Y’know, bands don’t release records quite as often as they used to. Back in the day, labels demanded a new album, oh, about every six months or so–and thus, when it came to those classic bands from the 70′s, most of them put out at least one new LP per year. That’s not so much the case anymore, however, as what little money there is to be made in the music business comes through touring; the physical product certainly comes secondary to seeing the band in the flesh. Anyways, that’s all a big long windup to say that only one band from my 2011 list made the top 10 this year, but the turnover is largely due to the fact that the other artists had no new material to contend with. Alas, there are many old, familiar names in this year’s top 10… but a couple new ones, as well. And with no further ado, I give you the full list, in ascending order:
10. Candlemass – Psalms for the Dead (Napalm)
The farewell album from the forefathers of epic doom metallicus might not be a personal best, but it’s still pretty impressive that they’re pumping this stuff out over 25 years later. There are at least a couple songs on here that should find their way into the farewell tour setlist–here’s hoping they’ve got some North American dates forthcoming…
CHOICE WORDS: As a great gloomy glob of Lars Johansson riffage announces right off the bat, these guys are still no stranger to high-quality doom. “Prophet” is for the most part mid-paced, but the Phantom-of-the-Opera vocals of recently departed (from the band, that is) Robert Lowe elevates it to epicness, almost more power than doom metal, though the crushingly-heavy riff that kicks in just shy of five minutes affirms that these are the epic doom masters we’re listening to, indeed. — Hellbound.ca review, October 1st.
9. Sons of Tonatiuh – Parade of Sorrow (Hydro-Phonic)
As the pencil-drawn artwork might indicate, this is one crusty sludge slayer of an album. The Atlanta trio’s debut was a little too black-metal sounding for my tastes, but their sophomore effort is a solid mix of NOLA-infused anger and trippy post-sludge. Not your typical Georgia sludge platter–not that I’m complaining!
CHOICE WORDS: This record rumbles on, coming off like a head-on crash between EHG and the Melvins on the title track while “Plastic Cell” kicks up a storm of a frenzied hardcore burst that slows down midway through to a gritty sludge stomp. “Season of Pills,” aside from its awesome song title, also sounds like some vintage NOLA tunage with a hint of crossover for that extra kick. This is the good stuff, right here. — unpublished(!?) review
8. Sons of OTIS – Seismic (Small Stone)
The first new material from these Toronto lifers following a three-year exile in which they mostly played European gigs, Seismic is, for my money, the best OTIS offering of the 21st century. With just the right balance between spaced-out fuzz and Saint Vitus groove, this record sure is cruisin’ for a
CHOICE WORDS: “PK” dips and dives like a Habs defenceman, a slow-rolling groove that’ll get yer head noddin’ as some cosmic space FX float past on your right. “Never in My Life” hits like a head-on collision between Saint Vitus and Hendrix, Ryan channelling Mitch Mitchell behind the kit and Gene Frenkle on the cowbell in this dirty, distorted blues number. — Hellbound.ca review, November 13th
7. Mares of Thrace – The Pilgrimage (Sonic Unyon)
This crushing sophomore album from Calgary’s finest female doom duo is a huge step forward for the Mares. Another vicious blend of angry blackened metal and soaring post-sludge–there aren’t too many Canadian bands that sound like this!
CHOICE WORDS: Man, I can see why they released “The Gallwasp” as a preview single. This tune crushes, killer intro/chorus riff that’s sort of a mishmash of Windstein and Pike. This is the straight goods, right here! — These two chicks from Calgary are heavier than you, March 28th
6. Saint Vitus – Lillie: F-65 (Season of Mist)
The long-awaited (17 years!) recorded return from the masters of lo-fi mourning, Lillie is agonizingly short, at 34 and a half minutes, with a coupla throwaway instrumentals, to boot! But when it comes to the songs, man, a handful of vintage Vitus beats the output of most modern doom bands, any day…
CHOICE WORDS: Lead-off track “Let Them Fall,” which spawned a slightly-silly music video, carries that same dark, brooding mood as heard on Born Too Late, what with the fuzzed-out Chandler riffs, Wino’s mournful cries, the solid yet understated rhythm section of Adams and Vazquez—and another mondo bizzaro guitar solo from the bearded one’s deadly arsenal. Yup, the gang’s all here… — Hellbound.ca review, May 23rd
5. Corrosion of Conformity – self-titled (Candlelight)
For a band that tends to go a while between full-lengths, the seven-year gap between In the Arms of God and their new record wasn’t incredibly unusual for COC. What was a little more unexpected was a certain lineup change, the band eschewing Pepper Keenan in favour of a return to their original, three-piece, crossover lineup. You can certainly hear some of their metalcore (look up the original meaning of the term, yo!) past creeping into this record, but it’s counteracted by a heavy helping of meaty, southern-doom riffage. I was actually more stoked to hear the new stuff than the Animosity era tunes when I saw ‘em live in the summertime–and that says it all, really!
CHOICE WORDS: This record chugs along with songs like the Motorpunk bitchslap of “Leeches,” the melodic doom/sludge attack of “Your Tomorrow,” and “The Moneychangers,” which kinda recalls The Cult on punk-rock bathtub crank—with mellow, desert-style instrumental “El Lamento de las Cabras” thrown in for good measure. — Hellbound.ca review, January 7th
4. Witch Mountain – Cauldron of the Wild (Profound Lore)
I hafta admit, I was blown away by this Portland outfit’s comeback effort, South of Salem, which topped my list last year. Suffice to say, I had pretty high expectations for this one–and its placing in my top five shows that it delivered, at least to an extent. While I do have some minor quibbles with the record–such as black metal gurgles coming out of the beautiful mouth of Uta Plotkin–it’s still an overall winner. They just don’t take home the grand prize this year…
CHOICE WORDS: “Beekeeper” stings with its sludgy stomp, Plotkin’s vocals coming in exclusively on the left channel of my headphones. … Her evil cackle on either side of the two-minute mark really puts the Witch in Witch Mountain as Rob Wrong delivers a punishing stop-start riff that’s perfectly punctuated for slow-motion headbanging. — Hellbound.ca review, June 18th
3. Blue Aside – The Moles of a Dying Race (Hydro-Phonic)
And the award for best album you’ve never heard goes to Blue Aside. I’ve been a big fan of this Boston-based band ever since they sent me a CDR of their debut EP, The Orange Tree, a couple years back. Their sound’s a little hard to pin down; on the one hand, you’ve got some seriously heavy stoner doom riffs, on the other, light, airy progressive passages–both executed with equal aplomb. This record’s pretty heady stuff, too. It’s over an hour long and contains a three-part titular suite. But even if you’re normally scared off by concept albums, there’s enough happening here to hold your interest for 63 minutes, believe you me!
CHOICE WORDS: After a couple more robust numbers in “The Electrode Man” and “Will We Remain Tomorrow,” chockfull of crunchy riffs that kinda remind me of vintage Black Pyramid, mixed in with some Neurosis and a dash of Ufomammut (yes, it’s that tasty!), Part 2 clocks in at 10-and-a-half minutes. Starting off with some soothing chords and strings, which nevertheless seem a little spaced-out, this tune meanders along for a bit, oozing vintage prog, before a majestic riff comes down with the force of the best power-metal dragon-slayers to rescue a chastity-belted Yngwie Malmsteen. — Hellbound.ca review, October 29th
2. Neurosis – Honor Found in Decay (Neurot)
Could my mention of Neurosis and Ufomammut in that Blue Aside review be a bit of foreshadowing? Perhaps. In any case, I was pretty stoked for the new Neurosis, the sextet’s first album in over five years. This is an older, wiser Neurosis on display here, more meandering mellow passages making their presence felt than on, say, Through Silver in Blood. In any case, they only seem to accentuate the well-placed heavy riffs that deliver a big blow both physically and spiritually. Man, I’m dying to figure out a way to fit one of their mid-January live dates onto my calendar…
CHOICE WORDS: And here’s where it gets interesting. I swear to Satan I hear bagpipes in the break, though that’s possibly just a digital effect, the riffs pulsating and pummelling with air-raid-siren keys in the background. — Hellbound.ca review, October 7th
1. Ufomammut – Oro: Opus Primum/Opus Alter (Neurot)
Not content in limiting themselves to just one album, these Italian riffmongers crafted a concept so lengthy that it required two full-length records, issued six months apart, to tell the tale. Taking cues from their labelmates–label-owners, really–they weave a wild story taking us to far-off lands, albeit with a heartier helping of sludge than their mentors. Though I prefer the first chapter, Opus Primum, listening to both installments back to back is likely to make your ears melt and your head explode. Don’t try this at home, kids…
CHOICE WORDS: Let’s face it, you’re not going to hear a wide variety of different styles on here, but for spaced-out doom done right, it doesn’t get much better. — Hellbound.ca review (Opus Primum), March 20th
Unfamiliar with Ufomammut? Need more Neurosis in your diet? Have you been living under a rock for the last 12 months, missing the new Vitus, COC and Witch Mountain releases? Fortunately, there’s hope. Tune in to Gruesome Tunes tonight from 6 to 8 pm Eastern Time as I count down, and play a couple selections, from all the aforementioned albums! The podcast will also be made available to download in the next couple days, so keep checking this space…