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Best of 2011: Music [NSFW]

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From where I've been listening (the exact location is classified, of course), 2011 has been a banner year for the darker shades of the music spectrum. It brought us the sequel to one of the greatest shock-rock albums of all time; it saw that album's creator, Alice Cooper, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; it marked the surprise reformation of industrial metal legends Ministry; and it finally freed the newest masterpiece from electronic music pioneers Skinny Puppy after years of financial purgatory. On a sad note, we also lost one of horror music's finest talents with the passing of guitarist Cory Smoot, aka GWAR axe-master Flattus Maximus... but it's at least good to know GWAR has resolved to continue on in his honor, and Cory's definitely carved his name in horror music history – just as many of the amazing entries below will no doubt enter the journals of macabre musical memories for decades to come. Read on to find out which ones made the cut! [Bear in mind, a couple of clips below might not be safe for work.]

Best Rock Album – Alice Cooper, Welcome 2 My Nightmare

I think I've written more articles about Alice Cooper in 2011 than any other artist over the past five years combined. It's not just because I'm a lifelong fan, either... it's because this man is just unstoppable. The original Alice Cooper band lineup finally made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame early this year, and while there were some doubts as to whether the sequel to Alice's 1975 masterpiece Welcome to My Nightmare would drop this year or wait until next, it actually arrived just in time for Halloween, along with a tie-in attraction at Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights. It's a natural fit, since both the original Nightmare and its sequel offer a wild and unpredictable musical tour through a tormented mind – with the mind's owner as your demented guide. There's a lot more humor on hand for this sequel, but the vicious streak that ran through the original is even meaner and more aggressive on the second round. Lots of Cooper fans were holding their collective breaths for this one, but I for one was able to rest easier after finding this new Nightmare waiting under the bed. Alice and producer Bob Ezrin, who collaborated on the original, tapped into all the manic fun that made that album a classic, and despite just a couple of rough spots, they brought home the big win.

Best Metal Album – Septicflesh, The Great Mass

If I had a nickel for every band that compared their latest album to a horror movie soundtrack, I'd be... well, maybe not a millionaire, but I'd definitely have a shitload of nickels. Thankfully I've come across a few bands who actually nailed it, creating sonic landscapes that seem destined for a darkened theater. Case in point is this masterpiece by Greek artists Septicflesh, who successfully transitioned from blackened death metal to the diverse symphonic sound they create today – a threshold they crossed with their previous album Communion and perfected with this year's release. They employed the famous Filmharmonic Orchestra of Prague for their arrangements – blending eerie choirs, ritualistic percussion and stabbing strings with thick slabs of metal riffage to create endless ominous textures; even the band's own vocals are a superbly balanced blend of demonic roars and haunting melodies. If you dig dark symphonic metal like Cradle of Filth or Dimmu Borgir, I hereby command you to check this one out.

Best Electronic Album – Skinny Puppy, Handover

I'd waited so long for the next album from these industrial music icons that I almost overlooked the arrival of UnDeveloped, the excellent new release from ohGr, the side project of Skinny Puppy frontman Ogre and frequent collaborator Mark Walk. If Handover hadn't arrived this year, UnDeveloped would certainly have taken its place in this category... but 2011 turned out to be the year this album was finally freed from the Phantom Zone, given an official title and allowed to enter the ears of a curious world. It was a long, painful process getting there, which you can learn all about in my recent interview with Ogre, but the end result rewarded fans' devotion with one of the band's darkest, most cinematic and most fascinating material since 1992 classic Last Rights. The band's current era (2004 and forward) is not a rehash of their early sound, because that's not how these cats roll; Skinny Puppy have always reshaped the latest music technology to their own creative will, and on this record they twist it further than they have in many years. The result is chaotic, powerful and nightmarishly cool.

Sickest Music Video – Margin Of Error, "Your Life in Playback"

This year we had the good fortune of working with Travis Meyers, the founder and frontman of extreme metal band Margin Of Error, who not only creates some of the scariest and most violent music ever recorded, but is also a connoisseur of gritty and graphic "snuff-style" horror films, and shared some intense insights on that genre for his own FEARnet guest feature. The band's latest album What You Are About To Witness is a concept record documenting the deeds and thoughts of a sadistic serial killer with a god complex, and Travis dove into the horrific psyche of the central character with the intuition of an FBI profiler, emerging with a human monster whose habits are almost too horrific to visualize... but Travis didn't let that stop him from trying. It's grim, brutal and devastating to see and hear, but you won't be able to turn away. Actually, if you're reading this at work, you probably shouldn't click the play button.

Most Shocking Music Video – Motionless In White, "Immaculate Misconception"

Our world premiere of this video turned out to be one of the biggest online musical events of the year, so it deserves to be included for that reason alone... but I have many more reasons to include this among 2011's best. To begin with, I've always been impressed by the diverse talents of MIW frontman Chris Motionless, and his skill with using horror's classic concept of "the outsider" to examine emotions we can all relate to – especially those of us who feel oppressed, rejected or ridiculed for the way we express ourselves. Of all the band's videos, "Immaculate" employs the most obvious metaphorical imagery, but that's probably because the song itself cuts through the bullshit and jabs a middle finger in the eye of the self-righteous and judgmental. Directed by Cody Snider, son of Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider (who also plays a role), the video blends cold, grim imagery with eyeball-smashing neon hallucinations, as Chris takes on multiple roles as man, monster and messiah.

Best Original Horror Film Score – Mark Kilian, The Ward

Since my love of John Carpenter's classic films goes hand-in-hand with his own musical scores, I'll admit I was already feeling kind of disappointed before I even watched his return to feature filmmaking, after learning that neither John nor his son Cody (who scored both of his father's Masters of Horror episodes) had participated in the music. On the DVD commentary, Carpenter confessed it became too overwhelming to handle the music himself anymore, and while that's definitely a sad thing to hear, I was nevertheless stunned by this film's dark, intimate and haunting score. Instead of opting for industrial-strength shocks and the usual bump-and-thump horror hits, Kilian's going mostly old-school here, creating a feel similar to Rosemary's Baby in the breathy, wordless lullaby of the opening theme, but also calling on unsettling, dissonant tones that add to the film's atmosphere of dread. Aside from the main title, the music is mostly woven into the sound design of the movie, maintaining a ghostly presence that is perfectly suited to the story.

Best Use of Music in a Horror Film – Chillerama

When the end credits rolled for this insanely hilarious anthology to the strains of "I Don't Want to Die a Virgin" from Brendan McCreary, I realized how much of its unstoppable energy came from the music. Brendan's brother Bear McCreary – beloved among horror fans for his score for The Walking Dead – provided king-sized musical accompaniment for the wraparound story "Zom-B-Movie," proving again how much a talented composer can boost the production value of any film, no matter how small the budget. Just as the multiple directors' love of cheesy horror and exploitation flicks oozes (literally) through every frame, the same sense of nostalgic fun comes across in the wide assortment of cues and songs – from the rampaging theme song from horror rockers Psycho Charger to the overblown monster drama of "Wadzilla," and the schizo blend of sexually explicit lyrics and squeaky-clean beach party melodies in "I Was a Teenage Werebear." Not only is Chillerama one of 2011's most entertaining movies to watch, it's also got a groovy beat and you can dance to it.

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