Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012: The best albums from the year the world was supposed to end


Napalm Death - Utilitarian

Look back on any of my earlier year end lists, and you'll see that two words are a fixture: "Napalm" and "Death". This may simply be because, as my buddy Jay puts it, "those are my guys," but there's no arguing that Napalm have been on a hot streak since the career (and cred) resuscitating Enemy of the Music Business over a decade ago. Utilitarian, instead of trying to top the bare-knuckled fury of previous album Time Waits for No Slave, sees Napalm indulging their experimental side. John Zorn pops up to throw some hot shrieking sax on an already wild "Everyday Pox"; elsewhere, Barney and Mitch take turns imitating Michael Gira's spooky baritone. Strange off-time riffs abound, keeping listeners on their toes; and throughout, the band that coined the term "blastbeat" show all the young'uns how it's done. A quarter century since Scum was recorded, Napalm Death are still campaigning for musical destruction. These are "my guys" for a reason.
Listen to: Errors in the Signal, The Wolf I Feed, Fall On Their Swords, Everything in Mono

Glissando - The World Without Us

Strange but true: I was looking forward to the third album by these British ambient experimentalists almost as much as any death or black metal album. Anchored by Elly May Irving's ethereal vocals, and fleshed out by an accompaniment of strings and piano, The World Without Us is at once fragile and apocalyptic. Glissando have mastered the art of building their sombre melodies to oppressive heights. In a year of hurricanes and turmoil, this was the quiet eye of the storm. Armageddon never sounded so beautiful. [Also recommended: Richard Knox, the other half of Glissando, put out an excellent ambient neoclassical album called The Rustle of Stars]
Listen to: The Long Lost, Of Silence, Still (II)

Naglfar -Teras

How now, Naglfar? Whither wander thou? Never considered a worthy successor to Dissection, and somehow overtaken in popularity by Watain, despite having a better track record than both. And yet here you are on your sixth album, carrying on with your version of Svenske Svartmetal: Hook-driven; blistering; misanthropic. It's only fitting that the nailship of Ragnarok set sail in 2012, the year the world was supposed to end.
Listen to: Bring Out Your Dead, Invoc(h)ate, The Monolith

Kreator - Phantom Antichrist

It would be easy to misinterpret my contempt of thrash revival as a dismissal of the style itself. If I'm down on these new bands, it's because they've mastered the genre's cliches without capturing its excitement. The same can't be said of Kreator; since 2001, they've made everyone else who peddles the style seem increasingly redundant - and that includes most of the Big Four. With songs as fast and razor-sharp as the band's eighties heyday, Phantom Antichrist is balanced by melodic moments that recall the mighty Dark Tranquillity. As long as Mille is around to keep the flag of hate aloft, I'll never need another thrash band.
Listen to: Phantom Antichrist, Death to the World, Victory Will Come

Narbeleth - Diabolus Incarnatus 

This cult Cubano has delivered on the promise of the excellent Dark Primitive Cult demo, and then some. A throwback to the best of black metal's second wave, this is the coldest record I heard in 2012; and it's from a country that's never seen a spot of snow. A blaze in the Havana sky. Hail! [If you're not KVLT or hip enough to find the cassette tape, fear not: Lord Dakkar has given his consent for you to download it.]
Listen to: Walk Unholy Paths, Raw Hatred

Anathema - Weather Systems

I actually worried that the huge stylistic departure Anathema made on their previous album We're Here Because We're Here would cause such an uproar from fans that it might lead to the band breaking up; instead, it's given them a second life. Weather Systems expands on the onetime gothic doom metal kings' newfound love for soaring, shamelessly pop melodies. Boosted by the mellifluous singing of Lee Helen Douglass, it's more nuanced and textured than its oft-bouncy predecessor. If it seems like it starts to sag near the end, it may be because sustaining the emotional intensity of the album's first half would be nearly impossible; but taken individually, each of Weather Systems nine tracks are perfect. Another stage in the evolution of British metal's most amorphous band.
Listen to: Untouchable Part One, Part Two, The Gathering of Clouds, The Beginning and the End

Abnormality - Contaminating The Hive Mind

Taking the best bits of Cryptopsy, Suffocation, Origin and Cannibal Corpse, Contaminating the Hive Mind is merciless in its blistering assault, whilst being mindblowingly technical. This smokes every other death metal album released this year (and that includes a few of the names mentioned earlier). Abnormality have definitely made a case for their inclusion in the genre's elite. Fast, precise, unrelenting: This is death metal the way it should be.

Sea Bastard - Self-titled

Featuring a member of drone kings Sabazius, I expected this album to be a solid exercise in floorshaking ultradoom. But as much as it delivers on that, what's truly impressive is the songwriting. Writing ten minute songs that stick with you after they're over is a hell of an achievement. Whereas most sludge/doom is monotonous and self-satisfied, Sea Bastard have the gift of The Riff, that precious element that divides great bands from the rest. Doom album of the year.

Troglodyte - Don't Go in the Woods

Origin made a science out of crossbreeding technical hooks with unrelenting blast, and it sounds like their Kansas City neighbours Troglodyte took careful notes. This sophomore album is a half hour of blasting death metal that's as catchy as it is furious. While I was slow in embracing their strange Bigfoot fixation, even a curmudgeon like me can't stop himself from wanting to headbang and throw shit around every time this comes on. Book me on the Discovery Channel: I believe in Sasquatch death metal.


Macaroni - A Gift for Corpse

Originality is often overlooked and underrated in the current metal landscape; whereas most death metal bands seem content to merely rehash Morbid Angel and Suffocation riffs, Macaroni (one of Thailand's oldest death metal bands) have embarked on their own path, full of unexpected turns and strange digressions. A unique and accomplished vision that fans of Immolation and Gorguts would be wise to seek out.
Listen to: A Gift for Corpse album preview (unfortunately, my attempts to find songs from this album online proved to be fruitless; take my word, though, it's pretty awesome).


I come old friend from hell tonight

2012 saw a flurry of new albums from many of my favourite bands, and I greeted each like the return of an old friend. Testament's Dark Roots of the Earth was an immensely enjoyable album that fell just short of being a classic. Terrorizer's Hordes of Zombies didn't impress many critics, but it fueled many a cab ride to my jiujitsu class. As an exercise in pure distilled rage, it couldn't be beat. Orange Goblin's Eulogy for the Damned would have been the soundtrack to all my nights of drinking with the brahs, if I drank or had brahs. Cannibal Corpse released Torture, a Cannibal Corpse album that made Cannibal Corpse fans happy, this one included. Cryptopsy redeemed themselves in the eyes of fans and critics with their self-titled album, whilst still maintaining their legacy as a band that strives to keep death metal fresh and original. Headhunter D.C. are as no-frills as Brazilian death metal gets; they may not make it to any best of lists, but they did write my favourite new anthem: Hail the metal of death!

Dreams of Consciousness was voted the best metal blog of 2012 by the editors of Dreams of Consciousness metal blog. See for yourself.