Wednesday, December 21, 2011

William's Favorite Albums of 2011

This is going to be my first real entry. In terms of bands breaking new ground, or doing anything that pushes the genre into new territory, those days are gone. I'll rant about how the lack of innovation in heavy metal isn't even a big deal another time, but regardless I don't think I can say what the Best 10 or 15 albums of 2011 were, but I can say what albums released this year that I've been compelled to listen to repeatedly are. And with that so goes this year's list, in no particular order (okay, so alphabetized...):

Black Oath- The Third Aeon

Candlemass worship. And I mean that as a compliment. I don’t know a lot about this band other than that they’re from Italy and this is their debut. As the phrase “Candlemass worship” expresses, it’s classically styled doom that focuses on simple, big riffs. Clean sung vocals that kinda remind me of Robert Lowe (Solitude Aeturnus), and a tasteful dose of keyboards that never distract from the heaviness but rather add to the gloomy, mournful atmosphere. Like a lot of the albums I fell in love with in 2011, it features a certain rawness in terms of its production.

Blood Freak- Mindscraper

Never heard of this band before witnessing them at MDF, left impressed enough to buy a copy of “Mindscraper” that day. Furious and unrelenting, “Mindscraper” delivers goregrind sickness, vocals that vary between snarls and vomit-inducing grunts, steady drum blasts, and catchy riffs, held together with a raw, murky sort of production that reminds me of death metal circa 1998. No breakdowns, no triggered drums, no vocal effects- just great songwriting and enough captivating moments to keep the listener sucked in.

Derelict Earth- And So Fell the Last Leaves…

Basically one French dude recorded and self-released this album (and made it available for free online!), and in doing so recorded a better Opeth album than Opeth did in 2011. It sounds a lot like “Orchid” or “Morningrise”, but with some influences from other “avant-garde” metal bands like Agalloch or even Orphaned Land (there’s a fair amount of Mediterranean/Oriental sounding guitar harmonies going on here). A lot of proper reviews found fault with the raw nature of the music (single-tracked guitars, programmed drums, amateurish clean vocals) but for me that was part of the charm. Derelict Earth may never be anything more than a band that tastefully combines its influences, but I can think of many worse things than being comparable to “good Opeth”.

Disma- Towards the Megalith

Craig Pillard (ex. Incantation) releases an album that sounds like Incantation. No frills, no bullshit, just old school misery and gloom, like drowning in murky waters. Some fast parts, some doomy parts; it's the same predictable formula Incantation has utilized for years. But really, what’s not to like about that?

Gorgasm- Orgy of Murder

There’s nothing unique or even special about Gorgasm, who have never been more than a 5th rate Midwestern Suffo-clone. I rate this album among my favorites of 2011 more because it takes me back to the time when I really got into the underground. “Orgy of Murder” reminds me of 1999-2003 when as a fan I knew what a band was going sound like based on the label it was released on; when deathmetal from the Midwestern United States, Texas, California, and New York all had distinct sounds. Back in the day that if it came out on Ablated, or United Gutteral, or Unique Leader, you knew what you were buying. “Orgy of Murder” reminds me of bands like Regurgitation and Incestuous and Lividity, which is to say that they worship at the altar of Suffocation but with bigger, more pronounced slam/breakdown sections but not so far gone as Dying Fetus or any of the pure chug chug bands.

Les Discrets- Septembre et Ses Dernières Pensées

Sadboy metal ahoy. This album occupies a space somewhere between Katatonia and Red Sparrowes, with a definite influence from Agalloch. The vocals remind me most of Garm’s clean vocal performance on Ulver’s "Bergtatt" album, or maybe Jonas on Katatonia’s “Discouraged Ones” album. An absolutely gorgeous multi-tempo album of dreary, bleak sounds.

Nader Sedek- In The Flesh

The album Morbid Angel SHOULD have released this year. Nader Sadek is a visual artist who wanted a soundtrack to match his concept of man’s reliance on oil, and the band’s impressive lineup of Steve Tucker (ex-Morbid Angel), Flo Moriner (Cryptopsy) and Rune Eriksen (ex-Mayhem, Aura Noir) composed an album of actual SONGS that perfectly fit that theme. The tracks are blistering and mechanical sounding deathmetal with a Morbid Angel-like vibe. The watery effects on Tucker’s vocals in particular lend the album a cold feeling. The combination of vocals that sound like they’re being emitted from a rotting corpse with riffs that clank and march like a tank and drums that literally sound like they’re pounding metal into shape made this a really effective album.

Ulcerate- The Destroyers of All

This is the second album by New Zealand’s Ulcerate that I am aware of, and if you understand what I mean by “they sound like a Willowtip Band”, then you should have some idea what this album sounds like. Rooted in death metal, Ulcerate feature none of the chunky, meaty slam or breakdown riffs that a band like Pathology or Defeated Sanity litter their sound with. Instead, Ulcerate is far more discordant, with lots of warped clang-y riffs that maybe I’d associate with say, Inevitable End or maybe Human Remains or Burnt By The Sun; perhaps it’s not a coincidence that they recently signed with Relapse Records. It’s at once a noisy and moody affair, and not an easy record to listen to if you’re in the mood to listen to something passively. “The Destroyers of All” demands your full attention, it has to be absorbed completely and attentively, but if you have the attention span to devote to it, you’ll observe that this album might well be the soundtrack to the apocalypse.

Vallenfyre- A Fragile King

A few years ago I think Gregor McIntosh was something of a pariah in the doom metal scene; he appeared to be the person chiefly responsible for Paradise Lost’s transition from Doom Metal’s answer to Metallica (and perhaps Europe’s answer to fill Metallica’s void post-Load) to a sample-heavy mediocre Depeche Mode inspired “dark rock” act. By 2010 Paradise Lost has come back from the proverbial wilderness and records honest to satan metal music again. And following the unfortunate loss of his father, Gregor revisited his original influences and the result is “A Fragile King”. Combine the haunting lead melodies of “Lost Paradise” and “Gothic” by the downtuned stomp of early Entombed with a dose of Bolt Thrower, along with Gregor’s surprisingly solid growls (impressive pronunciation!) and what you get is an album that stands apart from other attempts by metal artists (anyone remember God Among Insects or Murder Squad?) to recapture the sound of 1990. This album might not be particularly original, but it sounds sincere, is beyond competently performed, and has enough catchiness that I’ve had it on repeat since I bought it.

Wooden Stake- Dungeon Prayers and Tombstone Serenades

I guess “occult rock” is the new hip subgenre, kinda how in recent years drone-doom (snore) then shoegaze blackmetal (yuck) went through their phases of being the hip or “in” subgenre. I’m fairly confident that Wooden Stake, a band I literally discovered by randomly clicking “download” on a mediafire link, is completely unoriginal and unremarkable among this budding wave of bands. However, rather than go the path of ripping off Blue Oyster Cult (Ghost) or Jethro Tull (Blood Ceremony), Wooden Stake bows at the altar of The Obsessed and Weedeater, complete with vocals that range from groaned incantations of doom to raspy anguish. Featuring a raw production and riffs that vary from a crawl to a brisk walk while soaked in a swampy sludge, I came back to this album often enough that it belongs on a list of my favorite 10 albums of 2011.

There ya go. My two cents.

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