So it’s Wednesday at 3:43 AM the week these year-end retrospective lists are being published and I’m scrambling to edit my fellow writers’ contributions when I’ve barely even started mine. To be honest it hasn’t even quite settled in that 2012 is just about over. As I’m writing this, there’s about a week and a half left of the year, and it puzzles me. It feels like just a couple of months ago that I was doing this exact same thing for 2011, only this time I seem to be much busier and everything looks different. The site, wordpress, and even my staff group have all changed.
We’ve picked up a number of fresh faces this year that you’ve already seen these past few days, but you may have also noticed that a couple of people from last year are no longer with us. A lot of people have come and gone over these past three and a half years that I’ve been doing this Heavy Blog thing, and most of them sort of float around and hang out when they can. The most important ones that come to mind right now are Dan (Dormition) and Chris (Disinformasiya), both of whom were very instrumental and valuable in the growth of this site, and it was sad to see them part ways with us. Without them (Chris in particular), I might have not kept this thing going this far. I love both of those guys dearly, and you can keep up with them at The Monolith, which you should bookmark if you haven’t already. Ya jerk.
Like I’ve said, this year has been busy. I don’t talk about my personal life much here despite the fact that it’s my blog, but what better time to get all personal than a year-end retrospective? As you may have noticed, I’ve been a bit more of a hands-off editor and the scheduling of posts have been a bit less rigid and frequent than they used to be. I’m at the tail end of my college career and I’m currently in and out of internships which have kept me busy and often away from Heavy Blog. Between classes, internships, my “actual” job, and this website, my hands are pretty full. You (and I, for sure) can thank Evan (Juular) for his help with editing since Chris’ departure as well as Damien, Noyan, Gunnar (DeusExMachina), Cody (Tentaclesworth), Spencer (Inhumed), Anthony (Alucard), Greg (Red Bruschetta), Atif (Dr. Killjoy), David (Riptide), Ridge (Deadite), Colin (Momento Mori), and Geoff (Denisovich) for sticking with me and making sure there’s enough content each week and that this site keeps going strong. Also a strong word up to Ben Robson who took over Heavy Blog recently and decided to stick around with us behind the scenes and Chris Collins, our resident photographer. These guys are awesome, and they manage to put a smile on my face every single day.
2013 promises to be even busier with my next internship, impending graduation, and career, but hopefully that doesn’t stop this site from growing and providing daily content that helps to promote and further our favorite genre of music. Thank all of you for sticking with us!
So with all these feels out of the way, here’s what most of you care about, my albums of the year:
15. Alcest – Les Voyages De L’Âme
For being an editor of an almost sort of popular metal blog (we’re on the first page of the Google results for “metal blog” at least!), I don’t get to see a lot of shows. I live out in Kentucky, which many refer to as “Nowhere.” However, I was fortunate enough to be able to see French post-black metal frontrunners Alcest when they came through Johnson City, TN earlier this year in support of their latest record Les Voyages De L’Ame. I enjoyed the record quite a bit when it was first released, but seeing the material performed life allowed me to appreciate this magical record even more. While Alcest mastermind Neige cut back on the black metal this time around, what lies beneath is an ethereal sense of longing and nostalgia that is nearly unrivaled.
14. Deftones – Koi No Yokan
While Koi No Yokan didn’t grab me like its predecessor Diamond Eyes, any new Deftones record will be great almost by default. Deftones are starting to embrace their more romantic post-rock side that they’ve showed shades of in the past, and it suits them. There’s no loss of heaviness or eight-string riffage, but Koi No Yokan feels more ethereal than any of the albums that came before it. I find that this album is still always growing on me, and I hope that one day I’ll enjoy it as much as I did Diamond Eyes.
13. Eldrimner – Inom Förloppet Av Ett Liv
Eldrimner are a band that you don’t hear much about anywhere else; we premiered this debut album with a stream earlier this year, but nary a peep about them from other outlets that I’ve seen. This Swedish extreme prog metal band cites influences from Meshuggah and Shining to create a fresh take on groove metal that sets them apart from the djent apes, instead opting for blazing trails in the realm of blackened groove. If you can manage to find Inom Forloppet Av Ett Liv anywhere, check it out immediately. This dark voyage is one worth taking.
Standout tracks: ‘Livsflykt,’ ‘Plågor för glädjen’
12. Periphery – Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal
There may be an expiration date on djent. I mean, considering the fact that Periphery II is a maturation and improvement on the band’s self-titled album (which became my album of the year in 2010) and that it only wound up at number twelve on this list goes to show a waning interest. That, and that it feels more like a collection of songs than an actual album, if that makes sense. It seems ironic on a list of highlights to talk about an album’s shortcomings, but make no mistake that Periphery II is an excellent and entertaining listen that keeps this seminal band far ahead of the pack of imitators.
11. Devin Townsend Project – Epicloud
Everything Devin Townsend touches turns to gold. Not many musicians can seek out to intentionally create accessible pop metal tracks and still win the hearts and minds of fans everywhere and eschewing guilty listening, but Devin’s sincerity makes it work. While I was hoping Epicloud would wind up sounding more like its fellow pop metal cousin Addicted!, Epicloud lives true to its name in being an epic fist-pumping feel-good record without any pretense. This was crafted to be a relatively simple yet catchy and fun listening experience, and it manages to fulfill that promise just fine.
10. Wintersun – Time I
I was late to the Wintersun game, which is incidentally a crime that is easily forgivable when you consider that it took most of a decade for their sophomore album Time to see the light of day. It’s easy to see why this album took so long to come to fruition; dissecting this record reveals many different layers and harmonies that require a lot of processing power and countless hours to produce. Time I wound up being a work of art, showing Jari Maenpaa’s skill as a composer. He really should be scoring blockbuster films! Unfortunately, this is only half the story and we have to wait until 2013 to hear the rest, but despite feeling like it lacks as a whole, it’s sheer epic beauty puts it in my top ten. Definitely worth the wait so far.
Standout track: ‘Sons of Winter and Stars‘
09. Cattle Decapitation – Monolith of Inhumanity
Cattle Decapitation have built a well deserved reputation for being unapologetically brutal, but they’ve kicked themselves up a notch on Monolith of Inhumanity. I don’t want to say that Monolith of Inhumanity is a catchy record, but this record is packed with hooks and earworms. Despite its punishing ugliness, Monolith of Inhumanity is a pleasure to listen to and has mastered the art of death metal songwriting and production.
08. The Contortionist – Intrinsic
When I first heard The Contortionist‘s debut album Exoplanet, I secretly hoped that the band would explore their more progressive and post-rock influences and drop the breakdowns-around-every-corner approach. As it turns out, they did just that with their follow-up Intrinsic. Where Exoplanet focused on the outside world and exploring space, Intrinsic feels like a counterbalance that finds the band looking inward, with greater emphasis on keyboards and clean vocal melodies. One of my fellow writers referred to this album as ‘Rush-core,‘ and it’s a description that fits well enough. Perhaps for their next album, they can find a way to blend the tones of Intrinsic and Exoplanet into something very striking.
07. Aesop Rock – Skelethon
Across this list you’ll find mostly forms of death metal and prog, but sticking out like a sore thumb is Aesop Rock‘s latest escapade Skelethon. Before I got into metal, I was first into hip-hop before I realized that much of what I was listening to was self-serving commercialized posturing, which is an image that many metalheads can’t seem to shake when they try to imagine the genre. Aesop Rock however is a standout artist, with unorthodox flow and a certain level of intelligence and vocabulary that isn’t often seen every day — and yet he still manages to make it fun. If you think you’ve given up hope on hip-hop, give Aesop Rock a listen before you write off the genre for good.
06. Meshuggah – Koloss
I’m going to go ahead and say that Koloss is my favorite Meshuggah record. The overall tone of Koloss captured an almost sludge metal aesthetic, an assessment from my review earlier this year that I still stand by. Koloss feels more organic and alive rather than mechanical and sterile, as was the case on their past records. This makes Koloss stand out, which is very much needed in a time when Meshuggah the most ripped-off band in extreme metal. Not only did Meshuggah manage to keep their identity, but also further carve themselves a niche and remain steps ahead of the leagues of copycats.
05. Pig Destroyer – Book Burner
Pig Destroyer are one of the many examples of how pissed off music can get. These grindcore legends made their much needed return in 2012 and blew me away with Book Burner. This album has riffs for days and enough vitriolic poetry to please anyone in desire for some intensity. There’s something strangely empowering about Book Burner that always sends me into a fit of perceived invulnerability. Chalk it up to the thrashy death grind style and the anthemic shouts of “I’m indomitable!” on ‘Burning Palm.’ This album is Riffs 101, so study up.
04. Anathema – Weather Systems
Doom metal legends turned art rock auteurs Anathema have without a doubt released their opus in Weather Systems. Weather Systems is an emotional rollercoaster that can reduce a man to tears when given the chance. This is a record that is absolutely heartfelt and magical in every way. My feelings of this record are almost indescribable. I would argue that everyone regardless of musical taste should hear Weather Systems’ blend of post-folk power pop. If you’re feeling disenchanted and need music with the feels, then this is where to look in 2012.
03. Gorod – A Perfect Absolution
Few death metal records are able to capture my heart and mind like Gorod’s A Perfect Absolution. To me, it has the perfect balance of technicality, songwriting, and accessibility that makes it a memorable and engaging listen — possibly my favorite death metal record ever. I don’t think a death metal album has ever captured my attention as much as this one has, and for good reason; A Perfect Absolution showcases catchy yet progressive songwriting that pushes death metal into fresh ground while dabbling in rare bouts of funk and salsa (see “Standout Tracks” below). Nothing would please me greater than seeing Gorod’s next record elaborate on more of these genre bending flourishes and historically-themed concepts (*prognotes on this record coming in 2013!) — well maybe what would please me the most would be getting my pre-order from Unique Leader Records. I’m not holding my breath though.
02. The Omega Experiment – The Omega Experiment
Despite charting number one on its release day on Bandcamp and featuring gorgeous artwork by Uneven Structure‘s Igor Omodei and a sleek mastering job by Tesseract’s Acle Kahney, The Omega Experiment is likely the most criminally ignored record I’ve had the pleasure of hearing. I haven’t seen much talk of this record outside of Heavy Blog and my circle of friends, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. I’ve praised the album enough to make up for it though. TOE blends perfectly modern prog via the likes of Devin Townsend Project and Dream Theater with powerful 80′s rock like Styx and Journey, providing a rich album filled with complex and technical musicianship as well as massive anthemic hooks. Released independently on Valentine’s Day, this record stole my heart immediately and has yet to give it back.
Edit: Since I first did this write-up, the band have signed to Listenable Records. Congratulations, guys!
01. Between the Buried and Me – The Parallax II: Future Sequence
I know I wasn’t going to be turning any heads and surprising the world with this year’s pick for album of the year. I’ve been a fan of Between the Buried and Me for years, so it wasn’t going to take a stretch for BTBAM to get top honors in any release year of theirs. I obviously had high hopes for Parallax II, but I was blown away entirely. You’d be hard pressed to find a record as epic as Parallax II, and everything from the soaring guitar leads and haunting vocal work to the intricate story the band has unconsciously set up across their discography for this conceptual masterpiece makes this album unparallelled. This is the type of record that will change perceptions of music and stick with someone for years to come. For a while, that record for me was BTBAM’s 2007 record Colors, which not many people thought the band would be able to top. Well, they’ve done it; The Parallax II: Future Sequence is the band’s best record thus far, and my album of the year.
Standout Tracks: All of them. Seriously, just listen to the whole record.
So that’s it for us at Heavy Blog this year. We hope to see you guys again a year from now and once again reflecting fondly on the amazing year in music we’ve been given. Be on the look out for albums from Cult of Luna, The Ocean, Wintersun, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Mastodon, Tesseract, and many more! We’ll be back in January, everyone. Have a happy and safe holiday!