T’is that beautiful time of year again. A season of good will, understanding and compassion towards your fellow man — a time for giving, loving and appreciating. The cold may have rolled in and the trees may have shed their once vibrant foliage, but the world finds solace in the love and company of others. It’s a time to reflect on the memories of the year and plan ahead for the next.
But most of all it’s a time to listen brutal fucking metal and drink a fuck tonne of Advocaat, because 2012 was full of great releases and now’s your chance to catch on releases you may have missed or may have never even heard of. My first draft of this list was composed of 30 albums, which then shot up to 37 when I realised that I had forgotten to include EPs. Everything from new bands that came out of nowhere to blow my mind (We Are Knuckle Dragger, Bloodshot Dawn, Oddland, Exotic Animal Petting Zoo etc) to the old guard continuing their brilliant legacy (Gojira, Aborted, Napalm Death, Deftones etc) all unfortunately fell by the wayside in the ruthless culling exercise that produced this list. And I regret cutting every single one of them, but alas, if I was talk about every album this year that was great, I’d probably lose your attention pretty quickly. Who am I kidding? You’ve most likely already skipped on to the list and you’re not even reading this bit. I could write anything I want here and no one would notice. Anything at all.
10. Ancestors – In Dreams And Time
Ancestors take a slightly different approach to doom than most bands. Where as the norm is to focus on creating a bleak, inhospitable landscape carved out by gargantuan riffs, this American group instead channel doom through the vibrant kaleidoscope of psychedelia and stoner rock. Ten minute long tracks cycle through bubbling organs, slow methodical riffs and crooning vocals — never outstaying their welcome and constantly fluidly evolving from one section to the next. In Dreams And Time isn’t as ugly and ferocious as so much of metal strives to be, instead it’s focus is on being mesmerizing and maintaining an atmosphere of organic heaviness. Ancestors are the sound of mountains forming and tectonic plates shifting, an awe-inspiring feat of terrifying proportions.
9. Hawk Eyes – IDEAS
The presence of Hawk Eyes on this list is due to a situation a large amount of us are probably familiar with. The first band on the main stage at a festival can always be a ‘hit-or-miss’ affair, but this post-hardcore/alt rock band absolutely killed it when they opened the Damnation Festival in their hometown Leeds, back in November. Tracks such as ‘Kiss This‘ and ‘You Deserve A Medal‘ combined the brazen weirdness of Exotic Animal Petting Zoo with a ruthless ferocity that swung wildly between Therapy? and, more surprisingly, The Dillinger Escape Plan — meaning checking out their new album IDEAS was a high priority job. Thankfully, it doesn’t disappoint, it’s a collection of catchy rock songs from clearly adept musicians who aren’t afraid to throw unusual twists and turns into the mix as often as possible.
8. Code Orange Kids – Love Is Love // Return To Dust
I loved this record before I’d even heard beyond the first track. ‘Flowermouth (The Leech)‘ opens as a pissed-off slab of crusty hardcore that toys with guitar feedback like a defenseless rag doll, sections come and collapse into the next in a flurry of d-beats, coarse riffage and gruff shouts. It’s jagged, it’s rough and, most of all, it’s naïve, but that’s what’s so compelling about it. Code Orange Kids take these tracks into strange, unexpected places on the turn of a dime and I honestly can’t tell if they’re doing it on purpose or if Love Is Love is just the product of a band who can’t decide what they want and where they’re going. Regardless, it works, from the post-metal build up of ‘Colors (Into Nothing)‘ to the ridiculous intensity of ‘Around My Neck // On My Head‘, all making COK a band to keep an eye on in the upcoming years.
7. The Tony Danza Shiggydiggy Extravaganza – Danza IIII
Hey, I’m THAT guy. That guy that wrote off The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza as some gimmicky deathcore band based on name alone. I know, I know, but I was young and stupid and I kinda forgot about them after they went on the extended break that produced this epitaph in Danza IIII. Needless to say, I was horrifically wrong.
Comprised of some the most pummeling and imaginative riffage I’ve ever heard, Danza IIII is a perfect high note for a band to end on. Tracks like ‘Behind Those Eyes‘ and ‘The Alpha The Omega‘ ooze a primal heaviness that was so initially appealing about the deathcore movement, but combines it with enough imaginative songwriting and fretboard abuse that it sounds fresh and exciting. Josh Travis may have moved onto to pastures new, but I can’t help but feel more instantly attracted to the ruthless ferocity on display here.
6. Devin Townsend Project – Epicloud
You’re probably fed up by now of the slavering hyperbole we’re throw around at the mere mention of Mr. Townsend. But his latest pop-metal release, Epicloud, is simply another feather in the warbonnet he’s wearing at this moment in time. Epicloud is bombastic, grandiose and, most surprisingly, fun — a concise and well thought-out album, best exemplified by the fact that not just anyone could go from the subdued acoustics of ‘Divine‘ before swandiving directly into the most heavy and uplifting thing I’ve heard all year, ‘Grace‘. If you need a metal album to show people that this music can be more than just angry, then once again Dev has you covered. The king is Dev, long live the king.
5. Baroness – Yellow & Green
The Baroness I fell in love with were crusty, technical sludge lords. This is not the Baroness I fell in love with. This is something new. And I love it.
Gone are the majority of heavy riffs and gruff, coarse shouts, in their place instead are crooning voices and acoustic guitars. ‘Stretchmarker‘ and ‘Twinkler‘ nestle close to swaggering prog-rock tracks like ‘Eula‘ and ‘March To The Sea‘ and while they never reach the dizzying energy of First, Second or The Red Album, they instead aim for a more sophisticated and mature approach to songwriting and the results on show are spectacular. Baizley and co. may be on downtime at the moment, for obvious reasons, but by the time the band have had time to recuperate, they will be a force to reckoned with.
4. High On Fire – De Vermis Mysteriis
Our *prognotes articles are somewhat of a favourite around these parts and I’ve been promising myself I would do one on De Vermis Mysteriis, a concept album based on Jesus’ time travelling twin brother. But for the life of me, I cannot figure out what is going on. However, the enigmatic lyrics are only one piece is the magnificent puzzle and it’s the music on show here that really escalates this record from odd to amazing. Matt Pike once again knocks it out of the park in the riffs department and even with a back catalogue containing other classics like Blessed Black Wings and Death Is This Communion, it’s hard to find much that can match up the gigantic opening of ‘Madness Of An Architect‘ or the Motorhead-isms of ‘Fertile Green‘. Drop out of life with De Vermis… in your headphones.
3. Rush – Clockwork Angels
Canadian legends. Prog rock kings. Leader of the nerds. Rush are the epitome of uncool and yet they are immaculate, even their worst moments are probably more adept and more competent than your favourite band’s finest hour. Nineteen albums in and they still haven’t lost the ability to craft intricate songs that still build towards a larger concept and still manage to be infectious on the first listen making Clockwork Angels an ambitious project, but thankfully every single height it aims for, it manages. ‘BU2B‘ and ‘Caravan’ may have terrible titles but they groove and rock like no other and everything beyond it is simply a well placed and well thought-out block upon it, just going to show that when it comes down to it, the old guard still do it the best.
2. Every Time I Die – Ex-Lives
At this point, it seems like Every Time I Die albums are pre-packaged to be amazing. I’m not sure they even made an album that could be considered a mis-step yet and Ex-Lives is the consolidation of those pristine years of service. Rugged, southern riffs once again intertwine with vocalist Keith Buckley’s legendary lyrics to create some of the best material the band has ever made in ‘Typical Miracle‘ and ‘Partying Is Such Sweet Sorrow‘. Honestly, by this time, you’ve probably already made your mind up about this band, but on Ex-Lives everything just comes together perfectly, so NOW is the time to check them out if you’ve already cast them off once.
1. Meshuggah – Koloss
Touchy subject, Meshuggah. Even more so these days, mostly because of that whole ‘djent’ thing being popular. Naturally when something becomes popular, most people can’t wait to get bored of it and anything tangentially related to it and they’ll take every chance they can to tell you how ‘it used to be good, but it’s just old hat these days’, like it’s some grand enlightening and that no one has ever become bored with a specific sound before. Why they’re spending their time complaining about it and not trawling the net for the bands that do it well (in that style or in any of the many different ones that are available these days) is beyond me, but on the internet it’s clearly more important/fun to be a cynical asshole than it is to be a music fan.
I digress, the thing with Meshuggah is that, while they clearly had a huge part in the creation of djent, they’re pretty much a different entity. I’d liken their relationship with the style with Entombed and the way every other crusty hardcore band (All Pigs Must Die, Black Breath, Enabler etc) takes their guitar sound and applies it in a different way. But unfortunately Koloss dropped around the same time that the first wave of disenchanted djent fans decided that cynicism was the way forward and thus you couldn’t talk about it without stepping on the toes of the elephant in the room — and here I am. Despite what ‘Bleed‘ may have you believe, Meshuggah aren’t really about ridiculous technicality and, despite what nearly every band in the djent movement would have you believe, they aren’t about catchy melodies draped over off-kilter chugs either, they’re about creating this gargantuan, churning, industrial atmosphere that is just suffocatingly heavy. And they do it like no other. Every single track on Koloss is Meshuggah personified, full of those trademark earth-moving grooves and stuttering rhythms that have been utilised by the band since Destroy Erase Improve/None. From the opening of dirge of ‘I Am Colossus‘ to the jarring cleans of closer ‘The Last Vigil‘, this is a fifty five minute exercise in showing how this Swedish quintet are still at the top of the pile when it comes to making great songs that are meticulously crafted and show all the finesse and refined songwriting possible for a band with over 20 years of service. And we couldn’t expect anything less from an act that changed the face of metal, forever.
Just a few loose ends to tie up, rather than listing every single band I considered for the list. First of all, if you have even the slightest interest in thrash or death metal than you NEED to check out Revocation‘s latest EP Teratogenesis as, not only is it free, but it simply shows why they are one the most important new bands around today. By far the best EP release this year. Also, two albums assaulted my sound-holes too late in the year for me to really consider putting them in this list, however they were both amazing and they were both British (that instantly makes them better and more appealing). Firstly, the reissue of Cambridgeshire weirdos Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats‘ Blood Lust is the sleazy sexploitation of Electric Wizard filtered through the darkest acid trip of The Beatles and it’s infectious. Almost makes you want to start a quasi-commune and write ‘Helter Skelter’ on the walls in your own blood. Secondly, the abrasive noise rock of Leeds’ very own Blacklisters (NSFW link). Their debut BLKLSTRS will not be for everyone but anyone with a love of rock music that is fucking loud and drenched in feedback will easily find themselves a new favourite here.
There it is. 2012 through my eyes. So thank you to all the great bands who released amazing music, thank you to the record labels that support that, thank you to the venues, the promoters, the roadies, the oft-neglected merch guy/gal, the bloggers, the militant elitists, the posers, the clueless casuals, the Emmure fans and everyone in between. And thank you for taking the time to read it all – have a happy holiday season, drink and be merry. And then keep drinking till you fall down.
And listen to The Dillinger Escape Plan. Or just The Pogues, you know, your choice and all.