Ben’s best albums of 2011

While 2011 was the most hectic and stressful year of my entire life, i had a lot of great music to help me keep my cool. Most all of my favorite bands released something new this year, and with very few exceptions, they all lived up to the hype! I can see myself going back and editing this several times to add in albums i forgot about, so i’ll just throw out the first few that come to mind. This is in no particular order.

Mastodon “The Hunter”- Mastodon is one of my all time favorite bands! I’ve followed them ever since i saw the video for “March of the Fire Ants” on MTV2 years and years ago, right when Remission came out. The band has just come off a streak of 3 concept albums in a row, concluding with the incredible “Crack the Skye”, so i wasn’t sure how they would follow that one up. The Hunter is a collection of concise, tightly-written fun songs, none of which go much past the 4 minute mark (if i recall). There are some great guitar solos, but very little of the instrumental proggy sections that have been so prominent in their sound for the past few years. But then again, the songs just don’t need them and they wouldn’t have fit in anyway. The album is the band’s high water mark for vocals, and the guitar tones are fantastic. Overall, it really sounds like they had a ton of fun writing this one, and i greatly respect that they didn’t succumb to the pressure to become the epic prog band that everyone seems to want them to be. 

Favorite track: Blasteroid

Foo Fighters “Wasting Light”- an awesome return to form for what i consider to be the best rock band out there. Killer production, awesome songwriting, and very little to complain about. The songs are really tightly-written, its all really catchy… its just a killer rock album from start to finish.

Favorite track: These Days


Animals as Leaders “Weightless”- okay, this one probably takes the cake for my favorite album of the year. I had high hopes for this one, and it WAY exceeded my expectations! Tosin’s playing has taken a quantum leap from the first album to this. He seriously must have spent the past few years doing nothing but working on his technique, meditating atop Mount Doom. There is some guitar playing on here that can’t be compared to anything anyone has ever done.

I must also mention the other AAL dudes, Javier and Navene, who both make their debut on Weightless. The first album was just Tosin and Misha Mansoor (of Periphery), but this album is the first true AAL collaborative effort. Javier is an incredible guitarist, and Navene’s drumming is pretty damn amazing. Tosin seems to get all the acclaim, but we can’t forget that this band wouldn’t be what it is without the other 2/3rds of it!

There are a few small things about the album that bug me (guitars are too heavily noise-gated, kick drum is a little thin and clicky, plus its too loud, stuff like that), but that’s just nitpicky stuff. If they don’t get a Grammy nod at least for “best instrumental”, i will be so beyond pissed.

Favorite track: its really hard to choose!

Opeth “Heritage”- this album seemed to really upset a lot of their fanbase. There are no 12 minute long epic songs, hardly any distorted guitars, hardly any double bass, no screaming, no sleep, no food no nothiiiing….. Its a very 70’s prog sort of album. Its easy to draw comparisons between this and their other “soft” album, Damnation, but they couldn’t be more different. I have to applaud Opeth for not caring what their fanbase expects of them, but following their creative intuition and doing what they felt like they should do (same way i felt about The Hunter). The album has great production! It sounds very natural, warm, and uncompressed. Mike’s vocals are fantastic. The guitars have a totally different sound than previous Opeth albums; if i were to guess, i think they used Strats for pretty much everything! Its like they borrowed Richie Blackmore’s guitar rig to record with or something.

Martin Axenrot’s drumming was a big highlight for me. After hearing his work on Watershed, i thought that he was a good metal drummer, but lacking the subtlety of former Opeth drummer Martin Lopez. I definitely retract that statement. Axenrot really shines on this one and delivers some nice jazzy drumming with just enough flair.

Even though i love the album, there are a few songs that i feel have zero flow whatsoever, and are really just terribly put together. Songs like “Famine” just feel like a bunch of randomly throw-together ideas that have nothing to do with one another. Its like the scraps and loose bits that fell off of the well-composed songs got thrown together to form other mutant, mongrel filler songs. But there are just a few of them, and the rest of the material is golden! Plus, Kate and i spent a lot of time listening to this album right after we moved into our new house, so i’ll always associate it with happily unpacking boxes, painting walls, and starting something new for ourselves in our first home.

Favorite track: I Feel the Dark


Red Hot Chili Peppers “I’m With You”- Following the departure of guitarist John Frusciante, i was really worried about what RHCP was going to do next… i figured whoever they got to fill John’s shoes would either A) try his hardest to sound like John and piss off all the fans, or B) do something completely different from John and piss off all the fans. Josh Klinghoffer went with option B), and i love it. The music on “I’m With You” is really fun, fresh, and feels like it was written by a bunch of guys having a blast in the studio. It has a real positive vibe and good energy to it. It also has some of their funkiest stuff they’ve done in years! Josh’s guitar style is mostly very minimal, so it left a lot of room for Chad Smith and Flea to create a KILLER rhythm section. Flea’s playing is especially vicious! 

Favorite track: Its insanely hard to pick, there are SO many great songs on here! I’ll go with Factory of Faith.


Dream Theater “A Dramatic Turn of Events”- Yes, Dream Theater. A quick history: i was super ultra mega obsessed with DT back a few years ago. I loved the musicianship primarily, but i also dug the conceptual elements  they would pull into the songs. Yes, the vocals suck. Yes, the keyboard solos are super dated and cheesy. Yes, the songs are just vehicles for wank (mostly)…. but i can’t help but have a soft spot for them. I wouldn’t know half of the stuff i do about odd time signatures if not for that band. But i got out of listening to that band years ago and hadn’t even thought about them in a long time. But over the summer, i got sucked in to the drummer audition documentary they posted on Youtube, which concluded with them hiring the great Mike Mangini to fill Mike Portnoy’s shoes. I was excited to hear what Mangini would do with the band, and also to hear what the band would sound like without Portnoy overbearingly calling the shots and making a lot of “creative” decisions. I also started listening to DT again on my morning jogs. This was perfect because just 2 or 3 songs was the soundtrack to a 30 or 40 minute jog, and plus they drive Kate insane whenever i played them at home. But anyway, yeah, the new album is awesome. I would safely say its the best thing they’ve done since 6 Degrees. Mangini’s drumming is super solid and wonderfully devoid of all Portnoy-isms (i.e. the “two hands, two feet” fills that Portnoy slathered his parts with). Myung’s bass playing is always killer and precise, and this time around you can hear him a lot better… Petrucci does great throughout the album. Lots of memorable riffs and solos. And Labrie and Rudess are actually a lot less annoying than usual; Labrie has done a really great job of staying within his range and not trying to push himself into nasal, theatrical territory. I’m really looking forward to hearing what the band does next! It seems that without Portnoy, they are getting back to their proggy side rather than forcing themselves to be a metal band with progressive elements.

Favorite track: Lost Not Forgotten


Last Chance to Reason “Level 2”- This album came as a nice surprise! Its kinda like Between the Buried and Me meets Devin Townsend meets Cynic meets Imogen Heap…. plus a little bit of the proggy keyboard joy of The Faceless’ debut album “Akeldama”. Plus, they released a freaking video game that you play along to the music. Now that is the damn coolest concept album of all time. I was also really impressed with the band live when i saw them last month, they pulled everything off perfectly! 

Favorite track: hard to choose since they all run together seamlessly. Portal!


I feel like its worth mentioning a few albums that may have been omitted from this list simply because i haven’t listened to them yet; I have no clue why i don’t have the new Cynic EP, “Carbon-Based Anatomy”. I am a little put off by the super cheesy title, but i’m sure its awesome. I have also heard nothing but good things about the new Skeleton Witch CD, as well as Black Country Communion 2. Things to check out soon for sure!


~ by ben eller guitars on 01/04/2012.

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