I’ve been remiss with reviewing albums over the last couple of months, as I explaining in my post – can’t blog, building a castle – but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been listening to as much metal as possible. 2012 has been a stellar year for metal releases, with many bands releasing the best albums of their careers, and several new groups on the scene delivering surprising and genre-bending aural joy. When it comes to choosing your favorites, it’s no easy talk, and comes down mainly to personal choice and what you happen to be enjoying sit down to write. My list, as usual, reflects the diversity of the genres I listen to – power metal, black, thrash, doom, avant garde, and music that can only be described as “misc”.
I’m working on another list, too, of my top New Zealand releases of the year, which I hope to publish sometime before Christmas. But here, in no particular order, are my picks for the top ten metal albums of 2012. You’ll probably disagree – so feel free to list some of your favorite albums in the comments.
1. Overkill – The Electric Age
Click to read my full review of The Electric Age. Overkill are one of those bands that have been releasing consistant, but not consistently well-received, albums for the last 20 odd years. Their sound remains basically the same, but as tastes around them change, so to does their standing in the thrash genre. In 2012 they released Ironbound, which is arguably their best album to date. But how could you follow such a stupendously wonderful album? With one that’s even better. The Electric Age is everything that is awesome about thrash, song after song of catchy, timeless riffs, caterwauling screams and furious solos. Get into “Electric Rattlesnake”, “Black Daze” and “Drop the Hammer” and you won’t be able to tell me I’m wrong to list this as one of the best releases of the year.
2. Fear Factory – the Industrialist
Click to read my full review of The Industrialist. Mechanize left fans wondering if Fear Factory were cashing in on their new lineup, but The Industrialist silenced the naysayers under a wall of industrial doom. Dark, atmospheric and unrelenting, it is the sound of the inexorable crush of industry against the will of man. Mechanical sounds interspersed throughout the album give each song an eerie atmosphere, and there’s a stripped-down quality to the music that evokes a forgotten age.
3. Be’lakor – Of Breath and Bone
Click to read Erin’s full review of Of Breath and Bone. I love it when bands from down under are recognized on the international stage, and Be’lakor are an act that definitely deserve all their five-star reviews. Their third album, Of Breath and Bone, has taken the tropes of melodic death metal – you know, that combination of bestiality and melody that is becoming almost tired – and created something rich and complex and beautiful. The closest comparison I could give would be to Insomnium, but not to such an extent that they’re a copycat band. Weird, eerie syncopated guitars meld with catchy hooks, rough vocals and furious drums to create songs that stay with you long after the last note fades away. Every part of this album is genius.
4. The Diablo Swing Orchestra – Pandora’s Pinata
After their first two albums, The Butcher’s Ballroom and Sing-Along Songs for the Damned and Delirious, have delighted fans with a unique and sophisticated combination of metal music and various orchestral styles, these wacky Swedes are back with Pandora’s Pinata, continuing with their upbeat and eclectic style. You’d think a concept like this would become easily overblown and unweildly, but despite the myriad elements and styles, the Diablo Swing Orchestra never lose sight of the simplicity of a good song. The Diable Swing Orchestra definitely sit on the boundary of what could be considered metal, but my list wouldn’t be complete without this highly creative and listenable album.
5. Gojira – Le’Enfant Sauvage
Is there any 2012 best-of list that does NOT include this album? France’s Gojira have been taking the underground by storm ever since their 2005 release, From Mars to Sirius, and with Le’Enfant Sauvage, they give their signature groovy style a more accessible bent. Every element you’ve come to love about this band is present in sades, and any older fans worrying that being signed to a major label (Roadrunner) would temper the bands explosive sound need only listen to tracks like “Explosia” and “Planned Obsolescence” to feel at ease. Gojira show that even if groove metal is an over-saturated market, the brilliant bands still rise to the top.
6. Sigh – In Somniphobia
Sigh are one of those bands I tend to describe to friends as “fucking mental”. I’ve had such a love-affair with this type of metal-meets-jazz-meets-avant-garde-orchestration for the last couple of years, so I admit, I already had this album pegged as a winner before it had even been released. Sigh do not disappoint. Listen to In Somniphobia if you want to be transported, if you want to hear music that almost doesn’t seem like music, if you want to take acid and freak the fuck out. Probabl my favorite track from this album is “The Transfiguration Fear”, which combines a little bit of every genre of music ever created in the history of music, ever, in a way that is completely mental and crazy and addictive and … just listen to it.
7. Accept – Stalingrad
Moving away from the avant-garde for a moment, back into the realm of “definitely, unashamedly metal”, we’ve got Accept, who made my Top Ten Metal Albums of 2010 list with their mighty comeback album, Blood of the Nation. Once again Mark Tomillo proves he’s got the vocal prowess to lead this charismatic German thrash band, and from the first riff of “Hung, Drawn and Quartered”, you know Accept will slaughter all naysayers. There are songs on this record, such as “Shadow Soldiers” and “Against the World”, that are some of the best songs the band has ever written. This is song after song after song of classically brilliant German thrash, guaranteed to bring a smle to your face and a crick to your poor, headbanging neck.
8. Ihsahn – Eremita
After the brilliance of 2010’s After, what could Emperor’s Ihsahn possibly release that could come close to bridging the ravine between his previous genius and the expectations of the follow-up? Eremita does not attempt to replicate his progressive leaps forward in style and nuance, but simply pulls together the sophistication of earlier releases into an incredible album – haunting, evocative, beautiful, desolate, and brutal. This is an album you play on repeat for hours at a time and hear something new with every rotation.Despite the album title being a translation of “Hermit”, Eremita incorporates collaborations from some remarkable musicians, including Jørgen Munkeby, the saxaphonist from one of my favorite bands, The Shining, playing throughout the album, and guest vocals from Devin Townsend on “Introspection”, as well as a Jeff Loomis solo and other guests on vocals and drums. These musicians, each brilliant in their own right, add layers to the singular thread that runs throughout the music – they do not overpower the overall vision or distort the mood.
9. High On Fire – De Vermis Mysteriis
Sluuuudge. Yes. Here’s High on Fire, doing what they do best – heavy, crushing riffs, smoking vocals and desolate atmosphere. The production on this album is perfect, which is only worth noting because 2010’s Snakes for the Divine was disinctly lackluster because of the glossiness of the production. But this is High on Fire as they should be, dirty, raw, crusty. Riffs like cement. Visceral soundscapes that come together in laments and valleys, furrows and fury. The standout track for me, although if it’s on this list you know it’s all bloody good, was the slurring pschyodelia of “King of Days,” with Pike’s characteristically audacious soloing and deep, progressive tremor. High on Fire again show that they’re leaders in the underground and purveyors of the finest in dark, doomy atmospheres.
10. Iron Fire – Voyage of the Damned
I’m pretty open about that fact that I love me some cheesy power metal. I’ve loved Denmark’s Iron Fire ever since I picked up their second album, 2001’s On the Edge, in the bargain bin, intrigued by the silly cover. After a couple of listens, I got used to vocalist Martin Steene’s nasal, “head cold” vocals, and fell in love with the gutsy, catchy tunes. Each album has built upon the successes of the last, till finally Iron Fire released Voyage of the Damned, the album that should propel them from third-rate power metal act into the realm of the awesome. Everything about this album, from the chanting chorus of “Leviathan”, to the pounding riffs of “Slaughter of Souls”, shows just how far this band has come. This is without a doubt the best power metal release of the year.
Other Notable releases of 2012:
- Stonehaven – Concerning Old-Strife and Man-Bones (review here)
- Blut Aus Nord – 777 – Cosmosophy
- Meshuggah – Koloss
- Baroness – Yellow and Green
- Kreator – Phantom Antichrist
- Testament – Dark Roots of Earth
Agree? Disagree? Want to wax lyrical about a 2012 release you feel is underrated? Sound off in the comments!