WARNING: The following year end rant contains numerous piss poor attempts at humor and a healthy dose of cynicism. Reader discretion and a grain of salt are advised. THKD cannot be held responsible for anyone suffering from a severe case of butt-hurt as a result of exposure to this rant. Thank you for your support.
And so it is that we joyfully ring in the gruesome death of 2011, and all the assorted lameness that came with it. It would be easy to say that 2011 was a shit year for metal. Maruta and Ludicra broke up. Metallica and Morbid Angel dropped what might just amount to the two biggest turd records ever associated with the genre in the form of Lulu and Illud Divinum Insanus, respectively. Liturgy released Aesthetica, a faceless, unfocused and utterly false black metal album at best, a steaming pile of pseudo-pretentious bullshit at worst. In other words, Hunter Hunt Hendrix makes black metal like old people fuck. Those events alone are enough to make me want to flush 2011 down the toilet and never look back.
On top of that, I simply couldn’t wrap my head around the appeal of many of the bands/albums that I saw garnering almost universal praise elsewhere… 40 Watt Sun? More like 40 Watt Snooze-fest. Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand? More like Riffless at the Puritan’s Hand. Doom of the Occult? More like Damn, this Album of the Occult sure is Boring. But all bad jokes aside, I don’t mean to single out specific bands or to offend anyone. What I’m getting at is, for the first time ever in all of my years of listening to metal, I started to worry that I was out of touch. In actuality, it probably had less to do with me not having my finger on the pulse and more to do with so many so-called journalists also working in publicity. I mean, if part of how you make the rent every month involves poop-polishing, it’s bound to seep into the rest of your pursuits to some degree. Surely, that’s the only logical explanation for some of this crap getting spun into gold.
But in spite of having to deal with roughly five million publicity e-mail blasts that largely resembled a senior citizen with a case of paint-sprayer butt, I did manage to hear a lot of truly great metal in 2011. What I thought would be the easiest year ever to compile a best-of list turned into the usual agonizing struggle to narrow things down, but no matter how many great albums there were, you have to draw the line somewhere. Year end lists should spotlight the best of the best, the cream of the crop, not every fucking album you listened to.
If there is an over-arching theme to 2011, it’s the year I burned out on black metal. Bands such as Craft, Taake, Ravencult and Aosoth (to name just a few) all released stellar albums, yet they just didn’t end up grabbing me the way they should have. Blut Aus Nord once again flipped the black metal script with 777 Sect(s) and 777 The Desanctification, but for whatever reason these albums ultimately lacked staying power for me. As the old cliche (sort of) goes, it’s not them, it’s me. I can’t quite say what exactly caused me to tire of black metal in 2011, but I’m leaning towards overexposure. It seemed like black metal was everywhere, and as a result I found myself slinking away from it (with a few notable exceptions).
So without further ado, I present THKD’s Top 10 Metal Albums of 2011. Since I’ve already written at length about the majority of these albums and in some cases interrogated the musicians involved, I’ve tried to keep things short and sweet to the best of my abilities. With the exception of the Album(s) of the Year, these are in no particular order. Enjoy or die.
Album of the Year (tie)
Loss – Despond (Profound Lore)
For the second year in a row, it was impossible for there to be one clear cut album of the year, especially when two recordings moved me as deeply as Mournful Congregation’s The Book of Kings and Loss’ Despond. Both albums are monolithic, transcendent odes to depression and death, and both albums fall squarely within the doom genre, yet the means utilized to achieve this transcendence, to drag the listener into their respective sorrow-filled worlds, couldn’t be more different.
Mournful Congregation’s mixture of epic song arrangements, stunning lead guitar-work and haunting, ritualistic atmosphere crushes as it mesmerizes. Yet as devastatingly heavy as they are, there is also something totally ethereal and otherworldly about their music, a phantasmagoric sonic landscape where no light dwells. Loss on the other hand, erects monuments of total despair by taking the template of funeral doom and infusing it with elements of black metal, noise and even neo-folk. Their music is very much grounded in the harsh realities of suicide and clinical depression, the soundtrack to an emotionally ravaged worldview, lacking even a shred of hope.
These two very divergent, yet equally compelling takes on doom epitomize the themes that have been central to THKD since day one; a dedication to craftsmanship, the ability to effortlessly whisk away the listener on a musical journey and to ultimately achieve something timeless through total dedication to art. In other words, The Book of Kings and Despond are absolute masterpieces that will stay with me for years to come.
Azarath – Blasphemers’ Maledictions (Witching Hour)
Easily the most flat-out ripping album of 2011, Poland’s Azarath unleashed a blackened death metal salvo that honors the Polish metal tradition of slaughtering everything in sight, yet at the same time blazes a hellfire ‘n’ brimstone trail that’s all their own with Blasphemers’ Maledictions. If you haven’t heard this album yet, seek it out immediately and prepare to have your ears sliced off upon the altar of Satanic metal sacrifice.
Read THKD’s full review of Blasphemers’ Maledictions HERE.
Exhumed – All Guts, No Glory (Relapse)
2011 saw the rotten return of California gore metal overlords Exhumed after a lengthy hiatus, and what a return it was. All Guts, No Glory is easily the band’s catchiest and most musically accomplished album to date, an eviscerating collection of prime cuts that puts the bulk of modern death metal to shame. The band backed up this great album by touring their asses off and putting on an equally gnarly live show, proving once and for all that Exhumed are indeed back from the dead and ready to party.
Antediluvian – Through the Cervix of Hawwah (Profound Lore)
Murky and morbid death metal has seen something of a resurgence in recent years, and Antediluvian’s Through the Cervix of Hawwah is the unholy fucking pinnacle of this resurgence. Underneath the grit, grime and slime is a carefully crafted album that isn’t content to just muck about; Antediluvian unleash real riffs and twisted song-structures that seem to take on a life of their own. The spawn of Hawwah’s cervix is utterly terrifying to behold.
Burzum – Fallen (Byelobog)
Whatever you think of Varg Vikernes the human being (don’t bother telling me, I honestly don’t give a shit), it’s undeniable that Varg Vikernes the musician still has it. By “it,” I mean the ability to craft singularly compelling, hypnotizing black metal of the highest order. Fallen is an earthy, utterly entrancing reclamation of the Norwegian black metal tradition by one of its most gifted architects. Vikernes’ vocals sound as gnarled and ancient as the trees of a snow-covered Scandinavian forest, his riffs the chilling breath of frost giants. This is black metal as it was meant to be played, no more, no less.
Read THKD’s full review of Burzum’s Fallen HERE.
Hell – Human Remains (Nuclear Blast)
In 2011, long lost NWOBHM band Hell released their debut album, almost three decades after their first demo hit the scene. Consisting of re-recorded demo tracks featuring a re-tooled lineup that includes metal uber-producer Andy Sneap and new vocalist David Bower (replacing the dearly departed Dave Haliday), Hell’s Human Remains is a downright devastating exercise in rifftastic traditional heavy metal, replete with symphonic flourishes and a flair for the dramatic that puts them head and shoulders above and beyond the trad metal masses. This is the NWOBHM exposed to nuclear radiation and mutated into a total beast.
Read THKD’s full review of Human Remains HERE.
Vader – Welcome to the Morbid Reich (Nuclear Blast)
Poland absolutely destroyed this year (see: Azarath, Iperyt, Stillborn, etc), and leading the charge was Vader. A band that’s been active since the early eighties and is nine albums deep into their career shouldn’t sound this fresh and vital, but somehow Vader pull it off and then some on Welcome to the Morbid Reich. This album crushes like a panzer tank rolling over a pile of steaming corpses, decimating everything in its path. In 2011 Vader singlehandedly put the legions of wannabe Swe-death bands on notice; take your Boss HM-2s and shove ’em, Polish death metal uber alles.
Read THKD’s full review of Welcome to the Morbid Reich HERE.
Read THKD’s full review of Towards the Megalith HERE.
Maruta – Forward into Regression (Willowtip)
Maruta’s masterful sophomore album turned out to be their swan song, but what a swan song it is. A brutalizing mix of vicious lightspeed grinding and wacked-out, Obscura-esque (that’s Obscura the awesome Gorguts album, not Obscura the crappy band) technicality, Forward into Regression splits the difference between grind and death metal in a way that few bands have achieved, a pummeling yet musically dazzling display of total dedication to their craft. On several occasions I referred to Maruta as the future of grindcore, and although that future came to an abrupt end in 2011, Forward into Regression is nonetheless a fitting epitaph for one of the most forward-thinking bands in extreme music.
Read THKD’s interview w/ Maruta HERE.
Wolvhammer – The Obsidian Plains (Profound Lore)
On The Obsidian Plains, Wolvhammer conjures up a bruising, hellhammered take on black metal, straight from the frozen wastes of the American Midwest. It’s the soundtrack to broken ribs, black eyes and multiple stab wounds, a nicotine and booze-fuelled exposition of blue-collar America’s seedy underbelly, splayed out for the world to see and to most likely recoil from in abject terror. While other black metal bands want you to cut your flesh and worship Satan, Wolvhammer wants to pound whiskey and beat the living shit out of you.
Read THKD’s review of The Obsidian Plains HERE.
And now on to the random awards… because honorable mentions are for sissies.
Best Non-Metal Metal Album
Opeth – Heritage (Roadrunner)
I absolutely love Heritage. In my opinion, this was the change in musical direction Opeth needed to take, a uniquely progressive album that still manages to retain the dark and heavy spirit of metal without being heavy in a conventional sense. Heritage is the sound of a band defying fan expectations and following their own muse without giving a shit about the consequences. In other words, it is the sound of true artists at work, and the results are nothing short of brilliant.
Read THKD’s review of Heritage HERE.
Best Debut Album
Deafheaven – Roads to Judah (Deathwish)
Deafheaven’s debut album is as venomous and visceral as it is beautiful; black metal, post rock and post hardcore collide to create the musical accompaniment to a fever dream of total debauchery. Some metal heads have labeled Deafheaven with the bullshit “hipster black metal” tag; apparently the idea of dudes who don’t feel the need to don corpsepaint, spikes and inverted crosses identifying with and creating great black metal is somehow intimidating, which is the only logical explanation for such silliness. If that’s indeed the case, then black metal traditionalists should be afraid of Deafheaven, very, very afraid.
Read THKD’s review of Roads to Judah HERE.
Best Comeback Album
Pentagram – Last Rites (Metal Blade)
The story of Pentagram mastermind Bobby Liebling is the ultimate heavy metal redemption story. It’s only fitting that Liebling should front one of the world’s greatest doom metal bands, since doom is, at its core, all about the inherent dangers of messing with the forces of darkness and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. And so it is that Liebling has triumphed over his personal demons, resulting in the first Pentagram album in several years, as well as the return of riff-master general Victor Griffin. The fact that Last Rites is a wonderful slab of traditional doom is just icing on the cake.
Read THKD’s review of Last Rites HERE.
Best Album That Not Enough People Talked About
Today is the Day – Pain is a Warning (Black Market Activities)
Pain is a Warning was easily the year’s most underrated album. My theory on why no one was really talking about it is a simple one. Pain is a Warning hit too close to home. It cut through the horseshit facade of “change” Obama and his cronies have been attempting to shove down our throats since day one and showed us the American Dream circa 2011 for what it really is, the burned out shell of a foreclosed home, mired in blood, shit, piss and vomit. This is the new protest music.
Read THKD’s full review of Pain is a Warning HERE.
Best Album Released In The US In 2011 That Europe Got In 2010
Read THKD’s full review of Kvelertak HERE.
Fiends at Feast – Shadows of Extinction (self released)
Passive Aggressive – Untired (self released)
The Ash Eaters – The Cruel Side (self released)
SunnO))) – 00 Void (Southern Lord)
Conqueror – War.Cult.Supremacy. (Nuclear War Now!)
Uncanny – MCMXCI – MCMXCIV (Dark Descent)
Mournful Congregation – The Unspoken Hymns (20 Buck Spin)
Best Live Sets
Exhumed @ Vaudeville Mews
Katatonia @ First Avenue
The Lurking Corpses @ Bombay Bicycle Club
And so that wraps up THKD’s Top Metal Albums of 2011. I’d like to take a moment to thank you guys that read THKD, leave comments, follow me on Twitter and Facebook etc. YOU are what make this blog what it is. Without you, I’m nothing. 2011 has been THKD’s best year yet, and for that I can’t thank you enough. I’d also like to thank my lovely wife for her continued love and support of this godless endeavor. I’d like to thank everyone who has shown support for THKD in this or any year, including Umesh Amtey, Brandon Duncan, Danhammer Obstkrieg, Jordan Campbell and the Metal Review crew, Mike Nelson and Invisible Oranges, Dave and Liz at Earsplit PR, Clawhammer PR, Catharsis PR, Nathan T. Birk, Brian Rocha and Fresno Media, Lars Gotrich at NPR, Dave Schalek, Mike Meacham and Loss, Mitchell Luna and Maruta (RIP), Roger Lay, Andy O’Connor, Alex C, Full Metal Attorney, Adam Lewis and The Lurking Corpses, Serbian Maniac, Steve57, those crazy kids at Lurker’s Path, The Inarguable and Mind Over Metal, Atanamar Sunyata, and anyone and everyone I might be forgetting. Thank you so much for making 2011 another phenomenal year!
Oh, one last thing. Inquisition’s monumental Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm does not appear on this list, because it was already my co-album of the year for 2010. Ghost’s Opus Eponymous also appears on that year’s list. Damned labels and their dubious release dates. Read 2010’s list HERE.