Best of 2011: 15-11

15. BLUT AUS NORD “777-Sect(s))/“777—The Desanctification” (Debemur Morti): French black metal experimentalists Blut Aus Nord had a pretty aggressive game plan for 2011, that being releasing three records that all tied together that examine humankind’s place in the universe, a disconnect with a higher being and where that leaves us all in the cosmos. They came damn close to getting it done. We got the first two offerings in the story, each diametrically opposed sonically from each other, with the third now scheduled for release next year. I’m assuming we can go ahead and save a place in the 2012 list for “Cosmosophy.”

It may seem lazy to lump these together, and if I had to pick one, I’d go with “The Desanctification” as the better record, but each relies on the other for its very existence. You can have no second chapter without the opener “Sect(s)” that begins the tale and sets the stage for what comes later. So I’m basically looking at this as one piece broken up into two parts, thus its dual inclusion. “Sect(s)” is the heavier, more violent of the two records, while “The Desanctification” is more nightmarish, thought-provoking and daring musically, mixing in elements of post-rock and trip hop (it works, don’t worry). I worried that this was going to be too much Blut Aus Nord music for one calendar year and that it all might grow tried or sound the same. What a fool I was. As strong as Blut Aus Nord’s back catalog is, these two records could be their finest accomplishments yet.

To buy either album, go to: http://www.eitrin.com/search.php?mode=1&match=1&search=blut+aus+nord&action=

14. THE ATLAS MOTH, “An Ache for the Distance” (Profound Lore): “A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky” was a really promising debut album for Chicago’s The Atlas Moth that seemed to indicate their best work was ahead of them. I didn’t think it would only take one more record for this band to realize what they truly were capable of accomplishing, but holy hell if they didn’t tear past that blue sky and into the stars on “An Ache for the Distance,” their unbelievable sophomore album. They went more of a rock route this time around, though the album is still metal as hell, and they took the druggy tendencies they already showed and amplified that a million times. The first time I heard this album, I was iced up with painkillers from an injury, and this thing made me see shapes and colors. It’s just as good in a clear frame of mind, by the way, in case you’re wondering.

There is a lot less screaming on this record, and the clean vocal work is worlds better than what they unleashed on their debut. The songwriting is solid as hell, and each track is memorable and catchy. It’s a record that, if it was exposed to mainstream rock radio listeners in between their doses of modern crap and shitty Metallica songs, it might gain an audience because it’s so much smarter sounding and genuinely exciting. But we wouldn’t want to wake up the drones from their slumber, would we? This is an incredibly inspiring accomplishment from the Atlas Moth and, frighteningly enough, things should just get better from here.

To buy “An Ache for the Distance,” go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com//index.php?option=com_ezcatalog&task=detail&id=782&Itemid=99999999

13. TOMBS, “Path of Totality” (Relapse): Speaking of bands that trumped their past glories this year, Brooklyn unit Tombs absolutely demolished every piece of work they put out in the past with “Path of Totality,” their second full-length for Relapse. This record has pretty much been universally embraced and topped a ton of other charts. Makes me feel like a jerk for only putting it at 13, but it’s my list, right? Anyway, these guys already had given us a pretty good collection a few years back with “Winter Hours,” one of my favorite releases from 2009, but this thing just blew me away from the start. It’s a collection indicative of a band that refuses to do the same thing twice and probably will sound totally different, yet no less awesome, in half-decade’s time.

“Path of Totality” is a riotous mix of black metal, doom, post-rock, goth rock and punk, and as weird as all of those things may sound together, it works beautifully. Mike Hill still can howl in a way that can level mountains, but his dark, deep croon that surfaces on songs such as “Vermillion” and “Passageways” remind me of a meeting between Tom G. Warrior, Peter Steele and Peter Murphy. It’s such a cool new element and really sounds like it was inspired by early ’80s alternative rock such as the Cure and Bauhaus. This is Tombs’ most complete recording to date, and it has gotten a ton of airplay in my house this year. In fact, I’m listening to it right now. This also should keep Tombs heavily in the conversation as to who is today’s most exciting, inventive metal band.

To buy “Path of Totality,” go here: http://www.relapse.com/path-of-totality.html

12. DARK CASTLE, “Surrender to All Life Beyond Form” (Profound Lore): As we continue today’s trend of band’s making giant leaps in creativity, duo Dark Castle stepped their game up in a huge way on sophomore release “Surrender to All Life Beyond Form.” It’s growing very difficult to classify this band, damn it, which makes life tough on lazy writers who need quick reference points. They still revel in sludge doom, which is muddy and filled with roots and rocks, but they go even further into psychedelic regions, helped mightily by guitarist/singer Stevie Floyd’s use of Eastern scales. In fact, that element becomes sort of a thread through the record, tying all the songs together nicely and making this have a true familiar album feel.

“Surrender” is actually a pretty short record at just 34 minutes. But that’s OK. Some of the early great thrash and death metal records were about this length, and I sometimes wish bands would put out more compact collections because they often go down a lot better. Dark Castle get in, make their thunderstorming statement, and get out, leaving you both wholly satisfied and wanting a hell of a lot more. What they do give you are songs that’ll pummel you but also cause you to take a spiritual journey alongside them, which you’ll find out from visiting the hammering opening title cut, vicious “Seeing Through Time” (my favorite song on the record), “I Hear Wind” and change-up acts “To Hide Is to Die” and “Spirit Ritual,” that contains YOB leader Mike Scheidt offering his droning chants. Dark Castle exceed all expectations on “Surrender,” something I imagine will become a trend for the band as they venture into their future.

To buy “Surrender to All Life Beyond Form,” go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com//index.php?option=com_ezcatalog&task=detail&id=752&Itemid=99999999

11. BARGHEST, untitled (Gilead Media/Howling Mine): Spitting lo-fi hell, espousing hate and misanthropy, and capturing a vibe most modern bands never quite realize come Barghest, a Baton Rouge-based black metal band that has no other intention than to spread their vile disease and remind pretenders what this stuff is supposed to sound like. This band is covered in soot as they kick out the seven songs that comprise their awesome full-length debut, and if you don’t quite understand the infernal magic of this thing on first listen, definitely give it time to germinate. I liked it first time I listened, but it wasn’t until I committed to subsequent journeys that this thing took its hold. It’s majestic, though it doesn’t announce itself as that. It’s glorious, though that might be hard to realize amid all the muck. It’s violent, which you’ll realize right away. Barghest are pretty damn upfront about that.

The band’s untitled album is a pretty great guitar record, too. That’s also something you may have to dig through layers to discover. That’s not to suggest it’s going to make Malmsteen solo enthusiasts piss their jeans. But if you live for the power of the riff, you’re going to find a lot to chew on this album. It rollicks and rides like power metal battling death metal, with both going the distance before they both collapse from exhaustion. And the grimy and seedy black metal that rises from the ashes seeks to choke you out, but not before it rubs your face in your own wounds. Nothing positive spiritually comes from this. It makes you realize what a cesspool our world has become. We live in a vile, evil place, and Barghest are more than happy to point out this fact. The fact they do so as triumphantly as they do just makes our annihilation a little more tolerable.

To buy the album (it is out of stock currently), go here: http://www.gileadmedia.net/store/

Or here: http://noladiy.org/howlingmine.html