Satan Rosenbloom’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2012
In 2012 I hit 30 and got married. I’m officially old. This is all by way of excusing the absurdly long list of records that I should have gotten to know better but didn’t, because I was too busy drinking prune juice and yanking out grey nose hairs. Could Pig Destroyer, Gojira and Converge’s latest have made it on here if I’d given them some more time? Sure, I like those records. But I like these records more:
Death Obsession Pt. 1: It’s news to exactly nobody that old school death metal is a thing. Call it respect for the dead, call it incompetence, whatever – very few new OSDM bands reach for the Schuldiner school of early death metal. Enter the year-old Whittier band Skeletal Remains and their debut Beyond the Flesh. These songs could be Leprosy or Spiritual Healing outtakes. And that’s intended as a compliment – the riff writing, musicianship and Morrisound-style production of early Death are all impeccably in place, and more important, the spirit is true to the original. Time will tell whether Skeletal Remains find an identity of their own. For now, this is as close to a new/old Death record as we’re gonna get.
Listen: “Extirpated Vitality”
Death Obsession Pt. 2: This sophomore record from LA’s Dreaming Dead is less immediate than the band’s debut Within One. Still, it’s thrilling to hear a band echo the tricky prog-death of later Death without paling in comparison to the original. Lead guitarist/vocalist Elizabeth Schall writes terrific riffs, rich in hooks and momentum, and her solos are expressive and unfailingly melodic. These guys went the Kickstarter route to help fund the pressing of this album. Let’s hope a respectable label gives them a massive advance next time around.
The scope of this record is so its own thing. The track lengths and occasional vocal harmonies are epic, but the tones are so dirty, so personal. It’s like if Hammers of Misfortune were weaned on Opeth and Ihsahn instead of Thin Lizzy and Jethro Tull. None of these descriptions do Wild Hunt any justice though. Go listen to Before the Plane of Angles, and then listen to the Creepmoon EP from Dimesland, which shares three members with Wild Hunt. The fact that both albums are so brazenly original and sound completely different from each other tells me that these dudes are mad geniuses.
Listen: “Window to the Nether”
Doom metal tends to feel dead. Witch Mountain’s plodding jams feel ALIVE. Billy Anderson’s production oozes warmth and the rhythm section swings hard; guitarist Rob Wrong adds in Hendrix leads amidst endless Iommi smashes, and Uta Plotkin sings fiery exhortations over the whole thing like the sorceress she is. This is Witch Mountain’s second straight winner in as many years. Listen to this band.
It takes a special band to write music this protractedly filthy. Halfway through the nearly 18-minute bummer of an opener “deadman/rabbit,” the endless downtuned riffs congeal into a single, trance-inducing slipstream. It’d be almost beautiful if haarp didn’t sound and feel sorta like heroin addiction caught on tape.
One of the many, many things I love about Neurosis is how their music seems to get older along with the band. Their 10th album feels gruff, wise and raw, like it’s built out of earth and stone as much as music. A lot of credit goes to Steve Albini, who gives Neurosis perhaps their most organic, live sound ever. Of course Albini was capturing Neurosis at their fire-breathing best. The second half of “My Heart for Deliverance” is a new high watermark for a band that is always true to itself and keeps getting better.
Listen: “My Heart for Deliverance”
In one of the best years for doom that metal fans have suffered through in ages (great new albums from Evoken, Paradise Lost, Serpentine Path, Samothrace, Indesinence, haarp), this debut by LA quartet Bereft sticks with me the most. Its combination of English doom melodicism and Finnish funeral bleakness feels remarkably fluid for music this plodding. Guitarist Sacha Dunable doesn’t get enough attention for the sheer heaviness of his riff-writing in Intronaut, but Leichenhaus should rectify that. And with members of LA stalwarts Abysmal Dawn, The Faceless and Graviton rounding out the band, Bereft throws its considerable weight around with class.
Listen: “The Coldest Orchestra”
It’s technically daunting, savage as fuck, and really, really weird. Since their last record The Harvest Floor, Cattle Decapitation have gone from being passable SoCal death metal veterans to recording unique, maybe even essential records. Travis Ryan (who also belched his way through Murder Construct’s excellent Results this year) may be the most improved member of the band, with a set of bizarro “clean” vocals spliced into his normal array of grunts and howls, like a little bit of sugar in your gravel soup. Death metal this speedy doesn’t usually sound this heavy. Who woulda thought that you could describe a band known for its pro-vegetarian stance as “meaty?”
If one factor defined 2012 for me, it was the influx of heavy albums with powerful female vocalists. Not that Marriages bears any resemblance to Royal Thunder, Christian Mistress, Witch Mountain or Jess and the Ancient Ones – the band’s more invested in dynamics and texture than rocking out, as you’d expect from a band comprising members of post-rock bands Red Sparowes and The Nocturnes. But even if she’s more Elizabeth Fraser than Grace Slick, Marriages singer Emma Ruth Rundle is the center of this band’s malleable, cosmic sound. Listening to this album is like watching the universe expand.
Listen: “Ride in My Place”
On their masterful 2010 album Paracletus, French masters Deathspell Omega – always the least orthodox of the orthodox black metal bands – moved beyond the relentless density of their earlier works to create something elastic and pretty special. The follow-up Drought matches Paracletus for variety, and bests it for compactness – you get everything you need from Deathspell Omega in just over 20 minutes, with not a single song eclipsing the five minute mark. Though it won’t be the album they’re best remembered for, Drought might just be the most enjoyable record of Deathspell Omega’s monumental canon.
Listen: “Fiery Serpents”
The riffs are awesome. The lyrics are awesome. The live show is awesome. The cover art is awesome – it might even be the cover of the year. This is a band that excels at just being a great band. No frills; none needed. This is their second straight album of kingly blackened death metal done right.
Listen: “Collapse in Eternal Worth”
In which this enigmatic San Francisco band comes out into the open. Their last one flirted with the brooding post-rock of ‘90s iconoclasts like Slint and Rodan; here, they fully embrace the open space and dryness of the Louisville sound, and use it as a springboard for something wholly their own, and totally vital. Black metal rarely feels so personal. Plus, it’s never been so apparent what a motherfucker drummer H. is. Make sure you’re paying attention to the entirety of minute 3 on “The Arborist,” below.
Listen: “The Arborist”
You know a band is doing something right when its sunny, melodic parts feel even more fucked up than its deranged sludge riffs. Toronto band Godstopper’s hybrid of Melvins, Harvey Milk and Swans feels all the more disgusting than that combination would suggest because the clean and filthy slither around and intermingle, breeding turgid jams like “Right Up to Heaven” and “Blame Them.” This album more than capitalizes on the enormous potential of last year’s Clean House EP. By which I mean that I feel like I’ve done something wrong by listening to it.
Listen: “Right Up to Heaven”
Grindcore is there to slap you around, berate you, knock the wind out of your sails. It shouldn’t feel triumphant – at least not without winking at you. Norwegian band Beaten to Death break form with their debut record. Their straightahead groove-based grind tramples you underfoot, then lifts you back up with jangly guitar melodies. And somehow, it all fits.
Listen: “Winston Churchill”
1. Vaura – Selenelion (Wierd Records)
Vaura’s debut is one of those records that you’ll end up describing with vague impressions instead of regular sentences, if you can describe it at all. Like the lunar eclipse that gives the album its name, Selenelion is constructed of light and darkness and unexpected colors. It groans and bursts and floats and explodes and then comes back together. It’s boundless music, exploding the strictures of metal/rock/shoegaze/ambient/post-punk and then gluing all the pieces back together into something weird and wonderful.
Listen: “Obsidian Damascene Sun”