Mainstream news sites had some fun a couple of months back when Oxford removed “cassette player” from its Concise English Dictionary to make room for “mankini” and “jeggings”, using the occasion to find some resident music guru to point out that, oh-ho, Of Montreal released a cassette recently and that the format is making a sort of comeback as the “newer”, hipper, lo-fi version of vinyl. The HuffPos and CNNs of the world, of course, failed to mention one genre where cassette culture has been alive and well for some time: underground black metal. Unbelievable, right?

While you’d be hard-pressed to insert yourself into a black metal tape-trading circle in 2011, you’ll find, with a bit of searching, a healthy and active cassette consuming community online buying from small, DIY labels like Crepusculo Negro, Rhinocervs, and Colloquial Sound Recordings, to name a few. A lot of exciting bands are choosing to release their albums exclusively on cassette (Black Twilight Circle bands may ring a bell for more than a few people), often in hand-numbered limited editions of 100, 200, or 300. The cassette, with its raw, distant, and lo-fi sound, often seems like the ideal format for black metal. More bands are going the cassette route, and the format seems to be experiencing a renaissance; so many great tapes came out this past year that I’m kicking myself for leaving some favorites off my list.

Most, if not all (depending on how you define increasingly blurring genre lines), of the cassettes on my Best of 2011 list are of the raw black metal/crust punk variety, the areas of metal where I think the most exciting and innovative work on cassette is being done. I chose to avoid going into noise cassettes, even though there were a lot of great noise tapes this year. A few labels and bands make repeats on my list, and, again, I find that not to be due to a lack of awesome cassettes released in 2011, but rather a testament to the quality of a few extraordinarily dedicated and talented musicians out there who have kept the format strong.

Note: RH-11 would probably have been high on this list from what I’ve heard so far, but given that my copy hasn’t showed up yet; looks like it’ll be competing for the 2012 list.

— Wyatt Marshall

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10. Monarque – La Mort (Les Productions Hérétiques)

Monarque plays straight forward, no frills black metal. And they do it really well. Part of the burgeoning Quebec black metal scene, Monarque’s oversized cassette (big box) came with a pre-written form letter, in French, in which, by filling in your name and mailing it to one of the addresses of Archdioceses in Quebec listed at the bottom, you can renounce your baptism from the Catholic Church.

9. Aksumite – The Gleam of Wetted Lips (Colloquial Sound Recordings)

Aksumite plays insane and violent crust punk and occasionally features two singers (maybe it’s one guy, two tracks?) who competitively scream over one another. It’s raucous and chaotic. One song ends with what sounds like someone taking a crap.

8. Forteresse – Une Nuit Pour la Patrie (Spectre Sinistre)

Une Nuit Pour la Patrie is a four-song recording of a practice session by Forteresse, an integral part of the burgeoning Quebec black metal scene, in preparation for their first ever tour this past spring. The songs are atmospheric yet pack a punch and are examples of how incredible classic black metal, done well, can be. The demo liner says it was recorded “drunk on alcohol, darkness, and hate”.

7. A Pregnant Light – A feast of Clipped Wings (Colloquial Sound Recordings)

A Pregnant Light’s hardcore influenced melodic death/black metal is just . . . righteous. It oozes energy and the raw, pained screams of the singer (unidentified) is some of the more entertaining and satisfying singing I’ve come across this year.

6. Raspberry Bulbs – Nature Tries Again (R.B. Records/Seed Stock)

Raspberry Bulbs’ infectious crust punk is, in all its abrasive hatred, one thing above all: fun. Most songs are around two minutes long and flow nearly seamlessly from one to the next, making Nature Tries Again the kind of album that is best listened to in its entirety.

5. Tukaaria – Raw to the Rapine (Rhinocervs)

Tukaaria’s Raw to the Rapine is relentless and chaotic melodic black metal that often seems on the verge of spiraling out of control, with ominous clean vocals thrown into songs that are otherwise violent and menacing. Raw to the Rapine, their first full-length release, cemented Tukaaria as a band to watch. Raw to the Rapine will be released on Profound Lore in 2012.

4. Ash Borer – Discography (Psychic Violence)

A comprehensive double cassette release of Ash Borer’s material from 2009 to 2011, Ash Borer’s sprawling experimental black metal soundscapes regularly top the 10-minute mark, if not nearing a full 20 minutes. They manage the song lengths well, moving from sweeping riff to sweeping riff in a way that is more hypnotic than tiring.

3. Odz Manouk/Tukaaria (Rhinocervs)

Odz Manouk, whose debut cassette would be on this list were it not released last year, supplies this split with two heavy, demonic, and melodic compositions interspersed with distant howling. Tukaaria’s three songs are incredible as well. Both Odz Manouk and Tukaaria will see CD releases on Profound Lore next year.

2. The Haunting Presence – The Haunting Presence (Crepusculo Negro)

Brutal, raw, ripping death/black metal that doesn’t let up, The Haunting Presence’s four-song cassette was a must this year, putting vigor, evil, and muscle into death metal in a way I haven’t heard it in some time. Hell’s Headbangers will release a 7-inch in the coming months, to be followed by an mLP in 2012.

1. Odour of Dust and Rot (Rhinocervs)

Odour of Dust and Rot was arguably the release of the year for me, a compilation featuring contributions from Crepusculo Negro and Rhinocervs bands Absum, Glossolalia, Odz Manouk, Kuxan Suum, Nihilobstat, Tukaaria, and untitled projects. Absolutely killer from start to finish, the whole album is cloaked in obscurity. A highpoint of note would be Absum’s funereal, mournful, epic and distant dirges.

— Wyatt Marshall

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