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Ken McGrath Best-of 2011

By: Ken McGrath

McGrath at UK's Damnation fest, Neurosis shirt to boot...

There was hardly a day this year that you couldn’t look at news station or website without being constantly reminded about what a state the world is in between economic issues and natural disasters. Good job then that there was some top-notch metal (and non-metal) albums released to rage along to and sooth the ears. It’s doubtful it’ll go down as a groundbreaking year for the genre, but it is cheering to know that when Metallica finally give up the ghost, Machine Head can step proudly into the breach, armed with an ever-growing back catalog of vicious riffage. Mastodon and Opeth both shook up preconceived ideas of what was expected from them, instead revelling in exceptional songwriting, while Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon cemented his position as one of this era’s most beautiful songwriters. As for 2012? Let’s just see what tomorrow brings.

1. Mastodon – The Hunter (Warner/Reprise)
It’s nice to hear Mastodon breaking away from the restraints of the concept album and trying something different. The Hunter allowed them the freedom to ditch the prog-elements and do whatever they liked, birthing strange and wonderful songs like "Creature Lives" and "Bedazzled Fingernails" that sat perfectly alongside more traditional-ish fare ("Curl of the Burl," "Blasteroid").

2. Opeth – Heritage (Roadrunner)
Following this band’s career has been fascinating, slowly watching them developing from a fully fledged metal band into a creative hard rock act. Greeted with bafflement from some corners Heritage is a wonderfully written collection of songs. With nary a hint of a growl to be heard, it still marks them out as one of the best metal bands ever.

3. Bon Iver – Bon Iver (4AD)
Quite simply put a beautiful, heartbreaking and moving record.

4. Machine Head – Unto the Locust (Roadrunner)
Is it a match for The Blackening? No, but that’s not to take away from it. Unto The Locust may not be perfect, but by Christ, what a stomping album. Makes you want to spread your arms wide and howl at the sky.

5. Protest the Hero – Scurrilous (Underground Operations)
It’s easy to get bored of the hyper-fast, jazz infusion, math-rock antics of bands who seem to think that being able to play a million notes per second instantly means you’re the fucking business. Protest the Hero are as off the wall as anyone but they never forget that there’s got to be a song at the end of it and they display that here in spades.

6. Times of Grace – Hymn of a Broken Man (Roadrunner)
Reuniting some of the Killswitch Engage boys, this little beauty bristled with riffs and a great vocal performance from Jesse Leach. Inspirational stuff that manages to be upbeat while never forgetting to bring the heft.

7. And So I Watch You From Afar – Gangs (Richter Collective)
Up-tempo brilliance that makes you want to get up and move. ASIWYFA are a band you need to get excited about right now if you haven’t already been sucked in by their bizarre instru-metal charms.

8. Ulver – Wars of the Roses (Kscope)
Weird, generally downbeat, ambient and somber, Ulver continue to exist in a world all to themselves.

9. Wolves In the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage (Southern Lord)
Dark and haunting, this is the sound of stars viewed through the branches of a forest where fingers of branches close tight around you.

10. A Storm of Light – As the Valley of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade (Profound Lore)
Expansive songs, tribal beats, glorious distortion and droning vocals that somehow managed to see them finally emerging from Neurosis’ shadow. Environmentally aware, bleak and heavy, this is the sound of a band who have (while always been interesting) so often rode along as second rates finally finding their own standing and becoming a band of note themselves.

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