We Must Obey’s Top 10 Albums of 2011

2011. What an incredible year for rock and metal. This year has seen no end of fantastic, top-level releases, as well as a few disappointments and one or two downright stinkers too. It’s been a year where some of the biggest names have taken one or two risks and experimented on their whole sound. This came with varying results, displaying the occasional success and more often a jaw-dropping ‘what the hell?
Before I go into the main list, I’d just like to give ‘props’ to a few albums that didn’t make the list, because deciding on a top 10 was mighty difficult given how good a year its been. So take a bow:
Joe Bonamassa – Dust Bowl
Vektor – Outer Isolation (Heavy Artillery)
Hammers of Misfortune – 17th Street (Metal Blade)
Bong – Beyond Ancient Space (Ritual)
KEN Mode – Venerable (Profound Lore)
Pyrrhon – An Excellent Slave but a Terrible Master (Selfmadegod)
All of which sit highly in our thoughts for simply being kick ass records. But without further ado, here’s the ten we settled on, ten records that reign supreme over the rest in 2011, ten records we’ll surely revisit again and again.
10. Mastodon – The Hunter (Roadrunner)
Mastodon have sat firmly atop my personal best of lists each year they’ve released a new studio album, always managing to blow me away with how each they seemed to make every slight transition. ‘The Hunter’, however, is their boldest move yet, shifting away from conceptual pieces and elemental themes, in favour of more straight-up rocking action. I personally found it to be a bit of a grower but eventually I fully embraced Mastodon’s latest effort – how can you not love the single of the year, ‘Curl of the Burl’, the bizarre ‘Creature Lives’ and the beautiful centrepieces of the title-track and ‘The Sparrow’, among many others? Mastodon is truly on course to become the next great heavy metal band, and with staggering ease too.
9. No Made Sense – New Season/New Blues (self-released)
I still can’t believe the No Made Sense story appears to be over. After their incredibly received debut ‘The Epilannic Choragi’, they probably disappeared under your radar; that reception should have guaranteed them a bigger audience. Alas, it feels as though they effectively said ‘fuck it’, shoved this album on Bandcamp as a freebie and announced their immediate split. A damn shame and yet another British metal band that will wind up as a footnote in British metal’s recent troubled history. But damn, what a parting gift. Recorded entirely live, it was a stormer from start to finish and monstrously powerful, particularly with an awesome final riff to close off their short career. What the three members will go on next is anyone’s guess – I just hope they have a rethink and give the album the love it deserves.
8. Black Spiders – Sons of the North (Dark Riders)
The UK rock sense seemed worryingly sparse in recent years, with a seemingly short supply of bands set to become the new Motorhead, Therapy?, The Wildhearts, etc. Enter the Black Spiders, who finally lumped their debut album ‘Sons of the North’ onto the wider world to rapturous applause. You won’t find a collection of songs harder rockin’ or arse-kicking as these. ‘Sons’ exudes raw attitude and a real fuck-you mentality, a premise long part of the ‘Spiders’ brand of rock. For the last few years, the notion of proper British rock ‘n’ roll has been sullied by fashion over real substance. Hopefully, this is the start of a renaissance and when the charge is sounded, the Black Spiders will be the ones carrying the flag into battle.
7. Evile – Five Serpent’s Teeth (Earache)
Evile’s career so far has arced in such a way that it’s encapsulated much success and indeed tragedy in the shape of bassist Mike Alexander’s death in 2009. Having regrouped with new bassist Joel Graham, Evile didn’t just recover but, holy balls, they returned with a vengeance. ‘Five Serpent’s Teeth’ represents a coming of age for Evile, without question their finest album to date. Whereas second album ‘Infected Nations’ saw Evile head down a less thrashy road, ‘FST’ found Evile embracing the thrash spirit of old; that being mostly no-nonsense battery and songs to die for. Their unstoppable rise continues – long may the finest UK thrash band since Sabbat reign.
6. Wormrot – Dirge (Earache)
The unstoppable rise of the biggest thing to come out of Singapore (eclipsing black metal compatriots Impiety by some margin) continues to astound and explode people’s heads. Wormrot certainly delivered a cracking grind album with ‘Abuse’ and further impressed on the split with I Abhor, but no one was prepared for this barrage – 25 songs, eighteen minutes, and fucking enjoyable all the way. In my review I described the album as a ‘meteor to the face’ (one of the songs on ‘Dirge’) and I still hold that opinion today. Don’t be too surprised to find if you walked into my house you’d find just a frazzled pair of shoes billowing smoke from the floor, such is the intensity of this record. Wormrot often proclaim on the social networks ‘in grind we rot’. Yes we do.
5. Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage (Southern Lord)
The word floating in the ether is that this is to be the last Wolves In The Throne Room album, or at least as we know it…But in a year where black metal was seemingly dominated by the word ‘transcendental’ – no thanks to a Mr. Hunt-Hendrix of Liturgy – ‘Celestial Lineage’ was the black metal album that transcended all others. Effortlessly seaming together traditional black elements with acoustic passages, harp sections, ghostly vocals from Jessica Kenney, ‘Celestial Lineage’ was a calling from the forests to the sky, an ascension ritual, and wow did it feel real. If this is the final WitTR album, the Weaver brothers, Nathan and Aaron, can be content with having created a timeless masterpiece that will echo for all eternity.
4. Revocation – Chaos of Forms (Relapse)
In a scene full of guitar geekery, polyrhythmic drumming and deriritive copycats popping up every two seconds, it’d take something exceptional for another straight up technical death metal band to come up with an eye-catching record. Revocation aren’t trying to reinvent death metal in the same way as, say, Ulcerate, but they do what they do exceptionally well, and after two barnstorming albums prior, ‘Chaos of Forms’ completes a stunning proverbial trifector for them. It’s loud, technical and by-Nigel heavy, but all phased through a melodic, care-free swagger and even a Hammond organ solo. Revocation are undoubtedly one of the best the scene has to offer – now, wider world, will you please wake up?
3. Batillus – Furnace (Seventh Rule)
One we didn’t get round to reviewing this year, but one thoroughly deserving of praise. Without doubt one of the heaviest records I’ve ever listened to. Bustling with atmosphere and vile intensity, Batillus knocked me sideways with their full debut album. I’ve been into the band since their inception as a dronier, instrumental doom trio, but the addition of Fade Keiner (ex-Jarboe of others) on vocals and on synths/effects has given them an atmospheric and venomous edge. It’s cold and unforgiving album, those effects showing their hand at numerous turns, and heavier thunders rains from the sky like ten ton anvils. Clearly there’s still room for development – that’s the exciting part. Definitely a band to keep an eye on, definitely a record to pick up.
2. Crowbar – Sever the Wicked Hand (E1 Entertainment)
For a while it seems we might never get another Crowbar record. After 2006’s ‘Lifesblood for the Downtrodden’, frontman Kirk Windstein’s involvement with NOLA-supergroup Down increased as the band’s mainstream popularity rocketed, and he even had more time to record two albums in Kingdom of Sorrow with Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta. The news of a follow-up to ‘Lifesblood’ was greatly received, and ‘Sever the Wicked Hand’ was one hell of a return from one of the lords of sludge metal. Lyrically, Windstein dispels numerous demons and holy mother of pearl, it’s thunderously heavy, at times producing memorable skullcrushing breakdowns and wake-the-fuck-up shifts that make this possible the best Crowbar record since ‘Odd Fellows Rest’.
1. YOB – Atma (Profound Lore)
In a year in which a number of particularly high profile bounds have sought to alter their sound or dabble in experiments – gambles which haven’t always paid off – its relieving in a way that our number one album of 2011 is one from a band that’s not straying too far from its original template – instead, they refined it, like any master craftsmen, and proceeded to write quite simply the most mind-blowing album all year.
YOB’s ‘Atma’ is five tracks of unequivocally crushing traditional doom metal, which flourishes of psychedelia scattered throughout. Mike Schiedt delivers an incredible vocal performance, from his trademark nasal sounds to some truly guttural, terrifying roars. The trio masterfully build up riffs time and again, only to bring the hammer down with gargantuan might. Underpinning ‘Atma’ is its two longest tracks, both of which feature Neurosis’ Scott Kelly with stunning guest appearances. First, the centre track ‘Before We Dreamed of Two’. A whopping 16:10 in length, it combines Eastern mysticism within its guitar, laying down a cracking riff, before Scott Kelly comes along and damn near steals the show. His delivery of the lyric ‘distant silver shore/bring my body’ resonates far beyond this album, such is its impressive delivery. The second, ‘Adrift in the Ocean’, sees Kelly in a more understated but no less impressive vocal role, and serves as proof of YOB’s ability to produce killer riffs, jarring the senses on the slightly shorter tracks, and calling the great white waves on the two biggies, crushing all in its path. Five tracks in fifty-eight minutes; never does this feel like a slog, or an endurance test or any sort. Instead, it manages to be completely jaw dropping in its beauty and altar worshipping in its crushing dominance.
Put simply, 2011 would not have been the same without ‘Atma’. A classic in every sense of the word, and a deserving number one for 2011.
Peter Clegg
LABELS: BATILLUS; BEST OF 2011; BLACK SPIDERS; EVILE; MASTODON; NO MADE SENSE; REVOCATION; SINGAPORE; UK; US; WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM; WORMROT; YOB
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We Must Obey’s top EPs/splits/demos of 2011

Whoever said the short form of music was dead needs their head examining. Yes, as far as the mainstream pop shite goes, full of illiterate idiots that will be here today, gone tomorrow. But no, as in the alternative underground that will forever reverberate. We’ve consumed more EPs, demos and split releases than ever in 2011, a lot of which haven’t even made it to a review on here due to time constraints, and while they can’t be compared rightfully alongside full-length releases, it’s entirely fair that they can be judged on their own merits. So here, without further ado, are our top 10 shorter form releases of the year.
10. Wormrot – Noise (Scion AV/Earache)
If 2009 announced the arrival of Wormrot on the world scene, 2011 was the year they well and truly exploded onto it. Not content with releasing the stunning ‘Dirge’ and getting one-up on the pirates in the process, they contributed a flexi-disc 7” vinyl to Decibel magazine and additionally teamed up with Scion AV to put out another five tracks of grind madness. There’s one or two tiny hints of new sounds in there, particular a punk-ish (even Maiden-ish?) section in the closer ‘Perpetual Extinction’ but largely it’s the Wormrot we’ve come to know and love. Grind!
9. Enslaved – The Sleeping Gods EP (Scion AV)
The notion of a black metal band flirting with the musical offshoot of a major car manufacturer is proverbial blasphemy to trve black metal fans, but Enslaved long threw off the shackles off ultra-grimness and have long offered up something different with every new release. ‘The Sleeping Gods’ was no different and although it’s not their finest material, it showcased the multiple faces of Enslaved, through storming riffs (‘Alu Misyrki’) and ominous Norwegian folk (the title track) and yet more besides –  not a single track sounds the same here, ‘The Sleeping Gods’ is an essential addition to any metal (and in particular Enslaved) fans’ collection and further strengthens Enslaved as one of black metal’s premier acts.
8. Sea Bastard – Great Barrier Riff (self-released)
The general consensus in the UK sludge/doom scene is that an act with the potential that Funeral Hag had will be missed; but at least that potential has been plundered into Sea Bastard, forging together three former Funeral Hag members with former Jovian guitarist. This, their crackingly-titled demo, is three huge tracks spreading over nearly fourty minutes of debut material that serves as another huge hope for UK sludge/doom in 2012.
7. Mogwai – Earth Division EP
Would the masses say this is Mogwai’s best material to date? Almost certainly not. But as a reminder of what Mogwai are capable of, this more than does the trick. The Scots here supplied four incredible tracks, providing an ideal accompaniment to their latest album ‘Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will’, and even as a shortform release, it for me excels the majority of all 2011 releases across various formats and sizes. The lone vocal track ‘Get to France’ is just phenomenal, just drifting by in its simplicity and revelling in it at the same time. It’s not exactly rock by any stretch but its expansive and ambitious, something Mogwai can still claim to be above everybody else this long into their career.
6. Big Business – Quadruple Single EP (Gold Metal)
Big Business have been accumulating more members than putting out actual albums since 2009’s ‘Mind The Drift’, and though we still wait for the follow-up to that incredible record, the ‘Quadruple Single’ EP was a tasty reminder than the bastard offspring of Karp and The Melvins are one of the finest forces in rock. Any band who can pull a track like ‘Guns’ out of the bag, with its solitary line ‘Guns/guns/guns are better than everything else’, to a riff stomp of the exact same rhythm, are absolute genii. Sure, they might now have two guitarists, but it’s still about the finest rhythm section in rock right now, in Jared Warren and Coady Willis. Now come on lads, full length follow-up please?
5. Gripe – Pig Servant (self-released)
Pig Servant’ was the second of two releases in 2011 from Athens, Georgia hardcore/grind/powerviolence crew Gripe, the first being the Grindcore Karaoke-backed ‘The Future Doesn’t Need You’. The first was a statement of intent; ‘Pig Servant’ was that intent pinning you up against the wall by your throat. Featuring Mickey Rourke’s ‘blood for blood’ speech from Sin Cityas an introduction to the first track, ‘Ghetto Rapist’, was a masterstroke, and damn near everything afterwards destroyed all in its path. Clearly they can only get better, but what is certain is that someone should come along and sign them up right away.
4. Alpinist/Masakari – Split (Antifascista)
The d-beat sound has made a remarkable comeback in recent years. In truth, it never died, but bands like Trap Them, Black Breath, Nails etc. have all contributed to its uprising. Without question though, the split album by German hardcore/d-beat crew Alpinist and the merciless US powerhouse Masakari is one of the finest. Alpinist displayed a remarkably mature approach in their assault, displaying one or two untypical influences in a standout show. Masakari, on the other hand, were simply Masakari, uncompromisingly in-your-face and displaying a level of sonic violence that few can even match, let alone outfight.
3. Between The Buried and Me – The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues (Metal Blade)
Even in restricting themselves to three tracks, the evolution of Between The Buried and Me knows no boundaries, continuing to piss on their contemporaries from a great height as even in a year without a full album release, they still find space to shove in a section consisting of accordion and castanets during ‘Augment of Rebirth’ and still make it fall perfectly into place amongst a progressive death metal overture. It might only be an EP, and only three tracks, but even these 30 minutes alone stand up to their album works for pure quality, and further cements Tommy Rogers and co. as musical genii for the 21st century.
2. Trash Talk – Awake (True Panther Sounds)
Trash Talk have been evolving from their powerviolence beginnings to a fair few people now, no doubt aided by their association with Matt Caughthran and in particular Joby J. Ford from LA punks The Bronx, the latter of whom acted as producer here and on previous album ‘Eyes and Nines’. The latter showed promise in their potential metamorphosis; ‘Awake’ was a perfection of that metamorphosis. Although no less hardcore in its delivery, Trash Talk managed to capture the classic punk vibe in the same fashion as the likes of Black Flag and The Circle Jerks within nine furious minutes. A furious petrol bomb of defiance and ear-to-the-street rallying that no one should be without.
1. Iron Witch – Single Malt EP (Witch Hunter)
It was a real close call deciding between the top three – literally tighter than a gnat’s chuff – but Liverpool’s answer to Eyehategod, Sourvein and southern sludge in general take We Must Obey’s short form crown for this stunning whiskey fuelled assault. Describing them as the best UK sludge band since Iron Monkey might seem lofty but that’s the genuine feeling I get when listening to Iron Witch or watching them play live. And ‘Single Malt’ is truly misanthropic and all kinds of kick-ass heavy, swinging broken glass-haymakers like ‘Jailhouse’, ‘Booze Blues’ and more across the course of the EP. Seriously, the sheer bile that spills out from this record is unreal. That’s how intense it is. And that’s the mark of a great, and I mean truly great, sludge metal band. Wider world, watch out for Iron Witch in 2012.
Peter Clegg