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December 29, 2011

Steffmetal’s Top Ten Metal Albums of 2011

Tr00 Metal Life

fleshgod-apocalypse-agony-steffmetal

Back in June I wrote a round-up of my thoughts on the best metal albums of 2011 so far, and now it’s time to revisit that list. I’ve been trying to write this for about two months, but every time I think I’ve got it sussed, I read about some new album I end up loving, and I have to change things all over again.

As I always say, these ten albums represent my ten favorite metal albums of 2011. I’m just some blind NZ chick behind a computer, so feel free to be outraged at my appalling taste \m/ I’ve love to read your own lists in the comments. I’ll probably be doing a list in a week or two for some of the albums that didn’t quite make the cut.

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1. Tombs – Paths of Totality

Islander over on No Clean Singing raves about this album, and so do most of his writers and commenters, and they’re a smart bunch. Path of Totality has been on constant rotation since I first heard of Tombs, and I’m not ready to give it a rest yet. I’m still discovering new sonic depth in the songs, new passages that evoke horror or sorrow or regret, new visions of desolation.

What does Paths of Totality sound like? Well, you take the entire genre of black metal, remove every aspect of it that even remotely sucks, jam everything else together into a with a dash of funeral doom, a flicker of darkwave gothic, and all the despair of humankind’s existance upon this earth, and you’ve got Path of Totality, which is probably the album of the year.

In technical terms, it’s mid-paced tremolo-picking, sludgy riffs combined with pounding BM-style drums and occasional vocals that vary between rasps and a kind of darkwave croon. The result is hypnotic, that haunting sense of anti-music, of something so far removed from song and melody that it’s come back around again. If ever there was a soundtrack to the end of the world, and the chaos and dessolution of watching everything you loved crumble to dust, then Paths of Totality would be it.

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2. Amon Amarth – Surtur Rising

Not too much to say, really. I wrote a review of Surtur Rising earlier in the year, and I stand by that review. This is another brilliant album from the gods of “Viking” metal. It’s not ground-breaking in terms of musical innovation, but dammit if it doesn’t get you fired up for battle.

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3. Hell – Human Remains

It’s the 80s. You’ve got Iron Maiden, you’ve got Saxon, and then, probably opening for them in the slot that begins at 7:30 when no one’s drunk yet and everyone’s too busy lining up for t-shirts to even bother glancing at the stage, and the only guys up the front are the die-hard Maiden fans who just want the openers to get off stage so they can try to grab Bruce’s crotch – well, that opening band was Hell. Have you ever heard of Hell? No? Yeah, me neither. They were one of the NWOBHM bands floating around, but never managed to get a record deal, and then their singer killed himself, so that was kind of the end of that.

Well, Hell are back, and they’re making DAMN sure you’ll hear them this time. They’ve got a new singer, and have produced Human Remains – one of the BEST NWOBHM-style albums I have heard in YEARS. (Are you seeing all these CAPITALS? That means this is IMPORTANT). Critics shout that it’s Mercyful Fate worship, to which I say, “and rightly so!” Tracks like “From Earth as it is in Hell” and “Blasphemy and the Master” are heavy on the awesome and light on the … not awesome. Yeah, it’s been a long day.

The vocalist is a bit mad, but the riffs alone more than make up for an occasional out-of-place squeal. A seriously wicked album for fans of old school – metal the way it should be.

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4. Ulcerate – The Destroyers of All

Another album that appeared on my mid-year list, and has survived been kicked off because of its sheer, overarching brilliance. Ulcerate are local boys, and I’ve been catching their shows for the better part of eight years now. But both The Destroyers of All and Ulcerate’s recent performances are worlds apart from the copycat tech-death band that used play to a crowds of 50 at Eden’s Bar. Even back then Jamie made all the drummers in the room cream themselves.

But now the songs themselves are the focus – sweeping, cacophonies soundscapes that have more in common with bands like Isis than with their death metal roots. Being that I’m not a death metal aficionado, I hesitate to say this – but The Destroyers of All is the most original death metal album I’ve heard for quite some time. Ulcerate are heading for big, big things.

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5. Fleshgod Apocalypse – Agony

I am new on the Fleshgod Apocalypse bandwagon, but after seeing Agony come up again and again in various best of lists, I had to see what all the fuss was about. What I found was an album that was pretty much tailor made for my specific tastes – heavy as fuck death metal with perfectly melded symphonic elements. You won’t find any wussy Nightwish stuff here, no half-assed attempt to death growl over some flutes and call it melo-death. Agony is the perfect fusion of these two elements – not one overwhelms the other, but they play together in perfect harmony.

My favorite song from Agony is probably “Violation” – the way the riffs almost seem to gallop over those machine-gun drums, the rasp of those deep vocals, the screech of the higher power-metal style vocals … the whole song creates that bombastic, intensely theatrical experience you want in death metal. This is theatre, baby – they’ve gone beyond gimmick and entered the realm of brilliance.

6. Voyager – The Meaning of I

From across the ditch in Aussie comes the best progressive metal album of the year. I’ve reviewed The Meaning of I earlier in the year, and it’s well deserving of a place in this list.

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7. Powerwolf – Blood of the Saints

I make no secret of my love of cheesy power metal – and the Germans do this stuff like no other. It’s no surprise that Powerwolf’s Blood of the Saints would make it on to my end-of-year best of list. They definitely win the prize for the cheesiest album of the year, making no departure whatsoever from their previous releases of songs about Catholicism and Werewolves. From the catchy, sing-along-chorus of “We Drink Your Blood” (although we are all just singing to be ironic, because it really is too silly) to the Maidenish arrangement of “Night of the Warewolves” and the newest Catholic anthem – “All we need is blood” – with the chorus that consists entirely of the lyrical genius of “all we need is blood blood blood …”

Powerwolf are the metal version of a b-grade horror film – you watch it purely because the cover looks to ridiculous. You’re cringing away, thinking you’re being all “ironic”, but then you realise it’s so bad that it come back around to being good again. And the more ridiculous it is, the more you find yourself drawn in, and suddenly, you’re recommending it to all your mates.

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8. Glorior Belli – The Great Southern Darkness

The Great Southern Darkness is another album I found in someone else’s top ten list, went and checked it out, and realised it had to go on mine. Glorior Belli are a French band – yes, the French do occasionally get SOMETHING right – who fuse choatic black metal with southern blues. It’s black metal with groove, and while that may turn off some of the kvlter among us, it’s got me utterly hooked.

If you’re a fan of bands like Lord Foul, Glorior Belli will be just your kind of thing. “They Call Me Black Devil” has a great twanging riff that doesn’t half sound like a Clutch song, but it’s only a piece of the whole – the rasping vocals, the dissonant, fuzzy guitars and the blastbeats keep us grounded in the black. What I love about the combination of these two styles is how the stoner / blues roots give a warmth to the bleakness of the black metal riffs and structures – this comes through perfectly on “The Great Southern Darkness” and “The Science of Shifting”.

So rarely do I find black metal albums – tr00 black metal albums – that offer something unique, while at the same time being listenable and enjoyable. Glorior Belli achieve both.

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9. The Physicists – Observation

I’ve already reviewed Observation by the Physicists earlier this year, but it’s been stuck on my iPad for the last four months and I am utterly smitten with it. Normally I hate bands who try to make up their own sub-genre, but when they emailed me about reviewing their “Mathdeathboogie”, I was intrigued. From my review:

The music consists of sporadic, fuzzy riffs, catchy hooks and song structures that could only occur when Dr. Frankenstein took the brains of every member of Kalmah and stuck them into Rammstein. The vocals alternate between artificially distorted screeches and that low goth industrial rumble that turns most girls’ insides all mushy. Add a splattering of electronic blips and bloops, and some lyrics about science gone mad, and you’ve got mathdeathboogie, my new favorite made-up genre.

Yep – Observation is seriously fucked up. And that’s why I love it.

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10. Battle Beast – Steel

Another album that appeared on my mid year Top Ten list, Steel is still making me smile in December. Battle Beast have a classic metal style that they work to great effect – and taking lessons from the masters of classic metal cheese (yes, I am talking about Manowar) there’s enough choruses to power and steel and metal to turn this album into a decent drinking game. (If you’ve never played the Manowar drinking game, you need to go to more metal parties …)

There is nothing, NOTHING like twin guitars, 80s metal riffs, and a female singing with a voice like a powersaw to get your fists pumping, your hair spinning and your face mysteriously melting away … Battle Beast are all that is good about metal, and they fucking know it.

Honorable Mentions:

Albums I loved that have not, for various reasons, made this list. Expect a few reviews in coming weeks.

Mechina – Conquerer + Andromeda

Xerath – II

Blackguard – Firefight

Alestorm – Back Through Time

Conflicted – Never be Tamed

Vexillum – The Wandering Notes

Orpheus – Bleed the Way

Primordial – Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand

While Heaven Wept – Fear of Infinity

Isolation – Closing the Circle

Sun Caged – The Lotus Effect

Insomnium – One for Sorrow

Mournful Congregation – The Book of Kings

Dagon – Vindication (EP)

The Horde – Thy Blackened Reign

Blut Aus Nord – 777 – Sects/The Desanctification

40 Watt Sun – The Inside Room

Obscura – Omnium

Textures – Dualism

Septic Flesh – The Great Mass

Ghost – Opus Eponymous

Tyr – The Lay of Thrym

Chthonic – Takasago Army

The Man-Eating Tree – Harvest

Solstafir – Svartir Sandar

Ulver – Wars of the Roses

What were your favorite releases – metal and non-metal – of 2011?

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14 Comments on “Steffmetal’s Top Ten Metal Albums of 2011

Exzodium
January 6, 2012 at 7:16 pm

Yeah the Great Southern Darkness was a kick ass album.

jeimssi
January 4, 2012 at 4:25 am

Due to almost constant radio time Battle Beast pretty much makes my head hurt. Otherwise, not a bad list. Although my personal top picks were in your honorable mentions.

Lauren
January 3, 2012 at 10:34 am

EDIT: Recursive was actually released in 2010. I only heard the album in 2011, therefore I’m including it in my 2011 list.
There’s still some 2011 releases I want to check out. :p

steff
January 9, 2012 at 12:36 am

@Lauren – An excellent list! Obscura and Blut Aus Nord are definitely high on a lot of people’s lists. I haven’t heard of either of those SA bands, so I will check them out \m/

Lauren
January 3, 2012 at 10:02 am

In no particular order:
Obscura – Omnivium
Riot – Immortal Soul
Megadeth – Th1rt3en
Ulcerate – The Destroyers of All
Primordial – Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand
Blut Aus Nord – 777 Sects/The Desanctification
Amon Amarth – Surtur Rising
Battle Beast – Steel
I have to mention two bands from South Africa, where I live:
A Walk With the Wicked – Architects of Sadism (death metal with a groove element)
The Broken Result – Recursive (death metal)

Johnny Blackout
January 1, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Top Metal of 2011
#1 = Iced Earth – Dystopia ! ! !

Islander
December 30, 2011 at 8:22 am

Great list Steff, and I loved your descriptions (as always). My favorite: “What does Paths of Totality sound like? Well, you take the entire genre of black metal, remove every aspect of it that even remotely sucks, jam everything else together into a with a dash of funeral doom, a flicker of darkwave gothic, and all the despair of humankind’s existance upon this earth, and you’ve got Path of Totality, which is probably the album of the year.”

Joshua Russell
December 29, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Morbid Angel – Illum Divinum Insanus

Big sound change, but conducive to psycodelic re-interpetation.

Joshua Russell
December 29, 2011 at 3:43 pm

The House of Capricorn – In the Devil’s Days

Machine Head – Unto the Locust

Mastodon – The Hunter

Rob Liz
December 29, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Nice list Steff. This is the second time I’ve seen Powerwolf on someones list. They made my honorable mentions list. Personally I’m of the minority that preferred Septicflesh over Fleshgod Apocalypse but seeing FA on so many lists, here is to hoping they improve more to my liking.

goatlady
December 29, 2011 at 11:21 am

Cheesy power metal aside, not a bad list :)

I saw Fleshgod Apocalypse live a few weeks ago and they were just unbelievable – Agony made number one on my list for 2011.

Jean-Philippe
December 29, 2011 at 10:14 am

And Symphony X’s Iconoclast.

Can’t believe I forgot Symphony X!

Jean-Philippe
December 29, 2011 at 8:48 am

Already posted this, but I’ll just put it again for the heck of it:

Dragonland – Under the Grey Banner
Riot – Immortal Soul
While Heaven Wept – Fear of Infinity
Megadeth – TH1RT3EN
Anthrax – Worship Music
Pagan’s Mind – Heavenly Ecstasy
Iced Earth – Dystopia
Crom – Of Love and Death
Arch/Matheos – Sympathetic Resonance
Anubis Gate – Anubis Gate

P.S. Glad to see Hell and Powerwolf on your list. Saw Powerwolf at Bloodstock last year and they just blew the Sophie Lancaster Stage away \m/

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