by: DJ Azrael
Various Artists "We Wish You A Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year!" (Armoury Records)
This is an amazing compilation of Christmas songs put together by Armoury Records and featuring a variety of contributions from heavy metal veterans. Each track has a different line up of musicians, and some of the most notable artists are Alice Cooper, Ronnie James Dio, Lemmy Kilmister, Tim "Ripper" Owens, Tony Iommi, Dave Grohl, George Lynch, Steve Morse, and many more. Alice Cooper does a great job making "Santa Claws is Coming to Town" a darker, creepy song in atmosphere and the death metal version of "Silent Night" with Chuck Billy on vocals is one of the best covers I've heard in a very long time!
Opeth "Heritage" (Roadrunner)
It seems like it's taken forever to get the new album from these guys in the studio, and it's finally here! A big distinction from prior releases is the complete absence of death metal vocals, so those who enjoy Michael Akerfeldt's clean vocal croon will be in heaven. It's also different from the album Damnation (also featuring only clean vocals) since the songs are more typical in length for Opeth and also include a much heavier jazz influence with less similar to Katatonia's recent efforts. Although this album is more of a lateral move for this band, I'm overall satisfied with it and think it is a worthwhile listen for anyone who enjoys prog rock/metal.
Machine Head "Unto the Locust" (Roadrunner)
The latest releases by this band (including this one) seem to mark them as a pretty unstoppable force in metal with no indication of slowing down. Machine Head have one again released a masterful album with huge emphasis on songwriting and composition. This one only has 7 songs, but each is awesome. Some metal fans out there may find this album to be a bit pretentious in its scope and gradiose vision, but it's hard to deny that this is one hell of an awesome album musically. It's extremely heavy, but the tempo is slowed down to a crawl where it would appropriate and the vocals vary from mid-ranged yell/screaming to softer clean vocals. If you like their previous release "The Blackening," then you'll love this new one.
Mastodon "The Hunter" (Reprise)
Unlike prior offerings by this band, "The Hunter" sees Mastodon pursuing a more direct songwriting approach with shorter tracks and a more defined rock direction. The songwriting is still excellent, and the songs are catchy and entertaining. Whether the immediate influences are progressive rock, metal, or punk, Mastodon have released a really cool album. The musicianship is phenomenal as always, but the longer meanderings of prior albums are absent on this one. A very cool, fun release and worth listening to.
Dream Aria "Fallen Angel" (Independent)
This one is pretty interesting. Exclusively female vocals and a variety of influences on each track. This album maintains a hard rock/metal vibe throughout, but each song has its own different musical influences. It's a little on the weirder side of things, but definitely worth checking out if you want something a little different than your average hard rock/metal band.
Wayne Static "Pighammer" (Dirthouse)
This is Mr. Static's first solo release, and it contains a heavier emphasis on industrial music while maintaining his signature vocal sounds (and thankfully with little emphasis on his Jon Davis aping clean vocals that were popular in Static-X for a while). The compositions are very straightforward, and this album was supposedly a very cathartic writing process for Wayne Static to revisit his prior feelings about substance abuse and pursuing personal growth. Definitely worth a listen for Static-X fans, and an interesting look into the mind of Wayne Static. It's worth noting that on this one he wrote all material and performed all instruments.
Pathology "Awaken to the Suffering" (Victory Records)
I know there aren't many of you out there who enjoy death metal with gurgly, unintelligible vocals, but this one was added just for you. The songwriting is solid for these guys, and vocals are pretty much just used for emphasis at this point (think Lord Worm of Cryptopsy). If you're curious what it would sound like to have a garbage disposable as a vocalist, then check this one out. I thought it was a fun listen and worth tossing out there for air play.
Carnifex "Until I Feel Nothing" (Victory Records)
The much anticipated new album by deathcore upstarts Carnifex is pretty rad. Although it doesn't break new ground for a brutal death metal band with breakdowns, they are very well trained in their art and do it well. However, it's worth pointing out that this time around they seem to have a stronger influence from bands like Black Dahlia Murder and The Crown, which provides for more melodic portions and mid-ranged screams. I tend to think this band is one of the better ones out of the current deathcore population, and their emphasis on songwriting is evident. Excellent production and worth a listen if you dig deathcore with a little melody thrown in.
Austrian Death Machine "Jingle All the Way" (Metal Blade)
Honestly, who couldn't enjoy holiday-themed parody metal based on Arnold's film "Jingle All The Way"? Tim Lambesis (As I Lay Dying) and his crew of merry men decided to release an EP for this holiday season, and this one contains three tracks. The tracks are titled, "I'm Not a Pervert," "Turbo Time," and "Who Told You You Could Eat My Cookies?" As with previous releases by ADM, the songwriting and compositions are actually really well done despite the fact that it's all made to poke fun at Arnold. As Tim has mentioned in previous interviews, if you don't like the music then let's see YOUR parody metal band based on Ahhnold! There is no OPI, so please have fun with this!!!
Holy Grail "Season's Bleedings" (Prosthetic)
More holiday goodness for you! Holy Grail have released two cover songs for this holiday season - "Kill the King" originally performed by Rainbow and "No Presents for Christmas" originally performed by King Diamond. The guitar on these two tracks are awesome, and the overall sound (for those unfamiliar with Holy Grail) is reminiscent of 80s metal with thrash and hair band influences. No OPI. Enjoy!!!!!
Animals as Leaders "Weightless" (Prosthetic)
Tosin Abasi has released his sophomore effort solo album to follow up this project's absolutely amazing self-titled debut "Animals as Leaders." Tosin is a modern guitar virtuoso who is absolutely wonderful and creative in his musical composition, and this instrumental band is really fantastic. For anyone who enjoys melodic, technical metal with flare, then I very highly recommend it. There is a fair amount of experimentation here (including a lot of off-beat technicality) as well with electronic influences and genuine progressive rock goodness. Every track is wonderful, and the fact that it's all instrumental means no OPI!
Dir En Grey "Dum Spiro Spero" (The End)
Japanese Progressive rock/metal veterans Dir En Grey have once again released some great work with this one. Incorporating elements of doom, black metal, rock, and j-pop is not an undertaking taken lighly, and Dir En Grey have once again proven that they pull it off with ease. This album has a lot of tracks, some of which are re-recordings from previous releases, but all of them are worth a listen.
Skeletonwitch "Forever Abomination" (Prosthetic)
This band keeps turning heads in the scene with their amazing work ethic and ability to create excellent blackened thrash with some death metal elements. This is the third full length by this band, and they really hit their stride. Highly energetic and well-executed, this album will be a crowd pleaser to fans of the genre.
Demonaz "March of the Norse" (Nuclear Blast)
This former member of Immortal has released his first solo effort. It's not as frenetic or technical as the majority of Immortal's releases, but rather emphasizes atmosphere and thoughtful songwriting. As with most bands influenced by Norwegian black metal, the aural aesthetics primarily revolve around viking/norse themes in a bleak, frozen climate. The appeal is really for fans of other viking metal acts like Amon Amarth, King of Asgard, and Unleashed. The first intro track really sets the tone with lightly sung vocals over acoustic guitar with lots of reverb, and you can expect a backing male chorus to help complete the sound in the rest of the album. Very catchy and fun.
Krisiun "The Great Execution" (Century Media)
I've come to the conclusion that outside of serious hiccups from a production standpoint (e.g. the "Agelous, Venomous" alubm), this band can really do no wrong. Starting with the album "AssassiNation" two releases ago, Brazilian death metalists Krisiun updated their songwriting style to incorporate some more modern elements including slower sections and some chunkier, groovier riffs. However, they have still always maintained their undeniable death metal acumen and remain as one of the tightest three-piece acts out there in the scene. Their newest album sees them continuing in the same manner with an even greater emphasis on guitar work for lots of phenomenal solos and awesome fretwork. This is potentially one of their greatest records, and I can't stress enough how good it is. Easily one of the best death metal records of 2011.
Decapitated "Carnival Forever" (Nuclear Blast)
These technical death metal masters from Poland have been through a lot in the past few years with a death of a band member and other internal turmoil, but this album comes out strong. The vocal style from the new vocalist is a bit different than what was previously associated with Decapitated, but it's not a bad thing. The songwriting and composition are both solid, and the band does a good job of showing off their technical skills. This one isn't as overly technical as "Organic Hallucinosis," and it's a much more straightforward release. Very enjoyable overall.