Brendan’s Top 15 Albums of 2011 (and more!)

–By Brendan

Barney and friends!

Well, it’s finally December and damn, what an amazing year it’s been for music. I mean, it was a really, really, really good year for fans of extreme metal and hard rock music of the underground variety. I’ve listened to a shit-ton of bands this year. Every release I was remotely interested has come and gone, and I can say with absolute certainty that the year’s best are behind us. I discovered new artists, found gems, heard my fair share of trash, and celebrated the returns of several legendary bands.

While these bands are not on my list, there were great releases from: Gates of Slumber, Absu, Wormrot, Saviours, Black Cobra, The Fucking Wrath, Arkona, Samsara Blues Experiment, Victims, Exhumed, Autopsy, The Heavy Eyes, Revocation, Cormorant, YOB, Opeth, Decapitated, Lock Up, Panopticon, and Elder (phew!). And that’s only scratching the surface.

For brevity’s sake, I left EPs off my list, but you should still check out the new EPs from Between the Buried and Me, Cynic, IAYD, Immolation, Wormrot, and Enslaved.

ANYWAY enough of what didn’t make it, here’s what did:

Top 15 Albums of 2011

15. Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage

One of the few black metal groups I enjoy at all (Nachtmystium, Enslaved, Panopticon, and Deathspell Omega being the only others), on Celestial Lineage WITTR has returned to the mood and atmosphere of their first two records. Being a fellow Pacific Northwest (Cascadian) citizen, these chaps perfectly capture the feeling of our woodland surroundings.  If you like this band, or bands like them, then this record will leave you satisfied.

14. Morbus Chron – Sleepers in the Rift

These guys blast like it’s 1990! I haven’t been so excited about a young-and-coming death metal band in a long, long time. Sleepers in the Rift is like a time warp — sending me back to a time before I was old enough to listen to music, and giving listeners a chance to feel what it must have been like when young bands like Nihilist, Entombed, Carnage, and Unleashed reshaped the Death Metal scene.

13. Disma – Towards the Megalith

Yet another gem of old-school death metal worship. This is the single most crushing album of 2011. I’ve been absolutely blown away by Disma, which is made up of members of some of the best musicians the scene has ever had. The album also has some of the best artwork from this year.

12. The Atlas Moth –An Ache for the Distance

The Atlas Moth’s An Ache of the Distance scratches that itch only bands like Isis or Neurosis have been able to reach. Being much more melodic and accessible than those other two bands, The Atlas Moth are probably one of the most promising new bands in the American underground music scene. From what An Ache for the Distance  delivered, I expect we’ll see big things from this band.

11. Skeletonwitch – Forever Abomination

There’s really not much one can say. A combination of blackened trash, death, and heavy metal, Skeletonwitch are one of the most “metal” bands around. Forever Abomination is their angriest and darkest record, yet it still delivers the adrenaline-surging, head-pounding fun we’ve come to expect.

10. Trap Them – Darker Handcraft

 The songs on this album are some of the fastest and heaviest of the year, and Trap Them have never been catchier or more structured than on this record. The songs pack tons of intensity, the energy never lets up, and it’s clear this is one of the best albums from this year.

9. 3 – The Ghost You Gave To Me

The Ghost You Gave to Me shows 3 exploring new musical territory and furthering their sound, and has some of the most catchy and well written songs in their entire discography.

8. Red Fang – Murder the Mountains

 These guys are the kind of band you listen to or go see when you want to have a good time, because whenever they’re on, you’re enjoying yourself! There’s no way around it. On Murder the Mountains, Red Fangs penchant for of rocking out and having fun bleeds out of every note; there is rarely a time I listen to these guys and don’t have a smile on my face.

7. Mastodon – The Hunter

The Hunter  melds the experimental nature of Crack the Skye and Blood Mountain  with the the sludge metal riff monsters Leviathan and Remission into yet another new sound. Going more the route of stoner rock this time around, Mastodon still has great moments showing off their trademark musical skills and riff-tastic songs, but also their new found affinity for quieter psycheldelic moments found on Crack the Skye. Sure, the Hunter took some getting used to, but I’m very pleased with the album and think Mastodon have set themselves out on a great new path.

6. Book of Black Earth – The Cold Testament

On The Cold Testament, Book of Black Earth have stripped down and distilled their sound. This is crusty, sludgy, blackened death metal with fantastic raw production. The songs are dirty, heavy and pack a punch. They don’t really stray into much experimental territory, but the obvious crust punk and Swedish death metal influences are utilized in a unique way, setting this beast apart from the pack.

5. Amon Amarth – Surtur Rising

Amon Amarth have been called the AC/DC of death metal, and while that could come off as an insult, these guys fall into the same mold as bands like Vader or Nile: it might not reinvent the wheel, and you know they wont be deviating much in their sound, but if you enjoy their music you can always be sure they’ll deliver.

4. Graveyard – Hisingen Blues

I struggled with this one; I really thought when I first heard this record that nothing could top it. Well, as you can tell, that didn’t end up being the case. Still, this is one of the very best albums of the year. Graveyard’s bluesy and dark melodies, and smokey riffs are pure Sabbath worship, but with so much soul and psych-rock infusions that it becomes it’s own entity. Hisingen Blues continues where their previous self titled album left off, but forges a new path and set itself apart from the large majority of the underground scene.

3. Protest the Hero – Scurrilous

Protest the Hero’s Scurrilous is something entirely different. Displaying a very different side of the band, the album features lyrics almost entirely by vocalist Rody Walker (they used to all be penned by bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi) which deal with much more personal topics than their past fantasy and concept-driven songs. The album is also the tightest the band has been musically, and even though it dials it back a notch on the crazy structures, and fewer “brutal” sections (and no harsh vocals at all) it’s still the band’s most intense album to date.

2. The Black Dahlia Murder – Ritual

What a great year, so many of my favorite bands released new material, and the Black Dahlia Murder really blew me away with Ritual. This is without a doubt my favorite death metal album of the year. It’s so flawlessly executed, and they stride confidently into heavier and darker territory than they ever have before. Fuck, this record is brutal. Every song is great, every moment is hair-raising. While 2009’s Deflorate was a great album, it’s not been since 2007’s Nocturnal  that the band had felt so evil, and yet so fun. Here though, we have the finest display of musicianship, passion, and sheer power and brutality that the band has ever put forth. If you’re not a fan of The Black Dahlia Murder yet, you should be. The best record so far from the best death metal band of the past decade.

And my favorite album of the year is…

1. Amebix – Sonic Mass

When it was announced in 2009 that the legendary band Amebix would be reuniting, the underground world of extreme music rejoiced; punks and metal heads from all walks of life came together in anticipation of a slew of shows the band had announced. But it became so much more than that.

It quickly became apparent in interviews that the band wasn’t just ruiniting for live shows, they were writing and recording new material as well. Sonic Mass is the band’s first album in almost 25 years, and it delivers in every aspect. It’s sometimes easy to assume that when a band has been dormant for some time — especially one as influential and unique as Amebix — they may not be able to deliver on the lofty expectations of their legacy. Somehow, Amebix seems to have picked up where they left off a quarter of a century ago. The band cuts no corners, and plays exactly the kind of music fans have come to expect from Amebix: a dark, raw mix of punk and metal delivered with a wild and pagan-ish energy.  Every song on the album flows and fits together in an almost orchestral composition.

While the band is widely credited with the creation of the crust punk genre, their music is so much more than that, and transcends any and all punk and metal subgenres they could be pegged with. Amebix is simply Amebix. Never has a band returned so energetically and successfully.

Sonic Mass is my album of the year, both out of principal and because it is one of the best things I’ve ever heard; it is so far beyond the other releases on this list, in my opinion, it was a no brainer. I love this album. I love Amebix.

I’ll leave you with what is my personal favorite track, the album closer Knights of the Black Sun. But pretty much every song is perfect in its own way. Have a listen:

SPECIAL MENTIONS:

BEST HIP-HOP ALBUM OF 2011

The Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee pt. II

I won’t go too far in depth, but seriously I love these guys. It’s probably tied for second place overall, but because every other album I listened to this year was metal/rock I decided to focus on my favorites in those genres, but I just had to give it a special mention. Old school fans and new listeners alike will find something to love.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS OF 2011

Maylene and the Sons of Disaster – IV

On IV, it feels like Maylene and the Sons of Disaster have lost something. The band has gone through lineup changes in the past but the most recent one is the most drastic, leaving the band with the fewest members it’s ever had (only remaining founding member is vocalist Dallas Taylor), and seemingly without the energy, charm, and creative force that made the band so great in the first place. IV  feels tired, bored, and the music is sub-par. I applaud the attempt to mix in influences from bands like Clutch, but they fall short.

In Flames – Sounds of  Playground Fading

Never mind the annoying Korn-like title, this album was actually something I was really looking forward to. For some reason… Anyway, In Flames is a band I’ve always enjoyed, but the past few releases have been rather disappointing. With the exception of 2006’s Come Clarity, the band hasn’t released anything great since 2000’s Clayman. And even then, nothing will beat their first three albums. Sounds of a Playground Fading certainly doesn’t suck, but it certainly isn’t great, and is far from their best work.

WORST ALBUMS OF 2011 (tie) 

Morbid Angel – Illud Divinum Insanus/ Metallica & Lou Reed – LuLu 

So, yeah. These happened…

And there you have it! How about you guys, what are your favorite albums? I want to know! Did I leave off an album you really enjoyed? Disagree with my picks? Maybe you even agree? Leave a comment!

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