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Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 50 Albums of 2012

I think this year has held a lot more surprises for me than the last few have, with a lot of unexpected gems popping up in favor of some of the bigger and more pronounced releases. Unfortunately I didn't get to every album I would have liked to, but I'm going to try a little harder to prioritize things in 2013. Having said that, I'd like to thank some people for turning me onto more than a few releases on here. Thanks to Jon and the writers at The Inarguable, Harold over at Hammer Smashed Sound, Anthony Fantano at TheNeedleDrop, Jolocho, and then to all the labels, bands, and PR companies who have sent me stuff for review. On with the list!

50) Monuments - Gnosis [Century Media]
Ok, since there will be some people asking or questioning why I'm placing djent on here - I like djent (get over it). Moving on from that, this debut from Monuments was among the most anticipated releases from the genre this year, and I was certainly skeptical of it at first but it was an album I kept returning to. It's a pretty short album , so it doesn't overstay its welcome and the songs are just heavy and fun to listen to on repeat. With as much serious and experimental music out there, it's nice to have a fun record that is actually features interesting patterns and structures. So if you're interested in hearing a fun and groovy record, this one is for you.
Highlight: Doxa

49) Northumbria - Northumbria [TQA]
Maybe a bit of a shock to see this album on here but I thought this was a really interesting record. I have never heard another album do what this one does and the duo who created it really did something special on here. It's as if Sigur Ros decided to try their hand at writing Sunn 0))) styled drone metal; so as you'd probably imagine from that description, it's beautiful and fragile but very crushing and monolithic at the same time. If you can get through the harshness of the opening track, the rest of the album is a real treat for fans of the more spacious side of music. It's for sure not an album for everyone, but it's an album that I think stood out this year and I hope to hear more from these guys in the future.
Highlight: Threnody

48) Venowl - Patterns of Failure [Independent]
If you've ever wondered what the musical equivalent of Roland Joffé's Captivity would be look no further. The three tracks that comprise this release are the sounds of slow, mechanical torture devices turning and grinding against flesh and bone. Granted, I think this is much better than that aforementioned film, but you get my point. It's a somewhat arduous and painful experience, what with all the feedback and droning low-end filling the background it's enough to make you want to bash your head into the wall - and I mean that as the highest of compliments. To cause a physical reaction is one of the highest levels I think a record can achieve. So if you're looking for the most amazing torture soundtrack released this year - then go buy this album.
Highlight: Patterns of Failure

47) William Fowler Collins - Tenebroso [Handmade Birds]
Of all the albums that have made it onto this list, this was the one that I struggled with the most. If you look back at my review for this album, it's clear that I like the album, but when stacked up against a lot of other albums I really had and pinpoint exactly how much I liked it. It was probably the album that went in and out of this list the most but in the end it obviously triumphed and wound up on here. William Fowler Collins knows how to create some desert drones that are pretty unequaled in his respective genres, and even at his darkest and most noise-laden, those drones still maintain a sense of intimacy that is both claustrophobic and calming at once.
Highlight: What We Are Now You Will Be

46) Elysian Blaze - Blood Geometry [Osmose Productions]
Back when this album was being released, as far as I know, everyone around was saying how great it is - including myself - but it seems like a lot of people just haven't remembered it now that it's at the end of the year. Unlike some of the other albums on this list where I feel like that's been the case, I can see why this album may not have had the staying power as some other records seeing that it tops two hours in length. That, and it's a funeral doom album no less. So you have a really low, really slow, and really atmospheric metal record - somehow despite all the critical praise, I don't think a lot of people have the patience to listen to this on repeat. It's a problem I'm certainly not exempt from, but I made time since I got it on vinyl - and it would have been wrong to leave out such a great album just because of how long it is.
Highlight: Blood of Ancients, Blood of Hatred

45) Circle of Ouroborus - Abrahadabra [Kuunpalvelus]
The CoO duo release so much material in a year's time that it's hard to narrow down one album as the one that stands above the rest, but for this year, I found that the one I returned to the most was Abrahadabra. Being a nice middle-ground between their more post-punk/shoegaze sound and the raw black metal that some of their more recent EPs and demos have showcased I found it more engaging than some of their more strictly atmospheric driven releases. Songwriting wise, this was one of their albums that I found the most memorable, with several songs sticking with me long after the album had finished - which, despite my adoration and admiration for the duo, I can't say is the case for everything they release. I'm certainly not going to say this is the best thing that they released this year, but it was my favorite and hopefully you'll give it a shot if you haven't already.
Highlight: Like Silent Meadows

44) Locrian & Christoph Heemann - Locrian & Christoph Heemann [Handmade Birds]
As someone who had never heard any of Christoph Heemann's material before listening to this collaboration, I was impressed. Yes, it was not as aggressive as I think I had wanted it to be, but after numerous listens, I think I've finally come to terms with this album. It's a post-modern piece of drone music, like the soundtrack to a futuristic world dying. The cities are destroyed, the skies are grey, nature is either dying or already dead, and humanity has all but perished - an extremely bleak outlook on the future and maybe that's what these guys were going for because it's certainly a dark album. Brooding ambiance with occasional bursts of distortion or noise to interrupt the endless calm that the album creates. I can't really say it's an "exciting" album but more of a solemn depiction of our own destitute future.
Highlight: Edgeless City

43) Netra - Sørbyen [Hypnotic Dirge]
Obviously this is the most recent addition to this list but it's an album that thought was strong enough to make it on. Steven Le Moan's blend of black metal, trip-hop, and blues on this album was damn near flawless in my opinion and a huge step up in quality from his full-length debut. The songwriting on this album was just so much stronger than what I expected and the fusion was a lot more seamless than before as well. This was just one of those albums that really sideswiped me, cause I thought it would be good, but I didn't think it would be "this good." It's an album that is both chooses to be both catchy while remaining true to its own personality and not conforming a strict style. Sometimes it's like Blut Aus Nord doing a pop record while other times it's like Massive Attack teaming up with Mayhem. It's badass and you know it.
Highlight: A Dance With The Asphalt

42) Syqem - Reflections of Elephants [Independent]
For a record with as much mainstream appeal as this one has it's a bit of surprise to have seen so little press for it. Ever since the djent sound blew up a couple of years ago I had always wondered when it was that a band would take that low-end groove sound and apply it to a more alternative rock sound - this is that band. This honestly would have been higher on here if it didn't have all those dubstep wubs thrown in these songs - something I absolutely detest but am actually able to tolerate because the songs are just so damn catchy. Like all good alternative rock, the melodies need to be strong and this album is filled to the brim with huge grooves and choruses. Definitely a surprise from this year.
Highlight: Attack of The Elephants

41) The Omega Experiment - The Omega Experiment [Independent]
It seems like after the initial release of this album, a lot of people just sort of forgot about The Omega Experiment. To me, they were one of the first exciting new bands to release an album this year. I still remember being utterly shocked at how much I enjoyed this album, it was catchy, but had this extremely layered and huge sounding production, while recalling the ideas of a younger Devin Townsend. All that, and it owes a debt to 80s hard rock and arena rock, taking influences from groups I really don't like (Journey and Styx) and makes them actually worth something (hate if you will) by recalling their pop sensibilities within these more progressive structures.
Highlight: Furor

40) Aluk Todolo - Occult Rock [Norma Evangelium Diaboli]
Underground experimental krautrock trio turns up the metal on their new album, sign me up! In the past Aluk Todolo have always appeared to me to be a trio who used the influence of black and doom metal as an atmospheric device in their songs, but on this one, they really bring out those influences and make some really interesting songs. Obviously a double-album where songs grow very slowly (even when they're blasting) may not seem like a ringing endorsement, but it's a really great piece of work. I don't smoke but I'd imagine that getting high to this record would be one hell of an experience. I think it's the trio's best material to date.
Highlight: Occult Rock II

39) Waning - The Human Condition [Antonym]
Imagine a band that takes the sensibilities of the post-black metal genre, but makes them darker, less clear and clean, and more modernized, and that's what you have in this record. Painting a portrait of an industrialized world filled where the skies are darkened and the lights are dull with people just aching to leave, I think is an impressive thing to portray in a record. It's dynamic and filled with interesting ideas that you won't hear in every other band that is tagged as being "post" or to an extent even "progressive". It takes the best parts of the post-rock and industrial influenced genres and does something interesting and impressive with them - which is more than I can say for many other bands aping the "post" sound in the last two or three years. Since the record came out earlier this year and I hope that this should help bring some attention back to the album.
Highlight: Continuum

38) Omega Centauri - Universum Infinitum [Duplicate]
The wait for this album was not a waste as Omega Centauri prove with their debut full-length. This is a great piece of progressive black metal, or post-black metal, depending on how you view it. It takes you right into the eye of a typhoon and just engulfs you with riffs that whirl around and around while the atmosphere all around is somehow at peace with it. Dissonance without ever sounding chaotic or caustic, ambient without ever coming across as minimal or trendy. This is pretty much the epitome of being cool in a record to me because it takes the two popular aesthetics in black metal right now, and mixes them together - yet I have not seem a huge amount of people jumping onto this record. It's great and if you haven't already heard it I'm not really sure what else to tell you.
Highlight: I Am

37) Wreathes - Wreathes [Brave Mysteries/Pesanta Urfolk]
Neo-folk on this list! What has the world come to?! No, I too have fallen prey to the power of this record and the band performing it (which my friend Jon is now apparently a member of coincidentally). While Troy Schafer and Nathaniel Ritter's main project Kinit Her is perfectly good - actually more than good in most cases but I digress, this record had a much more accessible edge with the focus being more on songwriting than setting a mood or experimenting with various instruments. As Pesanta Urfolk said in the press release for the album, it is indeed one of the most exciting records to come out from the neo-folk genre in a long time. Who knew that neo-folk could prove to have some of the most memorable songs of the year - certainly not me.
Highlight: Bones of Love

36) Vaura - Selenelion [Wierd]
One of the big surprises of this year came from the New York quartet Vaura which featured members of Kayo Dot, Secret Chiefs 3, and Dysrhythmia. The odd blend of post-rock, post-punk, and black metal comes off incredibly natural and authentic despite being the quartet's first album together. The album is huge sounding with its bright atmosphere and guitar tones, but manages to convey all the darker emotional spectrums one would come to expect from the members involved. An expression of beauty and harmony through pain and sorrow, I have yet to hear an album that personifies that as perfectly as this one does.
Highlight: Obsidian Damascene Sun

35) Neurosis - Honor Found In Decay [Neurot]
Obviously, Neurosis are a band who hold a place in many people's hearts and are a band who many believe to have never put a foot wrong. While I will say I have yet to experience a record from the band that I do not enjoy, I have a fondness for their more somber and restrained side than their balls-to-the-wall heavy one. This record is the first to take in the influences from Steve Von Till's and Scott Kelly's solo work (something I only learned through reading other reviews since I have yet to hear their solo albums). It's from that that the sparseness and fragility comes through and is probably why this has risen into one of my favorite releases from the band. It's not uber heavy with its guitar tone or overly layered with synth work, but the sound is aged and sounds like a band coming to terms with their own mortality rather than a band fighting against it.
Highlight: My Heart For Deliverance

34) GOG - Ironworks [Utech]
A huge surprise for me this year seeing as I had never thought GOG could sound so fierce and menacing. Perhaps it's the influence of black metal that drew me in, but it was the captivating noisescapes that kept me hooked. Brutal, destructive, and uncompromising, it's the sound of being engulfed by a tornado and everything around you being pull from its foundation. I loved how hatred was manifested from harsh black metal riffing and screaming to straight-up noise without sounding forced or stapled together. All things beautiful are replaced with a mournful sense of melancholy and dread - truly one of the bleakest records of the year.
Highlight: A Promised Eternity Fulfilled With Cancer

33) Wreck and Reference - No Youth [Flenser]
The young group Wreck and Reference quantum leap forward with the release of this full-length. Taking the ideas that were merely played with and hinted towards on their Black Cassette demo are embraced into the band's core sound. With everything from neo-folk to harsh noise being filtered through a new light on here, it really makes you jealous that these guys are so talented to be able to pull off all these styles so well when a majority of bands can barely do one well. It's proven to be one of the most promising releases I've heard all year and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Highlight: The Solstitial

32) Pinkish Black - Pinkish Black [Handmade Birds]
R. Loren really did a great thing when he snatched up the duo Pinkish Black and released this self-titled debut. Rarely have I seen a band who are as strange as this one get as much praise as they have (at least from what I've witnessed anyway). The duo bring together krautrock, deathrock, doom metal, black metal, and synth rock into a frankly amazing combination. What these two dudes manage to create with only drums, synthesizers, and vocals is awe-inspiring and it's great to hear that they've been stolen away by Century Media. I have nothing but respect for what these guys do because what they do is uniquely their own and I hope that they do not conform to anything but keep doing what they're doing because if this album does one thing (and it does do a lot of things quite well actually) it proves that these guys are talented and have the possibility of achieving great things.
Highlight: Passerby

31) Exotic Animal Petting Zoo - Tree of Tongues [Mediaskare]
I just loved this album from the moment I heard it. It's one of those releases where you can just tell that all the members are having a blast playing these songs and there's an energy that's just palpable and contagious in here. It's the sort of record that I think actually does justice to the band's post-hardcore genre tag. It's spastic and energetic but also melodic and groovy when the band slow down enough to allow those traits to come through. I just think it's an absolute blast to listen to and I hope that you get just as much enjoyment out of this as I do.
Highlight: Thorough.Modern

30) Botanist - III: Doom In Bloom/Allies [Totalrust]
The Botanist has returned with a new album and a new view on songwriting. While the first two records from the project were filled with short bursts of hammered-dulcimer, drums, and vocal performed black metal, this new full-length stretched things out a whole lot till it because a doom metal record. Possibly the most original take on doom metal I've heard in quite some time actually and yet it never came off a phony or like a joke, but an honest portrayal of someone making a record that is unique and interesting. I didn't find Allies quite as engaging as III: Doom In Bloom but it was a set of interesting ideas.
Highlight: Deathcap

29) Lunar Aurora - Hoagascht [Cold Dimensions]
It's unfortunate that this return for one of my favorite German bands turned out to be their swansong as well because this was a killer record. It really updated the band's sound, by taking them out of that overwhelming fog of atmosphere that each of their records had been falling deeper into. It was a more streamlined approach to songwriting and allows the guitars to actually breathe and "riffs" to emerge from out of the fog. It also takes the Lustre approach by writing solid black metal tracks and then giving them that light and airy synth melody to keep your attention. A fitting farewell to one of the best German metal groups (in my opinion).
Highlight: Im Gartn

28) Bosse-De-Nage - iii [Flenser]
Coming from someone who wasn't an immediate convert to the stylings of Bosse-De-Nage, I was very impressed with this release. Essentially, it's everything good about 90s indie rock and post-rock but put into a black metal context. So, don't expect any of these songs to feature those traditional clean passages that build and build into a giant metallic climax or a break of danceable and upbeat grooves, the four guys in this band don't break away from the distortion so readily and instead keep things very naturalistic and authentic sounding. It's not so clean and pretty as much as emotional and tense, with the softer passages sounding even more destitute and dark than the faster and metallic ones, but that's sort of why it's been a hit with so many people.
Highlight: An Ideal Ledge

27) The Boats - Ballads of The Research Department [12k]
This was a record that I thought was grossly underrated this year. In the realms of ambient music, or to an extent folk music (folktronica), I just thought this was an absolutely beautiful piece of music. Each of the four tracks is different enough to set it apart from the others but manages to work as a singular piece of music if you just let it play. Certainly not one of the more accessible records on this list, but one of the most beautiful and a record that I was extremely impressed with when I first heard it and feel even stronger about it now than I did back then.
Highlight: The Ballad of Indecision

26) A Million Dead Birds Laughing - Xen [Independent]
Every year I will hear a grindcore album, or a few, that I think are amazing and I listen to quite a bit, but whenever I'm compiling these end-of-year lists, I never feel like they're quite up to par with other albums. So it really makes me happy that I can include this record in a list of mine this year. Even though it isn't strictly a grind album and borrows from just as much tech-death, prog-rock, and sludge/doom, I'll still rank it as a grind release. I still stand by my original comparison in my review for this band, Vulture Industries gone tech-death/grind. These guys move up and down structurally while vocally Adam Stewart bounces off the walls with guttural growls, piercing screams, and Tuvan throat singing (as well as normal singing) and delivers one of my favorite vocal performances this year (a shame that apparently he's no longer a part of the band). I can only hope the band continue to make great and experimental albums like this in the future because this is really something special.
Highlight: Quantum

25) Dødkvlt - III: Domĭni Ascensiōnem [Misanthropic Art Productions]
I have covered every single Dødkvlt album at this point and have interviewed Lord Theynian twice and this is the first time one of his albums really stuck with me. Despite my problem with it being a bit overproduced, I thought that he had really come into his own on here, taking the strengths of the melodic and symphonic sub-genres of black metal and making them work in a slightly more progressive framework. He really just expanded his box and showed his range in songwriting on here and it will be tough to match this one; but he has proved himself capable at experimenting with different ideas and succeeding when he does try them.
Highlight: As I Descend Into The Bottomless Void

24) Innerty - Tabula Rasa [Independent]
There isn't much death metal on this list this year - for whatever reason, but this one crept in under the radar. Sure, to some it won't really qualify as being a death metal album because the band is "progressive" and embraces plenty of ideas from fusion, electronic music, and salsa throughout their album, and yes, there are also occasional moments of djent inspired low-end chugging, but what really impressed me about the band was how they were able to craft an album that was extremely interesting and hard-hitting while writing riffs that were extremely odd sounding. It's sort of like a modern sounding Elements (the Atheist album) in a sense, but I'd say a lot more fluid in its combination of genres. It's an album I found myself returning to a lot more often than I originally thought I would. It's good fun and hopefully they can gain some more exposure from this post.
Highlight: Sphenoid

23) Slice The Cake - The Man With No Face [Independent]
I know the fact that a deathcore album appearing on this list is pretty solid grounds for you to pretty much disregard this list because it's not "kvlt" or "underground" or "cool" enough, but this was a real gem. I have never heard a deathcore album that has come even close to touching what these guys have. This trio of guys really crafted an album that takes all the tolerable aspects of the genre and mixes it with much more technical, progressive, and symphonic elements until it becomes something that barely resembles deathcore on the majority of tracks anymore. In addition to that, any band who can write a song that tops twenty minutes and can keep me interested is a winner in my book.
Highlight: The Man With No Face

22) Devin Townsend - Epicloud [InsideOut]
For pretty much the same reason I put Monuments on this list, I put this record on it as well. The difference being that when Devin Townsend sets out to make a pop record, you better god damn believe he's going to be the biggest freaking pop record he can. Sure, it's pretty schizophrenic genre wise, but there isn't a song on here that isn't catchy as sin and is as infectious as anything that gets played on modern pop/rock radio. Also, who else could write a record about marriage and long-lasting relationships and make it sound so grand and uplifting. He's a genius and with every record he pushes himself further and further only to show up everyone else. It's a fun, uplifting, and super catchy record and one of the best sing-along albums I've heard in a long-ass time.
Highlight: Hold On

21) Mono - For My Parents [Temporary Residence]
Yes, I thought this album was fantastic. I think that this album got lost in the shuffle with all the ruckus surrounding the new GY!BE album coming out that people just sort of forgot about how great this album was. But for me, I've been a fan of Mono since I first started getting into post-rock (and I'll admit that that hasn't been too long of a journey as of yet) but I think this is their best work to date. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea because it is often times more orchestral than actually rocking, which has been some people's problem with the record; but I just found it so beautiful and moving that I could not picture this list without including this record.
Highlight: Unseen Harbor

20) Sear Bliss - Eternal Recurrence [Candlelight]
I don't understand how records that are done so well and obviously have commercial appeal don't get the press needed to succeed. I've been a fan of Sear Bliss for a while now, I've always liked them but I wouldn't say they had ever done an album that really wowed me until I heard this one. For all the praise that Ihsahn gets whenever he puts out a new album, a record that is just as ambitious appears to fall to the wayside. Now, I loved the most recent Ihsahn record, but after multiple listens, I thought that this record was even better and had just as much ambition and songwriting strength. It's a great record that was not praised as much as I feel it deserved, so definitely look into this one.
Highlight: Ballad of The Shipwrecked

19) Iblis - Menthell [D.T.M. Productions]
This was an album that when I finally heard, I absolutely fell in love with, and my love for it has only grown with time. A lot of my personal favorite bands are bands that have unique personalities and that are showcased in their records, and that's something that I wish would happen more in extreme metal, and this is one of those cases. Iblis was my fantasy of an extreme metal band, a group that sounded like Primus or Faith No More doing black metal. It's just quirky and fun and absurd but catchy and weird in all the right ways. I just love it because they has their own voice and I am anxiously awaiting whatever these guys release next.
Highlight: 12 Sycamores

18) Krallice - Years Past Matter [Independent]
Because everyone's favorite hipster black metal band are still making some of the most exciting stuff out there, that's why this is on here. I have yet to hear a record from them that I don't like, but this one does tilt higher towards being my favorite (though I still don't think it's quite as good as Dimensional Bleedthrough)than some of their other releases. The whole thing is done in typical Krallice fashion, meaning is fast, and very hard to follow most of the time, and it doesn't give a crap if you care or not to pay attention to what's happening. Perhaps what I love most about the album is the embrace of death metal on one track in particular and the small post-rocky ambient bits that are used as intros and outros on several songs. Removing song titles makes it a bitch to try and tell you what songs stick out in my mind the most when talking about this record and I have to resort to saying numbers, I think the easy answer would be to say listen to the whole thing.

17) Blut Aus Nord - 777: Cosmosophy [Debemur Morti Productions]
For a band that is always experimenting and testing the waters, I shouldn't be as surprised to hear BAN throw in gothic and post-rock influences into their own style. It's undoubtedly the most accessible of the 777 trilogy of albums as well as being the brightest and most grandiose, yet never sounds hokey or out of character. Even the clean vocals and spoken word/rapped vocals fit in with slow industrial pacing that the album moves on. At this point in their career, BAN have pretty much defined their own genre and other bands are still struggling to keep up with each new idea they play with. It was the perfect way to end the trilogy and while there is no telling where the band will go next, it is certain that they won't tread on this ground again anywhere in the near future.
Highlight: Epitome XVIII

16) Godspeed You! Black Emperor - 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! [Constellation]
Yes, in my opinion, the very best post-rock album of this year was overhyped as hell but is still a badass record. A real treat for all of those experimental and post-rock fans out there this year. GY!BE return with a record that brings in a heavier Arabian influence melodically while turning up the distortion and noise that a majority of post-rock bands tend to do away with and actually make this something that can rock. Being my first new GY!BE record, I was thoroughly impressed with just how vital and powerful the band sound playing these live staples even after all these years. Even the two drone tracks on here, I felt, were well utilized breaks after the two epic pieces that make up the majority of the release. Here's hoping that new material from them will be just as impressive.
Highlight: Mladic

15) Stagnant Waters - Stagnant Waters [Adversum]
Yet another release that I have been anticipating for a long ass time and did not disappoint me (I'm not going to bore you by saying the same thing over and over again). But this album is most likely one of the most insane pieces of black metal that's ever been constructed. Filled with extremely distorted guitars, glitchy beats, occasional horn solos, synthesizers lines on crack, jazz interludes, and vocals that bounce from one wall to the other. It's too alienating to be progressive and not wacky enough to be avant-garde, but it fits in that nice little niche where things just make sense no matter how weird they are. It's exactly what I'd expect from the guys involved in the band, but it's exactly what I didn't never expected that makes this record so awesome.
Highlight: Axolotl

14) Hexvessel - No Holier Temple [Svart]
As I say in every review with him in it, I'm a huge fan of Kvohst. I think he is a great vocalist and I still think it's a shame that he isn't really involved with metal anymore, but his work with this project keeps me at bay because it's so good. He took that psychedelic folk sound from Dawnbearer and brought in some proto-metal elements and made me more psychedelic and actually wound up making the band even better because of it by making it even more retro. He's a great songwriter and he has a great voice to do this sort of stuff. This entire record is fantastic and easily the best retro record of the entire year, if not the best folk-rock record of the year. And he did a fantastic rendition of an Ultimate Spinach song as well.
Highlight: His Portal Tomb

13) Scott Walker - Bish Bosch [4AD]
That's right, possibly the weirdest songwriter to ever be birthed from this planet is on this list. I didn't listen to the Swans but I listened to Scott Walker and this album is just fantastic. It's absurdly strange and bizarre, laughably so in some cases - but that's why I had a blast listening to it. Each song is just so "out-there" that it's as if Walker had decided to purposefully make the most inaccessible album he could - but in turn made it probably the most fun experiences I've had listening to an album all year. Each of his albums mean something different to me and while it doesn't top Scott 3 or Climate of The Hunter for me, it's another great piece of work that will appeal to no one and everyone all together in nowhere forever as never nothing eternal (and the album makes less sense that than sentence).
Highlight: SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter)

12) Soundgarden - King Animal [Seven Four/Vertigo/Universal Republic/Mercury]
Coming from someone who was never a huge Soundgarden fan, I thought this album was just fantastic. Song after song, it was like hit-after-hit-after hit, knocking the balls right out of the park. There range on here was pretty nice as well, making use of more acoustic rock songs to more straight-up blues rockers and even the occasional melancholic track. All four members were just in top form with this release. This was one of the only albums this year that I spun multiple times in a row after my first listen through. I still don't think I've recovered from that first listen cause each time I press play on this record I feel just as enthralled and energized by it as that first time. It's just a fantastic piece of work.
Highlight: A Thousand Days Before

11) Enslaved - RIITIIR [Nuclear Blast]
As I stated in my original review for this album, Enslaved seem to have developed into one of my go-to bands when I want to hear good progressive black metal. I really liked their previous effort, Axioma Ethica Odini, quite a lot and is still one of the albums of theirs that I return to most often, but even I was completely sideswiped by how good this record was. The brought out more of that progressive edge which they loosened on their last full-length while keeping the aggression of it. It's quite a magnificent piece of work that is chock full of interesting and memorable riffs and choruses. Their best record since Below The Lights? More than likely.
Highlight: Forsaken

10) Sutekh Hexen - Larvae [Handmade Birds]
After blasting their fans into submission with their first handful of demos, EPs, and first full-length, the then-trio of Sutekh Hexen branched out from their original comfort zone on this release from the beginning of this year. Now, there were plenty of other albums I could have picked for this list, but this was the one that I went back to the most. The band's first real steps out of their black metal comfort zone and into the worlds of ambient and neo-folk. Obviously, since the original release of this album, they've pushed further into straight-up blackened noise (or as I prefer, they've jumped into absolute oblivion) without looking back. This was, and still is one of my favorite releases they've put out, but we'll see what they do next because with these guys, you never can really know exactly where they're going next.
Highlight: Isvar Savasana

9) Panopticon - Kentucky [Handmade Birds]
Austin Lunn really pulled out all the stops for this record. In tribute to the story of the coal miners from the album title is eponymously taken from he has crafted an album of true heart, both in its aggression and in its beauty. A lot of people seem to be focusing on the fact that it's the genre blending of bluegrass with black metal, and while Lunn certainly deserves praise for choosing to take both genres on for a single record (and pulling them both off with ease) it's the way he manages to transcend that that truly makes this a powerful record. The way he takes that black metal and bluegrass and infuses them with his influences from post-rock, post-hardcore, and prog-metal is what makes this a record for the ages. He is, without a doubt, a master of his craft.
Highlight: Killing The Giants As They Sleep

8) Deftones - Koi No Yokan [Reprise]
I don't think it's a secret that I love the Deftones (so do a lot of people) but even I was shocked with how much I liked this album. I loved Diamond Eyes but that didn't even make it into my top 10 back in 2010, but this album was just fantastic to me. It's a more atmospheric turn from the more direct nature of their last album, but feels like a nice meeting between the heaviness of Diamond Eyes and the more dreamy and shoegaze areas on Saturday Night Wrist. I just thought that everyone on here was on the top of their game and wrote songs that stand up as some of the best in their entire career. Just an amazing album and shows that the Deftones are a band that seem to grow finer with age.
Highlight: Gauze

7) Ne Obliviscaris - Portal of I [Code666]
Basing your opinion on a single demo is a risky thing to do, especially when a band takes forever in releasing an actual full-length to the point where you think they might have actually broken up - but that's what many of us did in the case of Ne Obliviscaris. And in this case, it actually paid off because when this album did finally get released it was everything I had hoped for, and it seems like most others as well. Truly a modern progressive metal album for extreme metal fans, combining various styles together while never making a single track feel overloaded with ideas. Each track stands as its own monument while contributing to the whole experience of listening to this album. The songwriting is also fantastic as well.
Highlight: As Icicles Fall

6) Horseback - Half Blood [Relapse]
Since the release of The Invisible Mountain back in 2009, the strange visions of Jenks Miller have come into the light for the world to see. The sonic palette with which Jenks chooses to paint with is large borrowing from traditional American folk and country music to drone and noise and all the way into black and doom metal, resulting in an album with more shades of color and depth than many of its peers. From the sound he carved out on the aforementioned album, and the album that exposed him to a greater audience, he has opened the floodgates and allowed all of his influences to come pouring in unfiltered for this album. As a new landscape is formed, you are given the soundtrack to explore the new territory in front of you. New wonders to be found, a true musical gem.
Highlight: Hallucigenia III: The Emerald Tablet

5) Storm Corrosion - Storm Corrosion [Roadrunner]
Yes, the collaboration between Mikael Åkerfeldt and Steven Wilson has indeed risen high on this list. While it's far from their more traditional prog-metal/rock mainstay bands, I just thought this album was wonderful. Immensely ambient and moody, but with undertones of early jazz music, every time I put this record on I would be transported into another world. It's a record for watching the world burn in slow motion. The last track on here would have been more than enough reason to put this entire album on the list, but the other five songs that come before it are lush and beautiful as well. It's a record that hits me exactly in exactly the right spot when I'm in a more somber and depressed mood - and a record that does that is a rare thing. Put on this record and watch the world collapse.
Highlight: Ljudet Innan

4) Hail Spirit Noir - Pneuma [Code666]
Yes, this album was exactly what I wanted to hear. Ever since I first heard about this album early on this year I knew this album would be great and it did not disappoint. These guys know how to make symphonic black metal uniquely in their other band, Transcending Bizarre?, and this album proves they know how to make great progressive black metal as well. The fusion of psychedelic rock with black metal has rarely seemed so seamless as it does on here and it was great to see this album get all sorts of acclaim. Obviously I love since it's this high up on my list, but there was not a point during this year where I ever doubted that this wouldn't make it onto the list. Absolutely essential listening for anyone who loves their black metal interesting or wants to hear progressive and psychedelic rock in a different light.
Highlight: Into The Gates of Time

3) Locrian & Mamiffer - Bless Them That Curse You [Utech/Land of Decay/Profound Lore]
This was the only album I gave a perfect 10 to this year so anyone who actually remembers that will not be surprised to see this album on here. Honestly, the only reason it's at number 3 is because I didn't listen to it as much as the top 2 albums, but this is still a perfect 10 in my book. There is not a single thing I can find wrong about this album. It just fuses those elements from genres that are more than likely the most abstract out there, which one might think would turn this into the hardest thing to listen to, but actually makes it into a meditation of sorts. I mean, for sure it's all melancholic and bleak sounding with very little hope shining through so it's a meditation on the darker aspects of life, but it's just two groups of artists coming together at the top of their game(s) - not sure how to phrase that - and creating an album that just blows away all expectations and sets a new high for these styles of music.
Highlight: In Fulminic Blaze

2) Periphery - II: This Time It's Personal [Sumerian/Century Media]
For the second time, Periphery manages to rise to spot number 2 in my favorite releases of a given year (just as their self-titled debut did back in 2010). As one of the bands to help give rise to the whole djent surge in recent years, as well as the look of the band, a lot of people have written them off, but to me they are at the top of the heap when it comes to modern prog-metal. Writing songs that are technical without falling over into wankery or letting the actual song fall to the wayside is something they appear to have mastered. With the release of this album they've left behind a good portion of that djenty groove sound that was on their debut and opened the door for more melodic songwriting - resulting in some of the best songs I've heard all year. Not for everyone, but I love it.
Highlight: Ji

1) Anathema - Weather Systems [Kscope]
From the moment I first heard this record I knew it would be my album of the year. Just as Devin Townsend's Ghost album touched me on a personal and emotional level, this album does as well. It's an album of very ambient and atmospheric art rock with influences coming in from post-rock and even krautrock and I love how the band incorporate those sounds into this album. Each track is like an emotional rollercoaster that can move you to tears in some spots and that's what I just love about it. Anathema may not be a heavy band anymore, but they are releasing some of their best material in the last couple of years and this one is at the top of the heap in my opinion. Totally essential listening and the best album of this year for me bar none.
Highlight: Untouchable I

1 comment:

  1. Such a great list and still so much music for me to catch up with.