It’s a week-long reflection on the year in metal music here at Angry Metal Guy and we’re getting all sorts of nostalgic and sentimental. We’ve already covered the worsts, so now let’s get to the firsts! For the very first time, we’ve decided (by that I mean AMG decided) to name our top ten best songs of the year. Though it sounded like an easy task, once I tried to create said list, it proved quite difficult. There were so many potential candidates, it became an arduous culling process to find the ten metal gems to rule them all. While the list seems final, I’m sure I forgot some amazing stuff and I’m also sure you bastards will point it out to me. Steel Druhm awaits your scorn, disapprobation and silent judgment.
#10: “The Grain” – Hammers of Misfortune – These oddball retro/experimental rockersÂ from San Francisco were always interesting and catchy but this baby is their best song to date and it really put a hook in my brain. Joe Hutton’s passionate but downcast vocals wrap perfectly around the simple riffs and when the chorus arrives, it’s so damn pure, honest and memorable, I haven’t been able to shake it outta my cranium. The Thin Lizzy-like riffs and solos only add to the huge charm factor. This will be a tough song for these folks to top.
#9: “Mermaids” – Amorphis – While the new platter from these Finnish legends wasn’t as great as I hoped, this song stood out as classic Amorphis and became a big staple in my 2011 playlists. That spacey lead riff is vintage and Tomi’s vocals are brilliant as always. It’s that perfect blend of hooky and bleak, somber and rocking that only Finnish bands seem capable of creating. Great chorus, great atmosphere, great everything. Why couldn’t the rest of The Beginning of Times have been this good? Get em’ next time guys!
#8: “Iron Dreams (In Memorium: Peter Steele)” – Voyager – Maybe it’s my sentimental side talking but this homage to the late great Mr. Steele really hit me in the head and the heart. While Voyager‘s new platter really floored me, this track is the one I keep coming back to for its emotional power, respectful presentation and memorable writing. The lyrics are thoughtful and touching and when the Pete Steele-like vocals come in, it’s actually haunting. Great song for a great man. Geezum crow, Steel Druhm is becoming a big sap in his old age.
#7: “Sanctuary” – Before the Dawn – Tuomas Saukkonen had a good year for himself. He scored big wins with his two main projects and ended up with two songs on this highly esteemed list! This one is the emotional highpoint of a great album and does an excellent job of leveraging the plaintive vocals of Lars Eikind for maximum effect. Conceptually gloomy like all Finnish metal except Korpiklaani, it casts a dark mood but remains so impossibly melodic and hooky, it makes you return time and again for more unhappiness.
#6: “8” – Pentagram – These old dogs have been a doom institution since, well, things were doomed! While a lot of their recent material felt watered down in comparison to their classic era, this year saw a great comeback album and this classic throwback to their roots. Mournful, melancholy, brooding, yep, it’s classic Pentagram and both Bobby Liebling and Victor Griffin sound born again and revitalized. Bobby’s forlorn, world-beaten vocals shine and clearly convey a feeling of burden bearing. Victor’s stripped down, simple riffing feels authentic and emotive but heavy as a two ton heavy thing. Doom the way it should be done.
#5: “Solitude” – Black Sun Aeon – Tuomas strikes again! As good as his Before the Dawn material is, he scored his biggest hit with his “other” unit and this brilliant moment of Finnish doom and gloom. Featuring exceptionally well done guest vocals from Janica Lonn and Mikko Heikkila paired with a raw, Entombed-like guitar tone, it’s painfully sad, dirgy and VERY heavy. Tuomas’s familiar riffing style is aces and the chorus is so good, it should get radio airplay. This is what inconsolable sounds like.
#4: “I Am” – Theocracy – Well, no one is more surprised than me that a christian metal song ended up so high on my year-end list. Yes, its loaded with God-fearing lyrics and they’re a might bit preachy but damn if this isn’t an exceptional dose of power metal. Running over eleven minutes, it incorporates traditional, thrash and power metal and always keep things moving, memorable and powerful. There are so many cool moments throughout, it’s staggering. The vocal performance by Matt Smith is stellar and passionate (despite the holier-than-thou lyrics). The fact that this song so completely overcomes the potentially bothersome lyrics is a testament to how good it really is. Stryper this ain’t. This is some seriously well done metal, for the Lord! [No video, sorry! – AMG]
#3: “Sol” – Helrunar – These German black metallers came out of nowhere with a huge double album, of which this is the enormous closing stanza. It’s frigid, epic, heavy as hell and flat-out great. While the first five minutes are a slow, grinding juggernaut, the last six minutes bring on a mournful but monumental guitar solo set-piece with so much damn emotion, it can barely be contained in my iTunes. The first half feels like a struggle up a snow-covered mountain, while the sweeping, beautiful refrains on the back half feels like victory music as you ponder things from the icy summit. A huge piece of music by an unheralded band. This kind of stuff makes the job worth it!
#2: “New World Shadows” – Omnium Gatherum – Talk about a breakthrough album and song! While I enjoyed some of the older Omnium material, this was clearly their year and this song in particular became an instant classic in my book. The amazingly hooky riffing, the hyper-melodic keys and those uber guttural vocals all woven so perfectly together, this song blew me away from first listen. I even love the Michael Bolton-esque vocals Dan Swano drops in there! Never has melodic death metal felt this melodic and still so heavy. This was a welcome breath of fresh air in a genre that can feel plenty moribund. Finland wins again!
#1: “Fall Before Me” – Riot – Here it is folks! In a year I was certain “New World Shadows” couldn’t be topped, Riot arose from the dead to seize the top spot with this killer nod to traditional American metal. With the lineup from their classic Thundersteel release back together at last, they uncork this badass song with a very Manowar vibe. Tony Moore’s voice is powerful as ever and he lends a ton of emotion and punch to the proceedings. The guitar lines are simple but effective and there’s a real epic, dramatic vibe which Moore locks into with his great delivery. Memorable moments abound and its fist raising, anthemic and all about balls of steel. Welcome back Riot, thanks for this song!