2011- The good, bad, odds and sods.

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December 20, 2011 by Dan Swinhoe

2011- The good, bad, odds and sods.

With 2011 coming to a close, every publication the world over is making lists to summarise the last 12 months. So here’s mine.

We’ve got the Good– The releases that really impressed, the Bad– The disappointments of the year, The Odd– Randoms and left turns, and the Sods– Noteworthy albums that come in the middle.

2011 was a decent year for metal, a lot of big names releasing albums. Mastodon, Opeth, Machine Head, and for some godforsaken reason, Metallica and Lou Reed. This is entirely my opinion so let me know what you think and feel free to list your own best & worst. I didn’t include re-releases, just my personal choice there.

Please note I’m one man with a tight budget so there’s a good chance I’ve missed your year’s favourite album. A few noteworthy releases I didn’t get a chance to hear [Read: I wish I had more money] include Manowar, Sylosis, Anthrax, Steel Panther, Black Stone Cherry, Turisas, In Flames and Cavalera Conspiracy.

Good:

Times of Grace – Hymn Of A Broken Man

Since parting ways with Jesse Leach after 2002’s epic ‘…Alive Or Just Breathing?’ Killswitch Engage have gone onto massive commercial success, selling hundreds of thousands of albums and touring the world over. Yet the only album that could creatively match the bands early days was 2005’s ‘The End Of Heartache’ and since they’ve basically plodded along. Jesse meanwhile may have lacked the sales, but has created some real quality albums, peaking with The Empire Shall Fall’s self-titled release.

Expectations for a reunion between Jesse and KsE axeman Adam D set expectations high, and rarely for a supergroup it delivered on every front. Flawlessly harking back to the early days of Killswitch while filtering all the newer influences (especially Jesse’s cleaner singing approach from his time in Seemless), it was a pretty good way to start the year off.

Tesseract- One

Boring of Metalcore (or the N.W.O.A.H.M. whichever floats your boat) and the thrash revival fizzing out like a flat beer, 2011 saw the music press looking for the next ‘thing’ in Metal. Luckily for everyone, an online community worshipping an oddly spelt guitar tone had been steadily gathering pace. Djent (somewhere between Melodic Technical Death Metal and Technical Metalcore) was mostly bedroom geeks with seven-string guitars rehashing Meshuggah and Devin Townsend riffs. But there are a few acts of real quality, and leading the way was TesseracT. Managing to climb to the top of the down-tuned pile and even get a mention in the Guardian’s piece on Djent, ‘One’ showed off all that was good about the scene (jury’s out on whether it’s big enough to be called a ‘genre’), and threw combined great songs with a talented vocalist in Dan Tompkins.

Dan leaving after the bands awesome appearance at Sonisphere hasn’t stopped the rave reviews coming in for the band, who named Elliot Coleman as his replacement and went straight out on tour. A re-recording of ‘Eden’ has been released, and although he seems to be similar in style to Tompkins, opinion is divided and until a new album surfaces it remains to be seen if TesseracT will still top the league of extraordinary Djentlemen.

Mastodon- The Hunter

Winners of the ‘Heaviest band to ever grace Later with Jools Holland’ award, it was testament to the fact that no metal band of the new millennium has crossed over into mainstream acceptance the way Mastodon have. Slipknot and Metallica have had the sales, but Metallica have been riding on former glories and the ‘Knot are still outsiders with a base purely of metalheads.

With ‘The Hunter’ the Atlanta four-piece have consolidated their position at the head of metal. Never afraid to do their own thing, Mastodon have made a different statement with each album and usually dragged metal forward along with it. The first album not tied to an element, ‘The Hunter’ saw a range of shorter songs that combined the heaviness of older albums with the rock leanings of ‘Crack The Skye’ and sounds like a band having fun. Not their best, but still one of the releases of the year.

Devin Townsend- Deconstruction & Ghost

Ever a busy man, Devin has kept the creative cobwebs at bay since calling time on Strapping Young Lad in 2008 (a sad day indeed). After a concept album involving an alien invading earth for coffee, he announced the Devin Townsend project. A four album set, each showing a different side of Canada’s greatest export (after Maple syrup).

‘Ki’ and ‘Addicted!’ were pretty good and gained a fair amount of praise from the press, but with ‘Deconstruction’ and ‘Ghost’ Devin really flexed his creative muscles. At the opposite end of each extreme, ‘Ghost’ was a relaxing, almost ambient journey that featured panpipes, while ‘Deconstruction’ was an extreme monster and one of the heaviest and most bewildering metal album ever. Sold out tours and a high-profile that has reached far beyond Heavy Devy die-hards have followed and it’s almost impossible to tell where he will go next, although a Ziltoid sequel has been threatened.

Amon Amarth- Surtur Rising

Viking Metal. All beards and drinking horns? Undoubtedly. But Amon Amarth are more than a bunch of vikings out to pillage the nearest village, they’re the year’s best export from mainland Europe.

‘Surtur Rising’ is an epic and vicious yet catchy beast, full of air guitar moments and viking longboats with crushing musicianship. The vocals might be off-putting for the uninitiated, but it’s hard not to be drawn in. The likes ‘War Of The Gods’ and ‘Destroyers Of The Universe’ are brutal yet has a classic feel and the imagery only adds to it.

Fans might argue over which is the quintessential Amon Amarth album, but thanks the success of previous album ‘Twilight Of The Thunder God’ and the band creating a worthy follow-up, ‘Surtur Rising’ has reached a bigger audience than ever before and that’s always a plus for an extreme metal band (Black Metallers aside, obviously).

Crowbar- Sever The Wicked Hand

Six years after the awesome ‘Lifesblood For The Downtrodden,’ Kirk finally returned to his day job. Down III and two Kingdom of Sorrow albums have made sure the riff monster has been firmly in the public consciousness and ‘Sever The Wicked Hand’ was probably the bands highest profile release so far.

So it’s a good job it’s a hell of an album. Mixing brutal dirges with hardcore pace but never losing a sense melody, ‘Sever…’ easily matches up with their older material. A great tour followed and while Down will bring in the money, the faithful still worship the temple of Crowbar.

Chris Cornell- Songbook

“No Soundgarden, No Tom Morello, No Timbaland. Just Chris Cornell on his own with an acoustic guitar. With his first live solo album Cornell gives fans an acoustic greatest hits and shows he’s still got the voice and the talent, and gives a few nice new treats in the process. It may be a safe tracklisting, the only surprise coming from a de-Timblalanding of ‘Ground Zero’, but don’t let that take away from the quality on offer. The likes of  ‘Call Me a Dog’ and ‘Like a Stone’ are beautiful (in a manly way of course) and on the whole it feels like a greatest hits package with some real effort put in. The sparse acoustic work that lets his smooth voice do all the hard work and the quality of twenty years of songwriting really shine through. One to get the Soundgarden fanboys drooling for the next release.”

The Empire Shall Fall- Volume One: Solar Plexus

Jesse Leach’s second entry of the year, and every bit as good as Times Of Grace. An excellent follow-up to 2009’s ‘Awaken; every bit as heavy and technical, but not afraid to push the boat out. Reggae on ‘Dubrise’, Jazz Saxophone on ‘As The City Sleeps’ and two-part songs. And all squeezed into 25 minutes. Easily the best EP of the year, and another three to follow in its wake.

And the band even posted my review on their site because they liked it so much. How nice of them.

Lionize- Superczar and the Vulture

With Clutch not releasing any music this year, side-projects have been busy in its absence. The Company Band were awesome, The Bakerton Group are Clutch sans vocals, and Lionize created one of the best rock albums of the year.

No press meant I missed the release of ‘Destruction Manual’ earlier in the year but these busy bees have dropped a second in 2011, and what a release it is. Rockier than the older material, it’s the perfect blend of Clutch brand of boogie rock and reggae. The biggest surprise right at the end of the year.

Bad:

Trivium- In Waves

“IIIIINNN WAAAAVES!” It all starts out so promising, and there’s the hope Trivium may have finally made an album that can rub shoulders with their breakthough album, ‘Ascendancy.’ Sadly before the end of the song it dawdles off and if you’ve bought the special edition, sets the tone for the 18 tracks (13 otherwise). While it’s better than ‘The Crusade’ and ‘Shogun’ and not all that terrible, there’s nothing memorable enough to get your teeth into. By the time you’ve waded through the whole album, you’re left kicking yourself when you realise the best two tracks were at the end of the album; A Sepultura cover and a song released over a year ago for the ‘God Of War’ EP.

(The reason was the original review was scrapped was because I just didn’t care enough about the album to write it. Writer’s block due to indifference.)

Premonition 13- ‘Premonition 13’ & ’13’

With ‘Adrift,’ Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich showed his sensitive side with a haunting acoustic album that stood toe to toe with his other releases and showed he was more than a sabbath worshiper. But with his new band Premonition 13 it’s back to business as usual.

For Wino virgins, this is a perfectly adequate, filled with 70’s stoner rock, psychedelic fuzz and Wino’s trademark yowl. But put against his other efforts there’s nothing to separate this from every other record in his long career. So it might seem harsh to put this in the ‘bad’ pile, and I really like Wino and what he does, but it was impossible to get excited about this album.

(I wanted to write a review of this, but writing a review of 500 words saying, ‘Yeah, it’s ok’ would have been a dull experience for all involved)

Superheavy- Superheavy

While it may not be metal, this abomination deserves a mention. This would’ve won worst album, but Metallica refused to be outdone and brought in Lou Reed to help them.

On paper, Superheavy is a random assortment of personnel spanning genres and decades, seemingly picked using a blindfold and a list. The reality isn’t much different.

It’s a mash-up of different styles thrown over a reggae base that was unlikely to ever work and would take a man with greater creative talent Mick Jagger to pull it off. Superheavy is what happens when rich, ageing musicians try to be cool and stay relevant- they create shite. To be avoided. Shame on you Mick Jagger.

Black Label Society- The Song Remains Not The Same

Zakk Wylde has always stated that as he gets older he wants to grow old gracefully. In 20 years he wants to be sitting in a chair à la Neil Young, not breaking his hip to legs astride and headbanging to ‘Fire It Up’.

That’s all well and good, Zakk has peppered every album with mellow moments and made some quality acoustic albums (See ‘Book Of Shadows’ for proof), But ‘The Song Remains Not The Same’ is a misfire. Aside from the clumsy title (a play on a Zeppelin song) most of the songs present sound limp. The reworking of the ‘Order Of The Black’ songs have nothing in common with the originals and suffer for it, which is a shame when Zakk normally does such a good job on unplugging. The covers (including a Christmas song) are just dull, again a shame when Zakk put so much life into the songs he loves. The album just plods along without ever really kicking into gear. The one saving grace  is a cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘Junior’s Eyes’ that outdoes the original by miles. A misfire in a usually quality outfit.

Loutallica- Lulu

Sooo. Lou Reed. And Metallica. Together one record. Ignore the fact it sounds like two different records played at the same time for around ninety minutes and it’s almost passable.

That’s a lie, it’s shit.

However, the release of ‘Beyond Magnetic’ came as a surprise. And whatever behind the reasoning for its release, it’s actually pretty decent. Predictions on the next album?

Odd:

Opeth- Heritage

After years of creating the kind of metal that made most bands look tame by comparison, Opeth  have made an album your dad can relate to.

Band leader Mikeal Åkerfeld has long stated his love of 70s Prog and distain for modern metal, but few could expect him to completely ditch the ‘death’ and ‘metal’ associations, leaving the only word ‘Heritage’ as ‘Progressive.’

It’s still Opeth, and pretty damn good too. Comparisons to ‘Ghost Reveries’ and ‘Watershed’ would be futile, and it’s a risky move that could alienate a big chunk of the fanbase.

But Mikeal has already stated he doesn’t give a fuck, and it’s up to you whether or not you carry on liking his band. But in the end, if you’ve found an album to bond over with your dad, it’s all good right?

Brent Hinds Presents- Fiend Without A Face & West End Motel

Side projects. Unpredictable, dangerous, usually shite. Bring Mastodon guitarist Brent Hinds into the equation and you’re left with the double whammy of Fiend Without A Face and West End Motel.

Both are a far cry from Hind’s day job in Mastodon, and each other. Both are a bit shit, but like your drunk uncle at a wedding (or in my case, your dad), they are endearing and you love them anyway. FWAF is acid surf rock, the 50s come alive in a horror film, while WEM is a drunken bar fight between Hinds and Nick Cave in some Irish pub. Both are messy and loose, barely more than demos, but it’s all good fun. Whether  you like Mastodon is fairly irrelevant, this is an about to get high or drunk to and have a good time with.

Sods:

Machine Head- Unto The Locust

Few bands could have ever made an album of ‘The Blackening’s quality, let alone create a worthy follow-up. Robb Flynn & Co. deserve full marks for being awesome. ‘Unto The Locust’ is an aggressive and technical monster, thrashy riffs and time changes flying at you from every angle.

If this was the band’s first album since ‘Supercharger’, it’d be up there as one of the releases of the year. But following in the wake of two great albums and not quite standing up to either of them means it’s left in the ‘Good,but not great’ section.

Megadeth- Th1rt3en

Another year, another strong release from Dave Mustaine. Since the turn of the Millenium Megadeth have consistently released solid, if not spectacular albums. ’13’ has influences from all over Megadeth’s history, but is firmly rooted in the mid 90s. After the awesome ‘Big 4′ performances, expectations were high that they’d lead to some classic thrash. After releases from everyone bar Slayer, ’13’ is the most satisfying.

Like ‘Unto The Locust’ it’s a good record with a few top quality songs. but the overall experience doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve experienced something special.

Exit Ten- Give Me Infinity

Back with their second album, Exit Ten have grown up and moved on from their metalcore roots. ‘Give Me Infinity’ is a good album, with some real quality moments.

But while the album has grown on me since being released in October, I still would’ve preferred a few more ‘Technically Alive’s.

…And coming up:

Here’s a quick look at some of next year’s tasty treats…

Storm Corrosion

Opeth’s  Mikeal Åkerfeld and Porcupine Tree’s Steve Wilsion make a collaboration album, tell Mike Portnoy there’s no room for drums on it. How can you not want it?

Down

Pepper Keenan and Kirk Windstein have both announced the NOLA group’s plan to release a series of four EPs, each with its own musical stamp and connecting artwork. And if you don’t know, I fucking love Down.

Corrosion Of Conformity

While Pepper is busy with Down, the rest of C.O.C. have rediscovered their punk roots and planning to follow their recent tours as a trio with their album without Pepper at the helm in nearly 20 years. If the 7″ was anything to go by, it’ll be worth the wait. The album is due at the end of February and they’ve already confirmed for Bloodstock.

The Empire Shall Fall

Taking the same approach to Down, TESF is planning on a four EP set. They set a high standard with Volume One,  so should be pretty good.

Stonesour

Corey Taylor has said the next Stonesour album seems to be taking the form of a double disc concept album. Alarm bells ringing? Maybe, but ‘Audio Secrecy’ was a storming effort and Taylor might just have the balls to pull off his own equivalent of ‘Quadraphenia’.

Lamb Of God

Brutal. Every song LOG have committed to disc can be described in such as such. The new album ‘Resolution’ will be no different. And that’s how it should be. Pencilled for an early January release.

Soundgarden

The greatest hits has been released, the live album has been released, hell even the solo live album has been released. Next, the real deal.

Soulfly

The new Soulfly album has been described as ”Arise’ on crack.’ Cavalera fronted drug-fuelled thrash? Yes please.

Gojira

The ‘Sea Shepard’ EP has been in the works for most of the year, but seems ready to drop soon. The one cut released from it, ‘Of Blood and Salt,’ with Devin Townsend guesting, is one of the best songs heard all year. More now please.

Black Sabbath

Orignal Sabbath. New Album. Download Festival. This has the potential to be the single greatest event ever.

Skyharbor

Indian Djent. Not a scene we’re all familiar with, but Skyharbor are, in my opinion, the best Djent band around. Featuring vocals from ex-TesseracT singer Dan Thompkins and just signed to Basik records, their debut should be out early next year. in the meantime, check them out.

 

2011 Playlist:

http://sharemyplaylists.com/2011-5

[Spotify’s Millions of songs didn’t have any TesseracT/DTP /Amon Amarth/Brent Hinds or Metallica]

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