Last year saw an over abundance of monumental releases from bands that cover a wide spectrum of heavy music. Be it hardcore or metal, 2011 was a great year, and it was quite obvious that 2012 had big shoes to fill. It was without much hesitation, as it only took the first month for the year to get off to an amazing start, with releases from Alcest, Iron Cages, and Woods of Ypres, and even though I kept my ear to the more bigger acts in these genres, I spent most of my time focusing on the underground and all the upcoming bands making their mark on the scene.
This is reflected in my list, so if there isn’t a particular album listed here that has been the talk of the town, it has nothing to do with my feeling towards it; I just honestly haven’t had enough time to listen to everything.
As always, I’m choosing albums that have made a lasting impression on me, and not the ones that get me to blow my load right away with excitement – but rather, the ones that slowly entice me with their sweet, sweet tunes – until I eventually fell in love with them. Even more to the point, this year has had its share of highs and lows – from being a newlywed and a homeowner (amazing highs), to being let go from my job, and in the process watching my mind slowly sink into a deep, dark hole of blah-ness (horrible lows), so with a lot of pondering it became clear which albums meant the most to me. From a few heavyweights, to an oddball, and bands you may not know of, my list best reflects the bands that have gotten me through it all – or for the most part – and have helped comfort me through this life changing year of mine. So without further ado, here are my picks for the top 10 albums (including a few EPs) of 2012:
10. Tempest – Solace
Two tracks and a runtime shy of ten minutes – Canadian hardcore band Tempest released this EP early in the year, and while only serving as a tease, it did provide me with new tunes from this band, and that’s good enough. I fell in love with Tempest after hearing their debut EP Passages, and Solace only continues the onslaught of chaotic metallic hardcore that these Canadians are oh so good at dishing out. Although being two separate tracks, they are brought together through the use of feedback and the ringing out of chords, so that they end up coming off as one complete song. Each of these tracks have an organized chaos about them, as they focus on Tempest’s core foundations; being heavy and raw, which when brought together – create an atmospheric aura of catastrophic proportions. For only being a two-track EP, this band does a great job at making it sound a lot more than it is. Here’s hoping we finally get a full-length from these gents in 2013.
Top tunes: ‘Solace I’, ‘Solace II’ | Bandcamp
09. Cathedraal – Voix Blanches
Cathedraal are a French screamo band from Paris that encompass a darker tone to their sound. Comprised of ten tracks, Voix Blanches starts off with a pleasant yet uncomfortably eerie instrumental, as the gentle strumming of the chords are soon blanketed by violins to create a somber feeling that is ever present throughout the album. Filled with distress in his voice, the vocalist screams and shouts with pure emotion over a cascading wave of post-rock riffs and hard-hitting drums, and it’s easy to get lost in their sound, which was the case with me. Seeing as how screamo was never my cup of tea, I took a chance with this album, but after a few play-throughs, certain moments began to stick out. Such as the heaviness of ‘En Crimée’, the pipe organ outro heard in ‘Laisser Aller’, and the overall down-tuned avalanche of sound that is ‘Dieu Ne Croit Plus En Nous’. This album was such a pleasant surprise, that I found myself coming back to it time and time again, with each new listen more enjoyable than the last.
08. Mumford & Sons – Babel
Wait, is this right? Out of all the crust, metallic noise, and rage filled music, a folk band shows up and crashes the party? Yep. Talk about great timing, but Babel came out at just the right time for me durning a hectic point in my life, and even though heavy music tends to most of my needs, there comes a time when I even need to unwind from all the heaviness. Enter Mumford & Sons and their brand of uplifting/inspiring folk music that seems to enrage a lot of people, yet doesn’t bother me one bit. Perhaps because the album flows so well, provides ear pleasing vocal melodies, and overall just follows a simple formula of writing what they know – and this band knows folk…and banjos. Babel wasn’t quick to win me over, but repeat play-throughs during my road trip to Canada for my honeymoon proved to be the trick. It began to spread its infectious melodies and soaring choruses into my inner-being, and suffice to say, it tugged the right chords and I’ve come to keep this album on high rotation. Also, ‘Broken Crown’ – it’s the bee’s knees.
Top tunes:‘Ghosts That We Knew’, ‘Broken Crown’, ‘Below My Feet’ | Facebook
07. Geraniüm - Geraniüm
Whereas last year saw crust-punk/d-beat rockers Unkind take my top spot, this year sees the French equivalent – Geraniüm - landing a spot on my top ten with their ability to capture the same feeling of rawness and attitude that I felt from Unkind’s album. This is their debut LP, and it showcases the bands blend of dark, metallic, and crust influenced hardcore, as all eight tracks offer up a brutal, punishing, and oppressive-sounding atmosphere that is nothing short of amazing. Many a night would I blast this album on my way home from work to help me deal with all the a-holes I would encounter on the road. Just a punishing album from beginning to end, with many memorable melodies that roar with angst and fury. Keep your eyes peeled to this band, as I see nothing but great things coming from them in the future.
Top tunes:‘Homeostasis’, ‘No Second Chance’, ‘And This Strange Sensation of Being Nowhere at Home’ | Bandcamp
06. Direwolves – Me From Myself, To Banish
I don’t know what it is about France this year, but the amount of gnarly bands that have been emerging from there is mind boggling. Hailing from Lorient, Direwolves are a five piece hardcore band, and although new to the scene, have proven themselves quite formidable as their debut EP, Me From Myself, To Banish, showcases a viciously brutal blend of blackened/metallic hardcore while also incorporating elements of screamo and crust within their sound. The amount of emotion that is felt (especially from the vocalist) on this EP is staggering, all the while being one of the heaviest and most melodic driven albums I’ve heard this entire year. It’s evident from the opening track that these dudes are not messing around, as ‘Growing Defeat’ is one of the best songs I’ve heard in a long while. This is a strong debut that will cater to both the classic and new hardcore fans alike – and also serves as a great starting point for the band.
05. Votnut - Votnut
Hands down, this is one of the most vile, chaotic, and unrelenting albums of the year. From North Carolina and featuring members of Young And In The Way, Votnut have set their sights on not only maiming the listeners aural canals, but shredding them to pieces. After a brief intro, the mayhem that bursts forth from rest of the EP makes the intro seem like a walk in the park. This band is anti-human; as the guitarist offers up a slew of rage-fueled, razor sharp riffs, the drummer seems to want to destroy his kit with speed and intensity, and the vocalist spits out his lyrics with such venomous force. I do apologize for all the word play, but there is no other way to explain the EP without using over the top metaphors, seeing as how this EP is completely over the top. Just put on ‘World We Kill’ and wait for the ‘Slayer-ish’ breakdown, and tell me you didn’t bang your head. In short, it would be wise not to pass on this band.
04. Black Breath – Sentenced To Life
Another rager of an album, Sentenced To Life was a breath of fresh air (excuse the pun) this year. With a punk-rock attitude about them, and music that merged thrash, power violence, and hardcore, this album is a well balanced mix of catchy hooks, leads and well-placed and not overly used breakdowns that are sure to cause crowds to erupt in disarray. In my opinion, this is Black Breath’s best album to date, and at times I feel it even surpasses Heavy Breathing, especially in terms of leaving a lasting impression. Before you get your panties in a bunch, I happen to enjoy the hell out that album as well. Anyway, albeit faster than earlier albums, Black Breath still manage to incorporate groove into a few of their songs that switches the pace up a bit – but needless to say, the album doesn’t waste much time when it comes to rocking out. Boasting plenty of gang-shouts, solos that harken back to metals greatest, and riffs that shred, Sentenced To Life has enough to satisfy anyone who enjoys their music loud, fast, and without restraint.
Top tunes:‘Feast of The Damned’, ‘Of Flesh’, ‘The Flame’ | Facebook
03. GAZA – No Absolutes In Human Suffering
No Absolutes in Human Suffering is one of the highlights of the year for me. I’ve always been a fan of GAZA, but this album just took their already heavy sound, and turned it up to eleven (I knew I could work this Spinal Tap reference into one of my choices). Intense would be a key word in describing the effects of this album: with a highly technical and innately unconventional approach to their music, Salt Lake City’s GAZA perform an unpredictable mixture of metal, sludge, and grindcore. With a penchant for a darker tone and feel, they have have once again successfully blended these three styles of music to give us another album that is not only a worthy follow up to 2009′s He Is Never Coming Back, but an album that far surpasses it. No Absolutes in Human Suffering sees the band building upon their foundation, this time with more maturity and growth in their writing – but not to fret, this album supplies plenty of noisy riffs, dissonant lows, and total crushing insanity. In a nutshell, this album slays.
02. BARONESS – YELLOW & GREEN
Baroness have come a long way since their First and Second EPs – first when they broke into the public eye with their debut full-length Red Album, then when they gained more praise and popualtiry with 2009′s release of the Blue Record – but Yellow & Green are in a class all their own. They take bits and pieces from past albums, but this time around put more focus on melody, introspection and overall atmosphere. Whereas previous albums were nestled in sludgy goodness, on Yellow & Green the band shifts their sound to a more steady pace – and between the two albums the songs range from bluesy affairs to psychedelic romps. Even though you notice something has changed from what you used to know about them, you welcome it because deep down you know it’s still Baroness behind those instruments. Although two different entities, I can’t help but enjoy both albums when played together – front to back. My enjoyment only grew the more I let the music seep in with continuos listens, and even though the Blue Record is my go to album of theirs, I have nothing but the utmost respect for Baroness, as they have made the most genuine progression of any band in recent memory and crafted two of the best albums of the year.
01. CONVERGE – ALL WE LOVE WE LEAVE BEHIND
Every now and then there’s a particular album on the horizon that is long-awaited and has fans frothing at the mouth for a chance to hear it…and for me, it was the new album by legendary hardcore band Converge. For those that know me, it’s no surprise to see All We Love We Leave Behind as my number one pick. Although I fit in the group of people who love this band and worship the very ground (or should I say stage) upon which they wreak havoc – it’s much more than that. When I first heard Caring And Killing way back when, it was something completely different than any of the other hardcore bands I was listening to at that time. Over time this bond I formed with the bands music only grew with each successive album, and if there was ever a moment in my life that needed some kind of reassurance (be it a failed relationship, losing someone close, or just needing a cleansing of the mind), I always knew I could find comfort in those albums. For example, You Fail Me reached a whole new level of meaning and enjoyment when it clicked with me after a heart wrenching break up. I now have a whole new love for that album.
Anyway, like most of their albums, one listen is never enough to fully take in what Converge has to offer. They are a band many others do their best to emulate, but they never quite capture that sound and fury. Each album of theirs provided a growth in both sound and artistry, as the band not only hits hard with their music, but with the visuals as well (courtesy of frontman Jacob Bannon). With a solid track record for delivering successful and acclaimed albums; such as You Fail Me, Jane Doe, as well as their earlier material (shame on you if you ignore it), it’s easy to place All We Love We Leave Behind among them – as we see the band keeping true to their standards and delivering another destructive album.
Between the technical and blaring riffs of guitarist Kurt Ballou, Nate Newton’s equally technical and deeply audible bass, to Ben Koller’s ballistic, punk rock drumming, and Jacob Bannon’s screams and snarls, Converge have managed to sound even heavier, while also providing their most accessible and cohesive album to date – which just goes to show the bands ability at mastering an already well-crafted style.
Also, it’s best to acknowledge the amount of hard work and passion these guys put into their music. With twenty years under their belt and showing no signs of slowing down, Converge have once again shown us why we should enjoy music and all that it encompasses. Suffice to say, this is an album that will be referred to as a ‘must listen’ for years to come.
For more insight into why this album crushes, you can read my full review of the album over at my former place of residence, Heavy Blog Is Heavy.
And with that, as 2012 closes, and honestly, the only thing on my mind besides landing a new job before it’s to late (might see me on the news robbing a bank soon) are all the gnarly releases 2013 has in store. Such as; Nails, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Queens of the Stone Age, Leprous, Tomahawk, Shai Hulad, Intronaut, The Ocean, Kvelertak, TesseracT, and Tool (I kid). Looks as though 2013 is shaping up to be another great year for heavy/alternative music.
Before all that begins, lets take a look at some other goodies from 2012…
HIGHLIGHT OF THE YEAR (music-wise):
Getting a picture taken with Jacob Bannon (Converge) at the Rorschach reunion show in NYC. Aside from the stupid face I’m making, it was an honor to not only talk to him for a brief moment, but to also meet a major influence of mine in both music and art.
SOME OF THE GNARLIEST ALBUM ART OF THE YEAR
(click ‘em hard to enlarge)
AND A FEW HONORABLE MENTIONS:
3 Inches of Blood – Long Live Heavy Metal
Gojira – L’Enfant Sauvage
Homewrecker – Worms And Dirt
Black September – Into The Darkness Into The Void
Pig Destroyer – Book Burner
Birds In Row – You, Me, and The Violence
Carthage – Salt The Earth
Snakes – Please Just Kill Me Now
Unsacred – Where the Light Dims
Dragged Into Sunlight – Widowmaker
Tragedy – Darker Days Ahead
Rise And Fall – Faith
Planks – Funeral Mouth
Kingmaker – Less Faith
Burning Love – Rotten Things To Say
Jungbluth – S/T
Iron Cages – Demo
Muse – 2nd Law
Hexis – XI
Hammers – Vardogr
Fvck Mountain – S/T EP
Torch Runner – Committed To The Ground
False Light – S/T
Everything Went Black – Cycles of Light
Enemies – Framing Choices To Silence Our Voices
Early Graves – Red Horse
Silversun Pickups – Neck of the Woods
Between the Buried and Me – Parallax II: Future Sequence
Desperate Living – Demo
Deftones – Koi No Yokan
Death Dealer – Silence Speaks Volumes
Barrier – Dark Days
Loma Prieta – I.V.
Trenchfoot – Endless Disgust
In closing, to all the artists, bands, musicians, record labels, music blogs, and fans of extreme music…
Yes… yes we are.