The Best Metal of 2011

Adrien Begrand, Chris Colgan, Brice Ezell, Craig Hayes, and Dane Prokofiev
Hammers of Misfortune

PopMatters’ staff of metal experts present their top picks from a year that offered a standout work of Christian “progressive death metalcore”, a philosophical treatise on “Transcendent Black Metal”, and one amazing debut.

Artist: Unearth

Album: Darkness in the Light

Label: Metal Blade


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List number: 20

Darkness in the Light

Of the countless metalcore bands around the world, Unearth is one of the few groups that clearly understand what its style requires in order for it to work. And on Darkness in the Light, they've delivered every aspect that they needed to include -- aggressive riffs, technical solos, the occasional mosh-worthy breakdown, intelligent lyrics, and just enough melody to keep things interesting. Not since Unearth's 2004 album, The Oncoming Storm, has a metalcore record come together so perfectly, and Unearth remains one of the only bands able to deliver a pure representation of the genre on a full-length album. Chris Colgan

Artist: Primordial

Album: Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand

Label: Metal Blade


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List number: 19

Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand

For more than 20 years, Ireland’s Primordial has been slowly evolving with each new record, fusing its Celtic influences with swirling black metal arrangements. It’s gotten to the point now where the band is so good at it that it sounds completely distinct from anything else in metal today. This seventh album might not waver from the formula too much, but it’s never sounded better, the tasteful, cleaner production giving singer Alan “A. A. Nemtheanga” Averill his best backdrop to date as he takes those majestic songs and sends them into the stratosphere with his powerful vocals and eloquent lyrics. After all these years, Primordial just keeps getting better. Adrien Begrand

Artist: Dir En Grey

Album: Dum Spiro Spero

Label: The End


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List number: 18

Dir En Grey
Dum Spiro Spero

Japan’s premier avant-garde metalers Dir En Grey have been quiet for three years...and that is with good reason. They never release crappy material, and they also never fail to surprise old and new listeners alike with their ever-evolving sound that pushes the envelope of extreme metal. Hence, when they take such a long time with a new record, you can almost be assured of another mind-blowing piece of art -- and Dum Spiro Spero achieves just that. Imagine elements of deathcore, sludge, avant-garde jazz, ambient black, J-pop, and even ballad-style singing being thrown into the mix! And the overall music still manages to sound coherent. What compositional ability! Dane Prokofiev

Artist: Machine Head

Album: Unto the Locust

Label: Roadrunner


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List number: 17

Machine Head
Unto the Locust

Many critics said that The Blackening could never be topped, and some still say that it hasn't. But Machine Head's follow-up to their 2007 Grammy-nominated masterpiece is also a masterpiece in its own right. While the musical approach has grown to include more ambient sections within the groove/thrash hybrid sound, the lyrical composition is much more intensely personal, as if the words were torn from Robb Flynn's very soul. With these factors combined, Machine Head has created an album that cuts to the very heart of each of us and gives us strength. Chris Colgan

Artist: Revocation

Album: Chaos of Forms

Label: Relapse


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List number: 16

Chaos of Forms

Sometimes you come across a record so good that you are at a loss for words. In this case, the power of the groove reigns supreme here (bonus extras include cheeky lyrics, creative interjections of blues, and extremely inventive guitar solos). Since it does, reading these pathetic words that attempt to help you imagine how awesome this record sounds is actually quite a waste of time. A groove has to be felt after all, not read about. If dear ol’ Dimebag were still alive today, he would probably be proud of these guys. Dane Prokofiev

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