Dec 232012

(I again twisted the arm of recording engineer and musician Sean Golyer (Oak Pantheon) to get his year-end list of personal favorites because I had a feeling it would be an interesting one, and he relented.  I hope he doesn’t need both arms for his work.)

I was originally going to go a more traditional route this year and write a bunch of nonsense reviews about why I like each of these releases. However, even I don’t like seeing myself ramble on trying to quantify reasons why I like band “x” over band “y”. I’ve come to realize I can’t explain my taste in a way that would make sense to anybody but me. I listen and I either like it or I don’t. This year also saw a lot of big changes for me and my bandmates regarding what we enjoy listening to now. This includes a lot of non-heavy music, but important none-the-less. They’re each “metal” in their own way.

So, I’ll continue my own tradition as I did last year by simply posting my favorite songs from my favorite releases with a brief description, all in no particular order. Feel free to discuss or debate the music below with me, or discuss something entirely different. That’s cool too.

Porta NigraFin de Siècle

One of my favorite releases of the year. A unique blend of black metal and rock, Porta Nigra’s debut is total debauchery with a late 19th century spin. Full of memorable hooks, varied vocal performances, and solid song structure, all with just a hint of opium-induced insanity.


ConvergeAll We Love We Leave Behind

Album speaks for itself and has been talked about to death. If you haven’t listened to it yet, just do it.


Jim Guthrie/Various ArtistsThe Scythian Steppes

The awesome pixelated adventure game “Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery” was finally released and localized in Japan. The game and its beautiful soundtrack have been available since 2011, but to accompany the Japanese release this year, Japanese artists contributed to a remix album titled The Scythian Steppes containing some of the famous songs from the original. The track below is my favorite of the bunch, taking a relatively chill electronic piece and turning it into a rock-infused anthem of violence.


Les DiscretsAriettes Oubliées

I couldn’t tell you how many times this album has made the rounds on my various music absorbing mediums. Full of dreamy, gazey, melancholic melodies not unlike their brethren in Alcest, but with a heavier twist. Les Discrets carve out a follow-up album that’s stronger than anything they’ve released to date. If I absolutely had to name a favorite album from 2012, it would be this.


maudlin of the WellBath / Leaving Your Body Map

While technically the album pairing of Bath and Leaving Your Body Map came out over a decade ago, it was recently re-released (and justifiably sold out) by upstart label Blood Music. I’m normally not an avant-garde/prog/experimental snob and generally dismiss bands of the like as I feel most are utterly pointless and meandering displays of technical skill. NOT SO HERE. Give this band your time and patience, you will not be disappointed.


Of the Wand and the MoonThe Lone Descent

I didn’t find out about this one-man neo-folk project until very early this year. Took one listen of “Raven Chant” from the album Nighttime Nightrhymes and am now hooked for life. The older material is more solemn and minimalistic; it’s a very personal experience. But The Lone Descent offers a wide variety of soundscapes and instrumentation with post-rock-esque structure. Kim Larson is like the Johnny Cash of neo-folk, just top-notch stuff on display. I’ve offered two tracks from different albums I like it so much.


Tom TykwerCloud Atlas Motion Picture Soundtrack

Excellent film, even better soundtrack. I’ve probably listened to more film scores and classical pieces this year than I have metal albums. I can’t get enough of them and this is one that has been permanently added to my library. Tough to find streams of the actual official soundtrack, but here’s a preview from the publisher’s Soundcloud. You can listen to it all in full on Spotify.



Another odd choice for me, as prog-metal/rock normally isn’t my thing. But AtomA offers atmosphere and soaring male vocals in spades. Hands down one of my favorite new singers in metal.



These guys have already set themselves up to be right on the bleeding edge of modern black metal, cutting the throats of expectation and making traditionalists mad, with the likes of Deafheaven and Liturgy. I’ll let the music infect your mind and see if it grows on you like it did me.


I’m also big into mixtapes (or I suppose playlists now). I meticulously assemble digital playlists designed to set a mood and to flow together. If you’re so inclined, feel free to enjoy my “Atmosphere” playlist on Spotify. Easily some of my favorite music assembled together in one place. Great background music too.



  1. I didn’t get to hear the Porta Nigra album, so I decided to count it towards 2013. The little bit of it I’ve heard is very good, and a primo candidate for that nebulous ‘dark metal’ tag.

  2. I definitely want to second the nomination of Porta Nigra to everyone’s year-end listening list. It’s one of many stellar 2012 releases that we never got around to reviewing at NCS, but it’s very cool from start to finish.

    I was also stoked to see Sean’s mention of the Vaura album. I added a link to my review of it in Sean’s post. It’s another unusual gem that hasn’t received nearly enough attention in metal circles.

    But once I get beyond those albums and the one from Converge, I have an awful lot of new things to check out from Sean’s list. 🙂

    • Oh nice, I didn’t even notice the article you wrote about Vaura! Yet another reason why I’m kicking myself to check the site more often. They were a pretty recent discovery for me, but I’m glad I didn’t miss it. It’s so strange and mesmerizing. It’s abrasive without being painful, very unique release. When I really want to zone out at work, thats what I put on. I can see how your gym experience was totally changed by it, haha.

  3. Sean, if you like movie sound tracks, I was wondering if you liked Two Steps From Hell as well? I got their Archangel album this year, and it is great writing/studying music.

  4. Dordeduh might be up your alley (their new album is quite good) –


    Calea Rotilor De Foc

    Come to think of it, I’m surprised this didn’t make NPR’s list either.

    • Yeah, they’ve made quite a few lists and recomendations, I’ve yet to check them out. I’ll probably give them a shot this week.

  5. Perfect description of Les Discrets. Easily one of my favorites of the year.

    I also really like the Vaura album, although it might appeal more to fans of Junius or Cynic’s recent stuff than to fans of traditional black metal. Of course, it’s perfect for those of us who fit in both categories.

    As often happens, I heard about Porta Nigra way before its release and then completely forgot about it. And almost everything else is completely new to me, so lots of exploring to do. I’m particularly intrigued by Scythian Steppes. The soundtrack to Superbrothers is very cool, but that sounds even cooler. Glad to see it’s on Bandcamp.

    • Actually, looks like the Porta Nigra album isn’t out until January 8 in the US, so no wonder I haven’t heard more about it.

      • There’s a few places that carry it on the US already. Islander has a link to a shop that has it for 10 bucks, hopefully he sees this and can find the shop. It’s definitely worth buying, made number 2 on my critical list on Sputnik. Sooooo good!

  6. Sean, I listen to a ton of soundtracks and score-like music when I’m working. A couple of suggestions if you’re interested:

    Heinali – Air
    Minimalist compositions that are really haunting and atmospheric but still melodically interesting. Music for a rainy day at the beach.

    Jesper Kyd – Assassin’s Creed 2
    I haven’t bought the scores for Brotherhood, Revelations or AC3, so they might be even better, but this one is soaring and evocative.

    Austin Wintory – Journey
    Has a nice melancholy sweetness. I think this one might only be on iTunes.

    Ed Harrison – Neotokyo
    This was included as a soundtrack for a Half-Life 2 multiplayer mod, but it’s a pretty standout effort in its own right and is available on Amazon or iTunes. You can hear some influence from Kenji Kawai and other Japanese composers, but it’s not at all derivative. Maybe a little more upbeat than I usually gravitate to, but it still hooked me.

    Health – Max Payne 3
    This one was a real surprise. Dark, gritty electronic stuff that makes me think of Michael Mann films.

    Murmuüre – Murmuüre
    This is a one-man act from France. Eclectic, dark, menacing, and atmospheric, with lots of personality.

    Square Enix – Nier Gestalt & Nier Replicant
    Lots of really odd and fascinating tracks on this score. The CD is import-only and exorbitant, but you can get it digitally on iTunes for about $15. It has some iffy tracks and gets a little repetitive in places, as scores sometimes do, but I listen to this all the time.

    Tenhi – Saivo
    You probably already know these guys (they’re a Finnish neo-folk band), but just in case you don’t, it’s very atmospheric and eerie stuff. The album cover is a perfect representation of the music.

    Terra Tenebrosa – Tunnels
    Definitely the most “metal” of the lot, this is a menacing but exhilarating instrumental album that makes me want to create a film to go with it. I find it tonally reminiscent of Empros by Russian Circles, but feels more score-like to me for whatever reason.

    I’m also very fond of stuff by Atrium Carceri, Bear McCreary, Claude Chalhoub, Kenji Kawai, Christopher Young, Akira Ifukube (of Godzilla fame), and Yoko Kanno.

    I’d love to hear any other recommendations you might have. Like you said, it’s hard to get enough…

    • Holy smokes! My film score cred is in dire straits compared to this list, haha.

      I played AC2 and don’t remember much from the score, but I’ll have to check it out on its own. I also never got around to trying Neotokyo, but it looked like a great mod.

      Save for Tenhi, I haven’t heard any of the rest of these. Though Tenhi deserves a re-listen, it’s been a few years.

      Other soundtracks/classical/etc I’ve been enjoying:

      Hans Zimmer – The Thin Red Line OST // Dark Knight Rises OST
      -self explanatory.

      Jacaszek – Glimmer
      -Awesome Eastern-European neo-classical. Very melancholic and minimalistic, perfect for painting a winter soundscape. Beautiful compositions comprised of classical and electronic influences.

      Nobuo Uematsu – FF IX OST
      -Favorite FF, favorite soundtrack of the series. Never gets old.

      Alexey Omelchuk and Geogogiy Beloglazov – Metro 2033 OST
      -subtle, sad, folky, lonely. A little under-produced and not always the greatest mix, but this game as well as its music deserve more attention. A really unique post-apocalyptic game, the music helps set it apart from the pack. Despite its budget production, you can feel a lot of heart underneath it and it fit the game strangely well. You have no idea how much I want to make a cover this theme:

      I’m a sucker for literally anything Ennio Morricone, but who isn’t?

      Also, if you care to go through it, I occasionally spin this playlist of mine on random when grinding away at one game or another. Mostly epic/dramatic stuff.

      • Also to add to this, Jessica Curry’s composition of the “Dear Esther” soundtrack. Phenomenal.

      • Cool, lots to check out! For epic stuff, the God of War soundtracks are also pretty excellent. And for me, nothing beats Basil Poledouris’ score for Conan the Barbarian.

        FFIX is my hands-down favorite too. Everybody else I know gravitates to IV through VII (which I also love). But IX is simply perfect.

        I really enjoyed Metro 2033, but I don’t remember the score at all, which is often a good sign. Bad soundtracks tend to stand out a lot more than good ones. I definitely love that theme track, though. Hope you get a chance to cover it. I’d be really interested to hear your interpretation.

        Ennio Morricone is definitely another icon for me. I actually love his songs from the ’60s and early ’70s as much as his scores.

        That reminds me, have you heard of Peter Thomas? He composed some of the coolest music of all time for various German sci-fi and detective films and shows starting around 1955. Way ahead of the curve and completely, enthusiastically demented. I don’t know if he shaped krautrock or if there was an earlier common ancestor, but to me he is its purest and most distinctive personification.

        Here are a few samples:

        If you like this kind of stuff, there are multiple compilations available, but Futurmuzik is a great place to start. And then immediately seek out Oranssi Pazuzu from Finland for a sublime fusion of black-ish metal and Peter Thomas-style orchestration. Great stuff.

        Sorry to keep blathering on, but I’m obviously pretty excitable about music. Thanks for the recommendations!

  7. Intriguing list. Nice to see maudlin of the Well and Vaura being mentioned. One doesn’t quite hear the black metal influences in Vaura’s music though.
    Speaking of the two, Vaura features Kayo Dot‘s Toby Driver, who was also in maudlin of the Well for a while. And while speaking of Kayo Dot, go listen to their album Gamme Knife, also released this year. 😀

    • For the sake of briefness I didn’t want to get into micro-categorizing the music. There’s elements from post-punk, prog, noise rock, shoegaze, and a number of other influences. But the most standout category to me is the black metal moments on the album.

      A friend of mine put it more eloquently than I when black metal is thrown into the mix of a musical recipe:

      “black metal tends to be a dominate flavor in any musical recipe — That is, it seems to be almost impossible with any black-metal influenced art to read the work through any lens but black metal at first pass.”

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