(We welcome back Denver-based writer Mike Yost, who amiably agreed to my request for his year-end list. I have a feeling that everyone is going to find something new in here.)
I’m a writer, which means I spend most evenings bent over a keyboard, starving from lack of funds. Crafting resplendent prose consumes time and regurgitates very little money. Please don’t ready the gallows if an album slipped beneath my radar this year (many have). So, with that said, here is my 2012 list of the best fucking metal albums I discovered between bouts of writing, reading rejection letters from publishers, drinking, rereading rejection letters while weeping on the floor in the fetal position, drinking more, masturbating, self loathing and sleeping (usually in that order).
A few caveats:
First, some of the albums on this list were released in 2011, but I didn’t discover them until 2012. In my book, that counts. If you don’t agree, I’ll throw my book at your head. And it’s a heavy book, too. Over 1,000 pages. Bound in metal (of course). Sure to leave a welt.
Second, my list has thirteen albums. Not ten. Why? Because FUCK the number ten, that’s why. It’s a conceited attention whore constantly demonizing other numbers.
Third, random these in are albums order.
Finally, my cat told me last night if I didn’t include one of his favorites, he would claw my face off while I slept. I dare not call his bluff. Some mornings I wake up with my feline friend sitting on my chest, kneading the blanket with those sharp claws, staring at me with unblinking, haunting yellow eyes that say to me without words, “If I were bigger, I would eat you.”
Be’Lakor—Of Breath and Bone:
The first time I heard Be’Lakor, the melodic sonic medium tickled the hair on my balls and then tore them from my body, throwing the bloody mass into the garbage disposal. Pure ecstasy! Maybe it’s the way those harmonious riffs fornicate so gracefully with fuming growls and catchy, yet fierce, guitar work. The songs are packed with frequent transitions in timing, instrument play and emotion. It’s an album I recommend to metal fans jonesing for (older) Opeth. Plus, the band hails from Australia. Australia has universal healthcare. So, when you play this album and your scrotum is ripped off Down Under (get it?), doctors can sew it back on without forcing you to sell your kidneys on the black market to pay for it.
Je m’appelle Michel. Gojira, j’aime! Yep. I’m yet another Gojira zombie vomiting out accolades. But sometimes I like being a zombie. You get to eat warm, mushy brains from the cracked skulls of screaming bystanders. Then you can use their credit cards to buy metal albums on Amazon. (Support the artists!) Anyway, Gojira continues to develop their signature sound with Sauvage, grinding out guitar savagery and complex compositions with elegance and grace. If you don’t start slamming your head forward to that triplet bassline at the beginning of “Explosia,” then you’re already dead. Worse than zombie dead. Forced-to-watch–Twilight–with-your-significant-other kind of dead.
Dying Fetus—Reign Supreme:
The perfect metal mayhem to immerse yourself in if you commute on a bike during rush hour in the heart of downtown, speeding around cars and buses and the light rail and those other asshole bikers commuting to work. The album annihilates your ears, your senses, your regard for self preservation. With John Gallagher’s technical riffage (not to mention his guttural growls) and Trey Williams’ insanely rapid and inhuman double-bass drums viciously beating your skull through headphones, you won’t even care when that city bus you didn’t see runs you down and smears your intestines across an entire block of 17th Avenue, horrifying all those other commuters who *scoff* walk to work.
Hypno5e—Acid Mist Tomorrow:
Pain, animosity and torment never sounded so beautiful. The music often vacillates from screeching anguish-imbued warbling to softly spoken word . . . some of it in French. (Oui!) This was a great find, featured as the first song on the free Sociopathic Mixtape, Vol. 3 posted on NCS. When I finished listening to the ten minute track for the first time, I cleaned the cum from my keyboard and immediately bought the album with someone else’s credit card. (I didn’t steal it. It belonged to a Gojira zombie victim.) Hypno5e excels at forging viaducts between simple acoustic guitar play to powerful double-bass drums populated with vociferous guitar riffs, then suddenly pulling the entire cacophony of sound out from under your feet so that your entire being is blissfully swallowed up by a cavernous void. Yeah, it’s that good. If I wasn’t so lazy and actually numbered these albums, Acid Mist Tomorrow would be number two. (Number one? You’ll never know!)
Daylight Dies—A Frail Becoming:
Doom Melodic Death Metal. Well, with so many adjectives, how can this album be anything but awesome, magnificent, or superlative! One does get the sense, listening to A Frail Becoming, of slowly slipping into a pitch-black night void of stars while some horrifying nearby creature breaths loudly through its fangs, watching you patiently from the darkness with obsidian eyes and sharpened claws ready to filet and devour your stringy flesh. A darkly atmospheric album that flourishes with enthusiastic despondency. A Frail Becoming takes its time killing you, with patient, striking guitar solos that strip away your defenses. The drums puncture and bleed your soul while powerful vocals lull you into a sorrowful coma. You’ll never enjoy being so hopeless as much as listening to this album with headphones clamped over your head, sitting alone in a dark room . . . waiting for nothingness to envelope you.
Celtic Metal! Need I write more? (Yes.) Helvetios is a concept album, each track outlining the trajectory of the Gallic Wars against Rome in 52 B.C. “We sang, as if to drown out the sound of clashing swords. As if the battle cries fell silent. Because war had lost its meaning.” In addition to engaging lyrics, Helvetios superbly reconstructs the scorched atmosphere of war, triumph, defeat, and blood-drenched death. The pantheon of instruments used to accomplish this task is impressive. Aside from the usual spectrum of metal instruments, the album features flutes, a fiddle, bagpipes, a mandolin, a bodhrán and a hurdy gurdy. Occasional female vocals add an alluring dynamic to the album, juxtaposed with the usual gnarled vocals we all love to hear. Listen to this enough times, and you’ll find yourself on the battle field, probably run through by the sword of a Roman Centurion.
Thy Catafalque: Rengeteg:
I didn’t discover this 2011 album until I read an NCS review posted on metal-archive.com. Not many bands can pull off exceptional metal in the first place. Even fewer bands can pull off Avant-garde experimental music. Thy Catafalque successfully blends the two, injecting copious amounts of metal into synth and keyboard soundscapes seasoned with a strong Hungarian folk flavor. The fourteen minute “Vashegyek” is the highlight of this collection. The track begins with male and female clean vocals that suddenly mutate into vicious growls, the song soon pulverizing you with raging guitars and insanely-fast double-bass kicks to the skull. All this with a lingering and vaporous keyboard track playing in the background. This music demands a bit of patience from the listener, as its more nuanced sounds and emotions take time to absorb. But persistent patience will be rewarded for those looking to augment their metal palate.
Hevein—Gentle Anarchy EP:
The EP came out this year, but the single, “NOR”, was released in 2011, and is one of the preeminent singles my ears have had the pleasure of orgasming to. The band expertly utilizes a cello and a violin throughout the album without walking into some of the more cliché arrangements often heard when orchestra instruments are dropped into metal tracks. In addition, they cut a clip from Bill Hicks into the song, “Gentle Anarchy.” (If Bill Hicks were a musical genre, he’d be metal.) Finally, check out the video for the ten minute metal overture, “NOR”. The time lapse sequences of the night sky crowded with cascading stars and city streets jammed with frenzied denizens are nothing short of phenomenal. Shot by the band’s lead singer in five different countries (including Australia and Finland), the amazing cinematography is on par with such films as Naqoyqatsi or Baraka. Prepare to be amazed:
Though there is no distorted singing in this entire album, Exegesis is an enduring metal contender that holds its own against most growl-infused ensembles. Two words I would use to describe this album would be subtle intensity. Three words would be luminous subtle intensity. Four words would be fucking luminous subtle intensity. These talented musicians skillfully weave together a spellbinding ephemeral realm that slides its way past your eardrums and anesthetizes your mind into a trance, especially when the lead vocalist holds a sustained note for more than a few measures. Absolutely intoxicating. You can hear Tool’s influence, but TNBD manages to carve out a unique, innovative landscape for your senses to explore.
With only three songs, this debut album delivers just as much vivacity and aptitude as most hour-long albums from established bands. You’ll drown in metal delight with layered tracks that evolve, the songs growing limbs to crawl out of the ocean, then growing an esophagus that knocks over mountains with its apocalyptic growls. The highlight for me is the near ten minute “The King Immersed.” Beginning with simple chord play, clean vocals and light drums beats, the song builds and expands, morphing into a massive, enraged leviathan that rises up out of the sea, water dripping from its massive, fang-laden jaw as it lunges forward and devourers your hearing.
Can’t have a top list of anything without mentioning Agalloch. This year, the demigods ascended from the charred grottos of Hades to play a rapturous prelude of demise for the arrogance of the human race with a single, twenty minute Opus. You’d swear you sold your own soul to Mephistopheles to listen to such a malevolently luscious composition dripping with melancholy and rage. Blending compelling guitar play (electric and acoustic), gnawing vocals and spoken lines from Faust, the music forces you to experience and feel the quoted lines from Goethe’s screenplay, in which Faust declares despairingly that that man is as mist—without substance.
Between the Buried and Me—The Parallax II: Future Sequence:
I can see some of you cursing and rolling your eyes. Don’t forget you have a tiny camera above the computer screen. (NCS is watching you as you read this!) People seem to either love this band, or loath the music to the point of dismembering fans with chainsaws. Me, I like to juggle chainsaws while listening to this album. BTBAM’s music suffers from Schizophrenia in the best possible way: mixed with a lot of caffeine, cocaine and meth. The tracks jump frantically from one genre to another several times in a single song, as if Djent, Thrash, Death, Black and Progressive metal (even some Jazz and Big Band) were all thrown into the Thunderdome and told to fight it out to the death. But it is ordered and well crafted chaos, resulting in dominant, kick-you-in-the-crotch riffage, some amazing bass-slapping delight, and even a flute solo! Furthermore, BTBAM is a talented group of musicians who don’t take themselves too seriously. Just listen to “Bloom” with its 50’s bee-bop overlay. And remember the banjos in Colors and barnyard animals in Hypersleep Dialogues? If you’re like me and have numerous voices in your head talking and arguing with you throughout the day, this album is sure to please them all simultaneously.
Velvet Acid Christ—Maldire:
Though the album cover art is metal, the music is not. Far from it, in fact. I added this Industrial album to the list partly because, I must admit, I get metalled out from time to time. Yes. I know what you’re thinking: Traitor! Rip out his larynx! And metalled is not even a word, college boy! Though I enjoy beating myself over the skull with metal most of the time, I also enjoy torturing my ears with different mediums of musical mania to satisfy my lust for malicious melodies. For example, “Maldire” has a commanding, captivating beat that forces your body to move to the music like a demon helplessly following Lucifer’s lurid commands. It’s the kind of album that grabs you by the throat and tears out your vocal chords just to get your attention, then soothes you with evil tunes as you slowly bleed to death on the floor, unable to think of a better way to slip into oblivion. By the way, this is the album my feline friend chose. So, if you don’t like it, you might wake up one morning with a furry feline sitting on your chest, claws out, staring at you with those narrow, yellow eyes. You’ve been warned.