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Zeena Koda Reveals Her Top 10 Of 2011

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Zeena Koda
We put out a call here at Gun Shy Assassin recently to various folks in the industry seeking their Top 10 albums of 2011, and most people told us they were too busy Christmas shopping to give a fuck. But some folks did respond, and we’ll be bringing you their lists over the next couple of weeks.

Next up is Zeena Koda, our advice columnist and Liquid Metal DJ over at Sirius XM Satellite Radio. She’s also in a band called Aphonia you should check out. Her list is pretty much as solid as they come. At least that’s my opinion; except maybe for TUI.

Trapped Under Ice, Big Kiss Goodnight
I can’t express how much this release surprised the shit out of me. It hit me at the right time, at the right emotional place. For TUI who have been grindin’ on the hardcore circuit for a minute now, this release really showcases their potential as a band. Although their previous release Secrets of the World is a solid representation of their Baltimore bred sound, Big Kiss Goodnight shows the power of a visionary producer that knows and UNDERSTANDS the potential of a band. Chad Gilbert is a master of crafting the punk tinges of hardcore and expanding the hooky songwriting elements, most likely because he’s served time in Shai Halud and New Found Glory. Being an artist is definitely a leg up for a tight producer, you need to know and fully understand your product inside and out. Lyrically, frontman Justice is pissed, he’s inspired, he’s candid, he’s heartbroken; there is a reliability that isn’t caveman-esque or pretentious, it’s really the perfect balance of PMA and anguish. This band could be huge, they are all handsome young men who are more than comfortable without a shirt (you’re pressed to see them WITH one on) who have no qualms about touring relentlessly and winning fans over one by one. It’s rare in hardcore you can find that encompassing appeal that’s accessible to men AND women without being corny, and with Big Kiss Goodnight TUI bring you a catharsis for daily strife and for us ladies, a little something to think about at night 😉

Ringworm, Scars
It’s hardcore, it’s metal. It’s melodic, it’s brutal. I’m a sucker for random open breakdown parts and really this band is just nasty at times, you feel like you fell down the hill then a guitar sweep picks you right back up. Nice progression for these guys and maintains a nice momentum throughout the entire release. The recording also really grabbed me because in an ULTRA over-produced time it has a perfect balance of grit and finesse without sounding synthetic or totally chopped and screwed. 

Glassjaw, Coloring Book
Not much explanation needed for this one. I interviewed the band this year, waited 10 years to get that opportunity and couldn’t have been more impressed with their amazingness. Glassjaw have always been a shape shifting band who can play with the likes of Napalm Death to the Deftones and with Coloring Book they continue a journey into other musical realms that not many heavier bands can pull off with such ease. There is a heavy ambient element to this album, bossa nova driven beats that you can’t help but shake your ass to and believe me, i’m ALL over that. Glassjaw don’t try to stray too far out the their style but more expand with loftier keys and honing in on Darryl Palumbo’s signature vocals. My one quip with this album may be the recording quality, at times the low end comes up way too loud for my liking and the vocal is drowned out a bit, but that might just be my own crazy singer bias. My fave track on this EP is “Gold” because it really exemplifies everything that is stellar about the GJ sound, incredibly personal lyrics that almost anyone can relate to coupled with signature hooky choruses. Everything they do is unique which is probably why people are fanatical for them. 

Kyng, Trampled Sun
I’m becoming that creepy person who refers to the glory days of the 90’s and I can’t say i’m mad at it, the 90’s were an incredible time for music in my heart. Kyng bring me back to a sultry time in metal and heavy rock that was both heartfelt and sexy, what can I say I love me some sexy music. These are the kind of tunes that a pole dancer can live comfortably with but can also be killer cathartic throw down track you can sing along too. Eddie has some incredible pipes and I love that they function as a trio, watching their acoustic session really sealed the deal for me melodically, any band who can nail harmonies that way have the goods it takes. A nice little treat are the occasional random blast beats sprinkled throughout the album, totally unexpected but totally work in the scheme of the songs. There’s a fire to Trampled Sun that brings me back to my formative days in the 90’s and with bands like Kyuss Lives! trying to reclaim a spot, Kyng have hit with this release at the right time.

Touche Amore, Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me
Sing speak, it’s almost kinda like the post-hardcore version of rapping. It’s almost yapping with intentional rhythm and melody. I’m from NJ where Thursday were at one time the hottest shit on the street and I have to admit, I was a huge fan of the spastic, post-hardcore movement. With this release Touche Amore bottle up the finest elements of what bands like Thursday and At The Drive In evoked via see-saw vocal flows coupled up with dynamic musical positioning. There’s a vulnerability to the lyrical content that I adore, songs like “Face Ghost” are fearlessly exposing and self-exposing — not emotional in an “emo” sense but in a more reflective, REAL sense. It’s raw and beautiful and I can appreciate any band that can jump into real piano territory. It’s the best elements of bands I loved in 2001, upgraded to 2011. I unfortunately have never seen these guys liven but I hear they are incredible.

Jasta, Jasta
You gotta give it to Jamey, he can do so little wrong. I was scared initially that this would be whack or way too left field but I should have know that Jamey’s good taste would never let him stray too far from the path. Spiked with a myriad of metal superstar guest tracks, this project shows how much of a command on the genre Jamey has and although some of the last Hatebreed releases have been more metal than hardcore, you get a true sense of where he came from here. I remember hearing For The Lions from Hatebreed and thinking “Wow, there are some pretty solid metal choices here” so it’s not too shocking that Jamey would rock a project on this scale. Between this and Kingdom of Sorrow, I have enough to hold me down until the next ‘Breed release. It’s also dope to hear some actual melodic nuances in this too but i’m glad he didn’t venture into some extremely in-depth singing. 

Red Fang, Murder the Mountains
I’ve always had a hard on for Red Fang, maybe because initially they kind of reminded me of the bastard stepchild of early Mastodon. It’s interesting that they went with an indie artist turned producer for this release instead of a metal juggernaut and it definitely helped work in their favor. Much like other stoner/desert/whatever metal and heavy rock bands, Red Fang are sonically nasty and lure you in with brooding vocals that carry a melodic thump but can be equally gritty. Murder the Mountains is a burly package, fuzzy bass, bad-ass harmonics sifted through driving guitars and overall is a great progressive release for these guys. I found it somewhat incredible that they were on the Mayhem festival  this year and I feel they would even be better suited for a more mainstream rock festival and could eventually fine tune their sound enough to follow in the successful footsteps of bands like QOTSA. This release shows they have the melodic ability and musical ambition to expand outside of the metal world.

Mastodon, The Hunter
I adore any heavy band that can go on to do bigger and better things. It may be a taboo standpoint in a genre that heavily adheres to an underground code of honor but I wholeheartedly respect what Mastodon are doing and where they have brought their sound. The Hunter is a bit less heady than Crack The Skye which I can appreciate in hindsight because although I loved CTS, the songs as a whole on this album are much tighter and flow better. Fuzzy and driving, the musical momentum on this release is just genius and paints an audio picture that only Mastodon can pull off. I love that the tracks have a finesse to them this time around and notably the vocals have finally found a true balance of dissonance and beauty. Seeing them last month sealed the deal too, after one incredibly disappointing show last year they redeemed themselves and delivered tracks from this album with so much conviction that it was undeniable. Mastodon are not fucking around and still keep a sense of southern sensibility. 

Monstro, Monstro
There are songs on this album that just reel you in and given the combo of members, was unexpectedly appealing. Boasting former members of Torche and Bloodsimple, I almost wasn’t sure at all what to expect but the minute I heard “Olympia” I was hooked. I’ve blazed down to this album several times and the vocals have a exposing vulnerability, an impurity that makes you want to listen to over and over. This was another album that threw me back to the 90’s with a stripped down sound, maybe 2011 has become the advent of that 90’s kickback rock sound. There are a few songs on this album that are so-so but there are some that I could listen to continuously on repeat. Monstro create an audio landscape with their debut and let every element live in the moment, a feeling not many heavily produced bands can capture.

Machine Head, Unto The Locust
This album does not care about you and that is why I love it. Machine Head are undoubtedly one of the most hard working bands in metal and it’s heart-warming that they continue to produce songs that tip off the time scales with no regard. I interviewed Dave McClain at the Mayhem festival this year and asked him about song length, unsurprisingly he was glad to embrace the question because it has almost become an expected part of the MH ammo. The songs on this release are ambitious and I respect that MH take a more musician friendly route than try to appease the masses with fly-by-night bangers. The music dork in me also admires the use of a key signature in a title and the vocal work Robb Flynn puts into the intro of “I Am Hell (Sonata in C#)” was one of the surprises of the album for me. Machine Head have a great deal of depth that has revealed itself over the years – they are capable of creating epic tunes, short and sweet songs, as well as tracks that have an incredible amount of groove (maybe it’s the Lil Wayne fan in Flynn manifesting itself). Yet another solidly ambitious release from Machine Head and one that definitely will take a few months of listening to pick out the plenitude of audio gems, especially key guitar licks.

Honorable mention favorites:

Non-metal album that has a heavy connection: City and Colour, Little Hell

Album that came out in 2010 but took me until 2011 to fall in love with: Kvelertak, Kvelertak

Album that I wished I liked more: Opeth, Heritage 

Album that came out too close to end of year but I know I will love into 2012: Animals As Leaders, Weightless