2011, like all other years, was stacked with many notable releases: Title Fight’s ‘Shed,’ Balance and Composure’s ‘Separation,’ and Basement’s ‘I Wish I Could Stay Here‘ among others. Just like our recent 2010 retrospective celebration, and because we’re now slipping further and further head-first into 2021, here’s a loving look back at some proper gems a decade on from release. (I’m only counting full-lengths, so Glassjaw’s ‘Coloring Book’ EP won’t be mentioned. Though you should listen to that EP whilst reading; that shit rips!) Now, let’s take a trip down memory lane!
Northlane – ‘Discoveries’
On their debut album, Northlane became djent and prog-metalcore heroes almost overnight, being at the front of this new wave of heavy music alongside Periphery, Veil Of Maya and Volumes. It’s no wonder that fans spent the years following its release proclaiming it as the band’s best every chance they got: it’s a fucking huge album! (Their best until ‘Alien‘ dropped back in 2019.) Outside of the immense popularity of ‘Dispossession‘ and it’s opening bending guitar riff aside, there’s plenty of other awesome Northlane songs to be appreciated: ‘I Shook Hands With Death,’ ‘Corruption, ‘Transcending Dimensions,’ and ‘Comatose.’ Going back to ‘Discoveries‘ now, it holds up so well, but it’s also a weird listen in retrospect. This is a different record from a different sonic and line-up era then where this group is now. (I’d love to hear them re-do this album with how they sound now.) It’s a time portal to what was, and it’s an important album for Aussie heavy music, but I am so glad that things evolved in the direction they did for Northlane.
Rise Against – ‘Endgame’
‘Endgame‘ is the last great Rise Against record. I won’t be hearing otherwise. The band’s sixth LP was stacked front to end with awesome melodic punk rock anthems. It features bangers that tackle everything from staying true to your convictions (‘Architects‘), the botched aid and long-standing effects of Hurricane Katrina (‘Help Is On The Way‘), the “feature not a bug” of capitalism’s intended social classes (the melodic hardcore of ‘Disparity By Design‘), young LGBT tragically children taking their own lives (‘Make It Stop‘), American exceptionalism creating an empire destined to fall (the excellent ‘Survivor’s Guilt‘), letting go of the “American Dream” (‘This Is Letting Go‘), and the eventual collapse of society (the titular ‘Endgame‘). This was one of the most unapologetic leftist Rise Against works next to ‘Siren Song‘ and ‘Sufferer And The Witness.’ Oh, and fun fact: Architects had a B-side on ‘Daybreaker‘ called ‘Rise Against.’ Tying to find that song back in the day on YouTube was like searching for a needle in a haystack.
Architects – ‘The Here And Now’
Speaking of Architects! In early 2011, the young U.K. band ditched the pummeling tech-metalcore of ‘Hollow Crown‘ and went on a simpler, catchier but still urgent, melodic post-hardcore bender. To cut a short story shorter, it was a different and unexpected album for Architects, but a fine one at that. The band themselves may pretend like their fourth LP doesn’t exist, distancing themselves from it almost immediately after release despite hyping it up as the album they “we were born to make,” but you can’t make me forget, lads. This album goes so hard off the back of ‘BTN,’ ‘Learn To Live,’ The Blues‘ and ‘Red Eyes,’ as well as two of the best songs they ever concocted: the electronic score of ‘An Open Letter To Myself‘ and the hardcore roar of ‘Stay Young Forever,’ which touts a wicked guest vocal spot by the prolific Andrew Neufeld of Comeback Kid. Wouldn’t mind Architects revisiting this sound!
Trivium – ‘In Waves’
Can I just simply leave Trivium’s inclusion on this list by merely saying “INNNNNNN WAAAAAAAAAVVEESSSSSSS“? No? Well, fuck you, I just did!
Close Your Eyes – ‘Empty Hands and Heavy Hearts’
Canada’s Close Your Eyes deserved so much more than what they got. Sounding somewhere between pop-punk hardcore mergings of A Day To Remember, the melodic punk rock of Rise Against, and the faith-driven, dual-vocal post-hardcore of older Underoath, they spoke about so much lyrically: mental health illness, scars not defining us, morals and ethics, spirituality and love, politics and resilience. They had the hooks, the riffs, the breakdowns, and the gang vocals – all of it. They had the fucking songs, man! They did it as well as any of their bigger peers. This terrific second album was proof of their ability, with bangers left, right and centre: ‘Valleys,’ ‘Scars,’ ‘Wolves,’ ‘Empty Hands,’ ‘Erie,’ Carry You,’ ‘Keep The Lights On‘ – hits everywhere! It was never the same after Shane Raymond left following this record’s release, he just sends it so hard vocally throughout, whether he’s singing or screaming. I miss these guys. Become the change you wish to see in the world.
La Dispute – ‘Wildlife’
‘Wildlife‘ is such a musically and lyrically dense record that this isn’t going to do it justice. But if you’ve heard it, and picked it’s meanings clean, then it goes without saying how important La Dispute’s third full-length was. Not just for them and the career they’ve followed, but for this scene of alternative and post-hardcore and the other releases of that time. Everyone knows the tragic tale of a teen boy’s murder by being in the wrong place at the wrong time during a drive-by shooting on ‘King Park‘, but ‘Wildlife‘ is filled with raw stories like that. This album made a sweet old man from Michigan, Edward Benz, who passed away in 2018, famous to an entire band’s fan-base with his heart-breaking story about his son’s schizophrenia respectfully detailed in song-form. It carefully put the trauma of a mother and a family’s front and centre about them losing their young child to cancer. It also produced Jordan Dreyer’s most thoughtful sentiments (until 2019’s ‘Panorama‘) about himself and his hometown: ‘Edit Your Hometown‘ and ‘St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church Blues.’ And the way the band connected up ‘a Departure‘ with ‘a Poem‘ and ‘a Broken Jar‘, bringing everything together in closer ‘You And I In Unision‘? Magical.
Chelsea Wolfe – ‘Ἀποκάλυψις’
Stylized as ‘Ἀποκάλυψις‘, ‘Apokalypsis‘ single-handedly placed miss Chelsea Wolfe on the map. This ghostly, doomy folk-rock record of witchy vocals, ominous sounds, restrained percussion, and detuned guitars from the young U.S. female songwriter was a spell-binding listen in 2011. Exactly what it’s like now in 2021; this is her timeless record. Chelsea really is one of the best artists of the 21st-century; a chameleon-esque creator who experiments boldly and vividly. Yet her most out-there, electronic and experimental albums – ‘Pain is Beauty‘ or ‘Abyss‘ – couldn’t have happened without this eerie, ascendant second record. The first half of this excellent record – with ‘Tracks,’ ‘Mer,’ Demons‘ and ‘Movie Screen‘ – still gives me the heebie-jeebies.
Touché Amoré – ‘Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me’
I clearly remember the goosebumps I had when I first heard ‘Parting The Sea‘; euphoria and tickled musical frisson all over. Incredibly, I still get that same sense now whenever I return to this particular Touché Amoré LP. If there is a single lyric in all of Touché Amoré’s career that I would get tattooed onto my skin, it would be Jeremy Bolm’s resounding call of “I’m parting the sea between brightness and me!” that lands 25 seconds into their emotionally resonant second record. What follows this arresting introduction of fast melodic guitars, blast-beats and emotional yelling is another 18 or so minutes of some of the best melodic hardcore ever written. ‘Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me‘ single-handedly gave Touché the career they have today, it’s a modern classic for the genre, and it allowed them to go onto greener pastures with ‘Is Survived By‘ (2013) and ‘Stage Four‘ (2016).
Pianos Become The Teeth – ‘The Lack Long After’
‘The Lack Long After‘ begins with the tumultuous, chaotic ‘I’ll Be Damned,’ as vocalist Kyle Durfey spills his guts over the band’s careening instrumentals with pained screams about how his old man “had to fade away” and remembering him before he passed to Multiple Sclerosis. ‘The Lack Long After‘ later ends with the heart-breaking ‘I’ll Get By,’ a terrific example of Pianos Become The Teeth’s tension, emotional delivery, and dynamism. Between these two paired book-ends rests a devasting record seeking closure and understand amidst the debris of a man mourning. This is an album so powerful, so raw, and so crushing in terms of its content, that Kyle and the rest of Pianos never bothered to replicate it; seeing the frontman completely shift his vocal technique to exclusively singing after this and the band’s songwriting taking on a punky, post-rock shape since. (With stellar results!) Pianos redoing this heavier, messier sound would never be as genuine or as good as it was on this second LP, and they knew that. Which makes ‘The Lack Long After‘ all the more special. Sad people making sadder music for equally sad people.
Stray From The Path – ‘Rising Sun’
Stray From The Path existed for a few years before 2009’s ‘Make Your Own History‘ gave them a name, and they have a lot of albums. While the records that followed ‘Rising Sun‘ were more successful, ‘Rising Sun‘ is as punchy and as aggro as hardcore got in 2011. It’s this loud, unflinching smash to the face, dealing with the American Dream, capitalism, religion, fakes and liars (like all good hardcore records), underground music scenes surviving in the digital age, and watching those you love suffering but not being able to help. It’s Stray venting these frustrated feelings of resentment, pain, helplessness, hopelessness, and disdain for the system as they forge ahead with their DIY values, turning it all fire-starting songs filled with neck-snapping breakdowns, beefy guitars, and one of the earliest uses of metalcore’s favourite phrase – “BLEGH!” – that I can recall. While it does lose a little bit of steam in the last few songs, the vicious one-two opening haymaker of the title song and the Jonathan Vigil-featuring ‘Death Beds‘ is deadly, leading you down a road of some of the best Stray songs ever. ‘iMember,’ ‘Dead Rabbits‘ and ‘Prey‘ being some of my personal favourite deep cuts from this New York group. You didn’t ask to know that, but I still told ya. How nice am I!?
The Wonder Years – ‘Suburbia I’ve Given You All And Now I’m Nothing’
As it turns out, The Wonder Years did give us their all but they weren’t nothing for it; being one of the biggest bands to come from the pop-punk new breed in the late 2000s and early 2010s. ‘Suburbia‘ is indicative of the time in which it came out, sonically and musically, but like the best pop-punk records, what matters most is the honesty put forward. What one has to say; how it’s articulated. For Dan “Soupy” Campbell and the other five dudes that fill out Philly’s second-best band, they wore their hearts on their collective sleeves with the catchiest, most endearing pop-punk I think the genre saw in the last decade. This is a quintessential Wonder Years release, bridging the DIY basement days of ‘The Upsides‘ with the success and world-touring seen off the back of this album’s immense follow-up, ‘The Greatest Generation‘. Local band and their friendly pigeon mascot don’t ruin everything, it seems.
Fucked Up – ‘David Comes To Life’
‘David Comes To Life‘ isn’t a double-album, but due to its length and structure, I like to think of it as one. Therefore, in my own mind, it’s one of the rare good double albums around. On its surface, Fucked Up’s third album is a big old rock opera set during the 1970s and 1980s in England, revolving around a tragic love story between the titular David and a young woman named Veronica. As the album goes on, it revels in young love and sudden tragedy, yet as other characters like Octavio and Vivian enter the story, unreliable narrators are exposed and meta-narrative plot devices rule as the cast become aware they’re pawns in a larger story being written and controlled by someone else. That they must simply play the roles they are given. Thus enter a superbly catchy 18-song punk rock album about love and fate, spanning an epic four parts with guest appearances from War On Drugs‘ Kurt Vile and Cults‘ Madeline Follin. It’s the most ambitious Fucked Up release ever, and coincidentally, also their best.
‘A Little Death‘ was the first song I heard from ‘David Comes To Life‘ and it sold me on this album and band back in 2011, and I’ve never looked back since. Hopefully, it does the same thing for those of you initiated.
Defeater – ‘Empty Days & Sleepless Nights’
Recorded at guitarist/bassist and producer Jay Maas‘ Getaway Recording Studios, ‘Empty Days & Sleepless Nights‘ is Defeater’s crowning moment as a band. Yes, ‘Travels‘ was dope, and yes, both ‘Letters Home‘ and ‘Abandoned‘ were solid albums, but this was some peak melodic hardcore at the turn of the decade. Peak Defeater. Jay’s songwriting and engineering, along with some incredibly dizzying drum performances from Andy Reitz and guitarist Jake Woodruff propel their conceptual narrative of a post-WWII family broken by abuse, addiction, PTSD and poverty – all vocalised by Derek Archambault – to newer, darker depths. How its musically and narratively split up into the melodic hardcore section – “Empty Days” – and then into the surprising but varied and fitting acoustic segment – “Sleepless Nights” – is a masterclass in album sequencing and story-telling.
Gay For Johnny Depp – ‘What Doesn’t Kill You, Eventually Kills You’
While this terrific queer-core groups name has aged like a carton of fine milk, Gay For Johnny Depp’s unabashed brand of noisy hardcore punk is still endearing to this very day. Come for the silly moniker, stay for pointed and gritty tracks like ‘Sucksess.’ The cleverly named ‘What Doesn’t Kill You, Eventually Kills You‘ is a raging success of songwriting confidence, in-the-moment rawness, tongue-through-the-cheek parody (just look at the song titles), and being proud of who you are. Raise your flag high and get down with your bad self to one of the most slept-upon hardcore LPs of the 2010s.
Lower Than Atlantis – ‘World Record’
With boat-loads more wit, riffs, charm and punk rock hooks than their previous EP and debut album ever had, the U.K.’s Lower Than Atlantis should’ve blown the fuck up off the back of their solid sophomore LP. But of course, there’s rarely any justice in the music world for the great artists whose classy songwriting ability and endless hard work slip well under the radar. Luckily for you, I am here to inform newcomers and remind those in the know just how good LTA was. Fine-tuned punk jams like ‘Beech Like The Tree‘ should’ve been their hit and path to success, but that wasn’t the case, sadly. This band deserved so much more!
The Black Dahlia Murder – ‘Ritual’
The Black Dahlia Murder are an incredibly singular band. They have one sound and that’s what they’ve stuck to like glue since ‘Miasma‘ came out in 2005. Like any band who knows what they are and wants things to remain that way, this creates some great albums but also some inconsistent ones. For ‘Ritual,’ this is the former; my top Black Dahlia Murder record and what I would consider to be one of their top three next to ‘Deflorate‘ (2009) and ‘Miasma‘ (2005). Why? Because it’s got satisfying songs throughout. The band’s brutal brand of blackened, thrashy death metal persists, as always, but the stars aligned when they wrote this album, as we get some of the dopest tracks TBDM conjured up in the last ten years. ‘Moonlight Equilibrium,’ ‘Conspiring With The Damned,’ ‘The Window,’ ‘Carbonized In Cruciform,’ and ‘Blood In The Ink‘ – some of the bloodiest, ugliest and downright sickest metal compositions that Trevor Strnad and pals ritually summoned up from the deepest pits of Hell.
Frank Turner – ‘England Keep My Bones’
‘England Keep My Bones‘ is the album that made Frank Turner. Already a name in English music from his days fronting Million Dead and his previous solo folk releases, like ‘Love Ire & Song‘ (2008) and ‘Poetry of the Deed (2009), ‘England Keep My Bones‘ is where things went gangbusters for Frank and The Sleepless Souls. Written about the idea of mortality (from faith to relationships) and about general “Englishness” (from history, poems and literature, to Frank’s life and where he’s from), it’s a bold, brazen yet somehow still humble folk-rock record where Franky boy decided it was time to go big or piss off home. And, well, he’s still here ten years later, still growing and self-criticising. Whether intimate acoustic-guitar pieces or bombastic full-band arrangements, ‘England Keeps My Bones‘ sounds like coming home. Because it was a home; playing this music, sharing these stories, that’s the real abode of Mr Frank Turner. Play this song at my funeral:
Polar Bear Club – ‘Clash Battle Guilt Pride’
If you want a friend for life, just listen to ‘Clash Battle Guilt Pride,’ one of the best pop-punk albums of the last decade. It resides in that S-tier ranking because of how it side-steps so much of what pop-punk was being then. High-pitched nasal vocals? Nah, Jimmy Stadt owned his rough, coarse delivery with gusto. Forced choruses? Nope, Polar Bear Club’s endearingly blended many different aspects of rock and punk, never concerned with imitating their pop-punk peers too much; every single refrain being more heartfelt than the last without ever feeling tacky. Singing about girls, broken hearts, relationships, and hating this town? Yes, actually, those topics are covered (among other metaphorical moments), but with a different kind of lyrical depth that the band might fool you at first. Like Lower Than Atlantis above, Polar Bear Club deserved so much more success and fame off of the great albums they produced, ‘Clash Battle Guilt Pride‘ included. Guys, I’m still dancing my heart out to that 3/4 tango.
Death Grips – ‘Exmilitary’
Normies love Death Grips due to ‘Guillotine,’ the trio’s most popular song, and for the many memes and edits that it spawned online. But once you dig a little deeper into their career and discography, you find some experimental punk-rap and hip-hop gold! Like the weird, clanking, bizarre nature of ‘Exmilitary.’ Now, you won’t find the ‘Exmilitary‘ mixtape on Spotify. Simply because Death Grips sampled more Internet and song sound-bites on this thing than a 2000’s metalcore band sampling movie lines before a breakdown that the copyright for this would’ve been a fucking nightmare. So it’s an obscure release for an already obscure group – go figure. But it’s really worth seeking out, just for killer Death Grips staples of ‘Takyon (Death Yon),’ ‘Lord Of The Game,’ ‘Beware,’ ‘Thru the Walls‘ and ‘Blood Creepin.’ It’s a pivotal release for experimental rap and hip-hop in the 2010s, and paved the way for Death Grips confounding but interesting existence.
Volumes – ‘Via’
There was something in the air about newish prog-metal bands like Periphery, TesseracT, Veil Of Maya, Born Of Osiris (and their one good album), the aforementioned Northlane and Volumes spearheading the djent movement. As they all released notable, touchstone records for this polished, rhythmically-focused, innovative, and riff-centric but divisive new style. For Los Angeles’ Volumes, they were on their own drip. Reinforced by metronomic grooves, angular chugs, pristine production, and a dual attack of coarse screams from Gus Farias and Michael Barr, the framework of ‘Via‘ has barely aged a day. ‘Wormholes‘ and its iconic lo-fi intro riff and how it grooves and slams after that is classic Volumes, as is ‘Edge Of The Earth,’ one of the best metalcore songs ever made. Rest in power, Diego. Your vision and work were appreciated more than you knew.
Transit – ‘Listen & Forgive’
If Polar Bear Club’s ‘Clash Battle Guilt Pride‘ is one of the best pop-punk albums of the 2010s, then it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Transit’s second LP. ‘Listen & Forgive‘ had the hooks, the heart, the clean guitar riffing and noodling, the simple and accessible sound, the slick polish, and most importantly, the fucking songs. Transit basically put all of their eggs within a single emo basket, with just how good these tunes are: ‘I Think I Know You,’ ‘Long Lost Friends,’ ‘Asleep At The Wheel,’ the song ‘Listen & Forgiven,’ and ‘You Can’t Miss It.’ RIP Tim Landers; your musical contributions won’t be forgotten.