It’s that time of year again. As 2011 is less than a month away from ending, everyone is compiling and sharing their “end of the year” lists. And what a year it has been for metal. While it had its fair share of major surprises, 2011 also saw a lot of great music released. So with that said, Metal Insider’s Bram and Zach, along with frequent contributors Melissa and Kodi, take a moment to list their ten favorite metal albums from 2011. Look for New & Noteworthy scribe Chris Colgan’s list next week.
What albums made it onto their lists (we’ll give you a clue: all four of us really liked Anthrax’s new album, in case you couldn’t already tell)? Find out after the jump.
Bram’s Top 10 Favorite Metal Albums Of 2011
Kvelertak, Kvelertak (Indie Recordings/The End/Prosthetic): Sure, I know there’s some people that will claim this doesn’t count, because it came out overseas last year. That doesn’t matter, because it wasn’t out in the States until this year (USA! USA!), and it’s my list so I’ll do what I want. There’s nothing truly new about what Kvelertak does. Some Turbonegro here, a touch of black metal there, mix with punk and ‘70s riff rock, and make it all in Norwegian, and it’s the freshest sounding record of the year. I explained this album to people as “it sounds like Converge and KISS’ banged and had a kid,” and I stand by that. Seeing them live at both SXSW and CMJ only reinforced that I have a new favorite band.
Mastodon, The Hunter (Reprise): Ditching the high concepts of their first four albums, Mastodon went in a totally different direction for their fifth full length. In fact, they shed a lot of weight for The Hunter (no Paul Romano artwork, no song over 5:30 etc). The result is a lean album that has almost twice the number of songs as their last album. The shorter songs mean that there are more hooks, and Mastodon have again avoided making the same album twice.
The Human Abstract, Digital Veil (eOne): I’m a little biased here, because I was able to watch this album be created next door to my office at the Machine Shop. But even if I hadn’t, this might be the album that I’ve kept coming back to more than any other this year. Returning guitarist A.J. Minette has crafted a neo-classical masterpiece that’s essentially a symphony for guitars. Travis Richter’s vocals were great too, and it’s a shame that he only lasted for one record, but it’s the band’s best by far.
Ghost, Opus Eponymous (Rise Above/Metal Blade): Yeah yeah, another one that came out last year, but my list, my rules. It took a listen or two to digest what this album was all about. Like King Diamond fronting Blue Oyster Cult. Unabashedly retro, with campy tongue in cheek lyrics about Satan, gimmicky costumes, and anonymous personas, that should work against the band. However, songs like “Ritual” are so hooky it doesn’t matter.
Anthrax, Worship Music (Megaforce): I’ll be honest – I thought this was going to be the Chinese Democracy of metal. Long completed, but languishing on a shelf while the band figured out their singer situation, I figured it would sound dated, and had very low expectations for it. From the first note of “Fight ‘Em Till You Can’t” I was hooked, and came to the realization that not only might this be the best Anthrax album in years, but that it stands up there alongside Among the Living and Spreading the Disease among their best ever.
Red Fang, Murder the Mountains (Relapse): These guys obviously know their way around a music video, but were able to follow up a pretty solid debut album with an even better sophomore one. I’m always up for big dumb riffs, and seeing them hold their own with Mastodon and Dillinger Escape Plan showed that they’re getting their road legs. Definitely looking forward to what comes next.
Goes Cube, In Tides and Drifts (The End): This album is equal parts noise rock, hardcore and metal, sometimes all in the same song (check out “Year of the Human”). It’s a shame that this album was so overlooked.
M83, Hurry Up We’re Dreaming (Mute): This isn’t a metal album, but it’s awesome. Anyone that appreciates Isis, Pelican or Explosions in the Sky would definitely dig this atmospheric, sometimes instrumental shoegaze record. Along with Agalloch, they’re a band that can totally set a mood – this album invokes a late night drive though a desolate city.
Machine Head, Unto the Locust (Roadrunner): The best Machine Head could do to follow up an undisputed classic (2008’s The Blackening) was to make an album that approached it in terms of scope. Unto the Locust definitely does that and then some – string quartet and children’s choir and all. If it isn’t quite as epic as their last album, that’s because it doesn’t have to be. It stands fine on its own.
Obscura, Omnivium (Relapse): The sheer musicality of Omnivium makes it one of the best death metal albums of the year. It’s definitely their finest moment, and they bring it live as well.
Ken Mode, Venerable (Profound Lore)
Fair To Midland, Anchors and Arrows (eOne)
Opeth, Heritage (Roadrunner)
Cut Copy, Zonoscope (Modular)
Trivium, In Waves (Roadrunner)
Foo Fighters, Wasting Light (RCA)
The Black Keys, El Camino (Warner Bros.)
Textures, Dualism (Nuclear Blast)
Tesseract, One (Century Media)
Orwell, AVOHFASIH (self)
Washed Out, Within and Without (Sub Pop)
Zach’s Top 10 Favorite Metal Albums Of 2011:
Anthrax, Worship Music (Megaforce): If you had told me two years ago that Anthrax would not only release a fantastic album with Joey Belladonna after all the drama that surrounded Dan Nelson’s exit, I would’ve said “I hope that’s true, but I wouldn’t bet on it.” And yet here I am proclaiming that not only is Worship Music one of my favorite albums of the past year, but that Belladonna’s singing is one of my favorite attributes to the album (and this is coming from a John Bush era fan). Even though many of the songs were re-recorded, it’s almost hard to think of what songs like “In The End” (my favorite track), “The Constant,” “I’m Alive” and “Judas Priest” would sound like without Belladonna. Though that’s not to downplay the roles Scott Ian, Charlie Benante, Frank Bello and Rob Caggiano (the band’s secret weapon) played in creating the comeback album of the year.
Protest The Hero, Scurrilous (Vagrant): Out of all the albums mentioned on this list, the Canadian prob metal group’s third full length might have taken me by surprise the most (even more so than Worship Music). I was impressed with 2008’s Fortress, but I never expected Scurrilous to be the album I would end up listening to the most in 2011. Songs like “Hair-Trigger,” “Sex Tapes,” and the first single “C’est la Vie” show the band’s gift for writing technical yet melodic and catchy songs. And furthermore, Rody Walker has one hell of an amazing voice, which shines on every track.
Mastodon, The Hunter (Reprise): Mastodon seems to evolve with each album they release. Their fifth album, though, shows the band combining the prog influence of 2009’s Crack The Skye with the heaviness of their earlier work. What results is a truly outstanding piece of work that will please all fans, featuring a great balance of trippy moments and meaty guitar riffs. And the first single “Curl Of The Burl” not only might be my favorite song of the year, but also hands down has the best opening lyric of 2011. Seriously: “I killed a man ‘cause he killed my goat/ I put my hands around his throat/ He tried to reason with the sky and the clouds/ But it doesn’t matter ‘cause they can’t hear a sound.” What beautiful yet disturbing poetry!
Machine Head, Unto The Locust (Roadrunner): To say expectations were high for Machine Head’s follow up to the massive The Blackening is an understatement. Yet the band makes the four year wait worth it with Unto The Locust and further proves why they’re one of the leading bands in America’s current metal scene. Songs like “Be Still And Know” and “I Am Hell [Sonata In C#]” have already become staples in Machine Head’s set list (and rightfully so). But to me it’s the songs “Darkness Within” and “Locust” that best showcases the power of Rob Flynn’s voice and the band’s ability to compose epic anthems.
Arch Enemy, Khaos Legions (Century Media): The Swedish metal band’s latest album is jammed pack with some of the Amott brothers’ (Michael and Christopher) most memorable riffs and solos, while Angela Gossow’s vocals are as vicious and aggressive as ever. Songs like “Thorn In My Flesh” and “Yesterday Is Dead And Gone” shows Arch Enemy combining brutality and melody so perfectly, while “Under Black Flags We March” is an outstanding metal anthem. I may go as far to say that this album (along with Protest The Hero’s Scurrilous) is one of the most underrated albums of 2011. Bold statement, I know, but I dare you to give Khaos Legions a listen and tell me I’m wrong.
Trivium, In Waves (Roadrunner): I always felt that Trivium truly found themselves with 2008’s Shogun, combining the harshness of The Ascendency with the classic thrash influence (which I felt they overused) of The Crusade. On their fifth album In Waves, though, the band kicks things up a notch. One moment, Trivium unleash some of their most aggressive material in years like “Dusk Dismantled” and “Chaos Reigns,” then the next they deliver some of their catchiest songs like “Built To Fall” and “Black.” Yet it’s on songs like the title track where Trivium truly stands out.
Devin Townsend Project, Deconstruction (InsideOut): Hevy Devy has once again achieved greatness with the third album under the Devin Townsend Project moniker. Townsend produces arguably some of his most aggressive music since his Strapping Young Lad days while maintaining a similar pop metal influence found on 2009’s Addiction. Songs like “Planet Of The Apes” and “Juular” show Towsend at his best. And as if Deconstruction wasn’t epic enough, the album boasts special guest appearances from Ihsahn (Emporer), Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth), Tommy Rogers (Between the Buried and Me), Oderus Urungus (GWAR), Greg Puciato (The Dillinger Escape Plan) and many, many others. A lineup like that is enough to make metal fans geek out before even hearing anything. Luckily, though, Devin doesn’t disappoint.
Charred Walls Of The Damned, Cold Winds On Timeless Days (Metal Blade): Without fail, I discover at least two mind-blowing albums just a week or so after I publish my “top ten.” I’m sure that by January I’ll be kicking myself for not having heard an album that otherwise I would’ve gushed about in such a piece as this. Last year, one of those said albums was the self-titled debut from Richard Christy’s power/ thrash metal supergroup Charred Walls Of The Damned. And while it might not have made as strong of an impression on me as their first album, the band’s sophomore album Cold Winds On Timeless Days is still fantastic and Tim “Ripper” Owen’s vocals shine once again.
Chimaira, The Age Of Hell (eOne): To be honest, I haven’t sat down with this album as long as I have with the others I’ve mentioned on this list. But recently I had the urge to revisit The Age Of Hell, and now can’t for the life of me figure out how I could’ve ignored this album for so long. The vocals and riffs on songs like “Trigger Happy,” “Time Is Running Out,” and “Year Of The Snake” are brutal, haunting, and just damn straight heavy. And while it marked a new era for Chimaira, being released after losing half of their lineup, The Age Of Hell also marks the end of another as Rob Arnold and Matt DeVries recently announced their plans to exit the band.
Skeletonwitch, Forever Abomination (Prosthetic): I have to admit that the last slot on my list was between this album and Devildriver’s Beast. Both bands grow with each album and have further showcased their abilities to write strong, shred worthy metal anthems this past year. So what made me choose Forever Abomination over Beast? Well, songs like “The Infernal Resurrection,” “Sink Beneath Insanity,” and “This Horrifying Force (The Desire To Kill)” won me over. Skeletonwitch’s blend of thrash and black metal has always been a treat, and Forever Abomination showcases their raw energy superbly.
Zach’s Three Extremely Honorable Mentions:
Foo Fighters, Wasting Light (RCA): Dave Grohl and company once again prove why they are worthy of the title “honorary metalheads” with their seventh and arguably heaviest album. In fact, I would go as far to say it’s one of the best albums to come out in 2011. So why, then, is it not in my top 10? Though everyone can attest that I am in no way a metal purist, I didn’t include Wasting Light in my “top 10 metal albums of 2011” list because…well, Foo Fighters aren’t metal. Sure, we’ve covered the Foo Fighters plenty on this site, and songs like “White Limo” indeed kick ass. But with so many great metal albums out this year, I felt that it would be unfair to include the Foo Fighters in the top 10. With that said, I had to give some sort of a shout out.
Between The Buried And Me, The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues (Metal Blade): BTBAM’s latest EP and first release via Metal Blade Records is able to jam a hell of a lot of awesomeness into 30 minutes. The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues truly showcases the band’s talent as one of the best bands to come out of today’s progressive/death metal scene. So why is Between The Buried And Me’s EP not in my top 10? Well, for similar nitpicky reasons as for Foo Fighters. Between The Buried And Me are without question metal. BUT The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues is an EP, not an album. Trust me when I say it was hard enough to narrow my list down to ten. If there weren’t so many great metal albums that came out in 2011, I definitely would’ve made an exception for The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues (and even Wasting Light).
Kvelertak, Kvelertak (Indie Recordings/The End/Prosthetic): To get more to the point, Kvelertak’s debut album is simply fucking awesome. The Norwegian band’s blend of black metal with punk is so refreshing to hear and results in arguably one of the best debuts to come out in a long time. Ok, so now comes the major BUT: this album was technically released in the Summer of 2010, even though it didn’t make its North American debut until March of 2011. So while some might still include it in their lists for 2011, I cannot (as sad as it makes me).
Melissa’s Top 10 Favorite Metal Albums Of 2011:
10. Mastodon – The Hunter (Reprise): I think this album was so much better than Blood Mountain, at which point they almost lost me. Crack The Skye was good, and it was on somewhat regular rotation, but I really think Mastodon came back solidly with The Hunter.
9. Machine Head – Unto The Locust (Roadrunner): This album came out right around the time of the Anthrax and Megadeth albums. I think it would have ranked higher in the top ten had it not gotten lost in that shuffle. It’s a great fucking album, though, and stands on its own.
8. Trivium – In Waves (Roadrunner): In Waves just barely slides in before Machine Head. Both are amazing albums, but this album has a great balance of melodic vocals and blazing guitar work.
7. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light (RCA): Anyone who has a video of a white limo driven by Lemmy deserves to be in the top 7.
6. Rammstein – Made In Germany (Universal): Generally I hate putting a greatest hits album on a top ten list, but “Mein Land’ was an awesome video and it reminds everyone that Germans have a great sense of humor. It leaves me needing to hear new material from the fiery six. And they are the best live show, bar none, that I have ever seen in my life.
5. Ghost – Opus Eponymous (Rise Above/Metal Blade): I love this album so much. It reminds me of Black Sabbath for that dark satanic sound, but they have that 70’s classic rock sound that I love.
4. Pop Will Eat Itself- New Noise Designed By A Sadist (Cooking Vinyl): These guys haven’t put out anything new since 1994, and the moment this album was put on my desk, it was already on repeat and the lyrics stuck in my head. At that point, it hadn’t even been released yet. It’s probably the only album I can play on repeat and co-workers haven’t complained about it yet.
3. A Pale Horse Named Death- And Hell Will Follow Me (SPV): This alum is dark, sludgy, and fucking brilliant. There have been many bands that have attempted to recreate the grunge sound, but these guys are the real deal. Wikipedia describes them as “Sounds like Alice in Chains mysteriously sneaking up behind Type O Negative with a butcher knife while being filmed for a future episode of Law & Order…” I think that describes this album perfectly. Any album that I had nightmares about has got be great enough to put in the top three albums of the year.
2. TIE: Megadeth – Th1rt3en (Roadrunner) and Anthrax – Worship Music (Megaforce): Number two was a tough spot to fill as it came close between Megadeth and Anthrax. I was so incredibly excited for Anthrax, and when it came out I was prepared to slide it in as the runner up album of the year immediately. “The Devil You Know” and “Fight ‘Em” just makes you want sing along and these tracks just are unforgiving. However after Megadeth came out with Th1rt3en, I had to replay it immediately. “Public Enemy No. 1” is just a catchy tune with awesome breakdowns. These two bands are equally as amazing.
1. Kvelertak – Kvelertak (deluxe edition) (Indie Recordings/The End/Prosthetic): I was insanely jealous when my friends had seen them down at SXSW this past spring. Thank god they played here in NYC for CMJ Music festival. Kvelertak have face melting guitar riffs, and their melodies are utterly ridiculous. This whole album is just incredibly solid from start to finish. It could very well be the perfect album of 2011.
Honorable Mention: Steel Panther – Balls Out (Universal): “I’m not a fat David Lee Roth, I’m a skinny Vince Neil.” – They fucking get it, and they have an amazingly funny live show. I can’t stop laughing at these guys. It makes me wonder how their tour is going to go with Motley Crue. I wonder if a fight will break out over who has more time in front of the mirror backstage.
Kodi’s Top 10 Favorite Metal Albums Of 2011
1. Machine Head, Unto the Locust (Roadrunner): I’ve always liked Machine Head well enough, but this record – this obscenely technical, riff-laden display of modern metal mastery – sent a chill down my spine the first time I heard it and snapped my neck in half every time afterward. You can’t not headbang to this album! For everyone who somehow thought Machine Head could easily be dismissed as groove metal, Robb Flynn and his cohorts crammed everything from light speed thrash hooks to absurd studio wizardry into an album-length statement of purpose that’s easily on par with The Blackening, and even a little above it in my book. This is relevant, lethal metal that’s tuneful enough for the masses but demanding acceptance on its terms, and it shows that at this point in their career, Machine Head are in a class by themselves.
2. Obscura, Omnivium (Relapse): No album in technical death metal blew me away quite like Obscura did this year, as they dropped a mission statement of an album that marries melodicism with brutality effortlessly. It takes everything the German madmen did on Cosmogenesis and distills it further into an identity uniquely their own, and it feels like the band really took the next step with this one. Although all of it is tightly written enough to be unusually memorable (especially for tech-death), “Septuagint” is one of the finest songs anyone in metal made this year. Bonus points for the slick Cacophony cover they snuck onto the deluxe edition.
3. Kvelertak, Kvelertak (Indie Recordings/The End/Prosthetic): Coming from seemingly out of nowhere, Kvelertak’s blackened, very Norwegian party banger of a debut was an early favorite for me. It’s fresh, way too much fun and just a good, crowd-pleasing time. After seeing them play during CMJ, I can tell you that their energy on record absolutely translates live, and their distinctive black ‘n’ roll blend sinks its teeth into you with serious zeal. Somebody get these guys in a room with Turbonegro and a few pints, because I’d love to see what happens.
4. Mastodon, The Hunter (Reprise): Is it just me, or is this the most exciting Mastodon have sounded since Leviathan? That’s a huge statement, but their “fun” album – the first full-length they’ve made that didn’t have a central concept – is ridiculously addictive and loaded with hooks. I’m admittedly not as into Mastodon’s lengthier side, so seeing them condense their epic tendencies into controlled bursts was hugely gratifying for me and reminded me of the moments from earlier albums that got me into them to begin with. Also, the cover art rules, thank you very much.
5. Textures, Dualism (Nuclear Blast): If any album I heard this year sounded like the future, Dualism is it. Rhythms and riffs so complex they feel like guitar solos, soaring prog-inflected anthems, and a serious sonic anchor provided by world-class drummer Stef Broks all made this one impossible to put down. It’s hard to believe that this was singer Daniel de Jongh’s first album with the band, as many of the songs are focused (deservedly) on his tremendous pipes and provocative lyrics. Far more than an easily classified djent record, Textures had an X-factor on every song here that turned me into a complete fan boy in short order.
6. Revocation, Chaos of Forms (Relapse): Owing a huge creative debt to Death’s latter-day output, Revocation throw thrash into the mix and stir for an unbelievably technical, catchy take on modern death metal. Chaos of Forms is my favorite of theirs so far, and it doesn’t hurt that David Davidson has established himself as one of the most exciting guitarists this side of Tosin Abasi. It would be tempting for any band like this to stick to noodly dexterity, but a lot of Revocation’s technical side comes from their unorthodox song construction, which simply has no right to be as effortlessly memorable as it is. It really is about the songs with these guys, and that’s the biggest part of why they’re high on my list.
7. Anthrax, Worship Music (Megaforce): Their first record in a generation with Joey Belladonna on vocals, Worship Music reminded me of everything I loved about Anthrax and then gave me a whole new set of reasons to feel that way. Anthrax was the first of the Big Four I really came to love, in part because they were so good at having fun while effortlessly crushing you into the floor. Between this album’s unstoppable first half and the noticeable stroke of inspiration that every member brought to the table here, this has become one of my very favorites from them, even alongside such world-beaters as Spreading the Disease (still my #1) and Persistence of Time.
8. The Human Abstract, Digital Veil (eOne): This is nothing more than pure, focused, jaw-dropping technicality. Guitarist A.J. Minette’s return to the band resulted in a brilliant record, stitching together death and prog elements with sheer neo-classical zeal. Many stretches of this album play more like suites than modern-day songs, and it’s so freakishly complex that there was no way it could come out sounding like anything else out there. Like Yngwie Malmsteen taking a trip into 2050, it’s influenced by shred’s past while coming from a relentlessly forward-thinking time and place.
9. Ghost, Opus Eponymous (Rise Above/Metal Blade): It’s so refreshing to see a band with a compelling image that can write songs like no one’s business. Ghost’s effectively anonymous lineup is incredible at that, and Opus Eponymous recalls the theatrics of Mercyful Fate just as much as it recalls the gigantic hooks that made Melissa an all-time classic. Songs about Satan haven’t sounded this fun in a long time, and with all due respect to the new-school black metal I love, I’ll entrust the future of demon conjuring to these guys any day of the week.
10. Megadeth, Th1rt3en (Roadrunner): Every time Megadeth makes a record, I know Dave Mustaine will have a few solid tricks up his sleeve. This one continues the top-notch latter-day ‘Deth feel of Endgame, with catchier songwriting and a greater focus on well-timed shredding rather than, you know, shredding for a whole album kind of like Endgame did. Chris Broderick sounds even more comfortable here, and there’s no doubt he’s the finest lead axe Dave’s had since Marty Friedman. But the part of Th1rt3en that makes it really irresistible to me is the hint of gravel in Dave’s voice on songs like “Millenium of the Blind,” making whatever dark ballad he attempts on the next one even more exciting to me than the ghosts he’s exorcised on thrash milestones past.
Iced Earth, Dystopia (Century Media)
MonstrO, MonstrO (Vagrant)
Arch Enemy, Khaos Legions (Century Media)
Devin Townsend Project, Deconstruction (InsideOut)
Disma, Towards the Megalith (Profound Lore)
Opeth, Heritage (Roadrunner)