Havok, Time Is Up (Candlelight)
U.S. Release Date: March 29th

Perfection.

That’s not a word I toss around a lot when it comes to metal. In my False Metal, Dead! series here on Popdose, I’m looking at the 300 best metal albums that I’ve listened to and I’ve┬áheard thousands and thousands of metal records over the years. Only 45 get my “perfection” label. I now have to adjust that to 46.

It was clear back in 2009 when they released Burn that Havok was on to something special. That album landed at #222 on my list and was one of the most solid thrash debuts I had heard in a while. Fast forward to present day as Havok is about to release their sophomore effort which ups the thrash quotient by a billion compared to the debut.

In a time when so much new thrash borrows from that current Exodus/Testament sound, Havok comes out with something that sounds so fresh and unique. The production is great on this album with each element clearly having its own voice. The riffs aren’t the standard thrash fare and Reece Scruggs shreding on a track like “No Amnesty” is killer. David Sanchez’s vocals match the music perfectly alternating between singing, screaming and grunts. The bass is up loud enough in the mix to hear the complexities of what’s being played but it’s really the drumming that makes the difference. Pete Webber is a fucking monster on the skins. This isn’t just the typical pounding away repetitively that you hear on many thrash albums. This is some challenging shit he’s playing actually adding to the uniqueness of each track instead of just blending into the background. The most interesting thing about this too, is that the guitarist and drummer are both new to the group for this recording.

Time Is Up gives you that feel of what made old school thrash so great while at the same time sounding like nothing else out right now. This is easily the best thrash record of any type released since Toxic Holocaust dropped An Overdose of Death on us in 2008. And in a year that I’ve already heard half a dozen great records, Havok’s new album is without a doubt the best thing my ears have had the pleasure of listening to in a long, long while.

Burzum, Fallen (Candlelight)
U.S. Release Date: April 5th

Just by the fact that you are reading this, I’m going to assume that you already know the back story of Burzum/Varg Vikernes/Count Grishnackh and if you don’t, pick up any book on the history of black metal and get reading as it’s all over the place. As a murderer, I suppose I should think this guy is a dick and hate him and his music for eternity but I don’t. In fact, I hang on to the edge of my seat waiting for a new Burzum record to come out. Maybe I should give a shit about his past but I don’t at all. I care about the music he puts out, plain and simple.

The vast majority of the Burzum catalog is brilliant. Even die hard fans seem to think that the two albums he released while in jail were pretty shitty but considering that he wasn’t allowed any instruments during most of time he was incarcerated they are at least interesting works of art in his arsenal. But when the man has access to real instruments, brilliance gets laid to disc. Fallen is yet another amazing record from what I truly believe is the most talented black metal artist in history.

Fallen seems to be a natural progression from last year’s Belus. Continuing to explore Norse mythology in his lyrics Varg once again gives us these jagged, bleak landscapes of fiercely dark black metal. His typical piercing and repetitive guitar riffs paint the overall picture but it’s the vocals that draw you into his world. I don’t understand a word he saying but I really don’t need to for it to work. It’s the tone that really matters. Whether he’s screaming chaotically in “Vanvidd” or using clean, melodic vocals in “Jeg Faller” each sound he makes takes you into his world, be it a flaming pit of ashes or a empty, vast land of nothing but snow covered trees. I love to simply close my eyes and let my mind run wild with Burzum albums just to see where it takes me.

Fallen definitely makes the short list for album of the year so far making it album #8 on the list in just two months. His last album didn’t get a U.S. release so it was harder to pick up here in the states. Since Candlelight is releasing this one there’s no excuse this time. Forget his past and pick up a mighty great slab of black metal here.

Wino, Adrift (Exile on Mainstream)
U.S. Release Date: March 8th

I wish I could just share this entire record with you as words don’t really do it justice. Across the board reviews of Adrift so far have been extremely positive and I can’t be the douchebag that finds all the faults in the record, nor do I want to. If it has any flaws they disolve into nothingness once the next 15 awesome seconds of the record pass.

So this isn’t just a new record by Wino. It’s a pure solo record, just Wino and his guitar. A lot of people are billing this as an acoustic disc and for the most part it is but there are some moments where Wino plugs in for extra effect. What you get with Adrift is a soul baring, very intimate look into his world. It’s a totally different feel than anything he’s ever done. It’s all about simple melodies and Wino’s gritty vocals right in the forefront. Most of the tracks are mid-tempo but there’s some upbeat ones and some sad ballads as well. “Iron Horse/Born To Lose” is a dirty and grimey track, “I Don’t Care” is a rollicking bluesy number that falls within the vien of a Monster Magnet track but the move moving track on the disc has to be “Suzanes Song.” It’s a gorgeous instrumental ballad that sounds like it should be played at a funeral. Even without words, the simple beauty of the chords tug at your heart strings.

To anyone that thinks a man and his acoustic guitar isn’t metal, I dare you to listen to this record and not think this deserves horns up way high. This is definitely going on the best of 2011 list and absolutely needs to be in your playlist for months to come.

Crucified Mortals, Crucified Mortals (Hells Headbangers)
U.S. Release Date: March 15th

It’s kind of unbelievable that this band out of Cleveland, Ohio has been around for 10 years now and this is their first full length album. I know millions of bands stay obscure for long periods of time and/or never make it at all but how many go ten full years only releasing demos, splits and a lonely EP?

Two songs here, three songs there might make sense if they were making these 20 minute epic prog tracks or they murdered someone and were in jail for most of the decade but this is pretty straightforward thrash with death influences. The 11 tracks here don’t vary much in style making them blend together a little too much and strangely enough the whole feel is way more 2001 than 2011 anyway. While it’s certainly not groundbreaking material, fans of thrash could do much worse as these guys certianly can play fast and furious and riff hard. The death metal influence is not only felt in the music but the lyrics as well as their main theme is horror. “Sordid Treachery,” “Desecrating the Dead” and “Masked Murder” show off those horror-filled lyrics.

Overall, I wouldn’t just toss this one to the side but if you are expecting something that you haven’t heard before you might be disappointed.

Dornenreich, Fammentriebe (Prophecy)
U.S. Release Date: March 8th

Although this is their 7th album since 1997, this is my first taste of Dornenreich. And now I’m happy to go searching for their back catalog as I see they’ve gotten pretty solid reviews over the years.

At least at this point in their career, this Austrian trio is combining loud walls of black metal guitars with violins and ambient sounds creating both a horrifying and relaxing sound at the same time. “Der Wunde Trieb” is a great example of this, with brutally fast, loud riffs and gritty screams hovering just above a dark but mellow violin. All at once you want to headbang and sip on a cup of earl gray.

I live in Pennsylvania and while we didn’t get pummled with snow like New England did or get shut down like Chicago or Oklahoma, we got more than our fair share of snow this winter (and I know I’ve just jinxed myself for more). The first time I listened to this album was the morning after 17.5 inches was dumped in my area and I was out shovelling in 12 degree weather at 6 am. The picture must have been grand, really. I was in the street, shovelling out my car, playing air shovel and twice I sat down in the snow and just marvelled in the brutal beauty of this album. I don’t really know if I could call it anything better than that. It’s an album that sparkles even through many menacing moments. Killer.

Nekrofilth, Worship Destruction (Hells Headbangers)
U.S. Release Date: April 12th

Worship Destruction is actually an LP repackaging of their self-titled 2008 self-release cassette demo. I don’t usually review stuff that’s simply a repackaging but it’s safe to say that not a heck of a lot of people know about Nekrofilth based on that tape and they should.

There’s really not that much death punk out there right now, especially really good death punk like this. Quick, speedy and heavy as hell, the music is mixed with death metal vocals and the entire album explodes with power. Songs like “Throne of Sluts” and “Full of Shit” definitely stick out on the album (not surprisingly). The biggest drawback is that it’s only 10 songs long, so with most tracks clocking in under two minutes the album is over way too quickly. But Nekrofilth is still a group to keep in the back of your mind for when they finally put out a proper CD release.

(These guys are so unknown that there aren’t any you tube video of any studio songs yet, so you’ll have to live with a live version of “Throne of Sluts” tacked on to the tail end of this live video. It begins around the 2:25 mark).