and that is no different from me. 2011 was full of some pretty great releases throughout the spectrum of metal. My tastes seem to have shifted from technical/proggy death metal to more simplistic, raw and emotional bands. Sludge and doom became familiar words in my vocabulary, my grindcore/crust/powerviolence library expanded, I fell back in love with post-hardcore, and a good chunk of my favorites ended up with very bleak outlooks diguised by a certain beauty only found in the details. Maybe it says something about my own outlook as of late (which wouldn’t surprise me, as my cynicism has only grown stronger throughout the year) or maybe I just rediscovered the importance of actual emotion over technicality in music. Whatever the case, here’s the 20 albums that made me a little happier this past year.
Blending sweeping melodies and atonal atmospheres, No Made Sense have conjured up an eerie piece of sludgy prog metal. These guys came out of left field for me, but managed to take me by surprise and keep me listening time after time.
19. Junius – Reports From The Threshold Of Death
Oddly enough, the best way I can describe these guys’ brand of epic progressive rock is U2 meets Ihsahn. After their first album, The Martyrdom Of The Catastrophist, I wasn’t sure they could match the spacious melodies and beautiful soundscapes they created, but they most certainly have. This is the perfect album to listen to during a suffocating thunderstorm; just sit back, turn off the lights and close your eyes and let the music take you far away to a landscape of calm and restfulness.
It’s no secret that I’m a grindcore fanatic, but it’s inherent in its nature that grind can be one dimensional. Not so much anymore. Harpoon have taken the unbent aggression of grindcore and turned it on its head, adding anthemic atmospheres and grooving crust riffs that add a dynamic to their music that is so often lacking in the genre. I don’t even mind the drum machine as much as I did on their first record, the songwriting and approach more than make up for the lack of humanity behind the kit.
17. All Pigs Must Die – God Is War
This album has such huge balls it almost hurts when you listen to it. APMD have, much like Harpoon, taken powerviolence to a whole new level. The songs are frantic, unrelenting and so full of raw emotion and hatred. It’s the perfect soundtrack of the times right now.
Upon first listen this album took me back to high school, to my first spin of Poison The Well‘s You Come Before You. It’s unmasked emotion coupled with frenetic riffs and dissonant undertones. KEN Mode have taken a genre as beaten to death as post-metalcore(?) and given it new life. I had a feeling this one would stand out when I first listened, and it certainly has.
15. Ed Gein – Bad Luck
After a 6 year hiatus, New York’s very own grind kings have returned with a short and sweet blast of grindcore that can stand tall with the greats. Though not as dynamic as Judas Goats…, Bad Luck is a great example of what modern crust should be.
I have so much respect for Ben Sharp that words can’t really do it justice. In my opinion, he is the only “one man band” that matters right now, and even after 6 albums his music is still fresh and evolving. Throwing out most of the djent-iness that made him the splash that he is today, LYBH is a beautiful and calm post-metal release. Focusing much more on melody and song structure than heaviness and technicality, Mr. Sharp has once again proven that you don’t need the greatest equipment and a label to make great music, just inspiration and passion, and he’s got it by the truckload.
I had all but written these guys off last year when they released Ressentiment and subsequently set the metal world on fire. I couldn’t seem to get into the record and really didn’t see what all the hype was about. So when they released The Apologist this year, I thought I’d give them another shot, see if I could finally hear what everyone else seemed to hear. And I’m glad I did. The Apologist is a great example of where modern “metal” is headed. It combines so many genres and techniques that it’s almost impossible to classify, but nothing seems forced or out of place. EOTW have managed to become the ultimate amalgamation band and they certainly do it well.
I honestly thought this would end up higher on my year end list than it did, but after going back and listening to all the releases of the past year, it really didn’t hold up as well as I’d hoped. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic album, and by far the best comeback record of the year, but it just doesn’t resonate with me as much as their past albums have. Maybe it’s just my tastes evolving, I don’t know. Either way, this is one of the best death metal releases of the year. If you want to know more, you can read my review of it here.
11. Revocation – Chaos Of Forms
This is another one that I thought would’ve been higher, but it just doesn’t have the same feel and power that Existence Is Futile did. Again, it’s a great album, filled with some of the most impressive musicianship currently out there, but it doesn’t have the lasting power to make it into the top ten. Read my full review here.
By far the heaviest and most apocalyptic band on the planet, Anaal Nathrakh have done it again, creating the most visceral and face ripping albums I’ve ever heard. They have managed to seamlessly meld black metal and grindcore in a way that I never thought possible. This is grandma-punching music.
FTF are one of the most unpredictable bands working right now. They have no direction, no set path, just the intention to write music that will shatter any misconceptions you may have had about grind/crust/death metal/punk. Die Miserable is by far their best album full of ugly heaviness that bulled over most other releases of the year.
8. Thot – Obscured By The Wind
This record, surprisingly, ended up being one of my most listened-to records of the year. Combining punk rock, industrial, and progressive rock into one cohesive and subtly beautiful records of the year. Read my full review here.
7. Fleshgod Apocalypse – Agony
Fuck. There are no more words I can use to describe this album. Read my review. Flawless.
Speaking of grind, here’s another outstanding example of how to put just the right amount of groove into your angst fueled nightmare of blast beats and trashy riffs. Goes Cube keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the entire album, shifting from all out brutality to slow doom(ish) riffs with a touch of post-hardcore inspiration without batting an eye. Tides is a truly passionate album that reaches far beyond expectation when it comes to the traditional annals of the genre.
5. Russian Circles – Empros
Instrumental music walks a very fine line, especially in metal. It’s so easy to bore your audience or drone on for far too long or (as is more recently the case) bowl over the concept of music with technical wankery. Russian Circles fall prey to none of those shortcomings. Empros is a beautiful, sweeping exercise is post-hardcore for the new decade.
Steve Austin (no, not the wrestler) is one of the most inspiring individuals making heavy music today. It’s been said that he writes the most emotional and personal metal ever released, and I have to say that statement, while a bit overblown, is nearly spot on. With PIAW, Austin has left most of the weird experimentalism at home and made a balls out rock record. And damned if it isn’t one of the greatest records I’ve heard in a while. Can’t keep this one out of rotation.
3. Benighted – Asylum Cave
They’re back! My personal favorite death/grind band return after 4 years with an album that tops every other death metal release of the year, by far. These guys have a serious knack for composition and structure and simply know what heavy and groovy should sound like. Read my full review here.
When this one first came out I honestly didn’t think it would make it this high on my list. I’d been anticipating this album for almost 2 years and when it finally hit, I felt it was a bit too off kilter and spacey for me; too many thoughts and ideas jumbled too closely together. But after many repeat listens I have managed to find the brilliance between the buns (pun intended). This is the perfect dissection of metal and the state of mind it brings with it. For my more in depth thoughts on the matter read my review here.
1. Rotten Sound – Cursed
With the landscape of grindcore becoming so overly saturated with mimics and half-hearters, sometimes you have to turn to the veterans to remind yourself what drew you to the music in the first place. Despite delivering over 20 years of face ripping grindcore, Rotten Sound are still way ahead of the pack, pushing ideas and boundaries and consistently keeping their music fresh and interesting. Cursed sees the band slowing things down a bit at times, injecting serious amounts of groove and doom into their pulverizing brand of frantic grind. No record this year came as close to the murky production and nihilistic outlook that Cursed brought forth. It’s everything extreme music should be, with just the right amount of progression while still retaining the sound that put Rotten Sound on the map so long ago. For more reasons why this album floored me more than any other this year, read my full review.
Black Tusk – Set The Dial
Feastem – World Delirium
Maruta – Forward Into Regression
Opeth – Heritage
Pathology – Awaken To The Suffering
Steven Wilson – Grace For Drowning
Cavalera Conspiracy – Blunt Force Trauma
Debauchery – Germany’s Next Death Metal
Macabre – Grim Scary Tales
Mastodon – The Hunter
Morbid Angel – Illud Divinum Insanus
Polkadot Cadaver – Sex Offender
Radiohead – King Of Limbs