So far 2011 has been peppered with great metal albums and we’re not even done the first month! There’s just a mess of albums coming out today or very soon in the US worth talking about that the reviews are going to be short this week to get them all in! The videos will speak for themselves in a lot of cases anyway.

Ghost, Opus Eponymous (Rise Above)
US Release Date: January 18th.

Brilliant, old school and fucking evil at the same time. You simply can’t go wrong with this album. The album cover is creepy as hell (check out the video to see it) and the first words you hear are “Lucifer / We are here / For your praise / Evil one.”

Songs like “Elizabeth” and her pact with Satan, or something as simple as “Satan Prayer” should give you a clear indication of the topic throughout the album and it really is completely about Satanism. In fact, if Satan has an iPod, this is on in. I wouldn’t be shocked to hear this blasting out of the speakers on top of the gate to hell.

The best part of about the album is the old school feel. Continuing in the super retro trend these days, Opus Eponymous is directly out of 1978 and yet of course it sounds like a modern take on that sound.

I’ve already tossed three albums into the preliminary “best of 2011” list and this makes a fourth. There’s going to have to be some really brilliant records to come down the line the rest of the year to bump this one off the list. I normally only judge other people’s tastes if they like Nickelback, but if you are a metal fan and don’t at least give this a shot, you are a fool.

Electric Wizard, Black Masses (Rise Above)
US Release Date: January 18th

This came out late last year oversees so there’s been plenty of reviews about it already. The majority I’ve seen have said this is a “return to form,” would would indicate the had dropped off. But if you look back at the vast number of reviews of the last two or three Electric Wizard albums, they get pretty high praise, so shit doesn’t quite add up.

I speak for myself only when I say that I think Electric Wizard has been one of my most disappointing bands of the last decade. I recall at one point that the Guinness Book of World Records named them the heaviest band in the world (how the hell can that be quantified?) and who knows, that may still be the case but the quality music hasn’t been there in ages. 1997’s Come My Fanatics… and 2000’s Dopethrone were two of the best stoner-doom records in the genre. They hold up very well today and sound mindblowingly heavy. But after that, the group sound changed over the course of each successive album to the point where 2007’s Witchcult Today sounded like a fucking pop record compared to earlier works. The rambling riffs gave way to concise and tight song structures which is not at all what made these guys so great.

If I had not been sent this album to review, I would have never picked it up as I had given up on them after their last disc thinking they’d just lost it. But alas, I give it a shot just like I do everything that crosses my desk. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a “return to form” nor is it as great as some people think it is but it’s better than anything they’ve released since Dopethrone. There are more stoner jams and the entire sound is grittier and much less polished than their previous records. A lot of the riffs go nowhere though and there are simply some moments that sound like they are going through the motions (“Patterns of Evil”). That said, I won’t be writing them off just yet as Black Masses is good enough to keep me listening to more from the group but it still doesn’t seem like they are ever going to be able to recapture the magic that made them one of the most talked about bands in metal for a few years.

Stratovarius, Elysium (Armoury)
US Release Date: January 18th

From now on I’m setting the bar at eight albums. That’s the number of albums that any power metal band has to have under its belt before I will even bother with them these days. Sounds harsh, but I’ve said it before in other reviews. The number of new power metal bands that sound 100% the same as everyone else is mind numbing to the point where I not only don’t want to listen any longer but I’m starting to hate the genre. The only bands in the genre that don’t seem to be phoning it in are the ones that have been around the longest. It kind of seems backwards from most other genres where groups fade as they get older. In power metal is seems as if somehow the old guys realize that the same shit just ain’t going to cut it any longer and they have to come up with something new or at least relevant to sell albums. Therefore, as this would be their 12th studio album, I’m totally on board the good ship Stratovarius.

There’s always going to be epic string passages, monumental layered choruses and fist pumping for 60 straight minutes in every record of the genre, but it was obvious from the moment the opening notes of “Darkest Hours” came on, that this was going to be an invigorating album. And if that didn’t do it, then it’s tough not to like the epic-ness of “Infernal Maze.” However, the centerpiece of the album is the mid-tempo “Fairness Justified” which has just a grand chorus and probably goes down as one of the best tracks the band has ever recorded. And of course no power metal album would be complete without a track that lasts forever as Elysium ends with the 18+ minute title track. The mark of a good song of this length is that not once did I check to see how long I’d been listening to it.

Nadiwrath, Nihilistic Stench (Moribund Records)
US Release Date: January 25th

Here’s how you make sure people know you are angry. You name your album something like Nihilistic Stench and have songs called “Another Pimping Whore” and “Two Face Shit Fuckers.” If that ain’t enough, combine blistering punk chords with black metal tones and voila, you have Nadiwrath. The only lyrics I can actually understand on the disc are “fuck” and “shit” but damn if this just doesn’t sound like these guys would stab you in the gut for no reason other than having fun.

The video below is for “Horns” which is on the new album but no tracks from it have been posted on YouTube just yet. But this demo isn’t far from the finished product either.

Psycho, Pain Addict Pigs (Moribund Records)
US Release Date: January 25th

I don’t get to review many bands from the far east as there just isn’t much in the way of decent metal coming out of that region. So when something like Pain Addict Pigs by Singapore’s Psycho comes out I have to realize how special it is. These guys are able to blend thrash, death and black metal effortlessly with moments of undeniable catchiness thrown in for good measure. Lyrically, they have three topics; Death (“All Are Dead”), Sex (“Revenge of the Raging Whore”) and Satan (“Dr. Satan”). I’ve been clamoring for a new Toxic Holocaust record for a year now but I think Psycho will be the group that holds me over with that crusty metal grind until that day comes.

Artas, Riotology (Napalm)
US Release Date: February 8th

Riotology is the second release from Austria’s Artas and a great improvement over their debut. On the first record (2008’s The Healing) you got more of a metalcore mixed with melodic death metal feel. On their new record I get a little of the melo-death but it mostly feels like a thrash record to me. The powerful and crunchy riffs really should be the centerpiece of this album but the first thing that I noticed were the vocals which vary from clean, to screams, to growls and also end up being in English, French, German and Spanish (not really sure that’s necessary).

The only drawback to the album is the overblown 16 track length, but otherwise, the production is great and the riffs are powerful throughout. “The Suffering of John Doe” borrows heavily from mid-period Testament and “The Grin Behind the Mirror” shows off the band’s technical skills with some fierce riffing. Without a terrible amount of variety I found it hard to get all the way to the end without thinking I’d already heard the song I was listening to, but the album is definitely a headbanger.

Battlelore, Doombound (Napalm)
US Release Date: February 8th

This is an album that I don’t even know if I’d trust my own opinion on to be perfectly honest. Battlelore play epic fantasy metal and Doombound is based around the tale of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Children of Turin. Many moons ago I lost my sign that told everyone I was a virgin so this concept means nothing to me. Clearly, lyrical content is not going to be a selling point on this one for me. So if it comes down to simply the music and the vocals then it’s a little disappointing.

Many of the riffs on Doombound go nowhere and are peppered with keys and flutes and other instruments to give it that middle earth fantasy feel. But with the prevalent theme it just feels like the music just isn’t quality enough to pull it off. Vocally, I’m not a fan of the female vocals as they aren’t quite as beautiful as they should be for something like this to work well. I have no doubt that if you know the Tolkien story then this will probably be worth a listen for you but otherwise, I just don’t get it.