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Metal Monday: The Best And Worst Of 2011-So Far

Four months into the year 2011, and there have almost been enough great metal albums this year to build a very respectable “Best of the Year” list from. It’s been an uncharacteristically great year thus far, but hasn’t been without stinkers (is there ever a time without at least a couple?). For those not intently following every single metal release in 2011, here’s the best and the worst of the year…so far.

Starting off on a good foot, one of the best releases this year has received surprisingly little buzz, even though I reviewed it about a month ago in the Metal Monday column. American Heritage‘s Sedentary is a very solid and unrelenting jaunt through a hardcore-tinged, good ol’ heavy metal metal record. Featuring an all-star cast of bassists on the record and eleven songs sure to compel you to bang your head, you would be remiss to not give Sedentary a listen.

Newcomers to the metal world, TesseracT put out their first full-length via Century Media this year. On One, the guys in Tesseract take a 55 minute progressive metal romp featuring erratic polyrhythms, complex time signatures, djent guitars, and a six-part epic in the middle of the album. Even given all of the technicality of the album, it still comes across as quite an easy listen due to the catchy lyrics and atmospheric transitions between many of the heavier and more obviously complex sections on the album. One also features some of the best production work in metal today with a very organic sound with loads of natural dynamic and little compression (most obvious when you listen to the cymbals). Right now, it appears that TesseracT are sitting pretty atop the progressive metal throne.

Receiving a significant amount more attention than the previous two albums on the list was  Protest the Hero with the album Scurrilous (also reviewed for a Metal Monday). A slight deviation from their prior releases, Protest The Hero have kept up with their virtuosic performances of pop-accessible music but now feature lyrics more relatable to the average person; the vague and confusing lyrics have been replaced by more personal lyrics that tell stories. If you liked Protest the Hero before, then you will definitely enjoy Scurrilous. Perhaps the band will grab a few more fans with their increased pop sensibilities.

And now on to the less-than-good releases so far this year. It features a snooze-fest from a legendary band, a band that has improved since their last misstep (but still miss the mark) and and album that tries so hard to be over the top it over-shoots itself straight into the garbage.

First up are Asking Alexandria, a band exploding onto the “-core” scene, followed quickly by a rabid fanbase of teenage kids. While Reckless and Relentless is a step above Stand Up and Scream, it still feels a lot like an extreme music version of elevator music, or a metal jingle. It feels like a collection of overly stereotypical bits and pieces from bland deathcore and and water-down post-hardcore music. They seemingly deliver only the catchy parts of those genres, but rarely anything else. Still a young band, Asking Alexandria still have plenty of chances to make an album with some substance, it’s just not this album.

It almost feels wrong to put the legendary Amon Amarth in a “worst of” list, but after nine albums of almost the same formula, it’s clear they’re becoming challenged to come up with something new, fresh or interesting to introduce to their very unique brand of viking-influenced melodic death metal. Certainly not a bad record by any means, it still leaves a lot to be desired and doesn’t hold interest very well if you’re only a passing fan of Amon Amarth. Surtur Rising is certainly an album for diehard fans only.

Last but not least are the ever-notable Emmure with their latest album, Speaker of the Dead. This album really only features two things: slam riffs and obscenity-ridden lyrics about being pissed at things or people. If you’re looking for anything other than that, you’d better look elsewhere. At least they’re making music that will help them sell their branded boxing gloves for the mosh pit.

10 Things In Pop Music To Look Forward To In 2011

What’s the best thing that can happen in 2011? I’m praying for chart comebacks by Shania Twain, Amy Winehouse and Cher; an ABBA and/or Smiths reunion; and the disappearance of Ke$ha, Susan Boyle and Auto-Tune. But this isn’t a New Year’s wish list, or my beautiful dark twisted fantasy. Reality bites most of the time, but the pop forecast calls for some exciting stuff that actually will happen.
Kelly Clarkson’s new album. Our lives would suck without her! It’s been too long since Clarkson’s last chart sighting, and if the recent preview of “You Still Won’t Know What It’s Like” at the “A Night for Hope” event in Nashville is a harbinger of what to expect when she releases her fifth album (in early 2011, according to her October 4 tweet), it’s already hovering near the top of my to-download list.
Best New Artist at the 2011 GRAMMYs: Florence + the Machine? The eligibility requirements in this category have been muddy for years: Four of the five nominees released music before the 2010 eligibility period. And last year offered such an embarrassment of riches that, for better or worse (mostly better), new hitmakers like Ke$ha, Jason Derülo, Bruno Mars, B.0.B, Le Roux, Mike Posner, Nicki Minaj, Adam Lambert and Susan Boyle didn’t make the cut. Fellow Canucks Justin Bieber and Drake will have the commercial edge on February 13, but a vote for the UK’s Florence + the Machine would be a vote for quality over quantity of sales.
A Glee-free Matthew Morrison. I first met Morrison about 10 years ago when he was in a boy band called LMNT (as in “Element”” and, yes, dreadful name). I always thought he had star quality, but I don’t think Glee, on which he’s saddled with the straight-man role, properly spotlights his musical gifts. May his optimistically titled February album, Bringing It to the Masses, show the world that there’s much more to Mr. Schuester than a can-do attitude and a sweet, crooked smile.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame welcomes (drum roll)… Neil Diamond. I’ve had my issues with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees over the years, but they wouldn’t include Diamond, who’s finally being recognized after years of not even being nominated. For those who gripe that he’s not really rock & roll, the Hall has never been about the genre as strictly defined by snobby purists. Otherwise, legends like Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, Johnny Cash and Madonna wouldn’t be in it. Neither would any of Motown’s classic ’60s and ’70s stars (including Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and, yes, Michael Jackson), Steely Dan, or Paul Simon. So on March 14, raise a glass of red red wine to Diamond. He rocks.
Britney Spears gets grimier. Rumors of her career’s demise a few years ago were greatly exaggerated”and premature. Producer Dr. Luke has promised that Spears’s seventh album, due in March, will be “harder in some ways, and maybe a little more deep into electronica”and grimier.” If that means we can expect it to be more Blackout than Circus, I’m totally in.
The Cars get on the road again. Even with all the reunions of ’80s bands in recent years, I didn’t see this one coming. Free, the Cars’ first studio album in 13 years (featuring all the original members, minus Benjamin Orr who died in 2000), will be out in the spring, and the band is revving up for a tour. They’ve posted three previews on their Facebook page, and like the best teasers, they leave you wanting more.
Justin Timberlake brings sexy back”again. Timberlake’s The Social Network turn as Napster founder/inaugural Facebook president Sean Parker was odd but intriguing, as he played him as equal parts swishy playboy, smooth operator, party monster and raging opportunist. But my favorite of his scenes was his first, when he wakes up in bed with a total stranger. I’m looking forward to more clever post-coital banter when Friends with Benefits, his romantic comedy with Mila Kunis, opens on July 22.
Simon Cowell’s The X Factor. Where Simon goes, I suspect American Idol fans will follow. But if he’s really signing on Cheryl Cole”who’s huge in the UK but a nobody in the US”as a judge for the new US version of the talent search, which launches in September, he’d better reach for the superstars for the third one.
Jennifer Hudson proves that her Oscar win wasn’t a fluke”or not. After three more-or-less filler films following her Academy Award for Dreamgirls, ex-Idol contestant Hudson’s first leading role in Winnie (a biopic of Nelson Mandela’s ex-wife) will be the real test of her Hollywood potential. But to pull off this tough assignment, she’ll have to offer more emotional depth than the slightly vacant look she wears throughout the trailer.
No more Mariah Carey pregnancy rumors. This media obsession with baby bumps and celebrity procreating has got to stop. Who cares? Frankly, I’ve got more interesting trivial pursuits with which to fill my spare time. But thank God, unless Carey gets knocked up again immediately after delivering twins next year, we can all get over her belly and move on to more important things, like Katy Perry’s.

Rock 'n' Roll Call: 2011's Most Anticipated Rock Albums

Last week, we covered ten of our favorite rock albums for 2010, which included records from My Chemical Romance, VersaEmerge, Foxy Shazam and more.

With new records from Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Kanye West, Coldplay and Beyoncé scheduled to drop, 2011 is already shaping up to be a big year for music.  This week, we’re taking a look at ten of the most anticipated rock releases, which stretch across subgenres from hardcore to electronica to indie rock.

Andrew McMahon of Jack's Mannequin

Jack’s Mannequin – TBA

After 2008’s heartfelt release The Glass Passenger, Jack’s Mannequin frontman Andrew McMahon is ready to release new material. Passenger, which chronicled McMahon’s battle with leukemia, was a darker record then sunny debut Everything in Transit. But going on what we’ve heard so far, the new release will be yet another masterpiece, with plenty of well-executed piano-drenched pop rock.

Death Cab for Cutie – Codes and Keys (Spring)

Indie rock kings Death Cab for Cutie will be releasing their seventh album early next year. Frontman Ben Gibbard promises that this record will be “less guitar-centric” than any of Death Cab’s previous records, which have typically been of slower, chord-based song structure. Lyrically, bassist Nick Harmer insists that this album will have a much broader emotional scope than 2008’s Narrow Stairs.

Pete Wentz and Bebe Rexha of Black Cards

Black Cards – TBA

After the band announced their hiatus, Fall Out Boy‘s Pete Wentz decided to keep doing what he does best”make undeniably catchy pop music. Teaming up with then-unknown vocalist Bebe Rexha, Saves the Day drummer Spencer Peterson and The Receiving End of Sirens guitarist Nate Patterson, Wentz created Black Cards. The group’s music (especially Rexha’s vibrato-soaked vocals) is reminscent of early No Doubt, with an influx of dance-worthy electronic beats.

Taking Back Sunday – TBA (Spring)

Taking Back Sunday‘s lineup has changed so many times that their Wikipedia page has a full chart to help fans understand the eleven-year timeline of the group’s career. After a few missteps with new members”even frontman Adam Lazzara apologized for 2009’s New Again”the original lineup is back, making this one of the most anticipated releases for any fan of TBS’ genre-defining album, Tell All Your Friends. From the sounds of the demos that have already been posted, it looks like TBS is returning to their roots and ready to make a big comeback.

No Doubt – TBA

No Doubt

It’s amazing to think that ska-princess-turned-pop-superstar Gwen Stefani had any time in 2010 to return to the studio and make a brand new record with her band, No Doubt. Since the band’s humble beginnings in the late ’80s, Stefani has become a powerhouse solo artist, entrepreneur, fashion designer, wife and mother. But, somehow, she was able to make some time for writing music, and No Doubt’s comeback album is eagerly awaited by fans young and old. As of now, details have been pretty hush-hush about this release, but we’re betting that the new No Doubt will be bigger and better than ever.

Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows (D.R.U.G.S.) – February

After a full-year hiatus from the stage, charismatic ex-Chiodos frontman Craig Owens is back. Joined by members of Underminded, From First to Last, Story of the Year and Matchbook Romance, Owens has already made a huge splash on the modern rock scene with his new project, D.R.U.G.S. The band will be releasing their album in February, before they head out on Alternative Press’ AP Spring Tour 2011. From the sounds of the tracks already released, this post-hardcore supergroup is poised for a massive takeover.

fun.

fun. –  TBA (Summer)

As we learned in our Q&A with Nate Ruess of fun., the group is hard at work on their sophomore LP and are hoping to release it next summer. The band’s debut album, Aim and Ignite, was an exciting, refreshing and eclectic mix of everything from indie pop to showtunes. Fans are definitely on the edge of their seats, waiting to see what this band will do next.

Cobra Starship – TBA

Still riding high off the success of their latest record, Hot Mess, Cobra Starship have already begun recording their next album. Hot Mess spawned the 2009 smash “Good Girls Go Bad” and launched the band from the small-scale modern rock scene to rulers of Top 40 radio. Though no details have been released about the new album, Cobra’s history dictates that it will be chock-full of undeniably catchy, dance-worthy rock numbers.

The Mars Volta – TBA

Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez of The Mars Volta

GRAMMY-award winning experimental rock group The Mars Volta have kept pretty quiet about their upcoming release, which will be the sixth in the band’s career. The band entered pre-production back in May, and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez recently announced via Twitter that they were putting the finishing touches on the record. This will also be the first record where vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala will be writing all of his own lyrics, with no guidelines or concept provided by chief songwriter Lopez.

Emery – TBA (January/February)

Seattle-based rock group Emery delighted their fans when they returned to their roots on 2009’s …In Shallow Seas We Sail. Full of charging instrumentation, sweeping vocals and shimmering with top-notch production, the record left Emery fans satisfied, but also craving more. The band announced that they are planning to release the album in the early months of 2011, hopefully with some tour dates to follow!

What records are you most looking forward to hearing in 2011? Let us know in the comments!

Ernie Ball Is Open In 2011!

It’s officially 2011 everyone! Ernie Ball is helping OurStage kick off another awesome year by¦you guessed it, sponsoring more channels for a year’s supply of strings and accessories. The past year saw some incredible artists”including The Worsties, The Black Rabbits, Andrew Varner, Amy Kuney, A Vision Grotesque, Fiction Reform, Skyler and many more”snag free strings from the legendary string makers. In January, Ernie Ball is giving all artists in the Indie Rock Channel a shot at some free strings. All indie rockers are encouraged to enter their best original track by January 23rd for a shot at taking home this awesome prize. Judges, head to the Indie Rock Channel now and weigh in on who you think should win the Grand Prize. For official rules and competition information, click HERE.

GuacaMusic: Latin Preview 2011

It is always sad to say goodbye to a year that brought so many good things to Latin music. And it is even more sentimental to let go off a decade that saw so many Latin artists (both new and old) gaining international recognition and becoming world famous stars. So what now? What lies ahead in the future of la música latina? Will the world keep digging it? Do we have many more years to sing en español?

I certainly think so. What better way to start a new decade than with plans for so many new albums and comebacks from stars we love? Here is a preview of what 2011 will bring to la musica latina:

  • There is a lot of buzz about Alejandra Guzman releasing a new album in 2011. All we know is that this album will celebrate her 2oth anniversary as an artist.
  • Spanish pop singer David Bisbal will also be celebrating his trajectory as an artist (10 years) with an album in 2011.  In a press release, Bisbal said the new album is going to be simpler and more elegant that his previous work.
  • Avid fans of Maná will be delighted to hear that Drama y Luz (which means drama and light) will be the name of the new album that the group is releasing in February of next year.
  • Favorite Latin duo Wisin y Yandel are also preparing a new production for the upcoming year. Bring it on!
  • In case you were wondering, J Lo is also working on a new production titled Love? for the beginning of  2011.
  • Another favorite Latino who will release a new album next year is Ricky Martin. The Puerto Rican star’s new album will have songs in both English and Spanish.
  • Word on the street is that alternative rock band Molotov will be making a comeback in 2011. After years of being away from the scene, we certainly can’t wait.

These are only a few examples of how bright the future is for la música latina, in 2011 and beyond. We are convinced that the world will keep digging reggeaton, merengue, bachata, cumbia and everything en español for many years to come. Don’t forget to visit our Latin Channel and get to know tomorrow’s Latin stars. ¡Provecho!