Well, another year is done and gone which means every blogger with at least ten albums in their collection is going to start cramming lists in your face with presumptions that subjectivity can be quantified. They are dickheads and I am no different. Below you will find my top five favorite metal albums of the last 365 days as well as some runners up and some albums I felt like complaining about. It wouldn’t be a metal discussion without indignant descent, so feel free to tell me what a useless poseur I am for not including Wolves in the Throne Room in the comments.
5) OBSCURA Omnivium In some ways this album feels like a step backward for these German prog/tech metallers. While Cosmogenesis was a jazzy homage worthy of their namesake, Omnivium sometimes feels like it would fit better among the melodic death metal of the late 1990s. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but after naming themselves after a Gorguts album and showcasing the improvisational bass licks and speedy harmonic leads on their previous effort, I was expecting more from this album. Still, a lesser Obscura album is going to be much better than most other releases in a given year. They’re talented musicians crackling with the efficiency of a Porsche, and the lucid instrumental journey “A Transcendental Serenade” is a stalwart showcase of what these guys are capable of accomplishing. Hopefully they get back on track next time.
4) AUTOPSY Macabre Eternal In a world where Chuck Schuldiner has been gone over a decade and all too many new bands worship at the alter of thrash or black metal, how awesome is it to have Autopsy back? With vocals and drums that haven’t been heard since the glory days of the 1990s, Autopsy triumphantly returns to show us how death metal is supposed to sound. From the second “Hand of Darkness” starts Chris Reifert does his best to pummel away memories of all the bad metal that has come and gone since Mental Funeral (which I guess would include Shitfun), and we’re treated to no-nonsense death from one of its earliest pioneers.
3) DISMA Towards The Megalith Sometimes I don’t need technical wizardry or boundary-shattering song writing to get me on board with an album. Sometimes sufficiently bad-ass album art will get the job done. Thankfully Disma didn’t stop with their cover, and followed through with a devastating tribute to the death and doom greats of the past (some of which included members of this band). There’s something to be said about guitars so distorted they chop up the mix (see also: Bloodbath Resurrection through Carnage), and that’s a sound this album has in spades. The hugeness and heaviness of album is worthy of this band’s pedigree.
2) OAKHELM Echtra I think I made it fairly clear just last week how much I enjoyed this album. If you didn’t read it then, let me tell you now Echtra is simply amazing. Following in the footsteps of Opeth, Enslaved, and fellow Portland brethren Agalloch, Oakhelm offers up the epic and the disorienting with such proficiency you would think this was their tenth album. The fact is though, this is only their second album in an already noteworthy catalog. From the blasting opening of “Into the Unknown Wilderness” to the echoing, rustic folk chants of “Children of the Glade” they simultaneously pay homage to their influences while still adding a formula that is all their own to the tomes of the metal archives.
1) DEATH Individual Thought Patterns Yes, I know when this album really came out. Yes, I know this is a reissue. But if you can find me an album that came out in 2011 that can even approach the juggernaut constructed by Schuldiner, LaRocque, Hoglan and DiGiorgio (quite possibly the greatest ensemble in the history of metal, nay music) without withering in its wake well then I would be happy to be proven wrong. Of the Death albums remastered, this one is actually the least essential in terms of sound quality difference, but that is only because the original ruled so goddamn hard in the first place.
Honorable Mention #1 OPETH Heritage This album is an honorable mention by a mere technicality. If Mikael Akerfeldt could have afforded us one just one growl, or just gone on one quick death metal tear as he did on Watershed, this easily would have been the best metal album of 2011. The musicality on this record is like nothing Opeth, or most other metal bands over the last four decades, have accomplished before, but alas it is decidedly not a metal album. Sure we are given hints of doom on “I Feel the Dark,” and “Devil’s Orchard” and “Slither” have leads worthy of any other album on this list, but our Swedish warriors have seemingly hung up their wintery screams and skull crushing riffs and left us for the loftier challenges of prog, allowing Akerfeldt to rest his voice and showcase his jazz chops.
Honorable Mention #2: CYNIC Carbon-Based Anatomy Ah, another technicality: Cabon-Based is but an EP. It is a good one however, and a pleasant sign that Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert are sticking to what worked on Traced in Air. The overly fluffy remixes on Re-Traced rose concerns that this band was heading in a more adult contemporary direction, so this short but stealthy collection of things to come was most welcome.
Honorable Mention #3: ANTEDILUVIAN Through the Cervix of Hawwah Once upon a time, one of the main draws of heavy metal for me personally was its ability to chill me to the bone marrow. When I was a kid in a church-going Catholic family, South of Heaven was able to give me a scare with just its cover, even before hitting “play” and hearing the haunting opening notes. Now that I am a man in his early 30s I don’t frighten as easily so I was pleased with the production on Cervix. The song writing and musicianship are nothing new (think Suffocation without the chops) but there is something about the way the baritone vocals blend into the trudging guitars like a wind through a cemetery that unearthed some old exhilaration.
Metal Album That Probably Could Have Been Better Had Its Members Stopped Pretending to Be Van Halen for Five Minutes: ANTHRAX Worship Music Ever since John Bush took over in ’92 I lamented the loss of Joe Belladonna. Sure, Sound of White Noise is amazing, but as someone who was just coming of age at the time I was bummed that I would never get to see Anthrax with their classic lineup. All the new songs they had written since were great, and John Bush was an amazing frontman, but “Caught in a Mosh” just wasn’t the same without Joey. It’s almost 20 years later and I was given a great lesson in being careful what you wish for. The warnings were the on the pointless “Ball of Confusion” from Return of the Killer A’s but Joey’s best days were those of the Not Man. Bush is gone, but his influence on the band sure isn’t. I’d like to hear what Worship Music would have sounded like with him instead. The grass is always greener and so forth.
Most Disappointing Album of 2011: SAVIOURS Death’s Procession I don’t have a lot of love for the resurgence of stoner-thrash that found itself in every city at the end of last decade. I ultimately find a lot of these bands generic and opportunistic. If you catch me with a Sword song on it probably means I have died in front of my PC while letting my mp3s play on shuffle for eternity. However when I caught Saviours with Chicago Kenzo recently, I was impressed by their showmanship and had a hell of a lot of fun. I was forced to ask myself whether or not I been judging too many of these bands too harshly while missing out on some solid metal. Death’s Procession was a staunch affirmation that I was, sadly, initially correct. Every song on the album not only sounded exactly the same, but the overall album has a metal-by-numbers feel. They have done a good job capturing the classic thrash sound of yore, but unfortunately not much else. When you hear old timers complain that nobody uses phrasing the way Rainbow did, bands like Saviours do a top-notch job proving them correct.