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Kevin’s Faves of 2011: Music Part 2 – Metal

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Over the past couple years I have really become interested in heavy metal. Extreme metal to be more precise. I was always aware of the more popular forms of metal and I am a fan of some of those bands. I guess I was always aware of extreme metal to (death, black, grindcore etc) but never gave it a shot. I am now fully immersed in metal music and I feel like a kid in a candy store with so many bands to go back and rediscover and so many new bands to hear. 2011 had a lot of awesome metal releases and I am not sure if it is because I am kind of new to the music or if I am just so excited by all things metal that I had a hard time trimming this list down so there is going to be a couple posts with for all the great metal I heard last year. So with that in mind I give you the first part of my favorite metal of 2011!

Darkest Era – The Last Caress of Light
This album came out early in 2011 and I didn’t stop listening to it all year. Darkest Era play a classic sound of heavy metal. No black, death or grind fusion going on here. Maybe some black in the form of the epic sound they have crafted. This is Darkest Era’s strength, epic songs about Irish/Celtic folklore with soaring clean vocals and smart song construction. “The Last Caress of Light Before The Dark”, powers on for 11 minutes but never once lags and just builds and builds an epic atmosphere. I am definitely looking forward to their next one.

Tombs – Path of Totality
Much has been written about Tombs as they have ended up on almost ever best of list of 2011 and deservedly so. Path of Totality is a monster of a record told through 12 songs that almost form a story. It is almost impossible to listen to a single song on this album and fully appreciate the breath and scope of the whole thing. Defying genre Tombs borrow from everywhere to make their own sorrowful, heavy and epic album. Path of Totality was one of the more original albums I had heard all year and it kills me every time I hear somebody say there is no more good music.

Pentagram – Last Rites
This was actually my first introduction to Pentagram and their doom awesomeness. I had heard the name and decided to give them a shot with their latest release. They play an older classic style of early Sabbath type metal but still manage to make it sound fresh. I am not a huge doom metal fan but when I am feeling in the mood for a slower, heavier experience this was the go to album for me this year.

Origin – Entity
I think death metal tied with black metal for amazing releases in 2011 and my death metal collection probably doubled this year. I thought the technical death metal champion this year would be Obscura (also put out an awesome album in 2011) but Origin came blasting in out of left field and knocked them down a peg. I think it is because I was already so familiar with Obscura and when I put on Origin I didn’t know what to expect. With a lot of technical death metal the bands get to focuses on the “technical” part and forget about the “metal” part and Origin keeps both in balance. There are parts of blistering death metal played with a technical mastery but not showing off to prove how technical they can be. The perfect recipe.

Red Fang – Murder the Mountains
I tried this band out based on a review a buddy of mine wrote. Like him, I don’t swim in this genres pool very often mostly because it is full of bong water and leftover candlesticks from some witchy ceremony but I found Red Fang’s take on this stoner, sludge groove rock refreshing. To me they sound like they are having fun and this is evident format he sense of humor the band displays in their music video for “Wires” (including Brian Posehn doesn’t hurt much either). Nothing amazingly genre defining here just some bearded guys playing some down and dirty rock and roll and having a good time doing it.

Exhumed – All Guts, No Glory
Sometimes you need some straight up brutal death metal and on those occasions the band I turned to the most last year was Exhumed. Brutally paced gore obsessed death metal at its finest full of awesome songs and titles like “Your Funeral, My Feast,” and “So Let It Be Rotten…So Let It Be Done.” Exhumed don’t screw around, you know what you are getting with them and what I got was nasty death metal done right.

Revocation – Chaos of Forms
I was instantly taken with Revocation’s brand of thrashy death metal and this album quickly became one of my more listened to albums of last year. For me the star of this album is the guitar work. I think the crazy melodic guitars are what drive this album and tie the whole sound together. Some times the guitar work is ridiculously fast, some times it seems mind blowing complicated and some times it gets even a little bit funky. That isn’t to say the rest of the bend isn’t bringing it either. The guitars are what bring you in but the melody and catchy hooks will keep you coming back.

Absu – Abzu
Absu never seems to disappoint. Another example of how awesome american black metal can be and these guys have been doing it for a long time. Abzu is the second in a trilogy and is another awesome black thrash attack. They burn through this album until the show stopper “A Song for Ea” which consists of 6 parts. They added a new vocalist and guitarist on this album which gives this album a fresh sound but still it fits in with the already impressive Absu catalogue.

Skeletonwitch – Forever Abomination
Like I mentioned before 2011 was the year I started liking bands and music I had previously dismissed or thought I weren’t my taste. Skeletonwitch is one of them. I gave them a shot a while ago just simply based on a shirt I saw at a Gwar show and wasn’t that into them. I may have been burnt out on the crossover elements of their sound but I did dismiss them. There was a lot of hype around their new release last year and I thought I might give them another try and man was I impressed. Far more black metal than I had previously heard with a cool thrash groove about them. And of course the album artwork is awesome. Quick and dirty black and thrash awesomeness.

Kampfar – Mare
Kampfar is another long running Norwegian Black Metal band that I am just now hearing for the first time. Mare takes on an almost symphonic sound but it is very subtle behind the pounding black metal. This is the kind of black metal I love, orchestral in flow but without sacrificing the brutality of the music. I love to that bands like this exist when there is so much talk of black metal stagnating. LIke all genres you need to sift through the garbage to get to the gems and this is one of those.

Honorable Mentions:
Motorhead – The World Is Yours
Iron Thrones – The Wretched Sun
Visions of Atlantis – Delta
Moonsorrow – Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa
Amon Amarth – Surtur Rising
Obscura – Omnivium
Primordial – Redemption At The Puritans Hand
Twilight – Monument To Time End
Amorphis – The Beginning
Falconer – Armod
Bloodbound – Unholy Cross
Glorior Belli – The Great Southern Darkness

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Kevin’s Faves of 2011: Music Part 1

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Music is one of the things I am not sure I can live without.  It is on constantly while I am working and I draw huge inspiration from it.  As I have mentioned before one of the main inspirations for TLZ has been music and I consume a lot of it.  I am not sure if I am critical enough of the music I like but I tend to enjoy a lot of what I hear so when it came time to pick some of my favorites of 2011 I had a hard time narrowing it down.  So with that in mind I present the first part of my four part list:

Nothington – Borrowed Time

I haven’t been keeping up with newer punk except for the bands that I have listened to forever but Nothington is a band I discovered a couple years ago and instantly became a fan of.  They used to have a country Social Distortion vibe going on which is evident on their acoustic EP they also released this year More Than Obvious but on their newest release they have gone to a more straight forward almost pop punk style.  Pop is probably not the best word but I can’t think of a better way to describe the over the top catchy and well written songs on this album.  Every single song is like that.  Nothington reminds me of the original punk I fell in love with back in my early teens.  Before I enjoyed the DIY and anti establishment nature of punk it was catchy fast straight forward songs like The Ramones, Green Day, The Descendants and Rancid that really sunk their teeth into me and Nothington has that quality.  They are not the punkest of the punk but they write some incredible songs.

Chuck Ragan – Covering Ground

If I had to pick my favorite album of the year Covering Ground would be it.  It seems whenever I do these lists Chuck Ragan manages to claim a spot and I am sure it has to do with my geeky fanboy love of his music but it also has to do with the fact that the man can write some amazing modern folk music.  Covering Ground is Chuck Ragans best record to date.  His previous two are fantastic as well but on this one I think he found his rhythm with his amazing backing band.  Every song on this album are truly amazing and if he continued to tour just playing this collection you wouldn’t hear any complaints from me.  Ragan plays his folk music with a balance between love songs and politics and on Covering Ground I think he has written a masterpiece of a song that should be a classic folk song with Camaraderie of the Commons.  Ragan has upped the game with every release.

Social Distortion – Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes

Social Distortion is one of my all time favorite band so it goes without saying that on the rare occasion they release a new album I am going to devour it and consider it one of my favorites of the year.  While not my favorite of their catalog Hard Times is still an awesome album.  It is a testament to Social Distortions awesome strength as a band that over 30 years they can still put out awesome music that proves that this band only gets better with age.  True to form Hard Times is full of songs about love, desperation, criminals and all the things Social Distortion does best and as always I am a sucker for a Mike Ness love song so it is no surprise again that those are my favorite songs on here.  I have enjoyed the addition of the piano player on on this album they add some gospel singers and while it might sound strange for any other punk band Social Distortion pulls it off and adds another layer to their already classic sound. 

Blitzkid – Apparitional and Head Over Hills EP

This album had to be the album I was most anticipating this year.  After The Misfits crumbled for the umpteenth time Blitzid replace that horror punk part of my heart that was missing.  While they started as a pretty standard horror punk band the release of their album Five Cellars Below took them above the crowd with amazingly catchy and well written songs dabbling in Doo Wop, straight up punk with some pop punk sensibilities.  Then they re recorded some older classics from their catalog with their updated sound thus rendering those older recordings a little useless.  I love horror punk and these guys are doing it the best right now.  As soon as I heard the previews for this album I knew it was going to be an album that I listened to for years and years to come and it did not disappoint.  The EP they put out first with an amazing piano version of Head Over Hills and a cover of Bruce Springsteens I’m on Fire is in my opinion better than the original. Easily their best work Blitzkid has still kept the horror edge and the amazing song writing  chops chock full of all the things this little ghoul loves: zombies, vampires, slashers, dead girls and even a song based on an Edgar Allen Poe short.  Blitzkid was blaring in my ears in the early years of TLZ and it still is. 

Ancient VVisdom – A Godlike Inferno

At first look you would think these guys a metal band.  At least that is what I thought.  After hearing they would be opening for Ghost and I decided to give them a try and I don’t regret it.  While their lyrical content definitely would fit well within a metal context they play an evil electric guitar punctuated form of folk or acoustic rock with heavy emphases on evvviiiiiil (pronounced evil).  After first hearing “The Opposition” I couldn’t get that chorus out of my head.  That is the other thing, Ancient VVisdom may write some of the catchiest satanic songs this side of Mercyful Fate.  Proving that evil and satanic elements aren’t just for heavy metal Ancient VVIsdom was a true surprise for me this year and I just can’t wait to get to see these guys live.

Honerable Mentions:

Tom Waits – Bad As Me

Come on it is Tom Waits.  I have nothing new to really add to the Tom Waits awesomeness discussion.  Favorite Track “Pay Me”

Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones

I have a real fondness for Frank Turner.  I think that he speaks to people his age, which is 30 like myself, a group that is kind of just stuck in place and his rebellion of what is expected of people his age really strikes a chord with me.  Favorite Track “Rivers”

Other goodies:

Hank 3 – Hillbilly Joker and Ghost to Ghost
Nick 13 – Nick 13
Of the Wand and Moon – The Lone Descent

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Kevin’s Faves of 2011: Comics

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It is hard for me to remember which comics come out in any given year because I have moved to mostly trades.  I am not sure if it counts if the trade came out this year and the comics were published last year or not but I am going to base it on comics I am pretty sure came out in 2011 in one form or another.  Before we start, yes I do love The Walking Dead.  It is consistently awesome and I have been reading it since issue 7 came out and it never ceases to amaze me so I am not adding it to my favorites list because well, it is always my favorite.

Daytripper by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba

I was blown away by this comic.  Easily one of the best comics I have read in a long time.  If there are still people out there that doubt the legitimacy of comics I would suggest giving them a copy of this.  An introspective look at life and death (multiple deaths of the main character) and the choices we make.  Beautifully illustrated and masterfully told Daytrippers in a new standard in the collection of comic masterpieces.

Hellboy: House of the Living Dead by Mike Mignola and Richard Corben

It never ceases to amaze me the level of quality Mike Mignola and the Hellboy universe crew maintain.  A follow up to the wonderful Hellboy In Mexico Mignola stated that this was directly influenced by the old Universal horror movies.  Richard Corben’s art is always amazing and is the perfect partner for Mignola’s writing.

BPRD by Mike Mignola and Joh Arcudi

I suppose this might be cheating but hey I love this universe and they consistently put out a good book.  BPRD was on fire this year.  I was bummed by Guy Davis’ leaving the book but John Arcudi swept right in and made it his own.  The ongoing story in BPRD constantly ups the ante and now with Liz gone and Abe in a coma the tension is overpowering.

Fear Agent by Rick Remender, Mike Hawthorne, Tony Moore, John Lucas and Lee Loughridge

Remender’s fantastic space adventure series sadly ended this year with the last mini series Out of Step.  This book is no holds barred sci-fi pulp awesomeness and I am very sad to see it go and at the same time I couldn’t see a better way for it to end.  The last two pages were amazing.

Venom by Rick Remender and Tony Moore

Ok this might be cheating as well but Remender and Moore make a good team.  They managed to take a character that in my opinion had become very stale and repetitious and breath some new life into him.  Venom, no longer attached to Eddie Brock now finds himself with Flash Thompson working for the government taking out super villains.  It is a crazy idea that just seems to work similar to teams work on Punisher when they made him Frankencastle.

DC New 52

I admit I was skeptical of the DC relaunch last year.  I had long been burnt out on constant continuity revamps, crossovers, deaths, resurrections and multiple earths that had plagued DC comics and kept me from reading them.  Outside of Vertigo and the occasional Batman series I had pretty much abandoned the company.  The relaunch however promised some interesting ideas as well as day of release digital comics which is something I am very keen on, so I thought I would give it a shot (despite my dislike of the new costumes).  DC has some fantastic characters and if they were starting fresh maybe I would be interested in them again.  I picked some out that I thought I would be interested in and dove in.  To say the least I was pretty impressed.  DC managed to capture my interest in superheros again.  The teamed up great writers with great artists and actually made some great books. Here are the ones I have enjoyed the most so far.

Animal Man by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman

A crazy and bizarre trip into the surreal aspects of the Animal Man character

Batman by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

I was impressed with Synders work on American Vampire and Capullo is always awesome but the two together have made a classic Batman book here by returning him to what he should be. My favorite part of this series has been Batman actually doing some detective work for once!

Batwoman by W. Haden Blackman and J.H. Williams III

This book is a feast for the eyes.  The way Williams constructs pages and panel layouts is a thing of beauty.

Demon Knights by Paul Cornell and Diogenes Neves

One of the new series that takes play outside of the current DC universe and in the past.  A fantasy story that delivers on all the elements of the genre.

Frankenstein Agent of SHADE by Jeff Lemire and Albert Ponticelli

Just some balls to the wall monster action goodness.  Frankenstein’s monster leads a team of Universal classics to a monster planet to stop it from destroying earth.  Awesome.

Swamp Thing by Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette

Snyder has brought back the horror to Swamp Thing as well as the surreal nature of the character made oh so popular by Alan Moore.  Not derivative of Moore’s work but using some of his elements Snyder has crafted a new Swamp Thing full of scares and intrigue complimented by Paquettes beautiful artwork.

Honorable Mentions:  Invincible, House of Mystery, The Unwritten, iZombie, Avenging Spiderman, Bad Island and the Sixth Gun.

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