Dave Mustein’s Top Fifteen Metal (and Not-Quite-Metal) Albums of 2012
Say what you will about the fate of commercial music and labels, but there’s no arguing that independent music — including metal — is more diverse and alive than it’s ever been. Polyrhythms in black metal, clean vocals on deathgrind releases, myriad synthesizers — all have contributed, for better or for worse, to the development of an age where, given enough effort, any kind of music can be realized as something spectacular. 2012 saw the fruition of many of these efforts, catapulting burgeoning artists into the spotlight while also bolstering household names. Only one label appears more than once on my list, and it’s been a more memorable year in music than any other in recent history.
The increased quality in slam’s production has been a point of debate among purists, but it’s a phenomenal way to promote the genre for the uninitiated. Abominable Putridity have made huge strides since their first release, In The End of Human Existence. Now that we can actually hear what’s going on, syncopation and other rhythmic variations shine through the mix, alongside glimmers of technicality. The Anomalies of Artificial Origin is a well-organized and hugely enjoyable presentation of brutality.
Listen: “Letting Them Fall…”
I hate putting EPs on a list comprised of albums, but there’s no way Deathspell Omega’s stellar cuts are slipping by. “The Crackled Book of Life” is my favorite track of 2012, and the other material on Drought is composed from the same scorching, hellish boil. Drought’s music closely follows its theme, bringing to mind the most desolate of environments. The release is even infused with passages of depraved melody, gorgeously highlighting its desperation.
Listen: “The Crackled Book of Life”
Daybreaker, my token favorite metalcore album of the year, isn’t merely a well-orchestrated rehash of ideas from the mid-2000s. Instead, Architects have adapted to the current scene, and created something that is wholly catchy without losing any of its intrigue. The music is amped-up, teched-up, and mellowed-out, melding legitimately beautiful clean vocal passages with crushing breaks. A fine return to form.
Listen: “These Colours Don’t Run”
Andy Stott’s unique brand of downtempo electronica incorporates no blast beats and no 7-strings, but the disturbing murkiness Luxury Problems conveys is liable to appeal to many metalheads. Wandering vocals float over muddy basslines, culminating in a nightmarishly hypnotic production that’s sure to unsettle even the strongest-willed listeners.
Listen: “Lost and Found”
A punishing journey through misanthropy, Monolith of Inhumanity might be Cattle Decap’s best release yet. From the ripping thunder of opener “The Carbon Stampede” to the absolutely hopeless wailing of “Lifestalker,” Travis Ryan and company have made it clearer than ever that they hate this fucking world. This one will be hard to top.
Listen: “Your Disposal”
Rhythmically compelling and bolstered by crisp production, Dodecahedron’s self-titled debut is fresh and experimental. The song structures in particular stray from the well-trodden templates of many black metal artists, and the use of dissonance is both abrasive and, bizarrely, cathartic. More emotional than it appears at first, Dodecahedron is a complex and rewarding release that’s well worth a few in-depth listening sessions.
Listen: I, Chronocrator
I’ll be honest — I was not waiting for this album by any stretch of the imagination, and I fully expected the hype to far overshadow the final product. Time’s excellent production and killer songwriting surprised me enough to rekindle my waning interest in melodeath. It’s the most intricate and challenging release of its genre in years.
Listen: “Sons of Winter and Stars”
Converge are the archetypal metal veterans. They’ve been around forever, but only continue to become more refined, condensing and tweaking their songwriting while still maintaining hooks and heaviness alike. All We Love We Leave Behind is a powerfully cohesive release, and a great follow-up to Axe to Fall. Listen to it all the way through at least once.
Listen: “All We Love We Leave Behind”
There’s pretty much no point in waiting for the new Necrophagist album, because there’s no way that blistering tech-death can be better than Incurso. A thunderingly heavy release with the perfect amount of groove, melody, and harmony, its technicality is illuminating rather than overwhelming.
It’s a crime to put an electronic album this high up on a metal releases list, and another EP at that, but the UK dubstep (think the opposite of Skrillex) producer’s material is earth-shattering. Kindred is a delicate portrait of polar human emotion, with passages of warmth interspersed with purest sorrow. It’s far from brutal, but it’s certainly heavy, and its textured soundscapes and masterful orchestrations are remarkable.
Arkaik’s growth between Reflections Within Dissonance to Metamorphignition was massive indeed. Metamorphignition‘s power lies in its cohesion. This young group of California tech-death kids has learned how to do more than just play — they’re writing powerful, resonant songs now, and the technicality is far from intimidating. Nineteen-year-old drummer Alex Bent is an exceptionally powerful presence on this release. Check out my review for the nitty-gritty details.
Listen: “The Laughing Prophet of Doom”
Michael Keene may not actually be God, but he’s certainly taken one step closer to greatness with Autotheism. A novel, progressive release with just the right amount of showmanship, its tracks and riffs stick for hours after a listen. It’s not the full-frontal assault of Planetary Duality, but it’s more developed, more daring, and ultimately just as laudable.
Listen: “Accelerated Evolution”
The Giant is the nautical-themed funeral doom band’s most haunting and most balanced release to date, reminiscent of The Ocean’s monumental Precambrian. It’s a near-flawless mix of austere elegance and abyssal perspective, rough-hewn but unshakably clear in its direction. This record truly is a giant release for these Germans.
Listen: “Antarctica The Polymorphess”
This is the heaviest album of the year. If you do not pick up Danza IIII, you’re sorely missing out. Check out my review for more details, but all you’ve got to know for now is that this album is undoubtedly the zenith of Danza’s songwriting. The band’s trademark shrieking dissonance has been refined and moderated, meeting with furious grooves to pummel listeners into the ground. Melody creeps in, too, but the band keeps the release tasteful and heavy throughout.
Listen: “The Alpha The Omega”
1. Blut Aus Nord – 777 – Cosmosophy (Debemur Morti)
The chilling final portion of Blut Aus Nord’s 777 trilogy, Cosmosophy is a sprawling, ethereal haunt. Each song’s lush atmospheres are accented by a stripped-down version of the trilogy’s characteristic snarling dissonance, creating a beautifully expansive gradient that includes everything from icy despair to soulful optimism. Its track beg to be listened to over and over. An exquisite release that seamlessly blends industrial, electronic, and black metal, Cosmosophy is by far the most emotionally moving release of the year.
Listen: “Epitome XIV”