Time for a list, yes the year is over and what a fabulous heavy metal year it was. Here are my top heavy metal albums of 2011. I think I actually have ten this year (oops, no it’s only nine). \m/
Arch Matheos – Sympathetic Resonance
This is far and away the best album of the year; really it’s the best thing I’ve heard in years. It’s neat to have John Arch back together with Jim Matheos, but for them to produce an album this fantastic is a gift from the metal gods! After a few spins of this mighty disc it’s obvious John Arch has lost none of his creative genius and Jim Matheos proves himself to be one of the most enduring and brilliant songwriters in metal. These songs are stunning in their complexity yet never self-indulgent, always emotive, always propelling and engaging the listener. The performances all around are superb. Matheos’ guitar tone is fabulous, as is Joey Vera’s bass. There’s a nice distinction between guitar and bass. Ex-Fates Warning guitarist Frank Aresti contributes ripping, human sounding leads that only serve to heighten each song’s effectiveness. And Bobby Jarzombek, wow! His drumming is endlessly inventive while driving and pushing the whole album forward. His drums sound clean yet natural, the bass drum rattles your rib cage like it’s supposed to. And of course there’s Mr. Arch who delivers his complex, variable melodies with such emotion and humanity. What a joy! His lyrics are something you really have to sink your brain into and digest because as always they are full of metaphor and subtlety. Often I’m not fully comprehending the meaning behind each line but I’m always feeling it. It’s OK though because this record has so much to discover musically upon each listen that the meaning of the words reveals itself more and more as well.
Is drowning me in sorrow will it wash away the pain
Words before me answer not and yet forever trying
I’d give my life, the life I live, to live like I was finally dying
Listen to the wind blow, something’s in the air
There’s a bad moon rising
Keep denying keep on hiding here
In this house of the setting sun, counting one by one
All my numbered days and it’s any given, unforgiven,
Insurrection, resurrection, any live long day
Sympathetic Resonance is an absolute must for fans of arch era Fates Warning; and deserving of the ears of metal heads worldwide.
Blood Ceremony – Living with the Ancients
Satanic themed retro metal is riding a wave of popularity right now and I say yay!! Sweden’s Ghost is at the top of the heap as far as popularity, but my favorite is Blood Ceremony. Take some Black Sabbath, a pinch of Jethro Tull, add a female singer and a lash from a black cat’s eye and you have an idea of Blood Ceremony’s sound. This Canadian four piece must have uttered the right incantation because they ooze talent: from chief songwriter/guitarist Sean Kennedy who’s riffs are filled with retro-y goodness, to the pure and organic drums of Andrew Haust who’s playing is filled with subtlety and cleverness, to the wonderfully melodic and rich tone of Lucas Gadke’s bass to the multiple talents of singer/flutist/keyboardist Alia O’Brien with her eerie vocals and top notch musicianship. Blood Ceremony’s material has a lot of familiar elements, but it’s so well written and delivered with such passion and expertise you can’t help but enjoy it. And I just love the sinister vibe to their whole presentation, like the wicked atmosphere of Morning of the Magicians:
Morning of the magicians
We witness the dawn, the sun’s ancient fires
Invoking dark spirits to help us get higher
Morning of the magicians
Turning, we circle the eldritch pyre
Enchantments to satisfy evil desires
If you’re at all interested in this style of metal, do yourself the service of checking out Living with the Ancients.
Graveyard – Hisingen Blues
I heard these Swedes for the first time this year and I’m sure glad I did. These guys are straight out of the seventies with a strong Zeppelin vibe and a bit of extra evil thrown in. Genuine, raw and true hard rock done well is a sure winner and Hisingen Blues is a winner. Great musicianship, pure sounding drums, fuzzed out dual axes, and above all great songs. And what a singer! Joakim Nilsson shrieks and tears it up with such passion, damn! And he plays guitar too. He belts it out on the opening rocker ‘Ain’t Fit to Live Here’ then displays a different crooning side on the following tune ‘No Good, Mr. Holden’. The album continues with great song after great song, each one having a distinct personality and texture making this album a real gem.
Mr. Big – What If…
Mr. Big has consistently made great hard rock since they first got together in the late eighties; it’s hard to believe they can make an album this great over 20 years later. This may even be their best album. Paul Gilbert’s leads are better than ever, Eric Martin sounds great, Billy Sheehan and Pat Torpey’s rhythm section rocks. Most importantly, nearly every song is a hook-filled, rock and roll heavy weight. Read the full Mr. Big review.
Mitochondrion – Parasignosis
I became a big fan of Portal upon the release of their 2009 album Swarth. Like Portal, Mitochondrion plays a chaotic, atmospheric, repulsive form of death metal. Some will just call this a noisy mess, others revel in its twisted, violent riffs and ominous atmosphere. Whereas Portal’s music makes feel like you are travelling through some sick and alternate dimension, Mitochondrion makes you feel like you are being dragged into hell. It’s horrible but in a good way. These lyrics to the title track tell the story.
Oh hallowed parasite, to consume the benign
Ingesting all life, infecting beyond damnation
A needless evocation, of the unrestricted god malign
Axis of form and corruption (CORRUPTION)
Divinity in the DISGUSTING
Perfection in CONSUMATION
Absolute instinct metastasized, (the monolithic question remains)
This isn’t the kind of album you will want to listen to very often, you’re not just gonna put this on and rock out. When you hear this thing you feel like fiery insects are burrowing into your flesh while the gasoline in your veins begins to boil and the whole mess is about to explode. You’ve got to appreciate the artistry of a record that can do something like that.
The Flight of Sleipnir – Essence of Nine
TFOS have made yet another quality album. This is their third full length which makes for a trifecta of excellent records. The band continues in their dynamic style with black metal shrieking vocals coupled with ethereal melodic vocals and fuzzy wuzzy guitars in tandem with acoustic and slide guitar. The organic production remains in tact and Viking themed lyrics dominate as before as well. Here’s sample from the tune A Thousand Stones:
Black smoke rises out from the earth
And while men speak from altars high
Carrion crows gather in the sky
On mortal ears rest Elders lore
As bodies wash upon the shore
Their lamentations, their final songs
The aftermath of silver tongues
TFOS are taking familiar metal tropes and creating something original, not an easy feat 40 years into metal’s history. Their strong sense of melody and use of atmosphere and dynamics bring powerful emotion to their music. Each song is expertly arranged keeping the listener engaged and taking them on a journey through mystical Viking worlds and violent battlefields. Hail the glory of The Flight of Sleipnir!
Hammers of Misfortune – 17th Street
Here’s another band that is consistently releasing quality material. Once again line-up changes can’t diminish Hammers of Misfortune’s output due largely to band leader John Cobbett’s songwriting expertise. New vocalist Joe Hutton ably fills the departed Patrick Goodwin’s shoes, although I perhaps prefer Goodwin slightly. Hutton’s male vocals dominate this Hammers record, Sigrid Sheie’s female vocals lend mainly a supporting role; and he successfully delivers the type of affecting performance these songs deserve. Another notable change is Cobbett’s lead guitar; his leads are catchier and better constructed. Things that haven’t changed are the warm production, fantastic drumming, and juicy retro keyboards. The lyrics are mainly about Cobbett’s observations of what he sees going on around him, like the changes in his home town in ‘The Day the City Died’ or corporate greed in ‘Staring’. The first half of this album is especially good, with standout songs like The Grain and 17th Street.
No one is watching and nobody cares
All of your wishes and all of your prayers
Dead in the letters down on the stairs
If you know Hammers, I’m sure you’ll dig this record. If you don’t know Hammers I think you ought to remedy that right away.
Motorhead – The World is Yours
Fuckin’ Motorhead! Are they capable of making a bad album? No. I really like this new album. It doesn’t jump out at you and scream “I’m a masterpiece!” but the more you listen, the more you like it and you quickly realize, there’s not a bad song on here. And damn if “Brotherhood of Man” is not a classic in the in waiting, what is? Lemmy sounds as gritty as ever. The production is clean and loud as most modern metal but it maintains that signature Motorhead edge. Of course Lemmy’s lyrics are fucking brilliant. And the musicianship is fantastic, Micky Dee and Phil Campbell, nuff said.
War and murder come again, lucky if you die.
No way to rescue destiny, scream and curse in vain,
You will never be remembered, no one knows your name.
When the music changes then all is broken down,
Mighty cities laid to ruin, burning to the ground.
Murder is become the law; you cannot make a stand,
Chaos rules the world now mortal, brotherhood of man.
There’s nothing really unexpected on this album. Motorhead is doing what they do best. The World is Yours is another great Motorhead record. That’s all you need to know.
Vektor – Outer Isolation
It’s so cool to hear a band stay so true to the spirit of metal and be so original and unique at the same time. Vektor are clearly at the top of the new thrash movement. They have all the pieces coming together and clicking right into place to form something greater than just the sum of the parts. The crazy technical riffs with a heavy Voivod influence, whip snap drumming, speedy bass lines, deadly shredly leads, the sci-fi lyrics, and the inhuman vocals. It all comes together to create a violent other worldly vibe that brings you on a cosmic journey through dying planets and alien societies. Like good sci-fi though, there is subtle social commentary within.
Awoken by a hissing door
The seal of my capsule breaks
Alone I stumble to the floor
Not knowing what’s at stake
Clinging to the boundaries of my mind…
Auto-pilot takes control
Static on the visual
Flung from the world I know
The dimensions of destiny are unfolding
Looking back, a world that’s not so kind…
This record is on par with their first album, I can’t really decide which is better at this point. It’s nice to hear some different sounds and vibes on this album like the variation in shrieker/singer David DiSanto’s vocal textures. That said, I think Vektor could streamline things a bit more and be an even better band. Some of the riffs overstay their welcome and some of them are a bit unnecessary and out of place. Overall though, this album deserves attention. It’s a dark journey to a chaotic thrashing sci-fi world of metal joy!
And that concludes my Best Heavy Metal Albums of 2011 List. What do you have to say. Bring on the amplified internet hatred and rudeness :-) There are certainly some of your favorite albums I missed right?