And why not YOU? We invite you, readers of our small-time, intermittently updated blog, to put your 2012 top 10s in a comment at the end of this post. Be a part of this thing, or just feed us some stuff we may have missed.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more in 2013.
Jon Dangerous, Uncle K and lxp
A review of a year in which so many heavyweight bands have released albums of extremely high quality cannot take place without some form of tip of the hat in acknowledgement. High On Fire, Saint Vitus, Baroness, Neurosis, Torche, Pig Destroyer, Municipal Waste...I mean, the list goes on and on. And for the record I own and spun the bejesus out of all of these. However, I feel I should throw out some cyber vomit that, like observing some epic artwork, focuses on some of the finer points and some overlooked releases that perhaps may not have caught the imagination of some in the media, or indeed a few readers. Here are my arguments for my favorite albums of 2012.
1. Converge - All We Love We Leave Behind
I think pound for pound, All We Love We Leave Behind, Converge’s latest slab is the best of the lot, as yet again, the band has managed to strike deep at the heart of the statement "expect the unexpected".
2. Pallbearer - Sorrow and Extinction
This was easily the biggest surprise and the highlight of the year for me because I totally didn’t see it coming at all! In fact, I ordered this after a recommendation from Shane from 4Dead, not expecting much at all. But I was also ordering Samothrace’s latest offering and figured I’d chuck it in to make the postage worthwhile. Classic start, acoustic slow, yeah I know what this is...oh wait, no I don’t. BAM! I seriously can only think of a handful of words to describe this release; soaring, cosmic, epic and just WOW. Really a huge surprise. I STILL can’t stop listening to this album, months after purchasing it. What makes this so good is that I NEVER saw it coming! One of my hugest regrets this year is missing this band along with Samothrace and Royal Thunder on the one bill a few months back, 'cause I had my dates wrong. I still wanna punch myself in the dick just thinking about it, especially since I spent the night sitting on the couch drinking shitty, cheap lite beer thinking I had nothing to do until the next night!
3. Witchcraft - Legend
Ok, this isn’t under the radar at all. So why the exception, you ask? Perhaps it’s due to the subtle shift overall that the band has made with this release. Nigel Melder (Trial and Error Records/Mindsnare/all around nice guy) once said to me you can’t keep making the same album over and over. Since The Alchemist was released, Graveyard have really kicked on and had some killer releases and Kadavar, Horisont and a plethora of other bands have done so as well, all producing that similar Pentagram/Sabbath style of classic blues based, stoner/old school doom. This is the thing about innovators: they set the tone and others follow, rip off and reproduce. Witchcraft have done it again, throwing in a googly or a zooter, or whatever it is, that would have Warney lost for words.
4. Serpentine Path - S/T
I already wrote a piece on this, and have just chucked it back on the turntable. Yep, great sample to get things going. Definitely makes me want to wind back the clock and suck down a bong in the back of a shitty old blue Ford Laser in the ANU carpark. The surprising thing about this release is that, although lots of people like it, particularly people who I really respect with regards to their taste and involvement in heavy music, it seems to have been left off most end of year lists! Bleak. It just sounds fucking bleak!
5. Turbonegro - Sexual Harassment
Why is this not in most top albums of the year lists? This is catchy as all fuck and, in fact, I will go ahead and say it...I actually like it better than some of the later Hank-era releases. It has real cojones, the kind you get from smoking too much, growing your beard, drinking whiskey and eating red meat. Compared to Retox, this is the equivalent of rubbing two red bricks together, in a good way. Gritty, substantially heavy, dirty, punk rock ‘n roll. And solid as fuck, actually.
6. Nachtmystium - Silencing Machine
Yeah ok, are you done with the hipster black metal ribbing? Ok, good. I never saw this band as “black metal” by definition, and they have really had some diverse and interesting releases with Sanford Parker in the lineup. This latest offering finds them stripping back some of the cleaner production and returning to a dirtier sound, as well as a smashing out a generally faster pace with increased attack in the songs.
7. Samothrace - Reverence to Stone
My opinion is that this band is MASSIVELY underrated. I loved their last release, Life’s Trade and was on the lookout for Reverence to Stone since I caught wind of them returning to the studio. Like Pallbearer, this band has that epic thing going on. However, their music really is allowed to breathe, with the vocals being placed sparingly, or even withheld. When the vocals do kick in, they come on like a sonic eclipse, blanketing all. But before you know it, they’re gone and there’s another crushing riff and two minutes of atmospheric, passionate, sincere and grandiose music before the next line.
8. 16 - Deep Cuts From Dark Clouds
This is another release that seems to have slipped past without anyone really noticing. It came out earlier in the year, and in such a strong year with regard to releases, I can only assume that it fell through the cracks. That and the fact that I am a big fan of 16 and maybe not so many others are? Always groove oriented, 16's recent releases are as pummeling and as fucked up as they were back in the day. If you feel that whole 90’s vibe of groove-laden, mid-paced stuff, this definitely doesn’t disappoint.
9. Old Man Gloom - NO
This release has been totally glossed over by most in their annual reviews, however it is probably the group's most instantly engaging and immediately gratifying effort to date. It makes me want to get drunk late on a "school night" on harsh cheap liquor, and proceed to run around the neighborhood setting things on fire. I am simply at a loss as to how this album seemed to generate so much excitement prior to its release, and then almost disappear into the ether post its initial release! THE BAND IS EVEN TOURING THIS RELEASE TO AUSTRALIA FOR FUCK’S SAKE!!! (This fact still has me seething with anger as I cannot make the shows. Am I EVER going to see this fucking band?!?!?!) And, as if I needed to convince and cajole you further, I will complete my argument by simply saying: "Aaron Turner’s vocals"; dueling guitar overdubs on "Regain/Rejoin"; and the line, “Higher, higher burning fire...” on "To Carry the Flame".
10. Horseback - Halfblood
More repetitive, brooding, blackened, haunting, country-esque soundscapes from Horseback (I mean, c’mon, how the fuck DO you describe what they put together?). I don’t seem to get tired of their releases and thoroughly enjoy blaring them on the car stereo on long drives, or spinning this record at full bore whilst pottering around the house. For mine, they seem to find the audio equivalent to the period just between wake and sleep. It has definitely been difficult to remove this LP from the turntable this year.
Honorable mentions, and stuff I bought that I haven’t got my head fully around or listened to enough yet, but have enjoyed on my first few spins:
Burning Love - Rotten Thing To Say
Hooded Menace - Effigies of Evil
Earth - Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II
Horisont - Second Assault
Black Breath - Sentenced to Life
Nate Hall - A Great River
1. Aluk Todolo - Occult Rock
Blackened pyschedelic kraut rock is the best description I've read to describe this French instrumental act. This double LP is epic and crushing and I wait with great anticipation for its arrival in the mail so I can fully absorb it.
2. Black Magician - Nature Is The Devil's Church
Liverpudlian doomsters have released a monster of a debut. Five tracks of tales of English history and folklore. Massive riffs and wonderfully used Hammond organ combined with epic vocals that have a distinct early Cathedral edge. Not just one of the best doom releases of 2012, but of the last 5 years. BRING OUT YOUR DEAD!!!
3. Ancestors - In Dreams and Time
Ancestors up the ante again. They have combined their earlier stoner prog/psych moments with the ambient/lighter moments of their last EP, The Invisible White to stunning effect. This is another double LP release, which has a real atmospheric, dreamy feel. And with tracks lasting from 6 to 19 minutes it takes plenty of twists and turns. Highly recommended.
4. Converge - All We Love We Leave Behind
Kind of lost interest with Converge over the last few releases, unfairly I'd say, as the musicianship has always been top notch, but I have always found Jacob Bannon's vocals hard work. This new release has ticked all the right boxes and the vocals seem to have more range and not so much whine. Very much looking forward to their return to Australia in 2013 with Old Man Gloom in tow.
5. Old Man Gloom - NO
Originally not in my top ten, but repeated listens over the Xmas break have shifted it up the standings. OMG have always been a favourite of mine due to their ability to write some of the heaviest, most crushing, catchy riffs around, and they don't disappoint with NO. They are still mixing the droney noisescapes with mammoth riffs - I know the droney parts annoy some folk but I think they just add to the suspense of the monster riff that is around the corner. Very much looking forward to crossing them off my to-see-live list in the New Year.
6. The Kill - Make 'Em Suffer
Hellbourne grind kings return with their first full length in an eternity and it's a 19 minute blistering raging blastfest. Ahib (Roby), Jay and Nik have really delivered a cracker and even thrown in a cover of Slayer's 'Necrophobic' that peels paint. I am really stoked for the lads as they are also top gents and always make my trips down to Melbourne more enjoyable. And Roby also runs the excellent cheap distro Blastasfuk. Cannot wait for Obscene Extreme Australia in Melbourne in April.
7. Witch Mountain - Cauldron of the Wild
Bluesy doomy rockers from Portland, Oregon showed plenty of potential on their 2011 return South of Salem. Their latest, Cauldron of the Wild shows even more improvement. The gorgeous Ula Plotkin's haunting, hypnotic vocal performance really sets up a flawless release.
8. Tragedy - Darker Days Ahead
The roaring d-beat/doom/punk masters return with their first album in 6 years, and it's well worth the wait. It's closer to metal than their punk rock roots of the past - this isn't bad thing. They have always had the DIY punk values and still do, but the production on this massive. The soaring vocal melodies and deep roar are still present - vocalist Todd Burdette even sounds like local legend Adam Agius (Alchemist/Levitation Hex) at times. Another band touring Australia for the first time in 2013, check them out.
9. Windhand - S/T
Richmond, Virginia's Windhand (featuring members of Facedowninshit and Alabama Thunderpussy) have released a killer debut of Wizardy/Sabbathy sounding doom that has a real swagger. Nothing too fancy going on here, just catchy, heavy doom with amazing female vocals. Get on it.
10. Neurosis - Honor Found in Decay
Probably the band with the most consistently good releases over the last 15 years, so I waited with great anticipation for this one. Not disappointed at all but it has not hit the mark quite like some of 2012's other highlights. I'm sure with more listens it will creep up the list.
The following great releases rated highly. They did not make the cut but are well worth checking out:
Conan - Monnos
Slomatics - A Hocht
Seremonia - Rock 'n' Rollin Maailma
Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell - Don't Hear it...Fear it!
Pilgrim - Misery Wizard
1. Neurosis - Honor Found in Decay
You just cannot fuck with the masters. Neurosis’ control of their craft in creating this raw, visceral, nuanced and complex record is astounding. The use of effects to illuminate whatever shadowy spiritual plane you’re being dragged through is perfect, and never detracts from the barrage of tactile, unadulterated drums that heave with the weight of the rest of the music. Forged from experience and honesty, this is simply mind-blowing.
I was chomping at the bit for a fresh dose KWC’s sludgy noise rock, and although it’s only a few weeks old, this has burrowed right in. I love hearing a great band progress without losing their edge. This is more controlled and subtle than their previous releases, with a greater focus on melody and atmosphere. But the way the open steamrolling riffs linger to build and maintain that uncomfortable tension, while the songs churn deceptively underneath, is untouchable. A VERY close second.
3. Witchcraft - Legend
Yep, when I finally got my hands on this, I was hooked from the first spin. The band’s change of direction, flowing from a new lineup and the inclusion of a wider range of influences, made this one of the most interesting albums of the year for me. It’s still definitely Witchcraft, but it’s amazingly diverse, completely unpredictable and more fun than ever.
4. Samothrace - Reverence to Stone
Awesome. Feedback screams through enveloping, apocalyptic sludge/doom. The crumbling world’s dust settles in ominous lulls in the maelstrom. Two wizened old souls ponder the horror:
“I hear the sky torn open by forgotten gods, come to wreak devastation upon failed humanity.”
“No. That sound is the desolate realisation that there are no gods. We have done this to ourselves.”
5. Mares of Thrace - The Pilgrimage
A recommendation from Unkle K, this Canadian duo instantly grabbed me by the throat and did not let go. The Pilgrimage drips bilious, loathsome scorn, but is as dynamic as it is savage. It shreds remorselessly and torments with noise and whispers, but offers catharsis by unleashing some irresistibly brutal groove (see “The Gallwasp”). A stunning, nightmarish thrill-ride.
6. High on Fire - De Vermis Mysteriis
High on Fire’s sixth album is an absolute belter. It hits like a ton of bricks, dropped from a great height by Kurt Ballou’s monstrous recording/mix. “Madness of an Architect” was the standout track for me, an opinion that was set in stone after seeing them play it live. On a related note, getting to witness Sleep at Roadburn was nothing short of stupefying - a massive highlight.
7. Eagle Twin - The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale
Eagle Twin is a completely unique band and this is a unique, jaw-dropping record. In the review I posted back in October, I wrote that they are operating on another level. I stick by that.
8. Old Man Gloom - NO
They really brought the fucking hammer down with this tirade of smart-ass misanthropy. Feast upon it, human tapeworms. And place your fickle hope in OMG’s pledge to June's Rock-A-Rolla magazine:
“So long as humanity is in need, so long as there is suffering and injustice, so long as there are skulls that need to be not-so-gently caressed by cascading gusts of soaring riffs, Gloom will be there.”
9. Verma - EXU
Verma’s addictive heavy psych spirited me away as soon as it first floated into my head a few months ago. On EXU they took down the intensity, fenced in the improvisation and restrained the sprawling guitar eruptions. But it worked. The undulating basslines have more room to hypnotize and the ethereal vocals are free to drift in from further beyond the ebb and flow.
10. Propagandhi - Failed States
I know that among our few readers (and contributors) there are those who cannot stand this band - too preachy, cheesy, etc. But for me, Propagandhi’s anthemic explorations into personal and social complexities, set ablaze with an abiding love of thrash, always stir up some dormant sense of idealism. Failed States was no exception. Oh, and the Rod’s cover art is just swell.
First, some killer local releases that blew me away and absolutely deserve a nod:
4Dead - Anchors (Finally! Well worth the wait to hear the finished product.)
Hoodlum Shouts - Young Man Old Man
The Reverend Jesse Custer - Perpetual Victim
And finally, just because, here are a few more releases that snagged me for different reasons:
Gaza - No Absolutes in Human Suffering (So fucking intense.)
Graveyard - Lights Out
Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music (The life support system hip-hop needed.)
Krallice - Years Past Matter (Confused the shit out of me but compelled me to persevere.)
Northless/Lightbearer - Split
Titan - Burn
V/A - Hell Comes Home Vol.1 (7” subscription series - collected some ripping music from some cracking bands.)
And to wrap things up, we invited some guests to throw their lists into the mix...
JJ (I Exist/BMA 'Metalise')
1. The Kill - Make 'Em Suffer
2. High On Fire - De Vermis Mysteriis
3. Fuck I'm Dead - Another Gory Mess
4. Pig Destroyer - Book Burner
5. Saint Vitus - Lillie: F-65
6. Pallbearer - Sorrow and Extinction
7. Witchcraft - Legend
8. The Levitation Hex - S/T
9. Torche - Harmonicraft
10. King Parrot - Bite Your Head Off
1. The Kill - Make 'Em Suffer
2. Anhedonist - Netherwards
3. Dead Can Dance - Anastasis
4. Evoken - Atra Mors
5. Inverloch - Dusk | Subside
6. Converge - All We Love We Leave Behind
7. Pallbearer - Sorrow and Extinction
8. The Levitation Hex - S/T
9. Katatonia - Dead End Kings
10. Backyard Mortuary - Lure of the Occult
Shane (4Dead/Black Bong/Cutting Hose, Melting Plastic)
2. Troubled Horse - Step Inside
3. Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell - Don't Hear it...Fear it!
4. Tragedy - Darker Days Ahead
5. Pig Destroyer - Book Burner
6. Witchcraft - Legend
7. Horisont - Second Assault
8. Unsane - Wreck
9. Neurosis - Honor Found in Decay
10. Ahab - The Giant
11. Graveyard - Lights Out
12. Converge - All We Love We Leave Behind
13. Hooded Menace - Effigies of Evil
14. Old Man Gloom - NO
15. Mutilation Rites - Empyrean
16. Eagle Twin - The Feather Tipped the Serpent's Scale
17. Samothrace - Reverence to Stone
18. Torche - Harmonicraft
19. Conan - Monnos
20. Christian Mistress - Possession