Nobody reads these introductions right? Heck, I bet you’ve already scrolled down to see what #1 is. Well, for those of you who do like a brief overview, here it is: 2011 turned out to be a pretty darn good year for music and as evidenced by my list, especially for hard rock and heavy metal. I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised to see how much of the aforementioned genres made my list after having not included many albums from them in recent years past. A quick glimpse at my “Honorable Mentions” list will also reveal that 2011 wasn’t all about headbanging though. Enjoy, and in the immortal words of Rikki Rachtman, “Keep one foot in the gutter, and one fist in the gold.”

11. Rival Sons – Pressure & Time (Listen on Spotify here.)

Rival Sons’ excellent Pressure & Time was on my Top 10 of the Year at the midpoint of 2011 and while it got knocked just outside of the Top 10 for the year end, it doesn’t mean that this record is any less enjoyable than I found it in the summer. Some might critique this band for being too retro rock sounding, but I think their take on ’70s hard rock (think Cream, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, etc.) works tremendously well. Sometimes we all just need to lighten up and have a good time, you know?

10. In Solitude – The World. The Flesh. The Devil.

This is the first of three Metal Blade Records’ releases on my list, so I should go ahead and mention now that they get my award for Metal Label of the Year. There was much buzz about Sweden’s In Solitude before their album showed up in the U.S. and that buzz was more than earned. The World. The Flesh. The Devil. is a twisting, evil and rockin’ ride through the band’s homage to musical forefathers Mercyful Fate. One of the most surprisingly addictive records of the year.

9. Hammers Of Misfortune – 17th Street

As much as I wanted to, I simply couldn’t get into Hammers Of Misfortune’s previous albums. Even though those albums included the genius that is Mike Scazi of Slough Feg, I found (find) the hype completely unwarranted. The albums are uneven and scattered in their attack, but nonetheless I still kept my ears open for new tunes in the hopes that they might someday deliver because the potential was certainly there. Enter 17th Street where Hammers Of Misfortune leader John Cobbett leads his new line-up through an amazing slab of prog metal. The first “single” that was released, “The Grain”, is what initially got me curious about this album and I had been warned that it was by far the strongest track on the album and that the rest of the songs did not measure up. While “The Grain” is definitely the pièce de résistance of 17th Street, the album functions as a whole, flows wonderfully and begs for repeated listens.

8. Sebastian Bach – Kicking And Screaming (Listen on Spotify here.)

The former Skid Row singer unleashed his second solo album this year (following 2007’s Angel Down) and fans of his former band’s sophomore set Slave To The Grind need to take notice. With guitar protege Nick Sterling (who wasn’t old enough to legally drink beer when this record was recorded) and monster metal drummer Bobby Jarzombek in tow, Baz unleashes some incredible driving and melodic hard rock on Kicking And Screaming that fans of both vintage Skid Row and more current radio friendly hard rock will be able to embrace. And yes, the man can still sing better than about 98% of vocalists out there. Class is in session.

7. Junius – Reports From The Threshold Of Death

Like The Cure meets Neurosis? Like the Deftones, but only the moody, atmospheric parts? Like Isis, but shorter songs and less angry? Lots of descriptions could be used for Junius’ Reports From The Threshold Of Death, but I’ll just go with this one: AWESOME.

6. Steel Panther – Balls Out (Listen on Spotify here.)

I love two things in this world very much: Comedy and ’80s hair metal. Steel Panther is what you get when you combine the two and with beyond excellent results. While the band’s looks and over the top videos get most of the attention, the actual musicianship has to be noted. These songs are perfect representations of the highest of the high points in the ’80s glam metal revolution. Say what you want about how the bands looked, but many of them were absolutely stellar musicians and Steel Panther pays tribute to the best of them. Then you get to the lyrics which, while ridiculous and borderline offensive, will have you howling with laughter. And make no mistake, just because the words are crude doesn’t mean that sheer genius wasn’t used to put them together. Simply put, this is comedy gold that you can play air guitar to.

5. Darkest Era – The Last Caress Of Light

Another album that maintained a presence on this list from the middle of the year is Darkest Era’s The Last Caress Of Light. Epic heavy metal influenced by the likes of Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest and other greats mixed in with a Celtic influence makes for one of the most infectious and intense records of 2011. When listening, you can picture yourself on a cliff in Ireland overlooking the sea and practically feel the sea water hitting your face….and you are of course holding a sword.

4. Anthrax – Worship Music (Listen on Spotify here.)

I haven’t loved anything that Anthrax has done since the amazing Sound Of White Noise, which was their first album with John Bush who had replaced the singer for their glory years, Joey Belladonna. With enough line-up drama over the past many years to make ’80s era Black Sabbath blush, the band finally settled back down with singer Joey Belladonna and delivered their best effort since the aforementioned Sound Of White Noise. Classic Anthrax thrash meshed with their more recent melodic and heavy output, makes Worship Music a welcome and warmly embraced return from the band. Let’s hope they can keep it together and top it on the next go round.

3. Mastodon – The Hunter (Listen on Spotify here.)

I’ve been following Mastodon since the release of their Lifesblood EP. The band has gotten progressively better with each successive release, but their last full-length Crack The Skye did feel slightly bloated. Enter The Hunter, a leaner version of Mastodon’s take on progressive metal. With shorter and catchier (a word most would not associate with Mastodon) songs in comparison to the band’s prior releases, this album feels like a straight up rock album in a sense. Mastodon has officially reached a point in their career where they can do whatever they want and you can either join the party or take a hike. Here’s hoping all their future endeavors are as wildly successful.

2. Social Distortion – Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes (Listen on Spotify here.)

I’ve always liked Social Distortion, but they are one of those bands I simply don’t spend a lot of time listening to. That changed with the release of Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes. Longtime fans of the band would probably disagree with me, but I think this is their best effort yet. A near perfect blend of punk, country and rock ‘n roll that proves that even though the band has been at it for over 30 years, their expiration date is nowhere in sight.

1. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light (Listen on Spotify here.)

After my second listen through this album, I knew that nothing would topple it from my #1 spot for 2011. Hell, I had a feeling it would be my #1 before it was even released. My adoration for the Foo Fighters started with the release of their first album and has held true since. While I enjoy all of their albums, I’ve always been most partial to There Is Nothing Left To Lose as my personal favorite, but Wasting Light quickly became a close second, even surpassing The Colour And The Shape. Dave Grohl is quite simply the greatest frontman in rock right now and writes the songs to back it up. I applaud the Foo Fighters for so proudly and bravely waving the flag for rock ‘n roll in the mainstream without compromising their music and in the face of a public that actually thinks LMFAO and Justin Bieber are good music. Now will somebody just come give these guys some back up?

Honorable Mention:

  1. Midnight Chaser – Rough And Tough
  2. Michael Monroe – Sensory Overdrive
  3. Low – C’mon
  4. Face To Face – Laugh Now…Laugh Later
  5. Yob – Atma
  6. Amon Amarth – Surtur Rising
  7. Whitesnake – Forevermore
  8. Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears – Scandalous
  9. Wolvhammer – The Obsidian Plains
  10. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Minor Traffic
  11. The Black Keys – El Camino
  12. DJ Shadow – The Less You Know, The Better
  13. Cut Copy – Zonoscope
  14. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life
  15. Metalian – Rock Solid

Looking forward to in 2012: Asphyx, Band Of Skulls, The Big Pink, Christian Mistress, Dawnbringer, The Devil’s Blood, Dokken, Imperial Teen, Lamb Of God, The Last Vegas, Mazzy Star, Pig Destroyer, A Place To Bury Strangers, Ram, Ratt, Testament, The Toadies

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