Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Difficult 2011, 5 to 1

Ah, 2011. Wasn’t that a time? Remember the clothes? Wow, what were we all thinking? I gotta delete those pictures! Food tasted better then too—fresher, more buttery. Remember how stuff “went viral,” especially that weird patch on my lower lip? Thank god that cleared up. 2011 was the year that a lot of things happened, that’s for sure. Here’s the final look back at my little corner of the world—the last five entries in A Difficult 2011.

5. Graveyard—Hisingen Blues (Nuclear Blast)
I’d seen Graveyard’s first album around, and it looked like the sort of thing I’d enjoy. I was all about the Witchcraft, though, when it came to my Swedish retro-rock needs. I caught the buzz on Hisingen Blues right away and got the album as soon as I saw it. I was glad I did, because I discovered that Graveyard’s supercharged blues rock is very much its own thing. This record cooks from start to finish, fueled by feel, groove, and passion—the latter mainly due to Joakim Nilsson’s tortured “baby done me wrong” delivery. They’ve already released the follow-up, which I’m hesitant to get. It’s hard to imagine they could produce another album packed with as many big moments and wicked songs as Hisingen Blues. I guess I’m going to have to find out eventually, though.

4. The Gates of Slumber—The Wretch (Metal Blade)
The Gates of Slumber appeared to be the kings of epic, Robert E Howard-inspired doom, then they went and released this sparse, despairing, and personal record. The Wretch captured the essence of doom—the personal abyss from which you instinctively seize a few power chords to give voice to your deepest misery. It’s about brave, honest communication, not about death growls and guitars tuned way, way down. Such tactics seem like cheap party tricks in the face of The Wretch. TGoS are one of the coolest bands ever, but this one was a real sock to the gut.

3. Primordial—Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand (Metal Blade)
Ireland’s Primordial are rightly revered by now, and Redemption… was yet another triumph. To make my top 3, an album needs to carry some serious emotional weight, and Redemption... certainly does. It bears the weight of centuries of torment and bloodshed on its shoulders. This album was so good I reviewed it twice.

2. Hammers of Misfortune—17th Street (Metal Blade)
As you can tell from this Top 5, 2011 was all about songs. I don’t care what kind of new extremes of brutality or cutting-edge genre innovation you’ve cooked up, it means nothing if you don’t have songs. Holy Christ on a crutch, Hammers of Misfortune have songs—real heavy metal songs. John Cobbett and his crew of old hands and new recruits put together an album that achieves a new level of craftsmanship and class for Hammers of Misfortune. The Fields/Church of Broken Glass album(s) showed how lush and expansive their material could get. 17th Street took that melodic sophistication and toughened it up to suit these tough times. “The Day the City Died” was the song of the year, a lament for the Bay Area and those who’ve had to move out of a city where property speculation has replaced any real industry and sense of community. Living in Vancouver, I can relate. “This one’s called 'I’m moving to Portland'” goes the chorus. A friend of mind did exactly that in 2011.

1. Red Fang—Murder the Mountains (Relapse)
2011 was looking pretty lacklustre until I took a chance on this thing at Scrape Records. After taking it home and putting it on, it proceeded to drink all the beer in the house, crush the empties on its forehead, and overturn all the furniture. Hello, new best friend. Sometimes you get a vibe from a band; that they have a sensibility that’ll mesh well with your own predilections. Portland’s Red Fang were that band. I already knew they made the best videos. Their new album delivered too, with loud, rowdy songs that nevertheless went down some cunning paths, aided by ingenious production and arrangements. Murder the Mountains turned everything around for me, and helped me stomp through the rest of the year. I still haven’t seen them live, but the opportunity will come, I’m sure.