Well, 2011 went out with a bang for me, what with that intimate Kyuss Lives gig at Cherry Cola’s. Oowatanite! More on that later, though. I already listed my Top 10 concerts of the year yesterday, so now it’s time to give you my Top 10 albums of 2011.
10. Denizen – Whispering Wild Stories
An independently-released album from a band outta France, this is probably the greatest record you never heard last year. Denizen doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but they mix stoner grooves and sludge barks with equal aplomb for an enjoyable 30-minute ride.
CHOICE WORDS: “I can picture Fu Manchu fronted by Mike IX Williams on tunes like “Casino Royale” and “Under a Dress”, where stoner grooves meet pissed off hardcore vocals. It actually sounds pretty bitchin’.” (THTGIR (RIP) review)
9. Gypsy Chief Goliath – It’s a Walk in the Mist
Although this is officially a 2012 release on Swedish label Black Vulture Records, I’ve been listening to it since the summertime, and thus, I wouldn’t hesitate to put it on my year-end 2011 list. A relatively-new outfit that’s nevertheless long in the tooth, fronted by Al “Yeti” Bones (Mister Bones, The Mighty Nimbus), this Gypsy is one of the bands keeping the home fires burning with its heavy rock tuneage.
CHOICE WORDS: “One of the things that distinguishes GCG from any other local heavy rock band I know is that they have a dedicated harmonica player, which suits their heavy, blues-based grooves just fine. On the other hand, “We Are the Devil’s Thieves” makes use of banjo (or is that lap-steel?) in its chorus, adding an extra dose of southern soul salt to the mixture, which simmers nicely.” (THTGIR (RIP) review)
8. Rwake – Rest
Twas a long time coming for these Arkansas post-sludge miscreants, their first album in about four years. Rest isn’t merely an imitation of some of the more well-known bands (NeurIsis) in the genre, however, as there are enough unique twists and turns to keep this one interesting.
CHOICE WORDS: “You know, I could probably eat dinner in the time it takes to listen to “The Culling,” the album’s centerpiece that clocks in at 16:33. The first several minutes are just classical-style guitar with what almost sounds like a Theremin in the background, until it eventually builds into a crescendo, winding prog-metal riffs woven around a cool drum fill. Oh, and the guitar solo at the three-quarter mark is pure Iron Maiden.” (Hellbound.ca review, August 31st)
7. YOB – Atma
The most critically acclaimed album on this list, Atma even ended up on SPIN Magazine’s year-end Top 50. Not only their Top 50 metal albums, mind you–Top 50 albums, period. A fine return to form from Mike Scheidt and co, I find this one far superior to their comeback effort, The Great Cessation, and it seems I’m not alone, either.
CHOICE WORDS: “After a few minutes, a solid riff comes crashing in like a 12-foot wave—still no vocals at this point, not until Scheidt announces his presence with a mighty roar. This is probably the coolest tune on the record, ending on a high tide, erm, high note…” (Hellbound.ca review, July 6th)
6. Blood Ceremony – Living with the Ancients
You know how there are certain bands that you discover before anyone else, and thus, have a lasting connection to said artist? Blood Ceremony is one of those bands for me. I first saw them, completely by accident, in August 2006 (here’s my retelling of that story), and have been a fan ever since. I must say that their second album didn’t have the initial impact of their debut effort, but it has certainly grown on me over the past eight months.
CHOICE WORDS: “It seems at this point that they’ve largely abandoned the restrictive “doom metal” label for something more original, more progressive—but not entirely, as the crushing intro to “My Demon Brother” shows. Sean Kennedy can still play pentatonics with the best of them.” (THTGIR (RIP) review)
5. The Gates of Slumber – The Wretch
One of the founding fathers of the Circle of True Doom, TGOS put out a new record last year that places them at the head of the table, a more Vitusean effort that still contains traces of their Conan-metal past. They also toured with Wino’s outfit Premonition 13 in the fall, cementing their road-warrior status. Too bad that one didn’t come to Canada–or even Buffalo, for that matter…
CHOICE WORDS: ““Castle of the Devil” one-ups its predecessor in terms of epicness, going from a quiet, mellow verse with minimal instrumentation to a heavy, head-banging, first-raising chorus. The title track, another slow slice of Vitusean doom, leads into “Iron and Fire,” the stark coldness of which almost resembles blackened doom—to say nothing of the Bathory-esque song title…” (Hellbound.ca review, May 23rd)
4. Macabre – Grim Scary Tales
Although I rarely listen to anything above 80 bpm nowadays, there’s still a soft spot in my blackened heart for Chicagoan murder-metal masters Macabre, who finally released their fifth full-length after an eight-year absence. These guys twist tales of real-life serial killers and mass murderers around blistering, punky grindcore and nursery-rhymey singalongs. My favourite death metal band, without a doubt.
CHOICE WORDS: “As previously mentioned, “The Big Bad Wolf” is awesome. I know I’d buy an album of Macabre singing children’s campfire songs—oh wait, they’ve already done that…” (Hellbound.ca review, February 3rd)
3. Argus – Boldly Strides the Doomed
Proudly flying the epic doom flag for the past few years, Argus put out another fine platter of power doom metal with their aptly titled sophomore release. If you like a little Dio with your Candlemass, then this is the band for you. Nuff said.
CHOICE WORDS: “After a brief acoustic intro, the band gets right into it with a pair of driving, mid-paced numbers that reference Maiden and Dio just as much as Candlemass, though one can’t help but succumb to the slithering, snake-like riffs that held you captive as frontman Butch Balich begs for mercy on “Wolves of Dusk,” ushering a change of pace that brings the number down to a devastating crawl.” (Hellbound.ca review, April 7th)
2. Crowbar – Sever the Wicked Hand
My Comeback Album of the Year goes to Crowbar, forefathers of the NOLA sound, who put out their first full-length album since ’05′s Lifesblood for the Downtrodden. These guys used to be good for a new album every year or two, up until the turn of the century, but I hear that Kirk Windstein’s kinda busy with Down nowadays. In any case, he rallies the troops here for an awesome effort that just oozes toxic sludge outta every pore. Personally, I’d take Crowbar over Down, any day!
CHOICE WORDS: “That Windstein signature tone sounds just as evil as ever on this record, and compliments his hoarse vocals perfectly. “Liquid Sky and Cold Black Earth” features both prominently; three songs in, and I’m not complaining…” (Hellbound.ca review, February 14th)
1. Witch Mountain – South of Salem
Though not nearly as underground as Denizen, there’s still a pretty decent chance that you might not have heard this record. Well I’m here to tell ya that you should, especially if you’re the type who would hop on a plane to see Sleep play Portland (guilty as charged!). These Oregon stoomsters hadn’t done anything in about a decade, until some recent life changes led them to get the band back together. (You might say they’re on a mission from YOB!) But the biggest addition to the new direction was the recruitment of frontwoman Uta Plotkin, a classically-trained soulful singer who spits fire all over these tracks. If Sabbath was fronted by Janis Joplin, it might not even sound this stunning!
CHOICE WORDS: “After the opening salvo, “Plastic Cage” begins with a tasty bass lick, before a guitar riff takes over with a tone stolen from Matt Pike’s effects board, circa ’93. Plotkin’s plaintive, emotive, yet detached vocals add another layer of misery to this dirty concoction—before they get weirded out by some creepy effects, albeit briefly. The killer riff that sees this tune through to its conclusion has me headbanging like Beavis and Butthead, albeit in half time.” (Hellbound.ca review, May 26th)
P.S.: Does this list make you wanna dwell with Denizen or climb Witch Mountain? If so, I’ll be spinning some tunes from all of the aforementioned albums on my podcast, Gruesome Tunes, this evening from 6 to 8 pm (Eastern Time) on Grip of Delusion Radio. I’ll also be putting it up for download within the next coupla days, so keep your third eye open.