10) Symphony X Ė Iconoclast
After being blown away by their live set and falling in love with their 1997 masterpiece, The Divine Wings of Tragedy, I had at lot to look forward to with Symphony Xís Iconoclast. And did it deliver! I love the amazing musicianship that Symphony X showcases in Iconoclast. Michael Romeo is a freak of nature who writes awesome riffs in many different forms, whether itís heavy traditional metal like in Dehumanized, prog/tech riffs that melt the brain in Iconoclast, or catch power metal lines in The End Of Innocence, heís got it all down pat. And the man is can play a guitar solo like no other. Every solo is memorable and drops my jaw. Russell Allenís voice really shines in a lot of the music. His voice is as majestic as ever and fits every mood the album goes through. Michael Pinnella solidified his spot as my favorite keyboard player in metal with his work on this album. He does a great job with adding symphonic elements in the music, providing harmonies and his solos are incredible. Mike and Jason make an incredible rhythm section, as each create very intriquite parts and allow their technique to shine while getting the job done of keeping the songs tight. But overall, I think my favorite thing about this album is that itís just plain heavier than the rest of the material Iíve heard from Symphony X. With a combination of incredible musicianship, catchy tunes and relentless heaviness, Symphony X achieved something really incredible here.
9) Yob Ė Atma
My interest in Yob was another result of an awesome live performance. As stated previously, their set was the heaviest Iíve seen since Sleep. I had started to listen to them before the show, and was impressed with what they had to offer. Really heavy, slow stoner doom metal that rocks, rolls, and melts your face. Atma is another great installment in Yobís discography that provides that and sum. Mike Scheidtís riffs are absolutely pulverizing, and his vocals are quite unique and have some range. They range from a low growl to a very Ozzy-like sound, and those two styles fit perfectly with such heavy music. And what really puts the icing on the cake for the monolithic riffs, is an awesome rhythm section. The bass adds an awesome low end and the drums just pound along with the riffs so effortlessly, itís amazing. So, the combination of heavy-as-fuck riffs, great vocal work and a thumping rhythm sections makes Atma a force to reckoned with, and the heaviest record of 2011.
8) Grayceon Ė All We Destroy
Grayceon are a very unique band, not just sonically, but as a whole. First of all, thereís a female member
. Also, instead of a bassist, Grayceon uses cello as the low end. That being the case, two out of the three members sit while playing. And, the guitarist doesnít use a pick. So like most recent Bay Area metal bands, this group is a bit on the quirky side, and theyíre also an extremely talented band.
Grayceon are classical metal, not in the sense that they play the kind of music that was first considered metal, but their music is very much like classical music. Thatís not to say they sound completely like classical, but thereís an obvious Baroque influence with the intertwining melodies that the guitar/cello trade off. Along with this Baroque feel, they band incorporates elements of progressive and sludge metal, to create a sound that canít be heard from any other band. Jackieís cello playing is just out of this world and she uses her extremely versatile voice on this record, ranging from high vocals, mid vocals and growls. The guitar playing is also quite marvelous, is it ranges from plucking out chords, ravaging through riffs, and much more. The drumming on this album is really cool, and you hear everything from blastbeats to very doom metal-esque drumming. Songwriting is also very key with this band, as they write very long pieces, the longest being the 16 minute, We Can. Many of the songs feel like theyíre written in different movements, which again shows influence from classical music. Even though most arenít super long, they feel quite epic. The music here is kick ass and I recommend it for anybody who takes interest in prog, sludge, and classical.
7) Mastodon Ė The Hunter
Who is ready for a little essay?
Ages ago, in the year 2010, a good friend of ours, WolverineKills, posted on his now defunct blog that Mastodon were in the works of a new album, using many excess riffs from the Blood Mountain session. Later down the road when the album was closer to being released, Mastodon would compare the new album to Leviathan, seeing as it is more stripped down, but the former would be the truest in the end. But both stories imply that there was change going on in Camp Dong. This was seen at the very beginning of announcing the new album, with the album artwork. They ditched prior artist Paul Romano, and went with a very different style with AJ Fosik for the album cover. Then was the announcement that The Hunter wasnít a concept album. The next step was the release of the track titles. Blasteroid, Stargasm, Bedazzled Fingenails. These arenít names of Mastodon track titles; these are names of scenecore track titles. Finally, the release of the official single, Curl of the Burl, was an obvious sign of change. Unlike Black Tongue which was just a heavier CTS feel, Curl of the Burl is a catchy, radio rock song. Yeah, itís stripped down, but that ainít no Leviathan like they said. When this was released, I started to have my doubts. Had Mastodon reached their artistic peak on Crack the Skye? Was The Hunter going to be their equivalent to Metallicaís Black Album? Fortunately, when the full album was released and I was able to listen to the whole thing, my doubts vanished and I was a happy camper.
So, yes Ė The Hunter is definitely a more stripped down version of Mastodon. They abandon the 10+ minute songs we hear on Crack the Skye, and trade it in for short songs. In my opinion, the majority of the material on this album most resembles Blood Mountain, but there are elements of all their past works here. Songs like Spectrelight ooze of the heavy sludge that we heard on Remission/Leviathan, and tracks like Black Tongue still has the heavy, atmospheric sound that a lot of Crack the Skye has. Also, tracks like The Hunter and The Sparrow are very similar to the odes to Joseph Merrick we found on their first three full lengths. But it in full, I think the bulk of this is like Blood Mountain. Blasteroid and the main riff in Octopus Has No Friends have the same spastic vibe of Bladecatcher; Stargasm has the really spacey feel of Sleeping Giant; and All the Heavy Lifting has the similar constant 16th note riffs that are on Crystal Skull. But even with the album being most similar to Blood Mountain, itís not like it much. Blood Mountain overall has a really reckless, untamed vibe, but The Hunter is a lot more tame and simpler. Over all, The Hunter isnít a very complex and highly imaginative record. Itís simple to the point and a little poppy for Mastodon. Itís like the guys kind of pushed these songs out with out much effort and just used very similar molds for each song. The Hunter is Mastodon on auto-pilot.
But with that said, a lot of this stuff is fantastic. Specrelight is the heaviest Mastodon have been in half a decade; Stargasm is a perfect mesh of spacey prog rock and heavy sludge; the opening riff in Octopus is one of the craziest riffs Brent has written in his career, Thickeningís intro sees Mastodon writing something oceanic for the first time since Leviathan, All The Heavy Lifting showcases the heaviness or Remission and proggy goodness of Blood Mountain; Curl of the Burl is catchy as a motherfucker, and The Sparrow is on par with the beauty of the rest of the closing tracks of their discography. Sure, Mastodon may have been on auto-pilot on The Hunter, but Mastodon on auto-pilot is better than most bands going full speed, completely concentrated on the road.
6) Subrosa Ė No Help For The Mighty Ones
Hailing from a land where unorthodox is probably a dirty word, itís interesting to see band create such an unorthodox form of sludge/doom metal. Much like Grayceon, Subrosa have a very unique line-up. 3/5 members are female
, all three of which we hear both instrumentally and vocally, two of the girls play violin, which act as lead as the rest of the band is kept as a rhythm section.
What really makes this album is unique and incorporates many things into their music not only make the music heavy, but sinister and abstract. The easiest to point out is the use of violins. Not only are they used for melodies, but theyíre also used to create evil shrieking sounds that help create a really creep atmosphere in a lot of the music. Also, the violins vary a lot in sound. The violinists switch between bowing their violins and sometimes going pizzicato, plucking the strings to create twisted melodies. Also, I donít know if itís distortion that helps, but there are times where violins sound like horns. Now we focus on the rhythm section. The guitar and bass are for the most part uniform in what they do, but it helps create a thicker, heavier sound, because thereíd be too much going on if guitar and bass acted like the violins and played different parts. The guitar and bass are what really makes this album so heavy. The riffs alone are awesome, but the tones these guys get are just filthy and gritty, which really compliment down-tuned guitars. The drumming on this album is amazingly executed. They pummeling and heavy, and the drummer doesnít play the same beat twice, which isnít something weíre used to in doom metal. Now to the vocal department. Subrosa has a lead vocalist, but there are obviously 3 members that contribute a lot vocally. The two violinist provide sweet vocal harmonies, and that is best showcased on the a cappella piece House Carpenter. So, with soaring violins that are extremely versatile, fine vocalists, the guitars tuned down low and the tempos kept slow, Subrosa create one of the heaviest, sinister and abstract albums that even the mighty ones would have a hard time competing with.
Beneath the Crown