The Best of the BestI have been fighting with myself over how to do my year-end list in 2012. I considered doing multiple lists in different categories, with a top 25, as last year. I also considered identifying albums as the best of each genre, as the year before. But various things, such as time constraints and a sudden death in the family prevented me from going forward with either of them. But, in addition to that, I think the real quality albums this year have really gone head and shoulders above the rest. A top 12 is not only sufficient, but ideal.
(Please note that an album's place on this list might not necessarily comport with the score I originally gave it.)
So, without further ado, I present you with Full Metal Attorney's Top 12 Albums of 2012.
12. Anaal Nathrakh: Vanitas
Listening to Anaal Nathrakh is always like hearing the gates of hell opened before you, if only a crack. Yet, for all the chaos and intensity, there is still undeniably catchy melody. Most of the time you have to pick one or the other, but not so for this duo. Vanitas finds them experimenting, too, incorporating opera and many other influences into one of the most skull-crushingly fantastic records of the year.
11. Menace Ruine: Alight in Ashes
On Alight in Ashes, Menace Ruine play something that sounds like demonic church music. The hypnotic devil's organ drone and ritualistic, husky female vocals are quite unlike anything I've ever heard before, and after a while, it gets under your skin.
Buy Alight in Ashes
10. Christian Mistress: Possession
Normally, I like my music a bit more experimental and just plain weird. But when a band like Christian Mistress puts forth a record the quality of Possession, I have to put that aside and simply get into their pure heavy metal goodness. The vocals might not be perfect, but they are sung with such passion that it doesn't matter.
9. Killing Joke: MMXII
I've only really begun to explore Killing Joke in detail, but what I find in MMXII is a perfect blend of anything I've come to expect from their decades-long, storied career. It's post-punk, it's industrial metal, it's 80's synth-pop. It's catchy hooks foretelling of all the reasons our world is soon to come to an end.
8. Botanist: III: Doom in Bloom
Many people dismiss Botanist as a gimmick, or simply can't get into this one-man black metal band's completely weird style of music. Drums and hammered dulcimer aren't typically the primary instruments of any kind of metal record, after all. III: Doom in Bloom is slowed-down, matured, and fully explored themes that are as compelling as they are haunting.
7. Diablo Swing Orchestra: Pandora's Piñata
Let it not be said that I don't know how to have fun. Diablo Swing Orchestra is one of my favorite bands, and their unique blend of metal, swing, Latin music, and just about everything else has never been better on display than with Pandora's Piñata. "Fun" doesn't even begin to describe it, and the name couldn't be a more apt description of what you'll hear.
Buy Pandora's Piñata
6. Wildernessking: The Writing of Gods in the Sand
South Africa doesn't often come up when discussing metal, but Wildernessking could single-handedly change that. They sound like all the best that Cascadia, Brooklyn, and Enslaved have to offer to black metal, readily accessible yet with the depth to warrant multiple listens. Do not pass up The Writing of Gods in the Sand.
5. Neurosis: Honor Found in Decay
I'm careful to provide a simple caveat, and that is I'm not terribly familiar with the back catalog of the legendary Neurosis. Even so, I find it hard to believe they've ever been better, even decades into their career. It's heavy, dynamic, subtle, and intricate. Each song is a journey (if you'll excuse the cliche). This is the reason that anyone ever cared about post-metal in the first place, and a reminder that there are still worthwhile paths to be forged in that well-trodden territory.
Buy Honor Found in Decay
4. Deftones: Koi No Yokan
In contrast to Neurosis, I am thoroughly familiar with everything the Deftones have ever done. And I can confidently tell you that Koi No Yokan is the best thing they've released since White Pony. It's like the Deftones of the last decade combined all their pop sensibilities with the lush layering and dynamics of Neurosis, Isis, and other post-metal bands. That's a difficult feat to pull off, but they have.
Buy Koi No Yokan
3. Panopticon: Kentucky
I'm not sure how many others have such a strong love of both dark Appalachian folk music and black metal. But even if we number in the thousands, I doubt any one of them thought they could be combined into something not only coherent, but revelatory. Panopticon's Kentucky may not be completely seamless, but anyone who hears it will readily agree that there is a common thread between the mad rage of black metal and coal miner protest songs that make up this thoroughly entrancing essay on the plight of Kentuckians.
2. Wovenhand: The Laughing Stalk
Speaking of dark folk music, there's Wovenhand. I should say up-front that this record holds a very special place in my heart, because it's been getting me through my brother's suicide more than any other piece of art. The Laughing Stalk is just as bleak and delicately arranged as anything else the band has released, but the overall quality of the music is higher from beginning to end, while previous releases tended to save the best for late in the runtime. And there's a lot more distorted electric guitar than ever before. There has never been a better time to get into this band. But then again, it may be my emotions clouding my judgment.
Buy The Laughing Stalk
1. Evoken: Atra Mors
I've been a long-time fan of Evoken, but they have never disappointed. Atra Mors is every bit the equal of any of their previous masterpieces. Crushingly heavy, bleak, and dynamic are not only the three things I look for most in a record, they are the three adjectives that best describe Evoken's most recent masterpiece. Texture, speed, and rhythm each play a part in setting the songs apart from one another and in driving this point home: Life is despair.
Buy Atra Mors
Honorable MentionAt the Graves: Solar
Atriarch: Ritual of Passing
Baroness: Yellow & Green
Eryn Non Dae: Meliora
Hexvessel: No Holier Temple
The Howling Wind: Of Babalon
Scott Kelly / Steve Von Till / Wino: Songs of Townes Van Zandt
Occultation: Three & Seven
Pallbearer: Sorrow and Extinction
Pinkish Black: Pinkish Black
Satanic Bloodspraying: At the Mercy of Satan