Shanbomb’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2012
As promised, the slowest… and lowest, most “only-an-elephant-can-hear-it” year end list to date. What does this mean for you? Butthurt, and lots of it! Have you ever had a pinecone shoved up your pooper? Imagine that this list is one big, hard, elitism-ass-ruffling tree-baby made just for your rumpa. In the interest of your general well being, I would advise you not to read it. Got that?????
Are you seriously still reading? You must like pain. I hope you have your dad’s Preparation H handy. Here it comes!
Meshuggah is a band from North-central Sweden that plays metal unlike any you’ve heard before. They’re kind of like Periphery or Monuments, except they don’t use any clean singing, which really helps to distinguish them from the rest of their djent peers. Lots of brutal 8-string riffs and creepy atmospheric parts litter this album, but what really makes it different from the majority of their prior output is the sort of barren, dry production they used. It’s pretty unique; after several albums utilizing Bulb’s signature, electronically enhanced production methods, Koloss comes as a welcome change of pace. The songs are memorable and technically interesting, without being as non-listener friendly as some of their past work, and Tomas Haake shows yet again why he is one of the finest drummers in modern metal, second only to Matt Halpern.
Listen: “The Hurt That Finds You First”
(MWAHAHAHA, still standing, mortal? That was just a test — now the real pain begins!)
If you, like me, couldn’t get enough of Dan Tompkins’ dulcet tones on TesseracT’s debut album, you were probably pretty stoked to see him return to the scene so quickly with Skyharbor (just one of several projects in which he has been recently involved). The mastermind here is guitarist Keshav Dhar, whose works, which were available online, caught the attention of the English vocal ace, who subseqnetly offered his talents to these songs. Skyharbor’s sound will certainly appeal to djent fans, but it shouldn’t be limited to that audience. Dhar’s songwriting has an Oceansize-y alt-rock sensibility about it, and the jazzy style of soloing that is present throughout gives the album a wide range of moods and atmospheres. There are also some other tracks that feature Bhayanak Maut vocalist Sunneith Revankar, but the songs with Dan are the real winners here, and given that the group’s current live roster counts Tompkins among its ranks, it seems they know it.
One of the records most likely to be criminally overlooked this year is the long-awaited solo debut by Misery Signals frontman Karl Schubach. I had been really looking forward to this, and I didn’t realize it was out until three months after it had been released. Promotion fail… ANYWAY, if you like Misery Signals and 8-string guitars, there’s no way you won’t totally be into this. Karl’s vocals are as impressive as ever; somehow his growls just keep getting lower and lower on every album, and his surprisingly strong clean vocals, introduced on Controller, offer a welcome change of pace on a couple of tracks. What really impresses here, however, is Schubach’s remarkable songwriting. Call & Response is bursting with brilliant layered guitar melodies, addictive chugs patterns, and creative hardcore riffs. If the Morgan brothers are just using Karl as a singer, they’re seriously selling him, and themselves, short.
Listen: “Call & Response”
Mnemic is one of many bands I’ve avoided over the years just because there seemed to be a collective attitude of negativity toward them from the metal community. After hearing their latest album, the oh-so-cleverly titled Mnemesis, I can say with out a doubt that it’s humbug. Mnemesis isn’t a life-changing record by any means, but as a fan with a serious soft spot for tasty harmonic choices, groovy drumming, uber-low riffs, and massive sing-along choruses, it’s a helluva good time. While this album features an almost completely different lineup from prior releases, Mnemic’s core sound remains intact, and the band sounds downright revitalized. If you like anything Meshuggah or Devon Townsend have done, suck it up and give this a shot.
Sylosis is an exception-to-the-rule band for me. As far as metal subgenres go, thrash does next to nothing for me. As a person who values all the stylistic elements listed in the last pick, you can probably understand why that is the case. But thrash or not, Sylosis is a great band. Edge of the Earth was a really cool record; it was absurdly long and bloated, but there were a lot of awesome songs on it, and the band showed that they had really established a sound of their own. Released just over a year later, Monolith is a ridiculously high-quality follow-up. The group has kept all the sweet atmospheric guitar harmonies and epic songwriting chops from their previous release, but added a doomy-creepy mood to many of these tracks, and cut away a lot of the filler that weighed down EotE.
Listen: “Fear the World”
I’m a casual Gojira fan. I’ve liked just about every album they’ve released since From Mars to Sirius and respect the hell out of them for their hard work and one-of-a-kind approach to modern groove metal, but for whatever reason, I can only listen to them for about twenty minutes before I get tired. Blame it on length, repetition, or filler, but whatever the case, there’s a whole lot less of it on the good old Elephant Sausage. Unnecessary track running times are trimmed down and stronger hooks (vocal and guitar) are more present than ever before. It’s a little less ambitious than some Gojira’s other work, but no doubt contains some of their best writing and performances to date.
Listen: “Born in Winter”
Twelve Foot Ninja has been lumped in with a certain unsavory crowd as of late, given their peripheral Meshuggah influence and mix of melodic heavy rock with progressive metal stylings, but they pretty much have their own thing going on. The Australians owe just as much to Faith No More and Cog as they do Cilice and Textures. Few bands can throw reggae/funk verses into seven string bruisers with this level of conviction. If anything, the one significant criticism I can pose for Silent Machine is that, one album in, Twelve Foot Ninja has almost too defined of a sound — the spazzy metal-to-funk transitions lose some of their impact with their frequency across the album. But that doesn’t stop Silent Machine from being one of the best debuts this year.
Listen: “Coming for You”
Former Opeth drummer Martin Lopez’s new project with metal ace of bass Steve DiGiorgio was a major sleeper hit for me this year. Yes, you’ll hear more than a little Tool in their debut, Cognitive (their singer, Joel Ekelof, even looks like Maynard James Keenan), but what I hear much more than just another artless clone is a clever twist on a played-out sound. More than anything, Soen sounds to me as if Opeth had gone the way of Porcupine Tree or Katatonia, rather than Jethro Tull. Ekelof sounds like a perfect mix of Mikael Akerfeldt and the aforementioned Keenan, which is the perfect compliment to the Ghost Reveries-meets-Lateralus instrumentation of the record. There are some moments where the guys do seem to get a little lost in their influences, but the overall impact is strong and memorable. Lopez and DiGiorgio could also be a strong candidate for rhythm section of the year.
There’s not much to say about this album that I haven’t said already in the post I did a few weeks ago. If you missed it, Decortica is an alternative rock band from Auckland, New Zealand that makes artsy fartsy heavy rock in the vein of Karnivool, Deftones, Chevelle, and the like. Their second full-legnth, following the excellent Love Hotel mini-album, brings their gritty sludge influences (think Panopticon-era Isis) to the forefront, with riffs that feel way too brutal to be called rock at all, and chord progressions that are downright looney.
This one completely took me by surprise. Active rock is a subset of mainstream music I’ve more or less given up on — the sorry state of radio says more than enough on that topic — but this collaboration between former Fuel vocalist Brett Scallions, Smile Empty Soul frontman Sean Danielsen, and producer Andy Wohl gives me some hope that hard rock isn’t completely fucked. I’m not even really a big fan of Fuel or SES, but these songs are so well-written and earwormingly addictive that I find myself spinning them for days on end. The project apparently started out as a songwriting collaboration between the artists involved for sale to less talented bands, but ended up being of such high quality they couldn’t bring themselves to part with their work. Just about anyone who digs Alice in Chains, Filter, or Alter Bridge should find this pretty darn awesome. Kenneth Schalk from Candiria tracked all the drumming for the releas, and guest solos are provided by Pearl Jam’s Mike McReady and Anthrax’s Rob Caggiano.
Listen: “Spreading My Wings”
As much as I like Sevendust, they’ve tired on me a bit in the past few years. It’s nice when a band remains true to their sound over time, but it can become a bit stifling if they adhere to it too rigidly. Call Me No One, the new side project from 7D guitarist Clint Lowery and drummer Morgan Rose, provides that welcome opportunity for experimentation. Last Parade sees the duo paying homage to some perceived influences (Foo Fighters, Alice in Chains, Nine Inch Nails) in a fresh and convincing manner. As usual, Morgan lays down plenty of tasteful and creative grooves, but Clint is the real star here. His impressive vocals, in addition to his distinctive riffs and solos, make Last Parade a very special record indeed.
Listen: Last Parade, “Call Me No One”
I’ve never paid much attention to this band with the absurd name, but as it tends to happen when writing up those Shit That Comes Out Today posts you undoubtedly love so very, very much, I gave a band I’ve put off a chance… and was floored. IIII is so frickin’ awesome it should be illegal. Perhaps out of necessity, the band (which was really a duo by the time this album was recorded) has taken a turn for the studio-processed — but for an album such as this, that’s hardly a negative. Remember how destructive Animals As Leaders’ first album was? It’s because it was fake as shit, and it worked wonders. The massive tones, inhumanly huge drum sounds (which are noticeably more real than your average drum programming), and crazy screeching leads make TD’s swansong Atlas-sized. The AAL comparisons don’t end there, either; while it almost seems like too obvious of a comparison to associate Josh Travis with Tosin Abasi given that they’re both extremely talented, brilliant, guitar-centric instrumental pieces like “The Crossfire” and “Paul Bunyan and the Blue Ox” display more than a few nods to the epic trio. And while I’m usually a big fan of melodic vocals in heavy music, I applaud Jesse Freedland’s decision to keep it Br00tull.
Listen: “Paul Bunyan and the Blue Ox”
Katatonia are nothing if not consistent. Coming off one of their best releases to date, 2009’s Night is the New Day, the group dishes out another hearty helping of quality misery on their ninth studio album. Clearly working with David Castillo at the production helm on their previous album has been a tremendous growth experience for both Jonas Renske and Anders Nyström ,who deftly produced and mixed this album. They are fast learners, and they managed to get remarkably similar tones on this release as Castillo did on their last. With a production as crisp and complex as that of Dead End Kings, I wouldn’t be surprised if numerous clients throughout the rock and metal worlds sought them out for work on their albums. Stylistically, the album very much continues the heavy and progressive direction of Night is the New Day, with some lighter detours for diversity’s sake. The only thing that nags me a little about this release is that it plays it a little too safe. The songs are high quality throughout, but it would be nice to see them take a few more risks.
Listen: “The Parting”
Since the release of Diamond Eyes, I’ve realizedthat I’m sort of an asshole when it comes to my rapport with bands on the rise. Apparently, I’m the kind of douchebag music fan who complains that people at large don’t know good music, but then also browbeats them for being overrated once music journalists at large take notice. For probably the 274th time, I thought Diamond Eyes was good, not great, but who cares—Deftones are an awesome band and I’m proud of the success they’ve had, all while remaining true to their signature sound, and if anything, getting heavier over the years. Fortunately for me, though, Koi No Yokan, is an album I can be legitimately excited about. As I’ve said before, Koi No Yokan reminds me most of one of my favorite Deftones releases, Saturday Night Wrist, with it’s intensive layering and generally more experimental approach (two things I missed on Diamond Eyes). Chino Moreno also brings out the most heart-melting choruses he’s written in years. “Leathers,” “Entombed,” “Poltergeist,” “Gauze,” and “What Happened to You” are all classic ‘Tones — and maybe even more than that.
1) Car Bomb — w^w^^w^w (self-released)
2012 has obviously been a big year for awesome music, but it’s been odd in the sense that I haven’t really had a frontrunner and still sort of don’t, but Vince and Axl said that I’m a big boy now and have to pick a number one… I can’t say with complete certainty that w^w^^w^w trumps all, but I can say that it was definitely the album that surprised me most this year (in great way) and is hands down the most original metal release I’ve heard in 2012. There have been plenty of killer albums this year, but most of them have been good bands “staying the course;” w^w^^w^w is a wild departure from just about anything. As a reader pointed out, I gave the album a 4.5 back when I reviewed it in September, but didn’t provide any reasons as to why it wasn’t worthy of the all-too-trivial 5/5. Looking back, I stand by my rating, and also recognize that some songs don’t really go anywhere, but my tastes have always rewarded bands for taking risks and shooting for the stars even if things don’t come out perfectly every time (when do they ever?). Listening to the winning tracks on Car Bomb’s sophomore album, of which there are quite a few, I’m reminded of the first time heard Sikth’s Death of a Dead Day or Hacride’s Amoeba and was overwhelmed, first of all, by just how much there was to take in, and, second of all, by how forward-thinking and fresh the music was. There is no band at present that sounds like Car Bomb in 2012. w^w^^w^w is an insanely challenging listen; even despite the much greater sense of melody explored here (of the Deftones and Textures extracts), it makes Meshuggah and Gojira’s offerings this year seem tame and friendly by comparison. But the persistence is rewarded, and those willing to dig through the muck will find a new heavyweight in the world of extreme and creative metal.
Listen: “Lower the Blade”