Opeth – Heritage
I have to admit that this was the first Opeth record that made me raise an eyebrow when the first details about the different direction were revealed. But luckily, I was so relieved when I first listened to it. If you’re not just after the metal in their music and appreciate that they are passionate artists in everything they do, you won’t be disappointed.
And it’s not even that weird as I thought it would be. After a couple of spins I began to witness the beauty of this, and the first thing I realized was that profundity and silence play vital roles here .
The band somehow manages to keep the songs interesting enough to always make you wonder what the next part might be – even when you listen to a few seconds of almost entire tranquillity. Of course you also got more straightforward songs, but they never stray too much from the overall atmosphere, which partially even reminds of „Damnation“.
In combination with the falling leaves outside and the sometimes melancholic atmosphere of the album, it was just the perfect record to listen to last autumn. Leave it up to Opeth to create a true modern masterpiece.
Dark Suns – Orange
I got my hands on this just by coincidence, and understood that this band now danders on a similar path as Opeth with „Heritage“ (even though Dark Suns’ realignment is probably not that unexpected). By now their defined goal is „vintage“, and carrying that flag the band released an album which every fan of 70’s Prog and rather obscure stuff can fall in love with.
As far as I know, the only overdubs were the vocals and some brass instruments. Everything else was recorded live, which shows the band’s convincing skills as dedicated musicians. They serve a mix of Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, King Crimson as well as some Faith No More and their own spice, garnished with sugar-piano and goose-bumps. And the latter is really injected into you like a drug: Just listen to the epic closing track and let yourself carry away to another world by the massive layers of guitar, piano melodies and melancholic vocals. A hippie’s drug trip is nothing compared to this.
Of course the other tracks also offer so much to discover and to really feel the fun and dedication the guys apparently had while recording these tunes.
I’m convinced that the opinion about a record is greatly influenced by the time in which it is released. So, if this had been released in the 70’s, it would be one of those „legendary“ records that everybody would refer to when talking about the good ol’ days. Personal tip!
Bronze goes to: Obscura’s “Omnivium”! Not quite my album of the year, but pretty bad-ass as well!
Well, I’d probably have to praise “Heritage” here also, since it’s probably my favorite 2011-record, but Tobi already did, so I can talk about a couple of other records that come pretty close to this masterpiece by our Swedish friends from Opeth.
Steven Wilson – Grace for Drowning
Well, Porcupine Tree is one of my favorite bands for many many years now, and when I first heard of Steven Wilson making a solo record, my expectations were pretty high. But he fully delivered and stunned me with “Insurgentes” in 2009. And his latest solo record “Grace for Drowning” does even more for me! Steven kept this mystique and bizarre mood from Insurgentes – again perfectly visualized by the fabulous Lasse Hoile by the way – and combined it with some lighter “almost Pop”-tunes on this record. That’s the instant impression at least… but listening to it over and over again, digging deeper and consciously enjoying this record reveals tons of details which simply make it an enormously rich experience overall. The tension built by unorthodox chord progressions or multiple vocal-layers like in “Raider Prelude” just twists ones mind and touches you emotionally at the same time. This unique combination created by the collage of many different sounds and instruments, written by a man whose musical knowledge and abilities seem to be boundless, makes “Grace for Drowning” a true piece of art and a record that mentally takes you on a ride. I love stuff like that!
Haken – Visions
Why is this one of my favorite albums of 2011? Well, I’ve been lucky to be able to meet the guys during their journey to Germany in September, when we played together at the Generation Prog Festival (along with some other badass bands, but that’s a different story…). And the Haken-dudes are just so nice, so humble and damn funny. Very cool people to hang out with… and hell did they put on a show that evening! Lots of energy, pure joy and excitement… plus: Prior to the actual release they sold some copies of their new record “Visions”! I loved their previous album “Aquarius”, because it’s so fresh, full of skill, epicness and melody… so I’ve been wondering how they would develop this unique style and what they would come up with on a new record. Fact is: Visions is the album that I have been listening to the most since September 2011. They really put out another masterpiece here and I basically love everything from the very first second to the last note of this record. With the closing epic tune “Visions” being my favorite, I guess… that one just has everything that Haken stands for: Melodic and sophisticated guitar work, funky and weird keys (Hey, Diego is a weird guy, so that fits, right?), lots of cool vocals, groovy drums and (what impressed me the most!) some terrific bass-work! Tom really did some huge steps basswise from the Aquarius-record to Visions, kudos for that! Well, altogether “Visions” is a delicious piece of modern Progressive Rock music, one of my favorites from 2011, that’s for sure! And everyone of you cats out there should give that one a few spins!
Pain of Salvation – Road Salt Two
Just like their previous record (the first of two “Road Salt”-CDs), that one again twisted some heads and caused some controversial discussions among die-hard fans. The consciously chosen “70s”-sound, comparatively short and – at least superficially – simple songs as well as their withdrawal from the “Prog-Camp” towards more straightforward Hard-Rock-music turned many many people off. Well… as much as I can understand all of those points, I refuse to judge a band on scales like that. I support bands who have the courage to evolve and walk on fresh, differents paths. And as long as the result is as interesting and profound, multi-layered and intense as “Road Salt two” I totally dig it! Daniel Gildenlöw’s godlike voice leads through a number of interesting and well structured pieces here and basically through the whole bandwidth of human emotion. Like always! “Healing now”, “To the Shoreline” and “1979” are just out of this world in my opinion. Such a flow, amazing melodies and intimate moments combined with beautiful and ambiguous lyrics, carefully arranged and combined with simply mature and deep music. Sounds suspiciously like a Pain of Salvation-album, huh? And yeah, that’s what it is after all! No matter what they changed at first sight, it still is clearly a PoS-record and carries all the qualities they are known for. I think this kinda retro style suits them well and I eagerly await their next move!
There have been a few more records from 2011 which I dig a lot, so very close behind those that I’ve been talking about, a few more “honorable mentions”:
Symphony X – Iconoclast
Pagan’s Mind – Heavenly Ecstasy
Mr. Big – What if…
Andromeda – Manifest Tyranny
Dream Theater – A Dramatic Turn of Events