Note: This post has taken a lot longer to complete than I planned. This was the first year that my mom came to visit me in Raleigh for Christmas, and it involved more work and more socializing than I anticipated! I imagine I'll be back at the beach next year!
Despite what I wrote in a contentious Facebook discussion on the subject, I am not going to make Liturgy's Aesthetica my album of the year, even though I can see how it would be totally warranted. For one reason, I haven't even listened to the album, but their music is really beside the point to the discussions they've sparked about metal and who should make it.
I'm also not going to call this a top 10 or top whatever, even though the albums and shows I'm going to list are kind of loosely in order of meaningfulness to me. And that's really what this entry is: A list of albums and shows that I personally enjoyed and that meant something to me in 2011. Nothing more and nothing less. In the past year I made a conscious shift in my blog coverage away from local music in general toward heavier music. This is what is exciting me now, and it's what I prefer to cover. But that doesn't mean you won't find some local music, or music that's not heavy, on this list.
I also want to say that, contrary to what a lot of people seem to think, I don't know everything. Many times recently I've had friends try to talk to me about certain bands, only to be surprised that I don't know about them. If you know of a band you think I would like, please tell me about them. I always appreciate hearing about new music, especially heavy music.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Graveyard - Hisingen Blues
Upon hearing this album of well-crafted heavy blues back in March, I was convinced it would be my album of the year. This was definitely the album that got the most plays on my iPod. But then September came, and I heard an amazing number of releases -- including Rwake's Rest, which was No. 1 in my mind for a while -- that seemed to shove this one aside. In contemplating this list I went back and listened to some of my favorites from earlier in the year, and concluded that none had the same emotional impact on me. Hear "No Good Mr. Holden."
Feist - Metals
Up until hearing Metals the only two songs guaranteed to make me cry on command were Imogene Heap's "Hide and Seek" and Lucinda Williams' "Sweet Old World." You can now add Feist's "Graveyard" to that list. This is truly a great album.
The Atlas Moth - An Ache for the Distance
I really liked The Atlas Moth's first release, A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky, but I honestly thought Stavros Giannopoulos' death metal vocals didn't really work well with Dave Kush's clean vocals. On Ache, the vocal interplay works much better and the album as a whole is musically more cohesive. The band also earns my vote for Song of the Year with "Holes in the Desert."
Rwake - Rest
"It Was Beautiful but Now It's Sour" will be the soundtrack when the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse come riding across the earth.
Orchid - Capricorn
I really struggled with putting this one on the list. Orchid is derivative to the point of almost being a tribute band. They're basically 99 percent Black Sabbath with 1 percent Deep Purple mixed in. But that mix works, and I played this album almost non-stop this year. Hear "Down into the Earth."
Yob - Atma
This one really took a while to grow on me. At first I found it repetitive and boring, but then I started appreciating its trance-inducing qualities. Hear "Adrift in the Ocean."
Warpaint - The Fool
Haunting, jangly girl rock from LA. Heard this the first time at Poole's Diner on the night of April 15, after going to see Neil Young at DPAC. The next day, it should be noted, was the Great Raleigh Tornado. All that day, while I was stuck waiting out the storm with a hundred other people in the basement of Dorton Arena and later at Slim's, which was operating with candles and warm beer, the song "Undertow" kept replaying in my mind. (Yes, I know this was released in 2010, but it came to my attention this year.)
Black Skies - On the Wings of Time
Crushing and heavy, and yet delicate and exotic. Black Skies outdid themselves with this release, and became the best band in this area's thriving heavy music community. Hear "The Sleeping Prophet."
Royal Thunder - Royal Thunder
These guys were the best surprise of the Bull City Metal Fest, even though they sound more like a super heavy Fleetwood Mac than anything that could remotely be called metal. Hear "Low."
U.S. Christmas - The Valley Path
I listened to this album while ripping up a bunch of nasty carpet in a spare bedroom. Have you ever ripped up carpet? Pulling it up is the easy part. Yanking up hundreds of tiny nails and staples is the thankless part. But when I was done, I had a beautiful hardwood floor, that was almost pristine because it had been covered by that nasty carpet for nearly 40 years. I'd wanted to refinish that floor since moving into my house almost 11 years ago, but I kept the carpet because my dog liked laying on it. As you probably know, my dog died at 15 and 1/2 earlier this year, and his death was very hard on me. Listening to The Valley Path during that process summed up the psychological journey of loss, of throwing away, and of finding something beautiful underneath. U.S. Christmas Facebook page.
Saviours - Earthen Dagger
Opeth - Heritage
Skeletonwitch - Of Ash and Torment
Black Tusk - Set the Dial
Blood Ceremony - Living with the Ancients
Seidr - For Winter Fire
Inquisition at Six Forks Pub
I'm sure you know some old timers who talk about that awesome COC show back in the day in the basement of St. Joseph's AME Church (now Hayti Heritage Center). 20 years from now middle aged Raleigh punks will be talking about that Inquisition show with the same reverence.
Agalloch at Kings
I wrote the following for the Indy: The memory that will stick with me from 2011 is the atmosphere, particularly the scent, of Agalloch’s show at Kings on a misty evening in March. Before playing, the band lit two little cauldrons of what looked like wood blocks, giving the air a dim, smoky feel and heady aroma. Recently I asked drummer Aesop Dekker on Facebook what the incense was, and he said it might have been actual agalloch wood. I felt like I had stumbled upon a pagan ritual in the middle of a burning maritime forest. Read original post.
Oxbow at Berkeley Cafe during Hopscotch
The menacing, tightly wound Eugene Robinson is probably the only man in the world who can out-David Yow David Yow. Read original post.
Scratch Acid at Cat's Cradle
... but I don't want to count the original out so quickly. I've seen The Jesus Lizard many times over the years, but I never saw the band that led me to that band. Just like with the Jesus Lizard reunion show a few years ago, Scratch Acid proved that they had lost nothing over the years. This show brought out the local old-timers, but sadly wasn't as full as I would have expected. I left my camera at home for this one, but Jodi Donkel posted some great shots on Facebook.
Shit Horse at Slim's during Hopscotch
Danny Mason is the consumate showman. When Shit Horse ran into technical difficulties before their insanely overpacked Hopscotch show at Slim's, Mason kept the crowd entertained by dancing, clapping and tossing a seemingly endless supply of beef jerky into the crowd. Then when the PA was fixed, the band tore it up with the best show of the entire weekend. Read post.
Bull City Metal Fest at Casbah
Steve Gardner of Casbah deserves major kudos for scheduling a two-day festival that celebrated a wide variety of heavy music, not just metal. The weekend included incredible performances by Horseback (which was the subject of a post on Invisible Oranges), Royal Thunder, Colossus (above) and Music Hates You. I'm seriously looking forward to next year's festival.
Post from night one. Post from night two.
The Atlas Moth and Ken Mode (pictured) at Nightlight
The only other time I saw The Atlas Moth, the band suffered through sound problems and was hampered by a too-early time slot at Kings. I honestly think I was the only paying customer in the club when they went on. The Nighlight show sounded much better, featured a trippy light show, and was witnessed by a good-sized crowd. I knew almost nothing about Ken Mode before the show, but ended up being impressed with them too.
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OCOAI at Dive Bar
By far the loudest show I saw all year. Crazy Appalachian space metal melting the walls of the Dive Bar on a really hot summer night. Looking forward to seeing them on Jan. 6 with Generation of Vipers (from Knoxville) at the same venue. Read original post.
Mann's World Show at Dive Bar during Hopscotch
During this year's Hopscotch, I moved my day show to Dive Bar, and I can't thank Robby, Steven and Dave from Big Boss enough for all their hard work. Dive Bar has steadily become my favorite place in the Triangle to see metal shows, mainly because they truly love heavy music, support the local community, and in turn have earned the support and loyalty of the community itself. Lurch, Black Thai and Righteous Fool all put on killer performances. Unfortunately I didn't follow my own Hopscotch advice (no drinking during the day shows) and I ended up missing Krallice later that night.
Guitartown Party at Sadlack's during Hopscotch
A great event kicked into legendary status when the cops shut it down for being too loud. This show is also where I saw Debonzo Brothers for the first (and so far only) time. They'll be at Tir na Nog this Thursday (Dec. 29).
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