2011 Best of


Dic 12 2011, 12:51

1 DeafheavenRoads to Judah
I guess the choices I tend to make in my top list this year, and the trend more generally within my metal tastes at least, has been towards the style of music Deafheaven play. Passionate, not afraid to mix in outright post-rock, hardcore, punk, lo-fi and folk influences, but still unquestionably brutal at times. Deafheaven are a fairly new bunch of kids on the block (they are very young, so kids is apt), but the sound they make sounds supremely accomplished and mature. Effortlessly mixing styles and creating a strong atmosphere not of dread, as much blackmetal music tends to, but of something vaguely otherworldly. They sound fresh and unbound by the framework of the genres that they straddle. Don’t get me wrong, this is still an album that sits within all that is “black”, but it has noticeable shades of colour and flair littered throughout, and feels truly dynamic in its approach.
The music itself is dense and the vocals sit well behind the music in the mix. The drums during the heavier passages are some of the most frenetic I’ve heard in a long time. There are regular breaks from the frenetic blasting though, that seemed so perfectly well timed in creating an amazing balance. So many blackmetal bands rely solely on blasting momentum, that the music feels single paced or lacking in intensity – no matter how intense it is – I find I become accustomed to it. In breaking free and allowing room for the sound to move and build, the intensity during those blasting presented here, feels so much more real and visceral.
Lyrically, there is no mention of forests, satan or the mystical. The album is one of urban and city based malaise. Adding to the band’s intend on not being pigeonholed amongst purely blackmetal derived styles, the LP was released in a luscious package by Jake Bannon’s (Converge) Deathwish Inc. Label.
Of all the blackmetal type albums to come out this year, I think this is the one I would be most forward in pressing to people that are historically fans of less heavy brands of rock, not because it isn’t heavy as all hell at times, but because the musicality of the songs lifts them beyond a simple assessment of heaviness.
I spent a bunch of this year wondering if Liturgy or WITTR would end up being my favourite album for the year. In the end, it was a band that does create music in a similar vein, but that does so without some of the laboured weight of WITTR, and without the at times embarrassing waffle and scene combaticism of Liturgy.

2 Tim HeckerRavedeath 1972 (& the related Dropped Pianos)
Released on Kranky, Ravedeath is Hecker’s 6th full length. I’ve always enjoyed Hecker’s work, but never found any one of his prior works to be a fully enveloping experience. Sure, there were wonderfully crafted elements, and some really standout songs, but overall, they didn’t feel entirely immersive; something I think is of critical importance when making what is essentially ambient art. However, with Ravedeath, I think he has completely nailed it.
The album is a wonderfully immersive ambient ride into strangely familiar, but hard to define territories. The heavy reliance on the church pipe organ as the base for the sampling and core of the music really does lend an ethereal feel to the rise and fall of the waves of sound. The “live” nature of the recordings (the basic organ work was completed in a single day) adds a sonic depth to the sound, the result of the sound echoing deeply around the large open church. The album feels, at times, despondent, at others, a little ragged and desperate, but always immersive and capable of taking the listener on a journey somewhere slightly out of sight.
Darker than previous outings, Ravedeath continues Hecker’s trend of strongly themed albums, dealing with the concept of sonic waste and garbage noise (without resulting to creating grating or sonically wasteful music); the conflict between the electronic and the organic. The constant conflict between the booming airy organ, and the synthetic additions tie nicely back into the theme, and create an incredibly potent depth of sound.
This album has replaced Bohren & der Klub of Gore’s, Black Mass, as my late night, super early morning, raining outside and cold, or coming down and drunken, listen of choice.
Dropped Piano’s is a stripped back, “unplugged” if you like, set of pieces inspired by the works on Ravedeath, which was also released this year, and well worth listening. It is significantly less rewarding as a standalone release, but a superb companion piece to Ravedeath.

3 Peste NoireL'Ordure à l'état Pur
I like Peste Noire, a lot. No great secret. Having said that, I’m not a loyal customer, so to speak, of bands generally. See the inclusion of Burzum, Mastodon or Opeth in the “misses” part of my 2011 assessment for proof of that. However, Peste Noire are yet to release an album that has not been a wonderful aural adventure for me to go on.
L'Ordure à l'état Pur is immediately recognizable as a PN release – La Sale Famine de Valfunde’s scratchy, coughed and spat, easily audible and insistent French vocals combined with a trademark grimy guitar sound guarantee there will be no confusion. As with the previous few releases, the production is top notch and the brand of “blackmetal” purveyed, is far from orthodox or easy to pigeonhole. Techno Blast beats, horns (which absofuckinlutely OWN), cello, female vocal, samples of sexual ecstasy, gun fire and sirens all make an appearance. Usually those mixes would imply something like Dodheimsgard, later Ulver or fellow Frenchies Pensees Nocturnes for the sampling and such, or some terrible southern American swill rock for the gunshots and orgasming; make no mistake though – this album is nothing like any other out there. It is still very firmly rooted in folksy/ugly/punky/raw blackmetal-ish stuff, just with lots of gritty, dirty odd musical adornments. There is greater use of slower less frenetic pounding, as well as a more pronounced development of the folksy side of the sound. In fact it sits less obviously within the cusp of blackmetal, than any previous PN release, containing less outright blast beating or tremolo picking moments than any previous effort.
If you enjoyed the progression of Folkfuck Folie through Ballade Cuntre Io Anemi Francor, and like the sound of that taken even further past traditional limitations of the rawer styled blackmetal, with a heady dose of a raw drunk swagger, gypsy aesthetic, punk and pure self indulgent strangeness thrown into the mix, then L'Ordure à l'état Pur will be right up your alley.

4 Chelsea WolfeApokalypsis
I really liked the first full length Chelsea Wolfe release, and made no secret of it. However, over time some aspects of it certainly grew to irritate me. The music itself was solid, no doubting that, but it felt piecemeal, and unnecessarily disjointed.
Apokalypsis suffers none of this. Each track feels like it belongs to part of a whole. The flow over the course of the album is superb, and although more coalesced, there is no hint of restraint, or a lack of movement within the sound, leading it to stagnate. Rather, it is a more focussed, more directed approach. Tracks like Noorus, Bounce House Demons and Widow from the debut, The Grime and The Glow are the most related to the focus of Apokalypsis. Of course, Chelsea Wolfe has a reasonably distinct voice, so there was never any doubting the albums origins on first listen, even if some of the clunking electronic experimentation is gone.
The elements of country-like doom (ala Earth) are more prevalent, lending the album a hazy southern swagger, and the record’s more refined sound actually lends it a darker edge, due to the continuum created.
Released by Pendu sound, a reasonably odd little label, that features the drone/electro project of now actress Sasha Grey, Chelsea Wolfe has probably had a greater degree of exposure than might be normal for this style of music. This has certainly been helped along by what I consider to be an at times odd comparisons to Austra and Zola Jesus, born from web outlets such as Pitchfork and Stereogum really championing the darker indie/electro sounds that are out there.
For my ears, Apokalypsis sounds like an album PJ Harvey might have recorded with Kurt Cobain (y’know, death aside and all) five or 10 years ago, if she had been heavily into web culture and heroin, if they both were actually 35 years in the past.

My only real complaint about Apokalypsis, is the washed out sound. I know its intentional, but I find it a little too washed out and hazy to be entirely successful. Having said that, I suspect this is an album I will continue listening to for a long time to come, even if it isn’t fully realised, because it feels like it sits on the cusp of something really special.

5 Ash BorerAsh Borer
Ash Borer came as somewhat of a revelation to me. There are a lot of bands making music in the vein of Wolves In The Throne Room, or “Cascadian” blackmetal as it has been loosely dubbed, and a lot of those bands are making pretty poor music. Low quality recording works when it is applied to the right type of metal, and more specifically blackmetal. Cascadian/Pacific Northwest styled blackmetal, is not the right style. The density of the music and thick atmosphere really need a half decent production to be heard properly. Ash Borer, nail it. They balance atmospheric moments, pounding blastbeats, chortling screams, crusty punk influenced breakdowns, post-rock segues and anger in a perfect dance.
Ash Borer’s self titled de but long player was initially released as a 150 tape only run, which promptly sold out. As a result of constant hassling since then (as soon as I heard the tape, I started sending emails begging for a vinyl :P), they also released the album as a vinyl; which although less rare and kvlt is far superior to the tape, really bringing out the nuances and style within the music.
A superb blackmetal album.

6 Woods of DesolationTorn Beyond Reason
WoD have released what sits amongst the cannon of my favourite Australian albums of all times, and possibly one of the most accomplished DSBM albums i’ve ever heard. I actually read a review of the album whilst I was waiting on a promo CD of it to arrive, and whilst my LP shipment order was still quite some way off due to some printing difficulties. It described the album as emo blackmetal in an insulting tone. I would have thought, that whining screeching complaint, combined with brutal music, would be the pinnacle of DSBM, given the very nature of the genre. Anyway, I digress!
Torn Beyond Reason does have a very emotional feel, and bears more than a passing similarity to 2010’s Austere album, To Lay Like Old Ashes – not surprising given the previous work that WoD members and Austere members had previously done. I’ve seen a few people mention that “D.” Was also a member of Austere – so strong is the aural similarity between the bands – but this isn’t actually correct. As with most DSBM albums, the music is melancholic, reasonably simple, focusing on shifting riff and chord structures to create the bulk of the atmosphere, with a fairly constant blast beat hammering away in the background. There is little in the way of influence or stylistic departure beyond this. And yet, without doing anything groundbreaking or fancy, they really nail the style perfectly. The music carriers emotion, and a sense of desperation, rather than the hate and disgust that more traditional strands of blackmetal tend to embrace. They do slow things down from time to time, and I personally think this is where the album is really at its strongest – the increased melodic strength of the music really holds up extremely well.
My only real complaints are that the drumming, particularly when it is pure blasting, tends to sound a little bit mistimed, and that this will be the last WoD release.

7 Giles CoreyGiles Corey
The debut album under the Giles Corey moniker, which is a solo project of Have A Nice Life’s Dan Barrett, is a confronting slab of music. The emotional content and nature of this album was enough to put it at the top of my list for 2011, but sadly, once the haze of darkness lifts, and you start to hear beyond the lyrical and atmospheric content, the production and some of the marketing around the album become a bit tiresome.
First of all the good. This is a powerful peice of art. The lyrics are incredibly personal, telling of Barrett’s struggle with suicidal despair and deep dark depression. There is no caressing, simplifying or avoiding the Barrett sees as the very harsh realities of his situation. It makes for a very personal experience. Musically, the album is interesting, sitting somewhere in a mix of folk, country, rock and drone, with a very layered sound. The package (the CD comes with a booklet detailing one Robert Voor and his cult, as well as Barrett’s own personal struggle) is lush and the effort behind it is impressive – and still comes it at a very reasonable price!
Then there is the bad. The compression is at times hideous. Although the lyrics are still clearly audible regardless, this is an album which has lengthy periods of music without singing. The compression problems really become noticeable after a few listens during these times. There hasn’t been any normalisation applied between tracks either, requiring constant fiddling with volume to avoid having ones ears exploded when tracks change. The creation of the whole Robert Voor situation, as a story telling vehicle also seems largely unnecessary. I personally don’t think the messages and concepts being conveyed are so abstract or difficult that they require a metaphorical “story” outside of the reality of the situation, to carry them.
Ultimately, I found this album wholly satisfying, but not in a positive way. Many have found the release difficult to “enjoy”, others have found it outright uncomfortable. The music and lyrics create an atmosphere of deep despair; an unanswerable cry, a plea for help, from a man on the very edge of his limits, with a gun to his head. It is unfalteringly depressive, although some argue that by his mere persistence in the here and now, Dan has added a happy ending of sorts.

8 TaakeNoregs Vaapen
Taake have always played a very no-nonsense rock/thrash flavoured blackmetal, with little in the way of atmospheric interludes or breakdowns. I don’t intend that as a criticism. Their songs are generally sharp enough and just-close-enough-to bluesy/rocky to be catchy and memorable, without sounding overtly like they are trying to be.
Noregs Vaapen is no different. It is, if anything, slightly further away from more traditional blackmetal than previous albums, but not significantly so. The Black ‘n Roll tag that has been thrown at bands like Vried and even latter era Satyricon is probably far more apt to being applied to what Taake do; even more so with the latest release.
So huge has the attraction of Taake’s stripped down, metal approach become, that on the 2011 European tour, Atilla Csihar, Demonaz and Nocturno Culto all joined Hoest on stage to perform their respective guest spots. Atilla is probably not such a surprise; he has sung for a shitload of people, but Nocturno Culto in particular is quite intriguing, given his/Fenriz’s/Darkthrone’s very unapologetic critiques about the current state of the metal, and particularly, the blackmetal scene.
The writing and technical aspects of Taake’s music, although always well executed and confident, have never exactly been cutting edge. That hasn’t changed. But I guess it doesn’t really need to when you can make such compelling and groovy metal every 3 years without fail.
Oh yeah, there’s also a banjo fucking solo. And it isn’t even remotely lame – quite the opposite. Seriously. I’m not trolling. It kills.

9 Wolves in the Throne RoomCelestial Lineage
Celestial Lineage sounds like it was written and recorded in the 18 month period following 2007’s Two Hunters, rather than the releases we actually got (Malevolent Grain and Black Cascade). Depending on which WITTR camp you sit in this may be a good thing or a bad thing. It may also depend on whether Celestial Lineage sounds sufficiently developed and progressed from Two Hunters, given the shift in sound is clearly directed at specific areas of the trademark WITTR sound.
WITTR pretty much started the whole Pacific Northwest sound, or at least were the first band with this sort of distinctive style to sell more than a small handful of albums. Celestial Lineage does not stray far from this now well trodden formula. Although the tracks are generally less lengthy, the build and fall, the quiet wind charm and ambient intro’s, the repetitive mid tempo blasting, is all back. As with Two Hunters, Jessika Kenney has also made a return, providing a feminine angle to some of the tracks; not entirely out of place either given the bands very distinct naturalist attitudes and constant imagery and links to nature.
Having said all that, the record is not simply Two Hunters, with nicer recording. The sound has evolved since then, although not in huge leaps and bounds, and not in the same direction as Black Cascade went. Rather than grittier and more blasting, or more focused and pin point, Celestial Lineage creates a more ethereal and organic aesthetic. There’s still the odd niggle with some slightly unmemorable riffs being used to excess, but these are far and few between in the grand scale of things. And it is a grand sounding album.
If you don’t mind the fact that the progress and development of WITTR’s sound is made in very small steps, this is a great album. Those wanting change, evolution and progress, that is more immediately apparent, will be left unfulfilled.

10 Altar of PlaguesMammal
Altar of Plagues debut release, White Tomb, remains a personal favourite of mine from the past few years, and I think it shines as a particularly fine example of the hardcore/cascadian blackmetal mixing pot style. As a result, I was really keen to finally hear the second album, Mammal.
Does it pick up where White Tomb left off? Yes and no. The overtly blackmetal aspects of the sound present on Mammal, are now fewer and farther between, with a more defined math rock, prog doom and hardcore feel to the tracks. Rather than atmospheric and lush, Mammal sounds claustrophobic and uncomfortable.
Interestingly, the length of the tracks on White Tomb and Mammal are similar – both albums are a similar length overall, each with 4 songs of roughly similar length in the same ordered pattern. The themes covered are similar too. Mammal is a personal exploration of moral and societal collapse at the hands of modernist greed and shallowness, where White Tomb was an exploration of those themes broadly.
Certainly the only band from Ireland (Cork to be specific) to be playing music of this calibre, in this style, that I currently know of. I look forward to more high quality releases from Altar of Plagues.

11 HexvesselDawnbearer
Hexvessel is the solo (sort of) vessel (see what I did there) of Mathew McNerney – better known to the metal fraternity as Kvhost of , the latest Dodheimsgard and Void fame. Void also released a new album this year, but Mat is no longer involved with the band he once fronted pre-code.
Dawnbearer is an album of sometimes quant, sometimes tongue in cheek, but always lush and well fleshed out psychedelic and straight up folk. One of my personal beefs with later era and Mat’s work with Dodheimsgard has been his clean vocal. I don’t think it suits heavier music at all well, as it lacks any real sense of gravitas. However, on Dawnbearer his yearning to sing in a clean voice has found a perfect home. His voice is not pitch perfect, but it really suits the slightly odd lean of the music superbly well, and is sufficiently emotive to carry off the shifts of mood rather well. The extensive use of instruments beyond simple bass, guitar and drums, also lift the album into something far more interesting, than a typical folk album, as do the odd lyrical subjects and the unexpected cover of Paul Simon’s Diamonds. One of the things I really enjoy about the album, is the way Mat has managed to mix entertaining, light and quirky, with the more sombre and mysterious – all of this without feeling disjointed or mismatched.
My only real complaint, is that some of the in-between songs – the fillers really – feel unnecessary, and rather than adding to the main event, detract somewhat from it.

12 Com TruiseGalactic Melt
I’ve always enjoyed the simple, spacious glitch eletctro/techno that, since I first heard his original EP early in 2010. Galactic Melt, is the debut EP under the Com Truise Pseudonym. The music is simple, uncomplicated, but amazingly catchy. If you’ve seen the movie Drive; imagine some of the 80’s inspired minimal techno (particularly Nightcall), without vocals, glitched out and slowed down – that’s a reasonably accurate approximation of what this album sounds like.
Interestingly, for an album that is really quite simple, and ultimately based around happy sounding synth swatches with crusty sounding 80’s drum sounds, there is a genuine feel of unease, or melancholy that sits within the sound. It was probably what first really struck me about Galactic Melt – that for such an ostensibly upbeat sounding album, it wasn’t actually terribly upbeat sounding.
There is nothing complex and no scything social commentary here; it’s just damn catchy and enjoyable down tempo glitchy electronica.

13 LiturgyAesthetica
If you’re a regular reader of heavy music press, blogs or mags, Liturgy should be a band name you recognise immediately. They’ve caused one hell of a stir amongst the heavy music minions. So fervent, was the response from some floating around in blackmetal circles, that the music itself was entirely overshadowed by teh dramaz. So intense did it all become, that the New York Post and Huffington both ran articles about it – which in turn created a whole new wave of OMGWTFGTFO.
There’s no doubting Liturgy lead singer/self anointed band leader and “transcendental blackmetal orater” Hunter Hunt-Hendrix is a pretty polarising guy. Hell, I watched an interview with him and could feel parts of my brain actually turning to a sort of stupefied mush. He does some horrific blethering, fo sho. However, he has some fairly sensible and not unfair comments to make as well. The fact that he and his band are clearly total hipsters seems to have fuelled even greater hatred towards them.
Anyway, you can read the millions of complaints and blog articles – I need not recite them all or provide a detailed history. Why not? The music is fucking good on Aesthetica. In the same way that I haven’t stopped listening to Filosofem because I think Varg Vickernes is a total dick, I intend to not stop listening to Aesthetica.
Aesthetica is a real blast to listen to. It’s extremely high tempo, screeching trebly guitar sound, hammering (sadly, at times slightly messy) drums, banshee screaming and interesting song structures really are thoroughly enjoyable. I had a hell of a time with the LP of the album, with only one of the vinyl’s arriving (it’s a DLP), and then the return of the proper DLP taking months, but it was totally worth it.
There are some WTF moments on the record, like the entirely pointless Helix Skull and Glass Earth, but these are more than made up for by the actual musical tracks on the release.
I expect this album will be on a bunch of “best of 2011” and “worst of 2011” lists. Ignore the hype, fuck all the “trve” idiots, the mindless scenesters and the blackmetal elite that are offended by girly man fringes and listen to it. Make up your own mind.

14 Barn OwlLost in the Glare
Barn Owl are one of those bands that feel like they’ve been around a lot longer than the have. This is in part due to the duo’s large catalogue of releases, but also in part, due to the mature soundscape that the music presents. Lost In The Glare continues the line of high quality drone/desert/rock releases from the band, whilst evolving enough to not sound like old ground – no mean feat when you release 9 albums in a smidge under four years.
Lost In The Glare continues in the trend of the preceding series of releases, with a mostly drone style of music being employed. There are however, more pronounced post-rock influences to be heard, and some robust drumming on rare occasion. The Darkest Night Since 1683 is a particular departure in that it drives a much more aggressive and dissonant sound than their usual fare. The core of the music however, remains the interplay of the two guitars – whether it be acoustic, electric, or a mix of both – with a huge supporting cast of field recordings, samples, organs and god knows what else being manipulated to produce the thick, foggy and dreamlike background.
Thematically, Barn Owl continue to focus on the stark natural landscape of deserts and mountains, along with a healthy obsession for cosmography – although this is all mostly implied by the album artwork, and the song titles, as there are of course no vocals to speak of.
The easiest thing I can liken this album to, is Earth and Sunn O))), with hints of Kyuss and Khlyst.

15 TombsPath of Totality
Path of Totality has in my opinion, surprisingly, topped a number of “best of” lists this year. I’m not suggesting for a moment this is a bad album – far from it – Tombs have made something really quite fabulous.
However, I fail to hear the crushing unequalled doom/hardcore/blackmetal monolith that others seem to be hearing. I think it might be because Tombs are a recent start-up American band (which certainly seems to be the flavour of the moment in recent times) who manage to capture some of the elements of blackmetal people seem so keen on lately, without being quite so hard to access.
All my musing about Path of Totality’s popularity aside, this is a genuinely good listen. The sound is organic, and clear without losing an edge of rawness, channelling Neurosis, ISIS, WITTR and Ufomammut at various points – but remaining unique sounding overall, rather than derivative. The use of melody is definitely appreciated, as many recent releases seem to eschew such “old school” technique in favour or more complex layering, or timing shifts. The subtle and nuanced playing and writing present on Path of Totality, certainly make the oft hamfisted efforts of other metal bands all the more obvious.
My only complaint about the music itself relates to the vocals. Whilst generally strong, on some of the less harsh moments, they do sound quite laboured, which detracts from an otherwise immersive listening experience.
Definitely one of the best metal releases of the year, and strong even over the last few years, but not the unbridled masterpiece some seem to be hearing.

16 Zweizz & Joey HopkinsZweizz & Joey Hopkins
If you know the moniker of Svein Egil Hatlevik (Zweizz, Fleurety, ex DHG) or have heard of any Joey Hopkins previous works, there’s no doubt you have some idea of what to expect with this release. For those not familiar with the more recent output of both; fuckeduppery. Lots of it. Sadly, Joey Hopkins died nearly three years ago, leaving Zweizz to finish the record of and releasae it himself, but Joey’s influence has clearly shone through, with this sounding far from the latest Zweizz release.
The self titled album does not disappoint in any respect. The music is a complex weave of sounds from various sources, jumbled and often juxtaposed uncomfortably against each other. There is a real sense of madness at the heart of the music. Electronic, glitchy, tympani wielding, with occasional clear guitar.
The two tracks containing guest vocals from Krystoffer Rygg (Ulver, Arcturus, Head Control System, Aethenor etc etc etc etc) and Carl-Michael Eide (Virus, Aura Noir, Ved Buens Ende, etc) are real highlights for me, as the singing sits at such stark contrast to the underlying music, and they provide, through the lyrics, a reaffirming of the sense of the conflict that underpins the release.

17 ÆthenorEn Form For Blå
Krystoffer Rygg, Stephen O’Malley and Daniel O’Sullivan – pretty godamn sweet grouping of dudes there. Æthenor is the title these three chaps use to release their strange blend of freejazz, improv and ambient noise. Their fourth full length release, En Form For Blå is quite a different kettle of fish to the first three albums, with the addition of percussion significantly moving the sound away from a purely ambient driven project, into stranger but more full territory. The addition of a more driving electronic undercurrent, as well as something vaguely approaching vocal content, also add a more traditionally musical feel to the sound. Don’t however think this is a clean and simple musical exercise. The music is complex and brooding, with an extremely deep, sonorous and rich sound.
It may have cost them some of their former fans, as the direction shifts away from largely ambient territories, but for my mind this is the sound of a collective of musicians really connecting and hitting their stride. Easily the most compelling release to come out under the Æthenor name to date.

18 WolfmanglerThey Call Us Naughty Wolves
Dubbed “cello blackmetal”, Wolfmangler, not surprisingly are a group who base their sound around the Cello, rather than the more traditional guitar. The project is the work of one man, D. Smolken, also of the punishingly abrasive Dead Raven Choir. The music of Wolfmangler is abrasive, despite being quite minimalist, and centred around a deep reverberating cello, just in an aurally different manner.
Smolken’s music isn’t reliably good, or bad. Sometimes it is amazing, other times odd, or downright annoying. Wolfmangler, definitely falls into the amazing category. As playful and silly as the album title may sound, this is music heavy in atmosphere, sounding far from jovial. The vocals, like the core melodic instrument, have been toned right down in timbre, and are now a sort of whispered raspy croak. As the album goes on, things do get weirder, with the odd vaudeville sounding folk jaunt popping up, and even some light percussion added to the more oddly paced tracks. Many of these more jaunty tracks, are actually covers of old Americana hits, adding a further layer of oddness to the album.
The CD was shipped, in some case, with a bonus pair of red ladies underwear, with a wolf dressed as a grandma on the butt.
Who knows then, if this was intended as a joke or a serious musical outing. Well worth listening to regardless.

19 CormorantDwellings
It has been a very long time since there was a heavy rock/traditional heavy metal album that I enjoyed at more than a fairly shallow depth. Dwellings though, has changed that. The styles presented here are varied; from Iron Maiden inspired galloping, to slow Sabbath doom, to occasional blasts of early Darkthrone, and hints of Opeth progressiveness. A real masterclass of how hard and metal styles of song writing can be wrestled into coherent and enjoyable slabs of music without needing to be stylistically restrained within the bounds of any one genre. The production is warm and hazy in a lush sort of 70’s sense. I am only aware of this being released as a CD to date (mine will arrive just after the silly season), but I hope to hell they get enough demand to put this out on vinyl. Something so rich sounding on CD/Digital can only sound even more amazing in the analogue medium, through a nice set of headphones or speakers.
Unsigned, and true purveyors of independent music, the band rely solely on direct sales to fund their musical creations, so every dollar leads directly to more awesome music. Order it or listen to the entire thing here: http://cormorant.bandcamp.com/album/dwellings
In the style of all good old school metal and rock, the lyrics are meaningful and filled with political and social commentary as well.

20 Blut aus Nord777 (Sects) and 777 (The Desanctification)
Blut aus Nord have become pretty bloody prolific with their recording of late. Where it seems to have hurt other acts, via diminished quality, this does not seem to be the fate for BaN.
Sects and The Desanctification mark the first two parts of a trilogy from BaN, with their usual philosophical thematic approach underpinning each release, as a journey takes place from the alpha to the omega.
Sects holds some melodic and compositional similarity to Memoria Vetusta II, particularly in terms of the interweaving of the guitars and the background support, but has a harsher and more dissonant edge, harking back to MoRT at times. Easily the more interesting and satisfying of the two releases, Sects is a complex writhing beast of a thing, that makes for terrible background music, such is the clashing sound present that it demands attentive listening.
The Desantification sits more closely on the scale to MVII, but leans much more towards the softer and more soothing moments of that release. Not without merit, and possibly coloured by just how frenetic, visceral and demanding Sects is, I hope Cosmosophy (The final part of the trilogy) either finds a happy middle ground between the two, or eschews them both in favour of outright maddening complexity and structure, ala Deathspell Omega’s, Paracletus.
Without doubt, BaN remain amongst the upper echelons of progressive and intelligently crafted blackmetal, and as long as they continue to show the versatility and total lack of fear in their writing, as on Sects in particular, they are likely to remain there for some time to come.

21 CaïnaHands that Pluck
I first got on the Caïna bandwagon way back when Mourner was released, and have followed Andy’s work intently since. Mourner was an album that contained so much amazing music, but was ultimately let down by some very bad recording/mixing, and a lack of cohesion.
Hands That Pluck still has those same issues, sort of. The recording quality is still far from top notch, but it feels quite intentional for the most part here, as the more blackmetal aspects of his sound are given priority, rather than the post-rock laden style of Temporary Antennae. The songs are much more defined within themselves, with less grating shifts, however there still remains a stark contrast of styles on the album. Again, in this form, it works. The blackmetal is given more urgent potency as a direct result of the meandering and blessed out nature of some of the post rock and ambient moments.
Sadly, this will be the last full Caïna release (a split containing one new track, released in December will be the last release, full stop), as Andy has decided that Caïna has reached a logical endpoint, and that he has achieved what he set out to.
Released as a double CD digi pack, the second disc contains reworked and re-imagined versions of older songs, and is almost worth the price of admission alone.
My only complaint is the vocals. I don’t like them particularly, whether they be the harsh or the softer style - and they sit well forward in the mix, making them hard to tune out. Ultimately, a minor criticism of a superb album though.

22 TenhiSaivo
Nearly six years have passed since the amazing Maaäet was released by Tenhi. Saivo, picks up pretty much where Maaäet left off. The vocals remain a mix of layered higher pitched almost chanting, and a solid hushed and almost spoken main lyrical deliverer. Musically, there is nothing to compare Tenhi too. They are generally categorised as neofolk, but this for them is a bit narrow a definition. The violins, gently plucked guitar, ambient soundscapes and hazy piano paint an amazing picture. Saivo lacks any immediate OMFGWTFBBQ moments, unlike their previous album Maaäet, which had the amazingly immediate and visceral Tuulenkato, but the composition is delicate, complex and emotionally charged all the same.
Over time, I suspect this album will grow on my like a wonderful fungus, particularly once I have it with me through a proper cold winter, or days of deep sadness.

Nearly in the TOP 22
Black Sun AeonBlacklight Deliverance
Black Sun Aeon is the one man goth/doom tinged melodic death metal project for Finish multi-band-man and ADHD musician, Tuomas Saukkonen. Under the Black Sun Aeon moniker, he has continually produced extremely high quality music (both from a purely musical perspective, but also in the recording and production, which are as lush and clear as anything I’ve heard from other big names within the style), with big bottom end and a razor sharp upper spectrum. The music, whilst well composed, is not. Unlike 2010’s Routa, which I wasn’t overly impressed by, Blacklight Deliverance does not outstay its welcome. I think given the reasonably unchanged nature of Black Sun Aeon’s sound from one album to the next, keeping the albums coming in at around 40 - 50 minutes (as this one does) is a pretty decent idea. Routa had some solid music on it, but it just never ended. Blacklight Deliverance is much better paced and overall an enjoyable slab of melodic doomy/death metal, if not terribly challenging or progressive.

AlcestLe secret
Not technically a new album, although long enough to be one with two versions of each of the included tracks. In all honesty, I fail to see the point of the re-recorded songs. The remastering of the two original tracks is superb – they are clearer but without losing any of their intensity, rawness or emotion. The re-recordings, as opposed to re-masterings, seem comparatively clean, clinical and lacking the same heft or presence of the originals.
Worth buying to have the originals on vinyl in their re-mastered form alone.

Krallice have produced two excellent albums, with Diotima being the third. It lacks some of the outright intensity of the first two, instead relying on a more focused and slowed down playing style. However, the focus of the sound still very much remains the interplay of twin tremolo leads. The bass is more noticeably present and contributory to the sound than previous outings. Still a great slab of thrashy/deathy blackmetal, Diotima gives us a less frenetic, but still compelling Krallice. As with their previous albums, I tend to think that if I was writing a best of list six months from now, this would be higher up – Krallice albums always take time to really grow due to the thick wall of sound and subtle layering.

A Winged Victory For The Sullen – [album artist=A Winged Victory For The Sullen]A Winged Victory For The Sullen

AWFTS is a complex beast. The ambient droning soundscapes are gentle, soft and the piano and stringed instruments are crisp and emotive. I listened to this album a great deal. Mostly at night, and mostly via headphones. The complex nature of the music, the huge variability in the sound levels as they take us from ground to sky and beyond, and to the ocean, reward concerted listening.

Falls of RaurosThe Light That Dwells in Rotten Wood
Falls of Rauros have been around since 2006, and TLTDIRW is their third full length release. Playing a style of blackmetal that is not entirely dissimilar to Agalloch or Fen and the like, although overall somewhat heavier, their music centres around nature, paganism and the like. Recording quality has been a bit of an issue in the past, but that is no longer the case. The sound here is crisp and clear, without being too sharp, and all the elements come together nicely in the mix.

Smohalla are another of those bands that I got onto very early on in the piece. Resilience, their first official full length release, takes the ground laid in the brilliant Nova Persei and fleshes it out. Adding a greater depth to the writing is a more defined vocal presence, some fuller sounding tracks and a really unique overall aesthetic. Still sitting somewhere vaguely in the ballpark of progressive blackmetal, Resilience is an engaging bombastic album, with an at times boggling complexity of sound. Therein lay probably my only two minor criticisms of the album; the mix sometimes suffers under the weight of the variety of sounds, getting a bit muddled, and this at time in turn leads the album overall to feel a little bit unsure of its direction. Minor criticism though, of a truly awesome album. If this was a favourite songs of the year list, Smohalla would be sitting at number two. The youtube clips for the album are all a bit muddied, possibly because the music is quite laden and thus hard to compress? Anyway, worth getting hold of on CD!

Gnaw Their Tongues - Per Flagellum Sanguemque, Tenebras Veneramus
I’m a card carrying fan of the music Mories makes, and this year he released a fuckload of it. I’m not sure if I’m getting Mories exhaustion though, as although I enjoyed them all greatly, I couldn’t quite say they were my deadest favourites. I think particularly here with GTT, generally my favourite of Mories’ vehicles, there is less cinematic/orchestral underlying structure, which makes for some very brutal passages of music. Mostly though, this brutality remains entertaining, if GTT can ever be called entertaining!?

WoeQuietly, Undramatically
Technically released in 2010, I discovered this too late last year to include in my 2010 list. In fact, I only found it towards the latter part of 2011. If not for the wrong year factor, this would be inside my top 20. I really like what they are doing. Galloping frenetic thrashing blackmetal, with influences of death, crust and doom. Truly spectacular as far as balls out, angry, spiteful heavy music goes.

Also good:
Forgotten Tomb – [album artist=Forgotten Tomb]Under Saturn Retrograde

AsvaPresences Of Absences
Mournful CongregationThe Book of Kings
ObsequiaeSuspended in the Brume of Eos
EsotericParagon of Dissonance
Natural Snow BuildingsWaves Of The Random Sea
The Phantom CarriageNew Thing
The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation[artist] – Anthropomorphic
SumpTaken Dead
Pestilential ShadowsDepths
MemoriaDeath calls the islands
GallhammerThe End
BrulvahnatuMenstrual Extraction Ceremony
Disease ProcessDiease Process
De Magia Veterumthe divine antithesis
Neige MorteNeige Morte
ArizmendaWithout Circumference Nor Centre
EarthAngels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light 1
AderlatingSpear of Gold and Seraphim Bone
A Storm of Light - [album artist =A Storm of Light]As The Valley Of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade[/album]
AmebixSonic Mass
Cloak of AlteringThe Night Comes Illuminated With Death
PrimordialRedemption At The Puritans Hand
IrohaEnd Of An Era
BotanistI: The Suicide Tree, II: A Rose From The Dead
Negative PlaneStained Glass Revelations
Circle Of OuroborousEleven Fingers
ThouThe Archer & the Owle


  • WilburWhateley

    Thanks for placing me in the top 22. I'm really glad you liked the album. Com Truise is also going to place high on mine when I do it. Andy.

    Dic 12 2011, 22:14
  • XfnSnow

    Nice list and reviewing style. Your journal is quite similar to mine. felt a calling and obligation to the artist who've put out such incredible work this year.

    Dic 18 2011, 18:02
  • not-ian

    Excellent stuff - I love your end of year lists

    Dic 22 2011, 8:30
  • Khanatist

    Thanks for the effort! The only artist I didn't know from the Top 22 (beside Zweizz & Joey Hopkins), Chelsea Wolfe, also looks the most interesting to me. I'm excited to hear that, and if I like it, it's thanks to you. Cheers.

    Dic 25 2011, 20:40
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