Best Music Of 2012

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Top 10 Metal Albums Of 2012

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Asphyx. Dario Dumancic/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption Dario Dumancic/Courtesy of the artist
Asphyx.

Asphyx.

Dario Dumancic/Courtesy of the artist

As we hurl ourselves ungracefully into the digital swill, we're finding different ways to be heavy at a rate faster than Mick Barr shreds guitar strings. Boundaries broken, banjos and black metal living in sin, cats and dogs singing King Diamond together ... is this progress? If this year has taught me anything, it's not that genre matters less because our share-happy Internet's a flesh-eating black hole, it's that genre doesn't mean a damn thing unless it hurts so good.

With no real trends or whipping posts in 2012, it was, surprisingly, just a great time to enjoy metal on its own terms. In fact, the only unifying theme of 2012 was a strong showing from the lifers who have made metal what it is today. Vital releases by '80s bands like Accept, Asphyx, Saint Vitus, Master, Napalm Death, Kreator and Testament kept the young'uns on their toes. That vintage continues to get more intense and pissed off, proving that while punk's a young man's game, metal's like a fine but festering bottle of wine.

There were some loose ends that don't fit on this list. The heaviest song this year that made me grin ear to bleeding ear more than anything was the harmonica howl of "No Chance" by Unsane, even if you couldn't call it "metal." And in the garbage heap that is the let's-reissue-everything-even-subpar-death-metal-demos race, Hells Headbangers' comprehensive and heftily packaged All That's Fit for Fighting box set rightly rescued Witch Cross from '80s heavy metal obscurity.

Ranking be damned, this personal top 10 list is in alphabetical order. (If you're aching for more than 10 albums, head on over to my blog for the metal records that I hated to cut.)

Top 10 Metal Albums Of 2012

Aksumite, 'Prideless Lions'

  • Song: Lioness Of Gobedra/Angel Strike Animal

Colloquial Sound Recordings put out some of the most raw and unexpected releases of 2012. The base is black metal, but the small and likely revolving cast of Great Lakes musicians involved always kept me guessing. This Station of Life and A Pregnant Light both put out stellar material, but Aksumite's Prideless Lions was the standout. It's the most honest, no-holds-barred (and occasionally dubby!) black metal punk I've heard in a long time. Just guitar, drums, a few mistakes here and there and an unabashed love for two-minute panic attacks with Venom-ous riffs.

Prideless Lions is available from Colloquial Sound Recordings.

Asphyx, 'Deathhammer'

  • Song: Deathhammer

It's tempting to quote Martin van Drunen from Deathhammer's title track and call it a day: "This is true death metal, you bastards!" The eighth record by the Dutch band is a wild barnburner of a doomy death metal record and makes no apologies for being anything but. No frip-frappity-do technicality, no speeds above a bear mauling — just pure aggression.

Deathhammer is available from Century Media.

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Song
Deathhammer
Album
Deathhammer
Artist
Asphyx
Label
Century Media

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Bosse-de-Nage, 'Bosse-de-Nage III'

  • Song: Desuetude

The fear just before jumping off a cliff — it's exhilarating, it's pounding, then the fear's overcome just before you lurch primally into the unknown. That's the third album by San Francisco's Bosse-de-Nage. The band's previous efforts in bringing a blackened buzz to post-rock are noteworthy, but too neatly layered, like pancakes and no syrup. III brings the intensity of black metal into focus with the dynamic pacing of what Slint wrought, even if that common comparison isn't quite right. Chalk III's ultimate success up the rhythm section; militaristic drumming that unhinges at just the right burst and melodic bass lines that hold the whole thing together.

Bosse-de-Nage III is available from Profound Lore.

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Song
Desuetude
Album
III
Artist
Bosse-de-Nage
Label
Profound Lore
Released
2012

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Derkéta, 'In Death We Meet'

  • Song: Goddess Of Death

Derkéta waited 24 years to release its proper debut album. Whatever lurked in those two decades' worth of material has rightly decayed into the death-crawl of doom that is In Death We Meet. And while this until-recently-all-female Pittsburgh crew slogged alongside Autopsy, Nihilist and a number of others in the death-doom realm across a handful of demos and split releases back in the day, today Derkéta pushes harder on extended, downtrodden riffs and the meanest drumming possible.

In Death We Meet is available directly from the band.

Cover for Half Blood

Horseback, 'Half Blood'

  • Song: Ahriman

If Skynyrd hog-tied to the Crazy Horse caravan while jamming on hillbilly drone and croaking like a black metal toad is your idea of a good time, then we should be friends. Horseback's been at this bizzaro hybrid for a hot minute now, but more than ever, Half Blood makes the case that such distinctions are better washed down with a swig of strong whiskey. Plus, no jam brought me more immediate and continued glee than the impure groove of "Ahriman."

Half Blood is available from Relapse Records.

Cover for Sorrow and Extinction

Pallbearer, 'Sorrow And Extinction'

  • Song: The Legend

In the metallic microcosm of 2012, you're going to see a lot of year-end lists feature traditional doom metal band Pallbearer. On my iPod, on my turntable, in melodies hummed to myself on the way to work, it's one of the albums that just stuck with me all year. When it comes to bands that work in a well-trod format — weight and grace isn't a rare commodity in doom (see: Warning, Nightfall by Candlemass, the more ballad-like moments of Black Sabbath) — what Sorrow and Extinction offers beyond its genuinely strong and power-metal-in-slow-motion songwriting and Brett Campbell's heartfelt baritone is the kind of redemption that comes from hardship.

Sorrow and Extinction is available from Profound Lore.

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Song
The Legend
Album
Sorrow and Extinction
Artist
Pallbearer
Label
Profound Lore
Released
2012

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Panopticon, 'Kentucky'

  • Song: Bodies Over The Falls

I can relate to calling a complicated state home. No matter where I end up, Georgia will always have a special place in my heart, so I can understand the motivation behind Panopticon's Kentucky. An extremely personal and political album, Kentucky is an unlikely love letter that mixes the sweeping longform structure of American black metal with honest-to-goodness bluegrass music. It can be jarring at first to hear a banjo jam explode into a distorted abyss — and often, the coal miner songs here stand alone, played with a stunning reverence — but the conviction and composition keeps Kentucky honest, a holistic vision of what Panopticon's aimed to achieve over the last few years.

Kentucky is maddeningly out of print. Bookmark Handmade Birds for details.

Pharaoh, 'Bury The Light'

  • Song: The Year Of The Blizzard

Chris Black is one of metal's most tireless musicians, typically working in the denim-shredded realm handed down by Iron Maiden and Jag Panzer. In 2012, the drummer and songwriter appeared on three albums that span the early spirit of metal: Superchrist's tallboy-downin' Holy S---, Dawnbringer's heartfelt, but no less hair-raising concept album Into the Lair of the Sun God (Black's baby, so to speak), and Pharaoh's Bury the Light. I loved all three for different reasons, but few records this year felt as epic as Bury the Light. Not "epic" in the way that metal journos typically overuse the word, but in the way that vocalist Tim Aymar might as well be wailing an epic poem handed down generations.

Bury the Light is available on Bandcamp.

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Song
The Year Of The Blizzard
Album
Bury the Light
Artist
Pharaoh
Label
Cruz Del Sur

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Cover for Book Burner

Pig Destroyer, 'Book Burner'

  • Song: Diplomat

Like a nail bomb hooked up to a chandelier (yeah, I thought that part in Skyfall was awesome, too), Book Burner is a classy joint waiting to explode. Perennial favorite Pig Destroyer's fifth album had competition for grindcore record of the year (sup, Hivesmasher), but it's the architecture of this insanity that wins it for me, like Matthew Barney madly scaling the Guggenheim in The Cremaster Cycle. New member Adam Jarvis (Misery Index) ends up being the linchpin holding it all together, his machine-gun-drumming a perfect foil to Scott Hull's spiraling riffs.

Book Burner is available from Relapse Records.

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Song
Diplomat
Album
Book Burner
Artist
Pig Destroyer
Label
Relapse Records
Released
2012

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Testament, 'Dark Roots Of Earth'

  • Song: Rise Up

Here's a summer record from the long-running thrash metal band that, for some reason, I only heard a month ago. When I did, it completely threw a wrench into this list we call top ten. Everything about Testament's Dark Roots of Earth is solid, from the hook-filled shout-alongs to Gene Hoglan's precise yet very musical drumming. It's silly to say that Alex Skolnick is in rare form at this point, but the guitarist's solos are practically self-aware, darting in and out of melodic, sickeningly fast scales with an alarming attention to the song's needs.

Dark Roots of Earth is available from Nuclear Blast.

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Song
Rise Up
Album
Dark Roots of Earth
Artist
Testament
Label
EMI
Released
2012

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Best Music Of 2012