TOP TEN ALBUMS of 2012
10.) Shadows Fall – Fire From the Sky
Disclaimer: Shadows Fall was one of the first true metal bands I ever became a fan of, way back in 2001 upon enrolling at St. Lawrence University and suddenly finding myself with a broadband internet connection and the ability to search out new and upcoming music. Of One Blood was a revelation and still a personal favorite. Although the band has progressed through the years further away from the distinctly Gothenburg sound found on the aforementioned album, they have managed to stay fresh and relevant: not an easy task over half a dozen albums. Fire From the Sky is a wide-ranging disc and there’s something for most metalheads on it, but make sure to listen to the entire album as some of the best cuts are found towards the end. “Save Your Soul” is the 6th song and one of the best in Shadows Fall’s catalog.
9.) King of Asgard – …to North
I hadn’t heard of these guys until last spring when I stumbled upon their first album, Fi’mbulvintr, a terrific piece of modern viking metal similar to Amon Amarth, Bathory, etc. So naturally, I had really high hopes for …to North, and for the most part, they were met. Fast-paced and often folk-inspired riffs predominate, but the occasional flourish of synths and female vocals add a lot of depth to their songs. The first two-thirds of the album is epic – just as good as their debut – but as the disc plays on, something seems amiss. Surely the inspiration is there, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t translate to my liking. Regardless, I can’t wait to see what these guys come up with next.
8.) Testament – Dark Roots of the Earth
Holding down the thrash fort on my 2012 list, Dark Roots of the Earth is yet another quality album from a legendary band. We should all count ourselves lucky that Testament is still going strong despite a litany of lineup changes, health problems, and overall lack of recognition by mainstream music outlets. When Alex Skolnick rejoined the lineup for The Formation of Damnation, I knew it would be a great album. At this stage of his career, there was no way he would rejoin the band unless the new music excited him. My inclination was correct: The Formation of Damnation was an incredible album from start to finish. And while Dark Roots of the Earth continues to bring Testament’s sound progressively forward into modern thrash territory, it doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor. Although “True American Hate,” “Native Blood,”and “Man Kills Mankind” are some of the best metal cuts of the year, the rest of the album sounds slightly rushed.
7.) Nile – At the Gate of Sethu
Fast. Precise. Technical. Brutal. Mystic. These are but a few of the words that come to mind when describing the Ancient Egyptian-themed band known as Nile. For years they have been cranking out insanely complex death metal, but as time wears on, their ability to craft groove-laden headbangers has grown on each album. I’m sure there are purists out there clamoring for the old, gritty, less-accessible Nile; complete with the thin-sounding guitar tone from the first couple albums. Not me. At the Gate of Sethu is a powerhouse disc with a huge sound due to the outstanding production. The only drawback is that Dallas Toler-Wade shaved off his skullet a couple years ago. What a shame.
6.) Fear Factory – The Industrialist
When Burton C. Bell and Dino Cazares finally decided to be adults and get back together under the Fear Factory banner, (despite the obvious absence of Raymond Herrera and Christian Olde Wolbers), I was intrigued but skeptical. Then they released Mechanize, which in my opinion ranks just behind Obsolete and Demanufacture: two albums that are bonafide modern metal classics. The Industrialist is another installment of the signature Fear Factory sound: stop-start riffing, harsh vocals intermixed with clean harmonies, and a healthy dose of electronic soundscapes and sampling. My only gripe is that the drums sound overly programmed, which isn’t surprising given the lack of Gene Hoglan or the aforementioned Herrera behind the kit to record the record.
5.) Meshuggah – Koloss
If a metal band exists that has a more unique and identifiable sound than Meshuggah, I haven’t found them. Admittedly it took me several years and listenings to ‘get’ what these guys are doing. Technical, complex, and often downright crushing, Meshuggah keeps putting out solid albums full of polyrhythmic patterns and staccato solos. Koloss fits right into their natural progression: obZen was faster than previous albums and that continues into the new disc on most songs. But where Meshuggah had sometimes lost me in the past – their slow, plodding moments – I find Koloss to be a step forward in originality.
4.) Eluveitie – Helvetios
I don’t even know how to pronounce this band’s name. I just know that I love their music. Reviews often describe Eluveitie as Dark Tranquillity with some folk instruments added, which isn’t far from the truth. Their sound is rooted in upbeat melodic death, but there is so much more to it. Despite putting out albums in a workman-like manner, the quality of the songs are still top notch. My only complaint with this album is that it includes an intro, outro, and several interlude spoken-word tracks that take away a lot of momentum. Although I can appreciate what the band is trying to accomplish with a concept album, Helvetios comes across as slightly excessive. It’s a fantastic disc…if you’re willing to skip your way through it.
3.) Lamb of God – Resolution
It’s amazing to think that Lamb of God is probably the premier ‘underground’ metal band in the USA right now, seemingly taking over the Pantera throne a few years ago. I remember when As The Palaces Burn came out and being floored with how tight and intense their sound was. Over the years they have experimented in a few different directions yet remained largely true to their core. You know a Lamb of God song when you hear it. And Resolution is chock full of great ones. But it does drag on and feel slightly bloated: if these 15 songs were condensed into 10 or 12, would it be an instant classic? Maybe. But it’s still a great album from a band that’s showing no signs of slowing down or mellowing with age.
2.) Goatwhore – Blood For The Master
I’ve been a casual Goatwhore fan for a few years, but their last album – Carving Out the Eyes of God – was a watershed moment in southern blackened death. Brutality is the name of the game here, but there’s also an undercurrent of old-school, stripped down traditional heavy metal that keeps the groove flowing. Lyrics are not only angry, they’re intelligent and relevant. But make no mistake, Goatwhore is a riff machine, one that occasionally produces something oddly beautiful. Blood For The Master took me a few listens to really dig, but I find myself going back over and over again for this disc.
1.) Enslaved – RIITIIR
After 11 albums, I know what to expect from Enslaved: the unexpected. Every album is an adventure, some I love, some not as much. But this one is absolutely fantastic. Progressive black metal at its core, yet covering a great deal of territory, it takes a few listens before the genius of RIITIIR sets in. Admittedly, Enslaved isn’t for everyone. Harsh vocals often clash with lush sonic landscapes, but the favor is returned when cleanly sung verses kick in. Alongside Ruun and Axioma Ethica Odini, RIITIIR might be my new favorite Enslaved album.