Friday, December 23, 2011

The most disappointing albums of 2011.

The key word is disappointing. There have been plenty of albums released this year that didn't so much capture my attention; some of them were outright atrocious, but some of them didn't lack for quality so much as simply didn't meet my personal expectations. Thus, this isn't a worst of list and a band's inclusion on this list shouldn't lead anyone to believe that I necessarily hate the band or album, it just didn't do for me what I hoped it would.

Amorphis “The Beginning of Times”

Amorphis has been a fluff band ever since “Tuonela”. That doesn’t mean they’ve been bad; they really hit a stride of releasing great records when Tomi Joutsen joined the band in 2005. After re-recording several of their older songs and doing them tremendous justice on 2010’s “Magic and Mayhem: Tales from the Early Years”, I was really hoping for something with more teeth than “The Beginning of Times”. It’s not a bad album, and has some good moments (I really liked the song “Three Words”) but most of it is just too slick, too inoffensive, too bland and too “just there”- I’d rather just listen to “Magic and Mayhem” instead. I appreciate the melodic nature of Amorphis, but I wish there was just a tinge more aggression here.

Devin Townsend Project “Deconstruction”

This album basically serves to prove why Devin Townsend should NOT reform Strapping Young Lad (in addition to the fact that SYL’s last album, “The New Black”, sucked). Just because Townsend is perceived to be some sort of mad genius does not mean that “Deconstruction” is any less of a jumbled, confusing mess. It doesn’t lack for interesting ideas, and I don’t have an issue with bands throwing curve balls and abrupt turns, except that I’m left wondering exactly what did I just listen to when “Deconstruction” ends. Maybe that is his intention, but in my mind it’s just a weak cop-out for the fact that his heart isn’t in playing aggressive music anymore, especially when this album isn’t that particularly aggressive. Basically, I feel like he covered this ground with the “Ziltoid” album, except that “Ziltoid” was entertaining and actually went somewhere.

ICS Vortex “Storm Seeker”

I always thought ICS Vortex had a great voice, and put most of the credit for Dimmu Borgir’s most listenable albums on him; just consider that “Abrahadabra” was Dimmu’s 1st album without him. That said, I don’t think this album fails in execution, or is even bad in the least. But the list is “most disappointing”, not “the worst”, and thus I feel like I was expecting something heavier based on the bands ICS performed in previously. Instead, “Storm Seeker” is hyper melodic, not in a power metal way, but in almost a 70’s influenced sort of way, kinda like newer Borknagar without the blackmetal influence, and as such I’m just not compelled to listen to it.

Indian “Guiltless”

This album got a lot of praise as some sort of sludge masterpiece and the best thing to come from bands of such ilk since Eyehategod themselves. Instead, this is Iron Monkey. Okay, maybe not that bad, in fact it’s not even bad at all, but the hype didn’t even come close to the reality. Maybe it’s Today is the Day performed at 1/4th of the speed, but this doesn’t feel as much like metal as it does some sort of hipster interpretation of metal, and I’m just unable to shake that notion, thus it lives on my list of disappointments of 2011.

Morbid Angel "Illud Divinum Insanus"

Opeth "Heritage"

This time year ago, if demanded to declare a “favorite band”, Opeth probably would have been my response. Their first 5 albums are all metal masterpieces of the highest possible degree, and while their post-Blackwater Park output was uneven at times, it never failed to be exceptionally above average in quality. Then this piece of shit comes out.

I believe a band has to be satisfied with whatever they record, and if this is what Opeth in 2011 feels like recording, then they completely have the right to do so. However, just because I support a band’s artistic freedom doesn’t mean that I am automatically obliged to show enthusiasm towards everything they release. Accordingly, I think “Heritage” SUCKS. My grounds for so affirmatively declaring the fall from grace of a band I previously held in such high esteem doesn’t come from the absence of growls, or lack of downtuned distortion or the fact that “Heritage” is without any deathmetal aesthetic whatsoever. It comes from the fact that “Heritage” feels like the band cut and pasted all of the mellow, proggy parts from their previous albums that were used to transition between heavier sections of their songs….only now those disjointed parts ARE the songs, and by themselves those parts aren’t nearly as interesting. It’s like going to a fine steakhouse, and ordering a steak but getting only parsley and some steamed asparagus; who wants that? When Opeth previously dabbled in exclusively mellow material, it was done with direction and purpose, even “Watershed” in its overindulgence maintained some feeling that it was “going somewhere”. “Heritage” goes nowhere.

That’s not my biggest gripe regarding this album though. Akerfeldt was intentionally coy and vague when discussing it during interviews prior to its release. Clearly it was because he knew it would upset some fans yet he could have avoided that simply by stating “this doesn’t sound like My Arms, Your Hearse”. Opeth previously seemed like a uniquely honest band; they’ve thrown that away and become just another band in that respect. The most annoying peeve I have with “Heritage” though is how fans who weren’t even familiar with Opeth prior to “Blackwater Park” are rushing to defend this turd. Forums are littered with crybabies swearing that critics are cavemen who only listen to deathcore, as though these fanboys actually listen to King Crimson, Camel, or any of the bands that inspired this atrocity. I guess defending those Opeth tattoos is pretty rough, eh?

Septic Flesh “The Great Mass”

I actually think this album is brilliant and disappointing at the same time. Septic Flesh spared no expense in hiring Peter Tagtgren and the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra to craft “The Great Mass”. The production is incredible, with Tagtgren’s typically amazing drum sound highlighting a rather bombastic performance, even by Septic Flesh standards. The growls are effective, and the guest vocalists add some variety to the delivery.

My problem is that I have trouble calling this an actual Septic Flesh album. Aside from the drums, the music is absolutely dominated by the Orchestra, with the guitars doing little more than accenting the Orchestra, taking such a backseat that there isn’t a memorable riff to be found in 44 minutes.

I’ve also had the opportunity to see them live 3 times in the last 2 years, and well over half of the “performance” was coming from a CD playing all of the extra vocals and keyboards/orchestrations. Every album is a studio project to some extent, but the fact that Septic Flesh’s music feels entirely constructed by studio technicians and outside producers, it just leaves a horrible vibe. I miss the days of “Mystic Places of Dawn”, for sure.

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