Sunday, January 8, 2012

BH Awards Best of 2011 and Other Such Nonsense

As the year draws to a close, many of my contemporaries already have already had their top and bottom lists set since the beginning of December.  But I, in an unprecedented display of class and punctuality, have waited until the year was actually over, and given the albums in question time to sink in for the most part.  There are some great things I've heard about certain albums I have yet to hear (Sonne Adam, Mitochondrion, Esoteric, et cetera) so bear with me if I exclude something you loved.  Anywho, I know I'm in love with myself, but I'll cut this introductory nonsense short and cut right to the chase, 2011 was such a good year that I could not for the life of me narrow this list down to ten, so I made a new rule for myself and present to you:

THE TOP 15 METAL ALBUMS OF 2011

15: Devin Townsend Project - Deconstruction
I worship at the altar of Devin Townsend, and Deconstruction is another example of why.  There is nothing this man does that he doesn't pour his entire heart and soul into.  He makes the most genuine metal/industrial/ambient/whatever he feels like out there today.  This here is his return to heavier stuff, and while it doesn't touch the sheer frustrated passion of City or even the beauty of Terria, I'd rank this as the best album he's given us in years. Heavy, quirky, passionate, impressive.

14: Degradation - Juggernaut
Chicago thrashers, just how I like them.  This is one of the more intense forms of thrash I've heard that doesn't go the full out Kreator/Sodom route. The vocals remind me of Matt Drake, which makes this sound like a non-shitty Evile.  My other thought initially was that this musically reminded me of Deathrace King, and wouldn't you know it, they cover "Executioner... Slayer of Light".  Any band that covers The Crown is worthy of listening.

13: Sectu - Inundate
I'm gonna be 100% honest and say this one was a completely blind bluebeard, but it wound up being an excellent one.  This is dirty, dank death metal that reminds me of a more technical Immolation, plus touches of Dismember.  Completely worth anybody's time.  It lives up to the title of the album and just completely overwhelms and drowns you in filth and insanity.

12: Demonical - Death Infernal
Spoiler alert: Out of everything on my mid-year report, this is the only recurring band here today.  I still can't describe what makes this so awesome, it's just the most beastly Swedeath I've heard in ages, and nobody else in the genre can touch them this year.  Essence and Beyond Creation and other bands I rated highly six months ago faded, Demonical isn't going anywhere.

11: Neuraxis - Asylon
I'm not only putting them on here because I have a mancrush on Alex LeBlanc, but also because Neuraxis excels in one area where most tech death bands fail nowadays, they can write some absolutely ass kicking riffs.  Seriously, tone down the blasts a bit and make the solos more chaotic and this could be just a really, really fast straight up death metal album.  This is how tech death should sound, either like amped up late era Death, or like Neuraxis.

10: Symphony X - Iconoclast
Cracking into the top ten, we meet an old face from years past.  At the time, Paradise Lost ranked as my number one album of 2007, and if it's been dethroned since then, it hasn't been by much.  Not much has changed here, so the four year wait was pretty frustrating since this is a logical continuation of the more aggressive style they've been leaning towards over the last few years, but it's every bit as good as what came before it.  It's a marathon listen, but it never drags.  Make sure you get the legit 2 disc version for maximum enjoyment.

9: Satan's Host - By the Hands of the Devil
Now this here is a very interesting mixture.  Satan's Host play black/death metal, but the vocalist is Harry Conklin.  Yeah, Jag fucking Panzer Harry Conklin. "License to Kill" from Ample Destruction Harry Conklin.  I would have never guessed his voice would work in an extreme metal setting, but it meshes seamlessly here.  The songwriting is top notch, his vocals are as good as they were in the 80's, the riffs rule, the drumming is intense,  just everything works here.

8: Hibria - Blind Ride
After disappointing the living hell out of me with The Skull Collectors, Hibria roared back in 2011 and redeemed themselves with Blind Ride.  This is everything the previous album wasn't.  This is fun, high energy, memorable, catchy, lasting, intense, well written, technical, it just throws the kitchen sink at you and lands right on the money.

7: Absu - Abzu
So Proscriptor marks my third mancrush to appear on this list, behind Devin Townsend and Alex LeBlanc, and he has earned his spot just like the others.  There is some mystical quality about Absu that I can never quantify, but I love it more than basically anybody playing their style.  And maybe that's part of it, because there aren't many Absu imitators out there.  I suppose you could call them black/thrash, but it sounds nothing like Bestial Mockery or Sabbat or any other bands I usually think of with that title.  Excellent Lovecraftian mystique betwixt furious blasting riffydoodle nonsense.

6: Battle Beast - Steel
This album is fucking silly.  It's so over the top and ridiculous that I can't help but love it, just like Dragonforce.  Unlike the multicultural noodlers, Battle Beast keeps the creature reined in to just one niche subgenre of classic, straight up heavy metal, but it's done with so much conviction and flair that it's hard not to get completely lost in it.  "Justice and Metal" could possibly be song of the year, if I ever made a corny JRPG, that would be the battle theme.
5: Skeletonwitch - Forever Abomination
Top five, the creme de la creme for the year. Skeletonwitch continues their trend of never releasing the same album twice, with this one having more black metal touches than any of its predecessors, but everything that makes Skeletonwitch who they are is here in spades as well.  The swagger, attitude, absurdly catchy and fast thrash riffing, short and memorable songs.  They keep the punch, the brevity, and the quality while still changing up their formula.  Not many bands can successfully pull that off three or four times in a row.

4: Vader - Welcome to the Morbid Reich
FUCK I LOVE VADER.  This is the closest a band has ever come to doing no wrong, as even my least favorite album of theirs (Necropolis) was a cut above its contemporaries.  This here is their thundering return to the forefront of death metal.  Nobody can do it like these Poles, Piotr is a legend in the genre and this is proof as to why.  Vader will not ever die, this is the corpse that keeps on rolling, and Vader know when to experiment and spice it up a bit to keep it fresh, and when to keep chugging along with what works.  Most bands could learn a thing or two from them.  Death metal album of the year.

3: Powerwolf - Blood of the Saints
I only discovered this band this year via this album, and through listening to their previous efforts, I can see they haven't changed a whole lot, but goddamn they rule at what they do.  Incredibly infectious German heavy/speed metal.  They borrow a lot from my favorite band of all time, Running Wild, and unlike Lonewolf (what's up with Germans aping RW and loving wolves?) it stays interesting and is mixed in with enough moments to keep it away from pure worship.  There are only a few tracks that really delve into the RW territory, those sections just accentuate the greatness for me.  It's silly and over the top, but I love it.

2: Gargoyle - Kisho
 I had a review for this mostly written a few months ago, but never published it because I spent a ton of time rambling about cultural preconceptions and other nonsense I don't really know about, but I can't stress enough how awesome this is.  Gargoyle play an atypical thrash/heavy metal blend and carry a really bizarre crooner behind the mic because in-tune vocals are frowned upon in Japan apparently.  Kiba is just part of the charm though, as there are no other bands like Gargoyle and that is one of the reasons they stand out so much.  The songs are all well written and memorable, and apart from one weird J-rock moment, it's almost flawless.  Varied, catchy, memorable, all the best stuff.

And the winner is...

1: Vektor - Outer Isolation
This is probably topping a lot of lists, and it truly, truly deserves the honors and accolades it is getting.  I wanted to hate this, I really did, the contrarian in me wanted to hate the hell out of this simply because the hype leading up to it was so absurd.  But after I finally got around to hearing it, I have to begrudgingly admit that this is better than Black Future in every way.  The riffs are just as well written and memorable, the different twist on thrash is just as interesting, the vocals are just as hellish and twisted, the atmosphere is just as whacked out and spacey, but the things that make it better than the previous album is that the percussion is now just as interesting as the guitars, and the songwriting is more succinct.  Outer Isolation is about 15 minutes or so shorter than Black Future. With less meandering noodle parts and a much more palatable runtime, it has surpassed its predecessor and also claimed the BH Award for Album of the Year.  Congrats Vektor, keep growing that fur.

And now for the other, slightly less important stuff, though I'm sure you guys like seeing me rage more than praise things.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Warbringer - Worlds Torn Asunder:  This album ranks as "pretty good" in the grand scheme of things, but it earns an honorable mention for two reasons.  One, Warbringer has continued the tradition of getting a little bit better with each album, and two, "Living Weapon" is a fucking beast of a track.  If the whole album was on part with that ripper of an opener, this could have been top five.

Riot - Immortal Soul:  This one probably ranks at 16, it amazes me how little Riot has managed to slow down over the years.  About on par with Thundersteel.

Exhumed - All Guts, No Glory:  FUCK it amazes me I haven't heard of this band before this album came out.  Death/grind insanity at its finest.  These veterans have a poise almost unseen, and I'm a little mad at myself for not putting it on the 15, just the higher vocals don't sit well with me, otherwise it would probably be a few spots higher on my hypothetical list.

Uncreation - Burning Blood: This deserves a nod purely because it's the only melodeath album I've liked in years.

There are plenty of other albums I liked, but this is an honor/awards list, not a Wiki entry, so no more.

DISAPPOINTMENTS

Macabre - Grim Scary Tales: How disappointing was this?  Everything that made Macabre great is absent.  The ridiculous squealy vocals, the intensity, it's all gone.  Instead we get weird bard voices and only two or three songs worth a damn.  "Locusta" is a great opener but the album really falls short after it.  And Macabre release an album like once a generation so the heartbreak is only muliplied.
 
Hell - Human Remains: This was THE Cinderella story of the year, but it's plagued by one of my biggest pet peeves, the Nightfall in Middle-Earth Syndrome.  Every song has an unnecessary intro or outro, and unlike the album that gives the problem its namesake, the intros aren't all different tracks.  You can't just skip them or not add them to your iPod or something, you have to fast forward every single track to get to the real song.  That's unnecessary and stupid and only serves to bloat an otherwise great album.

Krisiun - The Great Execution: This album would be great if it were about 20 minutes shorter.  Trim the fucking fat, there was no need for this album to be 70 minutes long.

Fleshgod Apocalypse - Agony: I like that the band embraced what made them different and continued in a new direction, but it just didn't work as well as it should have here.  If they keep working at it, they can take this symphonic death metal genre away from everybody else and completely rule it, there's just some songwriting work that needs to be done.

Diamond Plate - Generation Why?: Ugh, I've already written a novel about this, so I won't recap it all.  Read my review, I love the band but this album is a huge disappointment.

Exmortus - Beyond the Fall of Time: The new vocalist REALLY sucks and the music is nowhere near as intense or interesting as it used to be, the production is weak and the drumming is inappropriately sloppy.  If it weren't for Macabre, this would be my biggest disappointment on the year, easily.

NON-METAL PICKS
Because yeah, I listen to other music too
The Decline - Are You Gonna Eat That?: My favorite punk album of the year.  Fast, catchy, hooky, melodic skatepunk with very recognizable vocalists.

Atlas Losing Grip - State of Unrest: My number 2 album for punk/melodic hardcore.  The vocalist from Satanic Surfers is at the helm here, and I can't really describe why I like this so much since I'm not as ensconced in the style as I am with metal, but trust me it's great.

Apathy - Honkey Kong: Not only did I not listen to much rap this year, so this was kind of the only contender, it deserves a place anyway not for Ap's flow, lyricism, beats or production, but because Honkey Kong is the greatest album title ever.

The Browning - Burn This World: I don't know how many bands are really attempting this electronic + breakdowns only style, but I haven't heard any better than The Browning.  I think I might prefer their independent self titled from last year, but this is still killer and definitely worth a look.  They're getting rather popular now, and they've earned it.

Protest the Hero - Scurrilous: Not as good as Fortress, so the long wait was kind of disappointing, but otherwise Protest is still great at whatever the hell it is they do.


So there, I believe that's all.  I'm a week late on the new year and all, but at least I didn't get this all written up in early/mid December like so many other people.  2011 was a fantastic year for metal and personally, 2012 looks to be a drop off for me, a guy who prefers traditional/thrash/death/power metal over black/doom/sludge, but I'm sure we'll see a few great gems nonetheless.  Happy New Year folks.

6 comments:

  1. Interesting you are one of the few giving mention to Sectu, which is cool. It is a solid album.

    I'll have to check out Vektor album given the constant praise it gets. What's up w/ the VoivoD logo, though?

    I really like the Neuraxis album far more than I thought I would. Some creative, quality riffing on that one.

    I thought the Vader album was way over-produced and overrated. Good, but not great. I liked Vengeful and Deivos much better, along with Decapitate's new one, as well (shoot me, lol).

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  2. Genuinely surprised to see neither the new Hammers of Misfortune or Gates of Slumber to appear on the list or honourable mentions.

    I haven't listened to most of these albums unfortunately although I'll certainly check out a few of them now I'm aware of their presence.

    I felt 'Deconstruction' was a bit too quirky for its own good to be honest. Too long as well. I know I've listened to the album once or twice but I cannot remember a single moment from it. I'm slowly going through my list of 2011 albums so maybe it'll stick with me this time. Also the new Skeletonwitch was good but not really list material in my opinion. Competent, same as the new Warbringer.

    Thrash metal on the whole feels a tad dead to me now (except for maybe Vektor which I don't have yet but I loved the fuck out of 'Black Future'). Everyone is too busy being ironic and you can safely lump the bands into three categories: 1) FUCK WE LOVE DRI - 2) Bay Area Riffs Recycled Ad Nauseum & 3) Thrash/Melodeath/Metalcore Abominations. The Hardcore/Crossover/Sludge/Crust scene is doing a better job at writing riffs and thrashing which is saying something.

    I digress, good to read a more varied list than the usual. Keep it up.

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  3. Very nice recap. Vektor was awesome and should be at the top. I totally get the annoyance with Hell too...the intros/outros were overdone.

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  4. Most of these aren't really the type of metal I really listen to, but the Vektor is definitely great. I'm not in love with the vocals, but instrumentally it is so amazing that its not really that big of an issue.

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  5. You like everything that sucks about metal

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    Replies
    1. Man you obviously haven't met MutantClannfear.

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