Five Brooklyn bands, a few members of the Big 4, two albums named Path of Totality, and one sinister minister in a rubber skull mask. Watch the throne room.
Plus, click below to download our Metal List Mixtape, a two-hour zipfile tour through our best-of list featuring tracks from every artist on our rundown (except Mastodon — thanks, bros!). Tracklist at the bottom of the post!
SPIN’s Best of 2011:
— One Fucked Up Year: SPIN’s Best of 2011 Issue
— SPIN’s 50 Best Albums of 2011
— SPIN’s 20 Best Songs of 2011
— SPIN’s 40 Best Rap Albums of 2011
— SPIN’s 10 Best Reissues of 2011
— SPIN’s 25 Best Live Photos of 2011
— Endless Bummer: 30 Ways 2011 Was a Drag
20. Megadeth, Th1rt3en Metal’s most famous underdog, Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine, hit a winning streak in recent years. After re-emerging as a born-again Christian, he settled his beefs with Slayer and Metallica, reconnected with founding bassist David Ellefson, and brought his totemic thrash band to the Big 4 tour — all a warm-up to unleashing the group’s most consistently catchy album since 1992 classic Countdown to Extinction. Singles like “Public Enemy No. 1” and “Whose Life (Is It Anyways?)” ooze radio-friendly hooks without overshadowing Mustaine’s testosterone-fueled, gnashed-teeth guitar riffs: Megadeth, as a band, sounds born again in their own right. Hello, Dave, meet the real Dave. KORY GROW
19. Wolves In The Throne Room, Celestial Lineage With their fourth full-length, Olympia, Washington, Wolves in the Throne Room brothers Aaron and Nathan Weaver have almost crossed over into some warped waterfall of an “indie mainstream,” making it possible for anyone with a set of ears and a dark side to embrace black metal on a spellbinding, cinematic scale. Kate Bush-style chants, windswept chimes, and field recordings mingle with the genre’s traditional elements (hailstorms of beats, impenetrable walls of guitar, demonic, hissing vocals). Their genre-bending rankles some underground gatekeepers’ extra-black-and-brutal knickers, but backlash be damned, since WITTR’s forest-bound woosh is mesmerizing. JEANNE FURY
18. Bruce Lamont, Feral Songs For The Epic Decline This collection of seven cheerless ragas from Yakuza saxophonist Bruce Lamont is a one-man, voidgaze bloodletting. Thanks to Lamont’s unholy army of loop pedals, Feral Songs is a dissonant, ritualistic swirl of Middle Eastern scales, mystery slams, ghostly moans, snaking reedwork, and acoustic guitars that could soundtrack a Blood Meridian desert butchering. Equal parts bustling and bleak, it’s like the last Swans record rolled flat into an expressionist swarm of droney desolation. CHRISTOPHER R. WEINGARTEN
17. Korn, Path Of Totality Korn’s dubstep-soaked 10th album is the sawblade screech of unfiltered abandon, the belch of unfiltered id on parade: Waka Flocka Fuck You. By mixing thudding nu-metal slamwork straight from the sports arena with chest-caving brostep from the late-night rave scene (courtesy of Skrillex, Noisia, 12th Planet, and more) Korn turns the two least tactful sounds of the decade into a grinding, bowel-bursting, sputtering, endlessly enjoyable ode to indelicacy. Breakdowns break, mosh parts are robo-riots, and Jonathan Davis somehow manages the catchiest choruses of his career. Shut the fuck up, get up. C.W.
16. Hull, Beyond The Lightless Sky One of the year’s most impressively conceptualized and executed ass-kickings. These Brooklyn bruisers pair an epic tale of two Mayan brothers with an exceptional breadth of styles: proggy guitar snippets, punk-rock gallops, dry and wet barks, downtuned Southern doom, veins swollen with sludge — and that’s just in one song. To aVoid sounding like a garbage truck backfiring, Hull keep their compositions flexible but unwaveringly focused for this 57-minute opus. Sky ain’t their limit. J.F.
15. Autopsy, Macabre Eternal Death metal twin terrors Morbid Angel and Autopsy both released highly anticipated reunion albums in 2011. The former put out an industrialized embarrassment they won’t soon live down, but the latter released a record that only improves on their disgusting legacy of gore-drenched lyrics and guttural guitargasms. More than 15 years after issuing their last album, Shitfun (a title that accurately describes the music’s production), Autopsy returned with their best-sounding LP ever, a crystal-clear recording that makes vocalist-drummer Chris Reifert’s blast beats and sweet nothings (“Genital mutilation, never fuck again!”) sound all the more terrifying. K.G.
14. Blood Ceremony, Living With The Ancients For anyone not already under its spell, the dorktacular second full-length by Toronto doom-gods Blood Ceremony can be a little intimidating. Everything conjures — wonderfully — that weird ’70s moment when capes were cool: frontwoman Alia O’Brien’s creepily monotone vocals, the fantasy-inspired lyrics (two of its nine stompers are about evil magicians), and tons of trippy flute fluttering. Get past the D&D signifiers (if you must) and what remains are bluesy riffs, blistering solos, spooky psychedelic organ, sharp melodies, and a wizardly knack for epic arrangements. Magickal! DAVID MARCHESE
13. Mastodon, The Hunter Mastodon raised some eyebrows with 2009’s spacey Crack the Skye, which nursed heavily on electric Kool-Aid instead of cases of beer. For The Hunter, they took off their dashikis and threw on some dirty denim, masterfully returning to the well-trampled terrain of nefarious riffs and burly, thunderous grooves that made them modern metal A-listers. J.F.
12. Batillus, Furnace Batillus play noisy, slug-paced metal; but it’s their diversions outside of the genre that make them the most vital new doom band in forever. Possibly overstimulated by their New York City surroundings, Batillus refuse to sit still. Furnace bounces around from the growly, meat-and-potatoes downer rock of “â€¦And the World is as Night to Them” to the shambolic black metal of “Uncreator” to the murky Slayer-like guitar bits in the middle of “The Division” to the slowcore-leaning moodiness of “What Heart” — it’s all infinitely more gratifying than your typical doomy endurance test. K.G.
11. Rwake, Rest Isis is done and Neurosis is largely silent; so at this specific moment, Rwake’s Rest not only maintains doom-metal’s pulse but also quickens it. This Arkansas sludge squad have been twisting together grand atmospherics, stoner stomp, and strangled vocals for more than a decade, but their second LP for Relapse finds these explorers simultaneously at their most restless and cohesive. Vaguely pretty soundscapes and wholly eerie samples mesh well with hypnotic murk, punctuated by two-guitar leads that hint at redemption. But make no mistake: Thematically, Rest evacuates vacuums of hope, so that stomachs turn sour and optimism crumbles. GRAYSON CURRIN
10. All Pigs Must Die, God Is War The debut album from Massachusetts barbarians All Pigs Must Die is the year’s best hardcore record, mostly because everything besides hardcore is tucked into its lean 32 minutes: Entombed-style punko death metal, charred Eyehategod sludgeblankets, blackened ice-whinny, and a scabby title track that sounds like Slayer trying to scream themselves into unconsciousness. Starring members of Converge, the Hope Conspiracy, and Bloodhorse, All Pigs’ pedigree in vein-popping savagery is well-established, but on God Is War, they’re a fuck-ugly, gutter-dragging, bile-chugging scumfeast like no other. C.W.
9. Ghost, Opus Eponymous Sweden’s anonymous, heavily robed Ghost are an unlikely mix between sunshiny ’70s-lunchbox bubblegum and a deeply Satanic blood orgy — basically if the Scooby-Doo gang’s Mystery Machine took a wrong turn into a sacrifice ritual or if the Blue Oyster Cult was actually a cult. The kitsch factor and warm organs make them more Spider Baby than Rosemary’s Baby, and lines like, “This chapel of ritual smells of dead human sacrifices” are downright cuddly, thanks to harmonies dripping from the reanimated flesh of shag carpeting and Leif Garrett 8-tracks. C.W.
8. Earth, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I Two decades ago, when none other than Kurt Cobain was moaning insolence over the monstrous, glacial riffs of Earth, descriptors like “refinement,” “elegance,” and “subtlety” would have seemed unlikely for Dylan Carlson’s monolithic muddle. But Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1 — the best and most singular in a string of sterling releases from Carlson’s reconfigured band — moves with languid grace, as Adrienne Davies’ drumming splashes perfectly beneath his deliberate, pristine themes. Amid 2011’s landscape of reunions and quick cash-ins, little was more rewarding than a bona fide pioneer returning to reinvent his own wheel. G.C.
7. Anthrax, Worship Music On their first album in 21 years with chest-beating lead-belter Joey Belladonna, the NYC thrash lifers sound just exactly they did in 1990 — and as vital as ever. Drummer Charlie Benante’s virtuoso battering and Scott Ian’s low-string guitar fusillades are pure and punishing, but Worship Music sets itself apart through a renewed sense of purpose. The furious “Devil You Know” and Dio/Dimebag tribute “In the End” are the sound of a band doing what it does at the top of its formâ€¦and proof that nothing new can still mean something great. D.M.
6. Krallice, Diotima If Liturgy served as the lightning rod and/or rallying point for Brooklyn black metal this year, Krallice was their counterbalance. Though dressed-down, the band (led by inventive guitarists Colin Marston and Mick Barr) didn’t jump to an indie rock label or intersperse their biggest moment with nods toward 20th century composition. Rather, they simply retrenched, piling together four consecutive tracks that break the 12-minute mark at the core of an exhausting and exhilarating 69-minute marathon. As demanding of its players as it is of its audience, Diotima‘s scope and focus reaffirm the totalitarian menace of the genre’s forebearers. G.C.
5. Absu, Abzu The midpoint of a career-resuscitating trilogy for long-standing Texas sophisticates Absu, Abzu continues what 2009’s great Absu renewed: spiraling, sprawling sprints from metals death and black, thrash and tech — all united by the dense mythological exhortations of bandleader Proscriptor. Indeed, it might take two volumes to unwind all the threads of thought in these lyrics and to decode the interlocking structures in the music; but living on the surface, this 36-minute race just feels breathless, unapologetic. and fun. G.C.
4. Tombs, Path Of Totality The Brooklyn trio’s second full-length flaunts white-hot rage and roiling unrest in their intense, scintillating mash-up of black metal and hardcore, yet Path Of Totality still stands as the stone-coldest album of the year. As it progresses, despair and damnation flood the senses with liquid nitrogen. Tombs’ blackened blasts could put fissures in the tundra, yet it’s the macabre, Bauhaus-style bleakness that breaks up the beatings and really allows the madness to fester and writhe. This is what a cold day in hell feels like. J.F.
3. Craft, Void The best traditional black-metal album this year, Craft’s Void is also the most unsettling. With bits of backwards-masked guitar on “Come Resonance Doom”; the hilariously blunt lyrics of “I Want to Commit Murder,” and cold, heartless, syncopated drum-machine work throughout, Void has the air of claustrophobia that these arctic gloombringers have sought to evoke since the early ’90s. There are no safe places on Void, which is the secret to Craft’s success. The fact that the group fades out the album as slowly as possible during the hypnotic, gloomy title cut even ends everything on an uncomfortable note. K.G.
2. Yob, Atma On their sixth album, these Oregon doom-rock journeymen hit upon a golden mean of richly textured sludge and sprawl. â€œPrepare the Groundâ€ and the title track move in thrillingly unpredictable lurches, with Mike Scheidtâ€™s pinched goblin growl piercing the cymbal-crash undulations; but itâ€™s on the 16-minute â€œBefore We Dreamed of Twoâ€ that Atma blooms. Swooping arcs of lead guitar and throbbing bass and drums expand and contract before giving way to eerily peaceful, echo-y ambient flickers — then comes the big bang. Creation has never sounded so forbidding. D.M.
1. Liturgy, Aesthetica The Lars von Trier of American black metal, wonderfully named Liturgist Hunter Hunt-Hendrix has infuriated purists with his heterodox views on the genre’s ecstatic potential. (Google his infamous manifesto “Transcendental Black Metal: A Vision of Apocalyptic Humanism.”) On his band’s second full-length, though, these Brooklynites make such a beautifully brutal racket that it’s hard to imagine how anyone could resist the urge to simply bliss out. They turn a cradle of filth into a clean, well-lighted place. MIKAEL WOOD
SPIN’s Best of 2011 Metal Mixtape Track List:
1. Liturgy – “Generation”
2. All Pigs Must Die – “God is War”
3. Tombs – “To Cross The Land”
4. Yob – “Prepare the Ground”
5. Battillus – “Deadweight”
6. Blood Ceremony – “My Demon Brother”
7. Ghost – “Ritual”
¨8. Bruce Lamont – “Disgruntled Employer”
9. Earth – “Old Black”
10. Hull – “Beyond The Lightless Sky”
11. Anthrax – “Fight ‘Em Til You Can’t”
12. Megadeth – “Public Enemy No. 1”
13. Korn ft. Skrillex – “Narcissistic Cannibal”
14. Rwake – “An Invisible Thread”
15. Autopsy – “Always About To Die”
16. Absu – “Abraxas Connexus”
17. Craft – “I Want To Commit Murder”
18. Wolves In The Throne Room – “Thuja Magus Imperium”
19. Krallice – “The Clearing”
20. Megadeth – “Th1rt3en”