2011. What an incredible year for rock and metal. This year has seen no end of fantastic, top-level releases, as well as a few disappointments and one or two downright stinkers too. It’s been a year where some of the biggest names have taken one or two risks and experimented on their whole sound. This came with varying results, displaying the occasional success and more often a jaw-dropping ‘what the hell?’
Before I go into the main list, I’d just like to give ‘props’ to a few albums that didn’t make the list, because deciding on a top 10 was mighty difficult given how good a year its been. So take a bow:
Joe Bonamassa – Dust Bowl
Vektor – Outer Isolation (Heavy Artillery)
Hammers of Misfortune – 17th Street (Metal Blade)
Bong – Beyond Ancient Space (Ritual)
KEN Mode – Venerable (Profound Lore)
Pyrrhon – An Excellent Slave but a Terrible Master (Selfmadegod)
All of which sit highly in our thoughts for simply being kick ass records. But without further ado, here’s the ten we settled on, ten records that reign supreme over the rest in 2011, ten records we’ll surely revisit again and again.
10. Mastodon – The Hunter (Roadrunner)
Mastodon have sat firmly atop my personal best of lists each year they’ve released a new studio album, always managing to blow me away with how each they seemed to make every slight transition. ‘The Hunter’, however, is their boldest move yet, shifting away from conceptual pieces and elemental themes, in favour of more straight-up rocking action. I personally found it to be a bit of a grower but eventually I fully embraced Mastodon’s latest effort – how can you not love the single of the year, ‘Curl of the Burl’, the bizarre ‘Creature Lives’ and the beautiful centrepieces of the title-track and ‘The Sparrow’, among many others? Mastodon is truly on course to become the next great heavy metal band, and with staggering ease too.
9. No Made Sense – New Season/New Blues (self-released)
I still can’t believe the No Made Sense story appears to be over. After their incredibly received debut ‘The Epilannic Choragi’, they probably disappeared under your radar; that reception should have guaranteed them a bigger audience. Alas, it feels as though they effectively said ‘fuck it’, shoved this album on Bandcamp as a freebie and announced their immediate split. A damn shame and yet another British metal band that will wind up as a footnote in British metal’s recent troubled history. But damn, what a parting gift. Recorded entirely live, it was a stormer from start to finish and monstrously powerful, particularly with an awesome final riff to close off their short career. What the three members will go on next is anyone’s guess – I just hope they have a rethink and give the album the love it deserves.
8. Black Spiders – Sons of the North (Dark Riders)
The UK rock sense seemed worryingly sparse in recent years, with a seemingly short supply of bands set to become the new Motorhead, Therapy?, The Wildhearts, etc. Enter the Black Spiders, who finally lumped their debut album ‘Sons of the North’ onto the wider world to rapturous applause. You won’t find a collection of songs harder rockin’ or arse-kicking as these. ‘Sons’ exudes raw attitude and a real fuck-you mentality, a premise long part of the ‘Spiders’ brand of rock. For the last few years, the notion of proper British rock ‘n’ roll has been sullied by fashion over real substance. Hopefully, this is the start of a renaissance and when the charge is sounded, the Black Spiders will be the ones carrying the flag into battle.
7. Evile – Five Serpent’s Teeth (Earache)
Evile’s career so far has arced in such a way that it’s encapsulated much success and indeed tragedy in the shape of bassist Mike Alexander’s death in 2009. Having regrouped with new bassist Joel Graham, Evile didn’t just recover but, holy balls, they returned with a vengeance. ‘Five Serpent’s Teeth’ represents a coming of age for Evile, without question their finest album to date. Whereas second album ‘Infected Nations’ saw Evile head down a less thrashy road, ‘FST’ found Evile embracing the thrash spirit of old; that being mostly no-nonsense battery and songs to die for. Their unstoppable rise continues – long may the finest UK thrash band since Sabbat reign.
6. Wormrot – Dirge (Earache)
The unstoppable rise of the biggest thing to come out of Singapore (eclipsing black metal compatriots Impiety by some margin) continues to astound and explode people’s heads. Wormrot certainly delivered a cracking grind album with ‘Abuse’ and further impressed on the split with I Abhor, but no one was prepared for this barrage – 25 songs, eighteen minutes, and fucking enjoyable all the way. In my review I described the album as a ‘meteor to the face’ (one of the songs on ‘Dirge’) and I still hold that opinion today. Don’t be too surprised to find if you walked into my house you’d find just a frazzled pair of shoes billowing smoke from the floor, such is the intensity of this record. Wormrot often proclaim on the social networks ‘in grind we rot’. Yes we do.
5. Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage (Southern Lord)
The word floating in the ether is that this is to be the last Wolves In The Throne Room album, or at least as we know it…But in a year where black metal was seemingly dominated by the word ‘transcendental’ – no thanks to a Mr. Hunt-Hendrix of Liturgy – ‘Celestial Lineage’ was the black metal album that transcended all others. Effortlessly seaming together traditional black elements with acoustic passages, harp sections, ghostly vocals from Jessica Kenney, ‘Celestial Lineage’ was a calling from the forests to the sky, an ascension ritual, and wow did it feel real. If this is the final WitTR album, the Weaver brothers, Nathan and Aaron, can be content with having created a timeless masterpiece that will echo for all eternity.
4. Revocation – Chaos of Forms (Relapse)
In a scene full of guitar geekery, polyrhythmic drumming and deriritive copycats popping up every two seconds, it’d take something exceptional for another straight up technical death metal band to come up with an eye-catching record. Revocation aren’t trying to reinvent death metal in the same way as, say, Ulcerate, but they do what they do exceptionally well, and after two barnstorming albums prior, ‘Chaos of Forms’ completes a stunning proverbial trifector for them. It’s loud, technical and by-Nigel heavy, but all phased through a melodic, care-free swagger and even a Hammond organ solo. Revocation are undoubtedly one of the best the scene has to offer – now, wider world, will you please wake up?
3. Batillus – Furnace (Seventh Rule)
One we didn’t get round to reviewing this year, but one thoroughly deserving of praise. Without doubt one of the heaviest records I’ve ever listened to. Bustling with atmosphere and vile intensity, Batillus knocked me sideways with their full debut album. I’ve been into the band since their inception as a dronier, instrumental doom trio, but the addition of Fade Keiner (ex-Jarboe of others) on vocals and on synths/effects has given them an atmospheric and venomous edge. It’s cold and unforgiving album, those effects showing their hand at numerous turns, and heavier thunders rains from the sky like ten ton anvils. Clearly there’s still room for development – that’s the exciting part. Definitely a band to keep an eye on, definitely a record to pick up.
2. Crowbar – Sever the Wicked Hand (E1 Entertainment)
For a while it seems we might never get another Crowbar record. After 2006’s ‘Lifesblood for the Downtrodden’, frontman Kirk Windstein’s involvement with NOLA-supergroup Down increased as the band’s mainstream popularity rocketed, and he even had more time to record two albums in Kingdom of Sorrow with Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta. The news of a follow-up to ‘Lifesblood’ was greatly received, and ‘Sever the Wicked Hand’ was one hell of a return from one of the lords of sludge metal. Lyrically, Windstein dispels numerous demons and holy mother of pearl, it’s thunderously heavy, at times producing memorable skullcrushing breakdowns and wake-the-fuck-up shifts that make this possible the best Crowbar record since ‘Odd Fellows Rest’.
1. YOB – Atma (Profound Lore)
In a year in which a number of particularly high profile bounds have sought to alter their sound or dabble in experiments – gambles which haven’t always paid off – its relieving in a way that our number one album of 2011 is one from a band that’s not straying too far from its original template – instead, they refined it, like any master craftsmen, and proceeded to write quite simply the most mind-blowing album all year.
YOB’s ‘Atma’ is five tracks of unequivocally crushing traditional doom metal, which flourishes of psychedelia scattered throughout. Mike Schiedt delivers an incredible vocal performance, from his trademark nasal sounds to some truly guttural, terrifying roars. The trio masterfully build up riffs time and again, only to bring the hammer down with gargantuan might. Underpinning ‘Atma’ is its two longest tracks, both of which feature Neurosis’ Scott Kelly with stunning guest appearances. First, the centre track ‘Before We Dreamed of Two’. A whopping 16:10 in length, it combines Eastern mysticism within its guitar, laying down a cracking riff, before Scott Kelly comes along and damn near steals the show. His delivery of the lyric ‘distant silver shore/bring my body’ resonates far beyond this album, such is its impressive delivery. The second, ‘Adrift in the Ocean’, sees Kelly in a more understated but no less impressive vocal role, and serves as proof of YOB’s ability to produce killer riffs, jarring the senses on the slightly shorter tracks, and calling the great white waves on the two biggies, crushing all in its path. Five tracks in fifty-eight minutes; never does this feel like a slog, or an endurance test or any sort. Instead, it manages to be completely jaw dropping in its beauty and altar worshipping in its crushing dominance.
Put simply, 2011 would not have been the same without ‘Atma’. A classic in every sense of the word, and a deserving number one for 2011.
LABELS: BATILLUS; BEST OF 2011; BLACK SPIDERS; EVILE; MASTODON; NO MADE SENSE; REVOCATION; SINGAPORE; UK; US; WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM; WORMROT; YOB