Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Top-10 records of 2011

Yes, it is that time of the year once more. And just like some retarded phoenix - Ad Absurdum once again rises from the (somewhat) smouldering ashes. A funny thing about this list of my personal favourites from 2011, is the fact that among these 10 records, there are only 5 countries represented (Sweden, Norway, Great Britain, Switzerland and Poland) which probably tells a lot about my taste in music in general...

I really don't like comparing record years, but 2011 has from my point of view been vastly superior to 2010 - which only leaves me with good hopes for 2012. Which by the way, will see the light of yet another Vintersorg-record in March (called "Orkan") and a new My Dying Bride-record as well. Also, I really wish for new releases from Moonspell and Satyricon.
But here goes nothing:

1. Vintersorg - Jordpuls
Progressive/Folk Metal. 2011-03-25. Napalm Records.
Now this must come as a huge surprise to those of you who reads this blog or knows me even vaguely. I don't think there exist a day during the year that I don't have Vintersorg's music in my head or ears in one way or the other. This could very much be the longest lasting true love of anything in my life and I do not say that lightly. 
The last Vintersorg-record "Solens Rötter" (2007) was a return to the use of Swedish lyrics, but in the end promised too much when it came to the music. Of course it wasn't bad in any way and it will always sit unthreatened on the 1st place as the greatest record of 2007. But "Jordpuls" takes the songwriting to a whole new level on the incredible opener "Världsalltets Fanfar", the the epic "Till Dånet Av Forsar Och Fall" and especially on the semi-progressive "Skogen Sover". The entire record gives nods to the bands first two classic full-length's "Till Fjälls" (1998) and "Ödemarkens Son" (1999) but as usual is also constantly searching forward, never stagnating. Although, there actually is a dull moment on the record and that is the mediocre "Stjärndyrkan" which doesen't seem to fit in with the rest of the record, both music- and lyric-wise. 
Nevertheless, this was an easy win for the duo and my expectations on 2012's "Orkan" are now sky-fucking-high!

2. Vader - Welcome To The Morbid Reich
Death Metal - the polish way. 2011-08-12. Nuclear Blast.
Polish death metal has actually never been my cup of tea and I had only heard a song here and there with the veterans in Vader prior to this one. I remember reading a couple of reviews saying how good this record was and praising almost every bit on it. I decided to pick it up and to my surprise, the reviews were spot on.
My death metal-liking has perhaps grown a bit in the past years and I although I've always had a good knowledge about many death metal bands, I've never actually enjoyed it completely until now. On "Welcome To The Morbid Reich" there is not a dull moment anywhere to be found. It always 100% death metal in short and consistent songs. But the thing that these polacks do so well is to vary the music so that it never becomes boring. Easily the best death metal record I've heard in many years.

3. Arckanum - Helvítismyrkr
Black metal. 2011-09-16. Season Of Mist.
To me, Arckanum is one of the best (if not the best) black metal bands out there. Although the quality is constantly shifting, the sole member Shamataee has always been real consistent when it comes to creating moods, even though the quality of earlier recordings were utter shit. That never mattered, because the music never suffered one bit and I hold the entire Arckanum discography on a high pedestal.
Shamataee has consistently been putting out one record/year since 2008's "Antikosmos" and 2011 was no exception. Last year's "Sviga Lae" was the weakest Arckanum-record I've ever heard, even though it did posess some quality. The new one "Helvítismyrkr" - is much better overall, even though there are some lows here and there. But there are also some insanely good moments, such as the song you can hear below.

4. Samael - Lux Mundi
Industrial/Gothic Metal. 2011-04-29. Nuclear Blast.
The Swiss quartet Samael is a band that I used to listen a lot to back in the 90's and early 00's. In my opinion "Eternal" from 1999 is their masterpiece and actually the last good thing they've done since then. "Reign Of Light" and "Solar Soul" was decent at the best and their last record "Above" has to be some kind of joke - that's how bad it was.
Needless to say, I didn't have very high hopes at all for "Lux Mundi" and I didn't even think I would listen to it at all. But it turned out to be quite a surprise. For you see my fellow readers, this sounds exactly like the natural follow-up to 1996's "Passage". Here we have the sinister keyboards that does not only add atmosphere but also incredible melodies - oh, how I've missed them. They do their whole "Rammstein-meets-Depeche Mode-meets-random-black-metal-band" so damn good, although I admit one has to be in a certain mood to appreciate them. But when I'm in that mood, Samael are gods.

5. Burzum - Fallen
Epic Black Metal. 2011-03-07. Byelobog Productions.
Varg Vikernes is a complete and utter idiot. There, I've said it. Yeah, I honestly don't care at all about the man behind the music as long as it sounds this good. I've never been a big fan of the Count's earlier works and although last year's "Belus" was a solid effort, the absolutley horrid "production" sounded way too forced and destroyed much of the atmosphere that could have been.
Skipping the pointless intro and outro - on "Fallen", Burzum creates long and winding passages of music that you simply cannot get out of your head. I love music that sounds like this, as if it was trying to be sort of "commercial" although not being commercial in any sense at all. I also like Varg's clean vocals which mostly are spoken, but that Norweigian dialect is simply beautiful.

6. My Dying Bride - The Barghest O´ Whitby
Doom/Death Metal. 2011-11-07. Peaceville Records.
Yes, I am aware that this is not a full-length, but rather an EP consisting of one song which clocks in at over 27 minutes. Nevertheless, this is so good that it would be a shame to exclude it from my top-list just because of the format.
Enough said about that - now on the music. The ever-depressed gloom-sextet from Britain are all about crushing guitars, heavy pounding drums, weeping violins and vocals of despair - in other words - everything is business as usual. But one thing that actually seperates this release from, oh let's say their 4 previous full-lengths is that they have looked a lot more further back at their own past this time. The music landscape is more reminicent to their early releases "Symphonaire Infernus Et Spera Empyrium" and "As The Flower Withers" rather than "Like Gods Of The Sun" or the last masterpiece "For Lies I Sire". In other words, less goth and melodies and way more heavy doom and slow death. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with said formula, I will always hold "Turn Loose The Swans" and "The Angel And The Dark River" as the reigning champions in the MDB-discography. I hope that next year's full-length will continue to evolve the sound they had on "For Lies I Sire" rather than looking back as much as they did on "The Barghest O´ Whitby".
But who am I to disagree if this is the path they wish to tread upon? After all, My Dying Bride is one of my all-time favourite bands ever and they've yet to dissapoint me.

7. I.C.S. Vortex - Storm Seeker
Progressive/Doom Metal. 2011-08-19. Century Media.
Being one of my all-time favourite vocalists ever, Simen "I.C.S. Vortex" Hestnaes had a lot to prove when word got out that he would go solo after being fired/quitted from the talentless hacks in Dimmu Burger. I already knew he had some good songwriting skills after hearing his doom metal band Lamented Souls as well as the incredible songs "Colossus" and "Ad Noctrum" which he wrote in Borknagar.
Teaming up with guitarist Jens Ryland (Borknagar) and the incredible drummer Asgeir Mickelson (Enslavement of Beauty, ex-Borknagar) was not a bad move at all, but the result is far from what I had hoped for. Again, not being bad at all - I guess I just had very high hopes for this one and Vortex did not satisfy me entirely. The music sounds sort of what I would have expected, although I had hoped for a bit more faster and more black metalesqué parts, but I guess that Vortex wanted to distance himself a bit from Dimmu Burger. 
It's quite progressive, dreamlike and semi-epic at some points, but take a song such as "Skoal!" for instance. It begins so god damn great - almost folkmetal-like - and has a really cool melody but once the vocals kick in, there's no good melody left anymore. It seems as though Vortex decided to write a couple of catchy songs, but that he later forgot to also add good vocal melodies to those.
Also, it's kind of annoying that he uses so much reverb and effects on his vocals throughout the ENTIRE record - especially when one knows how good his voice is withouth effects. Shame.

8. Taake - Noregs Vaapen
Black Metal. 2011-09-19. Dark Essence Records.
Taake are one of those long-running Norweigian black metal bands that I haven't listened too much to in the past. I've listened to the essential albums a couple of times, but it's been the overall production that has turned me off. And it's not that I don't like raw production - on the contrary actually - but IMO they've never actually fitted Taake's music. Perhaps Mr. Hoest has realized this as well, because on their latest full-length "Noregs Vaapen" ("The Weapon of Norway") the production is better than ever. But it's the overall feeling and solid songwriting that really gets me off here. This is such good classic black metal that only those people from the fjords can conjure forth.

9. Vallenfyre - A Fragile King
Old-school Death/Doom Metal. 2011-10-31. Century Media.
Paradise Lost's main songwriter and lead guitarist Gregor Mackintosh decided that he wanted to get out a few ideas of his own, set apart from his main band and started Vallenfyre together with a couple of friends (among them is Hamish Glencross of My Dying Bride-fame).
The result is very, very old-school sounding. Here are some small hints from the just mentioned bands, more hints from Celtic Frost and Trouble and massive old-school Swedish death-metal, especially the from the early days of Entombed. Although catchy, murky, dark and gloomy music will always be my cup of tea - "A Fragile King" just doesen't do it entirely for me. I actually had much higher hopes for this one, despite definitly not being bad in any way. It's all be done before and the music is nothing that will make you jump through the roof. It will make you yearn for the early 90's though - which in my book will always be something positive.

10. Shining - VII - Född Förlorare
Black Metal/Rock. 2011-05-11. Spinefarm Records.
Sweden's Shining may be best known for their excentric and somewhat disillusioned frontman Niklas Kvarforth and his never-ending rants about suicide and such - but he's actually a very gifted songwriter which he has continued to show with his own brand of sucidial black metal/rock on Shining three last records. 
"Född Förlorare" ("Born Loser") is no exception although I've always wanted to hear Shining play a bit shorter songs in general, because I tend to loose my interest after a couple of songs. But "Född Förlorare" wins on the track "Förtvivlan, Min Arvedel" ("Despair, My Heritage") alone.