Friday, December 30, 2011

Mick's Top 15 Albums Of 2011

And so it is that one of the greatest years in metal, good ole 2011, has sadly come to a close.  If I had only one thing to say to 2011, it would be a sincere "Thank You."  Whether it was Jack writing an article for our friend Islander at No Clean Singing ( which ended up being mentioned by MetalSucks ), or us having interviews with some of our biggest inspirations, it would be a gross understatement to say that 2011 has been fantastic for us here at Brutalitopia.  I'd personally like to thank everyone out there who has made all of this possible for us.  We are truly grateful.

If 2011 has shown us anything, it's that the metal community is alive and well (another gross understatement).  Don't listen to the likes of Disturbed's David Draiman who said earlier this year that metal "is on the verge of collapse."  In all fairness to him, he corrected that statement shortly after.  But the fact that those words even formulated in his head still astound me.  You know that the metal is alive and well when you're at a Dream Theater concert and someone yells out "SLAAAAAYERRRR" during one of the transitions between songs. Yes, Jack and I actually witnessed that.

As for the releases of 2011, they were pretty darn awesome.  We all could've easily done a top 25, but you have to have a cutoff somewhere.  While the albums in my list below are my definitive top 15, there were a plethora of other albums that I really really liked.

So with all that in mind, let's take a look at my favorite albums of 2011. . .after the break.

*Under each entry, all of the tracks in the "Favorite Tracks" section are linked to those songs.  You're welcome.  

#15: Indian - Guiltless

I’m not the biggest fan of doom metal, but it’s albums like Indian’s Guiltless that have started to open me up to it.  What hooked me with this album in particular is how everything worked together in unison to create an unrelenting onslaught of what can only be described as raw emotion.  The drums are downright brutal and are all encompassing.  The guitars sound dirty but are perfect along with the brutality of the drums, in typical doom metal style.  The vocal performance, while being amongst the most vicious of the year, is the element that ties everything together.  Everything works so well together that you will buy right in to the anger of this album.  The angry emotion of this record will draw you in so much that you yourself will swell up with anger.  As many of us know, the only cure for this is massive amounts of head-banging.   Don’t worry, though, you’ll love every minute of it.  Go ahead and chalk up another one for the Chicago metal scene.    

Favorite Tracks: No Grace, Guilty, The End Of Truth  

  #14: Textures - Dualism

From front to back, this is one of those albums that just plain rocks.  I’m sure the new singer, Daniel de Jongh, had something to do with it, but Textures have reached a new pinnacle in their sound.  What I’ve always appreciated about this band, and especially with this album, is that you can’t pin them down to one genre.  Sure, you can point out all of the melodic parts, the djent parts, the metalcore parts, the progressive parts, but all of it mixes so well that you could care less what genre it sounds like.  One minute you’ll have easy listening in a radio rock track like “Reaching Home”, and the next minute you’ll be pummeled with a track like “Stoic Resignation.”  In other words, the pacing of this album is what really makes it worth the listen.  Everything flows naturally.  Nothing is out of place here.      

#13: East Of The Wall - The Apologist

 Speaking of not being very easily categorized, here’s an album that exemplifies that to the nth degree.   Returning from their triumphant 2010 release, Ressentiment, East Of The Wall is back with their best album yet.  I’m still trying to figure out if it’s something with the production or if it’s just how the music inherently sounds, but this album felt like one big garage jam session.  This gives it a very organic sound which makes it very relatable and believable.  It’s very easy to become immersed into this album, and it’s definitely worth it.  Each track is so unique within itself that you’ll have no idea when it actually changes to the next one.  But that is the beauty with this album.  You’ll have no clue where you are in the track list, but it won’t matter.  This album experience will be sure to captivate you.     


 #12: Vildhjarta - Masstaden

In the ever evolving genre of what’s been dubbed “djent,” there has been an emergence of really solid bands such as Periphery and Tesseract.  However, when comparing many of these bands to the forefather of this genre, Meshuggah, the gap between them is laughable.  The genre has reached a point where it’s crying out for some band to leap into the forefront and own it.  In enters Swedish (surprise, surprise) band Vildhjarta and their debut album, Masstaden.  I remember being very impressed upon hearing some pre-Masstaden material of theirs after having been introduced to them by a friend (shout out to Connor) over this past summer.  Having fairly optimistic expectations, I was really blown away by Masstaden at first listen.  Be assured that the traditional Meshuggah-esque riffs are abundant, but what really sets Vildhjarta’s debut album apart from being just another djent album is the immensity of the atmosphere created within it.  Sure there are parts that are heavy as all hell, but these are well balanced with sections that are eerily awesome.  This ambiance is utterly breath-taking.  For a debut album, this shows potential for a band that could become, for a lack of a better word, HUGE.

Favorite Tracks: Shadow, Eternal Golden Monk, The LoneDeranger    

#11: The Devin Townsend Project - Deconstruction

It’s safe to say that Devin Townsend completed the DTP cycle in an extremely grandiose fashion.  With the likes of Mikael Akerfeldt, Joe Duplantier, Paul Masvidal, Tommy Rogers, and Greg Puciato coming in as guest musicians, it would be hard to believe that this album could be anything other than heavy and epic.  Everything was blown over the top with Deconstruction, but it works in a way that only Devin Townsend can pull off.  With dialogue about cheeseburgers, lines like “we all rip off Meshuggah,” and a song called “The Mighty Masturbator,” epicness is evenly balanced with comedic relief (even though that wasn’t his intent).  So to sum this album up, it’s epic, it’s funny, it’s catchy, and it features a collective of metal superstars.  Need I say more?  It will be very interesting to see what direction Devy takes from this point forward.      

#10: Dream Theater - A Dramatic Turn Of Events

This album was a dramatic turn of events indeed.  With the Mike Portnoy era setting over the horizon for Dream Theater, the Mike Mangini era is just rising and shows plenty of promise.  This new album from the progressive metal giants showcases some of their best work since the Octavarium/Train Of Thought days.  With a much more rejuvenated sound, everything you would hope for from a Dream Theater album and more is here.  The musicianship is top notch and as epic as ever (big surprise).  A Dramatic Turn Of Events is certainly a breath of fresh air for many Dream Theater fans, including myself, as it shows that they are back to pushing themselves and their limits again.  The Dream Theater machine shows no signs of slowing down yet.      

 #9: Decapitated - Carnival Is Forever

If you want a pure shot of adrenaline straight through your system via your ear canal, then this death metal masterpiece is exactly what you ordered.  No other album this year can instantly get me as jacked as this album can.  The heavier then hell riffs and brutal drum beats will cut right to your core. . .in a good way.  After the tragedy that befell the band a few years back, it’s good to see that the new lineup releases such a beastly album.  The essence of the Decapitated of old remains, but the new lineup has their own flare that is very much a good sign of things to come.   

Favorite Tracks: Carnival Is Forever, Homo Sum, Pest

#8: Obscura - Omnivium

On we move into the realm of technical death metal.  I’ll be honest.  I listened to this album when it first came out in the spring and just didn’t get it.  It grew on me a little bit over the summer, but it really wasn’t until I saw them play live on their North American tour this past fall with Devin Townsend and Children Of Bodom that it really clicked.  I was left pretty much speechless after seeing them play.  The only words I could really harness at the time were, “How they the hell can they do that?!”  It wasn’t just the fact that they were playing ungodly fast tempos and blistering solos, but it was the fact that they were doing it effortlessly and made it look easy.  That’s what truly blows my mind about this album.  These guys are freakishly good.  Not to mention that on top of the brutally fast blast beats and guitar solos are wickedly heavy death metal riffs.  If you’re in the mood for some of the best technical death metal around today, look no further than Obscura.   

#7: Animals As Leaders - Weightless

Tosin Abasi and crew are back with their sophomore effort gifting us some of the coolest around that would be considered anything but weightless.  While their self-titled debut was more of a “testing the waters” kind of album, they’ve certainly shown through Weightless that they’ve found a formula that works and that they are ready to run with.  This record shows that there is certainly good chemistry between Tosin, Javier, and Navene now.  The album seems to have a much more focused approach than its predecessor.  This isn’t to say, however, that what you loved about the AAL debut isn’t present on this album.  It is….just improved upon several times over.  Tosin Abasi is a man amongst boys.  Believe it.    

#6: Mastodon - The Hunter

Coming off of 2009’s incredibly progressive Crack The Skye, the big question for Mastodon was whether they would continue down that proggy path.  With this year’s release of The Hunter, the answer would be a resounding NO.  However, Mastodon has proven before and now again with this album that they are great at jamming.  The song structures are more straightforward then their last progtastic release, yet continue to widen that spectrum that is the Mastodon sound.  As opposed to having a concept album that requires a full run-through of the album to be fully grasped, The Hunter can be appreciated on a track-by-track basis.  If Mastodon has proven anything over the course of their existence, it’s that they can do whatever they want and it will turn out awesome regardless.   

#5: Born Of Osiris - The Discovery

While this album is only #5 on my list, it definitely gets the #1 surprise album of the year award.  The jump from their last album, A Higher Place, to this one utterly blew me away.  What is really special about this record is that while it clearly establishes a much more mature and technically proficient sound, it keeps that uniqueness that is at the heart of Born Of Osiris.  The guitars feel heavier, the keyboards are more involved (and done tastefully), the vocals are crushing, the grooves are as catchy as any, and the solos are blistering.  If this band continues to improve as much as they have for The Discovery, don’t be surprised if Born Of Osiris blows up and becomes even bigger in the coming years. 

#4: Sylosis - Edge Of The Earth

Metalcore haters were given a square kick in the nuts and aptly silenced with this album.  This four-piece band from the UK showed with their second full-length album that metalcore and thrash can combine to make a masterpiece.  Each track has something that isn’t necessarily new but will undoubtedly hook you and feel fresh at the same time.  With every song being so rifftastic, why should we even care if the album is 14 songs long?  If anything, it’s a testament to the band that they can put so much quality into one record.  The vocals are full of aggression and intensity, the riffs are amongst the catchiest of the year, the solos are insane, and the beats are unrelenting.  Sylosis proves with Edge Of The Earth that they are the real deal.  Expect more great things to come from this band. 

#3: Altar Of Plagues - Mammal

In terms of the most profound record of the year, look no further that the new album from these Irish black metallers.  Creating a soundscape that is visceral, unrelenting, ancient, and downright creepy, Mammal is a brilliant album.  This is the album that entranced me the most this year.  It’s one of those albums that once you start listening to it, you have to play it all the way through to be satisfied.  What is so entrancing about Mammal is that it takes a very minimalistic approach musically but creates an atmosphere that is second to none.  It really does make you feel like you’re listening to music of ancient history that’s been forgotten by time.  It will creep you out, but you will also feel moved while listening to this album.

 #2: Scale The Summit - The Collective

The third release from Houston’s own Scale The Summit winds up as the second instrumental album on this list, and #2 overall mainly for one reason - songwriting.  The biggest concern with their last album, Carving Desert Canyons, was that the songs sounded too much alike.  It’s safe to say that they took that criticism to heart on The Collective as it shows an extremely focused approach and songs that are dynamic as any this year.  The songs are full of movement, heaviness, and beauty.  This release has all of the right ingredients that not only have made the band more popular but has come as a milestone in the evolution of instrumental music.  If you want to be truly fulfilled by an album, let this masterpiece take you away.          
Favorite Tracks: Whales, Secret Earth, Origin Of Species, Drifting Figures

#1: The Human Abstract - Digital Veil

As lead singer Travis Richter screams in the title track, “I need my digital veil!”  Anybody who’s listened to our radio show before or read this site more than a few times shouldn’t be surprised at all by Digital Veil ending up as my #1 album of 2011.  I honestly did try to give as many other albums as many spins as possible, but I always ended up coming back to this one.  In a year when so many amazing releases were coming out what seemed like every other day, my #1 was going to be determined by whatever one I listened to the most.  For the first two months after its release, I literally could not get through a day without listening to Digital Veil in its entirety at least once.  I gushed over this album when it was announced, when it came out, and still will to this day (as Jack will testify).  The best way I can describe this album is a much more mature and disciplined version of their debut album, Nocturne.  The classical themes are breath taking, the musicianship is jaw dropping, the catchiness is awe inspiring, and the heaviness is among the heaviest of the year.  It’s a shame that The Human Abstract is now on a hiatus, but at least they’ve left us with a landmark album for the time being.             

Honorable Mentions:
Opeth - Heritage
Russian Circles - Empros
Machine Head - Unto The Locust
Trivium - In Waves

Favorite Concerts Of 2011:
1. Between The Buried and Me / Animals As Leaders / Tesseract
2. Dream Theater / Trivium
3. The Dillinger Escape Plan (midnight headlining show after their show with Deftones)
4. Devin Townsend / The Ocean
5. Animals As Leaders / Intronaut / Dead Letter Circus / Last Chance To Reason / Evan Brewer

Releases Looking Most Forward To In 2012:
Between the Buried and Me
Lamb Of God
Mouth Of The Architect

Here's to 2012, everybody.  If it's half as good as 2011 was, then I will be seriously impressed.  Happy New Year!

- Mick

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