Dan Barkasi Best-of 2011
By: Dan Barkasi
Barkasi, holding it down with German thrashers Dew-Scented...
As 2011 dwindles to a close, we once again arrive at the inevitable year-end best-of list. How did this year treat us musically? After meticulously going through all of the great albums that were bestowed upon us in the last 12 months, the verdict can only be very well indeed! With heavy metal music being an insane mish mash of wonderful styles, this music has never been more varied and wide reaching as it is today.
A common theme of heavy, yet melodic, bands really dominated above the rest this time. And, of course, some masterful albums just missed the cut. Autopsy’s comeback album was death metal perfection. Artillery, Destruction and Legion of the Damned thrashed us to death. Vreid brought the icy cold riffage, while Devin Townsend brought the variety and the delightful wackiness. Cipher System and Nightrage made melodic death fans proud. And all of these wonderful releases ended up on the outside looking in. With aforementioned quality in mind, what follows is my viewpoint of this year in metal. We laughed, we cried – what else could you do if you listened to the Metallica/Lou Reed abortion – but most importantly, we rocked out to some truly great tunes. Let us proceed!
1. Night in Gales – Five Scars (Lifeforce)
One of the most underrated melodic death metal bands to ever grace our ears, the German kings of this style returned from a decade-long hiatus to absolutely blow our minds. This is exactly how it’s done, folks, and many should take detailed notes. Tracks like “This Neon Grave” and “Days of the Mute” stand out as certain classics, while the album as a whole never stops captivating and is beyond worthy of album of the year.
2. Omnium Gatherum – New World Shadows (Lifeforce)
Yet more proof of Finland’s dominance in metal, Omnium Gatherum have unleashed what may be their defining record in a career of the utmost quality. The textures of this album are so rich and flowing that it’s damn difficult to conjure up enough adjectives to give it justice. New World Shadows resonates more and more with every listen – the true sign timelessness.
3. Ghost Brigade – Until Fear No Longer Defines Us (Season of Mist)
The Finnish leaders in all things melancholic, Ghost Brigade took on the near impossible task of following a wonder of an album with another of the same quality. Possibly even more refined than Isolation Songs, Until Fear No Longer Defines Us packs a cornucopia of emotion and pure focus. Heavy and intense as it is soothing and soulful, this disc takes the listener for an unforgettable ride.
4. Insomnium – One For Sorrow (Century Media)
Finland strikes thrice with a band that has always had a very unique approach to melodic death metal, continuing their run of flawlessness with One For Sorrow. Insomnium have once again written a brilliant record that has just as many memorable moments as any of their previous releases. Dark, passionate and full of beauty, Insomnium is another unstoppable force of which continues to earn their pristine reputation as a leader in metal music.
5. Anthrax – Worship Music (Megaforce)
With all of the drama this band has created, there is no logical person who expected them to come through it all with something this pristine. Easily their best album since Sound of White Noise, Worship Music is everything an Anthrax album should be – fast, fun and full of catchy tunes. The return of Joey Belladonna was apparently the kick in the ass these guys needed. Welcome back, Anthrax. Please stay a while.
6. Mercenary – Metamorphosis (NoiseArt/Prosthetic)
No band was as worrisome this year as Mercenary, with a huge lineup revamp – including the expulsion of vocalist extraordinaire Mikkel Sandager – rocking the boat of one of most underrated bands going. Thinking that they’d never be the same, sweet relief came in the form of Metamorphosis, continuing their majestic recorded form. With René Pedersen masterfully picking up the vocal duties (in addition to his role as bassist), Mercenary is thankfully alive and kicking.
7. Septicflesh – The Great Mass (Season of Mist)
Step aside, Dimmu Borgir – you’ve been replaced. Septicflesh is the paramount symphonic black metal band, and they’re arguably doing it better than anybody has done it before. With The Great Mass, they’ve managed to release a work as crafty as it is grandiose, with many believing this could be their breakthrough.
8. Illogicist - The Unconsciousness of Living (Willowtip)
It’s unfathomable that Illogicist isn’t a household name in the technical death metal realm. Within a saturated market, the Italians are yet again ahead of the curve, having unleashed another masterful chunk of roaring technical death metal with The Unconsciousness of Living. This is not your usual cookie-cutter Necrophagist clone – Illogicist is a beast of it’s own that needs to be heard.
9. Iced Earth – Dystopia (Century Media)
Just when we were all getting used to having the big guy back, Matt Barlow is off – again. However, Jon Schaffer has found the perfect replacement this time in Into Eternity’s brilliant and versatile Stu Block. Dystopia harkens back to Iced Earth’s older material with the album’s fiery intensity, with each track bursting with riff-laden goodness, proving that the Iced Earth machine will continue to roll on.
10. Before the Dawn – Deathstar Rising (Nuclear Blast)
Before the Dawn is a band that always seems to have problems with lineup stability, yet never waivers when it comes to recorded output. Deathstar Rising is another gem in the band’s catalogue, with a hefty offering of downtrodden melody and tasty song craftsmanship. This is a formidable album from beginning to end, and certainly is one of the band’s most accomplished.