Friday, December 16, 2011

The Top Ten Metal Albums of 2011

Top 25 List

See the introduction and the first 15 albums of the top 25 by clicking here.

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

10. Vreid: V

When you're talking about extreme metal, adding 'n' roll to the end of a genre tag is usually a deal-breaker. Does anyone actually like Entombed's Wolverine Blues? Does anyone care about Six Feet Under? But sometimes, a mix of black metal and good old rock 'n' roll can be a beautiful thing. Case in point: Vreid's V. This record keeps all the important parts of black metal--the ugly sound, the energy, the riffing style--but gives it a boost with some more accessible bounce to the writing. The occasional clean singing and synths are never enough to over-polish the sound, and the production is just raw enough while allowing you to hear everything that's going on. And, oh yeah, the songs are catchy.

9. Amebix: Sonic Mass

The crust legends reunited and took a risk by doing something entirely different. The risk paid off. There are a wide variety of styles on the record, from dark folk, to crust, to metal, to alt-rock. To be quite honest, it's not all perfectly successful. I reviewed Sonic Mass just last month, noting its imperfections and quirky nature. But quirky, imperfect albums are the ones that grow on you and get under your skin. Their imperfections serve to make them more memorable, more unusual, and simply better. (The first four Metallica albums are widely regarded as some of the best metal albums of all time, but can you honestly say that any of them is perfect?) This one has already dug further under my skin, and will likely get many more listens over the coming months. And years. Few comeback albums can compare.

8. Bloodiest: Descent

Post-metal is a vague term, and it's often used as an excuse to justify boring music by making it look hoity and/or toity. But a handful of bands get labeled post- because they're doing something truly different and genuinely artistic. Bloodiest is one of those few. I admit I was initially doubtful about this one due to connections with the vastly overrated Yakuza. But those doubts were short-lived. Descent is a paranoid . . . well, descent into a trance-inducing dark Americana / metal hybrid, as if Neurosis had joined forces with Acid Bath. Complex drumming undergirds a wide range of instrumentation and compositional tricks to conceive songs you can tell apart. This is rare post-metal that excels not only in its atmosphere, but also in its ability to make your body move.

7. Shining: VII: Född Förlorare

You can't talk about Shining's seventh full-length without using the adjective Opethian. There are some deep similarities among many progressive metal acts, especially those of the Swedish persuasion, but to relegate this to the status of "Opeth substitute" would be a mistake. This black metal opus effortlessly weaves between rock 'n' roll bounce and dissonant atmosphere, often in the same song. For a band so often labeled "depressive", the confidence of both the snarling vocals and adventurous songwriting is striking. It is a wonderful beast unto itself. Even if you want to be cynical, it's still a great substitute for Opeth.

6. Loss: Despond

The subgenre of funeral doom is flooded with bands that think as long as you're heavy enough and slow enough, then you have something worthwhile to bring to the fold. Only a handful of them really understand what it takes. Loss has, with their first full-length, joined the ranks of the greats with an album that can be mentioned in the same breath as Antithesis of Light or The Call of the Wretched Sea. Clean melodies and whisper-growl vocals, actual melody, and other sonic explorations provide variety to go along with the seismic riffs and dark mood.

5. Oranssi Pazuzu: Kosmonument

Oranssi Pazuzu have evolved leaps and bounds over their debut, inviting you to explore pain and fear with an intimacy that's rarely been achieved. The psychedelic black metal immersion is enhanced by the Finnish lyrics which speak pain and fear into your brain stem without the comfort that intelligible lyrics can provide, at least so long as you can't speak the language. It's kind of like Horseback, but far more metal, and far better. Dynamic pacing and textures, paired with an overall eerie sound and organic production, make this one you won't want to miss. At least, if you're looking for a bit of madness. To those already on the brink, approach with caution.

4. Ulcerate: The Destroyers of All

If I were judging these based solely on the number of times I've listened to them, Ulcerate's The Destroyers of All would easily be number 1. At first, it seemed so chaotic and unnatural that I didn't know what to think of it. Each instrument seemed to think it belonged to an entirely different band. Yet it kept drawing me back in. As the play count gradually increased, so did I begin to unravel this strange, twisted creation. Brutal death metal drumming lays the foundation for dissonant guitar mindfuckery. I only gave it a 4 of 5 star rating, but even then I recognized that this is a grower. And grow it has, working its tendrils deep into my skull.

3. Satan's Host: By the Hands of the Devil

Blackened power metal: that is how I described By the Hands of the Devil. The riffs in this thrashy, American-style power metal album bear a distinct black metal flavoring with their tremolo-picked assault. The drums blast and fill, and the oh-so-magnificent vocals soar over the top (comparisons to the late Ronnie James Dio are certainly not out of order). I noted "[t]he songs are a trifecta of catchy, aggressive, and evil," which, in the end, is everything that the purest strains of metal should be. Where the vaunted mega-bands Nevermore and Iced Earth falter, and the European power metal legions engage in pompous, accidental self-parody, Satan's Host has prevailed.

2. Mastodon: The Hunter

I didn't know what to expect with Mastodon's latest album. Their career arc has so closely followed Metallica's that The Hunter could have been their black album. Thankfully, it's much better than that. There is a definite pop sensibility to the songs--making them incredibly infectious--but they've incorporated that without compromising what makes them Mastodon. And it's not as if hooks are alien to the band anyway. The music is still progressive, though not nearly as much as their last two albums, but now it sounds fun. And there's plenty of different influences on display here, so you can get a deeper look at today's biggest metal band.

1. SubRosa: No Help for the Mighty Ones

SubRosa is not your typical metal band, and their style is not for everyone. They are from Salt Lake City. Three of the five members are women. The songwriting is of a folk persuasion, rather than metal. The guitars don't even take the lead role, being supplanted by violin. There are few growls; they tend instead toward mournful clean female vocals. But it is undeniably heavy. In fact, this is not just the best album of the year: It's also the heaviest. Great songwriting, unique sound, deep emotional impact, and perfectly off-key vocals all make this one stick with you.

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 25 Metal Albums: 25-11


  1. that ulcerate album is seriously devastating.

  2. I've heard a lot of buzz around Ulcerate and Mastodon this year. have to admit (as I think I've already said before) that i just don't get it. Maybe there's something going on that I'm missing, or maybe I just have poor taste, but despite all the good things I hear about those two, neither of them do anything for me.

  3. Who doesn't love Wolverine Blues?

  4. Wolverine Blues is one of my all-time favorite metal albums and I dig a good chunk of Six Feet Under's catalogue. Catchiness and simplicity, ain't nothin' wrong with it.

  5. Interesting list. I'm with you on Amebix but definitely against you on Mastodon, it IS their Black Album IMO. I too like Wolverine Blues but I'm a sucker for catchy tunes.

  6. I definitely need to check out the Vreid record. I really enjoyed Milorg but have avoided almost everything with a black hue for months now. Perhaps it's time for that to change.

  7. Finally! Some Oranssi Pazuzu love. Been listening nonstop, other lists neither ranked it or ranked it too low. As far as the rest, I haven't listened to any of em really, and Mastodon ended for me with Leviathan. Perhaps in the near dystopian future when I'm using the bombed out rock HOF as a shelter I will see some old Mastodon shit and burn it to keep warm and remember they were sorta relevant at some time. Then I will snuggle with my gun and smile.

  8. bloodiest and subrosa made my list as well (origin, grayceon, true widow, dragged into sunlight, Khuda, YOB, Norska)--but the two i loved that are totally off everyone's radar are Whitehorse-Progession and Ghost Empire-s/t.
    granted, Ghost Empire came out (i think) last year and was released vinyl only on a russian label (they're an italian band but the singer/guitarist's from NC,USA). Dude. GHOST. EMPIRE. my friend and i put up a few tracks on youtube because there's just nothing out there to stream, but they are one of the heaviest bands ever. the song Blood Harvest is crushing.
    and that goes for Progression by Whitehorse as well. i have no idea why it's off everyone's radar.