(In this, the longest post we’ve yet had the temerity to publish, DGR provides many 2012 lists, several awards, and assorted musings about the year in metal.)
This list initially started as something of an archive of my time spent at NoCleanSinging this year, since I was over at another site when I began writing it. I wanted to archive all the stuff that I thought that you guys would be into, so it started as a list of all the great death metal and doom metal I listened to throughout the year – plus a list of disappointments, so I could say it was “DDD” and make a whole bunch of boob jokes throughout the whole thing in order to highlight the sheer level of class with which we conduct ourselves here.
Well, things change…and now I’ve sat my fat ass down here with a full list. That, and due to the fact that there’s so much music I want to talk about this year, I feel that by separating the albums into genres that I enjoyed and explored this year, I can at least show that there was a ton more great music than just the scant ten that we limit ourselves to throughout the year. Some of these may pop up again in the actual Top Ten list you’ll find at the end of this post, but know that a lot more of them would’ve been there had I not enjoyed myself so much throughout the year.
I’ve patterned this after the list I did last year where I not only provided the actual top albums that I enjoyed but categorized a bunch of others, because I am so goddamned wishy-washy that I can’t fathom trying to name just ten. 2012 was a weird year, too, because it seemed like it was going to be slow in the beginning, but then every album that was released seemed to be just killing it. New bands, established bands, pretty much everyone with the exception of the usual garbage and a couple of bands that “Disappointed” me (underwhelmed, more like) were absolutely killing it. Because of that, this list became something more of a 2012 year in review with a Top 10 albums for myself and a whoooooole lotta bullshit to fill the space between.
THE DEATH METAL
One note before we begin: I spent a lot of time exploring the genre this year. 2012 seemed to be my year to rediscover/continue my fascination with both brutal and technical death metal. The bands who made their names as suffix-core bands also shifted more and more into this realm, so I found myself enjoying stuff like Job For A Cowboy and Whitechapel quite a bit. If you’d asked me if I’d be saying this five years ago, I would’ve laughed at you, but it goes to show that there is hope yet for a lot of bands. Also, maybe those of us who are more steadfast in our refusal to forgive for past sins will finally get over the hump and find ourselves some enjoyable stuff.
Other forms of death metal such as melo-death and prog-death also caught my attention, and this explanation is more of a buffer for those of you wondering why something like Cannibal Corpse’s Torture did not made the list. I thought it was a pretty good disc, but for some reason I’m the equivalent of a dumb dog when it comes to death metal. As long as you jingle some really shiny keys in front of me then there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll enjoy it.
Also, if you’re one of those folks who find that their tastes might line up with mine, then maybe this list will help you discover some music you might not have found otherwise. I tend to be the mainstream everyman when it comes to heavy metal, though, so maybe I’ll just be your bridge to the much darker and murkier recesses of each genre that can be discovered through NCS.
Wretched – Son of Perdition
Wretched were one of those bands who always seemed to be scraping up against the ceiling of something fantastic, and for the past two discs just never seemed to quite get there. While The Exodus Of Autonomy and Beyond The Gate were pretty good albums, they were always hinting at greater potential.
It feels so good to say that on Son of Perdition the group absolutely nails it. Everyone just tears full bore into a deeper hybrid of straightforward death metal and the mix of death metal/metalcore that the band had been playing with before. Vocalist Adam Cody is a huge addition to the group, creating a frantic attack on the vocals that when mixed with the rest of the band doing back up creates a sense of sheer panic that runs from high to low in half a second. The amount of snarling ferocity displayed by the band is intense as can be here. Outside of the instrumental tracks and the song “At The First Sign Of Rust”, every song moves fast and it feels awesome. And “At the First Sign of Rust”, with its peaks and valleys in terms of speed, is slowly becoming a favorite on this disc — if “Imminent Growth” didn’t have that epic, “Behold, the wasteland….” segment. This is an album that makes you feel violent.
Job For A Cowboy – Demonocracy
I long ago came to terms with the fact that I enjoy Job For A Cowboy’s most recent output. Much of the lineup that recorded the much-maligned (on my end) EP Doom has long since evaporated into the æther, and since Ruination I have been warming up to the group.
Gloom surprised the shit out of me and got me really hyped for the upcoming full length, so Demonocracy came as no surprise. They feel like a wholly different band, full submerged in the murk and sewage that makes up the uglier parts of death metal and propelled forward by a relentless amount of blasting. It isn’t absolutely perfect; I still have my minor qualms with the pacing of the lyrics (Jonny Davy likes his QUICKBURSTOFWORDSTHATALMOSTSOUNDSLIKEABARKINGDOG followed by about three sentences of ear-piercing highs) and the fact that almost all the songs go at about the same tempo. The closing dirge and its accompanying video put you in a really dark mood, and that is just great.
Whitechapel – Self-titled
We’re almost done slogging through the bands that have had suffix-core attached to their genre name. Whitechapel are another band who have dragged me kicking and screaming into their fold. Their first releases had some good grooves, but it still felt like they were playing heavily into the hands of the breakdown-obsessed, arms-crossed crowd, so actually getting through the songs became a slog. They were fantastically stupid fun live (having seen them three times, I can attest to it), but on disc they could bring the yawns on fast.
A New Era Of Corruption earned my grudging love and their Self-Titled has repeated that feat, though I found myself willing to give over my affections more easily this time around. Their approach to music is more varied this time, with an emphasis on speed in quite a few songs. I found myself enjoying the vicious bite of tracks like “Hate Creation” and the sheer sense of acceleration that makes up a song like “Faces”.
Actually, you know what? “Faces” is a pretty fucking great song. I’d like this album if it were just the song “Faces” by itself. Seriously, you should listen to “Faces”.
Andy Synn actually put up a pretty good review for the album, saying almost everything I wanted to say at the time.
Hour Of Penance – Sedition
When I reviewed Hour Of Penance for NCS, I said that it should be 2012’s death metal kick in the ass, and I still stand by it. They released a breathless take on brutal death with Sedition while managing to retain a surprising amount of melody. They blast their way through eight songs and an intro, yet each song has its own memorable qualities. So while you can view this as a whole-album listen, landing on a random song via shuffle on your ‘mp3 player of choice’ steals absolutely none of the magic.
Some of the guitar leads that the band pulls off right before launching into a swirling mix of growls, guitars, and battering on the drums are just great. It’s a relentless forty-some-odd minutes of music, yet it flies by so quickly that you have zero issue with just letting it spin constantly. Sedition is one hell of a salvo launched by a veteran death metal band. The album has also proven a boon in helping land these guys on some pretty good tours, so here’s hoping Sedition earns them the recognition they deserve.
Spawn Of Possession – Incurso
This was one of the albums that I was probably most excited for, largely due to a huge Obscura kick that I went on when I first discovered them….which then led me back to Spawn Of Possession. So while I didn’t get to enjoy the six-year wait between discs, I did get to sit on my hands and get all excited for when Incurso would finally hit.
It would take a bit for this disc to finally grow on me, but when it did it was like a fungus. It’s one of the more technical albums on this list for me and as I’ve said before, all Spawn Of Possession needed to do was jingle some shiny keys in front of me and I’d be locked on to them like a cat on a laser point. Jingle those keys they did, and it helped that the band put all the guitar pyrotechnics behind some really good songwriting as well.
Symphonic arrangements appear every now and again, and the band have a good knack for playing things up to the epic level, which matches the big old doomsday worm that dominates Incurso’s album art. They also do some great stuff with randomly unnerving guitar playing, occasionally sustaining notes that’ll make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. That said, it is very much good meat for the fans. It’ll cause wonder in people who’ve never heard it before, which is good, since it is accessible, but those who liked this stuff before can also bite right into it. That kind of mix is fine by me because, man, do these guys know how to throw a flurry of riffs at you in half a second, so if they stop for a brief bit it’s a welcome respite.
Ex Deo – Caligvla
I’m one of those people who found myself far more excited at the prospect of more Ex Deo than I was at the thought of more Kataklysm. Considering that most of the latter band make up this group as well, barring one who isn’t as much of a history nut, I have to conclude that it’s the group’s tendency toward symphonic death metal and historical themes that get me excited.
Romulus was a good disc, but it tended to drag, especially at the end. Caligvla rectifies that and adds some neat surprises as well, including quite a few guest appearances, my personal favorite being an appearance by Seth Siro Anton during the song “Pollice Verso (Damnatio Ad Bestia)”.
The songs on Caligvla travel through epic and sweeping movements, driven by a symphonic and choral backup. The guitars sound huge on this disc; the vocals are massive as well. The female vocals provided by musician Mariangela Demurtas that pop up from time to time are operatic and would fit in well with bands like Trail Of Tears and The Project Hate [she’s from Tristania…which might as well be Trail Of Tears, considering how they keep rotating members].
It’s a grand-sounding album for a grand theme, and the group improves upon everything that they did previously. It’s an excellent followup and a great starting point as well if you’ve never listened to them before.
Zonaria – Arrival Of The Red Sun
Zonaria are probably as close as I got to legitimate melo-death this year, and even then it was more along the lines of Zonaria’s epic and vast sound than anything out of the established Gothenberg sound. This young group has released some of my favorite material over the past couple of years, including the Hypocrisy-inspired shenanigans of the previous disc The Cancer Empire.
Arrival Of The Red Sun continues along that sound, while speeding things up. The band move a lot faster this time and they sound more militaristic than before, but they are still able to match the quality and magic that drew me to The Cancer Empire. Zonaria still sound leagues larger than their four-piece roster would imply, and even though they are currently going through more lineup shifts, Arrival Of The Red Sun is still a good snapshot of what the band did with much of their time between releases.
Things are more violently portrayed here, with numerous references playing up the military symbolism, but all of it is anchored by a heavy focus on guitars and Simon Berglund’s growl gluing everything together. It’s not as heavy or bludgeoning as everything else on this part of the list, but the melody side of things is still enough to grab hold of you.
Cattle Decapitation – Monolith Of Inhumanity
Cattle Decapitation really did create a monolith of a disc – if you’ll forgive the pun – with this album. It hybridizes so many different styles together into one massive slab of death metal. There’s such crazy vocal delivery throughout the whole thing, with stuff that might be verging on cleans, to gutturals so low that there is almost no point even attempting to understand them. Quite a few of the songs have a deathgrind aesthetic, with riffs that wouldn’t be out of place on something Misery Index have done, which then lead into some of the most brutal drills and chugs that I’ve heard in a long time. The band are on the accelerator and keep it at full bore for the whole disc.
I got into this album almost criminally late in comparison to everyone else, but man, did I enjoy my time with it. It had been on my radar since it dropped, but the sheer bevy of shit that these guys hit me with kept me smiling from beginning to end. I love the controlled chaos that they get up to, and each song’s percussive nature. The insane, barely clean vocals that serve to punctuate certain songs reminded me a lot of some of the more off-kilter stuff Devin Townsend tried in his Strapping Young Lad days, but when you then get a ton of grunts, growls, and shrieks following it up, it’s clear that Cattle Decapitation are just more interested in the aural assault of it all.
Monolith Of Inhumanity proved to be a pleasant surprise that came out of nowhere for me and it took up far more of my listening time than I’d like to admit.
Aborted – Global Flatline
Global Flatline is one of the discs that really helped spur on this ‘exploration’, combined with writing for NCS and a general interest in the death metal explosion that seemed to be happening this year. Aborted hit early and they hit hard this year, releasing an excessively violent and disgusting album. They were in top form on Global Flatline and found an almost undeniable formula for success with it.
They played around with their sound a bit, such as on the relatively straightforward “Of Scabs And Boils”, but overall they stuck with what made Aborted a great band. Yes, that means a shit ton of movie samples launching each song before things go wildly out of control. The guitar work sounds like buzzsaws and they burn through riff after riff. The constant double bass drumming begins to turn the whole release into a beating.
I don’t know how Sven does it, but the guy is the master of rapid vocal delivery. He can say so many words and then just close it out with a massive growl, and with the huge track listing present on Global Flatline, you get the perfect opportunity to just mainline it right into your veins. Trevor Strnad of The Black Dahlia Murder pops up on the song “Vermicular, Obscene, Obese” and adds some serious high shrieks to a pretty awesome song. He’s been killing it since last year’s Ritual, so it was nice to hear him again adding some flavor to the mix.
Global Flatline just doesn’t let up and is one hell of an intense ride. Although it was released in January, the fact that it was one of the first to pop up in my mind when I came up with the idea of yacking it up about death metal for NCS should show just how much of an impact it had.
Gorod – A Perfect Absolution
Exercise equipment jokes aside, I really found myself loving A Perfect Absolution. There’s something about Gorod’s take on death metal that is intriguing. They mix and match so many different things and they put heavy emphasis on just writing songs with good grooves and leads. They’re vastly different from their more blast-oriented compatriots and as a result they would make an excellent gateway band.
The musicianship on display here is still incredibly high quality, and songs like “The Axe Of God” and “Birds Of Sulfur” demonstrate that, by being more than just gargantuan behemoths of sound. Each one contains a ton of different subsections, so the whole experience is very dynamic, with each song differing from the others; you can actually recognize which track is which, without having to dig too deeply into what is being played. They’ve found a pretty good workaround for tech-death’s issue of each song just being a gigantic blur, with interesting stuff going on in between.
They’re probably a bit too melodic for the more curmudgeon-ey of the fan base, but I like this French group’s take on things and have for a while now. A Perfect Absolution is another short, quick hit to the system that is just great to show off to friends who may think they have an idea what the band will do next, before the music descends into a swirling guitar solo or a bass-heavy groove that no one saw coming.
Arkaik – Metamorphignition
Arkaik were one of the tech-deathiest bands that I gave a listen to this year. The Riverside County, California-based band have been going for a while, but I basically stumbled upon them while browsing the web one day. Metamorphignition had hit about a week or so earlier near the beginning of October, and I found myself drawn to this group’s bass-heavy take on the genre, spinning it constantly for that month. I recommended it to people who I knew were disappointed by The Faceless’ latest take, because these guys play around in the same spectrum and seem to be parked at the nexus of where that other group was headed.
They play with a bunch of different tropes that make up tech-death but tend to keep things on the groove side of the spectrum, with not so many of the relentless sweeps and endless blasts. There’s a lot of double-bass drum work on this disc and it sounds so good. It’s probably my favorite tone of that specific instrument this year; it just booms and sounds so full. Arkaik spend much of Metamorphignition just drilling their songs into your skull and they, like Gorod above, pull off the trick of keeping each song sounding very different from the others — barring the “Sirens In Electric Veils” duo of tracks.
I personally took to the groove that makes up “Skin Graft Hieroglyphics” quite a bit, which had the effect of preventing me from making it past the opening track for a few days of listening to this disc. Arkaik also have a song called “Blade Grasp Priesthood” that fuck if I have ANY idea what that means. Nice to see someone take up the Dimmu Borgir style of three random words that sound awesome individually but will sound even better together.
The whole release is a spacey, philosophical take on tech-death and it’s something worth looking into. As of this moment, you can get both their releases for $15 from their official site. It’s a pretty good way to spend some scratch.
Miseration – Tragedy Has Spoken
This was an album I truly did not see coming. I had followed Miseration for some time up to this point and really enjoyed the group’s previous disc The Mirroring Shadow, but had no idea what to expect from Tragedy Has Spoken. That said, even if I had just expected them to simply do The Mirroring Shadow again, I don’t think I would have been any less surprised by what the band put out, especially when you consider that the existence of both this band and Solution .45 was up in the air earlier in the year when some band members had to take time off to figure out what they wanted to do next.
Tragedy Has Spoken is a kitchen-sink album; so many elements were thrown into the pot on this disc that it leans on the edge of discordant for its whole run time. There are so many effects, instruments played up to be out of tune, cheesy sound effects, multi-layered chorus lines, even the appearance of instruments you never would have expected to come up in a discussion about this album. It feels like it is composed of blasts and left turns, with Christian Alvestam screaming at you the whole time.
Case in point: the song “Ciniphes”, which is proving to be a favorite of mine; it has a really offbeat and irregular lead, yet it remains catchy because of that. The whole song just seems to spasm, writhe, and go nuts for about four minutes before closing with piano and the sound of rain…because, well like most of this disc goes, “Why the fuck not?”. It’s a maelstrom of sound that I think has been overlooked quite a bit this year. That needs to change.
Abnormality – Contaminating The Hive Mind
Abnormality became something of my personal death metal underdogs this year as they released their wordily-titled full-length followup to the equally wordy EP Collective Calm In Mortal Oblivion. Contaminating The Hive Mind is an eight-track collection of unrelenting brutality moved forward by an insane barrage of drums so cymbal-heavy that sometimes it just sounds like someone threw every pan they had off the side of a building and they’re all hitting the ground at once.
On Contaminating The Hive Mind the band manage to tighten up their sound just enough to form a precise, stuttering blast of death metal that starts and stops at the drop of a hat. It doesn’t sound as big as many of the other releases on here, but the fret destruction and growling are still here in full force and it sounds really good for a band still building the foundations of a fan base. It fulfills and expands the promise of one of their best songs from Collective Calm (“Zealotry”).
Contaminating The Hive Mind has also been slowly gathering steam for the band, hence why they’ve become something of my underdogs as well. Nothing is made of the fact their lead vocalist is female, nor that the band is made up of other veteran local death metal acts. Often when you come across Abnormality, it is all about their tight grasp of what they’re trying to do and their ability to just project it out there for the world to hear. It’s also a real quick hit to the system, so if you need a shock of death metal, Contaminating The Hive Mind can help you there.
Doom, Drone and, Black Metal are probably my three biggest weaknesses as someone who claims to love metal. My knowledge of each is about as surface-level as can be. My doom tastes, in particular, are mainstream and European-focused. Basically, if it’s layered with keyboards and sounds like it was recorded in the midst of a snowstorm, then I am there with bells on. That’s why you probably won’t spot much in the way of the stoner doom or drone segments of the genre. The list converges more on really slow death metal than anything else, but there were quite a few albums that I caught wind of this year and even reviewed a couple of them here! Here’s the tour of absolute misery in which I buried myself and hibernated during 2012.
Swallow The Sun – Emerald Forest And The Black Bird
I’ve felt that Swallow The Sun have been on a hot streak for a while now. Since my introduction and exploration of these guys with Hope (which is a really good disc) the group have been releasing albums of misery one after another, as they shift their sound away from the plodding funeral doom that defined them into something more ethereal.
Emerald Forest is not as strong an outing as they have done previously – which probably helps explain why it sat on the bubble of my top discs for so long – but the music is still good. The opening title track is actually one of my favorites — it’s one of the few songs this year capable of affecting me on any level other than a nod and a “Yeah, this is pretty good”. Something about the female vocals humming the main melody of the song before it spills into the main narration, coming back to her singing, and then spilling into a bunch of crashing guitars as things finally move forward really seemed to get to me, and I have no clue why.
There were a couple whiffs. I didn’t really enjoy the song “Hearts Wide Shut” or the the ballad “This Cut Is The Deepest”, but the rest of the music I really liked. “Cathedral Walls”, buoyed by Annete Olzon on chorus duty, is a good song, and album closer “Night Will Forgive Us” has a great guitar lead and, by virtue of being the fastest song on the disc, is one of the more exciting ones. Emerald Forest didn’t seem to have much of a theme but it proved to be a very good collection of music.
My Dying Bride – A Map Of All Our Failures
My Dying Bride are practically an institution at this point and they’re one of the few bands who I can say I enjoy and actually have some cred amongst those who love their goth-doom. A Map Of All Our Failures continues the quality trend from their last one, For Lies I Sire (unless you’re counting The Barghest O’Whitby, which – as much as I enjoy these guys – I don’t have thirty-five minutes worth of endurance for; I get this complaint from women a lot, too).
It’s another slab of metal that makes molasses rolling down a hill look like an F1 race. Despite his almost monotone expression, Aaron Stainthorpe has figured out how to be incredibly evocative within the range he sticks to. I enjoy the spurts of death metal as things get more intense, but A Map Of All Our Failures really wins me over with the same trick For Lies I Sire used, which is by cranking things up on the melancholy scale with the lone violin being the only real symphonic element.
My only gripe is that this stuff ruins shuffle, which is my preferred listening method at work, because I can easily get lost in time without having to look at my watch. I know when these guys come on I’m in for eight to ten minutes of slow-moving music. Fantastic when sitting in your room in the dark and writing overly long year-end lists while it rains outside, though.
Inborn Suffering – Regression To Nothing
These guys and My Dying Bride were probably the two most traditional European doom bands that I listened to in 2012. I discovered Inborn Suffering via a bored Bandcamp surf one afternoon (see bands? some people do this!) and found myself lost in their take on the scene. I had no idea about the six-year gap between this French doom metal band’s two discs, but what I heard of Regression To Nothingness made a great first impression. I later reviewed the release for this site and easily recommended it.
Absolutely nothing on this album could be quantified as fast; their most uptempo song barely reaches anything you could describe as ‘medium speed’. The songs move slowly and are lengthy as can be, allowing the listener to drift off and get lost in each movement as the band take their time building up to the next big crash. Why someone would want to get lost in this much misery, I don’t know, but the time I spent with the album left me in a dark place for a bit. It’s very theatrical in its wailing and growls, and the only time anything isn’t delivered in one of those two styles, you get vocals in a monotone and hushed spoken sections.
Regression To Nothingness is probably the most difficult of these albums to drag outside fans into, but if you enjoy this genre and the European region’s more ethereal take on it, then this is about as red meat as you can get.
Paradise Lost – Tragic Idol
I guess this is where I get to play the too-cool-for-school guy and rebel against pretty much everyone else on this website by saying that I really liked Paradise Lost’s 2012 release Tragic Idol. I think it complements, adds to, and in some ways augments their previous disc Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us. You really do get a better sense of what they were trying to do there when you get essentially the same disc again plus new stuff. It worked for me.
Gregor Mackintosh’s guitar playing is a highlight here, and the songwriting on Tragic Idol is good. Songs are a bit faster than most, which will probably lead the more curmudgeonly fans to call me false, but I really like the offerings they present here. Even the bonus tracks are good – as both take on an epic air. The more uptempo songs on Tragic Idol were effective at getting stuck in my head, and they include some really powerful choruses. Nick Holmes also complements the music well, and I think he sounds great here. Maybe I should just chalk up my enjoyment to being airheaded and ‘not getting it’. Or maybe I’m just a fucking great dude who likes great music.
Daylight Dies – A Frail Becoming
Daylight Dies I have followed for an incredibly long time. It’s easy to say that when each disc has been preceded by an almost three-year-plus wait, but I can’t really blame the band for the time between albums, especially considering external factors of which I may be unaware. However, I can say that it was worth the wait because A Frail Becoming is another high point in the group’s discography.
It moves things along just a tad bit quicker, and the band are more confident in their differing styles. Instead of separating the clean-sung vocals and acoustic guitars within songs of their own, they now mix them with the crawling, harsh-growled parts that define the band. This makes each song interesting to listen to, as opposed to just wanting to skip along to the next pretty part or your next favorite section of utter misery. I enjoy the band’s more up-tempo bits as well, as witnessed in a song like “Infidel”, but I’m still here for the trademark long and drawn-out screams.
It’s not an astronomical leap in quality, since Daylight Dies were already pretty high up there, but it’s a damn good album in its own right.
In Mourning – The Weight Of Oceans
In Mourning have been one of my favorite bands since the release of 2010’s Monolith. I thought Shrouded Divine’s doomy overtones and progressive death combo were pretty good, but the band didn’t really win me over until the high-energy Monolith. The Weight Of Oceans serves as a bridge between both discs’ styles as well as becoming its own darkly poetic beast. The focus on the themes of the ocean and all the allegories that can be drawn from it makes it a lyrically interesting album, sparse as the lyrics may be.
This isn’t going to be the only time this album makes its appearance on this list; so if it seems like I’ve been bare-bones on the details, it is because I’ll be returning to it again. That said, if you’re into progressive death metal with a heavy dose of slow, lurching, doom-inspired riffs, The Weight Of Oceans is a very easy recommendation. It doesn’t quite nail everything, but even the parts where it may be lacking are pretty good in their own right; it’s simply that the high points on this disc are stellar highs.
These albums were not so much disappointing as they were just a little underwhelming on this end. For one reason or another, they just whiffed instead of full-on nailing it. Does that mean the albums are bad? Not a chance in hell. However, these are the ones that I just didn’t find myself fulling digging into for much of 2012. Some of them are the product of bands who just seemed to be spinning their wheels and others are simply more of a time-and-place scenario, where it seemed like all of history was lining up for them to do something great and instead we just got “another album”.
Storm Corrosion – Storm Corrosion
I, like many others, was waiting for the day when Steven Wilson and Mikael Akerfeldt would finally get their shit together and jointly work on a project instead of just cockteasing all of us by appearing on each other’s albums all the time. I kind of had an idea about what I was in for after I had heard both Opeth’s and Steven Wilson’s latest releases, so I wasn’t flipping my shit every time there was some new Storm Corrosion info out there. When it did hit, it was exactly as I expected it to be.
It seemed as if both artists were more fascinated with the idea of paying tribute to each other’s influences than anything else, as well as making something of a folk-prog album. It’s a haunting, moody, and very relaxing listen – which I love – but it also spends a whole lot of time going nowhere in order to build up ambience. We’re talking huge swaths and movements of the album where nothing is happening outside of one sustained note, just being held so that it echoes between your headphones/speakers. It’s not fair that Wilson and Akerfeldt get to hold down a key on a keyboard and people (including myself) will praise it as a genius building of soundscapes and other critical vocabulary puff language, yet if I hold down a key on a keyboard and just let it run, people tell me that it’s lazy and looks stupid. Watch.
That’s the work of a fuckin’ genius right there.
It was disappointing that Storm Corrosion was a little sleep-inducing, but I did still like the disc quite a bit. I’m an unabashed Wilson fanboy and if the guy ever decides to record himself farting into a tuba and releases it on disc, I’ll probably think it was the greatest farting into a tuba recording ever created. I understood what they were going for with Storm Corrosion, but it became clear to me that the band were headed more toward the middle of the country and I was too busy hoping that they’d meet me over here in California – if that tortured metaphor works for anything.
As I Lay Dying – Awakened
Here’s one that really underwhelmed me. I like a lot about it, but it lacked what I really loved about the band. I go about half and half with the group’s first releases (Frail Words Collapse and Shadows Are Security) but An Ocean Between Us got me really excited. It seemed like the band had shed a lot of what made metalcore so cookie-cutter in favor of just going fast and letting Tim Lambesis scream his heart out. The band cranked up the guitar work to a whole other level compared to where they had been before. Every song seemed to have a great lead or solo, the breakdowns that did pop up weren’t telegraphed from a mile away, and if a song featured clean singing it wasn’t just put in there because the song had to have a good cop/bad cop chorus forced into it. The Powerless Rise sealed my affection for the band because it improved upon almost every aspect that I loved about An Ocean Between Us. Songs like “Condemned” were an adrenaline rush.
Awakened, on the other hand, seems to lack a lot of that. It still feels like an As I Lay Dying disc, but it feels more like it bridges the gap between Shadows Are Security and Oceans, which is something that I wasn’t really interested in hearing. A couple of the songs start to run into each other, which is something that hadn’t happened with these guys for a while. That, and when you’ve started writing songs about “The Road”, I tend to instinctively roll my eyes. The chorus is still catchy as hell, but it felt a bit like the band were playing to the cheap seats. Unfortunately, that kind of caused me to become half and half once again. It was a disappointing feeling going back to that. It’s still better than a lot of metalcore out there, but I felt sad that or the first time in something like five years I couldn’t say offhand that the new As I Lay Dying was an essential.
“Defender” is pretty great though, as is “A Greater Foundation”.
The Faceless – Autotheism
We’re a bit of a ways out from Autotheism, and much as my long-winded review here states, I am still torn on how I feel about this disc. It’s pretty good music, but as I said in that review, I can’t tell if I like it because it’s something different and good from The Faceless (my love for Akeldama and Planetary Duality aside, I try not to swear by brands) or because so many of the elements that pop up throughout Autotheism sound like other bands I really enjoy.
It’s nice to see the band get a lot of new fans as they’ve shifted toward prog-death, but you can’t deny these guys had two landmark discs prior to this and people were salivating to see where the band would go. Looking from the outside, I can see why so many felt like it was too drastic a shift. I thought it was interesting and the music of good quality, but it didn’t feel like The Faceless being The Faceless. Now it felt like The Faceless were a combination of Opeth, Devin Townsend, Cynic, and Extol.
I like the opening “Autotheism” trilogy quite a lot and the latter half of the album has some solid music on it, outside of the hamfisted-as-hell segue “Hail Science!”. But maybe it’s good that I still feel torn about this album, and that’s the main reason why it wound up on the “disappointing” list. I’d still recommend it highly, but if you’re one of those who went in expecting more of the swirling ridiculousness of tech-death that the band used to get up to, you got something way outside of that realm instead.
Meshuggah – Koloss
I am not the biggest Meshuggah fan. I have never been the first in line to slobber all over the guys with every polyrhythm they kicked out. I enjoyed a lot of what they did, but that didn’t mean I worshiped at the altar of the band. Koloss is the album I had in mind when I referred to in my opening paragraph to every single line of history seeming to point toward one moment, one work of absolute greatness, where all the band needed to do was pull it off and they’d ascend to legendary status. Meshuggah were hot on the heels of ObZen, which I LOVE; the whole djent scene seemed to have evolved past the point of trying something new and just embraced mimicry based on worship of these guys; and all eyes were on them to do something huge. They just needed to show everyone HOW IT WAS DONE. The masters were going to hand out an ass-whooping no one saw coming.
Instead, we got Koloss, an interesting disc with some really good songs on it, but also a few tracks that just felt lazy and more like demos of some guy noodling around with his guitar. It doesn’t feel as strong as it should have been, and for me it didn’t really seem to make any sort of statement about what the band was. It just felt like another Meshuggah record with a handful of really good songs on it.
I like “Break These Bones Whose Sinews Gave It Motion” for all its crushing simplicity, I love “Swarm”, I love “The Demon’s Name Is Surveillance”, I think “The Hurt That Finds You First” is great because I got to hear Meshuggah go straightforward and fast again. Hell, “The Last Vigil” is great as a closer because it’s a quiet, introspective instrumental, which I never would’ve attached to Meshuggah’s name.
But songs like “I Am Colossus” (the remix of which I like, mostly because it seems like something is happening in that song), “Do Not Look Down”, and “Behind The Sun” just felt kind of rote. They can’t all be zingers, but that stripped-down just didn’t feel right. I can’t for the life of me even remember what happens in “Marrow” or “Demiurge”, which sucks because one of those two is actually really good, it just has no staying power.
Basically, the band fell short of making the huge statement that would just shut the kids up and instead played to what they knew. Koloss is still enjoyable but it seemed like the time was right for another landmark (granted, from a band who already has four of them between Destroy, Erase, Improve, Chaosphere, Nothing, and Obzen) and they just didn’t quite get there. That’s what disappointed me most. The songs are great when I land on shuffle, but rarely do I find myself thinking, “You know, I should make a full run of Koloss“.
Soma Ras – Demo
Soma Ras are a local Sacramento band formed out of a bunch of other local legends. They play a hybrid of blackened brutal death that isn’t too far off from the Behemoth realm of things and their musicianship is second to none. Drummer Flint Marshall terrifies me with how much he beats the shit out the kit and I’m convinced that vocalist Monte Bernard could beat the shit out me, dude has such a commanding presence on stage. Their demo barely encapsulates how great these guys are to watch, and having seen them live (one time with only four members, their bassist and guitarist handling vocals and just nailing it), it’s nice to see another Sacramento band playing this style. The songs they have out now are a short, promising portent of things to come, and if these guys are granted the ability to record a full length then I am sure they will grab quite a few folks’ attention.
Arsis – Lepers Caress
Talk about a real late entry into the mix, with one of the many EP’s Scion A/V metal financed and put out for free this year. Despite the revolving door of members, Arsis still somehow manage to put out really good music and Lepers Caress is an excellent snapshot of where the band are. James Malone sounds as acidic as ever and the guitar playing is more death metal than what it was on Starve For The Devil. The new (old?) lineup kills it through and through and this adds another release to bassist Noah Martin’s belt with the band as well. It was nice hearing some new Arsis stuff for the first time in a while and the fact they did a new version of “Veil Of Mourning Black” was just great for people who had been familiar with the band for a while. Lepers Caress is a great release and even better now that you can get the damned thing for free. It just makes waiting for the upcoming Unwelcome that much more difficult.
Revocation – Teratogenesis
This is what tipped me off to the trend that the Scion A/V EPs this year were going to be good. I knew Revocation were a great band and had enjoyed them live before, but I didn’t expect the guys to put out some of their best material to date on an EP. It shows massive promise for where they are going, as Teratogenesis is filled with exciting songwriting that melds so many different styles together. Not only that, but the guys managed to figure out how to write some of the best riffs that they have in a long time, with every single one of them feeling purposeful. It was one of those situations where even though I was familiar with the band before, I was still shocked at just how well they nailed it this time. Some serious death metal influence worked its way into this band as well on Teratogenesis and it worked effectively with their varying vocal attack, so when you have some high shrieks backed up by some serious guitar pyrotechnics and just sheer destruction on drums, then you know the band are in top form.
Causemos – Infinite Event
Causemos have been around for a little while now under a couple of different names, but this is the first time the space-themed melodeath band out of Finland landed on my radar. I have it categorized under the EP section since it’s about six solid songs plus a segue and intro, plus I felt like Infinite Event just had to be talked about in some aspect.
The music on Infinite Event is a pretty damn good slab of melo-death, backed up by some space-prog influences that tie the whole package together into something ambitiously epic. Their vocalist has a heck of a time with this disc, going with a familiar bark that sounds a tad similar to the band MyGrain before sailing into high singing that you don’t really hear outside of Fleshgod Apocalypse’s and Anaal Nathrakh’s more operatic moments. The music will be familiar to anyone who follows melodic death metal, but it has enough twists and turns to keep the listener interested, especially in the moments where it becomes remarkably synth-heavy.
I especially enjoy the blast-filled bonus track madness that makes up the song “Kateen”, which is included as a bonus when you download Infinite Event from Bandcamp. Infinite Event also contains a bunch of shout-outs to the Sci-Fi scene, including some buried samples from the Farscape TV show, that earn some serious nerd cred on my side. It was a surprising entry from out of left field that nobody saw coming, but it landed hard and made some serious noise in 2012. If you haven’t heard it, give it a listen because there’s a lot to be found on Infinite Event and it is very enjoyable.
Plague Widow – Plague Widow EP
This nine-track death/grind release from Sacramento band Plague Widow was an enjoyable bit of ugliness that hit in February courtesy of buriedinhell records. The disc has an old school death metal production style to it, but the riffs are very much in the grind territory. There’s the occasional doom riff that keeps things interesting, but overall it’s a relentless bit of blasting and snarling/grunted vocals. It hits pretty hard in the chest for its fifteen minute run time and it holds a lot of promise for this young band. It has a lot to offer if you enjoy your music incredibly ugly. If you’re into death metal and grind then this will be right up your alley.
Anathema – Weather Systems
If you’re familiar with Anathema’s previous disc We’re Here Because We’re Here, then you’ll likely be well at home with Weather Systems. They continue with their current flavoring of power-prog after making such an abrupt switch on the last disc. Initially, Weather Systems may seem like more of the same, but honestly, it contains some of the best music Anathema have ever written. It’s another album that once you hear one of the songs via shuffle, you’ll find yourself just spinning the whole thing again.
The two-part opening track “Untouchable”, with all its sappy overtones, is such a powerful pair of songs that you can’t help but be swept up in them. “The Calm Before The Storm”, like its namesake, is a song that just builds and builds until it explodes in an orchestral array. I love the piano-laden song “The Lost Child” and its simple movement that just swings back and forth. “Internal Landscapes” is actually difficult to listen to and not feel something since it plays so heavily on a recording of a man describing a near-death experience.
It is truly one of the greatest releases this year and I am so happy that I’m sticking to a top ten metal list, because this CD is honestly one of my highlights and it would’ve easily taken the top spot. Putting it in this un-metal section doesn’t feel like doing it justice. Maybe I should just put the paragraph in bold, to really emphasize how much I feel people should listen to this disc.
Antimatter – Fear Of A Unique Identity
Antimatter’s album is a late entry to this list as it only came out about a month ago. Given that Anathema and Antimatter share some history, you can probably figure out how I discovered this group. Fear Of A Unique Identity is the second disc with musician Mick Moss handling most of the work, including vocal duties. The guy has an amazing voice and a sense of melancholy that is second to none. Fear Of A Unique Identity is one of the most varied discs that Antimatter has put out, containing some actually rocking songs alongside the usual assortment of piano and acoustic guitar. The concept behind the album is interesting and represented well in the video for one of the highlight songs, “Uniformed and Black”.
It’s only nine tracks long and there’s a bunch of bonus ones, but they aren’t really integral to the experience. I’ve heard the violin version of “Here Come The Men” via youtube and it is enjoyable but not integral to the album. The experience that you do get out of the main disc, I highly recommend. Antimatter puts out some very intelligent music and Fear Of A Unique Identity shines there. As depressing as it is, you can relax with the disc and just explore everything in each song; this is important given as many layers as there are in this band’s work. Highly recommended.
Celldweller – Wish Upon A Blackstar
It’s hard to believe that it has been close to a decade since the last Celldweller release (seriously, I was in my freshmen to sophomore transition when I heard about that last disc, and I had held a job for six years by the time this new one hit). Due to the way this album was issued, in four chapters before the final mega-sized release, I have been familiar with some of the songs on here since 2009 – and in the case of “Birthright” (which appears on the special edition), since the Ps3s launch. It’s been a crazy ride for Wish Upon A Blackstar, which finally saw release this year.
Celldweller long ago jumped past his industrialized nu-metal works and decided to go almost fully electronica here, although he is still very much the gene-splicing hybrider of music – incorporating elements of rock and techno into his own specific beast. He even managed to fit in a pretty good epic symphonic ballad to close out the album. Because of this, the album doesn’t really go through movements so much as it feels like a collection of really catchy, well-written songs. I’m still probably far too fond of “I Can’t Wait”, but I enjoy the shit out of the minimalistic and bass-driven “Seven Sisters”. I wish that song were longer, since it seems so laid back that I could probably doze off to it, but I’m not the artist and I don’t know the reasons for that choice. I still love it either way.
His more self-deprecating and sarcastically dark songs like “Eon” and “So Long Sentiment” are great, with brooding intensity. The new material is all pretty good and the title track is heinously poppy, but this is all going in the un-metal part of this list so who gives a shit. It’s a great release and now that Klayton seems to have gone into high gear, here’s hoping that another generation of people won’t be born within the span of this disc and its followup.
How To Destroy Angels – An Omen
2012 brings another release from Trent Reznor, wife Mariqueen, plus longtime collaborators Atticus Ross and Rob Sheridan and their project How To Destroy Angels. It’s another tour through the worlds of minimalistic electronica verging on trip-hop, with vocalist Mariqueen coyly singing her lyrics through a smoke-filled veil. It’s a cold and distant-sounding release – which is fitting since it has a song on it called “Ice Age” – and it is more experimental than their 2010 self-titled EP.
It’s difficult to understand what they are getting into right away, but multiple listens have helped me at least form a minor understanding of what they’re doing. This is one of the few things that I would recommend as being a strictly headphone listener; it is far more enjoyable that way. It is a soundtrack to haunting and quiet moments. It’s easy to close your eyes and drift off to this, letting the music invade your sleep. It’s worth a spin if you liked what Trent did with Nine Inch Nails on The Frail, because some aspects of that find their way back here. If you want some relaxed female singing, there’s a lot of that here too, no matter how on edge the lyrics may be. It’s not the easiest album, but it’s still good.
2012 ALBUM I WISH I HAD LISTENED TO MORE THAT IS PROBABLY PRETTY GOOD BUT I CAN’T HAVE A CRITICAL OPINION ON IT WORTH A SHIT
Between The Buried And Me – The Parallax II: Future Sequence
Goddamnit, I wish I had the time to listen to this disc more, but I keep getting sidetracked by other CDs. Between The Buried And Me and I have an on-again/off-again relationship, but everything I’ve heard from Parallax II has been really good. Goddamnit. I even feel good about recommending it to people who haven’t heard it yet as the Parallax discs have been some of Between The Buried And Me’s best material in a while. However, I fully admit to continually passing by Parallax II despite my better judgment, so my critical opinion on this disc isn’t worth a goddamn thing.
Soen – Cognitive
I think a lot of people kind of got the wrong (yet somehow kind of right) impression with Soen when their lead-off single was “Savia”, which played heavily into the Tool style of prog-rock territory. The group are far more varied than that, and Cognitive showed that they can put together an excellent batch of very different prog-rock songs.
Vocalist Joel Ekelöf is honestly these guys’ ace in the hole because he is such a good singer and has a real passion in his voice. Cognitive is something of a melancholic CD, but it is great for just throwing your headphones on and journeying into the songs the band has built. Martin Lopez took a bunch of songs that drummers could have mailed it in on and still sounds great, managing to put on a subtle and nuanced performance that makes every song interesting to listen to. I enjoyed the tracks “Last Light” and “Ideate” quite a bit, for their introverted and meditative aspects.
Yeah, it still sounds like Soen are somewhat coming in to their own, but Cognitive is a great listen so if you’re one of the folks who have overlooked it, you need to go back to it. You are missing out on some seriously powerful choruses and just all around great songwriting.
RANDOM TRON: LEGACY SONG BECAUSE THE SOUNDTRACK IS AMAZING
2012’S 2011 ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Decapitated – Carnival Is Forever
Seriously, I spent more time listening to this disc in 2012 than I did in 2011. So much so, I wish I wouldn’t have forgotten it on my 2011 list, outside of the shout-out to “404”. “404” still makes me happy in the pants, but I also dig so hard on songs like “Pest”, “Homo Sum”, and “United”. “Silence” is also such a good closer for just being a guitar and some quiet echo effect. I think they did damn good with this record.
GREATEST OPENING LYRICAL LINE ON AN ALBUM IN 2012
Whitechapel – Make It Bleed
Seriously, working all three of your album titles into your opening line is brilliant. Never would I have ever considered the day when I’d be laughing to myself over something as silly as a Whitechapel pun.
BEST ENTRANCE IN A MUSIC VIDEO
Elliot Desgagnes of Beneath The Massacre in Depths Of Hatred’s Revocation video
Seriously, he just shows up in this construction site and kicks the everliving fuck out of a tricycle like it was the biggest piece of shit he’s ever seen. Like the tricycle had somehow wronged him in a previous existence. Not only that, but he then proceeds to kick out the frame of a door out of some clearly new construction, all in order to grunt out a grand total of about fifteen words during a breakdown. Dude could beat the shit out of me but now I know to fear him, because he taught that tricycle a fucking lesson. 2:40 on is a work of a genius.
I feel like a complete shitbag for this category being so small this year but I honestly didn’t explore too much of the instrumental side of things in 2012. I had my usual go-to’s, and guess what – as I’ll elaborate on below – they released some friggin great material. There was a lot of good instrumental stuff out there that I unfortunately missed out on due to having my head so far up the death metal genre’s ass this year. If you guys have favorites, feel free to talk about them, because I really want this gigantic list to be a way to get people exposed to music, but I feel bad about mailing it in a bit with just three instrumental releases for 2012. These three are really goddamn good, though.
Cloudkicker – Fade
Yes, I am an unabashed Cloudkicker fan. He even made an appearance on my list last year, so Fade’s appearance here should be no surprise. I think Ben Sharp is an amazing musician who somehow has managed to make a guitar talk in ways others can’t. Fade is more of Cloudkicker doing just that, this time fully back in electronic gear, but still in his meditative mood, which gave us releases like Let Yourself Be Huge and Loop. Fade is something to zone out to. as it takes its sweet time getting from place to place. There are a lot of subtleties between each note, and Fade sometimes feels like a disc that says a whole lot more by not saying much.
He can paint a picture like no other with guitar, as the song “Seattle” can make you feel like you’re looking at its trademark grey skies and rain while standing outside. “LA After Rain” is the same way. Cloudkicker sometimes feels like the best thing instrumental music has going for it, and I hope more people are able to follow in his steps and realize that technicality isn’t everything when you can write a great song.
Now hold on while I go back to spinning a bunch of tech-death discs and being amazed at sweeps for two hours.
Dan Dankmeyer – Pure
Dan Dankmeyer is another of the guitar musicians who I’ve found I enjoy tremendously. The long, progressive mood that he’s been in since Origin has just been great on my end. Pure has become one of my discs to write to, as it isn’t overly technical but it does have its moments; it can just be running in the background as I stare at a black screen for a few hours. He has such a strong grasp of melody, so every song has a really good lead riff that you can grab on to. Each of Pure’s songs comes in at about seven minutes or more, with the exception of “The Air At Midnight” with its almost heretical three. At this point, he’s found a very consistent sound and stuck to it while still finding good material to pull from it.
The Algorithm – Polymorphic Code
The Algorithm has proven to be one my favorite new artists as he (never too sure how to refer to The Algorithm now, given Mike Molyan’s presence for live shows) blends metal with electronica into something new and abrasive. He’s always been a bit too much of one thing to appeal to the other, but the grey area that he has reserved for himself is one that I’ve fallen in love with.
Polymorphic Code is The Algorithm’s new Basick Records release that hit in early November, and I spin it nonstop. The “never know where the song is going to go” feeling is fantastic, where one moment you could be stuck in a familiar electronica groove and then the song just screams at you before dropping into a saxophone solo. The video game noises hidden throughout the whole thing are great (the MGS exclamation mark noise, the Unreal Tournament MONSTER KILL amongst them) and the whole sci-fi theme of the disc is interesting. It has a solid groove and each song has moments that will make you nod your head, but the roller coaster experience as new things are experimented with is what made me enjoy Polymorphic Code so much. It is heavy at all times, no matter what genre or style it follows, and it has a whole lot to offer any listener.
Austin Wintory – Journey (Game Soundtrack)
Journey is one of my favorite video games that hit this year, easily. It managed to do so much while displaying so little. Everything was hidden between the lines, and you had no voicechat the whole time. It was just you and one other person (with no name displayed) traveling to an end, and the only way you could talk to them was to hit circle to chirp, that was it. The game was so good at switching players that you never knew who you were with, so the first time I played the game it turned out I had traveled the game with eight different people. The second time though, I was with one person the whole way through and it was amazing. We stayed close to each other, and when it seemed like I had lost them, they would wait for me, and I would wait for them.
Come to find out, it was some dude named PixelSocks, and through some odd twist of fate he’s actually located out of UC Davis (about forty minutes outside of Sacramento). The game picks its players at random, so I thought that was incredible.
Journey really is an experience and it is difficult to explain in words. It is magical. One of the best things about it was its soundtrack. Very few videogame soundtracks have ever had any effect on me, outside of my noting that they’re the usual bland overhyped orchestral bullshit to make the game seem more like a movie. Silent Hill is one of them (Akira Yamaoka is a genius), anything Jespyr Kyd touches is another, and the space exploration theme from Mass Effect could be played on an endless loop at work and it’d be the best shift ever for me. Austin Wintory, however, managed to make something that was absolutely beautiful with his soundtrack for Journey. He made the music intrinsic to the experience, and even outside of the game it still manages to bring visuals to the mind. It has become one of my favorite things to relax and reflect to.
DUMBEST SONG I’VE HEARD THIS YEAR THAT I LOVE
Foreign Beggars – “Apex”
This isn’t metal by any means, although the guys did appear as part of a remix collaborating on the Meshuggah song “I Am Colossus”. However, I can say that as a rap disc, these guys’ latest release The Uprising was dumb — but dumb is an absolutely fantastic way. It’s so ridiculous with all its dubstep breaks and slang that I can’t even begin to fathom. On top of that you get a song like “Apex” which starts off with a synth line verging on Rammstein’s ‘Du Hast’ before just becoming a mess of bass and drum machines. It’s a three minute archive of the worst stuff that we tend to hate on the most, and for some reason it just clicked with me. I mean c’mon, the dude says “We got some real fine shit for your tape decks” with a straight face.
THE MIKE PORTNOY AWARD FOR BEING ABSOLUTELY POISONOUS PR-WISE EVERY TIME HE OPENS HIS MOUTH AND SHOULD PROBABLY JUST TRY TO QUIET IT DOWN FOR A LITTLE WHILE
Look, we know that politics can be as polarizing as can get, which is why most of the time we refrain from discussing it in any manner and any musician who says anything related to it is practically crucified. Now there were two people this year who went far out of their way to say some fucking stupid shit in regards to politics, one being Ted Nugent and the other being Dave Mustaine. Regardless of what you think of these guys, pretty much every time they opened their mouth it was bound to squirt out some form of verbal diarrhea.
So why Mustaine over “The Nuge” you ask? To put it simply, we’ve known for a fucking long time that Nugent is dumber than a bag of rocks, so him saying something at this point should be the equivalent of the wind whistling through your ears. The fact that his dumb ass gun show got cancelled alongside the rest of Discovery Channel’s fucking dumb gun shows and the fact that he got investigated by the FBI for saying stupid shit this year should be insult enough. If not, then I doubt some asshole writing a big ass list is going to change anything.
The one thing that really irritated me about Mustaine was not what he originally said, but his unwillingness to then back it up when grilled about it later. It basically broke down to Mustaine taking the stage in some country, uttering some form of fiery rhetoric, and then when asked why afterwords would basically just say it’s all part of the kayfabe of being on stage. Now, if that’s true, then we really need to be discussing who the hell is going to shows to get political advice from the ‘Dave Mustaine’ persona.
Because of this episode, no matter what would happen, good or bad in the Megadeth world, it would always turn back to Dave Mustaine and the fact that he said something stupid earlier. He could’ve donated money to charity and all the reporters would still be asking him why he was saying the President was trying to ban all guns. Now, the best thing he can do to rectify this is just remain quiet because he’s proven by now that he can’t yet talk his way out of a paper bag. So if he just waits for it to blow over, then maybe he can go back to hiding his thinly veiled political nihilism in some decent music. At least now that there is hype about new music from Megadeth and we’re a little bit removed from the election, it’s not so distracting. But man, it was getting a little rough there earlier.
BEST DEMON HUNTER SONG NOT WRITTEN BY DEMON HUNTER
Impending Doom – “My Light Unseen”
I reviewed Impending Doom’s latest earlier this year (here) and used the same crack then, too, but I’ll be damned if “My Light Unseen” doesn’t feel like the best ballad Demon Hunter has (n)ever written. Vocalist Ryan Clark makes an appearance in the song while Impending Doom’s Brook Reeve’s handles some gut-wrenching background screams. The vocal melodies in this song make it easily the most sing-a-long worthy song (not) by Demon Hunter that sounds like them in a long time. It’s a highlight track from an inoffensive and decent slab of deathcore album. It’s also probably becoming one of Impending Doom’s more popular songs, which is hilarious given that they usually aren’t that much for ballads and Demon Hunter are, yet this is better than anything Demon Hunter have put forth on that front.
BEST IMPENDING DOOM SONG NOT WRITTEN BY IMPENDING DOOM
Demon Hunter – “Crucifix”
This is more of a joke than the previous listing. Mainly doing it to provide some equilibrium to my dickishness above. That said, I bet Impending Doom could do one hell of a version of this tune. It’s also one of the better ones from Demon Hunter’s True Defiance, which didn’t have many highlights in my mind. Best to get out the best foot while you can, or some sort of craziness in regards to folksy sayings.
BEST INSULT IN SONG FORM
Murder Construct – “Compelled By Mediocrity”
This song made me so happy, mostly because it is absolutely blatant in its insulting of certain people. Of course, it’s covered in the usual muck and grime of a grind song, but it’s still funny to hear a guy who’s been speaking through guttural growls and high shrieks just suddenly yell, “WE HATE YOU KIDS!” It’s a heavy metal song written by the guy down the street who used to yell at you to get off his lawn when you were a kid. It’s basically every criticism we’ve had of the cookie-cutter bullshit that makes up a huge chunk of metalcore and various scenes for years, planted into a song written about how they should all be killed. While my views may not be so extreme, it is great to hear somebody be so blatant about something that the rest of us have just taken to ignoring. I especially love the dig at people hiding behind nine-string guitars.
BEST NEW TREND OF 2012
The Live Shows In Sacramento
This is – bar none – the best thing about this year for me. I went to a fucking ton of live shows in Sacramento this year. Normally, Sacramento would see maybe one, two shows worth going to unless you were really into the local scene. Even touring bands who were relatively underground had started skipping over this city. All of that has changed with the opening of a couple new places, and other venues really stepping up their booking efforts.
There has been a fantastic resurgence of live music in Sacramento on all fronts. Whether it’s bands just starting out and hashing it out at places like The Boardwalk, Blue Lamp, On The Y, Shenanigans, or any of the other venues, or bands who for a long time were huge in the underground but always skipped over Sacramento in favor of places like San Francisco, then right to Oregon – or the reverse – finally coming here and playing Ace Of Spades, there’s been a huge shift. Sacramento has a fucking great live music scene right now and it is inspiring tons of new bands and making old ones step their game up, leading to a lot of really good music coming from this city.
WORST TREND OF 2012
Musicians Griping About Blabbermouth
Look, I completely understand. Had this been four or five years ago I would’ve been right there with you. Unfortunately, you guys missed the bus with about the same accuracy as Harold Camping has with doomsday predictions. I know it’s been a long-time trend to bitch about the ‘haters’ on Blabbermouth, because it puts a face to a common problem, but it seems like it really got stepped up this year. However, have any of you read Blabbermouth lately? It actually isn’t that bad.
Yes, I remember the wild west days of the early aughts, but since the site revised its commenting policy, things have been relatively toned down. It isn’t perfect, but it’s not as odious as it used to be. You have to remember, Blabbermouth is a news aggregator, not a community. They get sent a story and they post it, pretty much copy + pasted right out of the PR Email. It’s a resource for people to read without them editorializing. They do some good album reviews, but overall Blabbermouth is harmless. Let it go.
I have seen news stories on the site about groups like Eyes Set To Kill and Five Finger Death Punch, that had this been the old community would’ve had trolls pour into those threads like flies on shit; now I’ll see anywhere between zero and three comments. Those three may be from someone who actually (shockingly) enjoys the band. In fact, just about the only time I see a string of bad comments now is in the articles that they publish where some musician bitches about Blabbermouth. That is about the only time the ‘haters’ get to run full force. If you want to bitch about a shitty community, bitch about Youtube commenters. Or is that too big an entity for you?
While we’re at it, let’s drop the word Hater. You’re not fourteen, move on. No more ‘hater’ songs while we’re at it.
BUBBLED / HONORABLE MENTIONS / I SHOULD PROBABLY HAVE CALLED THIS THE TOP 19 JUST TO FUCK WITH PEOPLE
Kamelot – Silverthorn ~ I think Kamelot pulled off something incredible with Silverthorn by recovering from the loss of such a vital part of their sound without missing a step. Tommy Karevik does an amazing job filling in those shoes and helping Kamelot put out another real good goth power fantasy. He’s got a voice all his own and it is really good. There’s a couple of really standout tracks on this disc and it easily matches what Kamelot have put out for years. The fact that this isn’t in my official top 10 should reflect just how good a year 2012 was, not that this is a weak disc.
Zonaria – Arrival Of The Red Sun ~ I rambled about this disc in the death metal section so I’ll just reaffirm my statement here. It’s really good, epic melodeath.
Cattle Decapitation – Monolith Of Inhumanity ~ Another one I rambled about in my death metal section, but I honestly understand the hype behind it. It’s a mix of so many different ugly styles into one of the most challenging albums of this year. This and Anaal Nathrakh’s Vanitas were literally my two “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH” cds this year.
Three Inches Of Blood – Long Live Heavy Metal ~ Long Live Heavy Metal continues Three Inches Of Blood down the retro-rock path without sounding dated. This CD is an improvement on Here Waits Thy Doom and contains some of the best riffs these guys have ever put out. I am especially fond of their Dio tribute “Look Out!” and the fact that they managed to pack so many Dio-related puns into one song.
Testament – Dark Roots Of The Earth ~ Testament are a goddamn great band and this disc is an excellent followup to The Formation Of Damnation. It modernizes their sound even more but still contains some great Chuck Billy singing and amazing guitar shred. The new songs also hold up incredibly well live. Testament cemented themselves as one of my favorite thrash bands ever with this disc.
Paradise Lost – Tragic Idol ~ Rambled about this in my doom metal bit above. Great album. Anyone who doesn’t like this probably enjoys kicking puppies.
Gojira – L’Enfant Sauvage ~ Gojira are a goddamn great band and this is some of the best songwriting that they have ever done. It repeats a few bits far too many times for my taste but overall this disc was a fantastic listen. I just didn’t get around to it as often as I would have liked to, to let it really sink in. I still enjoyed it enough to give it a spot here because I would’ve felt like an asshole not talking about it.
Swallow The Sun – Emerald Forest And The Blackbird ~ See doom metal section. Another incredibly powerful disc from a great band on a hot streak. Love the fact the album art emphasizes white and green instead of being another black/blue woe is me trope.
The Neologist – The Promise Of Eternal Separation – This disc felt like it was a long time coming from this two-man melo-death project hailing from the Carolinas. It’s a more mature effort than the group’s previous 26 Letters Of Your Universe release and this time the band’s music feels heavily inspired by groups like Disarmonia Mundi and Soilwork. It’s a solid slab of mid-tempo music for people who enjoyed In Flames/Soilwork during the Reroute To Remain/Natural Born Chaos days. Unfortunately, it just couldn’t break the solid wall that my top ten became after a while. Still, they deserve a shout-out if only for the fact that they make solid music for free and that they recently covered Sybreed’s Doomsday Party, which makes me smile.
ACTUAL TOP 10
10 – Katatonia – Dead End Kings
I don’t think this list would’ve been complete without me mentioning Katatonia. I liked Dead End Kings a lot and it actually has a special place in my heart because it is one of the few CDs that I could play at work on a radio this year since there’s no profanity or screaming. Of course, it’s depressing as all hell, but that’s beside the point.
Katatonia are another band who are fast becoming an institution, having found a style they excel at and just writing good music. Dead End Kings feels like the hybrid disc of Night Is The New Day and The Great Cold Distance. “The Racing Heart” quickly became one of my favorite songs due to its vocal melodies. Jonas Renske sounds great here and it’s nice to see that he has retained some serious confidence in his voice. It’s also nice to see that Dead End Kings continues the trend of Katatonia having great bonus tracks that should’ve been on the main disc, as both “Second” and the minimalistic “The Act of Darkening” are both worthy listens. Dead End Kings is Katatonia buying into their own gimmick a bit, but the music that they make is still really good.
9 – Wretched – Son Of Perdition
I think one of the reasons why I adore Son Of Perdition the way I do is its absolutely frantic approach to everything. The whole disc sounds like the band flying by the seat of their pants while trying to whip out some of the fastest music they have ever written. It feels like Wretched’s potential finally realized, melding metalcore, melodeath, and full blown death metal into a solid fifty-minute bit of insanity.
Rarely do I describe anything as visceral, but Son Of Perdition is a visceral experience. Adam Cody is a great addition to the band and he complements the twin-guitar attack and blasting rhythm section that makes up the band. Even the slow songs on Son Of Perdition feel a little unhinged. “At The First Sign Of Rust” is one of my favorites, mostly because of its start/stop nature, and it just sounds like the narrator of that song is angry at the world. The blasting bunch of songs that follows, though, completely hammers home the experience. The band still excel at making instrumentals, but they’repart of the overall album this time, as opposed to just good music shoehorned in. Son Of Perdition is easily my favorite Wretched disc, so good job to them this year.
8 – Carach Angren – Where The Corpses Sink Forever
This is really my one black metal release for this year and I am glad I chose it. I’ve been with this band since Death Came Through A Phantom Ship, and Where The Corpses Sink Forever easily exceeds it. It’s a really good slab of symphonic black metal tied together by a story that is the equivalent of a campy B-grade horror movie. Carach Angren play right into the theatricality that’s integral to black metal, and the story of Where The Corpses Sink Forever combined with the symphonic elements absolutely nails it.
The band are actually pretty accessible, and big props to vocalist Seregor for being easily understood. The group avoid a bunch of the usual tried and true black metal tropes on this album, with a heavy focus on melodic sections and solid grooves. There’s enough blasting to make anyone happy – including genre fanatics – but likewise, there are enough elements of death metal and symphonic metal to really keep anyone interested. It swings through a variety of different moods, alternating from the utter aggression of songs like “Lingering In An Imprint Haunting” to the moody, dirge-like “The Funerary Dirge Of A Violinist”. It’s a solid forty minute offering of symphonic black metal that I highly recommend. I’m probably the most mainstream of anyone here, so if I recommend it, then even people who aren’t fans of the style should enjoy it.
7 – Anaal Nathrakh – Vanitas
Vanitas became my angry album this year from the moment it was released. I always find one that can literally just be defined by a dude screaming at the top of his lungs, and it is always easy to do when Anaal Nathrakh have a release out. Vanitas is one of the ugliest things out there, and Dave Hunt’s screaming, shrieking, and growling just accents it all so well. It feels like the whole thing is just fueled by fury and hatred.
Under its monstrous exterior is a solid understanding of groove, though, so it isn’t entirely just blast beats and screaming – as much as I love it for that reason. The passion on display by Anaal Nathrakh here is second to none, especially on songs like “Marching Towards The Sunset” and the excellently titled “You Can’t Save Me, So Stop Fucking Trying”. Also, Vanitas has a song called “Of Fire and Fucking Pigs – it’s pretty damn good music, in addition to having an eye-catching title.
Vanitas is the go-to disc for just raw fury. It’s perfect for terrible days at work, it’s perfect for when things in your life are going wrong, and it’s great for moods where you are just pissed. It’s a misanthropist’s dream in heavy metal form.
6 – Sylosis – Monolith
Goddamn, Sylosis are an exciting band right now. There was such a huge gap between Conclusion of An Age and Edge Of The Earth, and yet Monolith showed up only about a year and a half later. The best part about it is that Monolith is fucking great. From the moment this album was released it became a highlight of my year. I found myself grinning like a fool the whole first listen because they were literally just killing it.
It’s a faster disc than Edge Of The Earth and everything on it serves a purpose. It seems so much angrier, and there is a lot of intensity on display. Sylosis can write one hell of a song. The guitar pyrotechnics have been stepped up here as their hybrid of thrash and melo-death leans more toward the former, with enough of the screaming to make it seem like the latter. The solos just fly all over the place and they aren’t just absolute walls of notes.
One of the first songs revealed, “A Dying Vine”, is easily one of my personal favorites. It contains one hell of an epic bridge as the song slows down, and the rest of the song is fast and thrashy as can be. Opener “Out From Below” is the same way. Monolith is a great disc all around and I hope it does well for the band as it easily surpasses the great stuff done on Edge Of The Earth to become one of their best.
5 – Sybreed – God Is An Automaton
I’m just going to put this out there: I think that God Is An Automaton has become my favorite Sybreed disc by far. It’s some of the most aggressive and dark material that Sybreed have ever put out. I may be parroting my review, but vocalist Benjamin Nominet deserves a friggin medal for his vocal performance here. There’s so much bite to his screaming this time around that he augments songs that would just be good, turning them into absolutely great. The vocals vary between high screams, singing, and some solid death growls. It is also lyrically very strong. The themes tying God Is An Automaton together make for an interesting afternoon read. Musically, the album is heavy as hell, and while the electronics are still present, they serve to complement some crushing guitar and drum work. The re-done version of “Challenger” is easily one of the album’s highlights; God Is An Automaton is worth a listen for that song alone.
4 – Khonsu – Anomalia
Anomalia is honestly one of my biggest surprises this year. I discovered Khonsu via Andy Synn’s review of this disc on this here very web site thingy and haven’t looked back since. Something about this group’s music has grabbed me and it refuses to let go. It’s so dark and varied. I love the acoustic guitar groove that makes up the opening song “In Emptiness” and I love the emphasis that the group places on its keyboard work. Khonsu show absolutely no fear in blurring the line between genres and sounds, as demonstrated by songs such as “Inhuman States”. It starts out sounding like The Ocean before quickly becoming Behemoth, before becoming something else entirely.
Anomalia is a dynamic as hell listen, and I feel that anyone who even claims to love music needs to check it out. It’s only seven tracks, but there is so much depth in each song that they all feel like individual experiences. This disc hijacked so much of my listening time this year that I could actually blame it for preventing me from getting around to other CDs. I keep going back to it. Anomalia is almost hypnotic, and I highly recommend it.
Just a quick note before I continue: I spoke about these next three in the sections above, so if it feels like I’m repeating myself, it’s because I am.
3 – Gorod – A Perfect Absolution
I rambled about A Perfect Absolution above, but I will absolutely take the opportunity to do so again. A Perfect Absolution is great, mostly because it’s tech-death without playing into the tropes that make up that genre. Gorod have such a crushing sense of groove and melody and are willing to explore all the facets in between. A Perfect Absolution is expertly written and there isn’t a single bad song. “Axe Of God” is easily one of my favorites, and the random shout-out to Opeth’s “Burden” for like…two measures before the guitar solo section makes me happier than hell. “Birds Of Sulphur” and “5000 At The Funeral” are another great set of songs that I think anyone who is interested in this disc should hear. Gorod’s refusal to stick to just death metal makes A Perfect Absolution a great listen; it seems to just fly by. It’s so easy to just let it spin and spin again and still notice new things within it.
2 – Hour Of Penance – Sedition
When I said that I felt like Sedition needed to be 2012’s death metal kick in the ass, I wasn’t kidding. Hour Of Penance absolutely nailed it on this monstrous slab of brutal death metal. Every song on here is furious and just hammers away at the listener. I’m not one given to descriptions of violence as analogies for describing a listening experience (because as poetic and skilled as a gore-soaked paragraph can be, what did it really tell you about the disc?), but this album just beats the fuck out you.
Sedition sticks with Hour Of Penance’s anti-religion stance but this is the best the group has ever sounded. There’s some absolutely monstrous guitar work on display to help differentiate the songs from each other, and the fact that they keep Sedition from becoming a monstrous blur shows how skilled the band are. I found vocalist/guitarist Paolo Pieri easy to understand ,and the dude can deliver a flurry of lyrics through some violent barks and growls. I really like the opening of “Decimate The Ancestry Of The Only God”. It is relentless and I love every second of it. Sedition is only a half hour long but it can wear on you in all the best ways. Hour Of Penance have a huge release on their hands with this one.
1 – In Mourning – The Weight Of Oceans
I knew from the moment “Colossus” wrapped that The Weight Of Oceans was probably going to be my album of the year. It’s such a great song that any other band who chose to start an album with it would get yelled at for starting with a show-stopper. “Colossus” is such a poetic track and the movements it goes through allow listeners to become wrapped up in the song. My favorite part is the delivery of the line ‘A constellation of stars embodied…’ However, In Mourning managed somehow to come up with a bunch of songs that are just as good as “Colossus”, making The Weight Of Oceans into a masterpiece. It really prove that In Mourning are one of the best bands out there right now and they really deserve a bigger following than what they have.
Weight Of Oceans is a more doom-influenced album than the group’s previously release Monolith, but they still work enough of the latter into it to make the whole release feel like its own. The band have always had great lyrics, so it’s no surprise that Weight Of Oceans is another great lyrical work. It’s really difficult to highlight just one song on the disc (outside of its opener) because the whole thing is just so damn good, but the two tracks that follow -“A Vow To Conquer The Ocean” and “From A Tidal Sleep” – are both great. As the album slows down you can really sense the doom influence on this band. Even when they write slow songs, though, they manage to pull off the trick of making them devastatingly beautiful.
The Weight Of Oceans is a fucking awesome disc. You need to listen to it. As a matter of fact, more people need to listen to In Mourning. Listen to everything they’ve done, especially The Weight Of Oceans. It topped my list so there has to be something there.