Greetings and salutations, acolytes. As we have reached the end of the year, we have also reached the inevitable season of year-end lists, and as always, I found myself struggling to pare the massive amount of music I consumed this year into a more organized and easily-digestible form. I first had to compile a full list of 2012 releases that I still had in my music library, and the final total turned out to be around 360, far too many for a suitable list. From there, I narrowed the list down to releases that I listened to more than once that stuck in my mind, which brought me to 147. Out of that 147, I managed to divide the remaining releases into three categories: honorable mentions (112 releases), EPs/demos (10 releases), and albums (25 releases). The process was a bit exhausting, and it made me question whether I listen to entirely too much music, because this does not even begin to consider all of the albums I listened to this year that were issued prior to 2012.
For the sake of brevity, I will start with the honorable mentions, in alphabetized form, with no commentary. It is important to remember that, while these releases did not make the cut for my top 25, they are all still excellent works in their own ways and certainly are worthy of your time. It is also entirely likely that I may have even missed a few releases; even now I am finding a few that I missed in my initial list. Without further preamble…
Abnormality – Contaminating The Hive Mind
Acrania – An Uncertain Collision
Agalloch – Faustian Echoes
Akphaezya – Anthology IV (The Tragedy Of Nerak)
Arkaik – Metamorphignition
Arsis – Lepers Caress
Aura Noir – Out To Die
Baroness – Yellow & Green
Be’lakor – Of Breath And Bone
Black Breath – Sentenced To Life
Blood Mortized – Key To A Black Heart
Blut Aus Nord – 777 Cosmosophy
Bob Wayne – Till The Wheels Fall Off
Borknagar – Urd
Busdriver – Beaus$Eros
Calabrese – Dayglo Necros
Carthage – Salt The Earth
Cattle Decapitation – Monolith Of Inhumanity
Causemos – Infinite Event
Christian Mistress – Possession
Cloudkicker – Fade
Cryptopsy – Cryptopsy
Cultfinder – Black Thrashing Terror
Dalriada – Napisten Hava
Dawnbringer – Into The Lair Of The Sun God
Death Grips – No Love Deep Web
Derelict – Perpetuation
Desaster – The Arts Of Destruction
Dethklok – Dethalbum III
Devin Townsend Project – Epicloud
Eluveitie – Helvetios
Ensiferum – Unsung Heroes
Enslaved – RIITIIR
Eschaton – Isolated Intelligence
Giant Of The Mountain – Valley Of The Rogue
Goatwhore – Blood For The Master
Gojira – L’Enfant Sauvage
Gory Blister – Earth-Sick
Grave – Endless Procession Of Souls
Graveyard – Lights Out
Greydon Square – Type II: The Mandelbrot Set
Hail Spirit Noir – Pneuma
Helltrain – Death Is Coming
High On Fire – De Vermis Mysteriis
Hour Of 13 – 333
Hour Of Penance – Sedition
Huntress – Spell Eater
Ihsahn – Eremita
Innerty – Tabula Rasa
Intervals – In Time
Inverse Phase – Pretty Eight Machine
John 5 – God Told Me To
Kadavar – Kadavar
Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
Koffin Kats – Our Way & The Highway
Kong – Merchants Of Air
Korpiklaani – Manala
Kreator – Phantom Antichrist
Lamb Of God – Resolution
Lascaille’s Shroud – Restless
Mendel – Subliminal Colors
Meshuggah – Koloss
Mongrel’s Cross – The Sins Of Aquarius
Moonloop – Deeply From The Earth
Napalm Death – Utilitarian
Nechochwen – OtO
Nile – At The Gate Of Sethu
NOFX – Self Entitled
Nothnegal – Decadence
NYN – The Anachronist
Oak Pantheon – From A Whisper
Ophidian I – Solvet Saeclum
Orange Goblin – A Eulogy For The Damned
OSI – Fire Make Thunder
Overkill – The Electric Age
Pennywise – All Or Nothing
Pig Destroyer – Book Burner
Pin-Up Went Down – B-Sides
Powerglove – TV Game Metal
Prong – Carved Into Stone
Psycroptic – The Inherited Repression
Revocation – Teratogenesis
Royal Thunder – CVI
Sabaton – Carolus Rex
Sabbath Assembly – Ye Are Gods
Slice The Cake – The Man With No Face
Soen – Cognitive
Sophicide – Perdition Of The Sublime
Soul Cycle – Soul Cycle II
Spawn Of Possession – Incurso
Spiralmountain – Blank Canvas
Spiralmountain – … And Embers Crash Like Hail
Sylosis – Monolith
T.R.A.M. – Lingua Franca
Tenacious D – Rize Of The Fenix
Testament – Dark Roots Of Earth
The Contortionist – Intrinsic
The Faceless – Autotheism
The Fine Constant – Myriad
The Grotesquery – The Facts & Terrifying Testament Of Mason Hamilton: Tsathoggua Tales
The Haarp Machine – Disclosure
The Human Abstract – Moonlight Sonata
The Omega Experiment – The Omega Experiment
The Other – The Devils You Know
The Sword – Apocryphon
Trioscapes – Separate Realities
Trollfest – Brumlebassen
Vintersorg – Orkan
Wintersun – Time I
Witch Ripper – Witch Ripper
Witchcraft – Legend
Woods Of Ypres – Woods 5 Grey Skies & Electric Light
Wordburglar – 3rdburglar
Wretched – Son Of Perdition
Young Hunter – Stone Tools
3 Inches Of Blood – Long Live Heavy Metal
Hopefully now you begin to understand the Sisyphean nature of my task. Next, we shall examine my 10 favorite EPs/demos from 2012. (This category initially included singles as well, but no singles made the list, rendering the point moot). Any of the following releases that are available as free downloads will have the download link included.
TOP 10 EPs/DEMOS
10. The Company Band – Pros & Cons
The Company Band may be the best supergroup you have never heard of. Comprised of members of Fireball Ministry, CKY, Fu Manchu, and featuring Clutch vocalist Neil Fallon, The Company Band lay down straightforward stoner rock laced with Fallon’s distinctive lyrical bent. Pros & Cons is highly entertaining and provided me with my fix of Neil Fallon in a Clutch-less year, something I found welcome.
Highlights: “House Of Capricorn“, “Kill Screen” | Facebook
9. LVM Trio – LVM Trio
It is not often one gets to hear three musicians of this caliber united; it is even more of a rarity to hear them create something that is such a departure from their normal output. Luke Jaeger, Vishal J. Singh, and Mark Hawkins made their names from pure technical guitar shred, but LVM Trio finds these artists exploring funk and blues instead, branching out and displaying an entirely different side of their respective talents.
Highlights: “Chicken Walk“, “Holy Foam Rubber” | Bandcamp
8. Infiltrator – Demo
If you haven’t heard of Infiltrator, do not be disheartened. This Philadelphia-based one-man speed metal crew does not seem to have made much of a splash with this crude, low-fidelity demo, but that is a pity, because it is quite excellent. Infiltrator specialize in crusty, old-school thrash with just a hint of early proto-death, perfect for the vest-clad longhairs pining for the good old days. Fortunately, this demo can be had completely free, and that should be all the reason you need to investigate further.
Highlights: “Crush The False“, “Hell Ripper” | Bandcamp
7. How To Destroy Angels – An Omen
I make no secret that I am a massive fan of Trent Reznor and find most everything that he does to be incredibly fascinating. His How To Destroy Angels project with his wife is no exception, and while I believe I ultimately preferred the group’s first EP, An Omen delivers, whether it’s the minimalist ‘Keep It Together’ or the haunting, folky ‘Ice Age’. I am fairly certain that at this point in his career, Reznor can do no wrong.
Highlights: “Ice Age“, “On The Wing” | Website
6. Keith Merrow – Retrospecial
The ever-talented Keith Merrow is a friend of mine, and while I occasionally ponder if it influences my disposition toward his music, I believe that the likelihood is that I am drawn to him more because I like his music in the first place. Retrospecial contains several new songs, as well as re-recordings of a pair of old classics, and a Castlevania cover to close things out. This release is classic Merrow, with massive seven-string riffs, memorable grooves, and brilliant solos.
Highlights: “Pillars Of Re-Creation“, “Secret Brick Chicken” | Download
5. Cut Your Teeth – 2 HOT 3 HANDLE
I find myself wondering if Cut Your Teeth have ceased taking things seriously, and then I remember that they never truly seemed to take things seriously. 2 HOT 3 HANDLE features some of the year’s best album art, but on top of that, the band spice up their trademark brand of hardcore/thrash/crossover with bluesy slide guitar solos, crunk rap, and a whole lot of boneheaded party-crazed goodness.
Highlights: “It’s A Party“, “I’m Not Impressed” | Download
4. XII Boar – Split Tongue, Cloven Hoof
In a year where I found myself somewhat underwhelmed by High On Fire‘s album, XII Boar scratched that itch quite handily, laying down four tracks of high-octane stoner metal riffing on Split Tongue, Cloven Hoof. It is true that these Hampshire lads share my affinity for Roman numerals, but the whole draw here is the music, which packs a massive punch and will likely leave you with a mild case of whiplash.
Highlights: “Smokin’ Bones“, “Slamhound“ | Download
3. Busdriver – Arguments With Dreams
I have discussed this particular release from rap oddity Busdriver rather recently, so for simplicity’s sake I am going to quote myself: “This is some of the most unusual, experimental material ever released by an artist who specializes in the unusual and the experimental. With regard to the rap mainstream, Arguments With Dreams is about as far from it as one can be while still being considered rap music.”
Highlights: “Fire Hydrant“, “Wernor Herzog” | Download
2. Odyssey – The Conscious Device
Odyssey‘s The Conscious Device is another release I have discussed even more recently, so once again I will simply stand by my own words: “If I haven’t been clear up to this point, let me be a bit more direct. Bands like Odyssey are representative of all that is right with the modern metal scene. They are talented, creative, and driven by the love of music rather than the fleeting promise of fame. They are aware of their influences and pay homage to them without shamelessly aping them, nor do they play into trends in the hope of gaining a few more fans on Facebook.”
Highlights: “Esoteric Synthesis“, “Via Domus” | Download
1. Tetrafusion – Horizons
If you took the time to click back to the post mentioned above under the Busdriver EP, you will have scrolled past my thoughts on my favorite EP of the year, the brilliant Horizons by Tetrafusion. Once again, a quote: “It is notable that the band utilizes solely clean vocals, distinctively provided by keyboardist Gary Tubbs, and it is his vocals that truly set this release apart. The rest of the band (guitarist Brooks Tarkington, bassist Mark Mitchell, and drummer J.C. Bryant) acquit themselves like seasoned veterans, providing an ever-shifting background of intricate, technical metal that manages to maintain an impressive amount of melody while avoiding the chaotic morass that other bands of this ilk struggle to avoid. Each time I listen to Horizons, I find myself amazed by the way that the instruments play off one another; this sort of interplay is the hallmark of a strong bond between musicians, and it bodes extremely well for the band’s future output, I should think.” Those words are as true now as the day that I wrote them. The infectious nature of this EP has long since caused it to become embedded in my mind, and it is all but impossible to think that I could forget it now. It is a beautifully crafted piece of music, and even if it were on my album list, it would have placed in the top five easily. I reiterate, if you are even remotely a fan of progressive metal, you need to hear Horizons.
Highlights: “Impetus“, “Cloudless” | Download
TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2012
And now, we reach the list you’ve all been waiting for, my 25 favorite albums from the year. As is the case every year, my list features a great deal of diversity, with death, black, thrash, and progressive metal all represented along with rap and electronic music, stoner rock, a little bit of punk, and the usual assortment of oddities. This list was not easy to compose, but in the end, I think it represents what I listened to extremely well.
25. Billy Talent – Dead Silence
Why yes, I am actually quite a fan of Billy Talent, the emotion-laden Canadian rock/punk quartet that seems quite out of place on a site predominantly focused on metal. They are perhaps the very definition of an acquired taste thanks to the nasal vocals, overwrought lyrics, and generally melodramatic sensibility. However, I have grown to enjoy the vocals, the lyrics usually don’t bother me because they are well-crafted, and moreover, the band’s punkish energy and distinctive angular guitars are in full force. The vocal harmonies between singer Ben Kowalewicz, guitarist Ian D’Sa, and bassist Jon Gallant are excellent as always, once you can look past the potentially annoying nasal qualities (D’Sa has always rivaled Kowalewicz in this respect), and drummer Aaron Solowoniuk‘s battle with multiple sclerosis has not diminished his abilities one bit. There are a few weak tunes on the album, but the stronger songs offset them magnificently.
Highlights: “Viking Death March“, “Surprise Surprise“, “Don’t Count On The Wicked” // Facebook
24. The Algorithm – Polymorphic Code
I was not expecting to enjoy Polymorphic Code nearly as much as I actually do, and so this was a bit of a surprise. The album itself is a bit of a sonic assault, sharing many qualities with the oversaturated djent scene, but The Algorithm (better known as Rémi Gallego) manage to inject the sort of variety and mad experimentation of which most djent artists could not begin to conceive. This album is squarely placed in the realm of electronic dance music, shaped by the sensibilities of metal, and the combination is far more interesting than I would have imagined. The end result is overpowering, jumping between electronic subgenres while interspersed with jagged shards of “guitar” and absurd polyrhythmic drums, but I found myself coming back anyway.
Highlights: “Access Granted“, “Panic” | Facebook
23. Colour Haze – She Said
The German kings of psychedelic stoner rock returned with the highly-anticipated She Said, a two-disc collection of massive, fuzzy desert rock grooves, and as usual, Colour Haze do not disappoint. The band has always delivered solid tunes, taking a more laid-back approach than contemporaries like Kyuss, and as such they’ve always provided a perfect soundtrack to a long summer drive. She Said is no exception, and in a year where I soured a bit on stoner rock (I blame last year’s oversaturation), Colour Haze continued to deliver.
Highlights: “She Said“, “Slowdown” | Facebook
22. Testimony – Transcending Reality
It is extremely unfortunate that a band such as Testimony did not receive a great deal of attention for their stellar debut “Transcending Reality”; although their name is easily confused with Testament, the band focus on a technical, intricate brand of progressive thrash metal more akin to Coroner or Watchtower. The production is a bit rough, but there is equal attention devoted to all instruments with some wonderfully audible bass, and the musicianship is top-notch. Testimony deserve mention in the same breath as Vektor as an example of what modern thrash metal can be when the band involved is not content to simply rehash Slayer and Exodus riffs. If you were not aware of this band before, it is never too late to rectify that situation.
Highlights: “State Of Delusion“, “Transcending Reality” // Bandcamp
21. More Or Les – Mastication
This album was one of several late additions to my list, but I feel quite fortunate that I was able to hear it. Canadian street rapper More Or Les has long been a personal favorite of yours truly, given his intelligent lyrics and playful sense of humor, and it takes a special rapper to make a concept album entirely about food while keeping the entire thing interesting. Fortunately, More Or Les is just such an individual, whether he’s rapping about his favorite meal of the day (“Brunch Again”), the perils of spending beyond one’s means (“Filet Mignon”), or simply reciting his recipe for vegan chili (“Chili”). The very idea of a food concept album seems like something best suited for “Weird Al” Yankovic, but More Or Les not only executes the idea flawlessly, but the end result is one of the year’s best albums.
Highlights: “Saltines“, “Filet Mignon“, “Fast Food” | Bandcamp
20. Panopticon – Kentucky
Combining black metal with bluegrass music seems like an odd thing to do, but that has been the particular specialty of Panopticon for several years now, and nowhere is this brilliant melding of disparate musical sensibilities more effective than on Kentucky. The album itself revolves around the coal industry and its destruction of nature, an issue close to hear for Kentuckians, and this connection is bolstered by renditions of several traditional coal mining songs performed acoustically, serving as interludes between three ten-minute-plus black metal songs and the album’s bookend instrumentals. Folk instruments are worked into the metal songs as well, ensuring that Kentucky is an album steeped in the heritage of its namesake.
Highlights: “Bernheim Forest In Spring“, “Bodies Under The Falls“, “Which Side Are You On?” | Youtube
19. The Odious – Joint Ventures
Another later entry to this list, Joint Ventures only saw release this previous week, but it was of sufficient quality that I found myself having to make room for it on my year-end list. (In case you were curious, the album that got bumped was Goatwhore‘s Blood For The Master.) The Odious had gained my full attention with That Night A Forest Grew, and with Joint Ventures they proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the limited sample size previously available was no fluke, but merely an indication of what lay ahead. Joint Ventures is, from beginning to end, a musical journey to rival Hunter S. Thompson‘s well-known jaunt to Vegas, and it is available for free. FREE.
Highlights: “Ancestral Perplexities“, “Mer/ka/ba“, “Joint Ventures” | Download
18. P.O.S – We Don’t Even Live Here
Doomtree rapper P.O.S brings the second rap album on this list. That We Don’t Even Live Here is a fairly uneven album with a few weak tracks, yet still placed so highly on this list, speaks to the strength of the rest of the tracks on this album. Certainly, the album does not quite top Never Better as my favorite P.O.S work, and tracks like “How We Land” and “Wanted/Wasted” underwhelmed me, but the energy of tracks like “Bumper” and “All Of It” and the absurdly infectious grooves of anti-club-hits like “Fuck Your Stuff” and “Get Down” proved impossible to dislodge from my brain or my regular playlist. That there is a bonus track featuring the aforementioned Busdriver is merely icing on the cake.
Highlights: “Bumper“, “Get Down“, “Oh, Ouch” | Facebook
17. Napalm Death – Utilitarian
Still another late entry, Utilitarian actually served as my first real exposure to Napalm Death‘s music in any real capacity. Spurred by a recent interest in Pig Destroyer, I found myself branching out a bit, and Utilitarian gripped me in an indescribable way, burrowing deep into my mind and taking up residence there. The entire album is a punk-laced blast of death/grind violence, and while grindcore has not previously been a genre that has interested me a great deal, I find that I am starting to come around, and Napalm Death is a major portion of the reason why.
Highlights: “Errors In The Signals“, “The Wolf I Feed“, “Think Tank Trials” | Facebook
16. A Forest Of Stars – A Shadowplay For Yesterdays
Prior to A Shadowplay For Yesterdays, I did not find much of interest in the music of A Forest Of Stars, and I can only presume that it was due to my frame of mind at the time, given that I was much more closed off to black metal. I have since expanded my musical horizons, however, and it is thus that I find A Shadowplay For Yesterdays to be a fascinating listen, rife with the Victorian sensibilities that I find inflecting my writing. It helps that the album itself is scintillating, seeping the sort of silent-movie horror that the band seek to instill. Much like myself, this is a band suspended in time and space, with a fascination with the occult and the Devil’s music, and it is thus that I feel some small kinship with them.
Highlights: “Prey Tell Of The Church Fate“, “Gatherer Of The Pure” | Facebook
15. Stolen Babies – Naught
It is fair to say that, in a year filled with anticipated releases, Naught was perhaps the release I was most excited about. I fell deeply in love with Stolen Babies‘ prior release, There Be Squabbles Ahead, several years ago, and as it was their only major release, it soon found itself upon a pedestal. Although Naught fails to live up to my unreasonably high expectations in that regard, it is still an excellent album, reminding me once again why Dominique Lenore Persi is my favorite female vocalist in all of music. The band’s Edward Gorey-meets-Danny Elfman aesthetic is still strong, but the band explore new territory within that sound, and the result is a vastly entertaining listen.
Highlights: “Splatter“, “Prankster“, “Civil Disguise” | Facebook
14. Katatonia – Dead End Kings
It seems that my perspective on Katatonia is skewed somewhat. Most longtime Katatonia fans swear by their old material and are less interested in their newer work, but as I am a relative newcomer to the band’s music, I seem to prefer their more recent albums. I had believed this to be the case with their previous album, Night Is The New Day, but after several listens to Dead End Kings, I revisited its predecessor and found that I did not remember any of it. At any rate, I found myself listening to Dead End Kings a great deal at a rather difficult period of my life, and it just seemed to fit so perfectly. I suspect this will be one of those bonds that stays with me for the rest of my life, bringing up those memories every time that I listen to it. In truth, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Highlights: “The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here“, “First Prayer“, “Dead Letters” | Facebook
13. Celldweller – Wish Upon A Blackstar
It was a bit of an odd experience, finally getting to hear Wish Upon A Blackstar in its full form, as Klayton has been releasing it two songs at a time for the past three years, but this year all of that work came to fruition. Wish Upon A Blackstar is a solid piece of electronic rock, featuring all the hallmarks of Klayton’s ever-evolving sound while mixing in new wrinkles, like the addition of dubstep (an element that Klayton manages to use without sounding like every other dubstep artist out there). There are a few flaws and cringe-inducing lyrics, but the album itself is engrossing enough to render these issues moot. Although it may not surpass the brilliant eponymous Celldweller album, there is no question that Wish Upon A Blackstar is one of the finest releases of the year.
Highlights: “Louder Than Words“, “Unshakeable“, “The Best It’s Gonna Get“, “Birthright” | Facebook
12. Sigh – In Somniphobia
Sigh continue to deliver some of the most diverse, bizarre avant-garde black metal in all of metal. With In Somniphobia, the band venture through nightmarish soundscapes laced with psychedelia and jazz, generating one of the year’s most entertaining listens. Sigh mainman Mirai Kawashima is either a genius or a madman, most likely some combination of the two, and compositions like “The Transfiguration Fear” are some of the most daring you will hear anywhere.
Highlights: “The Transfiguration Fear“, “Somniphobia“, “L’excommunication A Minuit“, “Far Beneath The In-Between” | Facebook
11. Anaal Nathrakh – Vanitas
As with Napalm Death and Pig Destroyer, 2012 found me finally getting Anaal Nathrakh in a big way, thanks to the absurd hook present in “Forging Towards The Sunset” and from there, Vanitas in general. It wasn’t until I dug beneath the noisy exterior that I discovered the true genius lurking beneath the chaos of Anaal Nathrakh’s music, and my life is the better for it. The pure violent catharsis present in Anaal Nathrakh’s music is exhilarating, really, and Vanitas could not have served as a more perfect gateway into their vile, depraved world.
Highlights: “Forging Towards The Sunset“, “Todos Somos Humanos“, “Of Fire, And Fucking Pigs” | Facebook
10. The Sequence Of Prime – Inter-
I have discussed the brilliance of The Sequence Of Prime before, specifically regarding Inter-, so in lieu of rehashing things yet again, I will simply quote myself: “There is a certain madness to his lyrics, the mad scratchings of one who has journeyed beyond our plane of existence and viewed terrible and incomprehensible things, and it is this madness that draws you in. It is the lure of the unknown, the lure of knowledge forbidden, the lure of passing through the barrier between worlds and between existences.”
Highlights: “Tachyon“, “Schwarzschild Radius“, “Vertex“, “Hologram” | Download
9. Ne Obliviscaris – Portal Of I
Portal Of I is another of those long-awaited, much-hyped records that saw release this year, and like many of the others, it did not disappoint. Ne Obliviscaris reworked the three songs on their brilliant demo The Aurora Veil and added four more without disrupting the flow of the originals, managing instead to improve upon them, working with the dichotomy of darkness and light, of beauty and ugliness, and creating something devastatingly brilliant. That it did not place higher on my list is merely a testament to the strength of the albums ranked higher.
Highlights: “Xenoflux“, “Forget Not“, “As Icicles Fall” | Facebook
8. Diablo Swing Orchestra – Pandora’s Piñata
I hadn’t truly expected Diablo Swing Orchestra to place this highly on my list. My initial impressions of Pandora’s Piñata were that it was good, but that it felt somewhat familiar given their first two albums. It didn’t truly set in until I took some time away from the album and came back to it; there was a different sense of familiarity, not so much in relation to the band’s previous works, but rather with regard to the songs themselves, which had worked their way into my brain. Three albums in, and Diablo Swing Orchestra is still the only band I’ve heard that sounds like they do.
Highlights: “Voodoo Mon Amour“, “Black Box Messiah“, “Justice For Saint Mary” | Facebook
7. Death Grips – The Money Store
After Death Grips‘ Exmilitary mixtape came from out of nowhere last year to utterly blow my mind, I was curious to see where the experimental rap trio would take things. Would they move closer toward the mainstream, or farther away? As it turned out, the answer was “both”, thanks to the group releasing not one but two albums. The Money Store saw the group experimenting with more dance rhythms, while No Love Deep Web went the complete opposite direction with its heavy, minimal industrial beats. Of the two, I greatly preferred The Money Store, which made the band’s bizarre, unique sound more palatable while losing none of the aggression and insanity that defines the Death Grips sound.
Highlights: “Get Got”, “The Fever (Aye Aye)”, “I’ve Seen Footage”, “System Blower” // Facebook
6. Bloodshot Dawn – Bloodshot Dawn
Bloodshot Dawn was not a band I had heard of prior to 2012; they had released a demo and an EP, but neither had crossed my path, so the band’s eponymous debut stood as my introduction, and a fine introduction it was, too. Combining the sort of guitar melodies generally reserved for a Scar Symmetry album with the blazing speed of thrash metal and the intricacies of technical death metal, Bloodshot Dawn is the rare album that combines several styles into a coherent whole. In a very strong year for metal of a technical nature, Bloodshot Dawn rose above much of the competition (in my mind, at least), and have created one of the year’s most underrated gems.
Highlights: “Beckoning Oblivion“, “Godless“, “Vision” | Bandcamp
5. Xenocide – Galactic Oppression
On the subject of underrated gems, Xenocide once again proved Canada to be a fertile spawning ground for technical death metal bands with Galactic Oppression, a brutal space-themed concept album vaguely reminiscent of Origin. The musicianship is top-notch, the production crisp (with bass that you can actually hear), and the guttural vocals are actually fairly easy to understand without losing any of their violence. It is, without doubt, the finest concept album about an alien race formerly known as Norse gods travelling through space and engaging in intergalactic warfare that 2012 has seen.
Highlights: “I, Warning“, “Death From Orbit“, “Forgotten Bloodlines And Empty Oaths” | Bandcamp
4. Aesop Rock – Skelethon
Were it not for the album at #2, Skelethon would have easily been my rap album of the year, and deservedly so. Aesop Rock returned after a five-year wait with an album that perfectly encapsulated everything that makes his music great, from the diversely creative beats to his deeply intelligent lyrics, filled with non-sequiturs and yet tied together by overarching themes that only seem truly apparent after multiple listens. Ace’s distinctive voice and cadence is still unlike every other rapper out there, setting him apart as a brilliant, unique voice in a genre that thrives on ignorance and copycats in its mainstream, and I would not have it any other way. Skelethon is a snapshot of an unconventional genius in his prime.
Highlights: “Zero Dark Thirty“, “Ruby ’81“, “Crows 1“, “Homemade Mummy” | Facebook
3. Between The Buried And Me – The Parallax II: Future Sequence
What is there to say about this album that hasn’t already been said elsewhere in the media? It is a Between The Buried And Me album, first and foremost, which is to say that it will not change anyone’s mind about the band. It is, however, something of a defining album for the band, distilling much of what makes them great into a massive concept album that finishes the story put in motion by some of their early work and then begun by The Parallax: Hyperspace Dialogues, the EP that preceded this album. It also showcases some of the band’s best songwriting yet, forging their chaotic sound into some truly memorable patterns and melodies, and although its story is vague and extremely difficult to follow, coming to some form of understanding of the narrative’s structure is incredibly rewarding. The Parallax II: Future Sequence may well go down as the pinnacle of Between The Buried And Me’s already impressive discography.
Highlights: “Astral Body“, “Extremophile Elite“, “Telos“, “Melting City“, “Silent Flight Parliament” | Facebook
2. El-P – Cancer 4 Cure
Of all the albums that came from nowhere to surprise me this year, Cancer 4 Cure was easily the biggest and most pleasant surprise for me. I had never heard of El-P before, and I don’t even recall what prompted me to check out his music, but once I heard the album I was hooked. There was something about the combination of El-P’s brilliant production and unconventional flow that kept pulling me back in, and I found that it was nigh impossible to stop listening, no matter how hard I tried. Even so, it wasn’t really until I started compiling this list that I realized just how much I enjoyed this album, and how it spurred me to investigate more underground rap this year, and I understood then that it had helped define a great deal of what I listened to this year. Even if I were to disregard all of that, however, I would still place it in this spot based solely on the music, because it really is just that good.
Highlights: “Request Denied“, “Oh Hail No“, “Tougher Colder Killer“, “The Jig Is Up“, “For My Upstairs Neighbor” | Facebook
1. Gorod – A Perfect Absolution
As good as this year was, music-wise, there really wasn’t any question for me regarding my album of the year. Gorod shuffled their lineup, replacing their drummer and vocalist, and it made absolutely no difference with their sound. They were the first band to make technical death metal make sense to me, and they remain the most devastatingly brilliant band of that style to this day, forging an array of chaotic leads and riffs into something that is incredibly memorable and, dare I say, catchy. A Perfect Absolution may not even be my favorite Gorod album (as of now, that honor still goes to Process Of A New Decline), but it is a very, very close race, and A Perfect Absolution features some of my favorite musical moments of the year. As I said before, there was no question for me that this was my favorite album of 2012.
Highlights: “Birds Of Sulphur“, “Sailing Into The Earth“, “The Axe Of God“, “Carved In The Wind“, “Varangian Paradise” | Facebook
There you have it, my favorite albums of 2012. I hope that you might find something here that you missed during the year, because the whole purpose of this list (aside from allowing me to take stock of what I listened to this year) is to share my love of music with all of you. Enjoy.