Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Top 25 Metal Albums of 2011: 25-11

Top 25 List

Before 2011 had begun, a handful of metal sites were declaring it to be the year of progressive metal. With expected releases from the likes of Opeth, Mastodon, Meshuggah, Origin, Decapitated, Obscura, Necrophagist, and many less extreme prog acts, it certainly seemed like that could happen.

But what happened instead? Opeth went rock. Mastodon got decidedly less proggy. Meshuggah never got around to releasing an album (Necrophagist will seemingly never release theirs). With the three flagship prog metal albums turning out to be not quite what was expected, it's a pretty tough sell to call 2011 the Year of Progressive Metal.

Instead, 2011 was quite a mixed bag. It could be called the Year of Old-School Death Metal, with many newcomers as well as a few old-timers making a comeback. But I'm going to call it the Year of Doom. Death, black, grind, and avant-garde metal all make strong showings on my list, but doom beats them all.

Really, we had a good variety this year. No single album stood out from the pack quite as much as last year's Eparistera Daimones, but I think it's a good thing that the winner is not so obvious.

I reviewed something like 125 new albums this year, many because I sought them out, and many others because they were submitted to me. This list drops 100 of them, to focus on the absolute best. Without further ado, here are the Top 25 Metal Albums of 2011.

[Note: the links below will send you to my original articles on the albums. The album picture will (with two exceptions) send you to an Amazon link to preview/purchase the album.]

25. Sólstafir: Svartir Sandar

This Icelandic band blends many styles into a cohesive and immersive post-metal whole. It's not particularly heavy, but it's incredibly dynamic and full of memorable music. It is long, but if it weren't then it wouldn't be worthy of an Icelandic saga.

24. Obscura: Omnivium

I never got around to reviewing this German band's technical death metal blitzkrieg. But it should be enough to say that, despite all the many notes played and drums assaulted, it is full of actual music that leaves an impression. Which is not a particularly easy thing to do when you're working at such high speeds and throwing so many things in the blender.

23. Witch Mountain: South of Salem

Female vocalist Uta Plotkin fundamentally changes the character of the traditional doom sound with her soulful delivery. Combined with the analog production, it makes the record sound like it should have been released in the late 60's, all but for the crushing heaviness.

22. Portrait: Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae

Lately, many bands have been compared to Mercyful Fate. But only Sweden's Portrait actually sounds like Mercyful Fate. Since I've called MF the greatest metal band of all time, you can guess that I think that's a good thing. And you'd be right. From the riffs to the leads to the falsetto vocals, they have just about everything right. And the songs are catchy.

21. Rotten Sound: Cursed

Finland's Rotten Sound have managed to create a deathgrind album that combines the best of both worlds (death and grind). The songs stick around long enough to get into a groove before changing it up. It's every bit as heavy and aggressive as the genre tag should (but so often doesn't) suggest.

20. Mitochondrion: Parasignosis

Any time someone talks about a weird death metal band, they usually say, "They're kind of like Portal." Well, that phrase comes up in discussing Canada's Mitochondrion, but it's not very accurate. Parasignosis is all at once bizarre, disgusting, and technical. The result is something wholly alien and disorienting, which is exactly what death metal should be. If you're looking for death that will give you that same experience you got the first time you heard the genre, you're not going to do much better.

19. A Storm of Light: As the Valley of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade

A Storm of Light puts me equally in mind of straight-up doom, post-metal, and the best two bands out of the Seattle scene of the early 90's (Alice in Chains and Soundgarden). In any objective sense, it sounds like the former pair, but the mood and effect is more like the latter. Of course I'm talking about the "Love Hate Love" kind of AiC rather than the "I Can't Have You" variety.

18. Anaal Nathrakh: Passion

Anaal Nathrakh have an uncanny ability to open the gates of Hell with their ungodly blackgrind racket. Many bands have attempted to do so, and PR folks at labels have ascribed such abilities to them, but has anyone else actually achieved it? No other band can be so brutal (and play so tight) while maintaining such a strong sense of melody, and Passion may well be the band's strongest offering to date--which is saying quite a lot.

17. The Gates of Slumber: The Wretch

The Gates of Slumber play the tried-and-true traditional doom formula. This would hardly be worth mention in a top 25 list if it weren't executed so well. The heavy production is the only thing that marks it as a product of the 21st Century, while the catchy songs and perfect whiskey-soaked vocals make it a product of the ages.

16. Tombs: Path of Totality

The blackened sludge/hardcore pariahs of Tombs have long been the subject of derision by the trver-than-thou types in the metal community, but music journalists have consistently touted their potential. Path of Totality proves the journalists right and should silence their detractors once and for all.

15. Botanist: I: The Suicide Tree / II: A Rose from the Dead

Botanist is easily the strangest new band of 2011. Guitar? No. Bass? No. Hammered dulcimer? Yes. While that sounds like it should be nothing more than a gimmick, the black metal experiment is wholly engaging and interesting. And it's one of those albums that's more rewarding each time you listen to it.
14. Disma: Towards the Megalith

If you have any interest at all in doomy old-school death metal, you need to get Disma's Towards the Megalith. Does it add anything new to the formula? No. But it ranks among the best-written OSDM records of the day, and its super-heavy, organic production is, quite simply, unequalled.

13. Embers: Shadows

With Shadows, Embers has vividly imagined a scene of desolation which threatens to get even worse. The black/crust/doom band plays an ugly and original style drawing on the rage of the powerless and downtrodden. And, last I checked, it is still available as a pay-what-you-want download.

12. Grayceon: All We Destroy

On All We Destroy Grayceon has gifted us a compelling and memorable progressive metal album that features cello as prominently as guitar, and has female vocals to boot. Boundary-pushing music runs the risk of being too weird, but that is not the case here.

11. Gridlink: Orphan

Twelve songs. Twelve minutes. Intense. Maniacal. Blistering. Bewildering. Like a 40 minute thrash album distilled to 151 proof.

Click here for the top 10.

All 2011 List Week Posts:

- The 5 Worst Metal Albums
- Top 5 Rejected Names for New Korn Album
- Best Metal Album Cover
- The 3 Most Controversial Albums in Metal
- The Top 5 Ways Classic Bands Will Shit on Their Legacies in 2012
- The Top 3 Non-Metal Albums
- The Top 3 Metal EP's
- The Top 8 Blog Posts on Full Metal Attorney
- The Best Metal Song
- The 2 Biggest News Items in My Personal Life
- Promoter Exchange
- The Top 10 Metal Albums


  1. Wow, it has been a rough year for me. I have heard exactly one of those 15 albums.

  2. I'm not doing much better than metalattourney this year, as I've only heard 4 of these.

  3. Oh, and evidently I also can't spell his username, so I guess I lose a point for that.

  4. I think my tastes have gotten more . . . exotic, or esoteric, or just weird. I'm not seeing too many of these popping up on other lists much. That might be the reason behind that. But anyway, there's no reason not to hear Witch Mountain and Embers, since they're pay-what-you-want on Bandcamp and they're both amazing.

    @ Metallattorney: that would be The Gates of Slumber. I know for a fact you'll have better odds with the top ten.

  5. I've got 6...and I totally agree with them. Everything but gridlink (as I've never heard of them) I've been meaning to check out. With this list that may be sooner than later.

  6. Awesome. So maybe my taste isn't as weird as I've come to believe. Or maybe you're also weird.

  7. OK, I'm re-reading this and have just realized I forgot to credit the gates-of-Hell analogy, which I believe I copped from a Decibel review (if I remember correctly).