2. Zombi – Escape Velocity (Relapse)
And the Underground Band Of The Year award goes to... Zombi!
I always loved the old sounding synthesizers that made John Carpenter's movies famous – without those haunting themes The Fog, Halloween, The Thing or Assault On Precinct 13 wouldn't be half as good. Zombi had a thing for Italian gore movies too, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and the other guys that made horror genre much more interesting. It is fascinating how much two guys can do with a couple of synths, samplers, sequencers and drums. I knew Zombi from before but Escape Velocity seemed to have all the right things and hit me on all the right spots. DE3 and Shrunken Heads were hypnotic and mesmerizing, making a perfect vibe for those car rides when you're going to a gig or traveling alone to some other place.
3. Mastodon - The Hunter (Reprise)
Wow. Honestly, I wasn't expecting this. I mean, I expected from Mastodon to come up with something good again, but the progression they made on The Hunter was brilliant. After the sludge-meets-prog extravaganza of Crack The Skye, the Atlanta beardmen returned with a massive album full of hits. Black Tongue and Curl Of The Burl were these three-and-a-half minute epic openers, while Blasteroid and Stargasm followed so convincingly one started to wonder where do these guys get their inspiration from. From their beards probably.
I have to admit that the total of 13 songs on the album were a bit too much for me at first. The music of Mastodon can be so complex at times, so much stuff happens in a three-minute song. But, after seeing them live in Zagreb with Slayer and Gojira, when they played The Hunter almost in its entirety, I was still humming the songs' choruses two days after the festival. All The Heavy Lifting has the infectious chorus that won't go out of your head, and Creature Lives has the unforgettable woah ooooh singalong part for the whole stadium to sing simultaneously with the band. My favorite track was the closing The Sparrow, as it shows the mellower side of Mastodon, with Pink Floyd influence and a fuzzed solo that is so epic.
The drumming of Brann Dailor was better than ever and the sound of the drums were recorded wonderfully. Troy Sanders' vocals improved also, the triple vocal attack of Troy, Brann and Brent were better and ever - the mainstream touch of the production really let everything shine in the mix. The Hunter is certainly the best metal record in 2011 and finest Mastodon record so far.
4. Radiohead – The King Of Limbs (Self-released/XL Recordings)
Probably one of the most important band of the 2000’s, with masterpieces such as Kid A and Amnesiac under their belt, Radiohead returned with the most minimalistic album since those two diamonds came out. A lot of people seemed alienated by the open-endedness that was all around the Limbs but I loved it. Codex was the most beautiful piece Thom wrote since Pyramid Song while Lotus Flower and Feral were the more dynamic ones, embraced by Thom's remarkable voice. The Basement sessions emphasized the fact Radiohead knew what they were doing, not just with style but also with great less-is-more approach, more suitable than ever. Bringing in the second drummer for the sessions, the awesome Clive Deamer of Portishead fame, was such a classy move – too bad the track Staircase didn't make it on the album, as it's my favorite song of the whole year and maybe my all-time favorite from Radiohead, ever.
I love these guys. I never cared so much for their postrock era, cause they seemed to have so much more to say musically speaking, no matter what kind of genre it was. On Hardcore they brought the old producer to revisit the loud/quiet/louder! dynamics and the songs were better than ever. Mexican Grand Prix, Death Rays and Letters To The Metro were my favorite tracks, showing not only the so present joy of guitar playing but also the excellent taste for arrangements and the moody atmosphere. I heard Hardcore on the 31st December 2010 (it leaked earlier, charged guilty for downloading) and I was in such a jolly mood in the middle of all that New Year euphoric madness so the traces of that pleasant feeling remained whenever I played the record later again. I watched Mogwai live in Zagreb couple of years ago and after numerous listens of Hardcore I just can't wait to catch them again somewhere – Hardcore just might be Mogwai's best album.
This was actually a last minute add-on. I'm usually not crazy about black metal but these guys really made it special. I'm a sucker for suspense and the atmosphere and Wolves seem to have plenty of it. Celestial Lineage reminded me of why I once listened to the few black metal bands in the first place – some Emperor, old Ulver, Agalloch, some Enslaved songs and, most important of them all, my favorite black metal record of all times, In The Woods' Heart Of The Ages. I wonder if Quorthon had a dream in 1981 in which he listened to Thuja Magnus Imperium and then decided to make some of his own music. Celestial Lineage has the atmosphere so unique black metal never seemed so epic in its melancholy.
7. M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. (Mute)
8. Bohren & Der Club Of Gore - Beileid (PIAS)
Bohren & Der Club Of Gore’s Beileid surprised me big time with the opening track; Zombies Never Die (Blues) being one of the best jazzy/doomy tracks they made.
Anathema has to be my favorite band ever, so whatever they release I seem to fall in love with and cherish like a true gift. The idea of going back to their oldest stuff and rearranging it for the orchestra and piano might sound weird (although not if you ask bands like Ulver for example) but it worked. Kingdom and They Die, once powerful doom dirges, have become grandiose soundtrack sounding pieces of the same epic proportions they were back in the days. Although more of background music piece than a full rocker, Falling Deeper seemed to inspire me in lots of ways, even influence my own guitar playing. Alone and some tracks off new Opeth for instance had some fantastic classical guitar playing that made me pick up my nylon string guitar after a long time and even record some of the ideas for a new Consecration release. Falling Deeper was more of a filling-a-gap kind of record before the guys released something new, yet I caught myself playing it awful lot. I'm not surprised though – Danny Cavanagh and Mikael of Opeth were my main guitar influences for some time and they didn't fail me; they didn't stop to impress me either.
10. Dub Trio - IV (ROIR)
11. Opeth – Heritage (Roadrunner)
I'm so glad Mikael did a record like this. I wasn't this surprised since Deliverance/Damnation pair of albums that were sort of peak of what were Opeth about – Deliverance was their most aggressive record and the Damnation the most gentle one, distortions-free. Growling vocals seem to bore me to death for some time so Mikael's decision of abandoning them was a right move for my taste. Heritage was a retro record, a prog one and Mikael's legacy and homage to the records he grew up to. What I liked most about Heritage was the production – it was minimal yet crisp and clear. No ridiculous compressions and triggered drums that gave you headaches after more than five minutes of listening. The less-is-more approach to the songs seemed to work perfectly, although lots of fans misunderstood the point of record like this. The audiophile quality of catching the right vibe of the song (bass line in Folklore or the powerful riff in Famine) were all over Heritage, creating a special record with a 70's vibe made forty years later for some new generations. Opeth were always about art, not just about marrying Morbid Angel with Nick Drake or Voivod with Camel convincingly – and with Heritage, they made something truly unique considering their rich back catalog.
12. Temple Of The Smoke – …Against Human Race (RAIG)
It's not that these guys are my friends, it's a lot to the fact they made a hell of an album. Simply put, everything I like to listen to, all the genres and stuff (especially some dub) are represented here with style and good taste. From Electric Wizard to King Tubby via Ozric Tentacles and undeniable Floyd influence, it's a sheer joy to watch these guys making music and developing their mix of styles into a mind blowing jam with every new song they create. Dub wasn't always my thing, but Into The Storm was just a right tune that was much listened throughout 2011 and Tortoise Du Mars was this space rock/metal kind of track that would give a hint where the band would go next. Watch out for these guys, as their new stuff would be even more interesting than on Against Human Race.
13. Foo Fighters - Wasting Light (RCA)
The Foos have made a fantastic album. Back to analogue mixdesk with no computer in sight for editing and by recording the drums in Dave's garage, Wasting Light was going back to the old form of how the greatest rock n' roll albums were made. It was not only the production though; the songs were more epic than ever. Dear Rosemary, Walk, Rope, White Limo, Arlandria and especially the ballad I Should Have Known (dedicated to Kurt Cobain, including Chris Novoselić on accordion and additional bass) were all the reasons I fell in love with this record. A friend and I were discussing that these days there would hardly be rock bands that were yet to become huge as Floyd, Zepps or AC/DC were, but Foo Fighters and Queens Of The Stone Age were the closest one could get, you know? Hands down to Mr. Grohl and the guys, Wasting Light is the essence of rock music and how it should be played.
Gig of the year:
Portishead at Exit festival, Novi Sad. Probably the most important gig of my life. I was lucky that I played earlier the same day on Main stage and met the guys. It was 40 degrees out and we were all melting but the second they hit Machine gun and Roads on the soundcheck… I froze instantly. Needless to say the actual concert was a pure bliss. Pure emotions and the most perfect sound I’ve ever heard in a live show. Kudos for sound engineer for using two old Roland SRE-555 devices, real actual tapes for the echoes. The honesty of this band is beyond words and they let their music say everything.