My albums of 2011

I didn’t think that I’d acquired many new albums in 2011, but I’ve just checked and my collection grew by 21 items (singles, EPs and albums), which was more than last year.

Here are my highlights, and unlike last year I’m starting with my favourite and working backwards.

1. Machine Head — Unto The Locust

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There have been some great metal albums released in 2011, by some major bands. But for me this has been the best: solid, tight, melodic, dynamic, perfect.

I thought their last album, The Blackening, was great—it was awarded Roadrunner Records’ “Album of the Century” after all. They seem to have either equalled or even excelled with this one. It’s a cracker of an album.

During the intro and outro of “Who We Are” on the recently finished Eighth Plague tour, Machine Head displayed fan testimonials on their projection screens that had been captured at that nights’ show.

The shots featured die hard fans that had stood in line for up to 10 hours before the doors opened, who, for their their dedication and passion, had their faces and messages shown on the three on-stage screens.

They became known as The Faces of The Eighth Plague.

Stand-out track: Who We Are

2. Mastodon — The Hunter

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My cousin Alan claims that Mastodon albums never release all their secrets on the first couple of listens. I like that quotation. There is an implication that there is a depth to Mastodon’s songs.

I’ve blogged elsewhere about this album, so I won’t repeat myself, suffice to say that even if the song Blasteroid is in the wrong place on the album this is one very solid, beautiful album.

Stand-out track: Curl of the Burl

3. Anthrax — Worship Music

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I’m going to be honest: I was sceptical about former, ‘classic’ Anthrax-frontman Joey Belladonna returning to the fold; I always preferred John Bush’s voice. But WOW! they delivered one killer album, and Belladonna’s vocals are the best they have ever been on record.

Stand-out track: In The End

4. Metallica – Beyond Magnetic EP

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The cynic might argue that Metallica only put out the Beyond Magnetic EP in light of the poor reviews and sales of their Lulu collaboration with former Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed. The official reason was that it was to coincide with Metallica’s 30 anniversary celebrations in San Francisco.

Whatever the reason: four great songs, and I’m looking forward to whatever comes next from Metallica HQ.

Stand-out song: Hell and Back

5. Voivod — To The Death 84

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This is a demo tape that got lucky and it makes Voivod sound as new and exciting as when I first heard the opening chords of Killing Technology some time in 1987.

What makes it for me is vocalist Piggy’s spoken parts between songs: it’s up-close and personal, listening in to the Voivod rehearsal space. Great stuff!

Stand-out song: Hell Driver

6. Lou Reed & Metallica — Lulu

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Let’s make no bones about it: this is not a comfortable album to listen to. But I can’t help liking it. In many ways it reminds me of some of the twentieth century composers whose works I used to sing in the National Youth Choir of Great Britain. Those were pieces that you hated on first sing-through but became a part of you the more you got inside them.

The critics have slammed this album. The fans have decried it and despaired about what Metallica will come out with next. But they miss the point: this is not a Metallica album. It’s a collaboration. It’s a Lou Reed album with the four members of Metallica as backing band. If anything it is art.

It’s bold. It’s different. And I really like it.

Stand-out track: Dragon

7. Opeth — Heritage

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This album took a good few listens to, and a good few weeks of not listening to it in between, before I finally ‘got’ it. It’s a good album, not a great album, but I will continue to listen to it… even if I do really miss that Opeth fusion of heavy and quietly melodic.

Stand-out track: Häxprocess

8. Megadeth — Th1rt3en

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If I’m honest, I was a little disappointed with Megadeth’s thirteen studio album. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a great metal record. But for Megadeth it just feels… lazy. It doesn’t have the hunger of 2007’s United Abominations or the punch of 2009’s Endgame.

Guitarist Chris Broderick said that he could hear elements of the different eras of Megadeth in the various songs. I’m not surprised: some of these are ‘left-over’ songs from previous albums, and one (‘Millennium of the Blind’) is a re-recording.

Stand-out track: Never Dead

9. Radiohead — The King of Limbs

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This was an unexpected album for me this year but it’s a great album for listening to in a darkened room late at night. It’s like 2011’s answer to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

Stand-out track: Lotus Flower

10. Cavalera Conspiracy — Blunt Force Trauma

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For their second album guitarist/vocalist/song-writer Max Cavalera promised a shorter, more intense, in-your-face album than their debut Inflikted, which was one of my favourite albums of 2008.

This is another album that disappointed me on first listen—perhaps my expectations were too high, perhaps I just wasn’t in the right head-space to listen to it. The album has certainly grown on me during the year.

Stand-out track: Warlord

Last fm charts

Of course, this year I’ve listened to more than just the music that has come out this year. Whenever I listen to music, and I’m connected to the internet, the tracks are recorded to my Last.fm account.

My top-ten most played:

Artists

  1. Opeth (579 tracks)
  2. Anthrax (518 tracks)
  3. Slayer (462 tracks)
  4. Mastodon (328 tracks)
  5. Queen (301 tracks)
  6. Lamb of God (301 tracks)
  7. Metallica (236 tracks)
  8. Machine Head (220 tracks)
  9. Testament (216 tracks)
  10. Big Country (201 tracks)

Albums

  1. Lamb of God — Sacrament
  2. Porcupine Tree — The Incident
  3. Opeth — Ghost Reveries
  4. Godflesh — Streetcleaner
  5. Slipknot — Slipknot
  6. A Perfect Circle — Mer De Noms
  7. Mastodon — The Hunter
  8. Anthrax — Worship Music
  9. Anthrax — We’ve Come For You All
  10. Opeth — Watershed

Tracks

  1. Pantera — Mouth For War (60 plays)
  2. Opeth — Ghost of Perdition (55 plays)
  3. Opeth — The Lotus Eater (47 plays)
  4. Opeth — The Drapery Falls (46 plays)
  5. Opeth — Blackwater Park (44 plays)
  6. A Perfect Circle — Magdalena (43 plays)
  7. Opeth — Bleak (43 plays)
  8. Metallica — Nothing Else Matters (42 plays)
  9. Opeth — Dirge For November (41 plays)
  10. Porcupine Tree — Lazarus (41 plays)

What about you?

Have you blogged about your favourite music of 2011, then add a link to the comments below. If not, what have you really enjoyed?

Mastodon—The Hunter: I think one track is in the wrong place

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Mastodon are without a doubt one of my favourite bands—they are #14 in my last.fm chart (artists overall) after all.

Leviathan (2004), Blood Mountain (2006) and Crack the Skye (2009) are amongst my favourite albums of any artist. Until recently Mastodon was one of the few bands whose complete back catalogue I had on my mobile phone (I use it as my mp3 player, ever since my SanDisk mp3 player died… it has about 16GB more space on it too).

You could say that I like Mastodon.

Do you want to know my secrets?

My cousin Alan says about their albums that they don’t reveal all their secrets in the first few listens. That’s my experience too: you have to listen to them again and again, get inside them, live with them for a while.

So it was with some disappointment that I’ve struggled with their latest album The Hunter. I’ve listened to it again and again but there was just something about that collection of songs that didn’t sit with me.

Concepts

Certainly, many of the previous albums have concepts that hold them together. Leviathan (2004) is about obsession, based loosely on Herman Melville’s novel of 1851 Moby-Dick. Blood Mountain (2006), according to bassist Troy Sanders, is about “climbing up a mountain and the different things that can happen to you when you’re stranded on a mountain, in the woods, and you’re lost. You’re starving, hallucinating, running into strange creatures. You’re being hunted. It’s about that whole struggle.” Crack the Skye (2009) is about an out-of-body experience, exploring the concepts of astral travel, wormholes.

The Hunter (2011) has no concept, other than the stripped back, less-progressive, riff-oriented approach that the band took when writing the album. I wondered if it was this that was standing in my way to enjoying the album.

Blasteroid into another space

This afternoon I finally figured out what it was about the album that I just wasn’t getting: it’s track #3 ‘Blasteroid’. I think it’s in the wrong place on the album.

To me it doesn’t belong after ‘Curl of the Burl’. ‘Curl…’ has a happy-go-lucky bounce but then ‘Blasteroid’ smacks you in the face, like a lump of concrete. Only then to be followed with the slower-paced, tripped-out ‘Stargasm’. To my ear it significantly interrupts the flow of the album.

I think ‘Blasteroid’ fits far better at the other end of the album, say between ‘Bedazzled Fingernails’ and ‘The Sparrow’. ‘Blasteroid’ kicks off with the energy of ‘Bedazzled…’ and ends with the gentleness of ‘The Sparrow’.

I’m going to create another version of this album on my PC that has that running order and see if I’m right.