27 Dec 2011

2011 - The Top 10 Best and Worst Releases

That's right, another top 10 in the end- and depthless sea of top whatevers. Here's my take:
2011 has been a fine year for metal. I don't know if it's just me, but it seems like 2011 has seen more releases by well-known metal bands than other recent years. Many of these releases have been great, some have been alright, and some have been bad. That's how it has always been. Here are the albums that I thought were the best and those that disappointed me the most.

The Top 10 Best Releases of 2011:
1. Symphony X - Iconoclast
Where to start with this one. Symphony X have a fairly large back catalogue of varying style and quality. When looking at their discography it should be obvious to most people that their music has become more and more progressive aswell as heavier and heavier. Iconoclast follows up on this tendency and is by far their heaviest and most progressive piece to date. While Paradise Lost is a monumental album I honestly feel that Iconoclast is stronger and is now my favourite album by the American powerheads. Offering tons of very very very enjoyable progressive power metal with greatly immersive tracks Russel Allen, Michael Romeo and Co. have, in my book, made 2011's greatest album.

2. Oranssi Pazuzu - Kosmonument
Having released only one album prior to Kosmonument these Finnish psychedelic black metallers still got it. In 2009 they made themselves known for their avant-garde approach to black metal by incorporating massive spacey and psychedelic elements into traditional Finnish black metal, and Kosmonument is definitely as great as 2009's Muukalainen Puhuu. The new album is as weird, spacey, psychedelic and eldritch as the debut and I still haven't had enough of those very elements.

3. Vektor - Outer Isolation
After the great success of 2009's Black Future it left the sci-fi themed progressive thrash band Vektor with a tremendous pressure on their shoulders to create something as technically awesome as the previous album. I believe the American four-piece has succeeded in just that and have created what could very well be their master thesis. Shredding riffs and chaotic structures are what Vektor offer on their sophomore album. Featuring some remakes of songs from their 2006 demo "Demolition" Outer Isolation is an instant classic.

4. Ash Borer - Ash Borer
With just three tracks this American avant-garde black metal quartet proves their mettle. Though some might say three tracks is too little for an album I firmly believe that the close to 40 minutes of this self-titled debut are more than enough to show Ash Borer's skills in songwriting aswell as progressive thinking. Ash Borer is unlike most black metal out there. Not being psychedelic like Oranssi Pazuzu but more queerly just standing out with three strong songs that can probably best be described as "thinking outside the box" I think Ash Borer has a bright future.

5. Antichrist - Forbidden World
Only a few weeks before the release of the debut album Forbidden World did I get acquainted with the band Antichrist. Hailing from the unholy grounds of Sweden they play vicious, gritty thrash metal with lyrics about the occult. Their previous releases consist of two demos appropriately named Crushing Metal Tape and Put to Death and while Forbidden World has a far better sound it's very consistent with their previous material, which is absolutely evil and fast thrash metal.

6. Alestorm - Back Through Time
The Scottish metal pirates are back with another album of swashbuckle-themed folk/power metal, and what an album! Back Through Time offers what we're all used to from Alestorm: Uplifting, extremely melodic and incredibly catchy metal about pirates. And yet this third album has something extra. It's heavier, it's faster and I could swear there's some thrash in the mix too. Back Through Time is a great third effort and Alestorm certainly aren't losing steam.

7. Toxic Holocaust - Conjure and Command
Toxic Holocaust has become increasingly polished and clean more or less since Hell on Earth came out in 2005. Joel Grind, the main guy in Toxic Holocaust, started out the band in 1999 as a one-man band and has previously only had session musicians, but on Conjure and Command the well-known thrash band has the first thing that could probably be called a steady lineup. The new album, though not nearly as rough around the edges as, say, An Overdose of Death, features great simplistic riffs and structures which make up the formula that Joel Grind is best known for: A catchy as fuck mix of punk and thrash metal.

8. Cruel Force - Under the Sign of the Moon
Part of new wave of German black/thrash this sophomore album of Cruel Force is by no means a let-down. It's generally much like their previous album The Rise of Satanic Might, but just a wee bit slower and more menacing and evil than it's predecessor. Cruel Force still presents catchy black/thrash leaden with great riffs and raw vocals and Under the Sign of the Moon is truely a worthy follow-up to Rise of Satanic Might.

9. Deicide - To Hell with God
Thankfully Glen Benton's "Deicide isn't gonna do 'fuck God' stuff anymore" idea didn't last very long. While I had no problem with the previous album, it's fucking great to see these death metal titans return to their faster, more brutal and far more malevolent selves. To Hell with God is a magnificent death metal effort and rivals even Deicide classics such as Serpents of the Light. It's fast as fuck and heavy as hell. It's DEICIDE.

10. Autopsy - Macabre Eternal
2011 saw the return of another of the old death metal heavyweights - AUTOPSY! Macabre Eternal, like Deicide's To Hell with God, saw the band return to their decrepit and rotting roots. Autopsy hasn't release anything for a good while, and returning to the scene with such an opus Chris Reifert and Company show that they are by no means outdated or tired. Macabre Eternal has only few problems and none of them are even worth mentioning. The doom-laden death metal monsters are back.

Honorable Mentions:
White Wizzard - Flying Tigers
White Wizzard's previous album "Over the Top" was a generally catchy juggernaut of modern heavy/speed metal but struggled with having a lot of boring songs. Flying Tigers suffers a bit from the same problem, but the overall quality of the songs are better. Unfortunately Flying Tigers doesn't have the same epic and insanely memorable few tracks as, say, 40 Deuces and the title track from "Over the Top".

Carnifex - Until I Feel Nothing
Yes I know it's deathcore. Gimme a break. I was immensely surprised by Until I Feel Nothing, mostly because Hell Chose Me was a complete atrocity, even by deathcore standards. This newest Carnifex album doesn't by any means revolutionize the genre, but it's significantly heavier and rawer than its predecessor. Carnifex are definitely back with a vengeance, and armed with more varied vocals, better production, less cheesy songwriting and better riffs the new album is a definite improvement.

Suicide Silence - The Black Crown
It seems like the newest wave of deathcore releases are a lot better than the previous one. Last time both Suicide Silence, Carnifex, Whitechapel and Job for a Cowboy released albums during the same year only the Whitechapel one was worth anything. As such The Black Crown is also a great step forward from the previous album No Time to Bleed which was completely uninteresting. Like Carnifex's new album The Black Crown isn't a total newsflash. But it is significantly better than the previous release. I'd even say the colab with Korn's Jonathan Davis was a fun feature.

Trap Them - Darker Handcraft
This nifty band from 2001 really made themselves visible with their third effort entitled "Darker Handcraft". Playing a crusty, grindy, hardcorey variation of metal it's something pretty new, at least to me. Darker Handcraft is nonstop aggressive pounding to the face. It's highly interesting and different. It's just... greatness on a disc.

Artillery - My Blood
Ever since Artillery got Søren Adamsen on vocals instead of Flemming Rönsdorf after B.A.C.K. in 1999 the Danish thrash gems started playing thrash with more obvious power metal influences. The first release after their "rebirth", When Death Comes, was brilliant and had awesome songwriting aswell as great riffs and vocal performances. This second one, My Blood, is still a good album but not nearly as memorable as the previous one.

The Top 10 Disappointments of 2011:
1. Morbid Angel - Illud Divinum Insanus
Wow was this horrible. Even if Morbid Angel haven't released anything worthwhile for a number of years Illud Divinum Insanus is still a huge disappointment. Gateways to Annihilation from 2000 was pretty good, but Heretic from 2003 was rather boring. I had hoped the band would come back now 8 years later with something fucking tasty, but instead they release this steaming pile of shit. Boring riffs, horrible songwriting and lyrics. This album's got it all.

2. Metallica & Lou Reed - Lulu
Calling this album a disappointment isn't really fitting. Metallica hasn't released anything worth listening to since the 80's and apparently they want to make it stay that way. Lulu is beyond horrendous. I can't even begin to describe how monumentally horrible this load of crap is. Everything from the repetitive songstructures and boring riffs to the utter blizzards of shit that are the vocals and lyrics just reek of complete abandon.

3. Debauchery - Germany's Next Death Metal
Debauchery have a pretty solid catalogue of groovy death metal with lots of rock n roll influences. They have, however, become progressively more and more death n rollish, and with Germany's Next Death Metal they hit an all time low with a long series of tracks that are cheesy as fuck to say the least. Nowadays they sound like a heavier AC/DC with vocals that sound like Chris Barnes. Sooo they sound like the AC/DC covers that Six Feet Under did.

4. Anthrax - Worship Music
I can't say I've ever given a real shit about Anthrax's post-80's material, but I had a faint hope that Worship Music would be some sort of come back for Anthrax. Unfortunately the album is a weak attempt at power/groove thrash metal with few redeeming qualities, and it seems more like the band just made the album out of necessity rather than because they had anything worthwhile to release.

5. Megadeth - TH1RT3EN
After the juggernaut of speed Endgame from 2009 I would've expected something alot better than TH1RT3EN. Apparently the band just met up and wrote and recorded all the songs in a matter of weeks, and it really shows. Most songs are incredibly boring and weak, though a few of the tracks are close to presentable. It would also seem that writing everything in a week was too time consuming, so they also just rerecorded a few bonus tracks from Youthanasia. Apparently thirteen IS an unlucky number.

6. Moonsorrow - Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa
Now this one I wouldn't call a bad album. It's just pretty uninteresting and unmemorable. I tried giving it a few listens, because afterall many of Moonsorrow's albums take a little getting used to, but Varjoina (I'm not writing the whole thing) just doesn't do it for me. It's not that it's badly written or shitty, but it just doesn't compare to their earlier material.

7. Týr - The Lay of Thrym
Pretty much the same as with Moonsorrow's new album. After By the Light of the Northern star I had come to expect some solid as fuck progressive viking metal, but The Lay of Thrym to me just doesn't cut it. Compared to it's predecessor The Lay of Thrym doesn't have the same catchy melodies and progressive songwriting as Týr's older material. Again, the album isn't bad, just a tad bland and uninteresting.

8. Panzerchrist - Regiment Ragnarok
After having split up a number of years ago Panzerchrist finally got back together and started touring with a new vocalist: The talented Magnus Jørgensen of Crocell fame. Unfortunately Magnus' vocals don't fit Panzerchrist's style very well, and I'd say that Regiment Ragnarok is rather weak compared to the band's earlier efforts. It's low on the list because it's not a complete failure. There are some songs that are pretty good and it still sounds like Panzerchrist.

9. Fleshgod Apocalypse - Agony
I'm not sure if Agony counts as a disappointment or not. I'm not normally much into Fleshgod Apocalypse, so I'm not actually disappointed. But when people told me that they had finally started truly incorporating the classical elements into the music rather than just sampling it as intros I thought I would finally get into them. Unfortunately Agony is little more than constant blast beats from start to finish with some classical parts aswell as completely dreadful clean vocals on some songs. The only tracks I could somewhat enjoy were the ones without the clean vocals.

10. Burzum - Fallen
I've had a tough time giving a shit about Burzum since Varg Vikernes got out of jail. While I think Fallen is a fine example of a good and solid black metal album I also think that it isn't Burzum. What made Burzum "Burzum" was is more or less gone. Nowadays it's just standard black metal with a more modern production and less Varg-ish vocals, which all adds to the lessened atmosphere that I so dearly miss on Burzum's new material.

Stuff I'm looking out for in 2012:
Orange Goblin - A Eulogy for the Damned
After the monstrously awesome 2007 album Healing Through Fire I can't see A Eulogy for the Damned be anything but awesome. Orange Goblin's incapability to release bad albums will hopefully be continued, and I hope that the bluesy elements of Healing Through Fire sticks.

Aborted - Global Flatline
Aborted, the world's most popular brutal death metal band, are finally releasing a follow-up to the pretty much horrible Strychnine.213 from 2008. From what I've heard from Global Flatline it sounds like the Belgians are returning to the sound of Slaughter & Apparatus rather than continuing the boring tendencies of Strychnine.213.

Terrorizer - Hordes of Zombies
The legendary minds behind World Downfall, a true grindcore classic, are back 6 years after releasing the mistake of an album "Darker Days Ahead". I'm hoping that Sandoval and Co. won't continue in the same style as on the previous album but instead return to their roots. Hopefully there aren't darker days ahead.

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