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David E. Gehlke Best-of 2011

By: David E. Gehlke

Within Temptation: Responsible for the most booty-shaking song of 2011...

David E. Gehlke Top 10 songs of 2011

Remembering a line uttered by Michael Kiske on Helloween's I Want Out live album (in German accent): "We have fast songs, slow songs, boring songs, interesting songs..." the year could effectively be summed up with that line. Actually, any year could, but that's beside the point - 2011 was no different than previous years when it comes to songs that captured our ever-diluted imagination. Memorable jams seemingly emanated from 2011.

The top spot here goes to Aurvandil's "A Guide to Northern Scapes," a song so good, that it should become black metal's national anthem. Right on its tails was a stunning instrumental from Sylosis ("Where the Sky Ends"), a dance song (!) from Within Temptation ("Sinead"), and a delightfully impactful melodic death jaunt from Omnium Gatherum ("Nova Flame"). This particular list was infinitely harder to assemble than our top of albums of the year, which means in spite of its "anti-single" nature, metal bands still know how to pen a good jam.

*Click on each songtitle to listen*

1. Aurvandil - "A Guide to Northern Scapes" (from Yearning)
The most exhilarating black metal song since Emperor's "The Loss and Curse of Reverence," Aurvandil's "A Guide to Northern Scapes" is a monumental journey. Capturing all phases of the band's advanced black metal attack, the song is highlighted by one of the best moments in BM history at the 2:48 to 3:34 mark, a breathtaking rush of cascading chords, all-out blast beats, and winding melodies that provide the listener with a sensation like no other. Simply untouchable.

2. Sylosis - "Where the Sky Ends" (from Edge of the Earth)
Instrumental songs usually don't resonate this well, which is saying a lot about Sylosis's "Where the Sky Ends." A climatic burst of progressive metal, "Where the Sky Ends" boasts a trio of airy and throbbing melodies, jam-packed into a compact 3:31 run-time that practically begs one to hit the repeat button.

3. Within Temptation - "Sinead" (from The Unforgiven)
Dance songs of the metal variety have generally been a total misfire, but there's no denying Within Temptation's "Sinead." Its bouncy rhythm, hip-shaking chorus, and Sharon den Adel's pouty vocals make the song simply irresistible. Try not dancing to it.

4. Omnium Gatherum - "Nova Flame" (from New World Shadows)
The best song on the year's best album, also spawned the year's best chorus line of "Can you let go of all the trouble in the world? Let it go. Let it go." Can't put it any better than that.

5. 40 Watt Sun - "Open My Eyes" (from The Inside Room)
40 Watt Sun's Patrick Walker has a voice that can make a believer out of anyone, and on "Open My Eyes," his earnest crow conveys some of the year's most poignant lyrics. There's a total of three riffs played in "Open My Eyes," so it's an exercise in doom hypnotism, brought home by Walker's grainy vocals and utter conviction.

6. In Flames - "Where the Dead Ships Dwell" (from Sounds of a Playground Fading)
Evidence that In Flames still have something left in the tank, "Where the Dead Ships Dwell" might not score points in the traditional melodic death metal sense, but its lively chorus is what ultimately makes this the best song off the band's 10th studio album. Anders Friden will forever get the shaft for his clean vocals, although "Where the Dead Ship Dwells" is good enough to silence the peanut gallery who have railed against the band since 2002's Reroute to Remain.

7. Communic - "Wayward Soul" (from The Bottom Deep)
As heart-wrenching of a song produced all year, "Wayward Soul" describes Communic mainmain's Oddleif Stensland's descent into depression after the death of his daughter. It's the standout track on the maddeningly inconsistent The Bottom Deep, a haunting tale of what it's really like to hit rock-bottom, and Communic's best song since "The Distance," off 2005's standout Conspiracy In Mind.

8. Insomnium - "Regain the Fire" (from One for Sorrow)
Few bands are as well-versed in sorrowful metal (hence, the One for Sorrow album title) as Insomnium, and "Regain the Fire" is propped-up by a downright chilling clean vocal chorus, a new toy the band has been using since 2009's Across the Dark. Bonus points to the Finns for adding Omnium Gatherumís Markus Vanhala as their new second guitarist, too.

9. Junius - "Transcend the Ghost" (from Reports From the Threshold of Death)
Junius barely passes as a metal band (they're called a "rock band" on their Wikipedia page), and songs like "Transcend the Ghost" certainly don't support the metal-faring cause. However, it's an awfully gentle and caressing song, guided by Joseph Martinez's delicate croon, thus making it one of the better atmospheric rock/metal/whatever songs of 2011.

10. Amorphis - "Song of the Sage" (from The Beginning of Times)
The Tomi Joutsen era of Amorphis has been undeniably consistent, producing albums that have effectively stabilized and prolonged the band's career. Along the way, they've produced a bunch of world-beating songs (i.e. "House of Sleep," "Leaves Scar," "Sky Is Mine," to name a few), and we can add the triumphant "Song of the Sage" to the list.

Biggest surprise of 2011: Probably Anthrax, only because they found every reason to foul up their career of late. After 2003's rather "meh" We've Come For You All, and the Belladonna-Nelson-Bush-Belladonna singer carousel went down, jaws immediately hit the floor upon hearing Worship Music. "Stunned" wouldn't be the right word to describe it...

Best newcomer of 2011: Aurvandil takes it, although World Under Blood isn't too far behind. The nice thing is that the respective black and death metal scenes can always use a serious jolt, something both bands provided. Honorable mentions: 40 Watt Sun, Archaois (even they've technically been around since '94), Falloch, and Creation's Tears.

Most disappointing album of 2011: It would be an easy call to nominate Morbid Angel's Illud Divinum Insanus, but we'll take a stab at the rapidly-deteriorating Queensryche, who continue to destroy their legacy with the utter debacle that is Dedicated to Chaos. Is this really the same band that gave us Operation: Mindcrime?

Most anticipated album of 2012: Lots to be excited about, but the fourth quarter of 2012 rides solely on the new Katatonia. The Swedes rarely disappoint, and if they do, the entire year will be a wash and this writer's life will be over. (Cue sarcasm)


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