Yes, it’s December again. Where oh where do the months go? Another year is coming to close, and needless to say 2011 has been a busy, hectic year across the world and here in Ireland. We had a general election, a worsening economic climate, more reports on clerical child sex abuse, and a new president to mention a few. Elsewhere, the Arab Spring kick started with Gaddafi’s eventual death, Osama Bin Laden was killed, the Euro is struggling for its survival, and riots laid waste to London. That really is only a handful of things that happened this year.
In the realm of music, there was plenty going on with more stunning albums and unfortunately, on the flip side, its fair share of turds, Lulu? Illud Divinum Insanus? Anyone? Meanwhile, Cathedral, Dismember and Maruta called it a day. Black Sabbath reformed and so did em… Coal Chamber. And Garry Moore, Phil Vane, Seth Putnam, Scott Columbus and Jonas Bergqvist all passed away, and James Murphy’s brain tumour returned after first beating it several years ago.
Moving on to more positives things though, it seems appropriate that the first of this three-part end of year report starts with a look at the best Irish releases of the year, considering that there was a lot happening across the island throughout 2011. Let’s have a look at some of the best albums, EPs, demos etc. of 2011 with the top 10 Irish releases of the year.
Firstly, the honourable mentions go out to great albums/EPs/demos from Crows, Shardborne, Friend?, I’ll Eat Your Face and Sickener.
I was in two minds about including splits in this list but seeing as it is two Irish bands, I went for it. I wrote a blog post recently, espousing the wonders of Trenches’ side of this split and Drainland’s didn’t get mentioned too much. But unsurprisingly their three servings are blistering.
For a lot of people, this is probably the best thing to come out of the country this year. It’s certainly one of the best anyway. It was a long time coming too, many years in fact for the Cork hardcore veterans to release their first full-length and it’s the victory lap it deserved to be.
Standout track: ‘Evolution’
I’ll be honest, I never heard of Michael ‘Owensie’ Owens before December last year. He’d been in a few local bands prior to going solo and acoustic but I’m not familiar with them at all. This I’ve become very familiar with though since its release in January – beautiful and bare alt. folk, with an unavoidable Nick Drake flavour, and this guy has one of the most affecting voices you’ll ever hear.
Standout track: ‘Tied To A Name’
Is this cheating? Including two releases in one spot; maybe. Overhead, The Albatross released the EP Lads With Sticks in January followed by the mini-release/single Mr Dog in August, consisting of two tracks. The former is a sleek, beautiful and short trek through wondrous post rock climes while Mr Dog expands on every idea on the EP with lush, sprawling strings and jaw-dropping crescendos.
06: Rites – Rites EP
Galway’s Rites released this 12” EP back in June to much love, and rightly so. Crushing sludge with penchant for a big riff or two, you can’t go wrong, can you? Two new songs were put online lately and a new release from the band couldn’t come sooner.
Standout track: ‘Vessel’
05: Twisted Mass – Twisted Mass EP
No frills d-beat is what Twisted Mass do and they do it very well with five tracks here for their debut EP, released in July. This short effort is just storming from the pummelling opening of ‘Behind The Veil’ to the blazing gallop in the closer, ‘Weeping City’.
Standout track: ‘Weeping City’
04: This Tongue Is Poison – demo
This Tongue Is Poison’s four track demo of wrenching emotional hardcore really took me aback on first listen. It’s simple enough really and the production isn’t great (it’s only a demo after all), but the quality of the short tunes shines through all that.
Standout track: ‘Weaker’
03: Bacchus – Bacchus
“Raging”. That’s the word that Bacchus uses to describe themselves. Pretty apt, it has to be said. Galway’s finest hardcore sons dropped this powerhouse of an LP during the summer and it didn’t disappoint. It’s ferocious, unrelenting crust that simple kicks your heard in for 35 minutes.
Standout track: ‘Hopeless Daggers’
02: Altar of Plagues – Mammal
If you’re surprised by how good this album is then you haven’t been paying attention, have you? 2009’s White Tomb truly marked the arrival of Cork’s post-black metal outfit, Altar of Plagues, in breath-taking fashion, after some EP releases. Followed by another spectacular EP last year entitled Tides, it seemed the stars were truly aligned for Altar of Plagues to release something utterly spellbinding. Mammal is it.
Standout track: ‘Neptune Is Dead’
01: Refraction – Refraction
Refraction finally released their debut album in January, and twelve months on, it hasn’t lost any of its bite. The four-piece play an absolutely captivating brand of instrumental metal, with blends of post rock and the progressive all sprinkled on for good measure. Refraction’s strength is its fluidity. It’s very much a complete album with not one dull moment to be found from the avalanching riffs of ‘Light Fades’ to the mesmerising crescendos found in ‘Into Nothing’ and ‘Until We Reach’ to the sultry lead guitars of ‘Mortal’. All wrapped up in a near-perfect production, there really isn’t anything to fault with this album.
Check back tomorrow for the lowdown on the EPs and demos of the year and Wednesday for the all-important Top 25 albums of the year. Some of the releases mentioned here may be rearing their heads again.