Okay, before we begin with the best releases of the year...
MOST DISAPPOINTING RELEASES:
Morbid Angel - Illud Divinum Insanus
Didn't hate it as much as some did, but I was hardly impressed. My expectations were virtually nonexistent, so in that regard it didn't hit me too hard. Illud Divinium's being analogous to St. Anger isn't all that far off, though. It sucks to see awesome, highly respected bands sink this low.
Glasvegas - Euphoric Heartbreak
Considering I considered their debut excellent, this one really disappointed me. Unlike the debut, this one really just doesn't deliver anything. The band's attempt to beseech the sound of ambition fell short. No ice cream van this time.
Nicole Atkins - Mondo Amore
Not as disappointing as Euphoric Heartbreak
, but it was no Neptune City
. "Hotel Plaster" and "Heavy Boots" are the only tracks I really liked, the latter being the best track on the album.
Explosions in the Sky - Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
Unfortunately, I think these guys have fallen victim to the monotonous second-wave post-rock rut. Their first three albums and All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone
were, for the most part, exceptionally fabulous albums. I've just got the feeling that their - what seems to be - inability to branch out will render them on the obsolete end of newer, more creative and innovative, post-rock. Still, never hesitate to see these guys live; they're incredible.
Deicide - To Hell With god
As I've said, I'm not the huge fan of death metal I was at one point, but jeez this album was bad. There's not one redeeming quality about anything this record has to offer. Poor songwriting, poor vocals, poor guitar riffs, no likable material here whatsoever. It's most disheartening considering the potential these guys have… or use to have. It's not surprising though. Other than The Stench of Redemption
, they haven't done anything great since the 90's.
Opeth - Heritage
Arguably the most polarizing release of the year. For me, perhaps the most disheartening release of the year. For the longest time I seriously thought Opeth was at the top of the "current bands making fantastic music" list. As many have pointed out, by taking out heaviness they surrendered their forte: dynamics. And I wasn't one of the folks that opposed the idea of a softer album at first. I just opposed it after I heard it. This thing puts you to sleep. As one poster said on metal archives, this is a half-baked retro regressive progressive rock album. I can see how some might think it's a decent prog rock album, but I can't see, or understand, it being anywhere near the top of the 2011 list.
Permixtio's 2010 release, Il Canto dei Sepolcri
was among my favorite black metal albums released last year, and the three tracks here don't miss a beat. Actually, they show improvement. Just like last year's full-length, this split grabbed me and didn't let go. The first instrument heard is a xylophone, or so it sounds, and this is all we hear for the first minute and five seconds before an awesomely tuned guitar rips in and plays a riff for a while and before too long we have black metal. The second track by Permixtio is the best on the split. This track is just incredible. In fact it's 3:16 of some of the most emotional music this year. A basic, soft guitar riff and beautiful melodic soloing over it. Even though I can't find the lyrics, and even if I could it'd be irrelevant since Umbra writes his lyrics in Latin and my Latin vocabulary is hardly comprehensive, Permixtio is definitely cited as being in the depressive/suicidal black metal scene. I'm not too terribly familiar with this because I don't know what defines suicidal black metal other than lyrical content, and given that, it's genre might not be a testament to its sound. But given how much I like these three tracks I might look further into it. Ethere is interesting too. It's very atmospheric black metal, and even spacey perhaps, but while it doesn't appeal to me to the extent Permixtio does (even though in ways it's better) it's definitely leaving room to grow.
#2 .../Dead/Vidharr - Cold Journey Through Madness
Cold Journey Through Madness
is the title of this split, and that title is fairly representative of what we hear. Clocking in at fifty-one minutes, and featuring three different artists, all specializing in depressive black metal, this split is worthy of being amongst the higher ranks of this year's releases. The first two tracks, "Cytostaticum," and "Exploring Secret Hideaways of the Mind Through Apathy" are very soft and ambient-type tracks, featuring gentle post-rock esque guitar work, piano, and BM screeches before Dead's "Mental Disorders" brings us an aggressive barrage of violently executed, dense, black metal. Dead's two tracks are my least favorite, though that doesn't mean they're not well written. Vidharr's tracks are much more doomy black metal. ... / Dead / Vidharr wins 2nd because its length to substance ratio is higher than any other split I heard this year.
HIGHLIGHTS: "Cytostaticum," "Exploring Secret Hideaways of the Mind Through Apathy," "Void," "Processed"
I was gleeful when I finally heard this. Overmars has written some of the neatest stuff in the doom metal department I've heard. Affliction, Endocrine...Vertigo
in 2005 and Born Again
in 2007 for anyone unfamiliar with them, the latter being their last release save a ten-minute EP they put out in 2008. They best get on their game and put out another album soon. The two tracks here by Overmars include "Solitary/Following the Sperm Whale (Once Again)" and "Last Sail Sinking," both of which are great, especially the foremost. It's typical weird, experimental, avant-garde, doom/sludge Overmars. "Last Sail Sinking" features vocals from the brilliant female vocalist we heard in Born Again
(I believe her name is Marion?). I read somewhere she's no longer in the band but she's sure enough featured in this split. These songs don't seem as heavy as the Born Again track, but they're awesome enough.
HIGHLIGHTS: "Solitary - Following The Sperm Whale (Once Again)," "Last Sail Sinking"
#4 Apostle of Solitude/Rituals of the Oak/The Flight of Sleipnir
Rituals of the Oak's one contribution, "Hallward," is the highlight of this release - all 17 minutes of it. As you'd guess, this is a doom split all the way around with different doom elements in the different contributions, but Hallward stands out as far and away the most complex, well-constructed track here (with female vocals, for you female-fronted doom enthusiasts).
#5 Mammoth Grinder/Hatred Surge
There's some real tasty death metal here with some excellent riffing going on. Mammoth Grinder > Hatred Surge, so naturally their tracks are better. Hatred Surge is predominantly grindcore, but the last track, "Supernova," slows down a bit and is centered around a crushingly heavy riff that's highly satisfying and easy to get behind. The one and two minute songs Hatred Surge provides ("Invega," "Disconnected," and "Mood Stabilizer") are garbage.
HIGHLIGHTS: "Pulverizer," "Survielad," "Supernova"
#6 Mealann/Annorkoth - Chapters of Cold
Pretty ambient music is what this is. But it's not all that quiet... it's more like really rich, atmospheric ambient music. Not overly melodic. These bands just do a nice job of painting a landscape. Annorkoth is actually a black metal outfit from Podolsk, but none of the tracks on this split really resemble black metal.
#7 Circle of Ouroborus/Drowning the Light - Moonflares
Circle of Ouroborus have a very soft black metal sound. It's not necessarily what I would call ambient, but it's soft. No blast beating here. Very light drums, no heavy guitar or bass. The lack of noise makes the vocals really interesting to listen to, because they're the center of focus. Anyone interested in chill, unheavy black metal... check this out. Now when we get to Drowning The Light's portion of this split, it's somewhat different. Fast-paced, distorted, lo-fi black metal is what we get here.
Other split that may be of interest to others:
Searing Skull / Hasserben (highly recommended if you like BM with low production quality... this one had some great stuff going on, especially from Hasserben)
Vastum - Carnal Law
Now this thing really impressed me. Vastum has been a band since 2009, and though they haven't released anything prior to this I've read they've played quite a few shows in the Bay Area and acquired a decent amount of attention. Well let me be the first to say this demo makes Vastum deserving of any attention they've received. This isn't some low quality poorly written garage recording... this is a heavy, intelligently written, professional sounding death metal record. In fact it wouldn't be out of line to compare this record to Eparistera Daimones
. It has that heavy pounding rhythm to it (not as heavy as Eparistera Daimones
, but pretty heavy). Fans of Hooded Menace or Autopsy are strongly advised to check it out. It's got a classic death metal feel to it while maintaining a modern black and doom influence. I'm definitely going to keep my eyes on these guys. They're accomplished songwriters and they've written some very promising material here.
BEST LIVE RECORDING:
Sigur Rós - Inni
Technically this was recorded in 2008, but it was released this year. Anything Sigur Rós does is gold. They're one of the greatest things to ever happen to music. If you like them at all, you'll like Inni
. There's a rumored tour for 2012, and a rumored album, so we'll see what comes of that.
I would do a "Best EP's" list, but there are so many EP's in my top 55 it'd be pointless.