Jan 122013

(We’re winding down our 2012 Listmania series, but we still have a few we’re excited to bring you.  This one comes from our fellow blogger Eric Yanyo, a/k/a Valley of Steel.)

So here we are, nearly two weeks into 2013 (how the hell did that happen??), and by now I’m sure all of you have completely forgotten about 2012 and all of the year-end “listmania” stuff, right? Well, could I possibly interest you in one more? Maybe?

It’s been a really busy time for me, as I’ve been getting involved with a number of new projects — plus I compiled my own huge collection of year-end lists: check out a whole slew of them here, featuring a whole bunch of Pittsburgh-area musicians and music scene luminaries, talking about their favorite albums or shows or whatever from last year.

Anyway, my own list of my favorite 2012 releases has been pretty much put together inside my head for a while, but it’s been a struggle with a variety of other priorities just to find the time to get this in writing. But finally, here we go.

My first attempt at doing a year-end list was at the conclusion of 2011, when I put together the top 11 albums of that year. I was still brand new to music journalism (aka “blogging”) at that time, but I had already done a few reviews of albums I had especially enjoyed.

When compiling that list, I chose to exclude the few albums I had already written about — simply because there were so many that I’d heard but had not had a chance to write about, and I wanted to feature as many of those as possible. It made sense at the time, but in retrospect, I feel that I ended up leaving out a few of my absolute favorite releases of that year — because some of those happened to be the ones I had chosen to review, and consequently they were then disqualified from inclusion on my year-end list. Therefore, some absolutely spectacular material by Bell Witch, Ever Circling Wolves, and The Matador (to name a few) were unfortunately excluded.

For that reason — and for the reason that I managed to write an awful lot more in 2012 than in the previous year — my new list will include albums that I have reviewed. Again, I have written about most of the best stuff I’ve heard during the year, so it wouldn’t make sense not to include them!
Of course, the other limiting factor for ANY list is that I can’t include stuff that I haven’t heard! There might be the most wonderful, perfect album out there somewhere, but if I don’t find out about it, it isn’t making the list. I know that’s just common sense, but I mention it because it’s sometimes unfortunate.

Stangala, Cultura Tres, Lo-Pan, Sangre, and Erevos released albums in 2011 that really blew me away when I heard them — but sadly I didn’t hear any of them in 2011! Likewise, I’m sure there are plenty of 2012 releases that I’ve missed out on, that I’ll discover later.

In fact, I already know that there are some I’ve missed! Imperial Triumphant, Deathcrawl, and Oak Pantheon each put out some amazing stuff this year, that I’ve heard at least a few times, but haven’t really taken the time to write about yet — which means I also haven’t really sat down and listened to them critically enough to write about them, which is pretty much the reason why none of those are making my list. It’s a tough call, but I can’t really do anything about it now — the year is already over. Likewise, the new Derketa album is absolutely stunning, but I just finally got myself a copy of it a week or so ago, so I didn’t even hear it in 2012!

On top of that, some other bands that I have been a big fan of for a while — Deus Otiosus, A Band of Orcs, TrollfesT — and even a few that have been among my favorite bands for yearsIncantation, Overkill — have all put out new material recently, and I simply haven’t even gotten around to hearing any of those yet! Honestly, sometimes I wonder what the hell I am spending so much time doing, but for whatever reason there never seems to be enough time to do all the listening and writing I’d like to be doing…
Well, I guess that’s enough disclaimers and caveats and explanations. Without any further delay, here is my list of my twelve favorite albums from 2012, selected from those that I listened to extensively during the year, and determined by how much I enjoyed listening to them or how often I revisited them throughout the year. The fact that there aren’t exactly twelve albums in this list is totally irrelevant and is totally NOT cheating. Damnit.


12. The ReticentLe Temps Detruit Tout

A very powerfully emotional album, full of intricately crafted and arranged songs. Reminds me of A Perfect Circle in a lot of ways. The band is having a HUGE sale at this very moment — dirt cheap prices on CDs and t-shirts — at their webstore.

The Le Temps Detruit Tout CD contains two bonus tracks: a stark interpretation of “Losing My Religion” as well as the a capella “With Folded Arms” — a tribute to the antitheist philosopher Christopher Hitchens. Discussing the latter track, The Reticent’s Chris Hathcock said, “I found in [Hitchens] much the same inspiration I have found in many of my favorite musicians and composers. Hearing him speak or reading his work always stirred me and captivated me. And it is not necessarily the case that he informed my worldview as much as he lead me to my deep love of debate and open discourse of ideas.”


11. Titans EveLife Apocalypse

When I wrote about Life Apocalypse, this Canadian band’s sophomore album, I pointed out how it seems like the material is not just a regurgitation of classic thrash metal, because it brings a fresh new perspective. But at the same time, it has a decidedly old-school vibe to it. This was my favorite thrash album of 2012. Here are a couple videos the band released from their summer European tour with Arch Enemy — these were filmed in Paris, but the original version of both songs can be found on Life Apocalypse.
“Road To Ruin”

“Divided We Fall”


10. (drama)Zastor Tišine

Their debut full-length — dark, emotional death-doom sprinkled with folk instruments and melodies. Amazing stuff, and I firmly believe that if more people found out about it, this could be the album that puts Croatia on the map. (Okay, okay, I know it’s already on there, but the country hardly gets any recognition in the world of metal music. You knew what I meant.)


09. AgrussMorok

Now is the (nuclear) winter of our discontent.

Coincidentally, as I was falling asleep last night, I heard the title track of this album — Ian Christe played the song during his show on Liquid Metal. I hope this is foretelling greater recognition for this Ukrainian band, who produce fascinatingly atmospheric black metal. This album was released on the anniversary of their homeland’s Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which is fitting, since it’s basically the aural equivalent of the bleak wasteland that results from such a catastrophe.


08. Pinkish BlackPinkish Black

I’d be more inclined to refer to this as a sort of psychotic darkwave, rather than a metal album, but trust me when I say it’s heavy as fuck. And the whole thing represents such a descent into madness, it’s almost scary to listen to. It’s no wonder that following their Handmade Birds debut release, the band got snapped up by Century Media.


07. AnhedonistNetherwards / ObolusLament

I’m sorry, but I couldn’t choose between these two albums. I loved both of them, and even though they have totally different sounds to them — Netherwards is essentially a funereal, dirgey form of death-doom, while Lament is more of a torturous, hellish blackness — both of them encapsulate a perfect sonic expression of pure misery, suffering, and anguish. I wasn’t able to pick one over the other, so the two will share this spot on my list. And no, that doesn’t mean there should be one fewer spot available for other albums. Write your own damn list and then you’ll get to make up the rules.


06. Hail Spirit NoirPneuma

This Greek band’s debut offering really grabbed my attention as something new and interesting. With its roots in black metal, the album incorporates bits and pieces from so many other forms of metal and rock music, all expertly spliced together like bits of film. In fact, it reminded me of a soundtrack to a weird, obscure old science fiction movie. It’s a strange, fun ride that you won’t soon forget.


05. MAKETrephine

It’s funny when sometimes things just seem to happen randomly. This album, out on vinyl in mid-summer, was the first-ever release by Devouter Records. A representative from that record company had been in touch with me shortly before then, just inquiring whether I’d be interested in hearing the album and writing something about it. I downloaded a copy of it, and added it to my enormous digital library (aka “to-do list”), but it just sort of sat there for a few weeks. Then I heard from the record company again — curious whether I’d heard Trephine yet, and what I’d thought of it. I didn’t want to lie, so I brought up the album on my computer — figuring I’d sample a track or two, just to see if it seemed liked something I’d want to write about, before responding to the message. As it turned out, I listened to the whole thing — maybe like three times in a row. It was mind-blowing, and even more so because I had had no idea what to expect.

The album seems to be sequenced in such a way as to represent a journey — but an inward one rather than one with an actual physical destination. Blackened on the surface, but consisting of layer upon layer of atmospheric, sludgey, doomy, post-metal, this was not only one of my favorite albums of the year, but I now consider these Carolinians to be among my favorite bands, too. Their more recent EP Axis was also an absurdly good release, and I can’t even tell you how excited I am to see what they come up with next.


04. Vattnet ViskarVattnet Viskar

In a year that featured some really outstanding new releases in the black metal universe — either more traditional offerings or more avant-garde experiments that derive from a blackened foundation — this album was truly the crËme de la crËme. This three-track album virtually exploded out of nowhere (well, it followed a two-track 2011 demo), got released by Broken Limbs Recordings, and then went on to simply amaze the whole world. Or at least those parts of the world which have heard it. Now this band of New Hamshirites is signed with Century Media, and faced with the daunting task of following-up the sheer brilliance of this self-titled debut.


03. VultureOblivious to Ruin

Self-described as “steel city sludge,” this band put out its first full-length record last spring through the local Innervenus Music Collective label. Oblivious to Ruin is possibly the heaviest, most sickeningly painful-sounding sludge metal record I’ve heard in years. And believe it or not, their live show is just as good (if not better!) — so I’m definitely excited that they’ll be one of the bands playing at Winter’s Wake next month! Anyone who is even remotely a fan of this genre, believe me, you do not want to miss out on this:


02. UndersmileNarwhal

This may seem hard to believe, but out of this entire list, this album is the only one from a band whose material I had previously heard! Most of these — not by any design or intention on my part — have been debut albums, or at least they were the first recordings I had heard from each of these bands. I guess it’s just been a pretty good year for discovering new music!

Anyway, this is actually a debut full-length album too, but this quartet from Oxford, England, had previously put out an EP and a split EP, both of which had found their way onto my radar screen sometime in 2011. Not long after I had discovered the band, I learned that they were in the process of working on what would eventually become Narwhal — which I promptly shared, because I wanted other people to be as excited as I was for the upcoming release.

Whether or not that was the case, in the time since this monster of an album (in excess of eighty minutes) hit the streets, there’s been plenty of discussion about it being one of the top doom releases of the year. I fully agree with that notion. Spanning the range of emotion between agonizingly wretched and in-so-much-pain-you’ve-just-gone-entirely-numb, these songs are not recommended for the faint of heart.


01. Solarburn13

And finally — my number one album of 2012. This self-released, DIY, handmade, limited-press CD collects thirteen tracks of instrumental metal insanity by what immediately became one of my favorite local bands upon the first time I ever saw them play. From the night I got my copy at the band’s release show, it literally did not leave our car’s CD changer — ever — until yesterday. And the only reason for that was so I could take it to work with me and (finally) write about it. I’ve definitely heard this album more times than any other in the past year, and I’ve probably heard it more times than most of the others combined. Yeah, it’s that good.

My review of 13 is being published concurrently with this list, so make sure you go check that out, as well!

So there it is, my top twelve (give or take) releases from 2012. Hopefully you’ve discovered something new here that you didn’t hear before, that you ended up really enjoying. If so, please let me know, because there’s nothing more gratifying than that.

Have a happy 2013, and please feel free to drop by the Valley of Steel website, Facebook, or Twitter! Thanks for reading.

  9 Responses to “THE VoS TOP 12 OF 2012!”

  1. Dude if that Solarburn was your favorite of the year….you clearly didn’t hear Loincloth- Iron Balls Of Steel. Not to offend your top pick, but it’s a tad bit pedestrian compared to what you will find on the also 100% instrumental sickness of Loincloth.

  2. I see what you mean about Make, that’s some interesting stuff

  3. Just found Obolus so thanks for that. Was lucky enough to see Vattnet Viskar live a few times last year (top blokes btw!) and Bell Witch. Ash Borer – Cold Of Ages, Addaura – Burning For The Ancient, DOPETHRONE – III, Dragged Into Sunlight – Widowmaker, Panopticon – Kentucky, Vallendusk – Vallendusk, Yellow Eyes – Silence Threads The Evening’s Cloth, Mgla – With Hearts Toward None all flicked my switch in 2012.

    • Obolus, yeah — doesn’t it just make you feel wretched and hate being alive? It’s wonderful.

      Those Bell Witch bastards were all over the east coast but didn’t have the courtesy to come within a few hours of Pittsburgh. That made me sad. But I also didn’t get around to buying their new album yet, either, so I guess it’s fair. That one is very high on my list of priorities.

      I haven’t heard any of the others you mentioned, yet — and one or two of those I haven’t even heard of at all. So thanks for the suggestions.

    • no pun intended on the word “wretched” — honestly. I didn’t see the name until after I posted that comment.

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