-Folk- Coming Soon
-Doom Metal- Coming Soon
-Experimental- Coming Soon
While it’s been part of the “extreme metal” section in the past, black metal had such a good year in 2011 that it needed its own category. Much of this is due to the rise in atmospheric black metal, a subgenre that combines the core sound with post-rock, shoegaze, and ambient music, but there were plenty of great traditional, symphonic, and even melodic black metal albums released in 2011 as well. Here are 10 of the best.
An Autumn for Crippled Children
Stylistically, Everything is a big change from An Autumn for Crippled Children’s debut last year. That album, Lost, was a unique and powerful black and doom metal hybrid. Everything is a more typical “blackgaze” album, as the doom metal influences are a lot less prominent this time around. This might be a disappointment to fans, but thankfully An Autumn for Crippled Children have made a great album that stands a cut above the vast majority of the many other atmospheric black metal albums released in 2011. The atmosphere here is really strong, and the balance between beautiful and brutal is nearly perfect.
Uncompromisingly brutal, the part-black metal, part-death metal, part-grindcore Passion is an album that is every bit as creative as it is heavy. Anaal Nathrakh’s sound has always been fast and heavy, but on Passion the group is more consistent than they’ve ever been. Every song is a sonic assault that takes elements from just about every form of an extreme metal. It never settles, as even the drums constantly switch from snare-heavy black metal to blastbeats. The vocals switch between high and low growls, sometimes as often as every syllable, and it all makes for some chaotic and truly unpredictable music. Everything that Anaal Nathrakh do has been done before in some capacity, but the way that it all comes together on Passion is heavier than just about anything else in metal music.
One might not think that a black metal album influenced by Taiwanese folk music would be accessible, but that’s exactly what Chthonic have accomplished with Takasago Army. On first listen the oriental folk elements may be the most noticeable aspect of the music, but that’s really not the main part of Chthonic’s sound. This is a symphonic black metal album through and through, and it’s a damn good one at that. Few albums manage to at the same time be as cinematic, brutal, and catchy, and what’s more is that the symphonic core of the music does not compromise the more extreme parts of Chthonic’s sound. This is symphonic black metal that works, both as an accessible starting point for newcomers to black and death metal, and as something truly unique for established fans of extreme metal. Takasago Army is unlike any other album released in 2011, and cements Chthonic’s place as one the most innovative artists in modern metal.
Roads to Judah
Deafheaven start their first full length album off with what may be one of the finest extreme metal songs I’ve ever heard. The epic 12 minute “Violet” starts out purely ambient, builds towards a solid few minutes of post-rock that is beautiful while still being heavy, and then goes absolutely insane. The drums subtlety get faster and more snare dependent until it finally reaches full on black metal status. That’s when the vocalist belts out a powerful growl, and by the way, the beautiful ambience of the intro is still there. It’s rare to hear “blackgaze” or atmospheric black metal music that is so good at every aspect of the sound, especially in terms of how the tracks progress. By the end of Roads to Judah, Deafheaven have taken the listener on a journey. This is an album that builds on Alcest’s sound, adds some hardcore punk influences, and makes the heavy moments far heavier. It’s a near perfect blend of the “lighter” French blackgaze that know how to create beautiful music and build their songs, and the heavier atmospheric black metal that takes brutal music and mixes in some shoegaze and post-rock sounds. Deafheaven definitely borrow a lot from their influences, but the way they piece them together is simply incredible.
Fen’s Epoch is pretty standard atmospheric black metal, at least in terms of style. Quality-wise, Epoch is towards the higher end of the spectrum. It came out in February, and with the incredible year of atmospheric black metal that followed, it’s hard for not to get lost in the shuffle. But black metal fans who missed out on Fen’s sophomore release earlier in the year should go back and give this one a listen. For all the experimentation that came with the genre in 2011, it’s great to hear a band that sticks by their influences and makes a heavy atmospheric album that lets the black metal dominate the sound. And in terms of black metal, Fen plays their sound expertly. They have a raw, heavy sound with just enough post-rock parts to keep things from getting repetitive. Again, it may have been overshadowed by bigger and ultimately better albums, but Fen’s Epoch was the first great atmospheric black metal album of 2011, and it’s a very solid take on what would become a defining subgenre in extreme metal over the next ten months.
Oakhelm’s Betwixt and Between was a promising debut. Its follow up expands on that foundation, and is one of the best and most unique black metal albums in a year filled with many great releases in the genre. Oakhelm play a heavy and at times beautiful style of atmospheric black metal, and they mix in some prominent folk elements for good measure. While the combination was unique and exciting the first time around, here it’s become fully realized and truly spectacular. Most of the tracks are of epic length and switch between raw heavy riffs with blackened screams to some of the most gorgeous and well-implemented ambient music in any atmospheric black metal album. Most of the individual parts of Echtra aren’t extraordinary though. If you’re familiar with contemporary black metal, especially in the Northwest scene, you’ve heard the metal side of Oakhlem before. It’s the way that everything comes together that makes this album great and worthy of any metal fan’s time.
Technically speaking Oranssi Pazuzu do play black metal. They just play a very strange style of it, and one that makes Kosmonument as likely to appeal to experimental listeners as it is to black metal fans. Across the course of the album there are heavy psychedelic influences, as well as elements of doom and sludge metal, making this a sort of weird experiment that maintains the raw nature of its black metal core. The growling is strong, the riffs are big, and there’s even some heavy bass that is rarely heard in black metal. While Kosmonument is not as focused as their debut album, Oranssi Pazuzu have made another unique work of art. Not all of it works, and as one might expect the psychedelic influences don’t blend perfectly. Still, they get it right the majority of the time, and while bands like Nachmystium and A Forest of Stars have received critical acclaim for their form of psychedelic black metal, Oranssi Pazuzu do it far better than either.
Old school black metal with modern production, Vreid’s V is an album that embraces the evolution of the black metal genre without losing its roots. The music has a raw and gritty sound mixed in with serious melody and even a few atmospheric parts. This is an album that can be utterly brutal in spots, and then transition into softer segments. There will certainly be black metal purists who won’t be able to get over the melodic parts and the decent production values, especially considering Vreid has connections to the more traditional black metal band Windir, but V is an easy album to recommend to anyone who likes the classic blackened sound and doesn’t mind a more modern take on it.
Wolves in the Throne Room
The fourth album from Wolves in the Throne Room isn’t all that different from the first three. The band had a phenomenal debut with Diadem of 12 Stars, polished their sound with Two Hunters, and are now on cruise control. However, more Wolves in the Throne Room is hardly a bad thing. Even with the rapidly increasing number of atmospheric black metal bands out there, no one plays it quite like Wolves in the Throne Room. They continue to play black metal with folk and shoegaze influences, and unlike a lot of atmospheric black metal albums, the influences are almost completely interconnected. Even the softer moments still have a hint of black metal in them, and Celestial Lineage is better for it. The thing is, even with the long tracks, Wolves remains one of the most accessible extreme metal bands out there, and it’s hard to imagine any metalhead not finding something to like about their music. It’s heavy, unique, and each song is very well constructed. So while Celestial Lineage is nothing new for Wolves in the Throne Room, their sound is far from tired, and both established fans and metalheads yet to give them a listen will find an enjoyable album here.
Woods of Desolation
Torn Beyond Reason
Torn Beyond Reason comes just shy of being the perfect atmospheric black metal album. This dark masterpiece is filled with punishing riffs, desperate screams, production that makes the sound more raw without taking away from the music, insane melody at times, and some of the greatest atmosphere black metal has ever seen. Its only issue is variety. After the first couple songs the rest can get predictable, but when the sound is this good that may be for the best. This is atmospheric metal that perfects the balance between heavy and beautiful, and even with its flaws it’s one of the 2011’s most essential metal albums.