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Justin Donnelly Best-of 2011

By: Justin Donnelly

Fact: Donnelly is one of the three people left on earth who still buys CDs...

2011 has certainly been a busy year in terms of releases. And just like every year, the music released throughout the year brought on its mix of unexpected surprises, stunning gems, sad misfires and absolute barkers. As per usual, I’d like to point out that this is by no means a definitive list of what the best albums/songs of 2011 were. Instead, it’s a list of releases that got me excited, and reaffirmed my belief that even though the music industry is only a former shadow of its once glorious self, there’s no shortage of great music on offer.

1. Black Country Communion – 2 (J&R Adventures)
Supergroups are a strange beast, with some living up to their hype, and some completely failing to match listener’s expectations with their efforts. And Black Country Communion is no exception. While their debut was a solid release, it hardly blew me away. But with 2, the band pulled out all the stops, cast aside their reservations and delivered an absolute killer album. If this album is a true indication of what the band can do, I hope there’s more to come in the future.

2. Floating Me - Floating Me (Self-Released)
A group of well-known musicians that promised great things given those involved, and duly delivered well and truly beyond my initial expectations. Forward thinking, diverse and at times completely different from what you would expect, Floating Me’s debut is not for those who are looking for an easily digestible metal album, but more for those who aren’t afraid to embrace the strange and the experimental beyond the finite metal genre.

3. Anthrax – Worship Music (Megaforce)
I’ve always been a big fan of Anthrax, but even I’d had enough of the soap opera that was continually dogging the band ever since Bush left in 2005. So with Anthrax returning with a new album and Belladonna back on board after having tried completing the same release with former front man Dan Nelson – I was less than enthusiastic about the prospects of a return to glory for the New Yorkers. Needless to say, I was wrong in a big way. Not what I would call an all-out Anthrax classic, but definitely a worthy release from a band that most fans had almost given up on.

4. Anathema – Falling Deeper (Kscope Music/Snapper Music)
New orchestral arrangements of past classics? It’s hardly a new twist, and far from an entirely captivating way to keep fans coming back for more – right? Under normal circumstances – yes. But this is Anathema, and given the band’s more recent track record, this is something worthy. Serene, haunting and absolutely captivating, Falling Deeper may be a selection of old songs given a makeover, but the end results sound completely new in a familiar kind of way. Fans of the band’s last couple of releases (2008’s Hindsight and 2010’s We’re Here Because We’re Here) have to check this out.

5. In Flames - Sounds of a Playground Fading (Century Media)
For some, In Flames were never really the same once they released Clayman in 2000. In a lot of ways I agree with that, because their sound did change a lot with their follow-up to Reroute to Remain. As the years progressed, In Flames’ releases have been greeted with a mixed response, with those preferring the band’s old sound, and those who enjoyed In Flames’ latter day sound. But after years of trial and error, In Flames finally found the perfect mix of both eras. Guitarist Jesper Strömblad may have been absent, but you certainly wouldn’t know it.

6. Truth Corroded - Worship the Bled (Truth Inc.)
Adelaide (South Australia)-based thrash/metalcore outfit Truth Corroded have always impressed with their ability to go from strength to strength with every new release, and their fourth album Worship the Bled is no exception. Brutal, catchy and absolutely kicking from start to finish. This is one hell of a release, and Truth Corroded deserves all the success they get from such an album.

7. Leprous – Bilateral (Inside Out)
Exploratory, adventurous and really hard to pin down, Bilateral is one of those albums that you either love or loathe. And I definitely loved it. I love all facets of progressive rock, but if there’s one album within the genre worthy of singling out as something really special, it’s the Norwegian’s latest effort.

8. Dream Theater – A Dramatic Turn of Events (Roadrunner)
Somewhere deep down inside, I knew that Dream Theater would always be able to produce what was needed following drummer Mike Portnoy’s less than amicable split with the band. After all, everyone within the band is a song writer in their own right, and Dream Theater has a well and truly established sound. But there’s something about the consistency and well-rounded nature of the band’s latest effort that has been missing on some of their more recent releases. It’s still far from a perfect release, but if the band continues to move forward in this direction, I’m definitely looking forward to the band’s future outfit.

9. The Haunted – Unseen (Century Media)
I’m definitely in the minority here, but I actually like the albums The Haunted have made beyond the self-titled debut back in 1998. Unlike some of the band’s former efforts, Unseen really does show what Peter Dolving is capable of as a vocalist, from both the extreme parameters right through to the more melodic stuff. Most old-school fans of The Haunted were disappointed with this album, but personally, I don’t think the band would be half as interesting as they are now if they simply dished out their self-titled album time and time again.

10. Steven Wilson – Grace For Drowning (Kscope/Snapper)
Broader in scope, more progressive and definitely more experimental that anything Wilson produced on his first solo release (2009’s Insurgentes), Grace For Drowning is far from a casual or easy listen, but worth the time and patience it demands of the listener. Sonically the album is an absolute feast for audiophiles, all the while an absolute masterpiece for those who relish Wilson’s penchant for the most unexpected hook in an otherwise impenetrable wall of sound.

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