I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but 2012 was fucking phenomenal. It had everything a music fan could ask for in terms of new releases, and then some. Personally, this year saw me furthering my tastes into more progressive and extreme stuff (with a heavy dose of jazz on the sides), and I think I couldn’t have chosen a better time to pick up on these styles, as genres like death metal and prog enjoyed a fantastic collective output. My list reflects this to a great extent, as pretty much half of the bands found below can be dubbed as death metal in one of its many forms, and even more exhibit progressive elements to at least some extent. Anyway, since most of you are here for the goods, I won’t keep you waiting.
20. Ahab – The Giant
I’m not an avid fan of doom metal, but I’ve always had a soft spot for German whale poachers Ahab. The Giant is a striking testament to their craft, as it is (in my opinion) the best doom record of 2012 despite being the worst album in their repertoire.
Favorite tracks: “Further South, “Fathoms Deep Blue”
19. Carach Angren – Where the Corpses Sink Forever
It’s rare to see a band turn the symphonic black metal formula into success rather than fall flat as a gimmick, but Carach Angren manage to do just that. Where the Corpses Sink Forever is as much of a story as it is a piece of music, and the band makes proper use of dynamics to allow some breathing space and lend the all-out parts much more grandeur.
Favorite tracks: “Lingering in an Imprint Haunting”, “The Funerary Dirge of a Violinist”
18. Cattle Decapitation – Monolith of Inhumanity
By far the most fucked-up album I rocked out to this year, yet with a touch of finesse rarely found in the genre, Monolith of Inhumanity runs through 40+ minutes of relentless deathgrind, sporting some addictive riffs and a vocal performance for the ages. I think everyone can agree that this is Cattle Decapitation’s magnum opus, as it tops everything they’ve previously done in just about every way: more brutal, more technical, more progressive, more memorable.
Favorite tracks: “Gristle Licker”, “A Living, Breathing Piece Of Defecating Meat”
17. Akphaezya – Antology IV: The Tragedy of Nerak
Blending the sounds of gothic metal, prog, and Balkan folk together with an extremely varied use of keys and a schizophrenic female vocalist, France’s Akphaezya deliver a one-of-a-kind effort that is packed with moments of musical bliss. Although I found the record to be inconsistent and at times cheesy, it contains some gems that will stay with me for a long time.
Favorite tracks: “Utopia”, “Nemesis”
16. Chimp Spanner – All Roads Lead Here
Groovy, intelligent, and laid-back all in equal measure, this EP has been a great listen for me when I want to hear some progressive musicianship that’s easy on the ears and isn’t self-glorified. The futuristic vibe is nailed perfectly, Paul Ortiz’ songwriting chops shine as brightly as ever, and the production makes for a very modern, yet very warm sound.
Favorite tracks: “Dark Age of Technology”, “Mobius Part I”
15. Hour of Penance – Sedition
I’ve long relied on Italy’s Hour of Penance as my go-to band for sheer brutality. Paradogma and especially The Vile Conception are prime examples of riff mastery and unbridled rage, and following some major lineup changes, I was relieved that Sedition had joined their ranks. Despite the greater-than-ever emphasis on leads and technicality, the band still made enough room for their usual M.O. and delivered perhaps the most pulverizing record of the year.
Favorite tracks: “Decimate the Ancestry of the Only God”, “The Cannibal Gods”
14. Ophidian I – Solvet Saeclum
At times reminiscent of Behemoth with their Eastern flavor and their mastery of the Phrygian scale, at times of Abysmal Dawn via tribal interludes and chunky death metal riffs, Icelandic tech-death young’uns Ophidian I still manage to develop a sound all their own on Solvet Saeclum. Naturally, the performances by all members are off-the-wall here, especially the bassist.
Favorite tracks: “Solvet Saeclum”, “Mark of an Obsidian”
13. The Safety Fire – Grind the Ocean
I was as hyped for this release as the rest of the world, but I had, and still have, a rather split reaction to it. On one hand, a lot of the techy riffing feels directionless and mildly boring. But the stuff that is on the other side of the fence (mainly the first half of the album) is borderline genius. When The Safety Fire do get going, they bring with them a truckload of whacked out riffs, massive groove, and serene, captivating atmosphere that is almost unmatched.
Favorite tracks: “Floods of Colour”, “DMB (FDP)”
12. The Faceless – Autotheism
Planetary Duality is one of my favorite death metal records to date. With that in mind, I always thought it would be hard for The Faceless to match it, and in all honesty, I’m glad they chose not to even try, instead offering a much more different and almost incomparable record in Autotheism. This album is quite far from legendary status, but still has a unique touch to it and offers plenty of memorable moments.
Favorite tracks: “Autotheist Movement I: Create”, “The Eidolon Reality”
11. Exotic Animal Petting Zoo – Tree of Tongues
Mathcore? Shoegaze? Feels metal? It’s hard to pinpoint what Tree of Tongues really is, but I think ‘fucking brilliant’ would do the trick. In typical EAPZ fashion, this record defies classification without being off-putting or sacrificing quality. The fact that that they have fleshed out their creative vision this early in their careers speaks volumes of EAPZ’s uniqueness and talent. How anyone can cram so many ideas into three and a half minutes and still maintain a cohesive structure is beyond me, but tracks like “Thorough. Modern.” just make it happen. They just fucking do.
Favorite tracks: “Thorough. Modern.”, “Pharmakokinetic”
10. Meshuggah – Koloss
In a year where quality djent releases were scarce, Koloss was made that much more of a triumph and a statement. Equal parts trademark Meshuggah and departure from previous releases, this was an album that proved the band was not only as relevant as ever, but also head and shoulders above pretty much all their imitators. Admittedly, the material on display here is not as busy guitar or drum-wise, but it’s still very engaging considering how much focus is placed on atmosphere and slower tempos. And besides, there’s plenty of whiplash-inducing grooves for those that preferred stuff like Obzen or even the thrash stylings of yore.
Favorite tracks: “Do Not Look Down”, “The Demon’s Name is Surveillance”
9. Bloodshot Dawn – Bloodshot Dawn
UK’s Bloodshot Dawn are a breath of fresh air to both the melodeath and thrash scenes simultaneously, and when they released their self-titled debut all the way back in January, I already knew it would end up somewhere in my top ten. Combining the two metal genres that allow the greatest space for clones/copycats and coming out with something inspired and original is no easy feat, but Bloodshot Dawn makes it look trivial. From insane shredding and soaring melodies to a killer production and focused songwriting, it delivers on all fronts and leaves a grin on my face after every listen.
Favorite tracks: “Illusion Aesthetic”, “The Quantum Apocalypse”
8. Gojira – L’Enfant Sauvage
Fellow contributor Damien nailed it when he said that L’Enfant Sauvage is an album that only a band with Gojira’s mileage can write. Although it’s not as explosive (ha) as The Way of All Flesh, it’s far superior in its maturity and cohesiveness. The somber, emotional tracks such as “Born in Winter” and “Pain is a Master” bring a haunting new side of Gojira to the surface, and other favorites like “Explosia” and the title track make sure the album isn’t too far behind in the energy department. Overall, even if there’s no song as instantly grabbing as “Toxic Garbage Island” or “Vacuity”, this is the first Gojira album I’ve fully enjoyed from start to finish.
Favorite tracks: “L’Enfant Sauvage”, “Born in Winter”
7. Psycroptic – The Inherited Repression
It’s weird, but for all the tech-death I listen to, I had never heard of Psycroptic prior to The Inherited Repression. Which I actually think made the band seem even more unique. Relying on thrash-influenced riffs and legato licks, rather than fancy leads and blazing solos, to rack up the complexity level is something you don’t see every band in the genre do, and after being exposed for a long time to the latter, I was far more surprised by the former. It also helps that Psycroptic don’t always go full throttle with blast beats and the like, but they still know when to get frantic.
Favorite tracks: “The Throne of Kings”, “Euphorinasia”
6. Spawn of Possession – Incurso
Like I said, I listen to a lot of tech-death. But oh lawdy was I unprepared for Incurso. It puts almost any other technical album/band to shame in terms of sheer virtuosity, and it does so not just through constant sweeps, but through neoclassical compositional patterns as well. And that isn’t even the main drawing point of the album. No, the biggest reason I love it is its eerie, morbid atmosphere. It’s as if the music channels the artwork into the listener’s ears. No song symbolizes this better than closer “Apparition”, which makes for the shortest eight minutes of my life every time I listen to it.
Favorite tracks: “Apparition”, “Where Angels Go, Demons Follow”
5. Revocation – Teratogenesis
Revocation is my favorite metal band of all time, so I’m never going to be completely objective about anything regarding them. Still, after hearing this EP, I can comfortably say that these guys pack more musical substance into twenty minutes than most other bands do in entire records’ worth of material. Teratogenesis presents a culmination of all previous Revocation records, and a new, unique chapter altogether. The focus on straightforward brutality brings to mind their early era; the dueling solos are reminiscent of Chaos of Forms; the more organic production and use of 7-strings make this release an entity of its own. And, of course, it’s just as awesome as ever. I know it would be ridiculous for me to place a twenty minute long EP at #1, but the short length is really the only thing that’s stopping me from doing just that.
Favorite tracks: “Maniacally Unleashed”, “Teratogenesis”
4. Stealing Axion – Moments
Moments was definitely one of my most anticipated records of 2012, as I was stoked for it ever since the band released their self-titled EP. Although the end result did not yield that much excitement for the other guys here at Heavy Blog, I was completely blown away. I mean, what’s not to like? Old favorites such as “Sleepless” and “Everything or Nothing” are still as awesome as ever, and the new songs are at least as good.The band’s approach to songwriting has only gotten better, as evidenced by sprawling, beautifully structured epics such as “Collapse” and the two-part closer “Moments 1” and “Moments 2”. They even take the cake home when it comes to production of the year.
Favorite tracks: “Sleepless”, “Collapse”
3. Between the Buried and Me – The Parallax II: Future Sequence
If someone told me a couple of months ago that I’d put a BTBAM release on my year-end list, I’d probably dismiss them as a troll. It’s not that I’ve ever had a problem with the band; I just never understood their near-universal appeal and praise, given that I could only get into select cuts from their discography. So then, imagine how mindblown I was when I decided to give Parallax II its first real chance. The transitions and genre hopping finally made sense, the heavy parts were catchy and distinguishable, and the structure of both music and lyrics was as refined as anything I had heard. Eventually I got fully hooked onto BTBAM, and I’m pretty much in fanboy territory now. But even though this album was a turning point and a gateway for me, I still hold it in higher regard than any of their other albums, and it’s hard to imagine any future release changing that.
Favorite tracks: “Melting City”, “Telos”
2. Periphery – Periphery II: This Time it’s Personal
When it came to do the write-up for Periphery II, I was delaying it until the very last moment. I mean, it’s pretty tough to justify an album as your #2 for the year if you barely even listen to it anymore. But why have I placed it so high, then? Well, for one thing, the fact that I don’t play it nowadays is a direct consequence from having it on non-stop for so long it burned out on me. Yes, Periphery II is by far my most listened to album of 2012, and I can hum out every line of every song at any given moment, but that’s also besides the point. This is a record that came out in a time where I was in the greatest personal crisis I have yet to experience, and it was the biggest reason, through both its music and lyrics, that I got out of that crisis. I will always, at the very least, appreciate it for this. I even wrote the essay for my college applications on this album, based on the life-changing impact it has had on me. So even though I don’t spin it anymore, I’ll be damned if I don’t show it the love it deserves.
Favorite tracks: “Froggin’ Bullfish”, “Ragnarok”
1. Gorod – A Perfect Absolution
In a year where death metal reigned supreme, and technicality showed to be a primary factor for bands and fans alike, no record stands out to me more than Gorod’s A Perfect Absolution. It doesn’t quite top 2009’s Process of a New Decline, but it damn well comes as close as possible to it. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I would’ve been that happy with a Process Pt.2 anyway, so the tweak in the band’s sound is a welcome one. And when you get past the novelty of this change, what you have here is a showcase not just of dazzling musicianship, but of unparalleled songwriting as well, with the epic “Carved in the Wind” being my most played song of 2012. I rarely have a sentimental connection with death metal (despite listening to it frequently), but Gorod is so brilliant that this isn’t an issue whatsoever. Lyrics, vocals, guitars, bass, drums, structure, production, cover art, you name it – it all comes together to form pure perfection, even on a release that isn’t their best. In fact, A Perfect Absolution is, at the end of the day, the only album of this whole year with which I wouldn’t change a single thing.
Favorite tracks: “Carved in the Wind”, “Sailing into the Earth”
The Next 10 (in no order):
Sophicide – Perdition of the Sublime (tech death)
De Lirium’s Order – Veniversum (tech/prog death)
Veil of Maya – Eclipse (deathcore)
Allegaeon – Formshifter (melodeath)
Alcest – Les Voyages De L’Âme (post-black)
Ne Obliviscaris – Portal of I (prog/black/wat)
Trepalium – H.N.P. (groove)
Dyscarnate – And so it Came to Pass (death)
Enslaved – RIITIIR (prog/black)
Whitechapel – Whitechapel (deathcore)
The Year in Non-Metal:
That’s not all, folks! Although I limited my list to metal releases only, I certainly enjoyed a lot of albums from other genres just as much, or in some cases even more! Like I said before, jazz is the ‘it’ genre for me along with metal, and it, too, saw a plethora of quality material come out. In fact, if I was to include some of these albums in the above list, Trioscapes, Diablo Swing Orchestra, and Thank You Scientist (which I already raved about) would all pop up at least in the top 10; T.R.A.M. wouldn’t be too far behind, either. Elsewhere, in the realm of electronic music, everybody’s favorite trip-hop/ambient/dream pop hybrid Air released another stellar record in Le Voyage Dans la Lune (A trip to the moon), which doubled as a score for the remake of the 1902 classic film of the same name. Also returning to the forefront of electronica were Dutch drum ‘n’ bass/dubstep maestros Black Sun Empire, who again floored me with their 28 tracks-long From the Shadows. Speaking of genre hybrids, my favorite local band Superhiks completed their first effort in four years, putting out a superb collection of ska, punk, jazz, rock, funk, and folk with Afrika. And lastly, I definitely can’t forget the whacked-out-yet-laid-back funk of LVM Trio, who swooped in at the very end of 2012 to put out the grooviest release of them all. Like I said, it has been a phenomenal year indeed.
Song of the Year: Thank You Scientist – Suspicious Waveforms
Video of the Year: Revocation – The Grip Tightens