Dec 192012

(In this third of NCS writer Andy Synn’s week-long series of year-end lists, he identifies a group of 2012 albums that were disappointments. To see his lists of the “Great” and the “Good”, go here and here.)

Well this is always the hardest one to write. You know we don’t like to be negative here at NCS. We rarely post about albums/bands we don’t like, and we always try to be constructive with any criticisms we do have.

But this is part of the yearly round-up, and it’s an acknowledgement that certain albums… just weren’t that good. Not terrible, just not meriting a description as ’Good’ without an unspoken “but…”

Now, to set the record straight, none of these albums is ‘Bad’. They’re just lacking something. Since there’s only a few this year (some previous ‘Disappointing’ bands have actually dropped so far in my estimation that there’s no longer even any point in pretending that they’ve let anyone down), I’ve gone into a little bit of detail about each. Not much, but enough to give you a sense of why they’re on THIS list, and not the ‘Good’ list.

Again – these aren’t ‘Bad’ albums. ‘Bad’ albums wouldn’t even get a mention. These are albums that were objectively (or as objectively as I can assess them) a disappointment. So try and keep the flaming comments to a minimum, eh?


AnathemaWeather Systems

I’m not sure where exactly to start with this one. I hope we can all agree that We’re Here Because We’re Here was an almost flawless album of gleamingly melodic, highly emotive prog-rock, but the follow-up… is just more of the same. Only not as good. It’s like an alternate-universe version of the exact same album, where things were just ever so slightly different, so that the album didn’t turn out quite as well. Some songs are absolutely stellar, but they’re very much in the minority. Overall I’m not even sure what’s missing, the band obviously have the same passion and emotional connection… the music just misses the mark.


KatatoniaDead End Kings

Probably the most painful entry on the list, the new Katatonia album really sees the band treading water with their ‘new’ sound. Both the previous two records were phenomenal and creative (though both had their detractors), but Dead End Kings is just a pale imitation by comparison. It follows the same pattern, hits the same beats, but without having anywhere near the same impact or effect. The ratio of killer to filler is also vastly tipped toward the negative side, meaning the album feels more like an EP’s worth of good songs, with a large helping of average material tacked on.


Paradise LostTragic Idol

Similar to the above situation, the ‘new era’ of Paradise Lost has now given us two extremely great albums (In Requiem and Faith Divides Us, Death Unites Us) and one rather boring listen. Overall, Tragic Idol adds very little to the band’s discography, altering the now-familiar formula very little, and featuring an over-reliance on repetition and overly-simplistic vocals/melodies. Again, some songs just ‘click’, the various elements finally coalescing into a resemblance of the band at their best, but they are overshadowed by an album’s worth of very safe, very stock compositions.


Swallow The SunEmerald Forest and the Black Bird

You know when I said Katatonia would be the most painful entry? I lied. This one hurts more. Because I’d almost put it down as a bad album. Certainly a boring one anyway. There are occasional moments of brilliance, which stand out even more due to the underwhelming nature of the majority of the material, but overall it’s an almost painfully forgettable experience. Even some of the strongest hooks on the record are a shallow reflection of previous albums. The cruel irony is that the most familiar elements strike the ear as simply an imitation of past glories, while the attempts at integrating something new simply don’t land correctly.


UlverChildhood’s End

Unlike the other records, this is something of an oddity, being a covers album comprised only of covers of 60’s psychedelia songs. Its main problem is that it’s very much an over-long album (minor in some ways, yes, but accentuated by…), the second problem being that the ordering/presentation of the tracks is very samey, making the record drag even more. And finally… Ulver haven’t really done all that much with a lot of them. They’re very faithful re-workings, which begs the question of what the point of the record is? There are a couple of great tracks on here, but that’s a combination of Ulver’s general talents (which don’t seem particularly stretched by any means) and the strength of the original material.

In sum, it seems like a missed opportunity to do something a bit more special, and strikes me as a bit of an unnecessary vanity project.


War of AgesReturn To Life

I’m sure many of you don’t care for this band (or this genre) at all, but I have always had a soft-spot for them, and have always thought they had something to offer, musically and objectively. Out of most of today’s metalcore crop I always felt that on top of all the shredilicious guitar work WoA had some legitimate hardcore meat on their bones, a strong core of integrity, and a streak of stubbornness which meant that despite their digressions into clean vocals and the occasional staggered break-down, the group wrote for themselves first and foremost. And that’s not a feeling I get from Return To Life.

It feels like an album hamstrung by compromise, its potential stymied by a steady drift toward a satisfying, but ultimately safe, overall sound. I really thought that WoA would be able to avoid the slump into mediocrity that has afflicted many of their peers, that simply by sticking to their guns they’d be able to differentiate themselves from the pack. But they haven’t done that, which is ultimately a real disappointment.


  1. A lof of people loved the new katatonia and anathema but I’m not into either of those bands to bother with there albums, You were spot on with swallow the sun. Haven’t really heard the rest. Gave up on ulver after their last album.

    • I have seen both Katatonia and Anathema appear on a number of lists… which I can accept, even though I don’t really understand how/why exactly they could be considered among the ‘Best’ releases of the year.

      I love Ulver’s post ‘Perdition City’ existence, and so far ‘Childhood’s End’ has been pretty much the only thing that has disappointed me.

  2. You’re insane. Tragic Idol is a masterpiece.

  3. It’s interesting because I share your opinions on Anathema almost exactly, except if you traded We’re Here Because We’re Here with Weather Systems.

  4. My “six most disappointing albums of 2012 list” consists of Epicloud listed six times.

  5. Hah this is interesting. Just focusing one the first three you have listed, since they’re three of my all-time favorite bands:
    a) I agree entirely with you about PL, and have voiced those same sentiments before. “Tragic Idol” sounds bland and uninspired. The only redeeming factor is Greg Mackintosh’s guitar work, as usual.
    b) Yet I have to this point felt the opposite about the Anathema & Katatonia releases. I think they’re stellar.

    So either I’m suffering of a case of “craving more of the same sounds” from those two bands, but not of PL. Or, they do offer a little more depth and texture than the PL release.

    To be honest, I can see your point–especially for Katatonia. “Dead End Kings” doesn’t bring anything new to the table–but I guess I’m ok with that for K’s sound. In Anathema’s case though, I’d be willing to enter the boxing ring to defend them. I was rather bored by “We’re here…” but was floored by “Weather Systems'” beauty and eloquence. 😀

    Either way, good food for thought…

  6. Is Time I not on this list because technically it’s the disappointment of 2006 – 2012 combined? (I’ll give them a break on 04-05 for touring)

    • Oh yeah… I probably could have included that.

      BUT – I never really got the hype about Wintersun in the first place. I have their first album… it’s good, but i don’t find them to be anything special tbh.

      Count it as an honourable mention, on behalf of all the fans who have been failed by (what I have amusingly seen referred to as) “Finnish Democracy”.

  7. As a long time War Of Ages fan (they were my first metal band. Whoaaaa I’m young) I agree that Return To Life was disappointing. Eternal was somewhat to, and I have to resign to the fact that they’re never going to top Arise And Conquer at this point.

  8. Whaat?? Well I guess there is no accounting for tastes; I thought Anathema’s newest was a LOT better than We’re Here Because We’re Here, and Swallow the Sun’s newest is like the best album released this year. To me, anyway. But like, what us your criticism exactly about StS’s newest? In the little piece you’ve written you’ve only used terms that described your opinion (boring, underwhelming, forgettable) and you don’t really go into detail. I mean man it’s cool if slower metal is not your thing, but to call this gem ‘almost bad’ is downright offensive and misleading. I’d advise you to clean up your ears and listen to it a couple of times more, because this one actually demands more then one listen to grow on you.

    Just my 2 cents, tho. But as you can read I am quite passionate about Swallow the Suns album.

    • I agree, when I first heard the new STS I was massively disappointed in it compared to previous releases. I had to give it a few more spins to appreciate the different direction they were taking. Mind you I’ll still probably spin Hope or Ghosts of Loss way more but there is a a density to Emerald Forest that can be appreciated with some patience.

    • “I mean man it’s cool if slower metal is not your thing, but to call this gem ‘almost bad’ is downright offensive and misleading. I’d advise you to clean up your ears and listen to it a couple of times more”

      How very condescending.

      • Condescending? No.. He’s merely giving you tips on good hygiene and writing etiquette, then politely asking that you give the album another go.

        • I’m going to assume you’re joking around, as a random internet commenter giving me unsolicited tips on “hygiene” and “writing etiquette” seems pretty condescending to me. Let me break down how his post reads:

          He disagrees with me, and apparently quite strongly, since he considers StS to be the best album of the year. All good there.

          But then he basically rubbishes my (I think entirely justified) criticism of the material out of hand, and is clearly looking for me to provide some sort of ‘objective/scientific’ criteria to back up my criticism, which obviously won’t happen, allowing him to feel like he’s ‘won’ that one.

          His ego seems so invested in his opinion of StS that he’s taken personal offence to what were intended to be very impartial (and as objective as possible) statements. Somewhat more negative than you might be used to here at NCS, but still, not simple bashing of an album/artist.

          Then he goes on to make massively condescending assumptions about me as a person/reviewer, from his newly adopted high horse, by suggesting that since slow metal isn’t ‘my thing’ that I clearly don’t get it. Ignoring the fact that I’ve loved all the band’s previous releases, am a huge fan of this particular type of gloomy, melodic death/doom, have played shows WITH the band in question, and recently joined another band not a million miles away from their sound. He doesn’t know me, but since this is the internet, feels able to make entirely ‘valid’ assumptions about me based on a difference of opinion.

          Then he suggests that there’s clearly something deficient about me by mockingly typing ‘clean out your ears’, then goes further to help justify himself by assuming I must simply have listened to the album once, and clearly don’t ‘get’ it the same way he does.

          So yes, a nice helping of wounded ego and condescension.

          I get that the ‘Disappointing’ list is going to ruffle a few feathers, but it’s not done with that as the intention. It’s simply the caveat to the overall year in review – some albums (all by bands I LOVE mind) simply came across as rather bland and uninspired when compared to what I know the band is capable of.

          The post is also inspired by my own thinking, attempting to be as critically impartial as possible and asking myself “Yes, you like the album… but is that just due to a dedication to the band, and not based on a simple assessment of the album itself?”, and I think that’s important. We can all be a little bit blinkered when it comes to our favourite bands.

          I also take care with this list to check my opinions with a variety of other people, just to make sure I haven’t completely missed the boat. And yes, I’ve found support for all of them. I’ve also found many people (in real life, no less) who do still love these albums. Not that this is a deciding factor, but it does help me to settle a little more and find that I haven’t simply come at an album all wrong. The central opinion though remains my own.

          Case in point, two of my bandmates UTTERLY disagree with my opinion on Tragic Idol, but that’s due to them also having different opinions on the standards of In Requiem and Faith Divides Us… but both can understand where I’m coming from, due to my previous critical appraisals of IR and FDDUU. It makes logical sense, even if they disagree.

          Weather Systems also, if you read the other comments, makes sense, as most opinions seem to be in the We’re Here… or WS camps, but not both. You either liked one or the other. I assessed WHBWH as one of the bet albums of the year, so by contrast WS doesn’t come close.

          Kataonia is the one that really sticks with me though, as the first 4/5 tracks are strong enough, but then it nosedives into a wealth of filler material which seems very much a pale reflection of the previous two records. And even the strongest songs, most of them don’t live up to the high standards set by TGCD and NITND.

          So there we go, some of the rationale behind not just the assessment of each album, but the methods behind writing the column as a whole.

          • I was being 100% sarcastic with my comment. Thought to mention said sarcasm in the comment but figured, “Fuck it, let’s see what happens…” Honestly, I didn’t expect it to solicit such a response; but as to that: well said sir. In truth, I agree that the condescension in question was exactly that. Upon reading it I felt it was a bit over the top, based on the general overall mood of comments on this site and based on the lengthy disclaimer with which you opened this post. My intent was not to offend, but merely to make light of the situation. Of course, sarcasm rarely translates well to text, especially with my sense of humor (people tend to miss my sarcasm in person as well).

            Actually, I’ve been rather enjoying this series of posts, and tend to agree with them for the most part, at least with the albums with which I am more familiar. That being said, I do rather like the latest Katatonia album. This could be largely due to the fact that I am unfamiliar with their previous work, so I go into it with no preconceived notions of how it should sound, nor any expectations for growth from previous works. On the other albums here, I cannot comment much, though from what I’ve read and heard, it would seem they have, for the most part,well-earned their places in this list.

            Again, it was not my intent to offend, and I offer my sincerest apologies if I did.

            • No worries, you actually provided me with a welcome chance for a rebuttal and a more in-depth piece of exposition about the column.

              Sarcasm is hard. (<- Sarcastic? Yes? No? I don't even know anymore…)

              I actually saw Katatonia live a couple of nights ago, and they cherry picked exactly the 5/6 songs I though tthey would from the new album, and they do fit nicely into the set-list. I'm just not sure there are that many 'classics' amongst them. 'The Racing Heart" would potentially be one though, Just not enough to carry the album.

              • Well then, glad I could help.

                I missed Katatonia last time they came around here (Seattle), and was rather disapointed that I had after listening to the new album. But such is life; I’ve been to so many (awesome) shows this year and bought so much new music I can barely pay my mortgage! Seriously, I have a metal addiction… My name is Dan, and I am addicted to metal. And you bastards at NCS are all enablers! Damn yous! Goddamn yous all to hell!

                Whoa, sorry, got a little off topic there. Well, yes, um… keep up the good work. I look forward to the next installment.

                • Well said Dan.

                  Admitting you have a problem is the first step….

                  to being exploited…

                  by us.

                  • Oh god, I’ve said to much…

                    • Actually, it’s not nearly enough.

                      …Keep going.

                    • What the hell are you doing awake at this time anyway???

                      If you answer “listening to metal” I think you get fast-tracked to our remote treatment facility.

                    • @Andy Synn: One shall assume that comment was for Dan C; because it’s 5 in the evening here.

                    • The reply buttons seem to have disappeared… but I am, in fact, listening to metal

                    • You’ve reached the bottom of the nesting on this comment. So, no more reply buttons. Could be time to start a new comment thread, or just keep this comment column going straight down until it reaches the center of the earth.

                    • I’m all for trying to get this thread to the center of the earth. Of course, it will be much easier to get to the center tomorrow, when the world explodes.

                    • Well now, that depends on whether the Earth splits like a ripe melon or gets crushed like an empty beer can or is simply incinerated like an overcooked marshmallow.

                    • I was thinking more along the lines of a massive explosion originating in the center, turning the earth into some kind of enormous space frag grenade. Of course the real problem here is, once any one of these undeniably plausible scenarios does occur (and they will, probably in the order listed), can the current center of the earth still be called the center? This may turn out to be quite the complicated task indeed.

            • I just have to stick my nose in here to say that my jaw dropped open when I saw your response to Andy. An apology on the internet? Such things are as rare as as phoenix eggs. Although it’s against my principles to ever apologize to Andy, in your case I say Bravo!

              • Even more admirably he actually had nothing to apologise for. So it was EXTRA polite.

                I think the internet comment police will be going round to his house any moment now for this infraction.

                • They haven’t showed up yet, but I do work odd hours. I’ll keep my fingers crossed and hope they just keep looking for me during the week while I’m not there. Or maybe I can set up some kind of real-life firewall, that could be fun!

          • Woah I get back from work and this has gotten way out of hand. Firstly, I am sorry if you felt mistreated in any way and I had no intention to disrespect or condescend you in any way. I think you are doing an awesome job with these end of year lists so far, and even this list (although I personally like the overall positive view upon music on this site and would’ve preferred not to have a “disappointing” list) I agree with mostly, and I can see where your arguments and complaints on the albums come from. And it’s true that my comment seems to read more unfriendly than I had in mind, but hey this is a metal review site; people are allowed to disagree and people are allowed to be passionate about music. I am both. And the ‘cleaning ears part’ was meant not offensive at all, I guess it translates not as I expected from my native language.
            Secondly, I have also been with this band from the start and I grab every chance I have with both hands to see this band every time they are in the area. It might have been wrong to assume that you are not into this kind of music, but when both me and the metal-loving people in my personal life all/mostly seem to agree this is one of the most legendary records of StS so far (I would have to give it more time, but perhaps this is the one I like most) AND when this is the only record released at the beginning of this year that I still frequently listen to, I suspect something is wrong here.
            So thirdly, no I wasn’t trying to ‘win’ anything, I was trying to get to know more about ‘why’ you dislike this album, not that you ‘do’, which is how it looks like right now. You know, this is the sort of list people start looking for when they want to discover good music, and I just hate the fact that StS now is listed in this excellent site as “most disappointing”; I think that is not what they deserve as a band, or what the music they put out deserves.
            I will disregard most of your post where you make all sorts of assumptions about my personality – just like I did according to you – and will continue to enjoy your lists, which I do actually.

            But seriously, one more grumpy remark. You SEEM take internet comments way to personal and serious. You have an opinion about music and you present it as though it is an objective opinion. People are passionate about music. When you ‘bash’ (to me it feels this way) their taste, people might feel the need to respond that they strongly disagree. Which I did. And I have seen much worse responses on the internet than this one.

            • Heres a response…Who Cares…

              …If you disagree, by all means disagree, but put it in perspective. Even if Andy thinks this is the shittiest album ever made, what does it matter..hes some guy on the internet with an opinion.

              Dont take it so personal, I promise the new StS will sound just as good to you tomorrow as it did yesterday

              • I know that to be true, it still sounds lovely 🙂 But it seemed to me that my criticism on this page was interpreted more harshly than intentended, that’s why I came back to give a lengthy reply. Because now it seemed that I was some random internet douche who likes to give blog writers crap, which truthfully was not what I was going for.

  9. Completely disagree with Anathema and Katatonia.

    Dead End Kings is one of my top albums of 2012.
    Weather Systems is great as well.

  10. Wow just wow o_0 …Paraidse Lost and Katatonia were in my top 10 fav’s of the year, and StS just missed out.

  11. Swallow the Sun was indeed disappointing but at least we had In Mourning’s The Weight of Oceans to make up for it.

  12. One has a slightly different perspective on the Swallow the Sun album. Although it does seem uninspired compared to the last couple of albums, One had a nice feeling of discomfort while listening to it. So, although it isn’t the album of theirs One prefers listening to, One doesn’t mind listening to it by itself.

  13. I would add Ahab to the list.

    • Really? I haven’t had chance to listen to that yet, but Ahab are on my list of bands to really check out. Upsetting if you think they’re a disappointment!

  14. I don’t mean this in a trolling way, but I always wonder what the motive is for lists like this. What does it accomplish? What am I supposed to get out of knowing what you didn’t like this year?

    Do you want me to reconsider liking something I enjoy? Because that would be dickish. Should I avoid an album I might end up loving just because you didn’t? Because that would be downright tragic. Or are you simply courting controversy? Because that would be perfectly fine with me, since who doesn’t love a good internet brawl? 😀

    Anyway, the point is, despite some initial disappointment, I ended up loving Dead End Kings, Childhood’s End, and Storm Corrosion (from Adrien Begrand’s list that you posted the other day). Does that mean my taste sucks? Maybe so, but that’s perfectly fine with me. I don’t listen to music for anyone’s approval. I listen to it because it makes me happy. So stop trying to vaccuum happiness out of my life and get back to recommending cool bands I haven’t heard, damn it!

    • A list like this accomplishes the same thing as any of the lists of peoples favorites of the year, it gives you someone else’s perspective on recent music. Just like those “Best of” lists, many people will disagree. They are not really around to change your opinion, but merely offer up their own. I also enjoy Dead End Kings, but I don’t find that makes this list any less valid.

      • It’s not a question of it being valid. Of course Andy’s opinions are valid. My point is about the motive of sharing them. And I’m not even singling out Andy, just the idea of “worst of” lists in general.

        Simply put, if I love an album, my motivation for telling people about it is to share the joy. With luck, they’ll like it too and their lives will be richer. If they don’t like it, it’ll be their loss.

        But if I hate an album, what motive could I have for talking about it? To share my disappointment? To convince people not to like it? To discourage them from checking it out for themselves? To slight the band? To prove what a maverick I am?

        None of these are productive. But maybe I’m missing something. Maybe there’s value that I’m not seeing. Knowing what Andy didn’t like this year is meaningless to me even in cases where I agree. Meanwhile, knowing what he loved has already added a couple of excellent albums to my collection. See the distinction?

        • You have done a nice job articulating the philosophy of this site when it comes to reviewing music. We want to recommend music we really like and not spend time warning people to stay away from bad albums.

          But I don’t think Andy’s post really falls into either category. He’s not calling these albums bad and he’s not warning people away from them. He’s expressing disappointment, which came about in part because he thinks very highly of all these bands — or at least that’s how I read this. It may or may not prove useful to particular readers.

        • As far as this particular list goes, I agree with Islander. I think this is just the list of albums that Andy feels didnt quite live up to the expectations he had for them. That dosnt make them bad albums though. (and Im totaslly speaking as someone with no horse in this race..beyond StS, I dont really care for any of these bands)

          Now generally speaking, yes, if someone dislikes an album it can be informative..Just like a positive review, it give you an insight into a persons tastes (very helpful in determining whether a reviewer is worth paying attention to). If the reviewer is someone you generally agree with, negative reviews can help you avoid albums that arent worth your time.

          Now, in a day and age where you can preview a lot of stuff, that isnt quite as important as it used to be, but if youve ever tried to explore a large number of bands in a short time, you know how important negative reviews can be…yes you may occasionally miss a good album, but more often than not you’ll avoid a lot of crap

        • I think something that is continually being overlooked here is the fact that Andy makes it very clear in the opening paragraphs that he is in no way saying that these albums are bad. He even makes sure to repeat the point that they merely did not live up to expectations. From what I’ve read elsewhere, he is not alone in his assessment of these releases. Hell, any press is good press, right? Perhaps even being on this list of disappointments will bring more attention to these bands. After reading this article, I’m actually inclined to look into some of the albums I have not yet heard. Again, I like Dead End Kings. That being the case, perhaps there is something else here I might enjoy, despite its placement on this list.

        • Thanks for the responses. Dan’s comment about it being better to get mentioned than overlooked is interesting food for thought. I agree that I’m actually tempted to check out the couple of the albums I haven’t heard, so maybe that’s good enough.

          • I saw a comment on another thread that made me realize there is another productive motive for sharing disappointment: commiseration. Sometimes you just want to share your sadness with a sympathetic ear, which is admittedly more the tone of Andy’s list.

            Really, I should’ve posted in response to Adrien Begrand’s “worst of” list, because that’s what started me thinking along these lines. He’s a skilled writer and a thoughtful critic, but he can be such a snarky douche about stuff he doesn’t like that I sometimes bristle even when I agree with him. I almost wanted to buy that flaccid new Geoff Tate album just to spite him for flogging it incessantly on Twitter. Just let the wretched thing die already…

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