Best Music of 2011

Time for the annual "best of" blog post, and this year was packed full of more great music than I can ever remember.

I flirted with buying my music only online this year, but have since switched back to CDs, so that I can rip everything in lossless. Automatic down-conversion to the phone is great, and I can still keep my lossless audio streams for the house, and all it costs is disk space (for my complete music collection, that's roughly 1TB). This is also the year I dumped my Zune Pass, and tried (but failed to be captivated by) Spotify.

Genre: Alternative

R.E.M. - Collapse into Now

2011 is the year that R.E.M. released its first truly great album in probably a decade... and then promptly broke up. Good jorb, guys.

Genre: Metal

Anthrax - Worship Music

Against all odds, Anthrax is back, and with Joey back at lead vocals. Worship Music is a great throwback to the classic 'thrax of olden days.

Iced Earth - Dystopia

I had more or less written off Iced Earth as being uninteresting. There was the flirtation with Tim "Ripper" Owens that yielded one great album and a bunch of meh. Then they went back to long-time singer Matt Barlow, but he didn't seem to have the heart, and was gone after one album. Now they've found another (their 5th?) in Stu Block, and his vocal style honestly combines the best of Barlow and Ripper, and the music feels emotionally inspired again. Welcome back, guys!

Mastodon - The Hunter

Mastodon's last album was a mixed bag: some thought it was the best of their career, and some thought it the worst. I definitely found myself in the former camp, and I think The Czar remains some of the best stuff they've ever done. This new album is quite good, though not quite up to the standards of the last album. It feels less progressive and more conventional.

Megadeth - Th1rt3en

Megadeth have always been a more consistent band than Metallica for metal fans (Risk notwithstanding), and their 13th studio album still delivers the fire from the old days.

Symphony X - Iconoclast

A new SymX disc is always cause for celebration. Russell Allen has one of the greatest voices in metal (now that Dio is no longer with us), and their symphonic/power metal prowess is, as always, honed to a very fine edge.

Within Temptation - The Unforgiven

I'm a sucker for concept albums and for female metal singers, so this was a double dose for me. It's a little pop-ish for some metal fans' tastes, but Sharon den Andel is always great to listen, because she tends to have a more reserved style than many other female metal singers. The bonus videos with the album were an excellent treat!

Genre: Extreme Metal

Amon Amarth - Surtur Rising

I'm a latecomer to Amon Amarth (and extreme metal in general), so while others didn't really think much of Twilight of the Thunder Gods, I liked it quite a lot. Surtur Rising is superior in pretty much every important way, and is a regular player even many months after its release.

Arch Enemy - Khaos Legions

Another refinement in the melodic death metal machinery of Arch Enemy... yes, it's different than the old material, but it's pretty great in its own right.

Between the Buried and Me - The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues

Calling this "just a three song EP" downplays the masterful music that spans nearly 30 minutes, almost long enough to be considered an album were this 20 years ago. Just whets the appetite for the next full length album...

The Black Dahlia Murder - Ritual

There isn't a lot of metal coming out of my home town of Detroit these days, but TBDM more than make up for it with some seriously brutal yet brilliantly melodic metal.

Fleshgod Apocalypse - Agony

I'd never heard of these guys before hanging out on Turntable.fm, so imagine my surprise at the unbelievable combination of technical death metal and orchestral arrangements that awaited me. The talent in this band, especially the drummer, is nearly inhuman.

Ghost Brigade - Until Fear No Longer Defines Us

Listening to this album Every. Single. Day. 'nuff said.

Insomnium - One for Sorrow

Insomnium are yet another one of those quiet, competent ass-kicking melodic death metal bands that doesn't ever quite get the recognition it deserves. Another fine outing!

Obscura - Omnivium

Ever since Metallica started opening their albums with acoustic, classical-inspired snippets, I've had a fondness for the unexpected during those first 60 seconds of the album. Obscura hit it out of the park with this opener!

Omnium Gatherum - New World Shadows

This is my first album from the Finnish melodic death metal band, but it definitely won't be my last. Soul Journeys is probably one of the best melodeath songs of the year.

Opeth - Heritage

Mikael disappointed a lot of long-time fans when he announced that Opeth's newest album would not only be all clean vocals, but a rather stark musical departure at that. More inspired by 70's fusion jazz and progressive rock than modern metal, it really hits a sweet spot for me. The whole album is audible candy.

Scar Symmetry - The Unseen Empire

When Christian left Scar Symmetry, many fans were shocked that they replaced him with not one but two vocalists. Although both can sing and growl, each has their stronger suits. The resulting first album was Dark Matter Dimensions, and most long-time fans thought it was probably the end of old SS. The Unseen Empire proved that they just need to get back on creative track.

Genre: Progressive Rock/Metal

Andromeda - Manifest Tyranny

I've always been a pretty big fan of Andromeda's mix of prog metal and futuristic sounds and topics. This new album definitely steps up the pace quite a bit at times, especially the opening track.

Arch/Matheos - Sympathetic Resonance

This is probably metal heresy, but there's something very Queensr├┐che-ian about Arch/Matheos, which is to say that it reminds of the glimpse of the greatness that Operation: Mindcrime convinced us Queensr├┐che had inside, but couldn't quite deliver on reliably. Arch/Matheos have no such problems.

Dream Theater - A Dramatic Turn of Events

With no small amount of irony did Dream Theater choose the name of their latest album. This year saw the band lose one of its founding members (and musical backbone) in Mike Portnoy. DT decided to keep moving forward and hired Mike Mangini, and turned the audition and hiring process into a three part YouTube series. Just as importantly, they created some of the most solid material in more than a decade.

Evergrey - Glorious Collision

Evergrey are like the Little Prog Metal Band That Could. They keep soldiering on in undeserved obscurity, turning out album after album of incredibly solid music.

Protest the Hero - Scurrilous

This is PtH's most commercially acceptable release, which is still a long damn way from what other bands might call "selling out". The undertone of crazy is still here, though.

Steven Wilson - Grace for Drowning

Steven Wilson is the brains behind Porcupine Tree, and a long-time musical collaborator with Mikael and the boys in Opeth. His solo work tends to be more experimental and atmospheric than Porcupine Tree.

TesseracT - One

One of the most refined and unique sounds in progressive metal today, TesseracT were an obvious immediate addiction to me.

Textures - Dualism

Textures blends a bit of progressive metal, and occasional metalcore and djent tendencies.

Genre: Soundtrack

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Trent Reznor seems to have diverted his career into soundtracks, and with great success. Last year his big success was The Social Network; this year, he succeeds well with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The opening credits have this quite good cover of Led Zeppelin serving as the audio backdrop.

Tron: Legacy Reconfigured

Technically, the original soundtrack came out last year with the movie, but there was a remix CD released this year. The most shocking thing about it is how much better it is than the original, which I would've said was one of the best soundtracks released in many years.