Originally written by Ramar Pittance
In 2012, the heavy metal “album” I listened more than anything else was a mix comprising only songs made before 1990. It’s a lot of stuff I consider to be fundamental and important and other high minded things like that, but also timeless due to an enduring rage and vitality that trumps the high minded stuff. The mix starts with Angel Witch and runs though albums by Bathory andCeltic Frost and Tormentor and Sarcofago before ending on Master’s Hammer. It’s sound of bands kicking doors down for ten years straight.
Probably too often, I asked myself if those sounds were harder to come by this year. That’s partly because decades’ worth of door punting tends to leave plenty of open hallways for less adventurous artists to stroll through. And that’s fine, because neither artists nor listeners can be blamed for wanting to manipulate something that simply works. But, the scarcity of fresh sounds has also got a lot to do with the creeping and perverse notion that purity of form is favorable to kicking and fighting and forging ahead. The notion that there is a proper way to make a metal album. Notions, I suspect, may have sunk albums like Ritual or Anno Domini.
This list here is just lousy with albums that don’t really kick, or fight or push, because I’m only just a man, and I eager for manipulation as well. This is an attempt at an honest document of what I listened to the most this year. Some of these albums I’ll leave behind when I get back to looking back, or forward. But some of these will follow me to 2013 and beyond, I suspect those that do will be the fighters.
1. Krallice – Years Past Matter
On Years Past Matter, Krallice present another masterclass in thematic exposition and refinement. And while it may have been well enough for this band of exceptionally gifted musicians to make another difficult album, they’ve taken the forward step of unmooring once claustrophobic compositions in the entropic void. It’s an album that dares the listener to stare deep into it, to venture into chaos in search of form. In 2012, no metal album proposed more formidable and ultimately worthwhile challenge.
2. Woods of Ypres – Woods 5: Grey Skies and Electric Light
David Gold died, too young, in a car accident on Dec. 23, 2011. Despite that, there are few musicians I came to know more than him in 2012. Woods 5: Grey Skies and Electric Light is unflinchingly confessional. That shouldn’t be news for those who’ve followed the project since its inception. What’s new was Gold’s sure hand in crafting a full album of tight, confident and relentlessly listenable songs. There’s not a metal album I spent more time with this year.
3. Pallbearer – Sorrow and Extinction
Superficially, Sorrow and Extinction is a demonstration of the vocal talent talent Brett Campbell and the sublime lead guitar playing of Devin Holt. If those were the only gifts offered by Pallbearer‘s debut , it would still be one of the better albums of 2012. The stories and songs that unfold as the album progresses, though, are what makes it one of the best.
4. Bosse-de-Nage – III
One of the least interesting questions you can ask about Bosse-de-Nage is whether or not they’re actually a black metal band. I don’t know, and I don’t care. What I can say for certain, though, is that they operate within a black metal context in a way that sounds vital and new. They recontextualize the genre’s rage and isolation for a generation too well versed in both, and offer in its place a still life that demands listeners to consider what those things mean for us.
5. Meshuggah – Koloss
Few bands can operate within basically the same idiom for so long and still sound like they are operating on the edge of their comfort zone. There’s clearly still terrain for Meshuggah to explore, and you can hear them test it on Koloss. You can also hear Meshuggah at perhaps their most vicious since 2002’s Nothing. Listen to “The Demon’s Name is Surveillance” for evidence that Meshuggah are still a leading voice in extreme music and to that breakdown in “Do Not Look Down” for assurance that in no matter what direction they move, Meshuggah are usually fine right where they are.
6. Deathmøle – Meade’s Army
Meade’s Army answered a question I never realized was burning deep inside my subconscious: “what would it sound like if Cloudkicker hooked up with Bolthrower to make a concept album about the Civil War?” Jeph Jacques’ Deathmøole project encapsulates all that’s best about the emerging trend of unencumbered and empowered solo artists making metal on their own schedule. Meade’s Army is at times a bit too loose and a touch amateurish at others, and that is the beautiful point of the whole damn thing.
7. Nile – At the Gate of Sethu
One of my most exhilarating listening experiences of 2012 came during the first spin of At the Gate of Sethu, an imperfectly mastered but masterfully performed death metal album that never stops sounding like its about to collapse inward on itself. For many of my peers, hearing the band’s flaws rendered so explicitly bare was At the Gate ofSethu‘sundoing; for me, it made it for my favorite Nile release in nearly a decade. Nile sounds murderous, ferocious, alive and right there with you as you gnash and thrash to the inexorable momentum of “The Gods Who Light Up the Night Sky.”
8. Irreversible – Ashes
Ashes is four tracks of sonically sprawling and structurally compact doom/post metal. You could argue that Irreversiblehave made a stylistically disjointed EP, as Ashes shifts from stout and riffed out doom, to tumbling stoner rock to unfurling waves of post metal. The players roll out the changes expertly, though, with each stylistic transition landing like a deliberate set up or come down. “Prime” is a thundering declaration of war that initiates the listener with one of those grab-the-oranges-and-scowl-at-something riffs that begs for the almost comically overdriven guitar tone Irreversible employs.
9. Desecravity – Implicit Obedience
2012’s winner of the “If I Were Released in October I’d Be Everyone’s Album of the Year” award. Released in January, Implicit Obedience was a resounding opening statement for 2012, offering a combination of speed and listenability that was rarely matched throughout the entire year. Desecravity found death metal’s sweet spot where speed and chaos coalesce with insidiously savvy songwriting to create an album that rewards even as it pummels.
10. Pharaoh – Bury the Light
If you need a heavy metal band to write a single track that might change your life, look to Judas Priest. For mastery in the live context, Iron Maiden in their prime were the genre’s leading light. But, if you want a heavy metal band to create an album? Than you want Pharaoh, who at this point have entered a stage where we start having serious conversations about whether they’re the best to have ever done this kind of stuff (note: Slough Feg is not in this conversation). Bury the Light is a document that starts somewhere, and brings you somewhere entirely else by way of well crafted songs that thrive as a unit. It sounds simple, but no heavy metal band has done it as consistently well over the course of a career as this band.
11. If These Trees Could Talk – Red Forest
12. Coffin Texts – Tomb of the Infinite Ritual
13. Devin Townsend Project – Epicloud
14. Royal Thunder – CVI
15. Ice Dragon – Dream Dragon
16. Neurosis – Honor Found in Decay
17. Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind
18. Samothrace – Reverence to Stone
19. Dumbsaint – Something That You Feel Will Find Its Own Form
20. Gaza – No Absolutes in Human Suffering
10 Non-Metal Releases I Loved In No Particular Order
1. Alaric/Atriarch – Split
2. Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City
3. You Blew It! – Grow Up, Dude
4. Suis La Lune – Riala
5. Sun Kil Moon – Among the Leaves
6. Real Friends – Three Songs About the Past Year of My Life
7. Bodyguard – Silica Gel
8. Deftones – Koi No Yokan
9. Is/Is – III
10. Wreck and Reference – No Youth