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July 5, 2011

Top Ten Metal Albums of 2011 … So Far

Tr00 Metal Life

Last year I wrote a list of my top ten metal albums for the first half of 2010, then revisited my top ten metal albums of 2010 at the end of the year. It was interesting to see how my tastes changed over the next six months – what albums dropped off to make way for new releases. So I’ve made another mid-year list for 2011.

I know all of you are going to disagree with at least seven of these albums, and I got a ridiculous amount of emails from people calling me a poser and a crackhead after last year’s lists, so I would like to remind you – my blog = my opinion. I don’t have some all-encompassing metal power to make any record popular over another, so instead of telling me how much I suck for not including your favorites, write your own choices in the comments. Please! I’d love to hear what YOU think are the best metal releases of 2011. Chances are, you’ll introduce us all to some awesome music we’ve never heard before, and that’s never a bad thing.

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Amon Amarth – Surtur Rising

I wrote a review of Surtur Rising back when it was released, and I’m not going to repeat it here. Suffice to say that the Swedish metallers delivered all they promised on this, the most-anticipated metal record of 2011.

Sun-caged-the-lotus-effect-steffmetal

Sun Caged – The Lotus Effect

Dutch Progressive metallers Sun Caged released their third album, The Lotus Effect, to critical acclaim in June. No Clean Singing reviewer Israel Flanders said “Sun Caged is Dreamtheater if Dream Theater didn’t suck”. I agree.

I struggle with prog metal because it always builds towards something that doesn’t quite come, with Symphony X’s Paradise Lost album approximating what I think prog metal should sound like. Songs like “Tip-Toe the Fault Line” demonstrate the devotion to complex keyboard and guitar arrangements, while “Ashes to Ear” and “Let It Wash Away” create just the right balance of darkness and accessibility to make this an album I’d recommend to non-metal listeners.

isolation-closing-the-circle

Isolation – Closing the Circle

Five years after their first demo, the chaotic black metal release Striding on the Path of Nihil, Isolation finally released their debut album, Closing the Circle, in Europe this June. The band’s sound has changed drastically since their early days, with Closing the Circle floating in a kind of droning, atmospheric sludge rock with twisted hints of the black metal roots poking through. This was not an album I expected to like, and I find myself returning to listen to it again and again. The tracks “Closing a Circle” and “Fan the Flames” stand out as interesting mixes of melodic riffs, slow, droning vocals, and upbeat, almost rocky hooks.

The only thing I struggle with on this album is the vocals, which suit the music perfectly 85% of the time. But sometimes they seem to screech when the song demands softness, or fall away when the music demands their attention.

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Ulcerate – the Destroyers of All

Even though I don’t get this kind of chaotic death metal, even I can tell that The Destroyers of All is something special. They remind me of Immolation the way they manage to create layers of sound, separate suites of cacophony that blend seamlessly into order. First, you notice the drumming, sharp and penetrating, erupting into blastbeats and complex fills at just the right time. The guitars, heavy with fuzz from effects pedals, carry you through riff after impressive riff. Listen to “Cold Becoming” and tell me that’s not genius. Painful to listen to, but genius.

Other reviewers compare them to Psycroptic, and I can hear why, but Ulcerate really do bring a sound that’s uniquely their own.

And I’m not just saying that because they’re local boys.

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While Heaven Wept – Fear of Infinity

Virginian doom metallers While Heaven Wept return with the follow-up to the stunning Vast Oceans Lachrymose – and they prove that they’ve still got the chops to create music that evokes sorrow and fear and longing and beauty. While Heaven Wept blend doom metal with symphonic and power metal elements to create a songs that tell stories. From the deep, doomy depths of despair on “Obsessions New Effigies” and “Finality” to the beautiful vocal harmonies of “Destroyer of Solace”, Fear of Infinity will paint a world of ghosts inside your skull.

My only complaint is that, at seven songs long, even seven EPIC songs, Fear of Infinity feels too short to me.

primordial-redemption-at-the-puritans-hand

Primordial – Redemption at the Puritan’s hand

Anyone who’s been reading my blog for a long time will know I’m kind of a Bathory-fangirl. Although the vocal style is a bit different, Primordial have always reminded me of Bathory, and that gets them big bogan brownie points in my book. Redemption at the Puritan’s hand doesn’t sound quite as good as To the Nameless Dead, which I think is their best album to date, but it’s still bloody good.

I mean, really, really good.

“No grave deep enough” could have come from any Bathory record, with lyrics that remind me of another of my favorite bands – Skyclad. “The Puritan’s Hand” and “Death of the Gods” are two of the best tracks to come out of any band this year. The two dirge-like tracks with cleaner vocals from Alan Averill – “Bloodied Yet Unbowed” and “The Mouth of Judas” – break up the album and give a little bit of variety to Primordial’s usual sound.

Also, I must admit when that Irish accent comes through in the vocals, my heart melts a little.

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Orpheus – Bleed the Way

Bleed the Way is the debut album from Orpheus, a melodic death metal from Australia. Warning – this album is quite heavy on the keyboards, but the compositions are so original, I think it works. The keyboards on “Unscathed” in particular remind me of the power metal band Battleheart, but the song itself is better than both Battleheart albums I own.

This album has a clean, sophisticated mix, allowing you to appreciate the thick-walled guitars and crushing bass to their full potential. Orpheus have the kind of euro sound I’d expect to see gracing the stage at a major festival.

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Vexillum – The Wandering Notes

Fans of Elvenking will appreciate this album. These Italians follow the same formula adopted by their countrymen, but pull the folk elements back in the music to expose blistering guitar solos. I found The Wandering Notes sounded more like a classic power metal release than a lot of the music being released in this genre lately, and that’s why it appeals to me so much. Check out “The Traveller” for a great power metal track, and “The Brave and the Craven” and “Neverending Quest” for more besides.

I don’t think this album will be talked about in a years time, and I’d like to see Vexillum deliver something more unique on their next release, but for now, this is a fun, classic, engaging power metal album from a bunch of talented Italians, and I can’t complain about that.

conflicted-never-be-tamed-steffmetal

Conflicted – Never Be Tamed

I don’t know about you, but after the awesomeness that was Paradise Lost, I found Symphony X’s Ironclast a serious let down. Never fear, because Conflicted will wipe your proggy tears away. Mixing progressive arrangements with the melody and catchy hooks of power metal, Never be Tamed has to be one of the best albums released this year.

I listen and I try to find some kind of weakness in this album, but I just can’t find it. Each song is perfectly executed, each solo flawlessly carried off, each rise and fall of frontman Jason Orton’s mammoth vocals justify critics comparisons to Ripper Owns, Geoff Tate and King Diamond. The keyboards don’t overwhelm, and the songs don’t break down into overly-theatrical wankery – Conflicted have created a prog metal album with a real classic metal edge, and I think it’s an album that will still sound just as amazing in ten years time.

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Battle Beast – Steel

Such a terrible name for such an awesome band. I am a sucker for songs with lyrics like “Shake the World with Metal …” and Battle Beast deliver with their debut album of classic metal anthems. Female vocalist Nitte Valo doesn’t disappoint – her performace devoid of any of the usual criticisms for female vocalists in metal. Her husky, punchy vocals match the soaring solos and high-voltage melodies to perfection.

You won’t find anything complex or drawn out on Steel – just fist pumping, head banging tracks, many of which would have been amazing stadium songs back in the 80s. Songs like “Victory” remind of 3 Inches of Blood on Advance and Vanquish. Check out “Steel”, “Justice and Metal” and “Enter the Metal World” for a sampling of this awesome Finnish metal band.

Other releases I enjoyed:

Scar Symmetry – The Unseen Empire – love the techy/melo-death Soilwork sound, but was a bit too “poppy” in places.

Alestorm – Back through Time – having drank from the Pyrex jug of doom with these guys, I’ve come to embrace the ridiculousness that is Alestorm, and this album is a testament to the fact that metal is, about all, about having fun.

Hibria – Blind Ride – probably one of the best power metal releases of the year, but so disappointing compared to their last two releases, so it missed out on the top ten.

Blackguard – Firefight – one of the first albums after Eluveitie with this style of vocals I’ve enjoyed.

MIWA – My Wish is Your Command – see my review HERE.

Onward We March – The Golden Vine – see my review HERE.

Arch Enemy – Khaos Legions – see my review HERE.

What are your favorite releases of 2011? Let us know in the comments below!

20 Comments on “Top Ten Metal Albums of 2011 … So Far

Nicole Glass
July 15, 2012 at 10:09 am

1) ‘Long Live Heavy Metal’ – 3 Inches of Blood
2) ‘Utilitarian’ – Napalm Death
3) ‘L’Enfant Sauvage’ – Gojira
4) ‘No’ – Old Man Gloom
5) ‘Sentenced to Life’ – Black Breath

steff
August 9, 2012 at 12:49 am

@Nicole – most of these are 2012 releases, (I’m working on my 2012 list right now), but that Gojira album is at the top of mine. I haven’t heard Black Breath, but will go check ’em out.

Jean-Philippe
December 27, 2011 at 9:01 am

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

Zanthus
November 28, 2011 at 7:31 am

Liturgy – Aesthetica
Altar of Plagues – Mammal
Ash Borer – Ash Borer
Woods of Desolation – Torn Beyond Reason
Chelsea Wolfe – Apocalypsis
Wolves In The Throne Room – Celestial Lineage
Falls of Rauros – Light that Dwells in Rotten Wood
Deafheaven – Roads to Judah
Fen – Epoch

Barn Owl – Lost in The Glare
Smohalla – Resilience
Taake – Noregs Vaapen
Peste Noire – L’Ordure A L’etat Pur
Krallice – Diotima
Asva – Presences of Absences
Gnaw Their Tongues – Per Flagellum Sanguemque, Tenebras Veneramus
Caina – Hands That Pluck
Wolfmangler – They call us naughty wolves
Thantifaxath – Thantifaxath
Mounrful Congregation – The book of kings
Sump – Taken Dead
Heretoir – Heretoir
Gallhammer – The End
Forgotten Tomb – Under Saturn Retrograde
Disease Process – Disease Process

Deivis
November 7, 2011 at 11:16 am

Mastodon “The Hunter” and Opeth “Heritage” and Machine Head “Unto the Locust” are my favorite of this year… no doubt, they are both amazing albums, specially the first, but I think Antrhax “Worship Music”, Arch Enemy “Khaos Legions” and Megadeth “Thirteen” are pretty good albums too.
If anyone here likes other music styles then I recommend Foo Fighters “Wasting Light”, it’s a special album, sounds great.

I heard the Conflicted album by reading your review and I really liked it, think I’m beggining to listen your entire list and see…

Stay Metal!

PS: 2011 great year by now for metal albums, but there are some other amazing albums coming!

thekey
November 6, 2011 at 9:20 am

Thanks for introducing me to Ulcerate. Feels like it getting harder to find any interesting new bands with aren’t Metalcore or filled with cheese. My favourite new albums this year are Vader- Welcome to the Morbid Reich, Wolves in the Throne Room and Mastodon.

Ronnie
August 4, 2011 at 4:34 am

My Top 10 of 2011, so far, are: (in random order)

Phoenix Amongst the Ashes ~ HATE ETERNAL
Entity ~ ORIGIN
Sever the Wicked Hand ~ CROWBAR
Hospital Carnage ~ HAEMORRHAGE
Macabre Eternal ~ AUTOPSY
Grim Scary Tales ~ MACABRE
All Guts, No Glory ~ EXHUMED
Carnival Is Forever ~ DECAPITATED
Agony ~ FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE
Razorback Killers ~ VICIOUS RUMORS

Devour83
July 28, 2011 at 2:52 pm

I need to throw an addition to my list from the previous day.

Ouroboros – Glorification of a Myth

Deep deathmetal vocals with higher tuned guitars that compliment it beautifully. Amazing album. I downloaded it yesterday and havent been able to turn it off!!!!

Devour83
July 27, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Don’t have a top ten per say… But these albums do stand out to my particular tastes…

Devildriver – Beast
Otep – Atavist
Pentagram – Last Rites
Skindred – Union Jack (They’re fun. Fuck all the haters. :D)
Caliban – Coverfield EP
Arch Enemy – Khaos Legions (Already mntioned alot.)
Chimaira – The age of Hell (not supposed to be out till August, but you can find it to download…)

A bit different than the above listed, hope it opens some eyes. Which your mention of Orphaned Land for last years and this years Sun Caged did for me…

tim f
July 11, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Neuraxis: Asylon
Amon Amarth: Sultur Rising
The Haunted: Unseen (a bit disappointing except for two tracks, but it’s still The Haunted so beats most of everything else)
Decapitated: Carnival is Forever

The Amorphis album was ok. Nothing else in metal has stood out for me, although I’ve got some new recommendations reading this.

Rob
July 11, 2011 at 9:03 am

@Steff
Call it a hunch, but Im willing to bet his albums involve lots of guys in jorts and flat brimmed baseball caps spin kicking invisible ninjas

Tetravirulence
July 9, 2011 at 10:01 am

why do i have a female avatar? lol

steff
July 10, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Because it’s my site and I decide the avatars :) I’m interested to know, instead of just giving a blanket insult to all my readers, what do YOU think are some of the best albums to come out so far this year?

Tetravirulence
July 9, 2011 at 10:00 am

this site and its readers specially got horrible tastes in music- the only one album standing out alone is ULCERATE

masoud
July 8, 2011 at 7:43 am

hi there
mine might be a little different from the others’, but here it goes: (not inorder)
arch enemy
avantasia (both The Wicked Symphony and Angel Of Babylon)
turisas
nargaroth
children of bodom
lazarus ad
within temptation
sireia
times of grace
that’s foe now. lets wait for the rest

Islander
July 8, 2011 at 5:08 am

Steff, I tried to leave a comment the day this post went up, but got error messages. Your site didn’t like my odor, apparently. So I showered, and now seem to be acceptable. Anyway, I wanted to say that I really enjoyed your descriptions of the albums and, as usual, you made me aware of music I otherwise wouldn’t have checked out — I’d only listened to 3 of the albums on your list — Amon Amarth, Ulcerate, and Primordial — all of which I like a lot. I’m especially keen to check out Sun Caged, Isolation, and Orpheus. Have a blast in Germany!

v
July 8, 2011 at 4:11 am

Draconian – A Rose for the Apocalypse!

Gunnar
July 6, 2011 at 5:59 am

Arch Enemy …yummy, like the heavy guitar riffs ; speed it up (voll fett )
Amon Amarth…check
Hell – Human remains NWOBHM “finest true metal”
Samael – Lux Mundi
Moonsorrow – only four songs but non less then 11 minutes, very epic
….not yet released but i put it here on the list
———-OPETH———-Heritage

byrd36
July 5, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Good to see Ulcerate on there! I’ve been liking Ara Kra’s Ferne Tage(thanks to NCS), Aurora Borealis’ Timeline, Nader Sadek’s In the Flesh, Omnium Gatherum’s New World Shadows and Thou’s To the Chaos Wizard Youth EP.

Eagerly awaiting fall releases from Mastodon and Skeletonwitch!

Rob
July 5, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Its been another really good year for metal so far…heres my top 20 as of now

Darkest Era – The Last Caress of light (Traditonial metal with some folk influence)
Assaulter – Boundless (Blackend Thrash)
Autopsy – Macabre Eternal (Death with some Doom influence..great return album)
Bones – S/T (Crusty Death in the vein of early Bolt Thrower)
Corpsessed – The Dagger and The Chalice (Death in the old Finnish style)
Entrenched – Preemptive Strike (Crusty Death/Thrash in the vein of Bolt Thrower)
Exeloume – Fairytale of Perversion (Death/Thrash with a bit of a tech to it)
Gorephilia – Ascend to Chaos (Incantation style Death)
In Solitude – The Word.The Flesh.The Devil (Mercyful Fate worship traditional)
Miasmal – S/T (Death in the Swedish style)
Necros Christos – Doom of the Occult (Doom/Death)
Sonne Adam – Transformation (Incantaion style Death)
Spearhead – Theomachia (Blackend Death)
Suidakra – Book of Dowth (Folk/Melodeath…as good as Crogacht was)
West Wall – On my Shield (Bolt Thrower style Death, they have some NS leanings, but its not really in the music)
Vanhelgd – Church of Death (Death in the Swedish style)
Vastum – Carnal Law demo (Doom/Death)
Cruel Force – Under the Sign of the Moon (Blackend Thrash)
Lantern – Subterranean Effulgence EP (Blackend Death)
Maim – Deceased to Exist (Death in the Swedish Style)

Didnt quite make the cut: Amon Amarth..was good, but not great
Amorphis..again solid, but after Skyforger it felt kind of phoned in this time

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