Top 20 Albums of 2012

2012 was an odd year for music.  It seemed to start off relatively slow and then the last third of the year, it seemed like excellent albums were coming out almost weekly.  Some really heavy hitters came out this year who aren’t that prolific and they really delivered the goods.  I also had a really good year with non-metal music, but that’s not what I am here to write about.  The most glaring omission on my list is probably Baroness and Neurosis.  Both released good records, but I guess no one ever told Baroness that double albums seldom are worth it.  There’s always fat that can be trimmed.  Neurosis doesn’t release bad music.  They flat out don’t.  That being said, as with all their releases, I won’t fully appreciate there new album until some time next year.  They’re the definition of a “grower.”

So, let’s get started!

20.  Dragged Into Sunlight – Widowmaker

A 40 minute single piece of music divided into three nameless parts that after the building intro, barely gives you a chance to breathe.  DIS continues to take elements of black, death and doom and produce a genreless album.  Intense, relentless yet Widowmaker excels in that DIS understands in order to make the intense moments work, you need to change the pace, let the mind wander and unsettle itself so that it can be caught off guard. Buy Album

Dragged Into Sunlight - Widowmaker

Dragged Into Sunlight – Widowmaker

19.  The Howling Wind – Of Babalon 

Black metal woven into a conceptual album based around the writings of Aleister Crowley, his philosophy of Thelema and it’s goddess Babalon.  Of Babalon isn’t afraid to mix catchiness with it’s cacophony and the result is perfect.  Legitimacy is a foundation of great art and The Howling Wind succeed largely in part to their genuine interest and knowledge of the occult, not to mention that they make music that actually embodies their moniker in an awesome way. Buy Album

Howling Wind - Of Babalon

Howling Wind – Of Babalon

18.  Knelt Rote – Trespass

A very dense, complex and surprisingly fluid, Trespass sets up a grind foundation and slathers on black, death and a very welcome amount of experimental layers.  The record is about the furious pace we’re setting to our own demise and the futility of the individual.  We can deny the hopelessness of it all, but Knelt Rote puts it on full display, as if to say, “You did this, now look at it.”  Corrosive and caustic to the end, but set apart way in front of the pack, the sounds are proudly vicious.  A true example of the sum of the parts being worth far more than the components.

Knelt Rote - Trespass

Knelt Rote – Trespass

17.  Unsane – Wreck

Another noise band, and one of my favorites, Unsane comes back after half a decade to remind everyone why they’re one of the forefathers of the genre.  Wreck sneers and bites while glaring at the world through dirty, blood smeared lenses.  Where a million other bands fail with relaying the weariness that life can bring, reality actually maintains this band’s sound and authenticity.   No words are minced and thanks to the pain, everything is a weapon. Buy Album

Unsane - Wreck

Unsane – Wreck

16.  haarp – Husks

Husks is mean.  It’s a sludgy album that changes it’s pace seamlessly with extremely wide range of Shaun Emmons’ memorable bellow laying right over the top.  While it’s a mostly mid-paced album with two out of three songs hovering around ten minutes, haarp never comes off as monotonous.  There are more than riffs laden with groove to hold your attention.  When Husks grabs you by the throat and drags you out into the mire you shouldn’t mind one bit. Buy Album

haarp - Husks

haarp – Husks

15.  Ilsa – Intoxicantations

Intoxicantations is a crusty old reanimated corpse of an album that’s been constructed in some gnarly prison basement out of all the best parts of doom and old school death metal.  They pay homage to all the right things, while not pandering one bit.  Where a ton of other bands use d-beat drums and crusty riffs and still come off as a half-ass Entombed/Celtic Frost/Bolt Thrower rip off, Ilsa rise above.  Also, it should be mentioned that they easily have my favorite album cover of the year.  Just go look… Buy Album

Ilsa - Intoxicantations

Ilsa – Intoxicantations

14.  Liberteer – Better To Die On Your Feet Than Live On Your Knees

If someone told me that someone would combine military styled marching band music with grindcore and not only would it sound good, but it would be one of my favorite albums of the year, I’d definitely laugh and roll my eyes.  Matt Widener did it though.  Better To Die… not only blends the sound together beautifully, but it’s also one of the most motivating albums I’ve ever heard.  In a time when the government seems to want to make a lot of personal decisions for us, Widener comes out swinging with this brilliant, fresh ode to anarchism.  Worth checking out no matter which side of that coin you’re on. Buy Album

Liberteer - Better to Die on Your Feet...

Liberteer – Better to Die on Your Feet…

13.  Deathspell Omega – Drought

The mysterious French black metallers Deathspell Omega add another flawless record to their already impeccable canon.  Deathspell Omega has always made their own path of blending the traditional sounds of black metal with their own weird, disconcerting, yet always refreshing touches.  Drought isn’t a frantic whirlwind like some of their past records have been, but their constant changes are still prevalent and keep you paying attention.  Brilliant, as always. Buy Album

Deathspell Omega - Drought

Deathspell Omega – Drought

12.  Atriarch – Ritual Of Passing

Atriarch aren’t a metal band at all, though I’ve seen them attached to the genre frequently.  It’s probably because they’re a band that use almost entirely clean vocals and still manage to create a dark, intense atmosphere that blows most metal bands that could be considered peers away.  Crushing, yet cerebral.  I’ve revisited Ritual Of Passing quite a few times this year and it almost always involves me drawing as it taps into a very right-brained, imaginative feeling. Buy Album

Atriarch - Ritual of Passing

Atriarch – Ritual of Passing

11.  Mutilation Rites – Empyrean 

Endless riffing on a scant, fat trimmed 35 minute long absolute bruiser of a record.  While many black metal bands build long records, Mutilation Rites prefers to build up, in layers and shifting changes to keep you coming back to discover new elements on Empyrean.  To simply label them as a black metal band would be a huge disservice to them, as a very raw punk element that runs throughout keeps their sound savage and filthy. Buy Album

Mutilation Rites - Empyrean

Mutilation Rites – Empyrean

10.  Column Of Heaven – Mission From God

Powerviolence is a genre that generally is more about feeling than thinking.  While Column Of Heaven definitely engages feelings, I spent an awful amount of time thinking about it as well.  Mission From God is about Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, and while a noisy grind record about a serial killer is hardly new ground, it’s the band’s reasoning for writing it that’s so intriguing.  They grew up in the area the murders happened.  I have very distinct memories of trick or treating in San Francisco as a child and having one of the houses tell me to watch out for the Zodiac Killer.  I was immediately terrified, intrigued and so began my interest in true crime and serial killers.  I identify with this record a lot.  The record itself is fantastic as well, as it blends death metal, powerviolence, grind and a slew of experiments in sound and snippets of recordings from interviews.

Column of Heaven - Mission from God

Column of Heaven – Mission from God

9.  Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind 

Two decades into their career and Converge isn’t letting up.  While All We Love… is the logic follow up to Axe To Fall, Converge hasn’t sounded this organic or live on a record in awhile.  It’s mind bending how they play as technical as they do, yet they still capture a primal sense of urgent brutality in their music.  They’ve also incorporated more of a hardcore sound than they’ve had in their most recent records that really flourishes when the music actually slows down, coils and builds back up to strike you down with that familiar fury again.  And we continue to come back for more. Buy Album

Converge - All We Love We Leave Behind

Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind

8.  Pig Destroyer – Book Burner

Five years in the making, Book Burner , my most anticipated record of the year, was hyped up as much as Barack Obama was in 2008.  Pig Destroyer fired on all pistons and delivered a barn burner of a record.  Enlisting a new drummer that tech’ed it up a notch, Pig Destroyer structured themselves back to faster, shorter, vicious killers of songs that fall somewhere between Phantom Limb and Terrifyer.  Scott Hull digs deep and shows that he somehow still has a fat stack of riffs in the annals of his brain.  JR Hayes proves that he’s in a league of his own when it comes to writing lyrics and that no one will compare to his vivid prose.  I love that I know I can always rely on Pig Destroyer over a decade after I first heard them. Buy Album

Pig Destroyer - Book Burner

Pig Destroyer – Book Burner

7.  Pallbearer -  Sorrow And Extinction

Slow, majestic, melancholy and glorious.  Sorrow And Extinction is traditional doom in the absolute best sense.  Sliding right between Black Sabbath and St. Vitus with a side of Candlemass and you’re on your way to getting the sound of Pallbearer.  Brett Campbell’s vocals soar over the absolutely perfect guitars.  Everything sounds familiar and fresh simultaneously.  You’ve heard the sounds before, but these are all new arrangements, and they’re pulled off with a mastery you simply don’t see anymore.  Sadness has never sounded so triumphant. Buy Album

Pallbearer - Sorrow and Extinction

Pallbearer – Sorrow and Extinction

6.  Hell – III

Much like their album covers by Gustave Doré, Hell is as beautiful as they are grim and bleak.  III ends the brilliant trilogy even better than it started.  Slow, droning riffs slither out of the somber intro and so begins this dark, towering menace of an album.  The vocals are blackened, but minimal, which works exceptionally well.  This isn’t the doom you introduce the casual listener to.  The songs surge and collapse, they actually live, brooding through parts only to seethe the next.  Make no mistake though, there is definite beauty in these broad, stretched out, auralscapes, beckoning the listener to experience more than simply listen.

Hell - III

Hell – III

5.  Ash Borer – Cold Of Ages

Cavernous and properly chilling, Cold Of Ages might be the most appropriate named record on my list.  Ash Borer releases another flawless record that chills to the core.  They maintain a very crisp and clear sound while still distorting the guitars and it’s incredibly effective as the songs are punctuating ice cold breaths in the doom and gloom of the overall atmosphere.  Ash Borer are best when they creep to a lurking pace before another maelstrom devastates everything in it’s path.  A high point of the album is Jessica Way’s of Worm Ouroboros angelic vocals on “Convict All Flesh” heralding another avalanche led by some dark unseen force. Buy Album

Ash Borer - Cold of Ages

Ash Borer – Cold of Ages

4.  Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! 

Godspeed You! Black Emperor came out of nowhere to release a new album and in typical fashion it demands your attention, mixing the grim with the sublime.  They’re the soundtrack to every film my brain has ever invented as their music consistently captures an array of emotions.  They illustrate the imagination with a mix of memory and fantasy.  You’ll never feel more alone than when listening to a Godspeed record and yet their sounds are so beautiful and intense that it can be overwhelming.  No one compares, or even comes close, to their ability to write and structure music like this.  I can’t stress enough that this is the music that will make you appreciate albums over songs.  Listen. Buy Album

Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Allelujah...

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah…

3.  Gaza – No Absolutes In Human Suffering 

Angry music just doesn’t do it for me anymore unless there is 100% legitimacy behind the anger.  Gaza are without peers.  Focused and driven, Gaza’s anger comes off as more real because it’s hard to be furious all the time, but it’s pretty easy to be disgusted.  As with their previous releases Gaza find a balance between melody and full blown chaos, weaving weird time signatures into the rage.  The hopelessness and weary is very real and it comes from a very real place and that’s why it works so well.  This isn’t some “I hate my girlfriend” limited shelf life rage, this is the anger that develops when you are tired of seeing what we do to each other as a species.  The most exciting thing about the record is that for as much of a challenge as the music itself is, it imbeds into your mind and stays.  It makes you want to come back and experience it and discover new things about it.  It made me want to discover new things about my own opinions. Buy Album

Gaza - No Absolutes in Human Suffering

Gaza – No Absolutes in Human Suffering

2.  Panopticon – Kentucky

Lonesome, beautiful and actually heart-breaking when you learn about why this record exists.  Panopticon is one man, Austin Lunn, and he is from Kentucky and he wrote an album that owes more to his roots as a Kentuckian than his roots as a black metal musician.  Incorporating the sounds of bluegrass and black metal might sound like a novelty, but it’s quite the opposite.  His blend of genres serves the subject matter well.  The bluegrass is organic and pleasant, conjuring up the beauty of Kentucky, but the black metal is the flip side of the coin with grim realities that come with working in coal mines and the abject poverty that can come with that.  One more unique quality to the album is the incorporation of real protest songs from the 1930s.  The albums starts with a lush beauty, travels through darkness and concludes in a weary, but strong, triumph.  Kentucky cannot be recommended enough.

Panopticon - Kentucky

Panopticon – Kentucky

1.  Swans – The Seer 

Swans hinted that they still had their greatness when they came back in 2010 with My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky, but nothing could have prepared me for the greatness that is The Seer.  Swans transcend genre and this albums transcends any box they may have (but didn’t) put themselves in, in the past.  Michael Gira claimed that this is the culmination of the band’s existence over three decades and it’s displayed beautifully in this tale of a spiral into madness.  The climax of the album is in “The Apostate” where the madness is fully realized and achieved, taking Swans to familiar areas but exploring them in ways they never have, straining tension collapsing into release only to ratchet the tension back up higher than it had been before.  The Seer could have only been made by Michael Gira and Swans and it’s an utterly mesmerizing experience.  When you experience this, make sure to give it the respect it deserves and set aside two hours to experience it in full, as it’s intended to be.  I can’t wait to visit it again. Buy Album

Swans - Seer

Swans – Seer

Top 5 Nearly Made It (in no order):

  • Bell Witch
  • Kowloon Walled City
  • Bone Dance
  • Fight Amp
  • Tragedy

Top 5 Splits of 2012 (in no order):

  • Thou/Hell
  • False/Barghest
  • Weekend Nachos/Lack Of Interest
  • Robocop/Detroit
  • Atriarch/Alaric

Top 5 Looking Forward to in 2013:

  • EHG
  • Cobalt
  • Portal
  • Nails
  • Thou

Discoveries of the Year:

Knelt Rote, Bastard Sapling

Letdown of the Year:

Witchcraft

Like this list? Check out past years:

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