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Sunday, 1 January 2012

Xylem's Top 50 Releases of 2011 (Plus Special Categories)

2011 has been an exciting year for me music wise. I only got into more extreme metal towards the end of 2010 and throughout the last year my musical taste has expanded massively. I've never paid attention to new releases before so it's been interesting finding out what the music scene is kicking out present day instead of what happened in the '80s. So anyways, here's a top 50 from all of the albums I've listened to from last year up until this point, if I've missed something, I'm sorry, but I don't have time to listen to everything. Here's to an awesome 2012.

50. Autopsy - Macabre Eternal
A top notch return to form from the fathers of old school doomy death metal, though I don't believe it comes anywhere close to the greatness of 'Severed Survival' and 'Mental Funeral' this album has some great moments. A large gripe, however, is the length; death metal albums shouldn't really breach 45 minutes, let alone over an hour and with the noise this thing produces, a full listen can be a bit of a drag.

49. Opeth - Heritage
Well if this one didn't stir up the hornets nest; fans were arguing to the death over whether this was the right thing to do for the titans of the progressive metal world. In my opinion... it was alright. It can't hold a candle to any of their previous work but it has some quality to it, if this is a one off, I can give them it, however, if Opeth continue in this direction they better tighten up the style sharpish or I'm not going to be very happy... and I love Opeth.

48. Nader Sadek - In the Flesh
Well this one was certainly interesting. Dubed by some: 'what Morbid Angel should have sounded like' this death metal concept album by Mayhem's 'director of live effects' is a short delight to listen to. Nothing mind blowing, but for a quick death-out, this is awesome.

47. Tesseract - One
Djent bores the fuck out of me after a while, which made this album very difficult to listen to, however, it's pretty good. Tesseract have taken a progressive styling to the music with a 6 part song slapped in the middle of the track listening. I guess if I was a djent fan this would be higher but I'm not, so it isn't, I'd still recommend a once over though.

46. Warbringer - Worlds Torn Asunder
The first thrash release. As you may all know, I am a massive thrash fan and unlike a number of massive thrash fans, I enjoy both the old school and the new wave of thrash and as you will see later, this year has been good to what has always been a rather stale but lovable genre. Warbringer have been making a name for themselves in the new scene; I loved 2008's 'War Without End' and 'Worlds Torn Asunder' as seeing a development in their sound (obviously this is thrash, so by 'development' I really mean 'they're using a different song structure every so often'). I did find that this one lacks the punch that makes thrash so iconic and can get a little boring, however, solid effort.

45. Crysalys - The Awakening of Gaia
The cover art is awesome... and the album's pretty good too. While I'm not a massive fan of symphonic metal, I do like to dabble into it every so often and this seemed to do the trick nicely. Obviously, being no expert on the genre I'm not completely sure how it comperes to it's peers but I felt a 45 was appropriate based on enjoyability.

44. Nightwish - Imaginaerum
Wow... this is cheesy. Written as a concept album to accompany a feature film due out in 2012 'Imaginaerum' is fun but nothing special. If you like huge gay music then you should listen to this band over and over, but I'd only bother with this album once, Nighwish have made better.

43. Riverside - Memories in My Head [EP]
This is pretty standard progy rock/metal stuff from the polish band. Nothing truly new or exciting but it is a nice listen that can just hit the spot if you're in the right mood. I'm hoping they get out a new album soon, I'm dying to hear what their next full length brings to the table but until then, this will have to do.

42. Textures - Dualism
Not quite the album I was after from the technical metalers, like most of the albums in this list so far, it's just pretty standard stuff for the band, nothing essentially bad, but not enough to get me really excited. Still worth a listen though if you like their other work.

41. Hell - Human Remains
Yes! NWOBHM has returned and is as good as ever. Formed in 1982, this Derbyshire band were a promising set on the British scene but they never managed to get an album out due to the collapse of their label and tragic suicide of front man Dave Halliday which all surrounded the splitting of the band. But they're back, reformed in 2008 with new guy David Bower on vocals this guys are kicking ass... and David is amazing. This album is basically the album they meant to release in the '80s but with Bower on vocals. Seriously, check this out.

40. Toxic Holocaust - Conjure and Command
More thrash, and this time it's a punch in the teeth. Toxic Holocaust destroy yours ears with the followup to 2008's 'An Overdose of Death...' this albums fucking slays. It's straight forward thrash, but the riffs are heavy and the vocals are harsh. Love it.

39. Primus - Green Naugahyde
Les and co. are back for more funky bass and weird music. This one's a bit calmer than some of their previous stuff and maybe not quite as good as their top albums, but it certainly enjoyable. As usual, Les Claypool's bass skills are... well, the best in the world. A real good listen folks...

38. Dream Theater - A Dramatic Turn of Events
Dream Theater's first album with new guy Mike Mangini, but that doesn't matter because Mangini had fuck all to do with it, he just recorded Petrucci's drum tracks. This one's divided people but I think it's the best thing they've done since 'Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence' a certainly worth a go if you like Dream Theater's style... if you don't like masturbating over instrumentals however, I'd say stay clear as it's business as usual.

37. Megadeth - TH1RT3EN
Megadeth definitely have the best output from all the big four bands at the moment, I mean, Endgame was awesome to say it came from a 29 year old band. TH1RT3EN, despite it's fucking stupid name, is pretty good. It doesn't quite touch Endgame, but it's enjoyable enough for any Megadeth fan to have a go with. It's nice to know Dave can still keep the ball rolling.

36. Iced Earth - Dystopia
Finally, the return to form Iced Earth have been looking for since 2001. Still only an echo of their previous greatness, Dystopia is, at least, a step up from the last four mediocre albums they've pumped out over the past decade. Hopefully they can keep this pace and improve on the next one.

35. Evile - Five Serpent's Teeth
The homeboys from Yorkshire bring themselves back up to scratch with their third album following the stumble that was 'Infect Nations'. Evile was one of the bands that got me into thrash metal and I do like them, 2007's 'Enter the Grave' is one of the greats of the modern thrash scene and it would seem that they've done a bit of a Metallica on 'Five Serpent's Teeth'. No, I don't mean sell out like pussies, I mean pull out a bit of progression and change the sound a bit. It's good stuff.

34. Orwell - A View of Heaven from a Seat In Hell (AVOHFASIH)
No, I don't expect you to know who these guys are, I found them by accident on Bandcamp and thought I'd give them a go. Man this stuff is good, death metal the modern way, AVOHFASIH is a great listen with enough variety to keep you going to the end.

33. Cloudkicker - Let Yourself Be Huge
Cloudkicker is at the front of the 'one-man-in-a-shed-metal' scene driven by the new easy of access to decent recording equipment to individual musicians. However, while his last album was a djenty instrumental plane crash, this one, as the cover might suggest, is more a stroll along the beach. Gone is the distortion and fast drumming and in come the acoustic guitars. At just over 25 minutes, Cloudkicker's keeping it short and sweet but I'm sure to be following this guy in the future.

32. Amon Amarth - Surtur Rising
It's big, it's beardy and it's full of vikings... this can only mean one thing: Amon Amarth have released an album. The vikings with guitars have pulled off another enjoyable slice of melodic viking themed death metal. This isn't quite as good as 'Twilight of the Thunder God' but it'll still smash your balls with it's war hammer, a must listen.

31. Isole - Born from Shadows
I'm not a huge doom metal listener, but this album made me scratch my head and question why not. It's very good, just in general. Great atmosphere, great vocals, great production. A must listen for doom fans and certainly suggested to other metal bros as well.

30. Anaal Nathrakh - Passion
There's extreme music, then there's Anaal Nathrakh. The lads prove why this is true yet again with what I believe is their best album so far. They've gone for a bit of sound progression on the odd track, this being especially being visible on the 7:25 'Drug-Fucking Abomination.' I love these guys and you should too, just don't hurt yourself.

29. Scale the Summit - The Collective
Another instrumental album, I'll be honest, I haven't listened to this one for a few months but I can tell you that as instrumental albums go, it's very nice. Somewhere in between rock and metal this band of musicians have created a piece of music to simply be listened to.

28. Symphony X - Iconoclast
Symphony X come in at 28 with their new entry into the progressive power metal scene. This albums overflowing with the usual awesome riffs and epic vocals but it seems to wander a bit more than their previous work, a bad thing in my opinion. It's still a good addition to an as of yet, nearly faultless catalog.

27. Total Fucking Destruction - Hater
The album that showed me grindcore wasn't all about telling corporations to fuck of and dying in horrible ways. This album is fun-grind, kind of like what S.O.D. are to crossover thrash, these guys know how to put a smile on your lips. It's also more accessible than the average grindcore with slightly softer vocals than some. Not the greatest but certainly great.

26. Omnium Gatherum - New World Shadows
I think was quite possibly the first full melodic death metal album I listened to. Not that it's super special or anything, but it certainly has everything in there. If you look closely there are elements of all the top bands in the genre but there's enough mixup and variation for it to sound individual and fresh. A good album.

25. Paul Wardingham - Assimilate Regenerate
Half way through and a new entry to the instrumental shed metal scene, this guy was made to play a seven string guitar. The whole album is about how good a guitarist Mr Wardingham here is, which is very Dream Theater, but if you can appreciate good guitarists, this guy's at the top of his game right now and is definitely worth listening to.

24. Machine Head - Unto the Locust
Machine Head... they released one good album, then they released three shitty ones. They then found themselves a new sound and have spent the next three albums developing it and this is where it's at now. I personally prefer ' The Blackening' which had more memorable songs but the title track on this one is possibly one of Machine Head's best ever. Beyond that, however, it's a bit like 'The Blackening Part 2,' which is still enjoyable, but they're gonna have to make a change next album.

23. Leprous - Bilateral
As crazy as the album artwork suggests, this album provides plenty of fun from the Norwegian group but, as with many of the longer albums released this year, can't stay fresh enough not to drag towards the end. It also gave me a headache, but that might just have been me.

22. Essence - Lost in Violence
Another 'stumble across,' I dismissed this as mediocre new wave thrash on my first listen but my second reminded me of Metallica... and then I realised their bassist is fucking awesome. Yes, it's thrash, so no, it's not special or new but dayum it's a good debut for an unknown band such as this.

21. Ulcerate - The Destroyers of All
A very early contender for album of the year but it's since fallen just outside of the top twenty. Not quite living up to 'Everything is Fire' this album is still some fucking amazing atmospheric death metal. I really do love Ulcerates ability to create atmosphere with their dissonant guitars and precise drumming. If you're looking for one of the most unique bands around, these guys should be one of your first stops.

20. Mastodon - The Hunter
Kicking off this years big twenty is fucking Mastodon. A previous rising star is now set high and bright in the sky as the monsters from Atlanta pull off yet another change in sound. These guys can't seem to do wrong, proving once again they are true masters, The Hunter is a poppy departure from their very progressive sound but it still works. It does suffer a small amount of filler, which has dropped it to number twenty but it matters little. Five albums in a row now Mastodon, please keep it up.

19. Primordial - Redemption at the Puritans Hand
I found Primordial in July when I listened to the amazing 'To the Nameless Dead.' I'll be honest, after that, 'Redemption...' was a bit of a disappointment, very little seems to have changed but there's less epic and more boring on here, or so I thought. I've come to realise that no, it's not as good as 'To the Nameless Dead' dead, but it's a Primordial album. That means it must be good, and it is. Just like Mastodon, Primordial are another band that struggle to make mistakes, which is no short feat.

18. The Dear Hunter - The Color Spectrum
One of my more and more frequent dives into the unknown, this was rewarding. The Dear Hunter are a progressive indie rock band that are in the process of releasing six albums in a concept series, after album three they took a break to make this; their best work yet. The Color Spectrum is a collection of nine EPs the band has made, each representing a colour in the classic visible light spectrum (Black, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet and White). What amazed me about this project is it's scope and scale, each EP has a different sound to represent the different colours and all accounted for add up to 2 hours and 25 minutes of music. This collection album is one hell of a feat and it showed me indie is all for fags... just most of it.

17. Devin Townsend Project - Ghost
You were waiting for his name to pop up... I knew you were. Yes, the crazy as fuck bipolar Canadian music mastermind returns with a side to his music we've never seen. I fell in love with Ghost straight away, but I can easily under stand fans of his other work, especially Strapping Young Lad fans, finding this a difficult pill to swallow. Remove all prejudices you may have about calm music, put on Ghost and relax; it might put you to sleep, but that's a good thing. Devin meant for this to be a beautiful trip into the soft and the natural and that is exactly what it is. I don't give a shit if you're too fucking hardcore for this, just listen to it.

16. Obscura - Omnivium
I once saw this album described as 'Opeth on speed'... and that is certainly the impression these guys give. It's kind of like a cross between Opeth, Dream Theater and Nile; sounds awesome right? That's because it is, this album is an assault on your ears with the odd break to allow you to chill... before more assault. Recommended for technical death metal fans.

15. Skeletonwitch - Forever Abomination
Blackened thrash... yes please. This album is just pure enjoyment. It's not technical, it's not progressive, it's just really well done. If this is what happens what you blacken your thrash, I want that to happen more often. The thrash riffs are great, the black riffs are great, the screeches of Chance Garnett are spine tingling and it's a lot of fun. Definitely for thrash fans looking for something slightly different.

14. Vader - Welcome to the Morbid Reich
The kings of Polish death metal bring another one to the table and it might just be the best since 2000's 'Litany.' It's definitely a good old fashioned death metal eargasm. Everythings here; Peter Wiwczarek vocals, the riffs, the drumming... a symphonic intro track... yeah all that jazz. If you've been looking for some new, straight in your face, plain old fashioned death metal, this is the one for you.

13. Insomnium - One For Sorrow
Apparently these guys are like gods in the genre or something, I don't know, I've only been listening for less than a year, but... this is good shit. The best melodic death album in this list it shows the others how to do it, though I'm not sure Amon Amarth need telling. This album is full of what makes melodic death, a top listen for those old a new to the style.

12. Devin Townsend Project - Deconstruction
A cheeseburger... cheeseburger... cheeseburger. The only band to get two albums in the list, this album is Ghost's evil twin brother and like an evil twin should be, it's more exciting and ever so slightly cooler than it's sibling. Deconstruction is like a summary of Devin's career up until now, it's got Strapping in there, it's got the Devin Townsend Band in there and it's got all his many other styles and influences a-plenty. This can be a very difficult album at times and it's length can make it a challenge but it's well worth all the time you can give it. Long live Devin. (By the way, did I mention I got a phone call off Devin? No, well yeah, he called me buddy and said hi.)

11. Myrath - Tales of the Sands
Well this was unexpectedly good. I was waiting for another power metal prog affair when, boom, in comes the middle eastern influence of Myrath. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this, it might be because it's fresh and the band themselves have the talent, they know how to make good music. Also, bands from Tunisia are quite rare and when they're adding a bit of influence from their home in to make things a little different, it can only be a good thing.

10. Esoteric - Paragon of Dissonance
Ladies and gentlemen; my first funeral doom album. I love this shit, how the slow, plodding main riffs create atmosphere that is pierced by sudden solos and drum fills while the vocals slowly fill in as each song marches faithful towards it's conclusion. This is a very long two disc album and each song is worth of an album itself, a very good listen if you can appreciate the type of music.

9. Fleshgod Apocalypse - Agony
The first of two symphonic death albums in the top ten, this baby has some tight as shit drumming on it. In fact, I would say the drums are it's standout feature. An awesome collection of songs, I do think it feels a little overproduced and the high pitched clean vocals are rather annoying, but beyond that, this is well worth your time.

8. Unexpect - Fables of a Sleepless Empire
Your first reaction to Unexpect, if you're not familiar with them, will probably involve the words: "what in the shit was that..." Look at it though and Unexpect's heavily layered form of avante-guarde metal is amazing. It's full of time changes, instrument changes, vocal changes, instrument changes... it just wows you at every corner with its creativity. Plus this band also has an awesome bassist.

7. Havok - Times Is Up
If you want your face melting, listen to this. I was alone in the house when I first put this on and so went absolutely bat shit at the thrash attack that pounded from my speakers. I think I've probably given this album the most re-listens out of all of 2011's albums and I will continue to listen to it beyond. Havok simply show everyone how modern thrash should be done, period.

6. Haken - Visions
The new gods of prog metal, Haken aren't a year off their first concept album when the throw out this one. They show us they can write a good story, write good songs and play their instruments in one fell swoop. Vision's ticks the boxes, especially the 25 minute title track, if Haken keep this up, they will certainly be a band to watch rise above the others.

5. Thy Catafalque - Rengeteg
This was the last thing I added before I started this list and man am I glad I listened to it. This is another avante-guarde release, but nothing like Unexpect. This one contains a much more obvious death and black metal influence and while slightly less weird than ' Fables of a Sleepless Empire' it's certainly just as good, better in fact. I think this is one you need to listen to to get the full picture and I would certainly recommend you do just that.

4. Lazuli - (4603 battements)
This album is beautiful, that's all I need to say, it's just... amazing. Listen to it.

3. Steven Wilson - Grace for Drowning
The god of all things music has released another of his own albums. Whatever Steven Wilson touches turns to musical gold and this certainly isn't an exception. This album is just packed with progressive quality from start to finish. Any fan of progressive rock cannot miss this one, it would've been my album of the year, but unlike some people I know, I don't worship Steven Wilson's cock.

2. Septicflesh - The Great Mass
This album spent almost all year as number one, but we'll find out who took it off the top in a sec. I was really impressed with this album, I think it must be my favourite Septicflesh album to date, they pulled off the symphonic elements a lot better than ever before by writing the orchestral sections before writing any songs and building the album around the orchestra. This and some really nice thick production leaves an album to be remembered, I will certainly be listening to this one for a very long time to come.

Album / EP of the Year 2011: Vektor - Outer Isolation
Well what can I say, this just blew me away. It's like Voivod mixed with... well more thrash. These guys can certainly play and they can certainly write music. Everything on here is executed perfectly, from the spacey beginning of 'Cosmic Cortex' to the riffage of album highlight 'Tetrastructural Minds' this is thrash in it's greatest form; abrasive, fast, technical and precise. Combined with their debut 'Black Future' this album has set Vektor high in my expectations list for the future; if they keep delivering this kind of quality they're going to be a band for the future of metal to look up to.

Other Awards:

Best Live Recording:
Biffy Clyro - Revolutions // Live at Wembley

Best Single:
Machine Head - Locust

Best Artwork:
Crysalys - The Awakening of Gaia

Riff of the Year:
Toxic Holocaust - Nowhere to Run

Solo of the Year:
Lazuli - Dans le formol au muséum

Biggest Disappointment:
Morbid Angel - Illud Divinum Insanus

Worst Album of 2011:
Lou Reed and Metallica - Lulu

Thanks very much for reading. I would like to apologise for any mistakes but it's gone 11 on New Years day and I'm tired so I've little time nor heart proof reading. Feel free to comment, love ya'll, bring on 2012.

1 comment:

  1. "This collection album is one hell of a feat and it showed me indie is all for fags... just most of it."

    Did you mean to say "...indie is *not* all for fags..."?



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