Another year’s coming to a close and with it music journalists, scribes, and rank amateurs like us are scrambling to put together our top ten lists. Due, I think, in part to the overwhelming amount of amazing heavy metal releases I had a harder time this year than any other putting my list together and in an order I was satisfied with. The following is the result of that labor and countless hours of hard work and toil on the part of great musicians that keep us in great music. These are the top ten heavy metal albums of 2011.
As always, keep in mind that this is my opinion, you will probably have disagreements, and the comments section is all yours to voice those.
While most of the other positions on this list were pretty well set in stone by its first incarnation, I had a hard time choosing between about eight albums for the number ten spot. This is why next year I’m going to do a top twenty. After carful consideration and factoring in age and pedigree I had to give it up to the legends. Saxon. This album, the band’s nineteenth (!), is proof positive that Biff and the boys (most of whom are in their 50s and 60 by the way) still got it.
“Stand up and fight!” I can’t tell you how many times Sparks or I have randomly broke out into this song in the middle of a quite office, it’s so infectious. The whole album, really, is phenomenal and got tons more plays than many others that are on this list just because it’s a good time. Before the release of this record I barely gave Turisas a second look after hearing a few tracks but at the nudging of some friends I tried this one and fell in love almost immediately. The addition of real strings and horns appealed to the hidden orchestra nerd in me but what ultimately hooked me was those damned infectious choruses.
“Stand up and fight!”
Putting Manilla Road in a top ten list needs no justification. Putting Playground of the Damned, the glorious return of a cult band that you feared wouldn’t have another album in them at paltry number 8, however, does. The key to this album’s position is the awful, horrific even, production. Songwriting, musicianship, vocals, hooks, solos, fucking everything else was top shelf but I couldn’t get over the final mix sounding so… thin.
Which, in this case, is a euphemism for shit.
Nevertheless, it is a phenomenal Manilla Road album, and better than whatever fucking band you would have put at number 8 so they remain.
For those wondering: yes, this is the very same Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand in the number five position of my disappointing albums list. What can I say? I have a fickle heart. But as I said on that list, this is a brilliant album that let me down slightly only because of its proximity to a brilliant-er album from Primordial, To the Nameless Dead.
If listened to, as I think all new records should be initially, without the band’s back catalogue influencing your expectations, Redemption… is a mighty, mighty epic. Back catalogue and past listening experiences in mind: I could do without the first few tracks, which lack luster, but once it really gets going around the fourth track, God’s Old Snake, you’ll be happily enveloped in that old familiar Primordial sound unparalleled.
Another album that got a ton of play this year, Argus’ Boldly Stride the Doomed, is an excellent example of what your band should sound like if you’re taking the retro approach to metal but want to actually last in this unforgiving and ever shifting metalshpere. This album is right on point with brilliant riffing, superb drums, and the supreme vocals of one Butch Balich who pipes over well-written traditional doom that’ll have you all nostalgic and full of hope for the future of heavy metal at the same time. Released through the mighty Cruz del Sur Music, Argus’ Boldly Stride The Doomed stands well alongside its label brethren and fellow greats The Golden Bough (Atlantean Kodex) and Pharaoh’s Be Gone.
The brilliance of this album, I’m sad to say, was not immediately apparent to me when it came out early this year, resulting in its being shelved for many months while I carried on through life chained to the wall of a cave.
Yes, kids, that was a Plato reference.
After I came to my senses and gave The Eternal Battle the proper number of spins required to sink in, I came to the conclusions that it was not only a contender for a top spot on this list, it was easily DoomSword’s greatest achievement to date.
Armed to the teeth with Enslaved’s Ice Dale on guitars, and ex-Immortal’s Armagedda pounding the life out of the drums, Demonaz Doom Occulta’s first solo offering, March of the Norse, was a heavy contender for the top spot on this year’s list. Playing as an amalgamation of the aforementioned members varied influences and a healthy dollop of Bathory thrown in for good measure; March… won my heart after only one sitting and stayed in pretty heavy rotation all year. The ten tracks that comprise this album, clocking in at less than 40 minutes all together, are chilling northern hymns that stick to the ribs long after the cold and atmospheric listening experience is over. The hearty helping of backing choirs and acoustic passages ensure that, despite its brevity, this album can aptly be described as epic.
Ultimately March of the Norse was narrowly edged out of a top three spot by a few albums that were marginally better. But make no mistake about it; this is a modern classic that’s sure to be enjoyed for many years to come.
Due, at least in part, to some interesting liberties Taake’s Hoest took with implementing unorthodox instruments into this album, Taake has received more attention recently that ever before. Whether that attention is good or bad or from the right sort of folks (if you catch my drift) is not for me to say. What I will say, however, is that its high time people started paying attention.
Taake has, for a long time, experimented with far out sounds, that is nothing new, but what is new is an increased depth and maturity from the writing and, all right I’ll say it, a fucking banjo! If you haven’t heard it for yourself, the rumors are true, there is a full on banjo breakdown in one of the songs and it’s shocking as it is awesome as the day is long. But that isn’t what makes this album top ten or top three, even. It’s that Taake has released five records since formation in 1993; each one better than the last, and Noregs Vaapen was no exception.
The only other (out of two) debuts to make it on this list, Darkest Era’s The Last Caress of Light came out highly anticipated after the release of two promising EPs and backed every bit of it up.
For eight tracks, clocking in at just under an hour, Darkest Era takes you on a melodic, melancholic, sometimes doomy, often massive, and always brilliant tour of their country’s history and mythology through song. Never a moment wasted, this is an album that demands a cover-to-cover listen, more than just a few times through to appreciate its beauty. The elegant song structure coupled with knockout vocals both void of the saccharine trappings too often found alongside folk records this big, will captivate you through many listens and, I predict, for many years to come.
The perfect record, as it were, the only record to ever receive a 100/100 score here on Metal Call Out and my personal pick for record of the year is Moonsorrow’s Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa.
Telling the story of the Earth’s last inhabitants struggling to find a place to settle and, I assume, finding it in the grave, listening VKKM is more like a whole-body experience than the usual haphazardly pressing play on a CD and enjoying the music. I marvel that mere humans--not much different from you and I, rather small in the scheme of things--can come together and create something like this. This emergent work, greater than the sum of its parts, would probably be more at home occupying its own planet than as a small file on a plastic disk. Mark my words this album will go down in the annals of heavy metal history not just as one of the year’s best but one of the best. Period.
The comments section is yours…
Funeral- To Mourn is a Virtue
Powerwolf- Blood of the Saints
Satan’s Host- By the Hand of the Devil
Sinister Realm- The Crystal Eye
Battle Beast- Steel
While Heaven Wept- Fear of Infinity
What were your favorite albums this year? Let us know in the comments section below.