This year is the hardest year I’ve ever had to pick a top 10. So many good records came out, particularly from places I never would have expected.
Anyway, here are the best records released this year. And what an incredible year it has been:
You know, I don’t quite understand how a band can stay this consistent for so long. Granted this is Napalm Death we’re talking about, but even so, this album’s topped their earliest works, which is interesting because Time Waits for No Slave did the exact same thing only three years ago. Songs like “Quarantined” are going to stand the test of time with their other tracks, while songs like “The Wolf I Feed” show the band going in a natural direction yet sounding entirely different.
I didn’t quite get the title at first, but after listening to this record, I translated it as, “Fuck You, This Record is Complex as Fuck”. It’s every bit as technical as something you’d expect from someone like Meshuggah, with lyrics I only vaguely understand. Frontman Michael Daffener’s vocals go everywhere from Greg Puciato – esque crooning to a heart-piercing shriek. Musically, this album goes everywhere, switching from oppressively heavy to an acoustic part to a breakdown that doesn’t make people want to flail their arms like you see at deathcore shows. A lot of it is incredibly math-y: one of the most striking parts of this record is song “The Seconds”. Near the end, the parts are structured to go up by one: a beat is played once, then twice, then so on and so forth to five, then repeating at one again. It’s certainly one of the most original records you’ll hear – technical, very much an acquired taste, but something that once it grips you, it’ll grip you and never let go. Also, Joe Duplantier’s role on this record is better than anything on L’Enfant Sauvage.
This is the biggest surprise of 2012 by far. If you had told me that this record was going to be above average, I would have believed you, but not better than that. This record has blown me away time and time again since, with some of the best metal ‘n roll this side of Entombed. Also, “Mother Abyss” is my favorite song this entire year. This is also the most fun I’ve had listening to an album: one where I can close the blinds in my room and just headbang my ass off. This band deserves all the accolades and big tours they’ve managed to land this year.
The most underrated record of the year. Seriously. There’s so much emotional depth to this record. I haven’t heard hardcore like this in a long time, with actual melody to go with that emotion. There’s plenty for even metal purists to love. “Torn Portrait” is so goddamn heavy, tortured, and beautiful all in a minute and a half. This is pretty accurate of the rest of the record: in all of the dissonance you’ll hear, there’s so much beauty in the absolute despair of it all.
I can only hope I don’t have to wait another five years for another Pig Destroyer record. What’s different in those five years? Not much. I’m okay with that. Pig Destroyer is still at the top of their game. Scott Hull write the best grind and they don’t even need a bassist to do it. JR Hayes writes the most cleverly tortured lyrics this side of Sperm Swamp. “I just wanna hold her like an anaconda”? Classic.
5. Old Man Gloom – NO
I REALLY don’t want to wait another eight years for another Old Man Gloom record, though at this rate I’ll probably have kids by the time that happens. This album is the most bleak record I’ve heard in years. The title “NO” certainly serves its purpose. Like…goddamn. Most of the space in the songs are taken up by guitar that is left to hang in the air, as if it were full of a great sadness. Every note here has weight – there’s no diddling that’s been popular in metal these days. It’s almost…cathartic, even given the tortured sounds this record conjures forth.
This band has changed my life, and to say that they’re number four on this list of records to come out this year only says something about how good the next records are. This album is very much Neurosis, but still so radically different from their previous record, Given to the Rising. Where that record was very much like a deer running from a hunter: very lithe, graceful in its urgency and heaviness, this record is like an elephant in its last breaths: heavy, slow, and incredibly methodical. A lot of folk lends itself to this album, likely from some of the artists’ side projects, which adds a sense of melody to all the dissonance. I think the changes here are welcome. I’d say it’s the dawn of a new era of Neurosis, but they’re incredibly good about making each record unique. That adds to the mystique of this band, and this record fits that bill.
Enslaved has been one of the most consistently amazing bands in the past decade. That said, I didn’t expect them to knock it out of this park with their strongest, most varied record yet. This record has everything: from the heaviness of “Roots of the Mountain” to the absolute gorgeousness and total left field closer that is “Forsaken”, the best song with that title since Katatonia. But in all seriousness, this is what they’ve been working towards all these years. Elements of everything they’ve put out before are all here, but with a lot of new stuff. This is how you progress as a band, especially a band that’s crossed their second decade.
You know, I was weirded out by The Great Misdirect. It was great, but it just didn’t flow as a record. Then they put out The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues last year, and my hopes were raised that this would be the ultimate BTBAM record, with plenty of melody to go along with that wankery they do so well. And it is. They’ve managed to marry the technicality of Colors and the melody of The Great Misdirect to something that both makes sense and is still vintage BTBAM. I feel like a concept, no matter how offbeat, is what they desperately needed. Although certainly continuing with a lot of the disjunct that they’re so known for, this is a record I feel I have to listen to front to back to truly enjoy it, and that’s what I loved about them in the first place. Tommy Rogers continues his ascension to being one of the best metal vocalists in history, with his clean vocals sounding absolutely gorgeous (“Telos”) and something that makes me want to sing along to.
Three years ago, this band put out a record called Axe to Fall. For a band that’s been around almost a decade at that point, this was seen by some as them running out of ideas, no matter how good of a record it is. Fast forward three years later. These four dudes – and only these dudes – sit down and put together the best album this year has ever seen. You think they’re running out of ideas? Listen to the heaviness of songs like “Trespasses”or “Aimless Arrow”. I think one of the best things is that Jacob Bannon is changing his vocals up. I used to dislike it. But now I realize how much it fits with where the band is going. Instead of sounding like a “barking dog” (which I am fine with), it sounds incredibly tortured, yet entirely legible. I feel like this is a record where Mr. Bannon is at his most open: an entire song full of him singing in “Coral Blue”sounds entirely like Converge yet still different and still beautiful. And let’s not forget about the music: Kurt Ballou comes front and center in a way he’s never done before. Songs like the title and track showcase what he can really do as a guitarist. Ben Koller and Nate Newton continue to be metal’s best rhythm section for those of us who like moshing. I hope this band stays around forever. I really do. Having something that mixes true heartfelt passion, technicality, and unrivalled heaviness is something that no other band has managed to pull off this year. Naturally, Converge does it again. And they’ll probably do it three years from now because they’re just that talented, original, and full of life.