Classic is a term used by people in the arts to define the highest standard of works; something that has withstood the test of time, something that has been inserted into the cultural canon. If we’re talking literature, we could use the Iliad or Odyssey as an example, or perhaps something more modern like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. These works undoubtedly shaped their medium since brought into existence. But what about classics in the world of metal specifically? Compared to most art forms, metal is still in its infancy, being somewhere around 40 years old now. Are there really any works that can be universally regarded as groundbreaking and genre-defining?
Starting with the obvious, Black Sabbath‘s early albums have to be considered since they’re widely regarded as the forefathers of metal. What about their contemporaries and bands that came shortly after? Surely Motí¶rhead, Iron Maiden and others deserve consideration. For posterity, let’s just take the landmark works, Overkill and The Number of the Beast respectively. If we include Judas Priest, which of their works should be included? One approach would be the early work, something more landmark for less studied fans, but on the other hand Painkiller is one of the best metal albums of all time and quite a bit more aggressive than the band’s early material, making this a tough decision. The list of bands and albums goes on and on. (more…)
Coming up with the 2011 Best and Worst List was an incredibly daunting task because this year has been one of the best for metal that I can remember. The effort left me with ten albums that probably beat out every album released last year. Heck, even my picks for eleven through twenty might be a step above last year’s Top 10. This year boasts great albums from old bands, new bands, and everything in between in just about every sub-genre that a metalhead could come up with. Progressive, death, thrash, black, metalcore, power, sludge, doom, etc.”great albums across the board. If you’re reading this, you probably already know how much metal ruled this year. So, without further ado, let’s countdown the Best and Worst Metal Albums of 2011, shall we?
10. No Help For The Mighty Ones by SubRosa
Not all metal groups that have women members or violins feel cheap and tawdry, and SubRosa are a perfect example. No Help For The Mighty Ones is a great sludge metal offshoot that delivers on of the most unique and re-playable records of 2011.
9. The Great Mass by SepticFlesh
Take a really killer death metal band and add in a hefty dose of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, and what do you get? Awesomeness, aka SepticFlesh. We did a Q&A with SepticFlesh after The Great Mass dropped. It’s a pretty solid Q&A, and a better album.
The Lou Reed/Metallica collaboration album Lulu was, without a doubt, the most talked about release in the metal community this year. Months before material was released to the public, many metalheads had already condemned Lulu to be the biggest atrocity to happen to music in a very long time (or, at least since the latest Morbid Angel album). These early naysayers only had their suspicions confirmed when official reviews far and wide critically panned the album.
When I think about just how weighty and ill-received Lulu is, no similar situations in recent memory come to mind. The latest Morbid Angel was pretty ill-received across the board, but not with so much extremity and vitriol as Lulu, which is especially telling considering Metallica already faced career-suicide with St. Anger. Even if Metallica’s career had ended after St. Anger, it would not have mattered much as they’re still responsible for one of the best-selling metal albums in history (the black album) as well as three of the greatest metal albums ever recorded (Ride The Lighting, Master of Puppets and …And Justice For All). So, why do “Loutallica”? The answer is simple: Because they can.
As mentioned before, the most often overlooked detail here”and perhaps the most important factor from a metal perspective”is that Lulu is not a Metallica album. Metallica is featured on a Lou Reed album almost as though they were his studio band. While it’s not definitive just how much say Metallica had in the creative and recording processes, there’s a quote from Kirk Hammett that sums it up completely: it’s “not 100 percent a Metallica record. It’s a recording project, let’s put it that way.” If an artist you respect came up to you and your band and said “Hey, would you like to record this album with me?” would you accept? Of course you would.
Just over twenty years as a band and coming up on eleven studio albums, Opeth have almost guaranteed their spot in the metal hall of fame given the legendary status of many of their albums. Though formed in the fall of 1990, the band’s lineup wasn’t really solidified until a couple years later. Opeth’s musical style has mostly been the brainchild of Mikael í…kerfeldt, the only constant member of the band appearing on every Opeth release. As members have shifted, so has the band’s sound (even if it’s been a subtle change). At this point, you’d probably be hard-pressed to find a metalhead who wouldn’t bestow the progressive death metal crown atop Opeth’s head.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Opeth is their consistently great releases and continually evolving sound. Unlike many metal bands, Opeth don’t really have an album that is uniformly respected and beloved above their other albums (for example, Slayer’s Reign In Blood or Judas Priest’s Painkiller). When asking Twitter at large to name their two favorite Opeth albums, the first four tweets mentioned six different albums (Blackwater Park, Ghost Reveries, Still Life, Damnation, Watershed and Morningrise)”a testament to this notion of slight style changes and a fantastic catalog. Still need more proof? Well, on MetalStorm.net, Opeth has seven albums in the site’s “Top 200 albums of all time” list, which is no small feat, with all of their albums receiving above an average score of 8.5, as rated by users of the site.
Back in 2003 Opeth released Damnation, which was a rather bold move by the band. Damnation, as an album, isn’t metal in any way. It’s not just acoustic rehashes of old material, either. It was totally new, non-metal songs. Perhaps Opeth fans are just a different breed, but for most highly-revered metal bands, major deviation from the path doesn’t really go all that well (just ask Morbid Angel). Damnation, however, was incredibly well-received by the (usually close-minded) metal community, and rightfully so“it’s a masterfully done album.
June was a pretty gigantic month for metal music, with upwards of twenty-five notable releases, some by pretty powerful players in the metal world in recent years. Not everyone has the time and energy to check out all the big releases week to week and month to month, so I’m here to help you to stay on top of this busy time. Here’s a collection of mini reviews covering a bunch of June’s metal albums to help you figure out where to begin:
In Flames – Sounds Of A Playground Fading
In Flames, one of the more famous names in the metal world, has seen their fair share of disappointment in recent years due to the flops that were A Sense Of Purpose and Soundtrack To Your Escape. Sounds Of A Playground Fading falls in line with those releases in terms of style, but is much less disappointing. Still not great, though.
Jungle Rot – Kill On Command
If you’re a regular reader, then there’s a pretty good chance you already saw my full review of this album. Still, to sum it up: this is a straight-forward, stripped down metal album in time when they are few and far between. If you haven’t read the post yet, check out the in-depth version from a few weeks back.
Devin Townsend – Deconstruction
Regarded by many as one of the most talented individuals in the metal world today, Devin Townsend rarely disappoints audiences with his music. And Deconstruction is no different. Though musically brilliant, it may take some people a bit of time to become accustomed to his odd themes, lyrics and humor. If you already know and love Devy, Deconstruction will absolutely make your day.
Tombs’ second (sort of third) full-length album is definitely their best work to date, and quite possibly one of the best records of the year. Their signature mix of black and sludge metal meld flawlessly when taken to a new, extreme level. Fifty-eight minutes of pure metal awesomeness with not a single dull moment.
Morbid Angel – Illud Divinum Insanus
I’m still not sure if Morbid Angel are just executing the biggest troll on the metal community or not, but there’s no denying that Illud Divinum Insanus is just plain not good. Trying out a new style of music, or trying to fuse new styles into a genre in which you’ve already proven your worth is admirable, but in this case it went horribly wrong. It’s not a good death metal album, it’s not a good electronic album, and it’s certainly not a good mix of styles. If you’re looking for electronic/metal combinations, maybe try “Self Vs. Self” by Pendulum and In Flames.
August Burns Red – Leveler
August Burns Red’s fourth full length album sees the band departing even further from the somewhat standard brand of metalcore that propelled them to success. Leveler incorporates a litany of different musical styles, such as a nice flamenco guitar interlude, within their signature level of tightness and high energy.
Arch Enemy – Khaos Legions
The extra time Arch Enemy took between albums, along with Michael Amott’s short stint reuniting with Carcass, clearly had a huge effect on the band. Khaos Legions is a bit of a departure from the band’s other recent works“and for the better. Each member’s best efforts focused into one album makes for a really solid listen.
Every now and then a band tries to do something interesting with the currently played-out, generic deathcore sound without falling into the very well-defined box that deathcore has become. Fit For An Autopsy gets points for their effort, but there are still traces of the cookie-cutter style. A solid listen, though I’m not so sure that this is even close to the best the band can offer.
Job For A Cowboy – Gloom
With every new release, Job For A Cowboy make a case for being one of the best pure death metal acts and Gloom is no different. As an EP, it’s only four songs, but each of those songs is remarkably well-executed and shows the band isn’t even close to done yet.
Limp Bizkit – Gold Cobra
Calling Limp Bizkit a metal band that this point is really more of a joke than it is a serious claim, but this record is worth noting due to the fact that it perfectly sums up all of the music Limp Bizkit has made to date, except for their first (and best) album, 3 Dollar Bill Y’all. From the high energy tracks with angry raps to the somewhat ballad-like tunes, you get to hear a little bit of everything Limp Bizkit is known for.
Here’s a few other June metal releases that I’ve heard some good things about:
Symphony X – Iconoclast
From the looks of comments and ratings around the Internet, most people seem pretty pleased with this album. After 194 ratings on metalstorm.net, Iconoclast sits at an 8.5/10 rating, which isn’t too shabby at all (but is lower than the respective ratings for each of the three albums prior to it). It would appear that Symphony X have put out yet another solid album.
Like Symphony X’s latest effort, most opinions of Entity seem to be very positive. It’s averaging an 8.4/10 after 57 votes, which is right on par with their last record. The only real complaints I’ve seen seem to be that some of the songs are quite short, and the album can get a bit lost in its overly-technical style at times.
Amorphis – The Beginning Of Times
The Beginning Of Times is the follow up to this Finnish monster band’s great 2009 album Skyforger, and by most accounts, is equally as good. Described by some as being a bit more melodically complex and reaching, Amorphis is not, historically, a formulaic type of band so overlooking a release is usually a folly.
June really turned out to be quite a climax in an already fantastic year in metal, and the releases keep rolling out. There are at least a few more albums coming out in 2011 that could very well dwarf the rest of the year’s releases (such as Revocation, Decapitated, Opeth, All Shall Perish, Skeletonwitch, etc.) but we’ll have to wait and see.
Any June metal releases you’re especially fond of that you think people should give a listen to? Post it in the comments section!
Jungle Rot is a band that has been hanging out on the fringes of the death metal scene since the mid ’90s, making pure mosh death metal without really taking any time off. This year marks the group’s seventh full-length release”the first with Victory Records (previous labels include Napalm Records, Pure Death Recordings, Pavement Recordings, Crash Music and Olympic Records). Luckily, Jungle Rot delivers exactly what the metal world and Victory roster desperately need with Kill On Command.
No part of Kill On Command is groundbreaking, new or even really fresh”but that’s what makes it a really good listen. The band forgoes frills, experimentation and boundary pushing and sticks to what they know and love: thick riffs, brash vocals and no short supply of mosh sections. In a day and age where everyone is trying to one-up each other in terms of brutality, technicality, progressiveness and seemingly every other aspect of music, good ol’ fashioned death metal has sort of gone by the wayside (especially when you consider Morbid Angel’s latest album).
Jungle rot seems to understand that 1) there’s nothing wrong with the original death metal formula that emerged from Slayer’s style in the early ’90s, and 2) it never really gets old so long as you execute the style well. From Dave Matrise’s vocals to Geoff Bub’s guitar parts, they nail the classic death metal sound that metalheads know and love. There’s not a lot of guitar wankery on the album, but there are riffs galore. You won’t find a ton of breakdowns, but when you do they feel appropriate and don’t overstay their welcome.
Circle-pitters, headbangers and moshers around the globe rejoice, Jungle Rot has your back. Kill On Command is a thirty-seven minute moshing romp through the classic death metal sound, and a refreshing album amongst the rest of the ever-progressing metal realm. The album drops June 21st, so pick it up! In the meantime, you can join Jungle Rot’s OurStage fan club. You could even click the player below and check out some of their older tunes.