2011 turned out to be a fantastic year for new metal. Last year I had a tough time coming up with 10 albums for the entire year that were worth my time but this year there has to be at least 30 fantastic releases, if not more. Narrowing it down to my 10 favorite records of the year proved to be a difficult task but at least it made me listen to each CD again with a super-critical eye. So here you have it, the best metal records of 2011.

10. Thy Catafalque, Rengeteg
Released: November 11th, Season of Mist.

A blend of hard, angry riffs, folk, pop, rock and electronics, Rengeteg catches the ear right away as something out of the ordinary. The one man project of Tamás Kátai really hits massively hard and that’s during the slow parts! When he really rocks out, it’s a blistering wall of cranium bashing noise. The whole album is a jolt to the senses not only because he blends the styles almost flawlessly but switches them up when you’re least expecting it. He’ll build a somber sound-scape and then smash it down with the claws of death. He’ll lull you into a state of relaxation and then shake your insides with fierce riffage. He’ll make you dance a jig with a pint in each hand and then force you to throw those pints at the nearest piece of glass.

“Kel keleti szél”

9. Absu, Abzu
Released: October 4th, Candlelight

Drummer and vocalist Proscriptor McGovern is one intelligent dude. Abzu is the second disc in a planned trilogy on the Enochian Magick System, something bands from Texas don’t usually write about. Abzu is a speed metal record with many blackened elements over top. With most really good conceptual bands like this, each album seems like a natural progression from the next however I don’t really know that you have that here. Abzu feels like its own beast altogether, faster and more fierce than previous works (even the masterful Tara) and while part of a trilogy, a different record musically than the first part was.

“Abraxas Connexus”

8. Dornenreich, Fammentriebe
Released: February 11th, Prophecy

Although this was their 7th album since 1997, this was my first taste of Dornenreich. 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.

“Der wunde Trieb”

7. Anthrax, Worship Music
Released: September 13th, Megaforce

A new release with Joey Belladonna on vocals was highly anticipated but there’s no way anyone could have expected an album as good as Worship Music is. I was never really a huge Belladonna fan back in the day. I always thought their music was better early but John Bush’s vocals were better later. But Joey is on point here. There’s a ferociousness in the music that hasn’t been heard from the group since the early ’90s and they went back to the all out thrash attack of their heyday rather than the straight heavy metal they tended to move towards with Bush on the mic. It’s easiest the best disc any of the big four put out this year.

“In the End”

6. Chthonic, Takasago Army
Released: July 6th, Spinefarm

ChthoniC has never really been my cup of tea as a black metal band. But the new album sees them expanding into a different direction than previous works. While the music still has black metal roots, it’s more of a symphonic or melodic black metal sound. Most of the symphonic moments reflect traditional Taiwanese sounds and the record is produced so well that all rawness that is typically associated with black metal is gone.

What you get from them though, is a fantastic mix of dark, melodic riffs, lyrics in English (with some Taiwanese thrown in) and a very unique sound thanks to their culture being reflected in the music. Would it be unique in Taiwan? Can’t really answer that one, but it sounds like nothing the U.S. audience should really be familiar with. Traditional black metal fans might take exception with the polished nature of the disc, but if you like symphonic metal, power metal or just simply want something to rip your face off, Takasago Army should be in your rotation for a long, long time.

“皇軍 / Takao”

5. Demonical, Death Infernal
Released: April 15th, Cyclone Empire, June in the US on Metal Blade

To be a good Swedish death metal band, you don’t have to be innovative. You simply have to follow the accepted formula and put out something worth headbanging to. Demonical third album, Death Infernal is the most perfect Swedish death metal record I’ve heard in years. Buzz-saws. Check. Grunts. Check. Groove after groove after groove. Check. Crucifixion on the cover art. Check. I mean, Death Infernal is straight out of Swedish Death Metal For Dummies. Yet, Demonical bring it better and harder than any DM group I’ve heard in a long time. If you like the overall genre, then there is simply no way to hate this record. In fact, give it a few years and I wouldn’t be shocked to hear it mentioned as one of the top Swedish death metal records of all time.

“Black Inferno”

4. Black Country Communion, 2
Released: June 13th, J&R Adventures

I’m still fascinated that a supergroup of Glenn Hughes, Joe Bonamassa, Derek Sherinian and Jason Bonham couldn’t get some spectacular major label deal, especially when they are so damn good. Forget Jagger, Stone, Marley, Stewart etc…these guys have their shit together. 2 is a modern sounding rock record with definite moments of deja vu back to these guys’ old bands (and dad’s old band). Sure, there’s blatent Zep riffs, tunes that sound like Deep Purple and I swear Hughes sounds exactly like Chris Cornell at points (or Chris Cornell sounds like him) but this record really isn’t about originally. It’s about big fun riffs made for driving with the top drop in the summer heat. If you like Chickenfoot, you’ll like this.

“The Outsider”

3. 40 Watt Sun, The Inside Room
Released: March 4th, Cyclone Empire, June in the US on Metal Blade

While this may be the debut for this doom band, fans of the genre will recognize singer/guitarist Patrick Walker and drummer Christian Leitch from the beloved Warning. Warning’s Watching From A Distance is one of the greatest and absolutely moving pieces of doom metal ever made. Lyrically Warning was all about despair and hopeless relationships. That was 2006 though. This is 2011 when Walker now sings about relationships having hope. Both bands have a similar style, though 40 Watt Sun’s brand of funeral doom is played with a sunnier feel — or at least as sunny as funeral doom can be. The riffs in the five long songs are fuzzy, atmospheric and yet filled with subtle melody. But it’s Walker’s vocals that made Warning and make 40 Watt Sun. One of the best voices in the genre, he could be singing in any language or making up words and yet you still couldn’t help but be moved simply by the tone in his voice. It’s like he sits in front of the microphone and says “here I am, take me in.” The Inside Room is one of the most open and honest sounding records I’ve heard in a long time, one that will have you mesmerized, wiping a tear from your eye (you got something in it… I know).

“Restless”

2. Evile, Five Serpent’s Teeth
Released: September 26th, Earache

Before becoming Evile, these guys were a Metallica cover band. That should explain why this disc is some combination of everything from Ride the Lightning through the Black Album. Now, you might go reading reviews here and there comparing them to some obscure thrash bands because people like to look smart. I on the other hand, just like to tell it as it is. This is the album that Metallica fans have been yearning for the band to make for two decades now. The riffs are modern, yet with a vintage Metallica sound to them and the singer’s voice, well…it’s Hetfield. It’s just uncanny to hear how close the two bands sound alike. The other day my buddy asked me if they were ripping Metallica off or paying tribute. I guess the difference is in the quality of the music. If they sucked, I’d probably think of it as a rip-off. But since this album is so fucking great, it feels totally fine to me. Absolutely, 100% nothing original in the least bit but damn if it ain’t a total headbanger.

“Xaraya”

1. Havok, Time Is Up
Released: March 29th, Candlelight

Perfection.

It was clear back in 2009 when they released Burn, that Havok was on to something special. Their sophomore effort ups the thrash quotient by a billion compared to that debut record.

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 “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 today.

“Prepare For Attack”

Honorable Mention

Ghost, Opus Eponymous
Released: January 18th, Rise Above

The debut Ghost record was released overseas in November of 2010 but didn’t see a US release until January. But since Popdose is on this internet thingy that might be read in countries that saw this album come out in 2010, I made the decision to leave this out of the official rankings for the year. If I had put it in, it would have been #1.

Brilliant, old school and fucking evil at the same time, you simply can’t go wrong with this album. The first words you hear are “Lucifer / We are here / For your praise / Evil one,” and it’s certainly a sign of what’s to come. 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. Opus Eponymous is directly out of 1978 and yet of course it sounds like a modern take on that sound. Actually, these dudes could be the sons of King Diamond, too! They try to stay anonymous and dress in full satanic wizard garb – so serious, not serious? Who knows, but it’s fantastic either way.

“Con Clavi Con Dio”