Vince Neilstein’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2012
Another year has passed. Some bands released some albums. A few of them were pretty good, others not so much. You don’t read these intros anyway so let’s get to it:
Sludgy, nasty, dark, abrasive, crushing… all of these things describe Black Sheep Wall. What’s more, they’re artfully proggy without being rubbing it in your face and being assholes about it. If you like the sludge of Intronaut at their heaviest moments, the unpretentious musicianship of East of the Wall, the post-drone of Isis or the hardcore riff attack of Converge, No Matter Where It Ends is a record you’re going to absolutely love. If Black Sheep Wall can introduce a bit more dynamic to their songwriting, the sky’s the limit.
“Supergroups” often fall short of expectations because the sum of their parts sounds altogether too much like what it is: those parts smooshed together in a forced and contrived fashion. Where others stumble, Bereft have triumphantly succeeded precisely because their music sounds nothing at all like Abysmal Dawn, Intronaut, Graviton and The Faceless or any combination thereof. Leichenhaus is doomy, dark and raw, not necessarily adjectives you’d expect to see describing music made by the aforementioned bands; that it’s also powerful should be no surprise.
“Black metal gone Gorguts” is the best description I’ve read anywhere to describe Exivious guitarist Michel Nienhuis’s new project Dodecahedron, so I’m gonna go ahead and pat myself on the back for coming up with that one a year ago. Well done, Vince! No but really, this is some forward-thinking, unconventional shit in a genre that’s typically neither of those two things. Gojiran / Morbid Angelian pick-scrapes, titanic bends, precision blasts and gargantuan elephants marching riffs aren’t what you’d expect to hear over a black metal harmonic template, but that’s exactly what’s going on here.
On Portrait, Brooklyn’s Family struck a chord with the seemingly disparate genres they combine: Mastodonian power riffing, proggy ’90s alternative rock structures (think: Tool, Soundgarden) and classic rock melody. It sounds crazy, but it works, and the results are remarkably consistent throughout Portrait. They’re also incredibly hummable; these riffs and melodies will be cycling through your dome for days after hearing them just once, I guar-an-tee.
There isn’t much of a market for “smart hard rock,” but the members of Sevendust and their extended family seem to have it pretty much cornered (see also: Dark New Day). In this case, Sevendust’s creative brains — guitarist Clint Lowery and drummer Morgan Rose — teamed up for a side project a bit more on the melodic side than the music they create for their day job, and it’s got exactly the high level of songwriting you’d expect from this duo, hooky, smart and inventive.
With Fade, Cloudkicker (aka Ben Sharp) has finally come into his own. Whereas everything he’s done in the past has been solid, you could always pinpoint specific influences he wore proudly on his sleeve. Sharp has one-upped himself with Fade and he’s finally created a mature sound that’s 100% unique; nothing else sounds like this except for Cloudkicker. That the production on this record is also by far his best to date doesn’t hurt either; new layers of sound reveal themselves upon each subsequent listen, and the sounds are all crystal clear without sounding fake.
Our favorite Frenchmen may not have bested the songs on The Way of All Flesh, but L’Enfant Sauvage jams like “Explosia” and “Liquid Fire,” to name a couple, will make fine additions to the Gojira canon for years to come. I shouldn’t really need to explain Gojira’s music to you here… have you really not listened to this album yet?
They did it. They really did. A LOT happened in the four years since Meshuggah release ObZen, namely the rise of an entire sub-genre built upon the groove-based, downtuned metal template they created. But Meshuggah somehow managed to rise above it all, writing an album that kept the basic idea the same but changed up the formula just enough (slower tempos, more guitar solos) to firmly stick their feet in the sand and say, “FUCK ALL YOU POSERS! WE ARE STILL THE BEST AT THIS.”
Enabler’s membership’s hardcore roots are on full display throughout All Hail the Void, but it’s the tinges of deft metal execution that make this record special. The hooky lead guitar melody of “Speechless” initially caught my attention, but the record is full of bangers just like it, and, even more impressively for a band in this sub-genre, dynamics. Mark Enabler in the “band to watch” column; big things could happen if they’re able to stay together and stay focused.
Yellow & Green is Baroness’ best album yet, and with it the Savannah, GA outfit’s evolution from metal bangers to proggy rock masters is now complete. A double album might seem ambitious — and it certainly is — but it’s worth noting that Yellow and Green‘s combined 80 minute running time could’ve fit on one standard CD if the band so chose. Either way, Yellow & Green is an incredibly impressive effort with a definitive beginning, middle and end, and it’s an album on which you can tell every note, every change, every chord, every harmony, every tone was intensely scrutinized before being committed to tape. Baroness will be hard-pressed to ever top it.
Another record by tried and true hardcore dudes (see Enabler, above) that, while it’s still punk at its core, feels relevant in today’s metal scene thanks to an expanded songwriting palette, wide dynamics and massive-sounding production courtesy of producer Dean Baltulonis. I’m not sure if it’s possible to wholly and completely “get it” without seeing the band’s riveting live performances, but The Shadow Gallery‘s seven songs in 25 minutes pack quite the hefty punch in a limited amount of time.
I heard “West Ruth Ave.” once and that was the end of me… I was all-in, hook, line and sinker. The band features Soilwork’s Speed Strid and David Andersson along with Arch Enemy bassist Sharlee D’Angelo (playing guitar), although the music is a far cry from the Swedish melodeth jerk-fest you’d expect. Night Flight Orchestra function as a full-on dad rock tribute to the danceable rock music of yore, an homage to Steely Dan, Hall and Oates, and anything you may have heard on AOR radio circa 1980. This record is chock full o’ danceable jams all the way through; Every. Single. Song!
Michael Keene is about halfway through his inevitable transformation from tech-death kingpin to prog metal overlord. The heavier, more traditional Faceless moments on Autotheism can seem out of place, but the rest of what Keene is doing here is so outstanding, so ambitious, so artfully and expertly executed, that it more than makes up for the forced nature of the former. I can’t wait to see what Keene comes up with next once his Akerfeldtian transmogrification is complete.
We were incredibly excited about T.R.A.M. — the jazz fusion quartet of Tosin Abasi, Javier Reyes (both of Animals as Leaders), Adrian Terrazas (ex-The Mars Volta) and Eric Moore (Suicidal Tendencies) — ever since we saw them tear the house down at SXSW in 2011. Not only did Lingua Franca, their debut album, not disappoint us, but it took our expectations, threw them up in the air, batted them over the fence and smashed them into a million little pieces. I may have been exaggerating a wee bit when I said that fusion metal is the future of progressive heavy music, but at the very least it’s great to know that there’s a place in the modern heavy music scene for music as “out there” as this stuff. More, please, ASAP.
1. 7 Horns 7 Eyes – Throes of Absolution (Century Media)
When guys with a nuanced understanding of arrangement and composition join metal bands, you end up with expertly composed songs that play like classical music arranged for metal orchestration. Wholdathunkit? In this case, “guys” is 7H7E ringleader Aaron Smith, who also has the added skillset of being able to make instruments sound incredible on record… another plus in the asset column. The result is one of the most cohesive records of the year, captivating at each twist and turn of every song. I’ve said before that I believe 7 Horns 7 Eyes are Nevermore for the new generation of metal, and I’ll stick by that claim. It sucks that the lyrical content is religious (any religion), but whatever; the music rules, and that’s what matters.