Angry Metal Lisa by UnknownAnd here it finally comes. I want to take a little time to gaze at my navel before heading off to the races here. 2011 has been a hard year for me and for Without the help of Steel Druhm, this website probably would have gone under due to serious burnout. It stands that there are other options for both of us as reviewers, but we both love this site and the little community it has become and don’t have any desire to see it go anywhere. And, frankly, due to blood, sweat and more blood, we just don’t feel like we can really stop working on this website. So when I say to you all, that we don’t want to stop doing this largely because you guys keep coming by and reading this I seriously mean it. It’s a great feeling–even when sometimes the music industry gets goddamned lame.

2011, really, was a gigantic disappointment. The records I was really looking forward to this year definitely let me down. The new Opeth was nothing to write home about, the new Amon Amarth was the same ol’ same ol’, the new Symphony X left me underwhelmed, while the records that the scene kids got boners over were stuff that isn’t really my thing. There were some really good albums this year, but they came from very unexpected places. In other words, I could never have predicted that this list would have looked like this at the beginning of the year.

So here’s to the disappointing year that was and hopefully to a much more interesting (musically) 2012. May we all see out the end of the year!

Cormorant - Dwellings(ish): Comorant // Dwellings (Self-Released) –  This record hasn’t been out long enough for me to declare it as one of my top 10 records, but I have to say that it has all the makings of a record that I will be listening to for a long, long time. It’s a good blend of melodic deathy vibes and modern strains of black metal. I love the production, the feel and the depth of this music. Only time will tell, but I’m giving this record my (ish) because it at least deserves a nod for being in strong contention.

Yggdrasil - Irrbloss#10: Yggdrasil // Irrbloss (Grandmaster Music) –  I have to tip my hat to a member of the Vintersorg forum for tipping me off to this album, actually. She said it was one of her most anticipated records of the year and, well, I’d never really listened to the band at all. So I checked it out when it came out and was very surprised. In a year when good ol’ fashioned Swedish folk melodies have swayed my opinion a lot, Irrbloss nailed it. The musicianship and writing on this album are both outstanding and I am pleased to say that it earned its place here. The logo is also super sexy.

Leprous - Bilateral#9: Leprous // Bilateral (InsideOut) – So this album was definitely one of the coolest discoveries for me of the year. Wandering that fine line between extreme metal and Faith No More, Norwegian Leprous (who also double as Ihsahn‘s backing band), produced one of the most unique progressive records of the year. Eschewing of traditional progressive metal tendencies, Leprous constructs instead an alternate view of the direction of prog with this outstanding release. This is a stupendous release that has grown with time.

Absj#8: Absu // Abzu (Candlelight) –  I’m not sure how Absu continue to produce such excellent material regularly, but Abzu is definitely a serious winner in my book. While the scene consensus seems to have decided that this is the lesser son of greater fathers, I just don’t see where they’re coming from at all. Call it Reign in Blood disease, but this record’s balls to the walls attitude and short length made for one of the most enjoyable listens of the year for me. Looking forward to Apsu (so if 2011 is any kind of precedent, I’ll hate it).

Falconer - Armod#7: Falconer // Armod (Metal Blade) –  I don’t take back my review of this record, but by the end of the year its fallen a bit down the rankings. Still, despite me not being nearly as rabid about it being the best album ever written, it is still a really awesome and enjoyable one. This is a record full of fantastic folky festivities, excellent writing and arrangements of traditional Swedish songs and vocal performances that make Angry Metal Girlfriend cringe just so. A great album and one definitely worth your consideration as the year comes to a close.

The Black Dahlia Murder - Ritual#6: The Black Dahlia Murder // Ritual (Metal Blade) –  OK, this is the year’s “come back” album if ever there was one. I liked these guys’ first two records a lot, but I felt there was a bit of a dip in quality. With the addition of former Arsis guitar player Ryan Knight, everything about this band got taken up a notch. The guitar work on this record is ridiculous, and easily some of the best guitar performances that I heard this year. The writing and the riffing got kicked up a notch, too, with amazing tracks like “On Stirring Seas of Salted Blood” and “Blood in the Ink”. Apparently all that D&D™ has led to greatness.

Vintersorg - Jordpuls#5: Vintersorg // Jordpuls (Napalm Records) – Well, this is another album that could class for “come back of the year, ” as well. As a non-fan of Solens rötter I wasn’t sure what to expect. But it was clear to me from the opening notes of this album that this was a return to form. It might not outclass the classics of Till fjälls and Ödemarkens son but it is every bit as enjoyable as those records were, and it is one of my favorite albums of the year. Fans of progressive and melodic metal should check this out.

The Human Abstract - Digital Veil#4: The Human Abstract // Digital Veil (Steamhammer) – This record was a huge surprise for me. I wasn’t expecting it to be that good. Hell, I didn’t even get a promo of it, I actually ended up hearing it streaming on AOL music. I actually purchased it immediately and went against my own policy of not reviewing records that I didn’t receive a promo of. I love this album, while I hate the scene it comes from and the production is way too manufactured, I cannot argue with the neo-classical approach and the great vocal performances. This is a fantastic album, and one of the best of 2011.

Shining - VII: Född förlorare#3: Shining // Född förlorare (Spinefarm) – At first I wasn’t really convinced. But Född förlorare has shown a growing potential that I didn’t expect. The tracks keep drawing me back and the flow of the album is really perfect. It’s the kind of record you want to listen to all the way from start to finish, and the only bad moment on it is the little Swedish girl singing “You Are My Sunshine” at the beginning. After that, it settles into Kvarforth’s schtick: annoying the crap out of Angry Metal Girlfriend. The guest appearances are great and the Landberk cover is excellent. Also, this is definitely the best Opeth record of the year.

#2: Omnium Gatherum // New World Shadows (Lifeforce Records) – The new Omnium Gatherum record did for me what Insomnium was always supposed to do: it livened up a pretty stale melodic death scene by putting out a killer record that I couldn’t stop listening to. And man did I get blindsided. From the opening moments of this album I was stuck, and while “Ego” is probably my favorite song on the record (and one of my favorites of the year), every song is genius. This is melodic death metal done right. And such a damn powerful record. Well played.

#1: Moonsorrow // Varjoina kuljemme kuolleiden maasa (Spinefarm) –  Well, I called it the year’s first perfect record. And really, I think it was the year’s only perfect record. Sure, I gave out either high scores (some I regret), but this album doesn’t lose any of its luster a year later and that’s saying something. Moonsorrow really is at the top of their game and Varjoina kuljemme kuolleiden maasa is an epic journey through darkness and cold that makes it seem like the band boiled down the essence of a Finnish winter and got it into a multi-tracking machine. This is easily the year’s best album. Incredible.

Moonsorrow - Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa

Honorable Mentions:
Anaal Nathrakh // Passion – This record made it really close to being number 10. This was basically bottled insanity, with just enough melody to keep me entranced.
Black Sun Aeon // Blacklight Deliverence – Tuomas Saukkonen hits home again after a pretty banal Routa. Good stuff, and worth a listen if you haven’t heard it.
Kebnekajse // Idioten – Not a perfect album, but a really enjoyable prog rock record from these Swedish veterans. Fans of Swedish folk would be well advised to check it out.
Vomitory // Opus Mortis VIII  – Didn’t make the final list, but this is a good fucking album. It was definitely in the running all the way along.
Ulcerate // Destroyers of All – This is a really unique and solid death metal album. It’s techy, misanthropic and leaves the listener feeling very uneasy. Not for the weak, but definitely one of the year’s best.

Biggest disappointment:
Primordial // Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand – Maybe someday I’ll understand what everyone sees in this record, but as of today I still get lost right in the middle and can’t keep listening. I was so looking forward to this album after the band’s previous output, but just can’t. A really serious bummer. I wanted to like it, but just couldn’t.