I would say that 2012 has ranked among one of the better years in recent memory as far as metal goes (2009 was the best in recent memory). That said, personally this has been a difficult year. While the music that I’m going to list off here has brought me a range of emotions and been there to help me, many will have noticed that I have been playing less and less of a role in the website as Steel Druhm and others (many others) pick up the slack. This is not how it is supposed to be, but it is how it’s going to be for a while. In fact, as of this post I am going on sabbatical until I am finished with my masters thesis. So it’s with some bittersweetness that I leave this – my Top 10(ish) of 2012. Don’t worry, I’ll be back. But I am going to be living, bleeding and eating sociological theory and methods for the next 5 months and until someone can give me money to do AMG, that takes precedence.
All that aside, thanks again for making 2012 a new record year for us. We’re always growing in perspective and I would like to thank all the writers – new and old – for keeping AMG afloat. You guys rule.
#Ish: Vindicator // United We Fall – Everyone knows I am notoriously unimpressed by re-thrash. But Vindictator really fucking rocked this new record really hard and I totally love it. As I mentioned in the review, the riffs are what really made this record special and it still does. Those beastly riffs combined the new and lively vocal performance of Vic Stown – which may evoke Dave Mustaine for you – adds a level of dynamism that the previous record lacked. Mix in new and excellent solos and you’ve got one of the best records of the year. In a sea of re-thrash Vindicator stands tall in their fat-tongued high tops and bullet belts.
#10: Wildernessking // The Writing of Gods in the Sand – Seriously, these South African kids may smoke too much pot and take a little long to get places musically at times, but their riffs and song construction are some of the best we’ve heard in this year o’ 2012. I don’t normally get stupid about this new wave of post-black metal, but Wildernessking does what I encourage in all walks of metal: they write good songs and complete albums. This record was good enough to purchase on vinyl. Black metal done right for 2012.
#9: Borknagar // Urd – You’d not think that Borknagar could be as relevant and awesome in 2012 as they were when they were “peaking” with Quintessence but you’d be wrong (shame on you!). Instead, Urd was released to a mighty fanfare worthy of only the most mighty of records. The combination of three of metal’s finest vocalists – Vintersorg, ICS Vortex and that guy from Solefald whose name I can never remember but whose voice I love – makes for an extremely entertaining and gigantic album that I will be listening to for years to come. Well done, lads! Comeback band of the year, for sure.
#8: Be’lakor // Of Breath and Bone – This record got a fine review from Gemma, but when I posted the review I wasn’t convinced. Of Breath and Bone proved to be tremendously addictive in the end, however, and now it won’t go away and I’ll be getting a restraining order on these Australian lads. The record is a tad long and isn’t as heavy as the new Mors Principium Est but it is perfect for what it is. The beauty of it, too, is that despite comparisons to other bands in a scene that has been overplayed as fuck, Be’lakor really stands alone.
#7: Ofermod // Thaumiel – What a goddamned surprise this was for me. I am not generally a huge fan of “orthodox black metal” so when I popped in the new Ofermod record I was stunned with the strength of the writing, the perfection of the production and the depth of the record as a whole. Suffering from only a single mediocre track, Thaumiel is a tour de force of how to do traditional black metal right in 2012. These guys sound disturbed, evil and are phenomenally good.
#6: Dodecahedron // Dodecahedron – Seriously. This fucking record. While I need to be in the right mood to listen to it, these Dutch black metallers put together one of the most evil, extreme sounding records I can ever remember hearing. There is something truly enormous about the cacophony that they inflict upon the listener. It is disconcerting and it is deep, disgusting and simultaneously has a sickly beauty. If you’re going to pick up a single black metal record this year, pick up this one.
#5: Anathema // Weather Systems – Easily Anathema‘s best work in years, Weather Systems has been on constant rotation since I got it. While the back end of the record tapers off a bit, I still can’t get over how solid this album is. The song writing is epic in a metal sense, but it’s still got that Pink Floyd meets British alt rock thing you’ve come to know and love. All feelings all the time. Anathema still rules and Weather Systems is a triumph.
#4: The 11th Hour // Lacrima Mortis – I know, I know. I’ve been going on about this record for a whole year now. Yet somehow, I keep coming around to it! And while it’s not the slab of pure perfection that its predecessor was – it’s still made of fucking gold (albeit, very depressing gold). Ed Warby has to be among my favorite writers in metal today and I look forward to everything he puts out in the future. That you don’t own this album is a shame (though if you’ve been reading AMG all year, you probably do own it). This powerful, superbly written doom metal record should be on your shelf. Not an ounce of hipster pretentiousness; just amazing doom metal.
#3: Diablo Swing Orchestra // Pandora’s Piñata – I admit, I’d never heard this band before I got the promo, but I am a die-hard convert now (and converts are the worst). Pandora’s Piñata is a rip-roaring romp of raucous rock n’ roll + opera + swing + balkan music + whatever else you can possibly think of that should be addictive to everyone who listens to it. While it apparently gives some people headaches for being too dense, I find it suits my Angry Metal Attention Deficit Disorder (AMADD) just fine.
#2: Sophicide // Perdition of the Sublime – Melodic technical death? Why didn’t anyone tell me that this band was going to kick my ass? Instead, I had no warning and got totally blindsided by this German dude and his mad-ass shredding, fantastic production and performances. Every song on this record is a ripper and the whole album demands to be listened to again after the first time through (it threatened my family, I had no choice!). Jolly good show!
#1: Sabaton // Carolus Rex (Swedish) – This is the year’s biggest surprise. This record didn’t get a perfect score, but here it is sitting at Record o’ the Year. That’s because Sabaton managed to do two things: first, they wrote a record that is meaty, thoughtful and interesting. They made it feel cohesive and they made it kick ass. Two: they wrote it in Swedish. This allowed them to really deal with the material in a way that was worth hearing, leaving no brutality aside and treating the historical material with intelligence and smart poetry – something the English translation definitely lacks. Even if they fall for the “nationalism in the 1400s” myth, they still have produced a record that is ultimately deserving of this award because I can’t stop coming back to this album. Carolus Rex is an amazing piece of work and it deserves your respect. Now learn Swedish so you can really appreciate it.
Honorable Mentions: This list was so much harder than the 2011 one. Forcing me TWICE to go back and move shit around after thinking the list was written. Here’s a few that competed hard for the crowning list.
Sigh // In Somniphobia - So close. This record is like an audial hallucinogen.
Arjen Anthony Lucassen // Lost in the New Real - Loved this record. While not as strong as the brilliant Guilt Machine there were some real lovely highlights here.
Vintersorg // Orkan – Hard not to put this record in the top 10. You should know that it really is just as good as anything that Vintersorg has put out in the modern era. Great record, stellar songs.
Blood Mortized // Keys to a Black Heart - I probably don’t even need to say anything, given that Steel Druhm has been beating this drum all year. Beef.
King of Asgard // …To North - Very close to making the list. A solid piece of Viking metal; a genre that’s going the way of melodeath (that is: “OH GOD! MAKE IT STOP!”).
Hail Spirit Noir // Pneuma – Loved this trippy record. Similar to Sigh and worth a listen.
Sylosis // Monolith - These guys are “metalcore” but they sound like melodeath to me. Loved this album.
Record o’ the Month: December – Mors Principium Est // …and Death Said Live – 46 minutes of ball-breaking melodeath from this Finnish act makes for what was the finest record released in December. This thing takes me back to a time when melodic death metal sounded heavy, was fun to listen to and no one felt annoyed by the fact that Björriffs (At The Gates riffs) were everywhere. Amazing guitar work, great song writing and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s out in January in the US. You’ll hopefully see a review soon.
Biggest Disappointment of 2012: Gotta be a tie for me between Ihsahn‘s deeply boring Eremita and Enslaved‘s overwrought new record RIITIIR. Two of my favorite bands drop disappointing records on unsuspecting fanbases (that proceeded to shit themselves like they were brilliant anyway). WTF mate?