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  MICHAEL DOWNIE'S BEST OF 2011
Review Of The Year


michael downie



BEST METAL MEMORY: For me, it would have to be Rhapsody Of Fire walking out onstage at Bloodstock. The memory of it still sends shivers down my spine.

GIG: Turisas at Northumbria Uni

ALBUM: Uneven Structure 'Februus' BAND: Aliases

FESTIVAL: Bloodstock

VIDEO: Trivium 'Built To Fall'

SINGLE: Circles 'Eye Embedded'

Article continues below...





So we're rapidly coming towards the end of the year, and as the rest of the world gets ready for Christmas and New Year, I have been deliberating on my Top Ten releases from the last twelve months. Now this is no mean feat - in fact, it's been incredibly hard. There've been so many good albums out this year that I fear I may end up with an embolism.

So, without further ado, lets get straight into it and look back in anger at my Top Ten albums of 2011.

10: Foo Fighters 'Wasting Light' (RCA Records)

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Dave Grohl and his merry bunch of miscreants had spent the last few years touring the middling 'Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace' before jumping back into the studio at the beginning of this year to work on their seventh full-length album and - my word - what a piece of work.

Going back to their roots and setting up a makeshift studio in Grohl's own garage, as well as enlisting the help of grunge uber-producer Butch Vig, 'Wasting Light' was raw rock at its best. From the walloping 'Rope' to the driving 'Arlandria', 'Wasting Light' is easily the best thing they've done since the seminal 'The Colour And The Shape'.

Coupled with their trademark storming live show and headlining slots at some of the world's biggest rock festivals, 2011 was really a great year for the band.

9: Opeth 'Heritage' (Roadrunner Records)

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Opeth have always been one of those bands that polarised opinions. You either really adored them or you were entirely nonplussed by them; it was rare that there was any middle ground. When mainman Mikeal Akerfeldt announced that 'Heritage' would see the band take an altogether less Metal route than their previous nine albums, I have to admit that I was very skeptical.

Fortunately, the band came through with an absolutely stunning album. From the main single, 'The Devil's Orchard' to the ambient-yet-nuts 'Nepenthe', 'Heritage' crosses musical territory that the band couldn't have touched had they still been doing Metal. Granted, I didn't feel that this new material worked particularly well live; in fact I found it downright boring, but as an album goes, it's brilliant.

8: Visions 'Home' (Basick Records)

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This year has been a great year for awesome debut releases. In fact, most of this list is going to be comprised of debut albums - it really has been that good of a year for new bands. Visions hit the ground running with this amazing album in the late summer, and what a stunner it is. 'Home' features some of the most amazing and considered technical Metal I've ever heard, especially from a band so young and fresh-faced.

Tracks like 'Machines', 'Autophobia' and 'Into The Sun' solidify Visions as a force to be reckoned with. Their 'Safer Than Home' tour with label mates Aliases cemented them as a live act worth keeping an eye out for in the future. All in all, a killer debut album.

7: Xternals 'Fistful Of Infinity' (Corpro Records)

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Now this album was a happy surprise for me. Randomly, one of the band members got in touch with me and asked if I would like to do a review for them. Never passing on the opportunity to help a band out, I obliged and I'm really glad I did. 'Fistful Of Infinity' is a superb album full of glorious harmonies, epic synth lines and songs so catchy, you'll be humming them for days.

Hailing from Italy, Xternals blend together the best bits of Nine Inch Nails, Linkin Park and Seal (yes, Seal) into an album that's as catchy as it is unmissable. These guys aren't big over here in the UK, so I recommend you all help them out and buy a copy of their album. It was my album of the month after all...

6: Iced Earth 'Dystopia' (Century Media)

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Iced Earth are one of those bands who can be brilliant, but can also miss the mark quite significantly. After yet another line-up change (now totalling over thirty different members in twenty-two years), Jon Schaffer and his boys returned with the phenomenal 'Dystopia'.

Having completed the 'Set Abominae' story on the previous album, the band put together a collection of songs with dystopic themes and stories taken from books and films. 'Equilibrium', 'V', 'Soylent Green', this album has it all. In their new singer Stu Block, the band have found a mouthpiece who can quite happily cover the Ripper Owens material and the Matt Barlow material and still manage to sound like himself. A strong return to form for sure, I do sincerely hope that they manage to keep this level of quality up.

5: Dream Theater 'A Dramatic Turn Of Events' (Roadrunner Records)

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Back in 2010, Mike Portnoy shocked the world by announcing he had left Dream Theater due to creative differences within the band. No-one expected this to happen as Portnoy was one of the founding members as well as chief songwriter (along with John Petrucci). After an arduous decision-making process and several days of auditions, the band hired drumming legend Mike Mangini to fill in the vacant drum stool. They then set about writing and recording 'A Dramatic Turn Of Events'.

Without the tight level of control Portnoy had on the band, the band have remarked that the writing process was very easy and they were free to do what they wanted and try out new ideas. 'ADTOE' is a mix, there are sections which sound like classic Dream Theater, recapturing some of the magic that made 'Images & Words' such a classic album, whilst they've dropped in some forward-thinking creativity that shows they've got plenty of miles left to go.

4: Aliases 'Safer Than Reality' (Basick Records)

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Born from the ashes of tech Metal legends SikTh, Aliases have taken the scene by storm. With unrivalled technical ability across the entire band, Pin and co create some of the most intricate, alluring and epic Metal to come from the UK in a long time.

Their debut EP, 'Safer Than Reality' is a tour de force in ability and lunacy, with some of the most extreme riffing I've ever heard combined with what has to be the hardest working drummer in Metal today. Aliases are a band not to be missed, they're amazing live and awesome on record. Hopefully next year we'll get to hear a full album from them but, for now, 'Safer Than Reality' is a bargain at twice the price.

3: Trivium 'In Waves' (Roadrunner Records)

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In my eyes, Trivium have always suffered from an identity crisis. Are they Metal-core, are they thrash, are they technical? It seems that over the years they've had the same issues, each song on each album having differing approaches, leading them to sound woefully inconsistent in places. However, after a change of drummer and some time off, Trivium came back kicking and screaming with the superb 'In Waves'.

Trivium have really found their sound here, finding that careful balance between extreme death/black Metal sections and catchy, hook-laden choruses. The album sounds consistent; even the bonus tracks on the special edition which were dropped into the main track list don't sound out of place, it just all fits. If you haven't heard it, go and buy it, there is something for everyone and you will not be disappointed.

2: Blotted Science 'The Animation Of Entomology' (Basick Records)

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Ron Jarzombek is not human. Ok, well, actually, he is. What I mean is, what he has created with 'The Animation Of Entomology' is a super human feat. Seven tracks, all scored to sections from films involving all manner of nasty beasties, in a super-complicated compositional technique, played at breakneck speed, all instrumentally. The man must be crackers to even consider such an undertaking.

Crackers, human or not, 'The Animation Of Entomology' is a masterpiece of epic proportions. It may not be a long record, but twenty-four minutes of brain-melting progressive death Metal is enough to know that there isn't a single thing I could say is wrong with it. I gave it a 10/10 because there is simply no faulting it whatsoever.

So this brings us crashing down to the last entry, my favourite album of the year. Well, let's get you out of your suspense, because its:

(drum roll please)

1: Uneven Structure: 'Februus' (Basick Records)

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If people think djent is boring and uninteresting, then they want to take a good hard listen to Februus. An epic, sweeping concept album, the French natters that are Uneven Structure have come up with something entirely special.

Fusing a futuristic sci-fi story with extreme drums, edgy and complex guitars and a mix of throat-wrenching screams and soaring clean vocals from singer Matthieu Romarin, it flows as one continuous song. From the opener to the finale, there is not a single moment which is anything less than epic. As a debut album, it's been put together so well, I honestly can't believe how good it is.

I've listened back to Februus so many times since I got my copy and I still haven't gotten bored of it. I keep hearing new things and extra subtle nuances that I didn't hear the previous time. It's such a huge, multi-layered album, I defy you all to listen to it and not like it.

So there it is. My top ten albums of this year in an easily digestible chunk. Here's to next year and more amazing Metal.

22.12.11








 


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