The year didn’t start that well; only a few records tickled my fancy during the first quarter. Luckily, something happened during the spring, and the rest of 2011 has been an explosion in heavy music: doom, drone, black metal, industrial and hard rock has just poured out through the speakers. I’ve finally decided on which fifteen records really stood out this year, but it hasn’t been easy—take a look at the talent in the honorable mentions section!
Let’s celebrate a great year in heavy music and hope for a great soundtrack to an apocalyptic 2012!
1. Wolves In The Throne Room: Celestial Lineage
Sadly, this fantastic black metal duo has decided to bid us farewell. [I think this is still unconfirmed ~Ed.] Luckily, they conclude with their best record yet – fusing classic black metal with drones, choir song and industrial music. The Weaver brothers are undoubtedly two of the finest songsmiths in heavy metal and I look forward to their next projects.
2. The Atlas Moth: Ache For The Distance
This band took me by surprise at the end of the year; their heavy music is psychedelic, bluesy and hard as nails. They are just another band in a flood of music which fuses several genres with a foundation of heavy metal, but do it better than most. This record is full of pop hooks, blackened vocals, thundering drums and great riffs.
3. Rwake: Rest
This darkened rock group has listened to their share of Neurosis records, but have managed to create a mythology all their own. It sounds as movies like Deliverance look: claustrophobic, dangerous and epic.
4. Deafheaven: The Road To Judah
I always discover gems in year-end lists; last year it was Agalloch, this year Deafheaven. Their mix of shoegazing and black metal reminds me of both the French Alcest and the British My Bloody Valentine.
5. Mastodon: The Hunter
I felt Mastodon took a ”wrong” turn after Blood Mountain when they made Crack The Skye too complex and progressive. Don’t misunderstand—the album is great. But remember this is Mastodon we’re talking about, the band that went from the garage to the stadiums in under a decade. The Hunter makes it alright, with plain and simple loud and fun heavy metal, setting the band up for another ten years of fantastic music.
6. Shining: Live Blackjazz
Who could have known that Shining would end up as one of Norway’s heaviest metal bands when they released their debut jazz record less than ten years ago? Live Blackjazz is a great live document from this era, fusing heavy metal, industrial and free jazz in a blistering soundscape like few others before them.
[Even though i’m a vinyl connoisseur, I have to recommend the CD digipak version as it includes the entire concert on DVD – brilliant!]
7. Black Tusk: Set The Dial
This record has turned into one of my favorites this year. At first glance it seemed like a copy of its predecessor Taste The Sin, but after a few more spins it felt like i was listening to the band’s next phase—following in Kylesa’s footsteps and fleshing out their sound without ever leaving heavy metal behind.
8. Falloch: Where Distant Spirits Remain
This Scottish duo has introduced themselves in much the same way as Irish black metal group Winterfylleth did last year: dressed in darkness and mythology with a foundation in their native folk music. Falloch follow in the footprints of Americans like Agalloch or Wolves In The Throne Room as well as a burgeoning wave of British bands led by Altar of Plagues and the aforementioned Winterfylleth.
9. Tombs: Path of Totality
The record that many critics proudly lauded halfway through 2011 has not lost any of its power. It’s the ideal fusion of blackened metal, ravaging hardcore and sweet shoegaze, all blended with brutally unique alchemy.
10. A Storm of Light: As The Valley Of Death Becomes Us Our Silver Memories Fade
It’s a joy to see A Storm of Light venture from the shadow of Neurosis. The doom-laden darkness and the bleak visions absolutely envelop the listener with primal intensity.
11. *Shels: Plains Of The Purple Buffalo
Even though this group isn’t strictly metal they’re getting very close on Plains Of The Purple Buffalo. They’ve found their own blend of indie rock and post metal, making me feel the equal presence of bands like Neutral Milk Hotel and Isis, while still bearing the mark of individuality.
12. Graveyard: Hisingen Blues
This Swedish band has released one of this year’s most exciting hard rock records which fits perfectly between fellow countrymen Ghost’s occult doom and Witchcraft’s traditional tendencies.
13. Altar Of Plagues: Mammals
This Irish group became a cult legend with their incendiary debut White Tomb, and have made a brilliant follow-up with Mammal. Their blackened ambience meshed with monumental songwriting could make them heir apparents to Wolves In The Throne Room.
14. Motorpsycho: RoadWorks Vol. 4: Intrepid Skronk
The fourth installment in their RoadWorks live album series is quite possibly the best. The record documents the band’s output since Kenneth Kapstad enlisted as their drummer a few years ago and proves that Motorpsycho is undoubtedly one of the finest live outfits in rock today.
15: Trap Them: Darker Handcraft
This record was the perfect follow-up after being crushed by the might of Black Breath a few years ago. [Okay, I literally have no idea what Mats means there, but I’m glad someone gave my NH brethren some love! ~Ed.] Trap Them took me apart with their brute force, crushing riffs and exploding melodies.
Top three – non-metal albums:
1. Grails: Deep Politics
I consider heavy music as a wider concept than the traditional heavy metal genre. Grails matches this understanding and Deep Politics succeeds Doomsdayer’s Holiday well. It’s gloomy and brooding, yet with strong pop sensibility.
2. Tom Waits: Bad As Me
The weird lyrical universe born by the pen of Tom Waits has intrigued me since I first heard his resplendent Rain Dogs. Waits unfailingly blends beautiful ballads, carnival show music, and pitch black blues into a mesmerising whole. Bad As Me—his first studio record in seven years—is easily his best since Mule Variations.
3. Barn Owl: Lost In The Glare
With their eighth record, This American drone duo started to explore post-psych. While locking in on a slow and gazing tempo, they decorate their atmospheres with myriad instruments and end up with a fascinating and blissful fuzz.
Honorable mentions: Earth, Blood Ceremony, Burzum, Boris, Devil’s Blood, Bloodiest, Explosions In The Sky, Ocoai, Young Widows, This Will Destroy You, US Christmas, My Morning Jacket, Opeth, Cave In, Primordial, Amebix, Red Fang, The Fucking Wrath, Indian, Bonnie ”Prince” Billy and Morne.