This has been one hell of a year!! While most of it was spent working in Sydney, Australia (and exploring its seedy underbelly of thrash, doom, and black metal via some killer metal fests such as Evil Invaders IV and The Devil’s Arcana), as of this writing I am now back home in the forsaken prairies of the vast American Midwest, just in time for another grim winter. While I spent most of this year pretty out of the loop due to not having the time or money to read Decibel or Terrorizer and just being too damn lazy to keep up online, I feel like with this list I’m probably overlooking a lot of releases that would have made it had I been more attentive to what’s come out this year. Obviously some of the other writers on here have posted their top albums, and while I haven’t listened to a lot of those albums I’m going to use my lack of expertise in what was hot this year to cobble together a list that is unique in its development (the majority of the albums I check out are usually based on friends’ recommendations, but this year I did most of my exploring on my own due to living in another continent and being cut off from my usual magazine publications that keep me up to date). I have a feeling that if I had been back in Kansas this list would have been much different, but oh well. Here are the Top 10 albums I’ll most likely be listening to repeatedly in the future that perhaps you will enjoy exploring as well:
10. “Monolith of Inhumanity” – Cattle Decapitation
You would think that at this point the whole “Cattle Decapitation” premise would be getting pretty old. Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re a great band and were all really cool dudes when I met them (especially Travis Ryan, one of my favorite metal performers to see live!), but I just remember back in the day they got a lot of attention for being vegetarians and singing about humans being slaughtered in abattoirs and shit and there wasn’t a whole lot of focus on their actual music. 10 years later and 5 full-lengths in, half of the band isn’t even vegetarian anymore and I was really disappointed when they lost the fat dude with the beard on bass (replaced, I should note, by local band Origin’s very own Derek Engemann, small world!). You’d think they’d be losing steam, but holy shit did they kick the shit out of everyone with “Monolith of Inhumanity”! While I think it might be SLIGHTLY overhyped (and a little redundant from a songwriting perspective), it’s still easily one of the year’s best death metal albums for sure.
What does it for me on this album is almost purely David McGraw’s drum performance and the drum production as a whole. I haven’t heard drums sound this good in a long time…I usually describe it as a “punchy” sort of sound, but that just sounds kind of dumb…just listen to them, you’ll know what I mean! I can’t get enough of that drum sound, it’s just so polished-sounding and crisp without crowding the mix. Needless to say, McGraw is a fucking BEAST on this recording, he’s all over the place and I’m sure doing really complicated shit as well…I have a hard time listening to the rest of the album just because I like the way the drums sound so much!! My vote for the drummer of the year!
Everyone else sounds great too, especially the fucking insane vokillz!! Ryan viciously screams, growls, and rasps with extreme malice and venom throughout the entire album (although I’m not too sure about the Devin Townsend-esque semi-clean vocals, but whatevs)!
If you want to get crazy you can watch the really gross video for “Forced Gender Reassignment” here!
9. “Blood Fetish” – Putrid Pile
Although a pretty big name in the brutal death/slam scene, I feel like Putrid Pile is always overlooked! I really enjoyed “House of Dementia” from 2009 but I don’t really remember it generating much buzz among critic picks for best of the year. “Blood Fetish” is just as good, with pretty much everything you would expect– sick guttural vokillz and disgusting lyrics (Shaun LaCanne is probably not OK mentally), catchy, brutal riffs with the occasional slam breakdown, and a surprisingly good production job for being what is essentially bedroom death metal.
What I really like about LaCanne’s guitar playing is that he doesn’t get too nutty or ambitious by attempting to be overly-technical or fancy, just straight-to-the-point, unpretentious brutality and no-frills drums (which always sound crisp and punchy without being too mechanical-sounding, extremely important if your drums are going to be programmed IMO). This would be a blast to see live!!
8. “And So It Came To Pass” – Dyscarnate
If there was one death metal album that came out this year that I’d say is a perfect companion to an intense workout with your bros (“bro metal”), you can’t go wrong with the new Dyscarnate joint. They combine killer production, brutality, slam/groove, and surprisingly catchy songs compared to most of the other br00tal shit that came out this year. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call this slam, it still makes me want to wear a sideways cap (or at least wear it at a jaunty angle), mesh gym shorts, and prepare to get completely pummelled in the pit. With songs like these, I find it hard to believe that these dudes wouldn’t kill it live on a regular basis. Oh, and to top it all off their promo pics look like they just got finished with their menswear catalogue photo shoot and didn’t have time to change and just said fuck it. Who knows, maybe they don’t even like metal but are just really disgruntled office employees.
Seriously though…brutal, slamming DM band’s promo pic, or extras from a Brooks Brothers Men’s Catalogue (Fall Edition 2012) photo shoot?
Anyway, all jokes aside this is obviously one of my favorite death metal albums of the year, and if you like your slam/brutal DM slickly-produced (for once) with some top-notch performances, check this out!!
7. “Legend” – Witchcraft
It looks like the past few years have been rough on Witchcraft. I’m not too sure on the exact details of the all the drama that went down but they look like a different band at this point! Magnus even cut his hair 🙁
Anyway, I know the one they call (The Malicious Intent Blog’s very own) Cate the Great wasn’t too keen on this latest album, I really enjoyed it!! The experimentation from “The Alchemist” is still there, but without getting nutty and ruining the whole proto-doom/psychedelic rock atmosphere that’s at the core of the band’s sound. Passionate vocal delivery, memorable melodies and riffs, and overall just a really solid album. It’s definitely great to put on if you’re getting rowdy at a party or just hanging out with friends (or having sex for that matter, whatever)…a lot of metal (especially the metal I like) doesn’t really fit that description, but then again I haven’t considered Witchcraft a metal band for quite some time, if ever really…haha therefore I guess they don’t belong on this list, but who cares. While I can’t say that if you like their previous albums you’ll enjoy this one, don’t let Cate the Great scare you off! Light up a doobie with your friends or loved one(s) and have fun!! “Legend” is definitely an album you could put on that would satisfy many a metalhead as well as those who prefer non-metallic shit as well! Killer band!!
6. “I Begin” – God Seed
After King ov Hell dropped the turd of an album that was “The Underworld Regime” (which was supposed to be God Seed’s debut album but obviously Gaahl was too embarrassed to have his name attached to it; King got Shagrath to do vocals instead lol), my hopes were not high for “I Begin”. If “The Underworld Regime” was the best that King and Gaahl could come up with after splitting away from Gorgoroth, I was going to have to side with Team Infernus. However, I was pleasantly surprised with this new album!! While Gaahl’s vocals are as venomous and versatile as ever and the rest of the band’s playing and songwriting is quite strong, what truly impressed me was the atmosphere Geir Bratland brought to the mix with his experimental, psychedelic keyboard wizardry. While at times it’s just kind of weird (like on “Aldrande Tre”), other times he fucking NAILS it (check out the second half or so of “This From the Past”!! I feel like it’s the soundtrack to Gaahl taking too much LSD or something and standing on a mountain contemplating the cosmos or some shit. Also check out the album’s bizarre single “Alt Liv”, which they also produced a cryptic music video for. While sometimes I find the whole 70’s keyboards thing kind of irritating in metal (see Borknagar’s later shit or some of Amorphis’ stuff) just because I think it just makes it sound more “zany” than anything, Bratland definitely knew what he was doing on here. Anyway, besides that I highly recommend it if you like your black metal weird and want to explore an interesting, multi-dimensional album!
I can’t find “This From the Past” on Youtube, but you should definitely check it out (via Spotify or whatever), as it’s definitely one of my favorites of the year (especially the second half!!).
5. “Sorrow and Extinction” – Pallbearer
Everyone was all over Pallbearer’s nuts this year, and for good reason!! They came out of nowhere with their well-crafted brand of crushing doom, but still kept it real with their soaring vocals and some beautiful melodies intertwined with their funereal dirges of oblivion and woe. What really does it for me on this album are Brett Campbell’s vocals! Just listen to “Foreigner” or “The Legend” and you’ll see what I mean, as his style is far from original (similar to Ozzy-era Black Sabbath or Zeeb Parkes of Witchfinder General), holy shit does he nail that delivery perfectly without going overboard. I also really enjoyed the dual guitar harmonies as well!! While I still wouldn’t say this is an amazing album, if you’re a doom fan or don’t like harsh vokills in your metal but still dig the heavy sound (??) then I’ll bet you just might dig this album! Just get yourself into an altered state of irreversible misery and cry yourself to sleep, this album is the perfect soundtrack!!
4. “Umskiptar” – Burzum
Ah yes, the ol’ Burzum dilemma. I’m not going to get into all the drama or pro/anti “fan of the music, not the artist” arguments, and am just going to specifically focus on my own thoughts regarding the album and where I feel Varg’s coming from, based on his own ludicrous rants and cringe-worthy commentary on the state of the world that can be seen on Burzum’s official website.
Anyway, “Umskiptar” is a weird album, to be sure. Compared to his pre-prison releases, the new Burzum is less heavy, more experimental, and yet still retains that dirty, adventurous, bold “Burzum” sound that’s always been there. While thematically the album is supposed to revolve around Norse mythology and the Völuspá and all that, honestly I don’t feel that imagery at all while listening to it. Instead, I just think about Varg himself, his writings, and his current feelings towards the state of the world…sadness, fear, despair, and a longing for the world to in reality be how it should be in his own imagination. On his website he rambles on about how fucked up and corrupt the world is and how Europe has lost its way and blah blah, yet he’s constantly providing updates on his own RPG that he’s developing (lol except I am actually pretty excited about this), his fantasy novel, and pseudo-scholarly writings on pagan Europe. I guess I can see where people are coming from when they talk about how it’s difficult for them to enjoy Burzum’s music because Varg is vehemently racist, a murderer, arsonist, etc., because I have difficulty not thinking of all the current events that I can only assume are the true inspirations for his music, from which all this mythological imagery seems to just be a cover or allegory.
Obviously, I could be mistaken since I don’t know anything about the Völuspá, its story, or what’s really going on in Varg’s mind, but while listening to “Umskiptar” I couldn’t help but imagine myself suddenly looking through the world from the eyes of Mr. Vikernes- his anxiety/dread over the potential collapse of the Eurozone/European Union, the massive influx of immigrants (specifically, Muslims) to Western Europe and its resulting change in racial demographics and the problems that may come with it (or not, hopefully), the supposed lack of values of modern day European society, etc. Or who knows, maybe what’s really bugging him is that he has no one to playtest his new RPG with because his kids aren’t old enough yet to get it, his wife thinks RPGs are gay, and his neighbors are all old and only speak French (I guess Varg lives in France now).
Seriously though, from a purely musical perspective I really enjoyed this album!! While at times it’s a little clunky (and a little boring and dull), his songwriting is just as good as any other new Burzum album. I honestly feel like Varg is one of the most underrated metal guitarists because while he’s no Steve Vai, the shit he comes up with such a limited style and sound is always amazingly creative. One of the best examples of this is on my favorite track, “Valgaldr”…it starts off kind of weird, but around the 3:00 mark it really starts to pick up, and by the end of it I feel like I’ve listened to something like a black metal requiem for Europe. Listen to how he combines layers of those guitar tracks together along with the vocals!! I remember walking along the highway in North Sydney in the rain and just really feeling this song…it’s just so sad, yet kind of dream-like as well!! It always makes me think of man’s place in the cosmos, the current state of European politics, forgotten gods, cavemen in bear cults, and shit like that. Yeah, it’s also honestly pretty goofy, but I guess that just comes with listening to any metal, really.
3. “Becoming” – Abigail Williams
Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking. If you didn’t read my previous post I wrote on these guys and want to know what the deal is, feel free to check it out! I’m too lazy to go into it here, except I will say that I might have overreacted slightly when I first heard this album earlier this year, but that’s not to say that it’s still not deserving of a place on my Top 10!!
Anyway, I knew something was up when I started listening to the first track and it reminded me of an outtake from the Heroes of Might and Magic 3 soundtrack until the guitars kicked in. After that I wasn’t exactly surprised when it became clear that Abigail Williams had changed their style yet again, but what did surprise me was that they really seemed to get it right this time and seemed confident and comfortable at the same time, as if they’d been playing this style the whole time.
While some of the songs go on for too long and suffer from too much experimental indulgence (and perhaps even come off at times as slightly pretentious or goofy- a good example of this is the throwaway interlude track “Three Days of Darkness” which seems like it was co-produced by Yanni) or just get kind of boring, overall this album is quite strong- great production, solid musicianship, and just a general feeling of freshness and inspiration…even if they are just ripping off post-black metal darlings such as Wolves in the Throne Room, Altar of Plagues, and Nachtmystium.
What I like about this song is that it has so many gorgeous moments which contrast well with the harshness of the music and production. When I listen to this song I always get this scene in my head of some dude really high on opium and the Titanic just crashed into the iceberg and he’s trying to make it out alive. Kind of reminds me of a cross between the end of the movie Titanic mixed with the game S.O.S. on SNES…I used to play that game with my buddy Braden when we were kids (who’s involved with D&D metallers Accursed Wound). Maybe try listening to the song while watching this youtube video of some serious S.O.S. gameplay!!
Anyway, the strings and weird synth effects work really well and definitely make this one of the better experimental BM songs that came out this year.
2. “Time I” – Wintersun
Ah yes, the infamous “Time” album from Wintersun. Besides the really long songs, it’s pretty much what you would expect from everyone’s favorite “Extreme Majestic Technical Epic Melodic Metal” band from Finland (apparently Wintersun’s own official classification of itself as a metal genre), but with a strong Eastern/Oriental flourish (especially on the intro track, “When Time Fades Away“). Probably a reference to Mists of Pandaria and how addicted Jari still is to WoW (zing).
While it’s already semi-embarrassing that I’m still a giant metal fan, I’m not self-conscious enough to be weird when Cannibal Corpse or something comes on when I’m in mixed company, but I’d seriously have a hard time legitimately trying to explain to any normal person why I love Wintersun so much and how listening to them sweeps away to a land of frozen forests and misty crags upon which winter wizards of the grim Northern Wastes go to battle with forgotten arcane magic(k)al sorcery and unicorns triumphantly–
You get the idea. Either you love this shit or you don’t, but there’s no denying that Jari and co. are amazing musicians, and while perhaps this album isn’t amazing enough to have to be 8 fucking years in the making (we’ll see how the other half of the album goes whenever the shit that’s released!!), I definitely worked on my Pathfinder (similar to D&D haaaa) campaign more than once while listening to this album. Definitely my guiltiest pleasure on this list!! At least it’s not like Nightwish or something though, right (I did secretly kind of like “Dark Passion Play” and all of their shit with Tarja tho :/)??
It’s too bad that Wintersun never released a real music video for a song off this album, but can you really blame them?? Besides the two instrumental tracks, the shortest song is over 8 minutes. Anyway, this is the best I could do. LOL at Jari Mäenpää’s fashion sense, but I do really like the music.
1. “777 – Cosmosophy” – Blut aus Nord
My favorite metal release of 2012!! Whenever I listen to Blut aus Nord I always have visions of a vast, hyper-futuristic, dystopian metropolis where everything is just really fucked (basically this). I’m sure Vindsval has other shit in mind with his lyrics that involve astral projection and gnostic mysticism or whatever, but that’s what his music makes me think of. That or being on heavy-duty psychedelics while being lost in space…constantly distracted by the beauty of the cosmos while also being absolutely fucking terrified. Yeah yeah, I know that obviously you don’t need to be lost in outer space for that to happen to you, but it’s an extremely important detail when I imagine this scene when listening to BaN. Just like the cover art and previous albums, “777 – Cosmosophy” is creepy, cold, etherial, weird, and at times quite beautiful. Vindsval’s soaring clean vocals kind of remind me of Ihsahn’s epic vocals in some of Emperor’s later stuff, except more removed and distant…it’s a great match with the meandering, at times even broken-sounding riffs and mechanical drums.
It’s important to listen to this album when you’re not doing anything distracting…check this album out when you’re laying in bed at night in complete darkness and focus on following the music. I first tried to listen to it while doing yardwork for a family friend in the middle of the day and thought it was pretty boring. I hate to describe albums as “growers” but I guess that’s what this record was to me. One day I plan on listening to the entire “777” trilogy all the way through, but for now I’d say perhaps “Cosmosophy” is my favorite of the three. This definitely isn’t for everyone, but if it sounds intriguing to you then definitely check it out!!
On a separate note, is it bad that my truly favorite album of 2012 wasn’t even a metal album? It wasn’t even an “album” (in the technical sense) either!! Chief Keef‘s “Back From the Dead” mixtape was one hell of a compilation, and even though it seems like everyone’s pretty over the whole “Don’t Like” craze/meme I still feel like this is a great release! Also, I still haven’t heard Chief Keef’s debut album “Finally Rich” which came out this year, but I’m sure it’s just as good!
(The video that started it all…)
I remember walking around Sydney while listening to this on my iPod and feeling so fucking cool. One of my favorite experiences was listening to the entire album while I was drinking by myself at The Star Bar and digging how it just kept on getting better with each song. Every time I heard “Midwest kush, bitch!” I remember walking around and thinking, “yeah, we don’t fuck around in the Midwest! You bitches better not fuck with me!”…even though I’m white, from the suburbs of a progressive college town in Kansas, and was raised by parents that had academic backgrounds in the liberal arts. No one in The Star Bar knew that though (or would really care either way, I suppose) 😀
(I prefer the “Back From the Dead” version, but whatever)
I think what really does it for me is not really Chief Keef’s lyrics (which are actually surprisingly well-done given his really simple vocal delivery) or style but Young Chop‘s killer beats!!
Anyway, thanks for taking the time to check this out, feel free to leave any comments and let me know what you think! I’m definitely going to do a much better job of keeping up with metal for 2013 and plan on blogging more (as well as joining up with Judge Dredd and his current invasion of South Korea), so keep your eye on the good ol’ Malicious Intent blog for updates!!