2011 – What a year. This is a year that has seen Dream Theater return with a new drummer, Machine Head return with a new record and more fine releases than you can shake a stick at. Whittling away at this list (we couldn’t just choose everything, sadly,) we based our choices on two elements, the first being how good we thought the album was when we reviewed it, the second being how often it has appeared on the stereo subsequently. In all cases, the following fifteen records were sufficiently mind-blowing to return to our stereo time and again, and represent, we feel, the very best that 2011 had to offer. Read on and discover the finest releases of a year crowded with quality.
It’s hard to put into words how powerful this album is. The variety on offer, the inventiveness and intelligence of the lyrics and the dexterity of the musicians: this is a benchmark in extreme metal and The Rotted should be justly proud of this excellent record.
A mesmerising journey that melds ambient soundscapes and brutal guitars to hypnotic effect, the second part of this French band’s trilogy, the music just keeps getting better. Despite the remarkable first installment, ‘the desanctification’ is better in almost every way – an essential record from an essential act.
Who expected a follow up so quickly? And yet this release manages to better its predecessor in almost every area. Big, bold and undeniably powerful, songs such as ‘man in the middle’ saw the band hit a new groove that was the highlight of festivals around Europe. With two astonishing singers in Glenn ‘the voice of rock’ Hughes and Joe Bonamassa, a virtuoso keyboardist and Jason Bonham, what’s not to like?
Impossible to define, beautiful and aggressive in equal measure… unfold created a masterpiece; just check the record out, alright?
Bemoaned by a small-minded few, Heritage sees chief songwriter Michael Akerfeldt reach new heights with his continuing mission to explore the new life and strange new worlds of progressive music. With elements of jazz and a strong King Crimson flavour, this is a record that requires patience and effort but which offers great rewards to those willing to invest the time.
The album where British crust punks return to action after a twenty year absence with a new-found folksiness that recalls the strange beauty of The Swans’ ‘Great Annihilator’ coupled with a dark, subtle aggression that occasionally flexes for maximum effect. From the moment the subtle build-up of ‘days’ kicks off you know that Amebix have much to offer; the grinding torment of ‘shield wall’ unleashes the power and the two-part title track leaves you slack-jawed with admiration. ‘Sonic Mass’ is a beautiful, powerful and remarkable return from one of the UK’s most revered acts.
Having impressed with the excellent ‘the simplicity of the riff is key’ Grifter promptly signed to Ripple Music ensuring that their journey would be in safe hands. The upshot – a powerful, raw-throated, bluesy masterpiece showcases exactly why Grifter deserve to be massive. If you haven’t already tracked down a copy kick yourself, hard, and then do so. There’s not a moment wasted on this excellent debut album and we can only hope there’ll be plenty of live shows to back it up soon!
Well it certainly is bleak… but Necro Deathmort offer so much more than their superficially awkward name might suggest. Rock, metal, industrial and ambient all collide in this beautifully packaged and presented work of dark genius. Refreshingly different and all the better for it, Necro Deatmort are one to watch.
Searing, brutal thrash as unpleasant, sadistic and violent as the chainsaw wielding psychopath on the cover and we LOVED it. We ended our review with a simple proclamation: “possibly your new favourite thrash act” and we couldn’t have been more right – thrash metal just does not get better than ‘demon’ (which has a similarly excellent video) and the album is a furious and intelligent assault from start to finish. All hail Harm – they rule!
Hailing from Poland Blindead are a true revelation, a band who should be heard the world over thanks to their remarkable, intricate take on progressive metal. There is so much to appreciate in Blindead’s work that now, some months on, we’re still trying to unravel all the dark secrets hidden at the album’s core. Featuring just seven tracks telling a single story, Blindead are no strangers to high concept and if you appreciate the intelligent metal of bands such as Tool or Neurosis, you owe it to yourself to check this out.
If Blindead were good… well this… this is mind-blowing. A stunningly ambitious two LP set (or one CD, if you must) ‘Elysian Magnetic fields’ is just remarkable on every level, even when one considers Dirge’s previous output. Our review said it best when it stated: “It simply is a remarkable piece of art that is a shining example of the intelligent, heavy, beautiful music that can be created if only a few people are willing to believe and lend their support. This is a stunning release and unlikely to be bettered this year…” it wasn’t!
With artwork as beautiful and profound as the album’s content, Nomad’s philosophical musings take on epic proportions on this remarkable record. One of Poland’s finest acts, Nomad rank up there with Arcturus when it comes to making sublime statements that combine brutality and beauty into one single, defining sound.
The follow up to ‘divinity’, Spain’s answer to Behemoth just keep getting better and this is the point where their remarkable music reached its peak. Intelligent, staggeringly brutal and beautifully presented this proved to be one of the year’s finest blackened death metal releases – or, as we said at the time: “Not just a great black/death metal album but a great metal album period – ‘oblivion’ is Noctem’s highest point to date.”
A dark, complex, doomy masterpiece of a record, ‘A fragile king’ saw Paradise Lost’s Greg Mackintosh step outside of his band to deliver a crushing, emotional testament to his father’s battle with cancer. A record created by a sense of loss, but not defined by it, what was most remarkable was that amidst the grief and pain Greg reconnected with his love of extreme metal and crafted a fine album, burning away loss with creativity. A profound and stunning release.
An unexpected and stunning addition to this year’s fine collection of releases, Cormorant perfected blackened progressive metal to the extent that they now sit comfortably between the might of Darkthrone and Mastadon and, certainly in the case of the latter, have arguably surpassed them. Everything from the stunning and beautiful artwork to the epic songs (of which a mere seven pass in fifty-five minutes) make this a wonderful record to drift away to as the band couple amazing musicianship with perceptive intelligence to create a true masterpiece.
And there you have it – the top fifteen releases of SonicAbuse’s year. It was a remarkably tough job to make the final list, not least because so many good releases passed our way, but we feel that the above releases truly shone form the many records we had the opportunity to discover. We look forward to seeing you again in 2012 and cordially invite you to create your own top fifteen in the comments section below so we can see what rocked your world in 2011.
Until next time we wish you a very happy New Year
– SonicAbuse 2011