(Today NCS writer BadWolf begins a multi-part series of posts about 2012’s top albums. For newcomers, The Rule to which BadWolf is recognizing exceptions is embodied in the name of our site.)
Normally, I split my end of the year list into the catchiest albums I’ve heard and the most artistic. I’m abandoning that format this year, having lost faith in the dichotomy—I’ve spent too much time writing the same thing about the same band twice, and not enough time respecting you, the reader. Catchiness and artistic value, these are things for you to decide, not me. In addition, I really needed to alter and shift my routines. This will be part of a continued process extending into 2013.
I am changing, my habits are changing, as are my tastes. In particular, comrades, you will note a plethora of doom records below. 2012 was a banner year for doom, but that ignores a thick thread of this particular post’s plot. To be confessional: 2012 was a horrid year for me, personally. I won’t get into details, but due to a series of personal and professional events, I spent most of the year suffering from a serious depression. (This is one contributing factor to my reduced blog output. I apologize.) I have a history of major depressive episodes, but normally they come and go more-or-less unrelated to any external stimuli, but recently, to make a poker metaphor, I was both drawing dead AND playing like shit.
Perhaps that’s a lot of deadweight to place on a simple album list, and if these sorts of confessions upset you, comrade, feel free to stop reading. The fact is, our personal psychic landscapes have a stranglehold on our perceptions of the worlds around us, of arts, of music in particular. In the grips of these dark, restless moods, most of 2012’s more energetic and colorful releases slid off me. What remained was often beautiful, horrifically depressing music. Normally with… gasp… clean singing. I can’t think of a better year in my writing career for clean singing than 2012. Here’s my list of ten records featuring more than a few exceptions to our rule.
Witch Mountain – Cauldron of the Wild
Witch Mountain formed fifteen years ago, but only rose to prominence this year. Their drummer, Nathan ‘Nanotear’ Carson, is one of the best booking agents in America, but the best business decision he ever made was letting his intern, Uta Plotkin, sing in his band. Their older material was by-the-book Sleep-worshipping doom, but Plotkin’s soaring classic-rock vocals push Cauldron of the Wild into the stratosphere.
Baroness – Yellow and Green
Man, between losing bassist Summer Welch and nearly dying in a crazy bus accident, Baroness have had a pretty rough year. With that in mind, Yellow and Green seems prophetic: this is a brekaup album, and it is a total bummer. I’m hard-pressed to call Yellow and Green a metal record; for a good half of its two-LP length, it meanders in fields of classic rock, pop, psychedelia, and folk, with varying degrees of success. But when Yellow and Green kicks, it does so with as much fury as Blue Album’s finer cuts, just with less growling. Don’t take it for granted.
Alcest – Les Voyages de L’Ame
Alcest’s lead guitarist/vocalist Neige continued to outdo himself in 2012. Les Voyages contains probably the most melodic collection of songs in his recognizable dream-rock-meets-Burzum writing style. It’s not his finest record (that would be the Amesoeurs album), but it is perhaps his most relaxing, a glimmer of hope in a list otherwise suffocated by gloom.
Ihsahn – Eremita
Ihsahn will always be a hero of mine. Emperor has always been and will remain forever my favorite Norwegian black metal band, and his solo output is all at least as solid as his work with that legendary group. Eremita, on the whole, spends less time weaving epic tapestries than its predecessor, After, and took some flak for that, I think. But Ihsah still has a knack for a hook, and he still wields one of the most powerful and unique voices in extreme metal.
Dawnbringer – Into the Lair of the Sun God
Chris Black always puts out quality work, and this is no exception. It took me several listens to penetrate Into the Lair of the Sun God—it works as a single flowing piece, as well as a collection of songs. It’s also encumbered by a storyline about a man who decides to kill the sun, only to find out that he is, in fact, the sun and has killed himself… Oh and the sun lives at the bottom of the sea… Right. Once I got past the conceptual nature and singular texture, I found a solid record full of great choruses and riffs. Black keeps getting better, and has established himself once again as one of America’s best metallic singer/songwriters.
Witchcraft – Legend
I tried to tell you all how sick this album is, but judging by the comments, you didn’t listen, DID YOU? Believe it Comrade, Magnus Pelender is back after a five-year hiatus with a new backing band and the most direct songwriting of his career.
King Giant – Dismal Hollow
Did you know Hollow is pronounced ‘Holler?’ Neither did I.
Anyway, I pimped King Giant’s self-released sophomore LP when it dropped in the first few weeks of the year, and will not miss an opportunity to do so again. Dismal Hollow packs a formidable punch: melodic stoner sludge with some of the best lyrics and storytelling in recent memory. King Giant’s riffs remind me of Metallica circa The Black Album, but with a crisper, more organic production. Wrist injuries sidelined King Giant, otherwise this band would have built up a bigger buzz. Hopefully 2013 will see their third LP and some extensive touring.
Accept – Stalingrad
Again, I’ve been hooting and hollering about this record since July, but haven’t seen much buzz. Stalingrad is nothing short of a reason to celebrate. More than a return to form from a fine classic German no-prefix metal band, Stalingrad is the best hour of music Wolf Hoffman’s ever put his paws on.
And by the way, if you get the opportunity, see Accept: they put on the best show I saw in 2012.
Royal Thunder – CVI
I skipped reviewing CVI for… no reason I can think of. CVI is a grower, not a shower: many of its finest moments come at the end of 10-minute dirges, and the record’s general attitude is monstrously depressing. But over and over again I found myself reaching for CVI to alleviate my own blues, or at least for a sense of comfort and company in my depression. Bassist/singer Mlny Parsonz wields a soulful banshee wail, which elevates her band from ‘great’ to ‘amazing.’
Paradise Lost – Tragic Idol
Certain other writers at this website would have you believe that Tragic Idol is a lesser entry in Paradise Lost’s catalog. I respectfully disagree. This is not only, by my estimation, Paradise Lost’s finest hour, but my most-listened-to metal release of 2012.
The fat has been trimmed, leaving Gregor Mackintosh’s most pristine riffs, and the band’s most elegiac melodies. As mournful as it is, Tragic Idol never wallows in its own misery the way that recent My Dying Bride album did. The sorrow is underpinned by the kind of economical and hard-hitting songwriting that made Metallica and Slayer household names.
Tragic Idol begins with a dirge, then opens up into a series of brilliant anthems, each exploring loneliness and the resilience it takes to survive it. If Robinson Crusoe had a favorite metal album, this might very well be it.