Welcome to the end of the world and thus no reason for this list… Oh wait that never happened and another arbitrary date is TBA but those religious nuts will surely find another for the masses to cower about. So since the world is still very much here, you might want to see what my top 25 albums for the year were. It has been a whirlwind year for me as I got married in October and finally got to see Hawaii and realize that, yes there actually is more to the US west of Pittsburgh. I think in terms of my 25 albums here the diversity may have hit a new high, as it comprises favorite bands of mine as well as a few newcomers. Please click on any of the band’s names below to go to their Facebook page. For now we start with the honorable mentions:
Converge - All Those We Love We Leave Behind
Dinosaur Jr. - I Bet On Sky
Diablo Swing Orchestra - Pandora’s Pinata
Dust Bolt - Violent Demoltion
Early Graves - Red Horse
Meshuggah - Koloss
Overkill - The Electric Age
Royal Thunder - CVI
Skeletal Remains - Beyond The Flesh
The Sword - Apocryphon
and on to the list!
TOP 25 OF 2012
25. Gojira – L’Enfant Sauvage
Gojira returned in 2012 after plenty of touring and much love for their previous two albums, and the French quartet did not disappoint. L’enfant Sauvage was not necessarily better than the albums before it, yet it more than gets the job done. The progressive riff sections, coupled with the Duplantier brothers adding in vocals, guitar, and a very infectious drum section such as on the tracks ‘Liquid Fire’ and ‘The Axe’. The chugging pace, at which Gojira are so good, keeps the album afloat and makes this particularly ‘green’ metal band all the more in touch with the nature they so love. The main driving riff from the album’s title track is yet another highlight, proving that this is an album that should not be missed by fans and casual listeners alike.
24. Incantation - Vanquish In Vengeance
Long running NY death metal band Incantation made their presence felt in late November of 2012 and showed off their trademark crushing style of death metal with the truly scary vocal performance of John McEntee. Combining his guitar attack with drummer Kyle Severn, whose double bass paces out the rest of the band’s performance, the album opens with the fury that is ‘Invoked Infinity‘, and moves toward ‘The Progeny Of Tyranny‘, whose riffs in particular would make Tom G. Warrior jealous. A guitar solo on ‘Haruspex‘ will leave your face a puddle of melting meat on the floor as you wonder how these death metal mainstays can continue to be so strong this late in their career.
Saint Vitus - Lillie: F-65
Saint Vitus have been around the proverbial metal block, and know all too well of what it is like to not fit in somewhere, seeing as Greg Ginn of Black Flag fame signed them to his hardcore punk label SST Records, causing a bit of an uproar between the punk and metal factions at the time. Much like the opening track, Saint Vitus said Let Them Fall’, and by them they meant the very stupid divide between punk and metal. This album sees the band come back together for the first time since 1995, and harkening all the way back to their 1990 album V it’s also the first appearance of Scott “Wino” Weinrich on vocals. The band is completely in their element: tearing pages out of the tomes of their classic album Born Too Late and showing us that guitarist Dave Chandler and his signature doomy guitar tone have not aged one bit in the 26 years since the release of said album. For lovers of doom metal and excellent riffs, this album rarely disappoints and shows that these old dogs can still do it.
22. Goatwhore - Blood For The Master
Goatwhore have quite the reputation to live up to in 2012, as their last album Carving Out The Eyes Of God was a critical darling in 2009, and indeed, made this author’s top 15 of that year. Frontman Ben Falgoust and guitarist Sammy Duet both crawled out of the Louisiana swamps from Soilent Green and Acid Bath respectively, and take their respective extreme metal lineage seriously. When uncompromising songs such as ’When Bone And Steel Meet‘ and ‘Embodiment of This Bitter Chaos‘ are unleashed upon the unsuspecting listener they become a visceral and triumphant gallop of evil through the ear canals of many. A fine album and even though it doesn’t resonate as well as their previous album, it surely shows the band knowing their strengths and sticking to their guns.
- Galloping Blasphemy
For something to be named my most evil album of the year, there surely must be a reason. Rest assured there is: unlike the previous four albums on my list, Satan’s Wrath are not an established band, but they certainly take on a wealth of different influences in order to construct their evil form of metal. It’s best described as a blend of classic thrash metal and some of those wonderfully in between bands like Bathory,Possesed and Hellhammer, as the overtly Satanic passages fly at you through the mouth of a modern day Beelzebub. This Greek duo pull no punches on ‘Between Belial And Satan‘, and with this song alone you would be able to get the picture: fast and furious without the need for breaks. ‘Hail Tritone, Hail Lucifer‘ could be pulled from one of the more obscure NWOBHM bands of the early ’80s like Witchfinder General, as the riffs would remind this author of. For being both evil and old school, it would be a damned sin against the dark lord to exclude Satan’s Wrath from this list.
20. Asphyx - Deathhammer
Those of you readers who know me will know of my love for Martin Van Drunen. From the very first time I heard him on Pestilence’s Consuming Impulse, I knew him to be the premiere death metal vocalist and he has had quite the busy last few years with Hail Of Bullets and the two previous reformations of Asphyx. The band’s previous album Death…The Brutal Way was a very strong effort that made it to #5 for me in 2010 and featured plenty of Van Drunen’s dry raspy vocals betwixt a firing squad of death metal riffs. The intro to tracks like ‘When Blades Turned Blunt‘ feature the evil buzz of classic death metal, slowing to a doom metal pace, and make excellent use of the battle-type atmosphere. This may have been released a while ago but it keeps smashing its way back into my cold black heart.
19. Christian Mistress - Possession
As a bit of a change of pace I thought is would be something to mention a really underrated singer in the form of Christian Mistress’ Christine Davis, whose delivery is a gruff traditional howl that seems caught somewhere between hard rock of the ’70s and early ’80s heavy metal. The band have plenty of old school about them, but saying they are not something special would be doing them a serious disservice. ‘Conviction‘ carries the weight of the lyrics that make up this song which purely calls out for justice in a very Judas Priest kind of way. ‘Black To Gold‘ seems at first like a very straightforward track, but upon repeated listens it just encompasses so much about the vibrant sound from which it draws influence, and shows a band really going for it at a completely different level. Christian Mistress have outdone their previous effort and hopefully continue the trend.
18. Woods Of Ypres – Woods V: Grey Skies & Electric Light
David Gold may have been with this world for a very brief amount of time, but his work should not go unnoticed. Gold, who lost his life in a vehicular incident in late 2011, finished what is surely Woods Of Ypres’ magnum opus, which sounds like a suicide note. Right from album opener ‘Lightning & Snow‘ you can feel the pain of existence through his words and overall chaotic atmosphere. Gold’s voice is often likened to the late Type O Negative front man Peter Steele, and it’s more than meritorious of that distinction. The follow up track of ‘Death Is Not An Exit‘ explains Gold’s intent as he feels that the only way to escape the troubles of life is to indeed “flick the the off switch” on his own self. Sadly, this album was surrounded by circumstances substantially more bleak than the album itself, and we will never know if Gold had anything else left, but fortunately we have this album by which to remember him.
17. Evoken - Atra Mors
New Jersey is not a place that I would think of when people use such austere and dismal music to put their thoughts to our ears, yet Lyndhurst’s Evoken have been doing this since 1994, so something clearly has been working all this time. This is some of the finest funeral doom metal I have ever come across, as it conveys the feeling of oncoming death as well as intense emotions, as the gloom and doom is sometimes replaced with a beautiful and thoroughly stirring atmosphere. The album’s title track delves more into the latter: in the final four minutes the song tugs on your heartstrings, reaching new levels of a deadly divinity. Make sure to also check out ‘Descent Into Chaotic Dream‘ as the intensity of this band’s music knows no bounds.
16. Witchcraft - Legend
Witchcraft have finally returned from Sweden and have graced us with their first album since 2007. Front man Magnus Pelander has dropped his axe in favor of sole vocal duties, and with album opener ‘Deconstruction‘ the band’s overt love of Virginia’s Pentagram has hit a new high. ‘It’s Not Because Of You‘ has an excellent catchy main riff and sees the band center around Pelander’s excellent vocal delivery. Legend is also a great showcase of the band’s completely new guitar battery of Tom Jondelius and Simon Solomon, and is essentially a doomy hard rock album – and where would that be without some excellent riffage? Witchcraft have most certainly returned!
15. Black Breath – Sentenced To Life
The first of my duo of Southern Lord Records releases features a welcome return to form of a band that had a very promising first EP but a less than stellar first LP. Black Breath’s first album Heavy Breathing was a little unnecessarily long, yet it maintained the sound that the band had used on their Razor To Oblivion EP before it; a bit a of a likeness to bands like Discharge and DRI. What you get on Sentenced To Life is more of the band’s EP shining through and a very short and powerful ten songs coming in at just under 33 minutes and using every single second of this time to bash your skull in. The title track, ‘Mother Abyss‘, and the exceptional ‘The Flame‘ make for quite the potent listen – the latter using some excellent tempo changes which see the band slowing down to a crawl of buzzing guitars (the like of which was made famous by Entombed and used to great effect recently by Trap Them). If any of the bands mentioned before strike your fancy, Sentenced To Life may well be for you.
14. Acephalix – Deathless Master
Finisihing up the Southern Lord section very quickly are Acephalix and their album of crust ridden filth combined with an undeniable death metal sound. Deathless Master is a powerful album and reminds me that a slow moving death metal riff may be one of its most powerful tools. Coming off sounding like a combination of Autopsy and (insert Swedish death metal band here), ’Bastard Self‘ accomplishes quite a bit of this on its own, as does ‘On Wings…‘, which sees their guitarist Kyle House doing his best impression of Eric Cutler and Danny Coralles. This second album of theirs shows immense promise and showcases a new evil that is fast moving out of one of the best underground metal labels out there.
13. Rush – Clockwork Angels
Well I suppose I can’t hide this, nor did I ever try: I am a huge Rush fan, and damn proud of it. In being a fan of theirs, I was very disappointed by Snakes & Arrows and was not even looking forward to this release, but despite this I was coaxed into giving the album a chance by a student. I’m sure glad I did. I am a firm believer that Rush’s best days went from their self titled to Signals, and from there it gets a bit spotty. From the very beginning of ‘Caravan‘ I found myself reliving the days of Permanent Waves, A Farewell To Kings, and Moving Pictures; all of which one can never have enough of. Yet again, a strong title track shows something special, and even the odd and very metal song ‘Carnies‘ punctuates an album that is in my opinion their best since their glory days. It’s nice to know that bands don’t forget what made them who they are. Geddy Lee, Neil Peart and especially the forgotten man behind the strings Alex Lifeson – whose performance in particular really helps the album soar – make for an unforgettable ride which will not soon go away.
12. Grave - Endless Procession Of Souls
Death metal has seen a revival in the past few years and 2012 was no exception; even some of the originals came out to play. Enter Grave with their pummeling display of Swedish death metal and their tenth album Endless Procession Of Souls; a master stroke in the straightforward riff driven style of death metal. The first track on the album, ‘Amongst The Marble And The Dead‘, really helps to set the pace and has more than enough riffs and plenty of buzz for those old school aficionados – much like myself – to shake a stick at. ‘Disembodied Steps‘ is a battle cry for pure death metal glory, almost to the point of ‘Death Metal Victory‘ (yes that was an Unleashed pun and so what?). Grave picks up where bands like Autopsy, Bastard Priest, and Disma left off in 2011 and since they are from the original Swedish death metal school of thought, it makes it almost that much better. When the bands of yore can still sound this vivacious so far into their career we should all feel lucky to be here.
11. Accept - Stalingrad
A few years back, before Accept released their Blood Of The Nations album, I found myself disappointed to hear that original singer Udo Dirkschneider had left to go back to U.D.O., leaving the band without a vocalist and a huge void to be filled. Mark Tornillo (originally of New Jersey outfit TT Quick) was the man to replace him, and seeing as it was my #12 album of 2010 it goes to show Udo is not currently being missed. Stalingrad continues where the band had left off and feels a bit more cohesive, due in large part to the band being together a bit longer. Much ballyhooed was Udo that people tend to forget that the most integral cog in Accept’s machine is guitarist Wolf Hoffmann and if you can make it through ‘Hellfire‘ without doing some form of air guitar, you clearly have no soul. The album slows at certain points but when you couple the previous song, ‘The Quick and The Dead‘ and the anthemic presence of one of Germany’s best exports, you find an album that is easily the best purely heavy metal album of 2012.
10. Horrendous - The Chills
For those looking for a death metal album that may just be better than the rest of its peers in the year of 2012, you may have to look no further than the United States’ own Horrendous and their absolute aural destruction of a debut, simply titled The Chills. From the very beginning of ‘The Womb‘ it should be very apparent what kind of post-apocalyptic music you are in store for: the riffs pummel the listener and even leave room for some excellent solos that add just the right amount of melody as the dual leads trade off some excellent sections reminding listeners of the kind of special guitar sound of a vintage Morbid Angel. ’Altars‘ features a great drum gallop and even has the vocal style borrow from the aforementioned Martin Van Drunen, yet it still sounds like something I have never heard before. Slowing to an Obituary-style of crawl has the band literally all over the death metal landscape whether it be the US or Europe, and it is this kind of musical globetrotting that sets the band apart in more ways than one. Hopefully this is the start of something great for yet another upstart band.
9. Enslaved - RIITIIR
When a band of Enslaved’s caliber releases an album more than a few people take notice, as I am probably the umpteenth person to include this on a top whatever list this year. The band has slowly embraced their love of progressive metal and moved to have their music become a true hybrid of black metal and prog and become one of metal’s best bands. Their previous album Axioma Ethica Odini was my #2 album of 2010 which like this album was a late release, which found it’s way into my eardrums and make itself home. RIITIIR most certainly did that but not until after about 4 listens and then it’s deeper sound came out to me in the form of the track ‘Death In The Eyes Of Dawn‘ with it’s moving beauty and excellent trade off between vocal styles that even Mikael Akerfeldt may not be able to pull off; Grutle Kjellson is nearly the best in the business. If you were already a fan of the band you have no reason not to wrap your brain around this much praised entry to the Enslaved catalog as in time it may hold that special place that Vertebrae, Axioma, Isa, and Below The Lights already hold. Be prepared to spin this multiple times and be rewarded handsomely.
8. Napalm Death – Utilitarian
Being one of my favorite bands certainly doesn’t hurt a band’s chances any when it comes to making a year end list; such is the case with Napalm Death. These grind beasts show no signs of rust after their 2009 album Time Waits For No Slave took my top spot. Utilitarian shows the band embracing their new – if not slightly altered – direction as they certainly feature longer songs and a bit of a death metal sound to show off a more developed kind of grindcore, and open the door to some people who think of the genre as a joke. The utter simplicity of ‘The Wolf I Feed‘ shows just how powerful vocalist Barney Greenway is, and he is a maelstrom of pure hate and energy both on this album and in a live setting. ‘Quarantined‘ is a great showcase for Danny Herrera on drums and Mitch Harris on guitar, as the entire album slays with a particularly powerful midsection which also includes ‘Fall On Their Swords‘. Napalm Death are mandatory extreme metal listening for any serious fan, and Utilitarian is yet another fine day at the office for these gods of grind.
7. High On Fire - De Vermis Mysteriis
Matt Pike certainly knows his way around a guitar, seeing as he descended from the mighty throne of the band Sleep and now fronts the premiere stoner metal band in the form of High On Fire. The band is coming off a good (yet not great) album with Snakes For The Divine and ultimately the problem was that I wanted more. De Vermis Mysteriis delivers from the opening shot of ‘Serums Of Liao‘ and into the full blown chaos of ‘Bloody Knuckles‘ with the signature high octane riffs and guitar solos. Pike and his half-birthday suit even find the time to slow things down on the etude-like ‘King Of Days‘, as his guitar purely soars and sings as if it had a voice of its own. Combine all of this with the H.P. Lovecraft-influenced story line about a stillborn sibling of Christ who also time travels and you have a very well written album both musically and lyrically that puts High On Fire another rung higher up in the land of heavy metal hierarchy.
6. Testament - Dark Roots Of Earth
Thrash metal is a genre that is near and dear to me, and if there were to be additions to the Big Four, Testament would have to be one of the next bands up for consideration. Indeed, their last two albums have been better than anything the Big Four have done in quite some time. Dark Roots Of Earth is more of the same from this band who last obliterated eardrums in 2009 with The Formation Of Damnnation. This long standing thrash institution continue to put out not just good material but great material, and you will indeed feel compelled to ‘Rise Up‘ with the band as the opener has vocalist Chuck Billy show you just how an elder statesman of metal can clearly outdo just about every thrash metal vocalist of today. Alex Skolnick continues his guitar pyrotechnics of old and makes a band that is nearly thirty years old sound new and rejuvenated. Traits of albums like The New Order, Practice What You Preach, and Souls Of Black are all there for the well versed Testament fan to pick apart, yet there is enough of their newer material around so as to not discourage newer fans from getting familiar. ‘True American Hate‘ and ‘Native Blood‘ thrust forth in all of their thrash metal glory and should become staples of the band’s live show for years to come. If you love thrash metal or are a fan of the band and their material as a whole, you’d be hard pressed to top this thrash album in 2012.
5. Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell - Don’t Hear It…Fear It
“Who?” is a question you might well ask, and you’d have ample reason to do so. What’s with the long name? Why it was the name of a British naval officer from the past. Are they any good? Why yes they are, and in droves too. Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell are the very embodiment of the past and especially too are purveyors of that style of kick ass ’70s hard rock, much like New York’s Sir Lord Baltimore and Australia’s Buffalo. The psychedelic elements are on full display as an ode to the almighty riff, such as on ‘Devil’s Island‘ – a slow moving song at the beginning, which works into your brain and has all the right pieces of nostalgia working much like The Gates Of Slumber - can do at a moment’s notice. Around the thre minute mark the band goes on a riff-a-palooza and doesn’t let up, and for those of you who love stoner rock and a good old fashioned headbanging session, this song delivers on all fronts. ‘Red Admiral Black Sunrise‘ lets loose right out of the gate and has a long and drawn out main riff section surrounded by Johnny Gorilla’s vocal performance as his gruff approach to this style of music is a noticeable breath of fresh air to the cleaner style of Witchcraft and Graveyard. In a year that saw similar releases by the aforementioned bands as well as a young band by the name of Horisont, it seems these Brits have attempted to take back the hard rock throne from Sweden and in my eyes they most certainly did that, and now rule the roost.
4. Pig Destroyer - Book Burner
Pig Destroyer are far from being list virgins – as you are more than likely to have seen them on many even before you have read mine – but since it has been five years since Phantom Limb and we fans have grown quite restless in waiting for them. Book Burner picks up where the band left off as J.R. Hayes shreds vocal chords and Scott Hull weaves intricate riffs together all at a lightning fast pace, and showcases just what the grindcore of today is capable of. ‘Sis‘ is a powerful opener and sets the tone for what soon follows it, with the riffs and drumming amping up as the album goes on. The lyrics to ‘The Diplomat‘ are also quite noteworthy “We never ever change, We make the same mistakes, If you’re gonna have roads, You’re gonna have roadkill, Thats the risk that it takes.” Expertly crafted, they make a bit a splash and show off that this lightning quick band also has a brain. It would be difficult to separate some of the other tracks out for a look because this album really seems to flow together so well, and its production quality only seems to do it more justice. Pig Destroyer have returned and with a vengeance.
3. Panopticon - Kentucky
Panopticon have been favorites of black metal friends of mine for quite some time and I was unsure as to why; frankly I had really paid them ( I should say him, as A. Lundr is the sole person behind the music here) no mind at all. When I had heard of the concept behind the album and the plight of the Kentucky coal miners and the money being raised by Lundr for the Commonwealth of Kentucky I decided to lend my ear to his cause. The combination of black metal and folk music is nothing new, but the combination of that with bluegrass is something I couldn’t imagine would work; yet it works all too well, and uses the attributes of the latter to tug on your heartstrings each and every time you hear songs like ‘Bodies Under The Falls‘. The bluegrass songs also fit in quite well and are well used, showing off how many instruments Lundr can master during the fifty-one minutes of play time. It really is quite the sound to behold! The album fights the good fight, emphasizes the level of care for humanity Lundr holds, and the disdain for those individuals who look to deprive people of their social liberties when given the opportunity. For having an incredibly large heart and being able to convey beauty through carnage, Panopticon is a powerfully moving album that is black metal’s best for 2012.
2. Baroness - Yellow & Green
Many Georgian bands have gained prominence in the past few years, and of those Mastodon may have the most influence – yet Baroness are fast approaching that same powerful level by going in a completely different direction than their brethren. The progression from Red Album, Blue Record, and eventually the double dose of Yellow & Green has been one of dropping most of the extreme elements of the band and replacing them with expertly crafted hooks and vocals. John Baizley, the mastermind behind the band (as well as all of their artwork) has kept himself busy over the past three years in between albums and made sure that they have remained a well oiled machine. The first full track ‘Take My Bones Away‘ is a perfect example of what the band’s vision was during the recording process as it includes a little bit of something for any listener. The two halves of the record are a bit different, as Yellow takes a more easy approach such as with tracks like ‘Little Things‘ and Green really tries to hit the listener with some deeper cuts, such as ‘Foolsong‘, with long drawn out psychedelia and ‘Collapse‘ which continues this trend and leaves you with your head spinning and eventually bringing you to a state of relaxation. At just over an hour it is a good deal longer than most albums, but it well worth the ride and with multiple listens it may just become a favorite of yours too.
1. Pallbearer - Sorrow And Extinction
Last year I was met with a band by the name of 40 Watt Sun and their album The Inside Room, and it quickly captured my heart and the top of my charts. Their vocalist Patrick Walker was simply sublime, and struck me with their especially slow crawl of emotive doom metal. Going from one powerful debut to another, Pallbearer seem to be carved in their image, yet seem to be more focused on the doom instead of the vocals (although Brett Campbell’s are certainly up there). Sorrow And Extinction is one of the finest and most original doom metal albums I have heard in a very long time, as their guitarists seem to drink from the same fountain as the almighty Iommi. Each riff is crafted with such care; much like the one on ‘Devoid Of Redemption‘. The song progressively slows down and draws the riff out into its component parts and stretches itself out until the song eventually finishes. The excellent guitar tone is something to be envious of if you aspire to be a doom metal band, and it seems to me they out did their peers Evoken and High On Fire in that department this year; very steep competition indeed. ‘The Legend‘ seems to be the story of a man who is cognizant of his own demise as he can see the Grim Reaper coming to take him to his death; this continues until the man accepts his fate and indeed passes. This is all done in such a beautiful way and really once again conveys that beautiful emotion that is often lost on today’s metal. For those reasons and many more it has topped my chart for the year of 2012 and it has certainly garnered more than its fair share of attention elsewhere, and it is most certainly the best album I have heard this year.
Thus concludes the list. I hope to provide you with some excellent insight for each and every one of the albums presented here as some of these didn’t seem to be well noticed outside of certain circles. I hope you have enjoyed my ramblings as 2012 was most definitely one of the best years since I started writing. Here’s to 2013 being even better!