Born from Shadows
Traditional Doom Metal

Sweden’s traditional doom metal outfit Isole have yet to release a bad album, and Born from Shadows continues that tradition of consistency. The band plays a coming together of thunderous Candlemass-ian doom riffs and deep, melodic, melancholic vocals. This album sees the inclusion of some black metal-inspired rasps as well. The formula has changed very little, so those with previous exposure to the band’s material won’t be knocked off their feet, but Isole make up for a lack of variation by writing solid, enjoyable material. And even if there isn’t much change from album to album, the band still impresses with their unique brand of doom.


Under a Frozen Sun
Melodic Black/Death Metal

I thought Dissection’s Jon Nodtveidt was dead. Apparently not, as Thulcandra pick up right where Storm of the Light’s Bane left off, with perhaps a slight black metal leaning. There are a number of bands playing in the Dissection style, but Thulcandra are one of the more memorable acts, doing Dissection nearly as well as Dissection. For the uninitiated, this is highly melodic black/death metal, the emphasis on icy, atmospheric lead guitar, backed by an ever-present barrage of double bass and coarse, rasping black metal vocals.


Suspended in the Brume of Eos
Melodic Black Metal

Obsequiae have made something of a splash in the metal underground. The band’s warm, earthen take on black metal has inspired fans of a saturated genre. The music is exceptionally melodic, dominated by mid-paced lead guitar, which creates a portrait of natural beauty. There’s little of black metal’s signature hatred or rebellion here, replaced instead by wonder and adulation. There are a number of short, minimalistic acoustic interludes sandwiched between the black metal tracks which add to the organic ethos. Nature-worship is far from new to black metal’s list of appropriate themes (right below anti-Christianity/pro-paganism), but Obsequiae’s specific style of execution is fresh and novel.


The Tree of Life
Progressive Rock

The Finnish prog-rockers are back for their sophomore effort, and it’s just as good or better than the debut. Sami Hynninen, formerly Reverend Bizarre’s frontman, does an impeccable job on the microphone, showing himself an able master of more than one style. Where his performances in Rev Biz were bellowing and charismatic, Orne’s music calls for a different atmosphere: softer, seeking, more contemplative. The music is equally inspired, with songwriting that’s incredibly effective on an emotional level, exhibiting both personal and universal characteristics; daily struggles and world-wide, impersonal, transcendent issues (not unlike the recent film!).


Ride with Death
Speed Metal/Punk

There’s been a resurgence of filthy black metal-influenced music lately, ranging in style from rock’n’roll to thrash metal to speed metal to punk and crust (think Motorhead and Venom for starting points). Speedwolf are riding ahead of the majority of this movement, out there in the barren wastes with Midnight at their side; nobody does catchy, anthemic, rocking metal better. Plus, cowbell.


Satan’s Host
By the Hands of the Devil
Heavy Metal

If you’re a metalhead and you’ve heard of Jag Panzer, you should know the common link here: Harry Conklin. And even though 1984 is “vintage” these days, Conklin’s voice is not. Satan’s Host were a black metal band before Conklin joined the mix, and they now play a very dark form of traditional or heavy metal, with minor black metal influences, such as blast beats and an overall Satanic vibe. This is the best thing Conklin has done in many years, not to be missed by fans of Ample Destruction or heavy metal in general.


Morbus Chron
Sleepers in the Rift
Death Metal

So yeah, speaking of resurgences, old school death metal has been HUGE lately. And with all these Swedish, American, Canadian, Finnish et al bands popping up, there’s an inevitable amount of material that evokes a “yawn, been there and done that” sensation; where Morbus Chron rise above the heap is in their dynamic songwriting. They use the same template as the rest of these retro acts, but unlike (many of) the rest, they do something new with it, and without simply falling back on modern death metal. This actually sounds like an original old school death metal album, like a lost gem that managed to never be heard. MC have a great sense of timing and pacing, rhythm, contrast and other things a death metal band needs to be innovative. Plus, that artwork.


Immortal Soul
Heavy/Power Metal

Oh man, this is fun. Back in the ’80s, Riot played a speedy and ridiculously catchy variety of traditional metal. They’ve released a number of albums since then, but this is officially christened as their comeback album, because it has the same lineup as their 1988 opus Thundersteel. As far as comeback albums go, this one really goes; Riot have outdone themselves in creating a forward-thinking-and-moving piece of heavy metal that’s relentlessly infectious and solid. For a week or two after listening to this album, I would wake up with a chorus stuck in my brain. I’ve had to pace myself in hearing it for that reason. Immortal Soul has slower, more balladic (totally not a word) tracks and faster, more upbeat ones, and they’re all awesome. Impressively, the album doesn’t just relive past glories, but takes bold steps in new directions.


The Eternal Battle
Heavy/Doom Metal

Doomsword have been one of my most looked up to bands for years. I remember trying to introduce them to friends as a high school freshman (unsuccessfully — Atreyu was the band of the day). These Italians play a sweeping, epic style that’s essentially heavy metal with a subdued tempo, rather than being truly doom. The subject material is very metal, very masculine stuff: historical wars and events (especially viking related), Norse mythology etc. The music does a great job of creating and conveying (with conviction) that ancient mood, with crushing, fist-pumping riffs and the soaring bravado of “Deathmaster.” Yeah, that’s his name, as far as the band is concerned. Not everyone is into this kind of stuff, but it couldn’t put a bigger grin on my face, and The Eternal Battle is their best album since 2003’s Let Battle Commence.


Noregs Vaapen
Black Metal

Although Taake’s album occupies my number one spot, I prefer not to say “this is the best (metal) album of 2011.” It just had to go somewhere, and I didn’t know where. Ranking issues aside, this is classic Taake: extremely well-written and dependable. Norwegian black metal hasn’t really been spotlighted in the past decade, but Taake carry the torch with pride and gusto. All the orthodox black metal elements are here, from tremolo picking to rasping shrieks to blast beats to melodic leads mingling with the riffs, but there’s something about the way Taake write songs that pushes them beyond the domain of “normal” black metal. Just the right amount of cycling repetition and variation (both within songs and within the album as a whole), just the right amount of contrasting melody and coarseness. I might not rate it quite as highly as some of their other albums, but the band is so good that a slight waning is barely noticeable. A must-have for black metal fans.