The 50 best albums from 2011
2011 was a strange year for rock music. Characterised by fiery newcomers breaking through and established heavyweights experimenting with bold new sounds, it was light on bona fide ‘classic’ albums, but alive with the aggression and invention of a changing of the guard. Of the top 10 albums listed below, for instance, arguably none are the best-ever from their respective bands, but all marked absolutely pivotal moments in their careers. On the flipside, where lists like this are often arguing the case for records fans have already spun to death, the 50 below is littered from top to bottom with underrated gems somehow lost in heavy music’s digital acceleration over the decade since.
With outfits like *shels and Altar Of Plagues at the top of their respective games, it was a showcase for the light and dark sides of post-rock. Major names’ side-projects and secondary bands like Times Of Grace, Puscifer and The Horrible Crowes were hitting levels of quality to exceed those of their better-known counterparts. Hell, even heroes like Machine Head, Korn and blink-182 were going all-in on stylistic shifts and all-out on the songwriting to try and surpass the triumphs of the recent past.
So dip into K!’s top 50. Marvel at how these releases feel simultaneously months and decades old. Revisit one of the most unheralded but important periods in recent rock history. And don’t forget to tell us which picks we’ve forehead-slappingly forgotten in the comments…
50. Animals As Leaders – Weightless
Where Animals As Leaders’ self-titled 2009 debut was a glorified solo album for virtuoso mainman Tobin Abasi, misleadingly-titled follow-up Weightless saw the instrumental prog-metal outfit beefed-out to a three-piece with the addition of second eight-string guitarist Javier Reyes and percussionist Navene Koperweis. Song titles like An Infinite Regression, Earth Departure and Cylindrical Sea are borrowed from chapters in sci-fi legend Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama series, and boast a surrealist bleeding edge to match. A landmark for the rising League Of Djentlemen.
49. Battles – Gloss Drop
Built around ex-Don Caballero / Storm & Stress guitarist Ian Williams and veteran Helmet / Tomahawk drummer John Stainier, New York math-rockers Battles had already made a splash with a slew of singles and EPs since 2004, and 2007’s debut album Mirrored. Gloss Drop, however, significantly increased their legend. Although the majority of the 12 tracks on show are angular instrumentals, a scattering of guest vocalists like techno trailblazer Matia Aguayo (lead single Ice Cream), Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino (Sweetie & Shag) and new wave legend Gary Numan (My Machines) lend beaming star power.
48. Evile – Five Serpent’s Teeth
Huddersfield metal collective Evile were leading lights in the thrash revival after the raucously-received release of 2007 debut, Enter The Grave, and 2009’s Infected Nations, but they were very nearly derailed by the sudden death of bassist Mike Alexander while on tour in Sweden later that year. Five Serpent’s Teeth was their defiant response. While tracks like the poignant In Memoriam and Long Live New Flesh were clearly written in Mike’s memory, others like Eternal Empire and Origin Of Oblivion were simply bangers packed with high-octane attitude.
47. J Mascis – Several Shades Of Why
Released through venerable grunge label Sub Pop, the debut solo LP from Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis arrived under a massive weight of expectation. Sounding almost like a riposte to the fuzzy alt.rock and suffocating doom sounds with which J made his name, the 10 tracks of Several Shades Of Why are constructed of fragile folk: all clean edges and whispy atmospherics. Having called in esteemed friends like Kurt Vile, Ben Bridwell and Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Sophie Trudeau, it packed plenty of hidden depth.
46. Blood Ceremony – Living With The Ancients
Blurring the lines between satanic psychedelic folk, prog rock and good old-fashioned occult doom, Toronto’s Blood Ceremony have been one of the most intriguing acts in heavy music over the last decade-and-a-half. Second album Living With The Ancients is a sublime showcase of their sound, drawn from a netherland somewhere between the territories of their recent tourmates at the time: Electric Wizard and Ghost. With Alia O’Brien’s striking flute solos adding a daub of Jethro Tull to tracks like Coven Tree and Morning Of The Magicians, though, they don’t really sound like anyone else.
45. Children Of Bodom – Relentless Reckless Forever
It was a good year for recklessness and relentlessness in 2011, with York lads Asking Alexandria dropping their own Reckless & Relentless (see entry #33 below), but the seventh album from unhinged Finnish melodeath legends Children Of Bodom more convincingly lived up to the title. Eighteen years in, the trademark formula of tangly six-strings and scourging vocals had begun to wear a little thin, but the sheer defiant attitude of songs like Not My Funeral, Shovel Knockout and Was It Worth It? carried through. Following the passing of frontman Alexi Laiho in December 2020, of course, there’s a painful poignancy to these songs which wasn’t there before.
44. The Computers – This Is The Computers
Recorded over the course of four days, straight to tape, with Rocket From The Crypt frontman John Reis at his home in San Diego, the debut LP from Exeter collective The Computers is a delightfully fleet-footed affair utilising ironically minimal digital assistance. Delivering its 11 tracks over the space of 24 minutes, there’s no flab on its hybrid garage-hardcore sound, either. There is still a ton of swagger spilling out of tracks like Where Do I Fit In and Lovers Lovers Lovers, which only increased when they were rolled into the live arena.
43. Japanese Voyeurs – Yolk
Existing between 2007 and 2012, London quintet Japanese Voyeurs burned bright and fast, but sole LP Yolk is a lasting monument to their grungy power. With the punky, impassioned vocals of Romily Alice cutting through a sludgy alt. sound, songs like You’re So Cool, Smother Me and Get Hole hark back to the early-1990s glory days while also packing sharp, contemporary edge. For those in the know, their simple farewell message that “we simply can’t afford to keep doing the band” was one of the more gutting in recent Brit rock history.
42. Hell – Human Remains
Having largely spun their wheels between 1982 and 1987 before dropping off the radar altogether, it would’ve been fair to expect that Derbyshire heavy metallers Hell had been consigned to the history books. When they re-emerged from the fiery depths with guitarist extraordinaire Andy Sneap in tow in 2008 – before adding theatrically-trained vocalist David Bower, whose brother Kev was a founding member, in 2010 – they took the bullet-belted masses by storm. Long-overdue debut album Human Remains would complete one of the most unlikely comebacks in the history of heavy music, with banging highlight On Earth As It Is In Hell seeing horns thrown around the globe.
41. Megadeth – TH1RT3EN
Dave Mustaine is many things, but the 13 album from legendary thrash outfit Megadeth confirmed he wasn’t superstitious. Naming it Thirteen, adding the 1 and 3 digits into the title and filling it with – you guessed it – 13 tracks, he pushed the wry concept to its limits but just about pulled it off with route-one bangers like Fast Lane, Whose Life (Is It Anyways?) and the title-track. There were a few hints towards the disastrous borderline butt-rock of 2013’s Super Collider, mind, in the more boneheaded likes of We The People, Guns Drugs, & Money and Wrecker. A special shout for the chimp-populated video for runaway single Public Enemy No. 1.
40. Mariachi El Bronx – Mariachi El Bronx II
Los Angeles’ hardcore firebrands The Bronx have never been particularly predictable, but their decision to don Mariachi garb and record an album of Mexican folk music in 2009 seemed out of left-field even for them. That they decided to follow it up with a second in 2011 (and a third in 2014) was even more perplexing for their more basic pit-fiend fans, but the more open-minded of their faithful found plenty of good times in Mariachi El Bronx II, while acknowledging that it refreshed their electrified “main” output, too. Tracks like Revolution Girls and Map Of The World go great with a tequila slammer.
39. Deafheaven – Roads To Judah
Although it didn’t come close to the seismic impact of 2013 follow-up Sunbather, the debut LP from Californian blackgaze outfit Deafheaven still surges with invention, purpose and fluidity. George Clarke and his bandmates didn’t come up with the idea of separating black metal’s jagged edges and dense textures while injecting shoegaze influence (Ulver and French greats Alcest got there first) but over four tracks and nearly 40 minutes of strangely hypnotic sound, they managed to add to the sub-sub-genre’s existing architecture. Dive right into the deep, cold waters of epic opener Violet if you really want to find out what Roads To Judah is all about.
38. Opeth – Heritage
The 10th studio album from Stockholm visionaries Opeth felt like the moment their scales tipped from the metallic end of prog-metal towards the more progressive. Everything from the weirdo artwork from long-time collaborator Travis Smith – featuring band members’ faces as fruit on the tree of life, its root reaching into hell – to the rambling and folk-inflected sounds of songs like The Devil’s Orchard and I Feel The Dark felt like a stark departure for fans won during their more crushing recent past. Taken on its own trippy terms, however, Heritage was a wide-branching triumph.
37. La Dispute – Wildlife
La Dispute were already one of the most admired acts in the realm of emotional post-hardcore by 2011, but their superb third album Wildlife saw them driving relentlessly upward and inward, spilling their guts in pursuit of a purer truth. Musically, the more dextrous inclusion of screamo and post-rock elements wove a more absorbent canvas for the almost-stream-of-consciousness lyricism of vocalist Jordan Dreyer. Even promotional singles Harder Harmonies and The Most Beautiful Bitter Fruit wield unsettling levels of empathy and emotional complexity, perfectly highlighting one of the most involving releases of its generation.
36. Jane’s Addiction – The Great Escape Artist
When asked about the title of the fourth album from revered Los Angeles alt.rockers Jane’s Addiction – their first since 2003’s Strays – vocalist Perry Farrell explained that as much as he loved his storied past, it was always more exciting to escape it in pursuit of an even better future. The content chimed with that sentiment. A deliberate blend of the murky, goth-inflected post-punk of the band’s earlier days and the more experimental sounds of mainstream-conquering modern oddballs Muse and Radiohead, songs like Irresistible Force and Twisted Tales confirmed there was life in these old dogs yet – and enthusiasm to learn new tricks.
35. Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows – D.R.U.G.S.
Michigan post-hardcore supergroup Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows (D.R.U.G.S.) were formed in 2009 when vocalist Craig Owens was let go from Chiodos, with the frontman recruiting From First To Last guitarist Matt Good, current Sleeping With Sirens six-stringer Nick Martin, Story Of The Year bassist Adam Russell and Matchbook Romance drummer Aaron Stern for his searing comeback statement. Full of deceptively massive hooks, electronic flourishes and constant blasts of heaviosity, the likes of If You Think This Song Is About You, It Probably Is and The Only Thing You Talk About pointedly proved he was moving onto bigger, more exciting sounds.
34. Arcane Roots – Left Fire
Kingston-Upon-Thames’ underrated alt.rockers Arcane Roots labelled Left Fire as a “mini-album”, but its nine tracks comprise arguably their most compelling, complete release. Shifting through phases of sprawling expanse, gouging post-hardcore and glassy beauty, there were ridiculous levels of quality packed into songs like In This Town Of Such Weather, Rouen and Long & Low, while main single You Are (and its semi-instrumental outro Home) makes for one of the most immediately affecting Brit rock tracks in memory. The band’s decision to call it a day in 2018 – and that none of these tracks will likely be performed live again – was a small tragedy for hardcore fans.
33. Asking Alexandria – Reckless & Relentless
Where Finnish melodic death metal legends Children Of Bodom had the sound of a band in danger of coming off the rails with their similarly-titled Relentless Reckless Forever, York metalcore upstarts Asking Alexandria were still building raucous momentum. Picking up where they’d left off on 2009 debut Stand Up And Scream, Danny Worsnop, Ben Bruce and the boys galvanised their blend of serrated ‘scene’ savagery and classic rock swagger, with the album’s six singles underlining that this was a band ready to take on the world. The blazing likes of Dear Insanity and A Lesson Never Learned would springboard them to stardom on both sides of the Atlantic.
32. Primordial – Redemption At The Puritan’s Hand
Having been building since the late 1980s, Dublin Celtic black metallers Primordial had released their most anthemic offering to date in 2007’s To The Nameless Dead. Seventh album Redemption At The Puritan’s Hand felt like a reaction of sorts, with frontman A.A. Nemtheanga plainly noting in interviews at the time that this was their “death album”. Songs like No Grave Deep Enough and Bloodied Yet Unbowed explore the apparently inherent human need for salvation at the end of life’s journey, before reaching the dark conclusion that it is an ultimately futile – and unfulfilled – desire.
31. Black Veil Brides – Set The World On Fire
‘We are the in between / Cast down as sons of war,’ sings Andy Biersack with devilish delight on Set The World On Fire’s lead single Fallen Angels. ‘Struck to the earth like lightning / On this world we’re torn.’ If 2010 debut We Stitch These Wounds established the dark intricacy of Black Veil Brides’ signature sound, the glam-goths’ second album – released less than a year later – added elements of ’80s excess and cock rock swagger that would make them superstars. Hell, reportedly, Def Leppard’s Hysteria was their biggest influence during recording. Regardless, tracks like The Legacy and Rebel Love Song saw them spread their blessed black wings as legions of face-painted converts flocked to their cause.
30. The Nightwatchman – Worldwide Rebel Songs
With the final releases from Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave fading into the rearview, iconic guitarist Tom Morello needed more outlets for his seemingly boundless energy and righteous political messaging. His alter-ego The Nightwatchmen proved one of the most uncompromising, leaning largely on the acoustic protest-song tradition of the likes of Bob Dylan, Woodie Guthrie and Pete Seeger, with third album Worldwide Rebel Songs proudly continuing that trend (its cover is a nod to that of Phil Ochs’ Gunfight At Carnegie Hall). Folding in elements of Mexican folk, soul and contemporary metal, songs like The Dogs Of Tijuana and It Begins Tonight burn with inspiration, urgency and indignation.
29. Anthrax – Worship Music
With the return of prodigal vocalist Joey Belladonna after 21 years away, New York thrash legends Anthrax roared back to the front of the metal pack on tenth LP Worship Music. It almost wasn’t to be, as Joey initially came aboard in 2005 and left again two years later, with Dan Nelson and John Bush both mooted to take his place. When he finally committed, however, they delivered their most focused, youthfully exuberant record in years, packed to the hilt with mosh-ready anthems like Earth On Hell and Fight ’Em ’Til You Can’t. Reason for even their creakier fans to once again get caught in a mosh.
28. Panic! At The Disco – Vices & Virtues
Panic! At The Disco had a lot to prove following the departure of lead guitarist, backing vocalist and primary lyricist Ryan Ross, and bassist/backing vocalist Jon Walker in July 2009, but with super-producers John Feldmann and Butch Walker on their side, third album Vices & Virtues reinforced Panic!’s ascent to superstardom. Songs like The Ballad Of Mona Lisa and Ready To Go (Get Me Out If My Mind) ultimately aren’t among their most memorable, but still pounded with pop-rock class.
27. Cave In – White Silence
When the news broke of Cave In vocalist Caleb Scofield’s death in a car wreck in March 2018, fans thoughts were inevitably drawn back to his final full release with the band, White Silence. Their fifth album (and first since 2005’s Perfect Pitch Black), it sounded by turns more angular, more expansive, and more daring than they ever had before. The almost black metal-inflected title-track and chest-thumping highlight Serpents live on as bold monuments to Caleb’s memory.
26. Trivium – In Waves
All together now: ‘IN WAAAAAAAVES!’ Trivium were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t in 2011. Stick too closely to the stadium-metal template set by bands like Metallica (an outfit to whom they were once touted as heirs apparent) and they would be labelled derivative. Follow their own proggy whims too far and they would be called out for wasting their world-beating potential. And with the departure of original sticksman Travis Smith, the pressure was piled on further still. In Waves was the sound of the Floridians breaking free: an album that was wildly experimental and inescapably hooky, but always 100 per cent unadulterated Trivium.
25. Wolves In The Throne Room – Celestial Lineage
The concluding movement of a trilogy started by 2007’s Two Hunters and built upon by 2009’s Black Cascade, Celestial Lineage saw Olympia, WA’s “astral black-metallers” Wolves In The Throne Room reach a colossal climax. Railing against a prevalent mindset that black metal was at its best when toeing genre lines, their separation of epic compositions like Thuja Magus Imperium and Prayer Of Transformation with heavily textured interludes like Permanent Changes In Consciousness and Rainbow Illness pushed hard towards the horizon. Additional, angelic guest vocals from Jessika Kenney added another layer of confounding dazzle.
24. Times Of Grace – The Hymn Of A Broken Man
Before he rejoined Killswitch Engage properly in in 2012, original vocalist Jesse Leach had been contacted by guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz to collaborate on a set of songs he’d written while recovering from a back injury suffered on Killswitch’s 2007 UK tour. Those compositions were the basis for the debut Times Of Grace LP, The Hymn Of A Broken Man. Operating beyond the KSE metalcore formula, songs like Strength In Numbers, Where The Spirit Leads Me and The Forgotten One mixed elements of punk, shoegaze, new wave and even pop into an already potent metallic mix.
23. Puscifer – Conditions Of My Parole
If Puscifer really does represent “the creative subconscious” of Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan, then second album Conditions Of My Parole is mind-bending proof of quite how odd a place that can be. Boasting a personnel list 16 lines long – including other permanent members Carina Round and Mat Mitchell – songs like Tiny Monsters and The Green Valley are ostensibly collaborative affairs. Plunging into the expansive likes of Telling Ghosts and Oceans, however, there’s an obvious singular vision born from Maynard’s beautiful, bonkers mind.
22. Thrice – Major/Minor
The seventh studio album from Californian rockers Thrice (eighth if counting the four-part Alchemy Index as two releases) marked a further improvement in their sound without any major departure from what fans already knew and loved. There is an honesty and clarity in frontman Dustin Kensrue’s songwriting and in the straightforward performance of his players that has always proven easy to connect with. The prodding angles of Yellow Belly and Call It In The Air’s emotive expanse build into the low-key masterwork that was Major/Minor. Superb stuff.
21. Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones
Frank Turner’s journey from hardcore firebrand to folk-punk troubadour was complete with his excellent fourth album as a singer-songwriter. Sporting a title taken from William Shakespeare’s The Life And Death Of King John, its 12 heartfelt tracks unfold as a footloose exploration of life and death – the power of music and (apolitical) love for Frank’s native England. Eschewing the indignation and topical grandstanding of so much of his other work, EKMB remains a singularly intimate portrait, while songs like Peggy Sang The Blues, I Still Believe and I Am Disappeared remain emotive fan-favourites a decade down the line.
20. *shels – Plains Of The Purple Buffalo
Owing as much to contemporary classical composers like Ennio Morricone and Phillip Glass as to their own generation of post-rock contemporaries, *shels’ second album unfolded like the soundtrack to some forgotten cinematic masterpiece. Steered by visionary mainman Mehdi Safa, Plains Of The Purple Buffalo is a record that manages to sound retro and modern – stately and exotic all at the same time. From Shawshank Redemption-inspired soundscape Searching For Zihuatanejo to sprawling, almost-apocalyptic closer Leaving The Plains, it’s an album as epic as the great American West, and every bit as worthy of your exploration.
19. You Me At Six – Sinners Never Sleep
There really is no rest for the wicked, eh? A relatively quick-fire follow-up to 2010’s Hold Me Down, Sinners Never Sleep saw Surrey rockers You Me At Six stepping away from their pop-punk roots to deliver the most grown-up release of their career. With Oli Sykes dropping in for Bite My Tongue, and the energy of mega-singles Loverboy, No One Does It Better and Reckless, there was no lack of momentum as they slingshotted towards Brit rock’s next level. On December 8, 2012, the album’s globetrotting tour was capped off a one-off show at Wembley Arena in London (dubbed The Final Night Of Sin), cementing YMAS’ place in the big leagues.
18. The Horrible Crowes – Elsie
Long before he’d become the guitarist in Brian Fallon’s “solo” band, Ian Perkins was a co-collaborator on equal footing to The Gaslight Anthem frontman for what many fans consider to be the finest album of Brian’s storied career. Named after ancient Scottish poem The Twa Corbies (The Three Ravens), the side-project was conceived to explore the slow, slithering dark side of life: a murky counterpoint to Gaslight’s affirmative blue-collar outlook. The mournfulness and dark romance of songs like I Witnessed A Crime and Ladykiller still strike right at our hearts today.
17. Twin Atlantic – Free
When Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner jumped out of a balloon 24 miles above the New Mexico desert in October 2012, becoming the first-ever human to fall faster than the speed of sound, Twin Atlantic’s Free was the soundtrack. When that band first emerged from the Glaswegian underground with 2009 debut Vivarium, they seemed cut from the same awkward, experimental cloth as they countrymen in Biffy Clyro and Idlewild. As frontman Sam McTrusty’s prodigious pop songwriting abilities came to the fore, though, people realised they were arena-rock heavyweights in waiting with super-singles like Edit Me, Make A Beast Of Myself and the aforementioned gargantuan title-track. The decade since has seen a couple of significant stylistic shifts, but they remain one of the UK’s most reliably anthemic outfits.
16. Altar Of Plagues – Mammal
Formed in Cork in 2006, post-black metal collective Altar Of Plagues released three albums before their initial 2013 break-up – with 2009’s White Tomb and 2013’s Teethed Glory And Injury well worth your attention, too – but 2011’s Mammal remains their most celebrated release. As its four tracks stretch across across a mammoth 52 minutes, it’s a record best experienced in one sitting. The textural intricacy and twilight invention of Neptune Is Dead and All Life Converges To Some Centre still merit individual celebration all the same.
15. Defeater – Empty Days & Sleepless Nights
When Boston hardcore crew Defeater laid the foundations for a complex, multi-album WWII-era narrative on their 2008 debut Travels, fans were understandably dubious as to whether it would realistically be allowed to play out amidst the fast-moving world of hardcore punk. Returning three years later with the outstanding Empty Days & Sleepless Nights, however, they stuck to the plan and built on it with one of the boldest, most memorable records in the genre. Brilliantly, they even had the boldness to counterpoint the bracing emotional hardcore of Dear Father and Empty Glass with four closing tracks that delve into strummed folk-punk: But Breathing and Headstone both layer on real, unheralded heartbreak. A stunning listen, still capable of blindsiding listeners a decade down the line.
14. Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
‘Oh my God, just look at me / Grandpa been rapping since ’83…’ So goes one of the defining rhymes on Hot Sauce Committee Part Two. Pushed back following Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch’s diagnosis with cancer and released just a year before his death, the eighth and final Beastie Boys album felt like a defiant parting statement from the New York hip-hop trailblazers. Even into their 40s, the trio still showed all the raucous confidence of their misspent youth on tracks like Make Some Noise, while others like Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win – featuring reggae fusion star Santigold – proved they were every bit as willing to push the boundaries, too.
13. Suicide Silence – The Black Crown
There is a dark majesty to the third album from Suicide Silence that does its title justice even 10 years on. The Californian deathcore supremos had no way of knowing that this would be their last with Mitch Lucker – the frontman would die in a motorcycle accident in Huntington Beach on November 1 the following year – but, with retrospect, The Black Crown was a defiant parting statement. As well as expanding the musical potential of the oversaturated sub-genre, its 11 tracks (including the hauntingly-titled You Only Live Once) were loaded with lyrical substance, teetering between nihilistic darkness and humanist light.
12. Trap Them – Darker Handcraft
A crusty grind-metal outfit based between Salem and Seattle, Trap Them never looked much like music industry heavyweights, but burned with a fury and heaviosity that could communicate right across the North American continent. Combining the concussiveness of Black Flag with the buzzsaw death metal of Entombed, each of their five releases were absolute bangers. Darker Handcraft found a particular sweet spot, though, with the mosh-pit swagger, serrated edge and outright chaos swirling into an inescapable storm of sound on Damage Prose, Every Walk A Quarantine and All By The Constant Vulse.
11. Evanescence – Evanescence
Is Evanescence’s self-titled LP their defining work? In a sense. By 2011, the gaps between albums were growing wider and longer. Having waited five years since 2006’s The Open Door, however, fans were rewarded with their richest, most diverse body of work to date, shapeshifting from the springy pop-metal of What You Want, through the high melodrama of My Heart Is Broken, to the glassy minimalism of Swimming Home. It would be almost another 10 years before the release of The Bitter Truth – their first collection of wholly original material since.
10. Touché Amoré – Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me
Recorded with Coalesce / The Casket Lottery veteran Ed Rose over the course of five days at his Black Lodge Recording studio in Eudora, Kansas, second album Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me bristles with a complex ambition that perfectly showcased where Touché Amoré were at at that moment in time. On one hand, brilliant frontman Jeremy Bolm’s lyrics about coming to terms with life as a touring band, struggling with interpersonal relationships while embracing the escape of existence on the road provided the emotional hook. On the other, the frantic recording schedule lent proceedings a sense of the raw, lightning-in-a-bottle honesty of live performance. The skeletal fervour of songs like Pathfinder and Uppers/Downers is still absolutely striking today.
9. Rise Against – Endgame
Battles might end, but the war for the soul of humankind is never truly won. At the height of the Obama presidency, pickings should’ve been slim for political punks looking for something to rage against. Not so for Chicagoan firebrands Rise Against. Covering subjects as disparate as LGBT+ rights (September’s Children) and the inefficiencies of U.S. disaster relief (Help Is On The Way), they managed to push towards the top tier of rock stardom without sacrificing an ounce of their righteous crusader spirit.
8. Korn – The Path Of Totality
Wub-wub-wub-wub-wub-wub-wub… Rolling into their 10th album, the idea that Bakersfield bruisers Korn felt the need to reinvent themselves was no real surprise to fans. Few, however, anticipated that they’d employ a host of the greatest dubstep and electronic producers – Skrillex, Downlink, Noisia – to craft such a drastically different set of songs. “I want to trail-blaze,” explained frontman Jonathan Davis. “I want to change things. I want to do things we’re not supposed to do. I want to create art that’s different and not conform to what’s going on. We didn’t make a dubstep album. We made a Korn album.” Quite.
7. blink-182 – Neighborhoods
Arriving eight years after their self-titled masterpiece, and five before they dropped California with Matt Skiba on guitar and vocals, Neighborhoods stands apart in the blink-182 canon. A last hurrah with founding guitarist / vocalist Tom DeLonge, prevalent post-punk influences and similarities to the airy alt. of Tom’s other band Angels & Airwaves saw album number six maligned by many fans. Unfairly so, with tracks like Ghost On The Dance Floor and Natives among their most atmospherically powerful work.
6. Will Haven – Voir Dire
Named after an Anglo-Norman phrase meaning “speak the truth”, the fifth album from Sacramento metalcore icons Will Haven found them trying (successfully) to reconnect with the fundamental realities from which they had originally slingshotted to stardom. The return of frontman Grady Avenell for the first album since 2001’s superb Carpe Diem was a big part of that, but the addition of (now-ex) Slipknot percussionist Chris Fehn on bass added valuable outsider perspective, too. Tracks like When the Walls Close In were packed with every bit of the caustic panic and manic bludgeon fans had come to expect.
5. The Wonder Years – Suburbia I've Given You All And Now I'm Nothing
The middle chapters of trilogies are notoriously difficult propositions, lacking a self-contained narrative to build up or a defined conclusion to steer towards. Sandwiched between its accompanying chapters, however – 2010’s The Upsides, 2013’s The Greatest Generation – Suburbia I’ve Given You All And Now I’m Nothing makes the most of its loose threads as The Wonder Years’ frontman Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell reckons on a gnawing sense of disconnection. Tellingly, the title is a reference to forlorn Allen Ginsberg poem America. Songs like Woke Up Older and My Life As A Pigeon would make the perfect soundtrack for a road trip into the great unknown…
4. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life
The fourth album from Toronto hardcore punks Fucked Up is, by their own design, an 18-song epic in four acts. A rock opera set in England in the ’70s and ’80s, telling the love story of David Eliade (a fictional employee in a lightbulb factory) and Veronica Boisson (a political activist), it is full of clever-clever plot devices like unreliable narration and meta-narrative, but is best experienced as an impressionist sonic wave full of raw emotion and helter-skelter purpose. Individual songs like Queen Of Hearts and Remember My Name are alive with defiant inspiration, but the album is (obviously) best experienced as a whole.
3. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
The sheer consistency of Foo Fighters’ output had started to be taken for granted 15 years in, but seventh album Wasting Light arrived with a sense of playfulness and experimentalism to prove they could still surprise. Grappling with themes of time, nostalgia, and second chances, mega-singles Rope and Walk featured proggy touches, while These Days added a sense of sentimentality. It was the down’n’dirty White Limo, though, which proved they could still get heavy with the best: featuring an endorsement from the late, great Lemmy Kilmister himself in its VHS-grade music video.
2. Machine Head – Unto The Locust
Machine Head were still riding a wave after the second-wind success of 2007’s The Blackening, and the seven tracks of Unto The Locust overflow with that creative confidence. A more progressive, colourful counterpart to its monochromatic predecessor, the epic likes of Be Still And Know, Locust and This Is The End showcase a band at the height of their powers, while Darkness Within’s powerful balladry pointed to the daring dynamism they would mine (to varying effect) over the decade that followed. Many would argue that Unto The Locust is Machine Head’s last truly great release.
1. Mastodon – The Hunter
There is something of a Metallica-like divide amongst Mastodon fans when it comes to the mighty Atlantans’ fifth album. Some see it as a bitty departure from the more singular, concept-driven releases with which they made their name. Some understand that it was their first step proper into mainstream rock’s big league. Having rounded out their loosely-conceptualised elemental quadrilogy with trippy 2009 masterpiece Crack The Skye, they were free to cut loose with The Hunter’s collection of short, sharp jabs. Although the title is a reference to the death of wildman guitarist / vocalist Brent Hinds’ brother, who suffered a heart attack on a hunting trip, the overarching structure was described by the band as a sort-of mixtape of their multiple personalities, with narrative focus veering from Swamp Thing (Creature Lives) to zero-gravity sex (Stargasm). It was then – and remains now – Kerrang!’s Album Of The Year for 2011.
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