Scraping Genius Off The Year: Gary Suarez’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2012
I’m not perfect, you guys. I know this. I’ve earned a bit of a reputation here at MetalSucks for raging against sacred cows and asking provocative questions. We don’t always get along because of my hardheadedness, my finger-wagging, and my apparent contrarianism. From my writing here and at my aggressively updated Twitter account, you might legitimately think that I hate pretty much everything. Well, I’m here today to tell you that’s not at all the case. There’s a lot of stuff I genuinely like, and even love. Here are fifteen metal records and bands that fall into that category.
We’ve now reached a point where the release of a new High On Fire is less of an event than a comforting certainty every two or three years. Fortunately, the reliable trio’s skittishness with producers keeps things lively. After amateur audiophiles carped at length about Greg Fidelman’s work on Snakes for the Divine, they chose Kurt Ballou to tackle this new set. Full of fantasy and heavy metal thunder, De Vermis Mysteriis soars to intimately familiar heights and never shakes off its sulfuric stink.
Listen: “Fertile Green”
I’ve got nothing but love for the current proto-metal hard rock revival trend, even as the threat of diminishing returns looms. What strikes me about Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell is a brazen eccentricity, which adds another captivating layer to the sonic adulation of the classic Deep Purple, Motorhead, and Black Sabbath catalogs. Take the 30-second flanger freakout of “Killer Kane (Reprise),” which actually precedes the original by four tracks. Still, this oddball trio’s disregard for the rules is easily overlooked when bewitched by their blues stomp.
Hardcore bands reunite nearly as often as they disband, much to the delight of what seems a “forever young” scene. So the return of Long Island crossover act V.O.D. wasn’t so much a surprise as it was a protracted inevitability. The band has been promising new material since 2008, but they finally delivered this year. Not dissimilar from 1998’s Imprint, The Cursed Remain Cursed bludgeons and bounces with thrashy flair and low-end crunch. Apocalypse and annihilation loom thematically on even the most pit-centric bangers.
Listen: “Set to Fail”
Try as I might, I’ve never been particularly enamored with Torche. Sure, Meanderthal won the hearts and minds of scores of music critics, inadvertently giving undue credit to the red herring known as hipster metal, but it didn’t do much for me. Their first full-length since the apparently contentious departure of Juan Montoya, Harmonicraft feels grander and more hopeful, with vastly improved songwriting and delivery that plays to the group’s strengths. Everything’s bigger, brighter, and bolder than before.
Listen: “Reverse Inverted”
Indebted to the 1970s, Kadavar’s hallucinatory debut doesn’t disappoint in the least, spiraling and scorching throughout with grandiose guitar skronk, vintage Geezer-esque basslines, and crisp, cymbal-ridin’ drum work. Sprawling instrumental passages less jam than journey make the Berlin group’s memorable vocal moments all the more rewarding, and the far out cover art really adds to the mystique. Occult highlight “Goddess of Dawn” might be some of the best Black Sabbath worship to come from the retro rock revival yet.
Listen: “Goddess of Dawn”
The Melvins (Lite) dropped an album this year that, despite its initially delightful return to weirdness, just didn’t hold up on repeat listens for this longtime fan. Dejected, I sulked about it for awhile like a stupid whiny baby. Then along came Indian Handcrafts, a band evidently under the distinct influence of big tent records like Houdini and Stoner Witch. With actual on-record contributions from real honest-to-God bonafide Melvinses, these eleven grody stoner blues grow hairier as you listen.
Listen: “Bruce Lee”
New York’s pre-revival noise rock scene featured many devastating deviant acts, but arguably none as venomous or vitriolic as Unsane. A power trio born of the city’s filth, the guys still seek out dark corners and ulterior motives after all these years. Despite the rare soft-loud balladry of “Stuck,” Wreck’s unabashedly bombed-out and battered blues won’t garner the band the sort of success they’ve actively avoided for more than two decades. A dire record from start to finish, the damage on display here is undeniable.
If you’ve made it this far into my list, you’re probably scratching your head over this one. If not, then you’re undoubtedly part of the elite, splendid cult that follows this unsung hard rock imprint. Riff-centric and retro, Connecticut’s own Lord Fowl recalls everything worth loving about bands like Kiss and Monster Magnet on their first-rate debut. From arena-worthy rockers (“Split”) to heady psychedelic noodlers (“Mutate”), Moon Queen is an unwaveringly infectious and divinely heavy record worth trading your soul over.
Listen: “Moon Queen”
2008’s The Sound of Madness benefited from a long tail thanks to “Second Chance,” a multi-platinum mega-hit that became so culturally pervasive and commercially invasive that even your (grand)parents would recognize it. That put a lot of pressure on Amaryllis, which auspiciously follows through instead of merely following up. Radio-readymade power ballads abound, though “Unity” makes for the worthiest successor. Still, Shinedown haven’t abandoned their heavier roots, with cuts like “Adrenaline” and post-glam “Nowhere Kids” only marginally less metallic than Load / Reload days Metallica.
Two years ago, The Sword outdid themselves with Warp Riders, a Hawkwindian sci-fi stoner rock concept record that rescued the band from the creative doldrums of sophomore slumping Gods of the Earth. While lacking a singular standout like “Tres Brujas,” their latest rules nonetheless, with a quality and consistency throughout that puts on notice the countless retro revivalists that have cropped up in their wake. The faithful cover of ZZ Top’s “Cheap Sunglasses” reminds us not to take this stuff too seriously.
Listen: “The Veil of Isis”
Afeared that their last misanthropic screed Bridges To Burn might have contained too many pop hooks, these unsung heroes of aural ugliness relapse back into the opiate muck from whence they came. Depressive and downtuned, 16’s music has rarely if ever been about anything but suffocating misery, dragon-chasing despair, and nihilism. With uplifting titles like “Ants in My Bloodstream” and “Bowel of a Babykiller,” these ten new antisocial sludge feasts wallow in the worst of man. Your Eyehategod and Ringworm records could use a friend like this.
Listen: “Ants in My Bloodstream”
If Turbonegro dumped the salty seapunk schtick and set their fleet aflame, they might end up sounding something like this Ontario quintet. Fronted by former Cursed vocalist Chris Colohan, Burning Love positively smokes with its startlingly pungent, high-energy rock-and-holy-fucking-roll assault. Guitar flourishes (“The Body”) and a searing, relentless rhythm section transcend the boundaries of hardcore simply through distillation and streamlining. This is not a headphones album; you’ll need to crank the volume to 11 to get the intended effect and it will be worth it.
Gimmick bands that overstay their welcome rarely do so with grace. Following the untimely death of bassist Paul Gray, Slipknot has by necessity been compelled to reevaluate its continued existence. Corey Taylor (#8) and Jim Root (#4), however, have long been cultivating a post-maggot future with a steady decade’s worth of Stone Sour releases. A trend-agnostic set of immensely hooky heavy metal tunes, this latest effort excels, threatening to become the benchmark by which to judge the rest of the band’s discography.
Listen: “Gone Sovereign”
Pentagram populists Witchcraft’s Legend went down like warm flat soda compared to this gin-and-Alka-Seltzer blast from their frequently cited Norrsken cousins. A more refined outing than its groovy ghoulish predecessors, Lights Out elevates the Scandinavian combo to a level unfamiliar to their vintage rock peers. His band more popular than ever, Joaquim Nilsson still belts like he’s auditioning for the big time, but it’s the pensive, muted, unexpectedly honest moments (“Slow Motion Countdown,” “Hard Times Lovin”) that make the record so damn glorious.
Listen: “Endless Night”
1. Xibalba — Hasta La Muerte (Southern Lord)
First impressions are hard to live down. Southern Lord’s quickie repackaging of this SoCal crew’s ostensible LP debut Madre Mia Gracias Por Los Dias left me wondering what all the fuss was all about. Though I’m hardly known for changing my mind, Xibalba earned their mulligan with Hasta La Muerte, an overwhelming set of Disembodied-esque savage pit grinders (“No Serenity,” “Stoneheart”) and suffocating desolation anthems (“Laid To Rest,” “The Flood”). Though embraced by the hardcore scene, the record has far more in common with death metal touchstone Morbid Angel, with the cover art to match. Featuring female vocals one might expect from a shoegaze record, “Mala Mujer” ascends as the album’s finest moment, promising further progression and willful genre-blurring.
Listen: full-album stream