2012 didn’t bring about the apocalypse, but it was still a tempestuous collection of days. Still raw from the loss of David Gold and my future in Woods of Ypres, I spent the first few months of the year sweeping up the shards of my shattered plans and clearing a new path for myself. I settled back into Boston life, traveled to Sault Ste Marie to perform with Joel Violette, Bryan Belleau, and Al ‘Yeti’ Bones in the first Ypres Metal Fest, graduated from college, recorded drums for the second Thrawsunblat album, toured with Mares of Thrace, and set my sights on Chicago. Relocating halfway across the country has proved bittersweet, and only time will tell whether or not the Windy City is my ‘permanent’ home. Through it all, my Last Rites family has been a steadfast source of laughter and support. They pulled me out of various piles of wreckage with encouragement, kindness, and some of the greatest friendship I’ve ever known. We may have done away with the Metal Review name, but we’re still the same cadre of writers who absolutely love what we do. Now we’ve got an even better means of expressing that passion.
But enough about me — I just know there needs to be an introduction, and I have no grand declarations about the state of metal this year. Truth is, there have been some unbelievable albums released in the past (almost) twelve months, and my complaints are few and far between. I reviewed a few sour records, sure, but I also wrote about my share of winners. Since joining this site almost two years ago, I’ve always felt like the kid who’s just happy to be here, listening to (sometimes) phenomenal albums, writing reviews, interviewing bands, and bonding with the talented journalists on the team.
Now, we’re Last Rites, and this renovation and recreation hopefully marks a new era for our publication. Thank you all for sticking with us, or if you’re just joining us now, welcome aboard.
See you guys next year! And hey, 2013? Don’t f*ck this up. 2012 left some big shoes to fill.
1. AHAB – THE GIANT
Those of you who have been following my reviews this year (all three of you) will probably not be surprised with Ahab nabbing the top spot. This gorgeous, somber, and staggering record sends the notion of formulaic funeral doom to a watery grave. It’s their strongest and most dynamic album to date, emulating the tranquil lull of a gentle tide, as well as the body-breaking devastation of a stormy sea. The Giant is an all-enveloping soundtrack of shipwrecked woe.
2. WOODS OF YPRES – GREY SKIES & ELECTRIC LIGHT
When David Gold sent me this album to learn, I spent a month straight listening to it, learning David’s amazing drum parts – as well as trying to absorb the incredible depth and poignancy of the music. David Gold and Joel Violette cultivated an inimitable musical chemistry that resulted in this masterwork. This album is more than a collection of heartbreaking and beautifully written songs – It is the final chapter of a stunning legacy.
“Mortal men are living gods. More real than any God ever was.”
3. CONVERGE – ALL WE LOVE WE LEAVE BEHIND
My connection with Converge has wavered over the years – Their manic, unhinged, energy can be overwhelming, and I’ve found myself enjoying specific songs rather than entire albums. Not so with AWLWLB. Converge’s technical and emotional prowess has been focused and stitched together with strands of steel. There are deep breaths and weary pauses amidst the hyperventilating and abrasive tracks, and these dynamics prove that Converge has only gotten stronger with age.
4. ANAAL NATHRAKH – VANITAS
This album is thirty-eight minutes of Anaal Nathrakh at their finest, bursting with talent, tension, and fury. Vanitas’ thrilling unpredictability plunges the listener into the mind of the sinister animal created by this demonic duo of musicians. Commitment to a specific genre, be damned. Unrestrained and evocative, Vanitas displays technical virtuosity and fearsome intensity. This music clamors, screams, and snarls its way into masterpiece territory.
5. DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT – EPICLOUD
Yeah, I hear ya. Maybe this should be on a non-metal list. But it’s not. Epicloud is tender, lovely, and completely incandescent. There is a rare innocence about this album, and Townsend has no shame when it comes to expressing his joy in the form of melodic and shimmering pop rock. Even the ‘heavier’ moments are brimming with positive energy, and Epicloud is a brilliant balloon, filled with blissful vulnerability.
6. ENSLAVED – RIITIIR
‘Dependable’ doesn’t even begin to cover Enslaved’s legendary career, and RIITIIR knocked already high expectations out of the park. Their incendiary blend of blackened prog has reached a new level of ambition and artistic bravery, nixing any semblance of convention in exchange for lengthier songs and more innovative writing.
7. SAMOTHRACE – REVERENCE TO STONE
It’s been a hell of a year for doom, and this quartet managed to shine brightly amidst many other gems to clinch the #7 spot from me this year. The two tracks on Reverence to Stone are expertly crafted sonic vessels that take the listener on a journey through a chameleonic range of emotional terrain. Riveting despite its brevity, this album is a double dosage of doom, with more than a spoonful of sorrow to make the medicine go down.
8. BE’LAKOR – OF BREATH AND BONE
Like I said back in June, “Goddamn, this is some great melodic death metal.” Aside from Woods 5, this was easily one of my most listened to albums this year. Insanely catchy melodies, lush harmonies, and expert musicianship — Who could ask for more? Sure, parts of the album could be called derivative, but European melodeath bands have a longstanding list of shared musical traits. In this case, Be’lakor performs them brilliantly.
9. IHSAHN – EREMITA
What do you get when you combine saxophone, mercurial shifts in mood, guest vocals from Devin Townsend, and nearly absurd amounts of creative energy? The answer is pretty damn obvious, and one of the coolest progressive metal offerings of the year. Full of surprises, Eremita is shockingly enjoyable, original, and imaginative.
10. ROYAL THUNDER – CVI
Not only was this album a knockout, but Royal Thunder’s live show may have been the best I saw all year. The band has presence, chops, and no shortage of potential. This rumbling epic record of blues/rock has the nostalgic air of summer’s past, brought to life by Mlny Parsonz’s phenomenally expressive vocals. This is an electrifying debut full-length from an exceptional group of musicians.
11. Meshuggah – Koloss
12. Beyond Terror Beyond Grace – Nadir
13. Mutilation Rites – Empyrean
14. Pallbearer – Sorrow and Extinction
15. MGLA – With Hearts Toward None
16. Heidevolk – Batavi
17. Witch Mountain – Cauldron of the Wild
18. Evoken – Atra Mors
19. Witchcraft – Legend
20. Alcest – Les Voyages de L’ame
Incantation – Vanquish in Vengeance
Dordeduh – Dar De Duh
Lord Mantis – Pervertor
Primitive Weapons – The Shadow Gallery
Panopticon – Kentucky
Obsidian Tongue – Volume I: Subradiant Architecture
Wilderun – Olden Tales & Deathly Trails
THE NON-METAL CHAMPS:
Anathema – Weather Systems
Swans – The Seer
Ulver – Childhood’s End
El-P – Cancer For Cure
Beach House – Bloom
Katatonia – Dead End Kings
In this case, the title of the album was painfully descriptive of the content therein. The diseased bird expelling smog on the cover? I like to think it’s a metaphor for Katatonia regurgitating stale songwriting ideas. And this comes from someone who loves Katatonia.
*There’s a difference between Biggest Disappointment and Worst Album. This is far from being the worst album of the year (that’s a category I won’t delve into, because it seems needlessly subjective and sort of mean). But anyway, I had high hopes for this record, and they were dashed. Katatonia, I’m not mad…I’m disappointed. Now go to your room.
SONG OF THE YEAR:
It was a tie. I absolutely couldn’t choose between “Save Our Now” (Devin Townsend Project) and “Of Fire, and Fucking Pigs” (Anaal Nathrakh)
They are, um, slightly different in mood. I would not recommend listening to them one right after the other, unless you want your brain to sh*t itself.
Alright, I think that’s it! I hope that 2013 brings an abundance of health, happiness, and rainbow unicorns that shoot lasers out of their hooves.