David E. Gehlke Best-of 2011
By: David E. Gehlke
Like the Kalmah song, "Hook the Monster." Indeed we did...
This scribe had his pick for Album of the Year figured out by December of 2010. When Omnium Gatherum's New World Shadows was distributed to the press last December, all it took was the 2:05 Ė 2:21 mark of said album's opening track "Everfields" to seal the deal. With guitarist Markus Vanhala's chilling acoustic guitar line draped over a driving mid-tempo riff, this particular bit led to one of the rare instances as a music journalist where one spends months at a time obsessing over a new album, which is exactly what we did for New World Shadows. "Everfields" set the table for an album without flaw, and would have rightfully earned a rare perfect score from yours truly had our own Matt Coe not decided to take on reviewing responsibilities. If you haven't heard it now, you've pretty much wasted your entire year.
Every year we rattle on about how metal is oversaturated and is sure to eventually suffocate itself, yet 2011 ended up being a very productive year. With so many releases hitting the scene, you could drive yourself crazy if you tried to figure out the path metal is on, so it's best just to ride it out and let the chips fall where they may. Such an approach can also be applied to real life, yet we'll spare the philosophical discussions for another time. Upward and onward we go...
1. Omnium Gatherum - New World Shadows (Lifeforce)
The significance of New World Shadows should be not understated, for it is perhaps the most complete and captivating melodic death metal album since In Flames' Whoracle. From top-to-bottom, NWS works it via the classic melo-death frenzy of "Ego," the pummeling title track, the eerie calmness of "Soul Journeys" and album highlight "Nova Flame." The best word to describe New World Shadows: "Magical."
2. Aurvandil - Yearning (Eisenwald)
No black metal album in 2011 even comes close to Yearning, France's Aurvandil's first full-length. Like you, we were wondering who the heck they were, but Yearning is the exact kind of album that would have set the 90's on fire (sorry for the pun), as it has all of the subgenre's stylistic hallmarks including a foreboding atmosphere, crisp melodies, and songs with enough peaks and valleys to create a whole new mountainside. Above all else, Yearning is good enough to go toe-to-toe with Nemesis Divina, Transylvanian Hunger, and Det Som Engang Var.
3. Anthrax - Worship Music (Megaforce)
After spending basically the last decade tarnishing their legacy, Anthrax could not have come back with a better album than Worship Music. With the re-enlisted Joey Belladonna producing what is easily the best performance of his career, Anthrax was able to find the right mixture of their vaunted 80's thrash attack and Belladonna's king-sized, hook-laden, and domineering vocals. This should put the band back on the fast-track to significance...and hopefully keep them there.
4. Before the Dawn - Deathstar Rising (Nuclear Blast)
A band in a constant state of upheavel, Finland's Before the Dawn hit paydirt on their Nuclear Blast debut, Deathstar Rising. Able to find the sweet spot between Tales-era Amorphis and sorrowful melodic death metal, Before the Dawn produced a handful of instantly striking songs such as "Deathstar," "Sanctuary," and "Wreith." Letís hope main dude Tuomas Saukkonen can keep it together for a worthy follow-up...
5. World Under Blood - Tactical (Nuclear Blast)
The best albums are the ones where little is expected, which is exactly the case for World Under Blood's Tactical. The product of CKY frontman Deron Miller's love for early 90's death metal, Tactical is a bristling technical onslaught, with sharp edges of melodies to boot. Don't be fooled by the parties involved; no album snuck up on us more in 2011.
6. Ava Inferi - Onyx (Season of Mist)
The breakout effort from this Hungarian ensemble led by former Mayhem guitarist Rune Eriksen, Ava Inferi's Onyx shimmers and shines by way of ethereal female-fronted Goth metal. However, this isn't your atypical buxom-beauty-led Goth metal, Onyx is utterly haunting. Just check out "Candlelight and Mirrors," and "Venice in Fog" for proof.
7. Junius - Reports From the Threshold of Death (Prosthetic)
Straddling the post-metal line like nobody's business, Boston' s Junius broke from their cult status with Reports From the Threshold of Death. The band's atmospheric spread of Neurosis-meets-The Smiths is exemplified by head-turning numbers like "Dance on Blood," "A Reflection of Fire" and album highlight "Transcend the Ghost."
8. Cipher System - Communicate the Storms (Nuclear Blast)
A total sleeper pick amongst the year's true melodic death metal offerings, Cipher System's sophomore effort Communicate the Storms is a delightful, wholly streamlined melo-death platter. Right in the crosshairs of Natural Born Chaos-era Soilwork and Colony-era In Flames, Cipher System give hope to a whole new breed of melodic death metal hopefuls.
9. Vreid - V (The End/Indie Recordings)
The lone Norwegian entry on our list, Vreid's fifth album V, blended thrash with traditional Norwegian black metal, resulting in a stellar follow-up to 2009's equally-as-merciless Milorg. Led by the startling "Arche" and melodic aura of "The Blood Eagle," V is as genuine of a Norwegian metal article as you're going to get.
10. Megadeth - Th1rt3en (Roadrunner)
Post-reformation Megadeth has been good, if not remarkable, yet Thirt3en is the first true challenger to the band's glory 80's and early 90's days. Mustaine's biting snarl is flanked by his some of his most potent riffs since 1994's underrated Youthanasia and with bassist David "Junior" Ellefson back in the fold, it's like a trip down memory lane.