The Year’s Best Metal
We at WAMH will be posting our big end of year list sometime in the next few weeks. Very little, if any, metal will show up on that list. But that doesn’t mean metal is a worthless, avoid-at-all-costs genre. It’s actually one of the most rich, expansive, and complex genres of pop music going right now. For that reason, I’ve decided to take on the role of metal enthusiast at WAMH and put together a list of the top 20 metal albums of the year. Here it is:
20. Ampere - Like Shadows (this is actually more of a screamo/hardcore release but it’s still really awesome and the band is pretty local (I think at least one of the members went to Hampshire back in the 90s))
19. Machine Head - Unto the Locust
18. Toxic Holocaust - Conjure and Command
17. Yob - Atma
16. Rwake - Rest
15. SubRosa - No Help for the Mighty Ones
Easily the year’s best female-fronted metal album, No Help for the Mighty Ones is like a doomy, more metal version of the music made by early 90s female alt rock greats. It definitely stands as one of the most melodic and accessible albums on this list.
14. Ulcerate - The Destroyers of All
I have a tough time getting really into Death Metal. To me, it tends to be flat, less dark and despairing than black metal, less fast and furious than grindcore, and less melodic and riffy than sludge and doom. That being said, there are a few death metal records, like Ulcerate’s The Destroyers of All, that I find myself rather enjoying. What makes this album great in my mind is that it operates with a sense of chaos and anarchy, much like my favorite metal album of last year, Deathspell Omega’sParacletus. Also, the dudes in Ulcerate are from New Zealand which is cool/interesting/unique.
13. Black Tusk - Set the Dial
I’ll admit, no sludge album this year came close to matching Kylesa’s superb Spiral Shadow, one that remains a year later, one of my favorite standby records. Black Tusk’s Set the Dial is nonetheless deserving of a crown for being at the forefront of 2011 sludge. The band finds their own unique place in the current Southern sludge landscape because of their own hardcore-inspired spin on the genre. This is a louder, faster album than you’d expect from a sludge band, but it maintains the sharp melodic sense and penchant for powerful, distorted guitar riffs that makes sludge one of the most exciting subgenres in current underground metal.
12. In Solitude - The World, the Flesh, the Devil
For those who can’t get into most extreme metal but love bands like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest, In Solitude is the band for you. The World, The Flesh, the Devil is classic meat and potatoes heavy metal, executed perfectly.
11. Liturgy - Aesthetica
With the possible exception of Wolves in the Throne Room, Liturgy is probably the band on this list that’s most well known in the indie world. Heck, Liturgy’s hatred-inspiring frontman was buds with Ezra Koenig at Columbia. The “This is just hipster metal” authenticity complaints that so many haters have leveled against the band seem silly to me. Aesthetica is a furious, propulsive beast that could make even the dullest, most tedious moments and tasks feel urgent. Listening to this album in a physics lab this summer, I constantly felt as though a SWAT team was right around the corner. And for that, every second of this album’s run time kicks ass in the most metal way possible.
10. KEN Mode - Venerable
I could see Venerable being well-received by folks who don’t necessarily care for metal in general. Melodic and bursting with noise-rock energy, it’s a wonderfully addictive album that falls in line with the likes of Super Ae and Wonderful Rainbow.
9. Peste Noire - L’Ordure a l’etat Pur
Peste Noire sounds like a band of drunken French hooligans. They’re the most reliably fun black metal band I know of and sound just as hellishly goofy on L’Ordure a l’etat Pur as they always have. Perhaps it’s good that I don’t speak French b/c I doubt I really want to hear the band’s supposedly over-nationalistic, somewhat irresponsible lyrics. On a purely musical level though, I’ll eat up any new PN release at this point.
8. Blut Aus Nord - 777Sect/777Desanctification
If Liturgy soundtracked a Hollywood action movie, Wolves in the Throne Room a night in a haunted cathedral, and Peste Noire the only bar open all night in Hell, perhaps Blut Aus Nord would be best suited to soundtrack an evening spent wading through a murky swamp. I mean that in the best way possible. BAN make grisly, uncomfortable music that moves forward slowly while wallowing in its own murky atmosphere. 777Sect the first album in a trilogy and BAN’s first album of 2011, hones in on this aesthetic as well as any of their work ever has. But it’s their more recent record, 777Desanctification that really earned the band this spot. While still entrenched in the band’s swampy aesthetic, the album is startlingly unusual. For half a track to open the album, you could almost call the music funky. This paves the way for black metal backed by an electroindustrial sound that I’m not sure I’ve ever heard employed in good metal before. It’s damn exciting to see longtime black metal vets so thoroughly push their sound in a new direction.
7. Wolves in the Throne Room - Celestial Lineage
It’s weird to think that a black metal act got an 8.6/BNM on P4K, an A on the AV Club, and were featured in a New Yorker article. But hopefully now the indie kids will start to take more notice of bands like Wolves in the Throne Room. The band’s brand of black metal is epic in the same way GY!BE’s brand of indie kid beloved post-rock is and pounds listeners into submission in the same way that Lightning Bolt do.
6. Primordial - Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand
A lot of the albums on this list take a while to unfold (it’s in the nature of black metal especially, for the textured despair to only resonate after quite a few listens). Redemption at the Puritan’s Hands strikes at the heart from its very first moments. In front of a heavy classic metal attack, the vocals here boom with all the force of Zeus, carrying this album and lending added gravitas to the epic lyrics.
5. Amebix - Sonic Mass
I hadn’t heard of crust punk pioneers, Amebix, before this fall. I’ve still yet to listen to Arise! or Monolith, the legendary albums that the band made their name on in the 80s. So the argument over whether Sonic Mass is real authentic Amebix or just some Killing Joke-copping sign of a rusty, aged band is lost to me. As a newcomer, all I hear in Sonic Mass is some of the year’s best punk/metal. Like Circle of Ouroborus’s Eleven Fingers, this is as much a punk/post-punk album as it is metal, but it rocks nonetheless and for the first album from Amebix since 1987, it sounds mighty fresh and invigorating.
4. Trap Them - Darker Handcraft
I can’t claim to know what the line between grindcore and hardcore is (if any really exists). This sounds more to me like Trash Talk than Pig Destroyer or Napalm Death. And what really makes it stand out, putting in Trash Talk’s territory, is the expert melodic sensibilities the band has. “The Facts” has the best hook I’ve heard in a extreme tune (metal or hardcore) all year. The second half of the album becomes homogenously grindcore-y (in no way a gripe, it’s still pretty intense stuff) but for much ofDarker Handcraft, Trap Them throw out hooks left and right to guide their assault.
3. Circle of Ouroborus - Eleven Fingers
Crossing Joy Division-style post-punk with black metal was an act of pure genius. These disparate music styles share an intense darkness that works to meld them seamlessly together on Circle of Ouroborus’s Eleven Fingers. Unyieldingly bleak,Eleven Fingers sounds as much like punk’s big buzz album of the year (Iceage’s New Brigade) as it does like black metal’s (Wolves in the Throne Room’s Celestial Lineage). I guess then that of all the album’s on this list, this is the one I’d most recommend to those typically resistant to the genre. Circle of Ouroborus have, in actuality, managed to craft, to my mind, the best homage to Joy Division since Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights.
2. Tombs - Path of Totality
Not to be confused with Korn’s dubstep album The Path of Totality (likely the closest competition Lulu has for the worst album of 2011 crown), Tombs’s Path of Totality is awesome. Not falling easily into any metal subgenre, it might be the most indescribable album on that list, which is a large reason it works so well. For any fans of loud, mean experimental music, this record comes highly recommended.
1. Krallice - Diotima
Perhaps I overrate this album because it was the first metal album I got really, really into. Maybe it’s not quite next-Dead As Dreams good like I imagine it to be. With some distance, perhaps I won’t consider this the best metal album of the year. But for now, I know I’d rather be listening to Krallice than any other metal band on the planet. Diotima still sends chills down my spine every time I listen to it. It’s the type of album that’s constantly unveiling some new facet (I remember the first time I noticed the precision with which the bass guitar weaves in and out of the album’s layers of pitch blackness). In a year where black metal made significant strides in terms of entering into the indie consciousness, Diotima, for my money, was the darkest, most despairing, and ultimately most heart-racingly thrilling black metal album of them all.