Yes, it's that time again. July is almost upon us, the longest day has been and gone, and it's all downhill from here. So it must be time to take stock of the first half of the year. What has taken my fancy, and what has left me flat.
It's not been particularly tricky to pick the top 10 for this, the first half of 2011. I had some hard decisions to make around about numbers 8, 9 and 10. Some stuff that I would have liked to be in there was just pipped to the post and got left in the "honourable mentions".
Overall, it's not been a terrible year for music. Some new stuff coming out of nowhere, some long standing greats continuing to be great, but some other lacklustre performances. So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my top 10 of the first half of 2011.
Edge of the Earth
One of the earliest albums of the year, this monstrous melodic thrash/death metal epic had me hooked immediately. It was a shoo-in for the top spot on this first top 10 of the year. Nothing has budged it yet, except maybe the atmospheric stylings of ...
Varjoina kuljemme kuolleiden maassa
Another epic album, and another that I would consider a perfect production. Four massive, immersive tracks of tragedy, doom and despair that carries you along whether you like it or not.
A bit of a grower, mostly due to it being the follow up to Still, a simply magnificent record. I was both tremendously excited, and very nervous about it. Fortunately Wolverine have more than lived up to their own potential and produced this emotive, progressive masterpiece.
The Human Connection
A slow grower, this one. Took a couple of weeks to really get into the frame of mind required. In fact, I was rather disappointed with it at first. But when it clicks, it sticks. Great prog noodling complements death growls and hard metal riffs.
Described variously as "epic", "magnificent", "awe-inspiring" and "tinkly tonkly", this is a definite for my top 10 of 2011, even if it hasn't quite reached the heights attained by its predecessor, Sky Forger. I have also gone and bought a copy of the Kalevala, from which the last 4 Amorphis albums draw their inspiration. It's a very strange tale, but has inspired some great metal.
Possibly the most relaxing, chilled out experience so far this year. It's taken me several goes just to listen to all of it and not fall asleep in some kind of tranced out bliss.
The soundtrack to going insane. Densely packed, massive in scope and scale, and by the time you've got to the end of this album you won't know where you are or what you're doing. You will want a cheeseburger, though.
The King Is Dead
Folky Americana courtesy of the band who brought you The Hazards Of Love. Completely different in sound, and with a similar outlook to Fleet Foxes. A rather pleasing, gentle interlude to all this shouting and hard riffs in the rest of the list.
A good but of straight up melodeath. Good riffs, good vocals, both clean and growled, and good songs that it's easy to sing along with. Apparently it hasn't gone down well with all critics, but I find it a very enjoyable record to listen to.
Adon Nin Edelith Ador Dorath
Perhaps the strangest sounding operatic death metal band on the planet. If you can understand more than 1 in every 10 words you're doing well, but even in its barely comprehensible state it's a roaring, bombastic gothic metal album with loads of good riffs and heavy, chugging beats.
The Top 10 is quite a decent list, I think. These records have had plenty of play time over the last few months. But as I previously said, not all of the good records can be in the top 10. That would be silly, because there are more than 10 of them. Here are a few that didn't quite make the cut, but deserve a mention anyway.
Silent Stream Of Godless Elegy - Návaz
The latest album from these Czech doom/folk metallers does away with some of the doom and adds more Moravian dance. A great record, but a little disappointing to lose some of the better sounds of Relic Dances.
Sanctorum - Semper Fidelis
Sanctorum return with a third album that, while great, suffers from a couple of tracks I just couldn't get along with. Having seen some of it played live I can attest to greatness of the rest of it, though.
Anvil - Juggernaut of Justice
14 albums, 1 riff. Tried and tested, and if it works, keep on doing it. 34 years in, and still going strong. Picked this album up from the Corporation during their UK launch tour. A bit of heavy metal fun. Not too taxing, but just enough rocking.
Kabát - Banditi di Praga
Another Czech band, which makes 3 in this post. This one I actually got from a holiday to Prague, after deciding to try something that might not be available in the UK. I was not disappointed. A sometimes confusing set of songs (all in Czech, of course) but each with an infectious rhythm and great riffs.
While it's been a good year so far, it's not all coming up roses. There have been a few disappointments on the way. These are albums that, for one reason or another, I expected to be much better than they actually turned out to be.
Arch Enemy - Khaos Legions
With a massive publicity campaign, this was supposed to be a magnificent album. It's actually just an Arch Enemy album. And I already have some of those. They even nicked a riff from Nightwish in the process, which I found bizarre.
Scar Symmetry - Unseen Empire
I heard this album before I bought it. On first listen, it sounded pretty good. On each subsequent listen, it got more and more boring, and I cared less and less about hearing it again. I've listened to it 3 times, then gave up. Dull.
Within Temptation - The Unforgiving
A comic book, videos, a massive concept album with a coherent story arc and loads of accompanying extras. It should have been every metal geek's idea of perfection. It actually turned out to be a confusing mass of boring pop-metal and euro-dance. As I said once before; About as metal as plaid, and makes as much sense as fish trousers.
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
I so wanted to love this album. After discovering Fleet Foxes, the debut, I wanted that experience again. All the reviews said it was like rediscovering the band. I wanted it. And, well, it's ok I guess. I just don't get the horrendous cacophony of instruments being tortured to death about half way through. People often say it of metal, and I'm saying it of this; it's just noise!
In the scheme of things, a few disappointments are inevitable. For the most part, I've very much enjoyed this year's voyage of discovery. I've got some great new music and, thanks to an increased list of reading material in my RSS reader and a new subscription to Terrorizer, I'm finding more stuff I actually like and less stuff that annoys or bores me. This is all good.