End of Year Round-Up

As much as a circlejerk “best of” lists can be, it’s deeply satisfying to reflect on the past year and re-listen to the sonic goodness that was unleashed upon the world. You know, satisfying for me. You’re just reading a list of a bunch of stuff I love, influenced by my random brain and completely subjugated to my mood, feelings, and non-logic. That’s why I think every metal music fan who acquires albums on an even semi-regular basis should come up with their own list to think about. Write it on a piece of paper, draw it on your roommate’s wall, or post it in a half-assed blog like yours truly. But make a list, and think about why you love the music that you love. Because it makes it that much more real, that much more interesting. With that said, here’s my list of what this wonderful year had to offer.

Biggest Disappointments

natchmystium-silencing-machine 3. Nachtmystium – Silencing Machine

I belong to that rare group that believes the Black Meddle records were the best thing that Nachtmystium ever produced. But, they decided to turn back to their roots of mediocre, industrial-infused USBM and ended up with one of the biggest sheets of wallpaper this year.

Enlaved 2. Enslaved – RIITIIR

Why must every band that takes a proggy turn stay on that road and never look back? Is the Floyd influence so powerful that it becomes all-consuming and irreversible?  With their newest record Enslaved prove that may well be the case. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore Enslaved. In fact, they’re quite possibly by favorite metal band of all time. But that’s exactly why this is on my list of disappointments; because they’re now more focused on their drawn-out proggery than their riffing and atmospheric roots, the very things that make up their soul.

Wintersun-Time-I 1. Wintersun – Time I

I don’t even want to waste time thinking about this after Jari made us wait eight years for this bombastic piece of overproduced garbage. At least it will appeal to Nightwish fans?

Best Albums

For reference, only the top 10 are really in proper order. Designating this many albums to a set number is impossible, just know that everything I included here is worthy of a solid listen, despite where it falls on the list. I included both full-lengths and EPs on this list. Cvlt Nation will be posting my list of favorite demos some time in the near future.

Marduk 25. Marduk – Serpent Sermon

Obolus 24. Obolus – Lament EP

Converge 23. Converge – Those We Love We Leave Behind

Agalloch 22. Agalloch – Faustian Echoes EP

Les Discrets 21. Les Discrets – Ariettes Oubliées…

Anicon 20. Anicon – Anicon EP

Wild Hunt 19. Wild Hunt – Before the Plane of Angles

Anhedonist 18. Anhedonist – Netherwards

Drapsnatt 17. Dråpsnatt – Skelepht

Germ 16. Germ – Wish

Dreaming Dead 15. Dreaming Dead – Midnightmares

Addaura 14. Addaura – Burning for the Ancient

God-Seed 13. God Seed – I Begin

Temple 12. Temple – On The Steps of the Temple

Christian Mistress 11. Christian Mistress – Possession

Alcest 10. Alcest – Les Voyages de l’Âme

Having grown from their shoegazing roots into a sound wholly their own, with Voyages Alcest have put forth their strongest effort yet. Just 18 months after the also fantastic, yet more meandering Écailles de Lune, it progresses their ethereal musings into rich, textured landscapes of sound. The second half of the album is the true highlight, as the Frenchmen head into Sigur Ros-like territory of ambience and atmospheric ecstasy.

Sauroctonos 9. Sauroctonos – Our Cold Days Are Still Here When The Lights Are Out

Intrigued by nothing more than the washed out album art, I took a chance with these Ukranian post-metallers. They take a page out of Enslaved’s book by utilizing mesmerizing, progressive guitar work with an overlay of chilling vocals wrenched from the cold north and executed their take on the sound perfectly. The music by itself is a hardly-metal tidal wave of beautiful repetition with a few electronica nods, but the band as a whole comes together wonderfully in this dreamy soundscape.

Cyanic 8. Cyanic – Litanies of Lust Unholy

A maniacal fusion of just about every form of fast and intense extreme metal, Cyanic’s debut is an assault on every human sense. Their homage to the great Californian grind and thrash of yore comes infused with blackened shrieks and industrial grade weaponry in the form of painfully good riffing. Here are some words I wrote about the album for Cvlt Nation.

Vattnet Viskar 7. Vattnet Viskar – Vattnet Viskar EP

This EP took them from being an unknown independent band to a record deal with Century Media, so that in itself speaks volumes for how great these three tracks are. Vattnet Viskar take the current atmospheric black metal trend and add a touch of melodic sludge to the mix, resulting in vast, expansive monoliths of tracks that take dozens of listens to fully digest. The most important part of their sound is Matt St. John’s crushing drums. His frenetic energy and powerful accents are unlike anything I’ve ever heard in the genre, and transform the recording from great to jaw-dropping.

Hail Spirit Noir 6. Hail Spirit Noir – Pneuma

A wacky and fun black metal cabaret, I had this on regular rotation for a solid six months. It deserves points for being apologetically original without giving in to cheesiness; this is by far the best blackened debut of the year and I can’t wait to hear the next offering from these psychedelic Greeks. I wrote more extensively about it on my first review for Metal Bandcamp.

Dawnbringer 5. Dawnbringer – Into the Lair of the Sun God

Although stylistically very similar to 2010’s Nucleus, Into the Lair of the Sun God is an example of a concept album that works. Following a warrior on a quest to murder the sun, his travels take you through battle, flames and despair on the way to fulfill his prophecy, all while being barreled along by perfectly executed traditional metal riffing. Chris Black’s axemanship and vocal range are at the top of their game.

Pallbearer

4. Pallbearer – Sorrow and Extinction

I’m not normally a huge doom fan, the ancient subgenre seems to be in an endless competition to see who can play the slowest, heaviest and distortiest. But Pallbear turn down the filth and pile on the melody to make  a record that’s both gut-wrenchingly sad and exuberantly hopeful at the same time. The dynamics in the production are killer, Sorrow and Extinction is flawless in just about every way.

Horseback 3. Horseback – Half-Blood

Hype started building early for this album, as 2010’s Invisible Mountain was apparently a fantastically original album, although I had never heard of the project. The preview clips I started to hear really intrigued me, despite how stubborn I am to the whole drone/noise thing… maybe I just don’t do enough drugs. Jenks Miller’s fusion of Americana and black metal is hypnotic art put into aural form. After first picking up up Half-Blood I would lay in my bed for hours zoning out to the southern tones and blissful gasps. A rare piece of work where the instrumental songs capture your attention as much as the rest.

Woods of Ypres 2. Woods of Ypres – Woods V: Grey Skies & Electric Light

It was a huge struggle for me to sit down and fully comprehend this album, because of what it represented. I was lucky enough to spend time with David Gold before he passed away when Woods crashed at my house during their North American tour last year. I’m not going to pretend I knew him well but from the short time I spent with him, he was an extremely kind and passionate person who poured his soul into his music. This album is the final product of that catharsis, and it eerily and ironically deals extensively with the prospect of death. Woods V is the best thing he has ever produced, and a fitting tribute and legacy to a life cut much too short.

Cattle Decapitation 1. Cattle Decapitation – Monolith of Inhumanity

I have no idea how this happened. Grind and Death are two of my least listened-to subgenres, but this album is far and away my favorite release this year. It’s absolutely ferocious and batshit insane, and that’s without even reading the lyrics. Travis Ryan wins for the best vocal performance of ever, and the band using standard song structures on a few of the tracks makes for some unbelievably addicting, catchy moments. I’ve probably listened to this album five times a week since its release. Yes, it’s that good.

Closing Thoughts

The phrase “it was a great year for metal” seems to get thrown into these debriefs most of the time, but we’ve reached a point where that’s going to be the case for the rest of time. The quantity of new releases has reached a point where even if 1% of all metal releases are considered “great” then every year is going to rule hard. And there were some amazing trends as well as music this year. In terms of the industry, the biggest game-changer is without a doubt Bandcamp. Although the digital music network has been around for a while,  thousands of labels, bands and solo metal artists turned to the service in 2012 and greatly expanded consumer’s access to DIY acts would would have otherwise been lost in the sea of mediocrity. And although 2011 was clearly the year of Profound Lore, they didn’t quite live up to their potential this year as they focused a tad too much on disappointing follow-ups and experimental releases.

Meanwhile, it was a banner year for traditional black metal as Indie Recordings really stepped up their game and put out some fantastically blasphemous released that 1994 would be damn proud of. But my favorite trend was the sheer amount of experimentation done within the black metal framework that continues to push the boundaries and add new layers to my favorite genre. New life has been been breathed into the style that many thought had lost its way a decade ago, and the past 12 months have left me confident and hopeful for its enduring future.

See you folks in February, I’m off to Southeast Asia.

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3 thoughts on “End of Year Round-Up

  1. Interesting list. Some albums I don’t know, and I now have to check out. That’s the favorite part of all these end of year lists.

    And off course I quite agree with your bit about Bandcamp in the conclusion.

  2. Christian Mistress somehow ended up quite underrated. I guess it’s because that record came out in February?

    I agree about Profound Lore; they had some solid releases aside from Pallbearer (Occultation, Witch Mountain, and the ignored-by-just-about-everyone Yakuza), but they dropped the ball by not releasing Krallice’s new album and making some strange choices as to what they did put out.

    On the other hand, how about Relapse? They recovered from 2011 quite nicely.

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