2011 So Far (Metal Edition, Part 2)

Korpiklaani – Ukon Wacka

I once called these guys a Finnish metal Pogues. For me, that’s a high compliment. They’ve been cranking out albums on close to a yearly basis and they’ve always been solid and enjoyable, even if they all sounded basically the same. So, I’ve been happy only owning one of their albums. This years model is a bit of a change up – more aggressive, more Finnish, more finished. Ukon Wacka is prime party music for that stage when you can’t speak or understand your mother tongue so everything might as well be in a foreign tongue.

Primordial – Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand

If it isn’t my favorite album of the year when all is said and done, it’s only because the next one on this list overtakes it once the cold returns. This record opens up their sound to both space and more classic metal influences (there are some achingly beautiful harmonic guitar runs that immediately bring to mind Judas Priest (or countrymen Thin Lizzy), for example). Alan Averill’s progression as a vocalist continues, with both more guttural power and stronger, more assured stabs at actual melodic singing. The songs are all mini-epics about death. Metal.

Subrosa – No Help For the Mighty Ones

This is doom as idea instead of form. Subrosa’s female vocals and electric violins help them stand out immediately, and they come at their heaviness more from Swans than Sabbath. This isn’t blues, but more like the heaviest folk music going (which is punctuated by their version of folk ballad “House Carpenter”, a cappella and out of time); sadness but not regret. I can’t describe how this all comes together – listen to the opener, “Borrowed Time, Borrowed Eyes” for yourself. Absolute stunner that has only grown with each listen.

Turisas – Stand Up and Fight

The prior two records on this list have impressed me with their artistic strengths and seriousness; Turisas impresses me with their artistic strengths and utter lack of seriousness. This is overblown to the extent it often seems like a musical; I expect painted backdrops and awkward dancing. It is the lack of seriousness in their sound but utter commitment to it that I find so appealing; if you’re going to go over the top, do so with gusto. This band has all the gusto in the world.

 Wight – Wight Weedy Wight

I’m a sucker for heavy psychedelic stoner rock. Not that it compliments my lifestyle, but I just love lots of echo and panning and low thundering grooves. These guys are German, like so much great heavy psychedelia these days.

Witch Mountain – South of Salem

I would love this band even if a dear friend wasn’t the drummer; that he is just means I’m prouder to wear the shirt with their awesome logo on it (I don’t pimp for just anyone, you know). This is heavy classic doom, and, most importantly, it swings. I knew it would, for Nate and I had a long talk about the pocket and it’s importance, and how so much metal has moved away having a bottom anchor. Nate’s drumming and Dave’s bass are a strong anchor, but this anchor has plenty of chain for Uta’s vocals to soar without breaking away, and for Rob’s guitar lines to growl and claw their way to the surface. An amazing debut for this line-up, and I can’t wait for more.

Wolf – Legions of Bastards

Retro metal is my thing this year, and Wolf take the heart of 80s metal in their slavering jaws, still beating and spurting bloody spandex and galloping guitars all over the arena. Yes, that (hopefully) will be the worst mess of a sentence you read today. Wolf will not be the worst thing you hear, however, for this record is astoundingly good. Oh, did I forgot to mention they’re Swedish? Of course they are. Mercyful Priest, I love this stuff. Check out this fan made vid for “Road To Hell” – it’s perfect.

2011 So Far (Metal Edition, Part 1)

Across Tundras – Sage

I’m happy these guys have a label behind them and the opportunity to grow their audience with better distribution and bigger tours. I think this is a safe record, a solidifying of the sound they created on last year’s Old World Wanderer. I can’t imagine putting this on before that record, but that says more about the quality of Wanderer than something lacking with Sage. It’s a fine introduction to their heavy western sound.

Argus – Boldly Stride The Doomed

I was just introduced to this album in the past week, but I feel strongly that it is one of the best traditional metal albums I’ve heard in a year full of them. There’s more than a bit of Maiden in their sound, with galloping rhythms and a busy bass mixed too far forward. But they have their own thing and don’t come across as imitators.

Black Spiders – Sons Of The North

Working on the anthemic hard rock end of the metal spectrum, Black Spiders write songs about drinking, fighting, fucking and Kiss. Big riffs, ripped jeans, sing along choruses and probable stds included.

Blood Ceremony – Living With The Ancients

Did you ever want to hear a female fronted Jethro Tull cover Black Sabbath? You should. Blood Ceremony’s second full length doesn’t ape the aforementioned bands, but sounds like a long lost contemporary. If you told me this was from 1971 I would nod in agreement; from production to instrumentation to cheesy witchcraft culled from the pages of Man, Myth & Magic it screams 70s Britain. Love it.

Bullet – Highway Pirates

If you wanted more from the idea of mixing Accept with AC/DC than the song “I’m A Rebel” (performed by the former, written by one of the elder Young brothers for AC/DC but never released), go get this record. The teutonic stomp and edge of classic Accept with the swing and swagger of AC/DC, and the singer even sounds like the middle point between Udo and Brian Johnson. These Swedes do rocking right.

Cauldron – Burning Fortune

Not to be left out of the retro metal goodness, these Canadians won me over when I found out they had recorded a cover of Black ‘N Blue’s “Chains Around Heaven” for their debut. I enjoy this record today, but would have been nuts for it in the mid-80s. For the best glimpse into the band and their mentality, please read Adrien Begrand’s excellent interview posted at Popmatters.

Grayceon – All We Destroy

I’m a sucker for cellos in metal. This trio of guitar, cello and drums don’t sound like anyone else. They mix folk, doom and black metal moments together with mostly clean,  but occasionally blackened, female vocals to create moods as much as songs. Not that there aren’t memorable passages, or lyrics that don’t catch and hold, but there is a feeling to their work that I can’t pin down. If any of that sounds intriguing, or if you just want to know what the hell I’m describing so poorly, check out “Shellmounds” on youtube.

In Solitude – The World, The Flesh, The Devil

More retro goodness, again from Sweden. This time, the main influence is the great Danes, Mercyful Fate. With King Diamond recovering from serious heart surgery, it’s great to have bands paying homage to that classic sound while not being a tribute band. Another group taking Fate into their own hands is Portrait, whom I like but not as much as In Solitude.

2011 So Far (Non-Metal Edition)

Death Grips – Exmilitary 

Absolute stunner which I can’t even begin to capture in words. Watch some videos and get yourself a free copy at thirdworlds.net.

The Feelies – Here Before

They’re back and as good as ever. Not a novelty or cash in like so many reunions, it is a fitting addition to their catalog. A most unexpected surprise.

Lykke Li –  Wounded Rhymes

A more mature sound from a more mature artist. Big step. I need to play this more, because I do enjoy it every time it’s on.

Metal Mountains – Golden Trees

My friend Marc captured this perfectly in the close of his review for Pitchfork:

“In fact, you might find Golden Trees too consistent. Without percussion to emphasize pace, each tune has a similar, indefinite tempo. Time gets lost, and tracks drift and hang rather than moving forward. As the tracks melt together, you might swear the guitar part or vocal line you’re hearing has happened before. But for me, such recurrences are what give Golden Trees its peculiar magic. Its cycling sounds and moods feel less like repetitions than dreamy déjà vu.”

Moon Duo – Mazes

Did you ever wonder what would happen if The Clean collaborated with Suicide? If so, give this a listen.

The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck

John, Jon and Peter keep getting better. Though I wasn’t hit as hard by this album as I was by The Life Of The World To Come, it has grown on me over the months. Like the prior record, the production blows me away. Perfectly written, mixed, and balanced to engage and surprise. Take “The Autopsy Garland”, with it’s booming distant kick, like “The Boxer” on a stereo in another room. John’s voice and guitar are forward leaning momentum, while the bass steps up to the fore every 10 seconds or so with a little growling menace. And the short, high, acoustic guitar run  that comes in before the chorus around the 1:10 mark gives me shivers then and with each subsequent appearance. Wonderful.

The Psychic Paramount – II

Another record Marc shined a light on for me to find. Expansive, engaging, energetic, and other e-djectives (effervescent, enlightening, esoteric, Erik’s effluvia?), this is an experience as much as an album. Dense but moving at a breakneck pace, their style of instrumental rock sends me reeling.

Albums I like and need to spend more time with to properly gauge:

Wye Oak – Civilian

Woods – Sun and Shade

Six Organs of Admittance – Asleep on the Floodplain

Psychedelic Horseshit – Laced

Peter Murphy – Ninth

Low – C’Mon

Lamb – 5

Girls Names – Dead To Me

Ethereal – Abstractica

Alela Diane – Alela Diane & Wind Divine

Austra – Feel It Break