Saturday, 5 January 2013

2012 In Metal: ParaReviews Best Albums

This has been one of the most interesting and consistently fantastic years for metal in recent memory, and to commemorate the end of the year I thought I would write my best albums lists for 2012. To differentiate and allow for both old and new bands to have their moment I've done lists for "20 best albums" and "10 best début albums" as well as "5 best EP releases". Also, before you mainstream fools/elitists start whining, there's NO Meshuggah, NO Gojira, NO Pig Destroyer and NO Lamb Of God in this list. These are MY opinions, not yours. Those bands all released albums this year that were great but I liked all of the following albums better. Get over it...

And without further ado, to business...

20. Unleashed - Odalheim

An outstanding release from the original death metal vikings. Johnny Hedlund and company have come out strong after the relatively patchy "As Yggdrasil Trembles", bringing the riffs in a big way and topping it off with some brutal vocal work and excellent soloing. "Fimbulwinter", "Odalheim" and "White Christ" are definite viking metal tunes for the ages. This concept album, detailing the vikings and their fight against the spread of Christianity, is definitely every bit as good as any release by Amon Amarth or any other more popular viking influenced death metal group. Good to see the original vikings of metal are back in business.

19. Vintersorg - Orkan

Until 2012 I was unfamiliar with Vintersorg's solo work, but was an extremely worthy devotee of his output with Borknagar. Upon the release of this album however, that all changed and I've been hooked since. This is one of the most beautiful prog albums I've had the pleasure to listen to in a long time. Orkan, Swedish for "Hurricane" is a very spiritual listening experience. Blast beats and intense black metal shrieks intertwine with riffs galore and Vintersorg's soothing clean vocals, often alongside violins, flute, organ and orchestral parts. A whirlwind of sound indeed but one that is well worth the persistance.

18. Daylight Dies - A Frail Becoming

Another band that had previously been flying well below my radar until 2012, North Carolina's Daylight Dies. This album was without a doubt my favourite melo-death album to grace my ears. A viable alternative to Insomnium, Swallow The Sun, Ghost Brigade or *insert any other finnish melo-death band here*. The doom influences in this really make the tracks enjoyable, the growls are strong and clear and the cleans sound heavenly. An essential album for melo-death fans.

17. Mnemic - Mnemesis

Danish mob Mnemic have been going strong for years now, putting out albums of their inventive "Cyber Metal". And while "Sons Of The System" was a good album, I never had any real love for them. Fast forward to 2012 and the arrival of this monster. Crushing grooves, guttural growls and soaring choruses complete with gorgeous cleans. This album has a wonderful mix of prog, industrial and death metal which makes for excellent headbanging, growling and singing along to at any point.

16. Skyharbor - Blinding White Noise: Illusion & Chaos

India has never really been a country renowned for its metal output. However, despite that 2012 really has been Keshav Dhar's year. From Skyharbor's humble beginnings as a one man project in his bedroom to securing a guest appearance from Marty Friedman and Daniel Tompkins providing his ethereal vocal stylings on "Illusion" and then going on to support Lamb Of God as one of your first few shows ever. This double album is a truly wonderful example of technicality and melody coming together in one stunning package. Sunneith Revankar's growls on "Chaos" should also be mentioned as he performs admirably and provides a stark contrast to Dan's work on the previous disc. This is beauty and chaos incarnate, and I for one cannot wait to see what comes next for Keshav and Skyharbor.

15. Thy Art Is Murder - Hate

 This album, in my opinion, is what all Deathcore should sound like, then maybe it would be taken seriously by most metalheads. This album combines death metal, tech-death, deathcore, bits of djent and even a few blackened chord progressions in the style of Behemoth to create a fucking awesome package - essentially blackened tech-death with breakdowns. There isn't a bad song on this album if you ask me. Every track is enjoyable to growl along to thanks to CJ McMahon's devastating growl and the drumming is fresh and really exciting to listen to. They really know how to do modern metal right down under, and there's no other "deathcore" band I'd rather listen to except maybe Born Of Osiris. Good job boys, and I'll see you in London in February!!!

14. Aeternam - Moongod

This relatively unknown group from Quebec, Canada are a definite favourite of mine. Ever since the release of their Metal Blade début "Disciples Of The Unseen" back in 2010 I've been craving more and in 2012 I got my wish. This is essentially what would happen in Behemoth decided to be a melo-death band and cover Nile songs while occasionally throwing in an acoustic guitar part here or there. Outstanding Egyptian based melodic death metal with great growls and wonderful clean choruses, great riffs and powerful solos. If you want to hear the whole "middle eastern metal" thing done in a different way, check these guys out, you'll be glad you did.

13. Ophidian I - Solvet Saeclum

Hailing from Iceland, Ophidian I lay down some blistering tech-death on this, their début album and the first review I ever wrote when I started this blog a few months ago. This album still pleasantly surprises and fills me with enjoyment every time I listen to it. To hear a band produce something this well written and played from a country with a smaller population than most towns in England is a very impressive feat. Shedyet and Nadir in particular are both tracks worth checking out if you're a fan of any kind of death metal.

12. Ahab - The Giant

German quartet Ahab play their own brand of post-doom, referred to by them as "nautik funeral doom" This album is one of the most beautifully atmospheric doom albums I've had the pleasure of listening to. To me this album really does mirror the sea. Angelic clean, psychedelic sections give way to doom sections that swallow you like 50ft waves. This album really is a journey. While their earlier albums may have been much darker and doomier with a glacial pace and the feeling of despair, this album changes things up while still keeping a nautical theme. The main storyline here is from Edgar Allen Poe's only complete novel, "The Narrative Of Arthur Gordon Pym Of Nantucket" and is filled with adventure, death, disaster and despair. This is the most adventurous and progressive album of Ahab's career. And the risk has certainly paid off.

11. Barren Earth - The Devil's Resolve

After bursting onto the scene with 2010's "Curse Of The Red River" (a personal favourite of mine), Finnish progressive death group Barren Earth brought us their second album early in 2012, and it was a beauty. Wonderfully atmospheric synths and keyboards, excellently doomy melo-death riffs, great growls and excellent solos. "The Rains Begin" and "As It Is Written" could almost be a melo-death take on Opeth at times. Truly brilliant and definitely a band to watch. Containing members of Swallow The Sun, Kreator, Amorphis and Moonsorrow, this is Finland's metal elite joining together to create something new and wonderful. Don't miss out.

10. Asidefromaday - Chasing Shadows

I had to include some post-metal somewhere as it's a weakness of mine, and who better than these upcoming French geniuses? This is raw, primal, spacey and cerebral post-metal at it's best from a young band who has managed to nail the successful formula on their second attempt. "Process Of Static Movement", "Wolfs Tears Are Falling Stars", "Black Sun" and "Chasing Shadows" are some of the best songs of this style I've ever heard. This is the latest in a long line of bands that has proved to me again and again that the French metal scene, while not necessarily well publicised, is truly ahead of its time and has a wealth of interesting music to offer us.

9. Grand Magus - The Hunt

The kings of vaguely doomy classic heavy metal are back with another sublime offering full of great riffs, sweet solos and fist pumping choruses. "Starlight Slaughter", "Storm King" and "Sword Of The Ocean" are particularly anthemic and make the band hard not to enjoy. Watching and meeting them at Bloodstock this year really sealed the deal for me, such amazing performers and nice guys. I have a special place for Grand Magus in my heart and hope that they may keep rocking for a long time yet.

8. Psycroptic - The Inherited Repression

Tasmania's tech-death heroes have delivered another spectacular album, full of thrashy riffs, great vocals and precision drumming. Joe and Dave Haley really are frighteningly in sync. This album has fantastic riffs and breakdowns in songs like "Carriers Of The Plague" and "The Sleepers Have Awoken", but they can also slow it down and utilise mood over speed, such as one "Euphorinasia" or "Forward To Submission". Jason Peppiatt's vocals, while feeling slightly lacking on previous album (Ob)Servant, is back on top form again, with raspy hardcore shouts, death metal grunts and the odd grindcore shriek thrown in for good measure. Witnessing their live act only last month supporting Obituary shows that Psycroptic are on the best form of their career. Keep it up lads.

7. Dying Fetus - Reign Supreme

Maryland's finest have really done well this year. They've put out this near flawless slab of brutality, and spent the last 6 months of the year touring their collective asses off in support of it. And you can't blame then really. This album has groove, technicality, brutality and melody all in one savage little package. Every member gets their chance to shine at different points and the new songs really are a sight to see when played live. Plus the current lineup is the best/most stable in the band's history. Well done guys, keep going.

6. Enslaved - Riitiir

Nothing short of a progressive black metal masterpiece. Enslaved have proved that they have the ability to outdo themselves again and again. This is an intense journey from start to finish and I can honestly say that despite this album's nearly 70 minute running time, nothing ever feels drawn out. I can happily listen to this album in one sitting and have the time of my life, and I can't wait to see some of these songs played live. Hail Enslaved!!!

5. The Devin Townsend Project - Epicloud

Canada's resident genius/lunatic returns with one of his most interesting releases yet, and what also might be the catchiest metal album of the year. As far as music is concerned some of it's just as odd as ever, but overall the album has an enjoyable and for lack of a better phrase, cathcy-as-fuck tone to it. With a distinctly poppy overtone, this could be seen in some ways as "Addicted 2.0", but I would say that Epicloud is so much more than that, the re-recording of "Kingdom" still gives me chills and "Where We Belong" is like the best parts of "Ghost" and "Addicted" combined. Devin has once again thrown us a "Curve-ball" as he calls them, and taken us all by surprise. Well played sir.

4. Deftones - Koi No Yokan

Haunting, ethereal, crushing, groovy - Deftones albums are known to be all of these things, with most songs incorporating them seamlessly, constantly changing by the minute. As with Enslaved, every new Deftones album raises the question "will they slip up on this one?" and the answer is always a resounding "FUCK NO". This is a band that receives great joy from challenging their fans expectations and proving them wrong. And most of us wouldn't have it any other way. Good going Chino and co.

3. Alcest - Les Voyages De L'Âme

Hauntingly beautiful. This album is full of joy, sorrow and mystery. Mere hours before seeing Neige and his compatriots perform at Hellfest 2012 I decided to leave the festival site and have a walk through the French countryside with this as my soundtrack. Having foolishly listened to this album only once prior to that occasion, in my bedroom, I was unable to fully absorb the atmosphere and context conveyed in the album. Not to sound cliché, but this album, the walk, and the stunning countryside genuinely changed my perspective in life and allowed me to see the beauty in the simple things a lot more. Bravo Alcest. One of the few albums to genuinely cause me to weep with emotion this year (granted I was high as a kite at the time, but the point remains valid). Keep it up you crazy French bastards.

2. Kreator - Phantom Antichrist

And now we come to possibly my favourite thrash record of the decade so far. I consider this record the strongest album Kreator have released in years, definitely since "Enemy Of God" and possibly even since "Coma Of Souls" although that's just my opinion. Continuing on from they started on "Enemy Of God", mixing some melo-death influences into their thrashy song structures has certainly worked in their favour. This album is full of great riffs, lightning fast solos and brilliant fist pumping choruses worthy of being shouted along to time after time. Kreator have cemented their place once again as the royalty of German thrash. And let's hope it stays that way.

1. Aborted - Global Flatline

...And here it is. Anyone who knows me would know this was going to be my number one. I knew from roughly 3 weeks after it came out when I saw Aborted support Decapitated in a small basement in Camden, and quite frankly, these guys stole the show completely. Having only been mildly familiar with the band beforehand I heard two tracks from the "Coronary Reconstruction E.P." at the urging of an issue of Terrorizer. After liking what I heard a lot I waited patiently for the album to released and when it came out, I was instantly hooked. Fast, technical sections gave way to slowed down, grinding breakdowns. All of it tight as fuck and full of great solos, spot on drumming and brutal vocals courtesy of Sven. After seeing them dazzle a crowd of 200 I was impressed, after then watching them blow the minds of a crowd of roughly 3,000 at hellfest I was in absolute awe. In my opinion this is the perfect mix of death metal in a near flawless package. After a couple of patchy albums Aborted are back on form, just as good as they were when they released "Goremageddon" back in 2003. Glad to have you back guys.

Honourable Mentions:

  1. Napalm Death - Utilitarian
  2. Naglfar - Téras
  3. Accept - Stalingrad
  4. Borknagar - Urd
  5. Testament - Dark Roots Of Earth

Best Instrumental Album: Bong - Mana-Yood-Sushai

Newcastle's resident kings of drone have done it again. This album contains two songs, and roughly 45 minutes of spiritual ecstasy. If you want to broaden your mind, this is 2012's soundtrack for it. Enough said.

Best Non-Metal Album: Rival Sons - Head Down

This album shits all over "Pressure & Time" and has established Rival Sons as the premier classic rock band of the decade. If you haven't heard it then you need this shit in your life. Now. Simple as.

Biggest Letdown: Parkway Drive - Atlas/Lamb Of God - Resolution

Neither of these albums impressed me this year, despite me having mad love and respect for both bands. I just couldn't fall in love with them like I have other albums. Better luck next time guys

Biggest Surprise: Devil Sold His Soul - Empire Of Light

Honestly never expected myself to like this album, as I'd never liked the band before, but somehow they've swayed me, well done lads.

Best Artwork: Ahab - The Giant

Just look at it. It's fucking fantastic and trippy as balls. How could you not love this artwork???

Well that's all for now, I'll be posting my best début albums and best EPs in the next day or two. Here's hoping 2013 will be just as great. Stay metal \m/

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