Coming up with the 2011 Best and Worst List was an incredibly daunting task because this year has been one of the best for metal that I can remember. The effort left me with ten albums that probably beat out every album released last year. Heck, even my picks for eleven through twenty might be a step above last year’s Top 10. This year boasts great albums from old bands, new bands, and everything in between in just about every sub-genre that a metalhead could come up with. Progressive, death, thrash, black, metalcore, power, sludge, doom, etc.—great albums across the board. If you’re reading this, you probably already know how much metal ruled this year. So, without further ado, let’s countdown the Best and Worst Metal Albums of 2011, shall we?
10. No Help For The Mighty Ones by SubRosa
Not all metal groups that have women members or violins feel cheap and tawdry, and SubRosa are a perfect example. No Help For The Mighty Ones is a great sludge metal offshoot that delivers on of the most unique and re-playable records of 2011.
9. The Great Mass by SepticFlesh
Take a really killer death metal band and add in a hefty dose of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, and what do you get? Awesomeness, aka SepticFlesh. We did a Q&A with SepticFlesh after The Great Mass dropped. It’s a pretty solid Q&A, and a better album.
As one of the biggest names in contemporary progressive rock, Circa Survive continuously strive to do things differently. For their latest record, Blue Sky Noise, the Philadelphia-based quintet brought on a new producer, switched record labels and ultimately created an album that received rave reviews from critics and fans alike. We caught up with guitarist Colin Frangicetto as the band prepared to head out on their next US headlining tour.
OS: You’re out on tour from mid-October to the end of November with Dredg, Codeseven and Animals as Leaders. As headliners of this tour, do you plan on increasing stage production?
CF: Yes! When we do headlining tours, that’s always the first goal, to bring more to the stage in the way of production.
OS: Circa Survive have had several guest vocalists during shows in the past, including Good Old War, Mindy White from Lydia and Geoff Rickley of Thursday. Can fans expect any on-stage collaboration between acts on this tour?
CF: I would be extremely surprised if it didn’t happen.
OS: Do you have anyone in mind?
CF: Probably anyone we can get our hands on, I mean, we’re fans of all of the artists we’re bringing, so I would assume it would be multiple people from different acts on this tour. I wouldn’t expect anyone to be excluded unless they wussed out and didn’t do it (laughs).
OS: Any songs you’d want to do in particular?
CF: Not in particular…there are certain group vocal parts on the record that I think anyone familiar with the album would know, but I think most likely it will be up to the artists and which ones they would want to contribute to. We’ll leave it as a surprise.
OS: What is the transition like between seasons as a full-time touring act? Do crowd interactions and response tend to vary between outdoor festival shows versus indoor shows?
CF: It really depends more on the territory and the vibe of the event. Sometimes we play festivals where we are very much so outsiders and we’re playing to a bunch of fresh ears, people who haven’t really heard us before. So obviously the response in a place like that is going to be a lot different than, say, Bamboozle, or a place where we have an extremely large crowd watching us, that is familiar with us. It’s a much more high-energy vibe when people are familiar with the band, which I think is to be expected, especially with rock bands…it’s a lot easier to get into it when you know every word and every arc of every riff. But we try to accept all types of responses. In traveling around and playing for people of different cultures, you kind of get used to the fact that every place is different. In the states, even, you can drive eight hours and the crowds will just have a completely different energy. We are obviously fans of a joyous celebration with ecstatic energy, but if people just want to stand there and watch and not really participate, that’s fine too.
OS: Your first two albums were released on Equal Vision, but Blue Sky Noise was released on Atlantic Records. What are some of the big differences between working on an indie label and working on a major label?
CF: I think what a lot of people don’t realize is that indie labels are operating and have been operating in a similar vein to major labels for quite some time. I think a lot of the major labels have taken certain cues from a lot of the indie labels. So there’s a much bigger middle ground where they’re kind of the same. But, some of the differences have been worldwide support that we haven’t experienced in the past…being able to go to Germany for the first time and play for 400 people in a random city. Atlantic is a much bigger company so there’s a lot more people involved in the record on all aspects. More minds, which is always a good thing, but at the same time, it’s more people to pay attention to and make sure that everyone is on the same page. So it’s a little more work in that aspect, but the pay-off is really the same. We feel like the people there are just as passionate as the people at Equal Vision and that’s really what it comes down to. When you change labels, you’re really just changing the people that you’re working with. We had a great relationship with Equal Vision, we actually still do. There were big shoes to fill and Atlantic has been wonderful so far. It’s still early on, but it’s been great.
OS: You worked with producer Brian McTernan for Juturna and On Letting Go, but worked with David Bottrill for Blue Sky Noise. What made you decide to work with him?
CF: The journey of making this record was we really wanted to try a lot of different things. A producer obviously has a huge impact on the overall sound of the record. We see working with producers almost like working with teachers, in a way. We thought that we had kind of learned what we were supposed to learn from Brian and we were really excited to see what someone else could offer and bring to the table. We essentially just wanted to change the sound palette and make a record that jumped out as sounding different from the other two. David obviously met that criteria, but on top of that, he has just made so many incredible albums and worked with so many wonderful artists. The idea of working with him didn’t even strike us as a real possibility until we started sitting down with people and we looked at the calendar…and it’s like, “Meeting with David Bottrill” and you’re like, “What?!” Your brain tries to make sense of it, but it doesn’t really become a reality until you say, “I do want to work with you, David” and he says “I do want to work with you guys!” We sat down together and after that wave of nervous fanboy excitement, being in the studio with him was just incredible. I never was so happy with a choice. He was perfect for us for this record and took us to different places. I think the record speaks for itself and his track record with working with artists is still in tact, I hope.
OS: All three of your album covers were created by Esao Andrews. Is there any sort of connection between the three covers?
CF: It’s funny, because the theme for a lot of the decisions was, “Change, change, change.” But when it came to Esao, we were like “No, we’re gonna stay.” We feel like he’s really our visual counterpart; he’s great at putting a visual to what we make on a record. I think any connection with the covers would be inside of Esao’s twisted mind. I think it’s open to interpretation and you can easily connect all three by some type of narrative in your own head. I think what’s so great about that is that it’s what we try to do with our music. We try to create this subtle narrative, but at the same time, we want it to be subtle enough that you can steer it any way that you like to make sense and interpret it the way you want.
OS: You spend a lot of your free time working on original paintings yourself. Do you have any plans to exhibit your art or mass produce it for fans?
CF: I do make prints from time to time and they’ve always been limited to a certain number. As far as doing shows, I’ve done a couple, whether it’s a group show or a small exhibit at a coffee shop, something like that. I really would love to do a real art show at some point, it’s just so hard to find time to submit stuff. And then half of these galleries that I would want to submit to, they work a year ahead of schedule…so it’s like, “Oh yeah, we’ll prepare for your show at this time.” And I’m like, “Well, I could be in Japan then…so I have no idea how I’m going to do that.” So there hasn’t really been time to do that yet, but in the future, it’s definitely something I plan on doing and I’m just trying to spend as much time as I can on it on the side.
OS: In addition to working together in Circa Survive, you also collaborated with Anthony Green’s solo album and produced the remix version of Avalon. Will you be working together again on his next album?
CF: I think so. We’ve talked about it a bunch and I’ve heard a lot of the songs he’s been working on. I know Keith Goodwin from Good Old War has got his hands all over it, I think he might be producing the record. But yeah, I’m sure I’ll wind up doing something for it…it’s just too much fun not to. So if Anthony wants me to, I’m sure I will!
Don’t miss Circa Survive when they visit your hometown!
October 26 – House of Blues, New Orleans, LA
October 27 – House of Blues, Houston, TX
October 29 – White Rabbit, San Antonio, TX
October 30 – White Rabbit, San Antonio, TX
October 31 – House of Blues, Dallas, TX
November 4 – House of Blues, Anaheim, CA
November 5 – House of Blues, San Diego, CA
November 6 – Avalon, Hollywood, CA
November 7 – The Regency Ballroom, San Francisco, CA
November 9 – Wonder Ballroom, Portland, OR
November 10 – El Corazon, Seattle, WA
November 12 – The Complex, Salt Lake City, UT
November 13 – The Summit Music Hall, Denver, CO
November 14 – The Beaumont Club, Kansas City, MO
November 17 – Cabooze on the West Bank, Minneapolis, MN
November 18 – The Eagles Club, Milwaukee, WI
November 19 – House of Blues, Chicago, IL
November 20 – St. Andrews Hall, Detroit, MI
November 21 – House of Blues, Cleveland, OH
November 23 – The Chance, Poughkeepsie, NY
November 24 – House of Blues, Boston, MA
November 26 – Theatre of the Living Arts, Philadelphia, PA
November 27 – Irving Plaza, New York, NY
November 28 – Irving Plaza, New York, NY
Worcester, Massachusetts, July 31st, 4:00 p.m. The weather outside The Palladium was perfect as I stood in line amongst dozens of other metalheads in anticipation of seven straight hours of metal assaulting my ears. Originally, the bands playing were thought to be only the Summer Slaughter lineup (or, as Cephalic Carnage put it, the Summer’s Laughter tour), but there was a bonus! For the same ticket, show-goers got to wander upstairs to see the bands on the Over the Limit tour, which is headlined by As Blood Runs Black and Oceano.
As I entered the establishment, the first band on the downstairs (main) stage, Vital Remains, was starting. A thoroughly unimpressive set — the band was pretty lifeless on stage, and the sound was absolutely atrocious. Thankfully, this would not be a recurring theme for the night. Very shortly after Vital Remains closed their set, the shredmasters Animals As Leaders took the stage and put on a performance that absolutely had the best sound of the night, bar none. It was so well mixed that there was no need for plugs (granted, the band has only three members).
Afer checking out the first two bands on the main stage, I wandered upstairs and caught the last of Blind Witness‘s performance — one that the crowd seemed really into. The next band on the upstairs stage was Thick as Blood. Promptly after Blind Witness’s set finished, the crowd shuffled out and left a mostly empty space for Thick as Blood. There were about four kids in the room that seemed to really enjoy them; everyone else around had a passing interest at best.
Immediately following Thick as Blood on the upstairs stage was The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza. The crowd flooded back into the room, and you could sense a strong sense of anticipation in the air for Danza’s set. The set unfortunately started off with Josh Travis experiencing some minor technical difficulties; not to worry, though, Jessie Freeland’s ferocious, roaring vocals more than carried the first song. Once the tech was all sorted out, Danza picked it up again and the entire crowd went ballistic. There was more crowd surfing and moshing during this one short set than during all of the previous bands combined. Throughout all of Danza’s performance, the upstairs was a pure madhouse, even when the band wasn’t playing.
Next up was Cephalic Carnage on the downstairs stage – a hilarious band with pretty terrible sound but a really tight performance. Between songs, they discussed smoking weed, chronic masturbation, drinking booze, watching Star Trek, and other such occupationss. They even opened with the beginning of Boston’s “Foreplay/Long Time” and a chunk of the Super Mario Brothers theme. A bit of a hokey performance; Veil of Maya would flip that around mighty quickly, storming the stage with an extra tight and crisp set, one that had extremely good sound.
Hard to imagine that the performances could get any better, but The Red Chord were next up and delivered another incredibly tight set to their hometown crowd. Following The Red Chord was All Shall Perish, featuring two new members (on drums and lead guitar). Although an extremely lively set, it was also somewhat hit-or-miss. The new guitarist failed in comparison to Chris Storey, and Eddie Hermida was a bit rough on the vocals during the first song or two, but by the end, they had the machine firing on all cylinders and they finished with a bang.
The next-to-last band of the night was The Faceless, who were unquestionably the best-sounding act of the night. While it’s awfully tough to put a lot of movement and emotion into playing such technical guitar parts, The Faceless always find a way to have great stage presence. It could all stem from Derek “Demon Carcass” Rydquist’s vocals and confidence.
To cap off the night was the legendary Decapitated, who are playing their first US tour since the tragic loss of their former drummer, Vitek, truly one of the world’s greatest metal drummers. Thankfully, Decapitated’s new drummer has enough chops to handle the job. In addition to a new drummer, Decapitated also have a new bassist and vocalist — they are really a different band but still unbelievable live. Every song the band played was fast, tight, loud, and awesome. Two short songs into the set, Decapitated saw a guest vocalist share the stage with Rafał Piotrowski — Jason Keyser of Skinless fame. There’s not much more that needs to be said about Decapitated’s set other than it was the most brutal, heavy, and energetic performance of the entire night — a truly perfect headlining act.
If you’re reading this then you probably have a general idea of what “progressive metal” is, and could name a few progressive metal bands (you could also cheat and look at my Essentials for Prog Metal post). Now once in a while a band puts out an album that breaks the mold entirely. On April 28, 2009 Animals as Leaders did just that with their eponymous debut release.
Headed by former Reflux guitarist Tosin Abasi (who did most of the songwriting for the album), Animals as Leaders unleashed a fresh new sound in the progressive metal scene. With only two guitarists and a drummer (no one on vocals), the entire band has to be proficient on their instrument and be able to write extremely interesting and engaging music — something Animals as Leaders does in the most intricate way possible. Animals as Leaders showcases Tosin Abasi’s sporadic musical influences and styles in a way that never feels overwhelming or like playing fast for the sake of playing fast. Abasi clearly shows that he has transcended to some other level of guitar wizardry, and it is setting the bar higher for other metal guitarists to break out of the arpeggio and chord voicings they’re all used to playing.