-Folk- Coming Soon
-Doom Metal- Coming Soon
-Experimental- Coming Soon
While 2011 was an incredible year for metal music as a whole, these three genres weren’t quite strong enough to fill their own category. Melodeath is the dominant one here, but sludge and thrash have a few representatives as well. The “accessible metal” section from past years is no more, but I guess this one could have been called “moderately accessible metal.”
Arch Enemy have been doing pretty much the same thing since vocalist Angela Gossow joined the band. That’s not necessarily a band thing, as the group has made subtle improvements with each new album, and released some great albums in the process. Still, it’s probably time that they moved on and tried something a little different. Khaos Legions is quite a bit different, and some melodic death metal fans may simply not want to hear a more accessible thrash metal take on Arch Enemy’s sound. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but the music on Khaos Legions really works. The instrumentals are still melodic, but with more of a thrash metal base, and Gossow’s vocals are simply incredible. Every word that comes out of her mouth is clear, a rarity for growlers, and she sounds powerful on every track. Khaos Legions is a very good album, and a few of the tracks are downright brilliant. It may be more accessible, but it’s quite possibly the best album of Arch Enemy’s career.
With the exception of the brilliant track “Origins,” Arkan’s oriental influences can be somewhat deceptive. They use Middle Eastern sounds in their intros and outros, but rarely incorporate them well into the main parts of the songs. It’s a good thing then that Arkan play a solid brand of melodic death metal. In actuality, Salem is a fairly standard yet solid melodeath album that occasionally builds into something greater. Fans of oriental metal with likely be intrigued, but not fully satisfied, while melodic death fans will find a pretty solid release with some interesting ideas mixed in.
The Black Dahlia Murder
There was once a time when The Black Dahlia Murder were nothing more than a heavier and slightly more respectable metalcore band. That was a long time ago. After a string of solid albums, BDM have turned into a legitimate melodic death metal group, heavier than just about any other popular American metal band this side of Lamb of God. The vocals are chaotic without being messy, and they do a nice job of mixing high screams with some really strong growling. Guitar solos are also plentiful and excellent, and it’s pretty crazy that the band can go from different spectrums of heavy metal in a short amount of time without having it sounding forced. Ritual is a legitimately heavy album, and one that can be easily recommended to fans of melodeath and accessible metal alike.
Communicate the Storms
It is often assumed that melodic metal is more accessible than its “heavier” counterpart. Cipher System prove that this isn’t always true. Despite having some of the most melodic riffs you’ll find in heavy metal, Communicate the Storms is an absolutely brutal death metal album. It just happens to be melodic and even has a few clean vocals thrown in for good measure. It’s a great album, and I encourage those not into the heavier side of melodic death metal to give it a chance, but Communicate the Storms is really a record for metal purists who remember the Gothenburg scene and how heavy melodic metal could sound. The vocals, in particular, are brutal, as even the clean singing sounds strained and heavy. The growling mixes both high and low, and both have a punishing sound that wouldn’t be out of place in a brutal death metal record. All in all, this is one of the finest melodic death metal albums of the year, and it’s an easy one to recommend.
Until Fear No Longer Defines Us
Part sludge and part melodic death metal, Ghost Brigade have one of the most unique sounds in modern metal. When a band mixes two genres as clearly as Ghost Brigade do, they must know how to play both, and it’s clear that the band has them mastered. The riffs are slow and heavy for the most part, and create the almost hypnotic sound that comes from the great sludge bands. As the songs start to build, the riffs become faster, and the way that Ghost Brigade play with tension is nothing short of incredible. Until Fear No Longer Defines Us is easily the best and most polished album of the band’s career, and it’s hard not to be impressed by what they’ve accomplished. This is a truly unique record that plays with polar opposites in speed and emotion to great success, and it’s one of the best metal releases of 2011.
One for Sorrow
Insomnium have their formula, one that really hasn’t changed for the last few albums, but it’s hard to complain when the music sounds like this. This is high quality melodic death metal with clear and powerful growling, and instrumentation that varies from brutal to downright beautiful. The clean singing isn’t the best that the genre has to offer, but Insomnium don’t overdue it. The singing does what it needs to do, namely offer a break from the harsh vocals, and again, it’s hard to complain when the rest of the music is so polished. One of Sorrow is a solid melodic death metal album that doesn’t try to reinvent the genre or Insomnium’s sound, but it does offer consistent and accessible melodeath for fans of the genre and newcomers alike.
Unto the Locust
Picking up where 2007’s The Blackening left off, Unto the Locust builds on the sound Machine Head nailed with that record. The songs are long, aggressive, and passionate, and even contain some progressive elements that should shock anyone who suffered through the band’s nu-metal phase. Machine Head are still angry, and thankfully still heavy, but they’ve matured. The vocals are a mix between Rob Flyn’s trademark guttural screams and clean singing that is just rough enough to fit with the music. Instrumentally, this is Machine Head, just a more varied version. There are still Pantera-like grooves and chugging riffs, but they never do the same thing for too long. They’re not afraid to mix things up and go into heavy sonic assaults or even melodic solos. If The Blackening was the album every Machine Head fan waited for after their classic debut in ‘94, then Unto the Locust is the kind of follow-up those fans should embrace. This is a heavy, largely accessible record that sees a mature and confident Machine Head building on what’s worked.
What can be said about Mastodon that hasn’t been said a million times already? This band is incredible on so many levels, and it’s hard to review one of their albums without sounding like an obsessed fan boy. The thing is that after listening to so many metal albums that try and fail to combine the heavy and melodic, and so many bands that show no progression between albums, it becomes all the more refreshing to hear an artist that has absolutely mastered what so many fail to do. Mastodon have their sound, but they’ve never made the same album twice. The Hunter is no exception, as Mastodon have traded the long prog epics from Crack the Skye and the story from the last three albums in for a straight-forward gem of an album that can only be described as everything Mastodon rolled into a concise package. The Hunter is heavy, melodic, accessible, unique, and just about everything a music fan could want. There are progressive elements, strong sludge influences, and bits of stoner and hard rock, all of which form a distinct and varied sound that continues to progress as the album wears on. The higher vocals are really the only regression here, as what suddenly became a strength on Crack the Skye is back to being a little too rough and not enough of a contrast to the lower singing. The Hunter may not definitively be the best album Mastodon has produced, but that’s really only a testament to the strength of their first four records. This is a fantastic album by a fantastic band.
Psychology of Death
Quite possibly the biggest surprise of 2011, old-school thrash metal band Mortal Sin have released a monster of an album. Psychology of Death comes 26 years after their formation, and it’s easily the most unique, heavy, and overall best album of their career. It reminds me a lot of Testament’s The Formation of Damnation from 2008, in that the sound is rooted in 80’s thrash, while adding strong elements of death and modern extreme metal. The result is a punishing collection of chaotic metal songs that prove there is still some life in old-school thrash.
“Technical thrash metal” does not seem like a genre that would work. Granted, Vektor are far from the first to try this, but Outer Isolation may be the first in the genre to really show that thrash metal can be overly technical without losing the heaviness and passion that makes it worthwhile. This is a far cry from Slayer or Venom’s brutal rage, but Vektor have managed something to create an interesting album with an unruly amount of tempo and time signature changes. What’s important is that the music here is impressively technical, which is an obviously essential part of technical metal, and they do this without the usual wankery of the genre. There’s a fine line being impressive and obnoxious in technical music, and Vektor manage to stay on the right side of it. It’s hard to say whether thrash metal fans will embrace Outer Isolation, but I hope they do. This is really a pretty solid blend of thrash and tech metal, and it works a lot better than it has any right to.