TOP 50 ALBUMS OF 2011.
By Gary Lukes
2011 was a deceiving year. I mistakenly assumed constructing a Top 20 would be a chore, but pretty soon it had expanded to 30. Then 40. Even now, I’ve had to reign it in at 50.
While some albums were terrible(hello “Illud Divinum Insanus”), some severely overrated(Liturgy‘s “transcendental“ black metal travesty) and some just plain stupid(“Lulu” anyone?), there was much to be celebrated.
I didn’t include Inquisition’s “Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm” because it was released in the UK during 2010. But for the record, there’s a distinct possibility that would have stole the number one spot if I had. Ascension’s “Consolamentum” and Fell Voices’ new album also saw the light of day on new formats during this year. Once again, they would have made the list, but weren’t strictly 2011 releases.
Without further ado:
50. Maim – Deceased to Exist
Old school death metal that has neither the time nor inclination to fuck around.
49. Arizmenda – Without Circumference Nor Center
Ferocious black metal that makes the list, despite being dubiously blessed by one of the worst sound mixes of the year. Although it doesn’t quite match their debut.
48. Falls of Rauros – The Light That Dwells in Rotten Wood
A fine release. While the transitions sometimes feel a little jarring, the black metal sections are more than worthy and the acoustic folk instrumentation stands well enough on its own.
47. Absu – Abzu
More thrashing black metal from one of the masters of the genre. Not a patch on Tara, but still aeons ahead of most impostors.
46. Wreck of the Hesperus – Light Rotting Out
Malevolent, decaying extreme doom/sludge from Ireland. The soundtrack to drowning in a septic tank.
45. Smohalla – Résilience
Dreamy, spacey passages juxtaposed with fierce, frenetic jazzy blasts of black metal. Elements of Arcturus, Emperor, Ulver and latter day Enslaved.
44. Craft – Void
Brimming with raw and unbridled hatred and ripping forth with a torrent of raw, crusty black metal that combines the primal ferocity of the second wave acts with a guitar style that sounds unmistakably Swedish.
43. Encoffination – O’ Hell, Shine in thy Whited Sepulchres
Caliginous, murky doom death that seems to emanate from six feet underground.
42. Krallice – Diotoma
If you’ve heard any of the previous albums, you’ll know what to expect. A sprawling, technical and progressive take on black metal. Probably their best release yet, but possibly a little too meandering for some
41. Dark Castle – Surrender To All Life Beyond Form
A bold attempt to redefine the boundaries of sludge. Much more of a grower than the debut, but repeat listens yield great results.
40. Giles Corey – S/T
Now, THIS is mood music. Bleak, relentlessly miserable, and yet remarkably cathartic. Self proclaimed as “acoustic music for the industrial revolution”. This takes the core sound of Have a Nice Life, strips it down, blindfolds it and lowers it into a well until the black water turns it into a screaming, gibbering wreck.
39. Ulcerate – The Destroyers of All
A chaotic, dissonant and genre-bending album, expanding on the band’s past work. As if Immolation, Gorguts and Deathspell Omega were melted together in some horrific accident. The sound of death metal evolving.
38. Aosoth – III
Densely layered, almost dirge-like black metal. Aosoth seem to have finally settled into a signature sound. If the band could just find the killer songs to accompany it, they’ll be a real contender.
37. 40 Watt Sun – The Inside Room
Patrick Walker continues what he started with Warning. This takes the abject despondency of the former and replaces it with lilting melancholy. If only I could shake the “doom REM” tag from my head.
36. The Atlas Moth – An Ache for the Distance
Gorgeously layered mix of sludge, post-metal and psychedelia. Guitar lines dance like mirages around riffs that rise to mountainous heights.
35. Lake of Blood – As Time and Tide Erodes Stone
Two epic atmospheric black metal tracks, consuming all amongst their blazing passages.
34. Cloak of Altering – The Night Comes Illuminated with Death
Mories of Gnaw Their Tongues/De Magia Veretum/Aderlating revisits one of his earlier projects and casts forth majestic symphonic black metal.
33. Fleshpress – Acid Mouth Strangulation
The post-metal influence has now taken a definite prominence. But even that cannot uproot the hateful sludge this band is capable of unleashing at full flow.
32. Nhor – Whisperers to This Archaic Growth
Stunning, sincere British post-black metal
31. Mitochondrion – Parasignosis
A death metal album that exudes dread and atmosphere. It slowly coils its tendrils around you and then drags you, kicking and screaming, into the void.
30. Negative Plane – Stain Glass Revelations
If “De Mysteriis…” era Mayhem experimented with hallucinogenics and then jammed along to their contorted visions, it might sound a little like this.
29. Antediluvian – Through the Cervix of Hawwah
As if the profane spawn of Portal and Mitochondrion rose up from the depths of R’lyeh. Unnerving and discombobulating. Restless and terrifying.
28. Corrupted – Garten Der Unbewusstheit
Vocalist Hevi‘s last album, and he’s gone out in style. Three tracks of devastatingly heavy and achingly beautiful doom.
27. Alda – : Tahoma :
Cascadian folk black metal. A progression from the debut and an album that lifts them above many of their European luminaries.
26. Oranssi Pazuzu – Kosmonument
Second album of tripped out, psychedelic black metal from these Finnish deviants. Doesn’t manage to quite match the lofty standards of the debut, but still sure to warp and disorientate.
25. Ash Borer – S/T
The Californian horde finally release their debut album of expansive, raging black metal. No matter your opinion on the “Cascadian black metal” scene, this is one band that deserves a chance to be taken seriously.
24. Amebix – Sonic Mass
The long awaited return. Displaying more maturity, progression and what sounds like a growing Killing Joke influence. The album starts with a murmur before erupting with a war cry. The band storm the battlements and conclude with an anthemic victory song.
23. Deafheaven – Roads to Judah
Traversing boundaries and pissing off purists, Deafheaven meld hardcore, shoegaze and black metal into an elaborate concoction.
22. Tombs – Path of Totality
Complimenting their stellar sound with far better song-writing on this release, New York’s Tombs have recorded an album that deftly combines sludge, post-metal, black metal and elements of post-punk and noise rock. Although the album starts off blunt and heavy, it shifts gears to drift through more delicate shades as the album progresses.
21. Rwake – Rest
After a long and uncomfortable silence, Arkansas’ favourite feculent sons and daughter return. “Rest” sees co-vocalist CT spitting sermons over lurching doom riffs while B howls and contorts in the background. It’s a dense but rewarding listen.
THE TOP 20:
20. The Axis of Perdition – Tenements (Of the Anointed Flesh)
Largely eschewing the ambience of their recent albums, the Axis spawn forth a relentless and claustrophobic masterpiece to end their “Urfe” trilogy. The band harvest the Throbbing Gristle-meets-Mayhem sound implanted on their debut, “The Ichneumon Method”. With this final stage in the series, the band have reversed their metamorphosis from haunting back to horrifying.
19. Wolvhammer – The Obsidian Plains
Driving, murky riffing, pummelling percussion and throaty screams propels this mix of sludge and black metal into the netherworld. Combined with the occasional jangle of post-punk guitar lines and a healthy dose of old school death metal groove and ferocity.
18. Disma – Towards The Megalith
Craig Pillard’s colossal statement of intent. Returning with a gargantuan slab of rotten, old school death metal. The festering, down-tuned riffing is at its best when it slows to a crawl and turns the torture wheel one centimetre at a time.
17. Seeds in Barren Fields – Sounding the Siren Song in Vain
An invigorating mixture of crust and post-black metal saturated with crunchy death metal riffing.
16. Nightbringer – Hierophany of the Open Grave
Swirling, atmospheric and chaotic black metal. Combining some of the best elements of Funeral Mist, Averse Sefira and Deathspell Omega and pairing the thick, tempestuous sound of their last album with serious song writing. The album where Nightbringer truly come of age.
15. Seidr – For Winter Fire
Breathtaking and dynamic death doom with a distinctly Midwestern vibe. This side project of Panopticon and Wheels Within Wheels manages to channel shades varying from Neurosis to Evoken.
14. Obsequiae – Suspended in the Brume of Eos
A magnificent debut album of imperial sounding medieval black metal from Tanner Anderson of Celestiial.
13. Loss – Despond
Does exactly what it says on the tin. Monumentally crushing, despondent doom. Yet underneath all the misery, it‘s surprisingly uplifting. Like the moment you see the light at the end of tunnel, just before you realise it’s a train.
12. Necros Christos – Doom of the Occult
Repeating the successful formula of their debut, the band mix black metal and old school death metal with acoustic and organ interludes. A grand vision, recreated in painstaking detail. The album failed to grab me as much as their debut until around the half-way point, where the album really stuck its claws in. To class it as simply “Epic“ would be doing the project a disservice.
11. Gnaw Their Tongues – Per Flagellum Sanguemque, Tenebras Veneramus
Harrowing and tormented, Mories has managed to top himself yet again. Wretched, unsettling and noisy black metal. Perfect listening with the lights out, zipped inside a body bag.
10. Woods of Desolation – Torn Beyond Reason
Cold, tortured and beautiful black metal with churning harmonies and a heavy post-rock influence.
09. Young & in the Way – I Am Not What I Am/V. Eternal Depression
Another double-header. Like a jam session between Nails, Thou and Mayhem. While “I Am Not What I Am” kicks off with some solid crusty hardcore tracks, it soon shifts into sludgier territory before breaking out some huge walls of raging black metal. Meanwhile, “V. Depression” picks up where its predecessor left off.
08. Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage
If “Celestial Lineage” isn’t WitTR’s best album, it’s right up there. The band have ably honed their melodic, droning concoction of black metal over the years.
07. Blut aus Nord – 777 – Sect(s)/777 – The Desanctification
The first two parts of a conceptual trilogy, they fit perfectly as a single entity. Discordant, huge and experimental. Blut aus Nord have expanded the groundwork laid on “The Work Which Transforms God”, creating a machine that could suck the entire universe into its vortex of twisted guitars, martial drum patterns and ghostly vocals.
06. Sutekh Hexen – Luciform
Harsh, pummelling noise soaked in punishing ambience, while the surface is scorched by the spasm and buzz of black metal guitar. The vocals occasionally poke their fetid features through the murk of the riffage before being drowned in a sea of thick electronics and tape loops.
05. YOB – Atma
Doom/stoner/sludge metal the size of the Mariana Trench. Enough to rattle the core of the earth.
04. The Wounded Kings – In the Chapel of the Black Hand
When Steve Mills found himself having to replace practically the entire remainder of his band, there were serious doubts that The Wounded Kings would ever recover. But the appointment of Sharie Neyland on vocals was a masterstroke. Her haunting vocals lifting the retro, heavy occult doom to a new plateau.
03. Mournful Congregation – A Book of Kings
A real latecomer, Mournful Congregation have released their masterpiece with this record. The album transitions throughout its length from delicate passages to crushing funeral doom perfection.
02. Altar of Plagues – Mammal
A meditation on the theme of death and our existence until that moment. A monumental melding of soaring post-rock and raging black metal. And a superior follow-up to a stunning debut album . “Mammal” is many things. However, it wasn’t quite number one.
01. Esoteric – Paragon of Dissonance
The masters of psychedelic death doom metal trump the magnificent “Maniacal Vale” with another double slab of eddying, gargantuan doom. Encompassing moments of melancholic beauty and then submersing you into a raging lake of fire, leaving you to gradually descend to its pits. Slow, enchanting and deadly.
Autopsy, Chelsea Wolfe, Batillus, Desolate Shrine, SubRosa, Glorior Belli, Forgotten Tomb, Hexvessel, Locrian, Tukaaria, Owl, Avichi, Gates of Slumber, Leucosis, Primordial, Nader Sadek, Ritual Necromancy, Dolorvotre, Toxic Holocaust
EPs, Demos, Splits:
So Hideous My Love, Vastum, Cruciamentum, Lycus, Void Meditation Cult, Sleeping Peonies, Panopticon/Wheels Within Wheels split album, Hooded Menace/Asphyx split.