Sunday, January 8, 2012

Best Albums of 2011

Origin - Entity
Following the exit of guitarist Jeremy Turner and long-time vocalist James King, Origin's sole remaining guitarist Paul Ryan surely faced a quandary. How do you follow Antithesis, the best death metal album of the last 10 years? Is it even possible for Origin to get heavier and faster without becoming one-dimensional and boring?

Luckily, Ryan (backed by drum god John Longstreth, bassist Mike Flores, and former Skinless vocalist Jason Keyser) resisted the traditional sequel mentality ("the same as last time but more so") and opted to tweak Origin's formula by adding groove, melody, and epic slow parts. By not wallowing in past glories, Origin have created Entity, an album that manages to be as awe-inspiring as its predecessor without copying it - and one that perhaps signals the beginning of the next chapter in Origin's stellar career.

Make no mistake: mighty Origin made every other album in 2011 its bitch.

Listen To: Saligia, Swarm, Evolution of Extinction

Abysmal Dawn - Leveling the Plane of Existence
Tech-death at its worst is like an over-choreographed martial arts movie - the acrobatics are impressive, but you're left wondering what the point of it all is. Though undoubtedly playing death metal of the "technical" variety, Abysmal Dawn triumph over their peers by putting their impressive chops in the service of songs that are memorable, the hardest feat in extreme music.

Listen To: In Service of Time, Leveling the Plane of Existence, My Own Savior

Nader Sadek - In the Flesh
Steve Tucker's return to death metal couldn't have been better timed, seeing as his former bandmates in Morbid Angel chose this year to unveil their clusterfuck of a new album. With Cryptopsy's Flo Mounier and Mayhem's Blasphemer, Nader Sadek's debut is as filthy and twisted as crude oil gushing over a nude beach. As far as conceptual death metal albums go, this is a unique and forward-thinking meeting of minds that won't be topped soon.

Listen To: Petrophilia, Mechanic Idolatry, Soulless

Demonical - Death Infernal
With so many great NWOOSDM releases (Feral, Miasmal, Entrails), 2011 was plagued with nostalgia for the good old days of Sunlight Studios. What puts Demonical above every other HM-2 revivalist? Well, probably the amount of times I blasted "March For Victory," THE death metal anthem of 2011. And the rest of the album follows suit, mixing blackened melody with stomping riffs that make you want to raise your fists to the sky, a horn of mead in one and an enemy's head in the other. Like Hypocrisy at their best (and most evil), Death Infernal is perfect for metal festivals and house parties alike.

Listen To: March For Victory, All Will Perish, The Arrival of Armaggeddon, and then listen to March For Victory some more!

Machine Head - Unto the Locust
When I was 15, these guys were the greatest band in the world to me; since then, they've mostly been an annoying reminder of how stupid 15 year olds can be. Over the years, Machine Head - a band that promoted their groundbreaking debut by opening for Napalm Death, Obituary, and Slayer - traded in their credibility by jumping on every bandwagon from groove metal to wiggercore to emo. Though 2007's The Blackening was heralded as a "return to form" by the metal press, to these ears it was more of a cynical attempt at metalcore, while "metalcore" was still a thing. Adjusting my expectations accordingly, I wondered what form the follow-up would take. Certainly the band has noticed the relative popularity of Mastodon and Baroness - would 2011 mark the appearance of a bearded, flannel wearing Robb Flynn, complete with horn-rimmed glasses? Thankfully, they've gone the other way, with 7 songs that draw equally from the members' classic thrash pedigrees as well as classic metal (check out the Manowar steal on "Who We Are"). After indulging in every trend from groove thrash to mallcore, Machine Head have delivered, at long last, a heavy metal album.

Listen To: Who We Are, Darkness Within, I Am Hell

Krisiun - The Great Execution
How does a kvlt South American band best known for bloody pentagrams and uninterrupted blasting age gracefully? By applying the brakes and letting their riffs breathe. Call it the South of Heaven syndrome. Like every band that once vied for the "heaviest, fastest" crown, Krisiun now use speed judiciously, allowing their songs to build from mid-paced gallops before erupting into their trademarked blast. It feels wrong to describe a Krisiun album as "hypnotic," but that seems to be what they're aspiring to. Just as long as they don't abandon the blast, I'm happy.

Listen To: The Sword of Orion, Shadows of Betrayal, The Will to Potency

Vader - Welcome to the Morbid Reich
Like Krisiun, Vader know their popularity lies not in bold re-invention but in dependability. And having pioneered the death-thrash style since the mid-80's, few do it better than these Polish grandmasters. Less manic than 2009's Necropolis, Morbid Reich weaves epic melody into their mix of Slayer and Morbid Angel. A fine addition to a praiseworthy catalogue.

Listen To: Return to the Morbid Reich, Don't Rip the Beast's Heart Out, Come And See My Sacrifice

Primordial - Redemption at the Puritan's Hand
Much anticipated - by me, at least - the new Primordial album carries on from where 2007's To The Nameless Dead left off, with a mix of Celtic folk and blackened doom that somehow manages to be bleak and uplifting at the same time. Over it all, Alan Averill's vocals distill feelings of rage and loss in a way that few metal singers can dream of. The best folk metal you'll hear this year.

Listen To: Death of the Gods, The Puritan's Hand, Lain With The Wolf

Neuraxis - Asylon
It's sort of hard to root for Neuraxis - they've got more than a passing similarity to the trendcore bands of the last decade, and their current line-up is bereft of any original members. At the same time, it was hard not to succumb to their goofy Canadian charm when I saw them live (on both the Sepultura and Deicide US tours). Like Abysmal Dawn, Neuraxis root their technical virtuosity in memorable hooks, but meander ADD-like from riff to riff, causing their songs to morph along the way. Like serpents, if you give them half a chance, they'll make their way into your head and nest there for months.

Listen To: Purity, Left to Devour, Trauma