December 22, 2011

THE SWIZARD'S BEST OF 2011

2011 was a weird year for metal. On one hand, any metal band with some sort of “artistic” element was embraced and pumped up by indie rock media, which lead to a lot of deserving bands and labels getting some well-earned garnered acclaim and maybe even some money, but for the rest of us lifers. it kind of felt like a lot of fireworks for not a lot of delivery. As a 31-year-old recovering hardcore kid, one would think that more dynamic, thought-provoking music would have captured my attention more this year, but the reality is (for me at least), it seemed as though bands who were ignored by the metal press mostly for writing mosh parts that often lead to venues being closed and choruses that often lead to thirty dudes piled up on top of each other. That’s not to say that shredding and hair-whipping didn’t do anything for me, but metal in the traditional sense of the genre fell short of what I expected from it, and really lacked a breakaway album that turned the genre on its head in a refreshing way. Without further ado, here’s what killed in 2011...

Harm's Way

10
Harm’s Way
Isolation
(Closed Casket Activities)

Heavy as hell hardcore that borrowed extensively from bands like Godflesh and Disembodied. The guitar tone on this record is ignorant as fuck and at their recent show at Emo’s with The Acacia Strain and Terror, Harm’s Way turned the floor of the room into a warzone. Harm's Way could also qualify as having the "buffest" frontman in aggressive music in 2011. Had Harm’s Way made an appearance at Fun Fun Fun Fest this year, I wonder if Dragzig would have acted like such a tough guy after he let his own set get cut short.

Crucial Crust - “Scrambled”

Low Places

9
Low Places
Spiritual Treatment
(A389 Recordings)

Another one of those fucked-up Southern California bands going in the exact opposite direction of the mosh-laden metal that region has been responsible for over the last decade. Low Places combine the desperation and depression of Eyehategod with the hardcore fury of Infest or Integrity. Earlier this year, Low Places apparently stirred up some controversy over "derogatory" statements made from the stage, lighting up messageboards across the country. That sort of shit-starting is something aggressive music in general seems to be lacking these days, and for that, Low Places are appreciated. Expect to see a lot more of these guys in 2012.

Crucial Crust - “Crawl”

Retox

8
Retox
Ugly Animals
(Ipecac Recordings/Three One G Records)

Justin Pearson and Gabe Serbian of The Locust return from homoerotic dance music and weird indie garage rock (respectively) and hit us with one of the greatest hardcore punk records in decades. Some might call it an updated Swing Kids record while others might say its more of a My War-era Black Flag put through that chaotic and jazzy San Diego hardcore style. Call it what you will, the anger and urgency on this lp is unfuckwithable and it was nice to see that Justin Pearson could step away from aggressive music momentarily and still do it better than most in the game.

Crucial Crust - “Piss Elegant”

Anne

7
Anne
Dream Punx
(A389 Recordings)

Anne may make more nods to shoegaze bands like Ride or My Bloody Valentine than Cannibal Corpse, Sleep, or Mercyful Fate, but if Decibel loved the Deafheaven and Junius records so goddamned much, I’m going to do the world a favor and let y’all know about something else shoegaze-ish and sad from Portland, Ore. A lot of bands are co-opting noise-heavy guitars and dreamy vocals into their sound, but no one is doing it as well as Anne. I caught them twice on their West Coast tour earlier this year and both sets left me with tinnitus and inspired. Shouts out to Dom from A389 for sneaking this gem of a record in at the nick of time.

Crucial Crust - “Virginal Plight”

Steel Mill

6
Steel Mill
Jewels of the Forest (reissue)
(Rise Above/Metal Blade Records)

Some say that including reissues on a Top 10 is cheating, but 2011 was that lacking in quality for me and this collection is too good to not give the right amount of propers to. One of the UK’s more mysterious and legendary heavy prog-rock bands, the dudes over at Rise Above were able to compile the Steel Mill's God’s Green Eye single (which originally dropped in 1971) as well as several other rare jams onto one collection for those of us who don’t have a few hundred to drop on rare vinyl. Fans of Black Sabbath, Pentagram, Leaf Hound and Witchcraft will love the stoney riffs and the use of wind instruments that run rampant on this collection. Jewels of the Forest was easily my favorite record to smoke weed to in 2011.

Crucial Crust - “Blood Runs Deep”


In Solitude

5
In Solitude
The World, The Flesh, The Devil
(Metal Blade Records)

In Solitude blew me away on several different levels this year. Their unique homage to the almighty King Diamond/Mercyful Fate, winning over crowds opening for Down all over the US this fall, and their frontman Pelle "Hornper" Ahman's ever present fox shawl are three of many things that made In Solitude murderers of so many mediocre bands that put out lukewarm records this year. They have the keen ability to stay metal as fuck yet having as much crossover hard rock appeal as legenary bands like Iron Maiden or Judas Priest. Certain members of In Solitude are rumored to be involved in mysterious masked metallers Ghost, which would up their swag immensely, but if given the choice, I’d rock The World, The Flesh, The Devil over the Ghost LP any day of the week.

Crucial Crust - “The World, The Flesh, The Devil”

Crowbar

4
Crowbar
Sever The Wicked Hand
(E1 Music)

Thanks to Beavis and Butthead, Crowbar are a novelty act in the eyes of many children of the '90s. A lot of people seem to focus on the heaviness of the band members themselves when really, the heaviness of Crowbar's jams is what really does all of their crushing. After a somewhat public struggle with addiction, Kirk Windstein got the band back together and wrote one of the heaviest records dealing with personal issues in the history of music. I’ve been a Crowbar fan for the better half of my life and I had absolutely no idea Sever the Wicked Hand would be the monster of a record it ended up being. Deafeningly heavy guitars, gutteral, agonizing vocals, and punishingly dirge-like rhythms make this year's offering of deathcore/mosh metal releases laughable at best. They stole the show on tour with St Vitus and Helmet earlier this year, and their newer songs were actually the highlights of the set, which is a rarity when seeing veteran bands these days.

Crucial Crust - “Liquid Sky and Cold Black Earth”

Graveyard

3
Graveyard
Hisingen Blues
(Nuclear Blast America)

A month ago, I relocated to Austin, Texas, from Oakland, Calif. I made the three-day drive from "the Bay to the A(TX)" with my father, who has what I like to call "classic rock tendencies." For the most part, he dominated the car stereo with awful political talk radio, but occasionally I was able to sneak some jams in from time to time. I caught him nodding his head along with Graveyard’s Hisingen Blues more than once between Arizona and New Mexico. This sort of mutual enjoyment of music between my dad and I is much like a unicorn, "often discussed, yet rarely seen." Graveyard combine vintage '70s stoner rock with 2011 vigor and umph that put them at the top of the incredibly oversaturated world of doom and stoner rock. After reading about Graveyard dominating the uber-hippie/hipster Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee earlier this year, their cancellation at this year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest was a bit of a sore spot for me. I will definitely be up front at Mohawk on Jan. 31, banging my head and pumping my fist like an asshole when Graveyard blow through Austin early next year.

Crucial Crust - “No Good, Mr. Holden”


Trapped Under Ice

2
Trapped Under Ice
Big Kiss Goodnight
(Reaper Records)

Trapped Under Ice are responsible for keeping tough-guy hardcore relevant and fresh in 2011. Not dis bands out there pushing the bounds of black metal with psychedelic influences or stoner metal bands rediscovering the Amphetamine Reptile back catalog, but sometimes the most powerful thing a band can do is write hard-as-fuck breakdowns and use the word “motherfucker” lyrically as many times as possible on one record. Having New Found Glory’s Chad Gilbert and Death By Stereo’s Paul Miner behind the boards helped launch Big Kiss Tonight into that upper tier of hardcore classics occupied by records like Sick of it All’s Scratch The Surface, Madball’s Set It Off, and Hatebreed’s Satisfaction is the Death of Desire. I defy anyone to listen to Big Kiss Goodnight and not feel the urge to knock someone the fuck out.

Crucial Crust - “Pleased To Meet You”

Saviours

1
Saviours
Death’s Procession
(Kemado Records)

Saviours' newest record isn’t just a record, it’s a tribute to Oakland, Calif. In nine songs, Saviours manage to capture the wild partying, "no time for bullshit" attitude, and haunting imagery of hard-luck streets unique only to San Francisco’s infamous sister city across the bay. Between the galloping NWOBHM-esque drums, shred-tastic dueling guitar leads, and “no choice but to do wrong” themes of frontman Austin Barber’s lyrics, Saviours paint a vivid picture of day to day life in one of America’s hardest towns and runs circles around records that bands that have taken them out on tours’ latest offerings. Death’s Procession has something for everyone, and that’s what makes a record the best record of the year.

Crucial Crust - “To The Grave Possessed”

+++

Honorable Mentions:

Unearth - Darkness In The Light (Metal Blade Records: Unearth were one of the breakout bands of the Ozzfest class of 2004, and Darkness In The Light proves that just because you’re old doesn’t mean you can’t still fuck up the younger bands who bite your style. Heavy and crammed with clever guitar leads, Unearth have secured a spot among American metal's old guard with this latest release.

Midnight - Satanic Royalty (Hell's Headbangers): Midnight have found that sweet spot between Motorhead, Darkthrone, and Turbonegro. Filthy, grim metal with an emphasis on “Lust, Filth, and Sleaze”. What’s not to like?

Deafheaven - Roads To Judah (Deathwish Inc): Black metal’s favorite band to hate must being doing something right if they manage to piss people off so fucking much. If one can put their replica broad sword and twenty-sided dice down for a second, maybe they’d see that Roads To Judah is far more of a haunting, heavy shoegaze album than it is an attempt to rewrite A Blaze In The Northern Sky. At least they aren’t Liturgy though, AMIRITE?

Glorior Belli - The Great Southern Darkness (Metal Blade Records): Who knew that black metal’s answer to Eyehategod would be from France? Van Damned turned me onto this band earlier this fall and their bluesy, haunting brutality made many a morning commute to my shitty call center job more tolerable.

EPs/ Splits:

Trash Talk - Awake (True Panther Sounds): This would have been in my top ten list had EPs been allowed. Trash Talk drop their most accessible yet hardest material to date. The overall anger and desperation of this EP is eerily relevant to the harder parts of life in the US in 2011. This hardcore how it sounded in 1981: real and unrelenting.

Children Of God/Seven Sisters of Sleep Split LP (A389 Recordings: Two of Orange County, California's newest bands combine chaotic metal hardcore fury and slowed down, Holy Terror inspired doom-core on one convenient release. Two up and coming bands that will have your full attention in 2012.

The Love Below/Homewrecker Split LP: While I wasn’t blown away by the Homewrecker side of this lp (sorry guys, no fault of your own), The Love Below songs blew me away. Vile, angry, agonizing hardcore in the vein of Black Flag. Again, what the fuck is going on in Southern California these days?

Demos:

Magic Circle: I’m not even supposed to have a copy of this. Magic Circle are dudes from hardcore underdogs The Rival Mob playing Sabbath/Pentagram-influenced doom metal better than a lot of that bands in that genre did this year. I don’t know how widespread this release is, but if you can get it, buckle up for a sweet ride.

Plagues - (): Crusty D-beat hardcore from Southern California with a touch of that Entombed buzzsaw guitar sound to it. Well rounded and full of potential.

Misc:


Best Live Show: TIE Sleep at Eli’s Mile High Club in Oakland and Dillinger Escape Plan at Yerba Buena Gardens mid-rainstorm in San Francisco.
Best Metal Music Video: TIE Saviours “Crete’n” and Red Fang "Wires".
Best Festival: Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, TX.
Best Taco: The trailer in front of Once Over on South First in Austin, TX.
Best Burrito: Taqueria Del Valle in Carmel Valley, CA.
Best Thing On The Internet: bigghostnahmean.blogspot.com

Best Non-Brutal Releases:


Set Your Goals - Burning At Both Ends
Title Fight - Shed
Childish Gambino - Camp
Moving Mountains - Waves
Lil B The Based God - Bitch Mob
Frank Ocean - Nostalgia, Ultra
Wavves - Life Sux

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