Another year's over, another one about to begin. As any other year it has had its ups and downs in regards to music, but with bands such as Orange Goblin setting a pretty high standard early on, it certainly has been an interesting one, and I gotta say it was harder picking my favourites this year than in 2011. Some think top 10s are utterly pointless, but nonetheless there are thousands out there right now, and there are more to come. I talked to my brother and asked him if he had any favourite albums this year, and he said to me that for the most part you will only learn years later which albums were actually the best to come out, and true, I don't listen regularly to every album of my top 10 from last year. Time will tell which of these albums will be sticking around in my playlist, but here are my bets!
Top 10 metal releases
Had I discovered Ash Borer before I made my top 10 last year their debut album would've been on it. Fortunately for me the American band released another modern black metal masterpiece this year, and while it's not completely up to par to their self-titled album "Cold of Ages" still serves as a monolith of quality in the roiling seas of black metal. Ash Borer's first album opened up a whole new world of atmospheric black metal to me and completely revised what I look for in bands of the genre, and with Cold of Ages they've put forth another incredible effort of gritty and cold black metal that will stay on my stereo for years to come.
The Russian band Abominable Putridity, at the time fronted by Vladimir, took the slam-world by storm in 2007 when they released their debut entitled "In the End of Human Existence". They had destilled the chaotic elements of slamming brutal death metal into a body-dissolving sollution of technicality, effective slams and monumental production. Now, 5 years later and with a new lead singer, Matti Way of Disgorge and Pathology fame. Abominable Putridity got bashed alot for the highly unvaried vocals of Vladimir on their previous album, and while Matti Way's seasoned vocal abilities aren't the most diverse around he get's the job done on The Anomalies of Artificial Origin, which also presents new flair for slam riffs, incredibly enthusiastic drum-work aswell as more focus on technical guitars. Abominable Putridity's newest album is in essence an evolutionary step forward in the wake of In the End of Human Existence and feels pretty much like a band learning from its' mistakes and using their experience to make a better album.
At the Gates of Sethu has really split the waters in terms of popularity. It would seem that you either hate or love the new album. One of the things I think Nile have been steadily working towards is relying on Dallas' vocals rather than Karl's, and this is truly evident on At the Gates of Sethu - I think that both Dallas and Karl are terrific death metal vocalists, and I've always enjoyed the band's use of two (and sometimes three) vocalists, so for me it was a minus to learn that Karl barely does any vocals on this album. They've also moved further away from their brutal death metal roots while still maintaining their focus on technical pieces, so At the Gates of Sethu isn't really as heavy as I had hoped it would be. And yet I like the album. Nile still maintain a rather high rate of variation and diversity, so a song like The Fiends Who Come to Steal the Magick of the Deceased doesn't sound exactly the same as The Gods Who Light Up the Sky at the Gates of Sethu.
I've been following the career of Bombs of Hades since their first album, Chambers of Abominations, was released in 2010. Their numerous EPs and splits have provided me with much enjoyment, and their latest offering, The Serpent's Redemption, is the climax of their career. To me Bombs of Hades has always been a beacon of highly memorable swedish death metal, with songs like Disrespect Their Bones, Into the Eternal Pit of Fire and Confessor being some of their best tracks, and The Serpent's Redemption likewise features a myriad of catchy death metal songs in the vain of early Entombed, Grave and Dismember while still being unique in no small part due to lead singer's Jonas Stålhammar easily recognizable voice. With tracks such as Skull Collector, Incubus Descending, Darkness My Soul and Crawl Away and Bleed Forever their newest album beams with zealous drumming, roaring vocals and guitars straight from the bowels of hell.
To say that Katatonia's carreer has been turbulent in regards to genres would be an understatement. Where they started out playing death/doom metal they've pretty much only kept one element: Melancholia. And Katatonia are the kings of just that. Though their music bears little to no resemblance to their early works nowadays they've mastered their niche of melancholic, gothic-ish depressive rock. Dead End Kings may well be their least heavy record yet, but they haven't gone soft entirely. Their newest album still features heavy elements, most effectively of which is the starting song "The Parting". Dead End Kings is packed with these switches from sombre and simplistic parts to heavy indie-like guitar dominated parts that Katatonia have been known for for so long. Though only a select few songs like The Parting, the Racing Heart and Buildings really stand out to me I feel with Dead End Kings like I did with Triptykon's monumentally heavy debut - It just works so well that you lose yourself in the music.
I suspect Dark Roots of Earth will be part of many top 10s of 2012, and there's a good reason for that: It's fucking phenomenal. 2012 has seen the return of several well-known thrash acts, such as Testament, Overkill, Kreator, Tankard, Destruction and Lich King, and while not all these efforts have been equally worthwhile Testament's offering is certainly among the best, as this list is testimony to. Testament have more or less become heavier and heavier with every release, and The Dark Roots of Earth combines the fast tempos of their early thrash albums and the heavy groove of their groove metal albums. Hell, they even found room for a blast beat or two in there! The Dark Roots of Earth features numerous highly memorable tracks of thrashy goodness that also work incredibly well in a live setting, as proven by their performance at this year's Wacken Open Air. I didn't care much for the cover songs of the extended edition, though.
Marduk is one of those bands that have released a steady flow of good to great albums. In my book, Marduk have never released an outright boring or shitty album, and with Serpent Sermon they certainly aren't about to change that. Serpent Sermon consists of 10 blistering fast black metal anthems, including the widely popular Souls for Belial. Morgan's guitar works in perfect unison with the drumming of Lars and the vocals of Mortuus and reminds me a lot of the Iron Dawn EP from last year. Marduk was also one of the first black metal bands I got into when a friend of mine played Panzer Division Marduk for me, and listening to Serpent Sermon's satanically evil tunes really takes me back to when I was just starting to get more into metal. Marduk have everything under control, even if the pace is chaotically fast.
Wow, talk about a modern classic. Overkill have released so many albums over the course of their carreer, and only a few of them are as great as The Electric Age, and none are as powerful. 2010's Ironbound brought Overkill back from a short streak of unworthwhile albums with force and speed unheard of, and The Electric Age builds unto this sound and takes it into even further extremes. The shortest song on The Electric Age is 3 minutes and 43 seconds, which is still a lot for thrash metal, and the average song length on the album is around 5 minutes. That. Is insane. The Electric Age is everything you could ever hope for. It's faster, it's harder, it's louder.
Orange Goblin has been described as Britain's best underground band. I first learned of Orange Goblin with their previous album "Healing Through Fire", released 5 years ago. Since then I've become a huge fan and have been fervently listening to all their albums, and in the early days of 2012 we finally got a new album. A Eulogy for the Damned took me some time to get properly into, probably because it is a lot less bluesy and stonerishly psychedelic than Healing Through Fire was, but after a couple of listens the heavy metal grooves finally got the best of me. I often find that the albums that take the longest to get into are the ones that end up being your favourites, and indeed that was exactly what happened with Orange Goblin's newest opus. It's a fantastic mix of groove, epic riffs, dredging heaviness, a talented producer, unique drumming and great sense of pace and structure. You can tell Orange Goblin are heavyweights when it comes to this sort of heavy/stoner/doom metal, and A Eulogy for the Damned essentially feels like all the right elements of Black Sabbath, Motörhead and Metallica combined to one great motherfucker of an album.
It's gritty, it's dark, it's filthy, it's Denmark's Undergang. Undergang is Denmark's chief export in heavy as fuck death metal with a twist of doom, not entirely unlike Autopsy, Coffins, Anatomia, Hooded Menace and Asphyx. The Danish trio have shown their colours on one previous album, entitled Indhentet af Døden, and on a few demos and splits here and there. Undergang is probably one of the most consistent bands to emerge in more recent years, and Til Døden Os Skiller follows up perfectly what they started on Indhented af Døden in 2010. Undergang's chosen style may not be the most technical or diverse of the sorts, and it may not have jazzy interludes, epic intros, melodic riffs or grandiose and whining guitar solos. Who the fuck needs all that shit anyway? Fuck melody!
For a long time I thought everything sounded stupid in Danish, as opposed to English or Norwegian, but Undergang shows that even the Danish language has a massive capacity for creating a festering atmosphere, especially when gargled forth by the rotten voice of such people as David Torturdød. Songs like Opløste Ådsler, Når Børnene Dør and Ormeorgie aren't meant to be translated into English because they just sound so much more gruesome in Danish, but for the unlucky of you out there, it means "Dissolved Carcasses", "When the Children Die" and "Worm Orgy". Til Døden Os Skiller is simply the ultimate in suppurated, rotten death metal of the heaviest kind.
Honorable mentionsThis year for the first time I really wanted to listen to as many new albums as humanly possible, and yet there are still so many albums that I have yet to listen to. But of the scores of albums I HAVE listened to, there are some that were so damn close to the top 10 but just didn't make it. These are the albums I had the hardest time leaving out.
I love Putrid Pile. I love Collection of Butchery, Pleasure in Suffering and House of Dementia. I enjoyed Blood Fetish a lot, but it just feels more melodic than Lacanne's previous material and not as heavy. The sort of slap-stick humour in song titles like Necroneat-o, Pottymouth, Bowel Batter and Deepfried Evil also isn't welcome with me as it gives the album a really unserious feel that I don't want from my pile of putridity!
Another of 2012's great slam albums, this one delivered by Norway's own Kraanium. With two magnificent albums in the luggage I had no doubt this would also be a fine album. It just didn't have that "wow" effect I was hoping it would have.
It was very hard to exclude Vanitas from my top 10. Anaal Nathrakh have done it again: Delivered a brilliant torrent of black metal and grindcore fused together in an amazing amalgamation of blast beats, riffs and vocals from the deepest pits of hell.
I fucking love Hooded Menace. Never Cross the Dead and especially Fulfill the Curse are classics to me, but Effigies of Evil, while still being a horrifically awesome death/doom album, was a bit too melodic and fast (by Hooded Menace standards) to me.
Pig Destroyer have always been tantamount to great grind in my book, and on Book Burner they deliver an incredibly memorable collection of awesome death/grind songs with power enough to fuel two major nations for three years.
A relatively new Danish stoner metal band, their first album Calling All Demons took me by storm. Whiskey-soaked vocals, memorable guitar riffs and overall pretty great songwriting. Unfortunately the album feels VERY short, boasting only 6 songs to a total of 39 minutes.
Another Danish band, who's debut album struck me as something better than most current Danish metal. A sort of alternate take on traditional atmospheric black metal that's played with a lot more feeling than most other bands in the Danish metal scene.
Melvins put out new material at a rather quick pace compared to other bands. You'd think this would mean the material is of lower quality, but that simply isn't the case with Freak Puke. Boasting many a memorable hook I was surprised at how good the album actually was.
This Japanese band was one of my biggest discoveries of 2012. Dark and filthy death/doom metal in the vein of Coffins and Asphyx fills your ears as you descend into the blackest pits of horror with Anatomia's newest album, "Decaying in Obscurity".
Non-Metal Top 5Okay, I don't listen to THAT much music other than metal, but it happens that I stumble upon a release by a non-metal band that I like immensly.
Crippled Black Phoenix may very well be the epitome of my musical year in 2012. Their performance is a constant torrent of ever varying styles, genres and tendencies, and I've only just gotten to know them. No Sadness or Farewell presents itself with 6 songs that could best be described as atmospheric and haunting progressive/post-rock. I've fallen in love with almost every aspect of this release. The country-like "Long Live Independence" provides the listener with an interesting contrast to the otherwise spacey and dark reverberations of the rest of the album, and my favourite track "Jonestown Martin" is a lot heavier than the rest of the album and also features a tiny bit of psychedelia. These two tracks in themselves prove how far apart Crippled Black Phoenix set their tracks without ever rendering the listener confused or wondering if it is indeed the same band.
Gonjasufi is probably one of the hardest musicians to categorize. Ever the experimenting artist, MU.ZZ.LE is his latest work which features a rather special mix of several genres, including, but not limited to, trip-hop, psychedelic rock, lo-fi and various abstract electronic elements. It's like the band-bio says: "A voice materialized from the windswept void of the California desert, at once haunting and oddly welcoming". Gonjasufi's latest album features 10 tracks of eerie and almost congenial music that will almost certainly haunt your mind. I found that after listening to it, all of the sudden hours later I would inadvertently hum parts of a song from MU.ZZ.LE without even knowing what I was doing. It's not that MU.ZZ.LE is particularly easy to remember, but it's very disposition just makes it stick to the far reaches of your soul and then comes forth every so often.
Anastasis is Dead Can Dance's first studio album in 16 years. I've had The Serpent's Egg and Spleen and Ideal lying around for some time now, and I've been very fascinated by their use of medieval ambience, ethereal world-music and their tendencies toward gothic rock. On their latest album they've moved toward some more North African currents and as such Anastasis feels like they've taken their previous album Spiritchaser and added to that concept in a fabulous and highly effective manner. Anastasis feels like the result of many years of refining a product and may very well be their hitherto best album. They've still got that ethereal, ambient temperament that I fell for on their earlier efforts, but they've added so much more to make it an ever-interesting journey through their neatly crafted soundscapes.
This band is another of my major discoveries of 2012. Spaced-out progressive rock in the vein of NAAM and Pink Floyd with a twist is their game, and they do it immensely well on their second album "The Black Chord". Their grip on galactic atmospheres is astonishing and songs like Quake Meat and their general use of Deep Purple-esque organs and keyboards are truly breathtaking. Why Astra aren't more well-known than they are is beyond me - True, they didn't exactly reinvent the wheel, but they take elements that we know so well from other classic acts and put them together in a concoction of quirky and strangely familiar music. When I first listened to The Black Chord I felt like I had known the album my entire life.
I've known Baby Woodrose for a long time, but I never really got into them. That's until I saw the cover of Third Eye Surgery with the powerful blue and orange-red colours. I'm very much into psychedelic rock so when the noisy, lo-fi production brimming with the echoes of zitars and psylocybin-powered vocals toned in it was love at first listen. The wall of noisy guitars that form the background create a stark contrast to the very marked sounds of the zitar that are spread throughout the entire album. From the monolithic single "Dandelion", the uplifting "Waiting for the War", to my personal favourite "Love Like a Flower" and the trippy "Honalee" Third Eye Surgery is one of the most memorable psychedelic albums I've ever listened to.
Some people will probably give me shit about filing Rush under non-metal, and indeed Clockwork Angels is rather heavy. It's a great and catchy album with everyone in great shape for progressive madness, and it really just is hugely enjoyable. However a lot of the songs feel a bit tedious and boring to me and that's why it didn't make the top 5.
Being a fan of previous Woven Hand and 16 Horsepower albums I was expecting some mysterious amalgamation of alt-country, folk and various ethnic influences. What I got was some sub-standard (for Woven Hand, that is) alternative-ish rock music with a lot less of the usual David Eugene Edwards-feeling. It's still a good enough album, just not what I had expected.