The Best New Bands of 2011
Kicking off the year-end review on a high note
Looking back at 2011, what really sticks out at me was that it was decent. Merely decent. When you listen to hundreds of metal albums in a calendar year, you do wind up with a good number of impressive ones, but this year’s crop was very difficult to actually rank. Interestingly, there was no “consensus” critical fave that captivated us writers like there usually is; go look at the year-end lists already out there (including Decibelmagazine, Brandon Stosuy at Pitchfork, Lars Gotrich at NPR, the folks at MetalSucks) and you’ll see plenty of greatly differing choices for album of the year. While no metal album has seemed to leap out as a real groundbreaker in the genre, the variety of top choices makes for some very enjoyable reading. My own list of the 50 best metal albums of 2011, which will be posted starting Monday, is certainly an eclectic one. And as for my own personal choice for album of the year, I will say right now that I have yet to see a writer or publication who’s choice is the same. It’s been that kind of year!
To start off the Best of 2011 festivities, I figured I’d list the ten new bands that caught my attention the most this year. Of course, in metal “new” is all relative – so many bands build fanbases from underground demo recordings that by the time they put out a full-length they feel “old” to some – but I’ve just kept things simple. These are ten bands that were totally new to me in 2011, listed alphabetically because they’re all worth checking out.
Few bands in metal this year were able to combine different sounds as well as Portland’s Atriarch does on their debut Forever the End (Seventh Rule). Doom, death metal, black metal, and even first-wave gothic rock (think Bauhaus, not Hot Topic) interweave with surprising grace on this spellbinding record.
Meshing the trance-inducing atmospherics of Burzum-derived black metal with the towering beauty of early-‘90s shoegaze is nothing new, but San Francisco’s Deafheaven does so with such vibrancy on their first album Roads to Judah (Deathwish, Inc.). The sky’s the limit with this band.
It’s nice to finally hear a metal band from Scotland drawing inspiration from their heritage and geography, and the duo of Scott McLean and Andy Marshall capture the vibe of their home country so well on Where Distant Spirits Remain (Candlelight). A very pleasant surprise.
Who knew Minneapolis would produce one of the most promising young black metal bands to come from the States in a while? These Minnesotans impress mightily on their debut EP (Gilead), injecting gloriously bombastic melodies so impeccably into their epic compositions that it shames the likes of Watain and Dimmu Borgir.
Hedvig Mollestad Trio:
Equally influenced by Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, and The Melvins, Norwegian guitarist Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen shreds and grooves all over her trio’s debut album Shoot! (Rune Grammofon), capable of bluesy jams one minute, dark excursions into doomy sludge the next, with jazz fusion uniting it all. Highlighted by a rousing cover of said Melvins’ “Blood Witch”, this band makes a memorable first impression.
An instrumental metal band from Canada. Okay. Instrumental doom. Oh? Instrumental doom with proclivities for space rock. You don’t say.Sabbath riffs commingling with dizzying Dik Mik synths and repetitive Krautrock grooves on eight of the most incessant, headbangingly catchy songs I’ve heard all year. Wait, what?
Sure, Sweden’s Spiders might seem a little predictable, Witchcraft guitarist John Hoyles continuing to churn out the early-‘70s heavy rock, but the nods to ‘60s garage rock and the presence of singer Ann-Sofie Hoyles immediately sets this band apart from all other Swedish throwback bands. With only six songs released so far, here's hoping we get an album in 2012.
Not only does the San Francisco band churn out some first-rate, punishing death metal in the vein of Bolt Thrower and Autopsy, but Carnal Law (20 Buck Spin) also delves heavily into the work of author Georges Bataille, the lyrics intelligently exploring sexuality and eroticism without the usual gross-out lyrics we get in death metal.
Wolves Like Us:
They might have a fresh take on modern hardcore, but don’t compare these Norwegians to Kvelertak. Instead of integrating black metal and The Stooges with punk, Wolves Like Us draw heavily from post-hardcore innovators Drive Like Jehu on Late Love (Prosthetic), those strong angular melodies given a powerful, metallic touch.
Year of the Goat:
The Swedish band’s Satanic hard rock had some comparing them to Ghost, but in place of the flamboyant image is a real devotion to songwriting and melody, as the four songs on Lucem Ferre (Van Records), including a killer cover of Sam Gopal’s “Dark Lord”, are as accessible as they are thematically dark.
Thanks for the Wolves Like Us recommendation, it's a very pleasant surprise. And I do agree with you about Spiders, I met them because of Graveyard and I'm just eager they put out a whole album.
One last thing, you should write a review of the Ulver live DVD it's not an easy thing to digest.