Kip Wingerschmidt’s Top Fifteen Albums of 2012
What a fucking year it’s been and continues to be. Ups and downs, lefts and rights, ins and outs….everywhere you turn, steaming hot dumps in your mouth and a razor-sharp icicle up the rear. I’m all for the adventure of extremes but hoping 2013 will be more balanced and chill overall. Sure, that’ll happen.
This was another strong year for metal, lots of diverse releases and plenty of fiery albums from both relative newcomers as well as respected experts in the genre.
So without further ado…
Shreddy free jazz meets proggy instrumetal? Yes, please! This unique fusion group features Between The Buried And Me’s Dan Briggs on bass, combined with a phenomenal drummer and wailing tenor saxomophonist….who’d a thunk it??? Despite Briggs’ being in BTBAM, it definitely ain’t metal — but it is quite remarkable.
Listen: “Blast Off”
With an impeccable knack for purposeful ambient sections and a bombastic doom/sludge backbone, this remarkable supergroup (Aaron Turner from ISIS, Caleb Scofield from Cave In/Zozobra, Nate Newton from Converge/Doomriders, and Santos Montano from Zozobra) made a triumphant return in 2012 after an extended hiatus and, on a very limited regional East Coast tour, played the best live set I saw all year.
Listen: “To Carry the Flame”
With Yellow and Green, Baroness seem to have reached the apex of their harmony-driven, accessible indie metal journey that (commercially) began triumphantly with Red Album and continued through the slightly uneven Blue Record (for a much rawer, more viceral Baroness do yourself a favor and listen to First and Second, the band’s, ahem, first and second EPs — they fucking slay). The horrendous bus accident they got in earlier this year serves as a tragic break between all of these thorough, significant works and whatever is to come for the band. I hope Baizley and the boys can bounce back resiliently from this major setback and reinvent themselves towards a fresh new aural playing field.
Listen: “Take My Bones Away”
Kevin Hufnagel & Co. (including uber-busy bassman/engineer Colin Marston (Krallice/Behold the Arctopus)) have done it again. Such precise musicianship, such delicately intricate arrangements, such stark intensity to each composition… While Dysrythmia plays progressive instrumetal for the avant garde, diy crowd, this album is anchored with many accessible grooves and melodies, making the music largely palatable (allbeit challenging) for those who usually wouldn’t get down with such a unique sound.
Listen: “In Secrecy”
Despite the genre typically being icy cold and wintery frost-driven, I for one like my black metal piping hot. Oxymoronic (or just plain moronic), you say? To elaborate, I mean that within the often constraining confines of the blackest of metal there needs to be some level of diversity and (dare I say) soul in the music for me to get down. Brooklyn’s Mutilation Rites come on strong with the blackness, but there seem to be more musical leanings and risks taken than is to be expected in the genre. Each song employs twists and turns that pay off nicely, and the rhythm section creates a winningly solid foundation for the crusty, icy guitars and evil, throaty vocals. Diverse black metal for lovers, haters, and meh-ers of the genre.
Listen: “A Season of Grey Rain”
One of the most vibrant releases of the year, this project combines elements of jazz, prog, fusion, and heavy grooves to create a truly unique musical adventure. If you put Miles and Mahavishnu in a blender with a razor-sharp pocket drummer and the dual 8-string guitar assault of Animals As Leaders you’re nearly approaching the magic that supergroup T.R.A.M. conveys. There are many flavors incorporated here that continually astonish and delight my ears.
Listen: “Seven Ways Till Sunday”
Unfuckwithable. These seminal syncopated Swedes deliver yet again with a thick-pocket, sharply executed collection of songs. While this album may not feel as cohesive as the last one, there are umpteen delicious offerings that simply won’t take no for an answer. I didn’t think it was possible but Meshuggah seem to have gotten even HEAVIER…
I first heard this hidden gem early in the year, and it’s stuck with me as an enjoyable romp through sludgy chugging, sprawling doom elements, and uptempo underground thrash. This album kills on a few different levels, and offers a nice powerful journey with many luscious guitarmonies throughout. I wish these guys much more love and notoriety in the future.
Listen: “Guardian’s Procession/Halv King“
7. Gojira — L’Enfant Sauvage (Roadrunner)
Our fave froggies have taken a near-perfect character slice of progressive death metal fury and evolved it to a different plain. Thankfully there are still many of the same elements that made 2008’s The Way Of All Flesh such a modern classic, yet some of the melodic risks taken here render the once-unrelenting force of the sound more sonically diverse (which I for one appreciate but recognize that some may feel serves to somewhat dilute the awesome power of Gojira). Several extremely choice cuts on this one.
At this point, Converge have become quite the venerable elder statesmen in the hardcore scene. At once abrasive, artful, and angular, the ripping hooks offset with screeching frenzy make a dazzling combination. Jacob Bannon’s once-piercing bleedy vocals have developed much more range, and Kurt Ballou seemingly can’t ever stop coming up with enough concise, intelligent, fierce riffs, licks, and dissonant passages (not to mention upping the production level with each record — the drums sound HUGE on this one, and there is a noticeably increased sense of clarity throughout). Unbelievably, this band keeps getting better.
The undisputed sludge-pop champions gave us their best album since Meanderthal this year. Harmonicraft really hammers home the soul of this band and increases the richness of the tune formation. The addition of Andrew Elstner (from the too underknown, rather excellent St.Louis band Riddle of Steel (RIP)) on 2nd guitar/additional vocals really rounds out the already-thunderous sound. And the music, as always, feels mostly positive in mood, a much undervalued and overlooked quality in the heavy music scene.
Far and away the sexiest-sounding metal band out there currently, Deftones follow up their truly amazing Diamond Eyes from 2010 with another fantastic gathering of moody, sentimental, and gloriously rich tunes with nonstop hooks and grooves. Perfect for deep, cathartic, afterhours loving and primal, animalistic emotion.
Listen: “Romantic Dreams”
What leaps and bounds this band has made from Planetary Duality….Autotheism may have taken four long years to be completed and released, but listening to it now seems well worth the wait. So much forethought, so much grace and epic song construction on this record — Michael Keene has truly proven himself to be both a fantastically diverse songwriter and performer. My only gripe is that after all those stellar jamz the over-repetition of the main lick left the last song feeling a little lackluster. Certainly willing to overlook it in light of the very many previous achievements.
I’m finding it hard to accurately categorize this album but it definitely falls into the arena of AMAZING. There’s a lot of thick bottom end here to round out the soaring, thick guitar work and intense vocals, as well as some very nice meditative valleys amongst the many powerful peaks. This is dense heavy music that deserves several listens and accolades til the cows come home.
1. Royal Thunder — CVI (Relapse Records)
Bluesy, deliberate, ripping….despite being around for a while, Royal Thunder came seemingly out of nowhere this year with an unbelievable record and a vast omnipresence among the scene. They’ve played a good five times in New York this year (three of which I caught) — and yes, this band kills live but so many of the songs are rather deliberately paced, which, depending on the mood in the room, can hinge a performance one way or the other. Frontwoman Mlny Parsonz is truly a force to be reckoned with, certainly a solid bassist but more strikingly nailing the perfect blend of rasp, technique, and natural melodic ability in her Janis Joplin meets Joan Jett meets throat-tattoo’d vocals. The album feels quite personal, at times seemingly documenting a turbulent love affair that is altogether volatile, precious, damaging, and bittersweet in both earnest and dramatic ways (although Parsonz has revealed in interviews that some of the lyrical content is specifically related to her own family, in particular issues relating to her father). Parsonz often seems to be doling out a lot of anger and blame towards whoever her muse may be (perhaps Josh Weaver, Royal Thunder’s founding member/guitarist and Parsonz’ own spouse), but such an intense woman can’t be a walk in the park to deal with herself, so I’d be curious to hear the other side of the story as well.
2012 ALBUM TO GET STONED TO:
Author & Punisher — Ursus Americanus (Seventh Rule Recordings)
Getting stony can call for rather different musical moods, and brother is this one different! An odyssey into temperate industrial metal, A&P (actually one man by the name of Tristan Shone who makes his own electronic instruments) creates post-apocalyptic soundscapes that bend space and time.
NON-METAL ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
Kendra Morris — Banshee (Wax Poetics)
If you want to meet soulful sultry vixen Kendra Morris, theoretically you could pop into the Library Bar in New York City’s East Village, where she’s been bartending for years, but you’d only catch a fraction of the spirit that this refined artist conveys onstage. Destined to become one of the great modern soul singers of our generation, Kendra captures a nostalgic character that is often attempted yet rarely achieved with such grace. The music, tight as it may be, does seem a bit too throwback to be called truly original, but once this lady starts singing everything gels perfectly. The alarming force, nature, and je ne sais quoi of her voice is reminiscent of both Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones, and for those that would like a nice metal tie-in, earlier this year Morris released the sexiest cover of Metallica’s “Ride the Lightning” you’ll ever hear.
Listen: “Concrete Waves”
BEST (AND ONLY) ALBUM I PLAYED ON THIS YEAR:
FAMILY — Portrait (Pelagic Records)
In working on this for almost a year there’s clearly no other album I’ve heard as much in 2012, let alone dissected and examined and explored. It didn’t seem right to include on my official list, but nonetheless I hope it finds its way to your ears.
And there you have it. Last year I thought 13 was my lucky number but having been proven wrong, here’s hoping 2K13 is a winner! Looking forward to the future…