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The best 15 albums of 2012

January 1, 2013

No long introduction needed here. 2012 was a great year of metal – my list of ten had to be expanded to fifteen, and even that proved difficult. Enjoy, peons!

HONORABLE EP MENTIONS: Agalloch’s “Faustian Echoes” and Deathspell Omega’s “Drought were both excellent, but I’d feel a bit cheeky putting EPs on a best album list. Go check them out.

 

Winterfylleth-The-Threnody-Of-Triumph  15) Winterfylleth – “The Threnody of Triumph”

England’s own Winterfylleth play black metal with folk and post-rock influences – imagine a heavier Agalloch and  you have a basic idea.  Atmospheric, soulful and haunting in all the right ways, it’s good stuff. Conjuring up images of bleak English woodlands, this is music to kick back, relax and get lost in.

Standout track: The Swart Raven

 

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14) Be’lakor “Of Breath and Bone”

Melodic Death Metal done right, which is increasingly rare in this day and age. Catchy riffs, great death growls and awesome harmonies all over the place. Proper long songs as well, which I appreciate. In a genre that is seeing its founders growing stale and soulless, it is heartening to see bands such as Be’Lakor, Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum maintaining the charge.

Standout track: Abeyance

 

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 13) Parkway Drive – “Atlas”

Metalcore, as a genre, is over-saturated and underwhelming, but to write it off entirely is doing yourself a disservice. Parkway Drive write consistently excellent music, great for when you want something fun and undemanding to listen to. I’ve always said PD write the best breakdowns in the business, and the one at the end of Swing may be their best yet.

Standout track: Wild Eyes

 

0001639744_500  12) Torche – “Harmonicraft”

Torche have a unique sound, playing sludge metal infused with pop sensibilities and huge grins. Songs rarely last longer than 3 minutes, and sound like huge, heavy slabs of joy. It’s a wonderfully idiosyncratic style that manages to keep all the crushing heaviness and fuzzy reverb of decent sludge, but makes it accessible and fun. Plus, dat album cover. Tings.

Standout track: Kicking (Watch this video. It is a wonderful video.)

 

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11) Alcest – “Les Voyages de l’Âme”

French musician Neige is the man behind Alcest, blending his black metal background with spacey shoegaze to produce relaxed, thoughtful music. Either life-affirmingly happy or heartrendingly sad depending on your mood, “Les Voyages de l’Âme” is contemplative and deeply atmospheric, a wall of pleasant sound that envelops and surrounds.

Standout track: Faiseurs De Mondes

 

Meshuggah-Koloss

10) Meshuggah – “Koloss”

Meshuggah may have unwittingly spawned the army of terrible imitators known collectively as “djent”, but that only reinforces how seminal the band are. “Koloss” sees Meshuggah slowing things down after the blistering “Obzen”, with focus given to groove and pure heaviness over technicality. That isn’t to say this is a simple album, and the musicianship on display is still leagues ahead of most other bands. Meshuggah didn’t do anything new with “Koloss”, but when you are one of the best bands in the world, more of the same is plenty good enough.

Standout track: Demiurge

 

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9) The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza – “Danza IIII: The Alpha – The Omega”

I know, it’s a stupid band name. I initially wrote these guys off as another silly deathcore band, and to be fair, they were. Significant maturation has occurred over the course of four albums and several member changes, and “Danza IIII”, the band’s final album, is a triumph. Pure vitriol oozes from every musical pore as insane technical frippery and an outright monolithic low-end assault your puny eardrums. Fun shit.

Standout track: You Won’t

 

The-Faceless-Autotheism

 8) The Faceless – “Autotheism”

The Faceless were already responsible for some of the most face-melting technical death metal out there, but “Autotheism” saw the band take a huge step up. Adding in progressive elements to their style, the result is one of the most interesting tech death albums in years. For the most part, this is still core Faceless – crazy death metal riffs played at intense speeds – but with the addition of other genre styles and a healthy dose of Devin Townsend-esque clean vocals. The constant switching of styles means things never have time to become dull, and at a lean 40 minutes, this is a great album to blast through.

Standout track: Autotheist Movement II: Emancipate

 

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7) Ofermod – “Thaumiel”

Chunky, riff-based black metal, Ofermod scratch a nice retro itch. It’s big, it’s nasty, and it’s great fun. This is black metal how they used to make it – huge riffs, tons of blast beats, satanic screeching about all manner of horrible things, and a few orchestral vocals thrown in for good measure. Ofermod set themselves apart from other traditional BM bands by the simple strength of their songwriting, and the amount of energy that comes through in each track.

Standout track: Calling of Setnacht: Twofold Triunity

 

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6) Between the Buried and Me – “The Parallax II: Future Sequence”

Between the Buried and Me make some of the most experimental music around, pulling together a huge variety of influences and making them work together. “The Parallax II: Future Sequence” is the sequel to last year’s EP and continues the story of two men, separated across time and space but linked by a common goal to save humanity. Or something. I dunno, it’s mental. As befitting a crazy story, the music is all over the place, never staying the same for long and, as such, staying constantly entertaining. It’s not quite as good as their 2007 magnum opus “Colors“, and I’m not sure the band will ever quite reach that level again. That said, “Future Sequence” is their best album since and a huge, 73 minute masterpiece that more than gives you your money’s worth.

Standout track: Melting City

 

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5) Dodecahedron – “Dodecahedron”

I’ve listened to a lot of metal in my time, but few albums have an air of outright evil. The self-titled debut from Dutch black metallers Dodecahedron is intensely extreme, to the point of being disturbing. Atonal riffs cascade into each other as blast beats pound in the background, screams of pure hatred flowing through the wall of noise, clawing at what may once have been your soul. The whole record sounds huge, like an endless abyss that could swallow you at any moment. Plenty of black metal claims to be evil, but little truly sounds it. If you think you can take it, this is perhaps the most extreme album of the year.

Standout track: View from Hverfell II: Inside Omnipotent Chaos

 

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4) Coheed and Cambria – “The Afterman: Ascension”

I’ve loved Coheed and Cambria since first listening to debut album “Second Stage Turbine Blade” back when I was a teenager, but their last couple of albums have left me cold. I was extremely happy to find that with “The Afterman: Ascension”, the first part of a planned double album, Coheed have regained the emotional spark that had seemed to have lost, creating their finest record since 2005. A few months later and “Afterman” still holds up. Claudio Sanchez and his bandmates are back to their best, melding poppy hooks with progressive song structures to create a feel-good slice of great music. My only complaint is that, at a mere 39 minutes, it ends so soon – but then, this is only one half of a full record. The second comes out in February, and I can’t wait.

Standout track: Domino the Destitute

 

Vintersorg-Orkan

 3) Vintersorg – “Orkan”

Metal prodigy Andreas Hedlund has appeared in a huge number of bands, but Vintersorg has always been his main project. “Orkan” is the second release from the band in as many years, but does not suffer for it – this is a man who is constantly writing new material. Wonderfully catchy folk metal is the flavour at hand, largely eschewing the screamed vocals commonly used in the genre for Hedlund’s great clean singing instead. Lush synths lend the music some depth, and catchy riffs will stick in your head for days. A few black metal elements work their way in to add a bit of heaviness, and the end result is an album that is flat-out fun, start to finish.

Standout track: Orkan

 

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  2) Dawnbringer – “Into the Lair of the Sun God”

Dawnbringer is a thoroughly retro, classic metal band helmed by Chris Black, also of the similarly old-school Pharaoh. Listening to “Into the Lair of the Sun God” is like taking a nostalgic ride back through the glory days of early metal, with dueling guitar harmonies so melodic and catchy they rival classic Iron Maiden. The album stirs up memories of a number of classic metal bands – Black Sabbath, Saxon, a bit of Motorhead, a touch of Manowar, a splash of the more underground bands of the time, such as Cirith Ungol and Manilla Road. That “Into the Lair of the Sun God” reminds the listener of all these classic bands does not make it derivative – rather, it means that the band absolutely fucking nails the sound and style they are going for. The only sticking point for some might be Black’s vocals, which have a throaty quality reminiscent of Lemmy. They are soulful and fitting, but the difference from the norm may be off putting to some. I can’t help but keep listening to this album, and some of the guitar harmonies raise an almost transcendental joy within me. This was very, very almost number 1.

Standout track: I

 

Sigh-In-Somniphobia

  1) Sigh – “In Somniphobia”

Of all the albums I’ve listened to this year, this is the one I’ve come back to most. Japanese band Sigh started out playing black metal in the early 90’s, but increasing experimentation with avant-garde elements has given them a sound unlike any other. This is not your standard metal band setup – saxophones, sitars, organs, tabla, recorders, glockenspiels, harps, even recorders (remember learning those in school?) The result is a manic, dense sound akin to being in the middle of a nightmarish carnival, with craziness all around. It’s a black metal album that features clapping in several songs, for goodness sakes. Totally nuts. These foreign aspects are not thrown about recklessly, and the songwriting on display is commendable. “In Somniphobia” features some straight-up metal tracks, several lengthier, more progressive numbers, and even a wonderful smooth-jazz song that somehow fits perfectly in the flow of the album. I’ve been a fan of Sigh for some time, and this is their best work yet. For those who like their music to push boundaries, switch things up or just sound really weird, I cannot recommend it enough. Marvelous.

Standout track: The Transfiguration Fear

 

 

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