Wednesday, December 5, 2012

End of year report 2012 Part 3: Top 25 albums of the year

The third and final instalment – Top 25 Albums of the Year. Thanks for sticking with me through these lists and actually reading them (PART ONE and PART TWO in case you missed them). As always compiling this list was difficult (yes, woe is me) and some albums unfortunately didn’t make it. Honourable mentions go out to Converge, Baroness, Knelt Rote, Idylls and Kayo Dot. Sorry, guys. The top spot was hotly contested too; photo finish one might say. Anyway, cheers again and keep an eye out for the Irish releases post on CVLT Nation soon. Read on!

25: Lento – Anxiety Despair Languish
Italians Lento just about make this list with an album released in late October – Anxiety Despair Languish. The instrumental sludge band have a string of solid and impressive albums under their belt already, namely last year’s Icon record so it’s rather heartening to hear them effortlessly top it with Anxiety Despair Languish. Heavily layered with very busy compositions, each of these songs is methodical but still manages to be relentless and even aggressive when needs be.

24: Column of Heaven – Mission From God
Mission From God is arguably 2012’s best powerviolence/grind record and for good reason. Not only is it a ruthlessly aggressive record, it’s one soaked in despair and horror. A concept album of sorts based on Peter Sutcliffe, aka The Yorkshire Ripper, and his reign of terror over northern England during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the aggression of Column of Heaven’s music and the severity of the themes couldn’t be more complementary, and the fact that Andrew Nolan grew up in the area, experiencing the tension first hand makes it all the more affecting; and the sample of an interview Sutcliffe gave in prison, which is used to close the album, is one of the most unnerving things you’ll hear on an album this year.

23: Tempestuous Fall – The Stars Would Not Awake You
Tempestuous Fall is Australian Dis Pater’s foray into the world of funeral doom (a man more associated with black metal, primarily his Midnight Odyssey project and to a lesser extent, The Crevices Below). The Stars Would Not Awake You is definitely a good move in the doom direction as it’s head and shoulders above many other doom metal records released this year and can stand proudly next to Ahab and Evoken. A staggeringly long listen, Tempestuous Fall effortlessly glides through the 63 minute running time of this debut with heart wrenching melancholy in every towering riff, guttural vocal and discomforting clean croon.

22: Blut Aus Nord – 777 Cosmosophy
The mysterious French black metal entity, Blut Aus Nord conclude their tense and thrilling 777 trilogy with Cosmosophy, a totally hypnotic and even beautiful listen. Cosmosophy isn’t so much a black metal record, in fact it rather defies much of the genre boundaries we occupy our time debating. Still undeniably intense though, the record is heavily layered and emotionally charged, dripping with melancholy in the brooding clean vocals and meandering lead guitars that mostly characterise the album. With this trilogy triumphantly at a close, it begs the question just what is next for Blut Aus Nord?

21: Eternal Helcaraxe – Against All Odds
Hands down, the best black metal record to ever come out of Cavan. Eternal Helcaraxe are a supremely underrated band in this country and the quality of this album speaks to that. Meshing orthodox black metal and shades of paganism, unabashed melody and clean vocals and a few Primordialisms for good measure, Against All Odds is battle ravaged and ready to take on more. The running theme of war and battle throughout the album truly comes alive in the battle cries of tracks like ‘We Assist Death’ and ‘Invictus’ and not to mention the grandiose closer that is the title track.

20: Wildernessking – The Writing of Gods in the Sand
Let’s be honest for a moment, South Africa isn’t exactly one of the first places we look to when we’re in search of new, compelling black metal; shame on us really, because we could very well have missed The Writing of Gods in the Sand. It’s the first release from Cape Town’s Wildernessking, the band formerly known as Heathens. Deciding to start fresh, the band changed their name and found a new purpose under the guise of Wildernessking and thank them for it, as The Writing of Gods in the Sand is a superbly impressive effort for any band, never mind your first.

19: Samothrace – Reverence To Stone
With just two tracks, though expansive and lengthy ones mind you, Samothrace effortlessly crafted one of the year’s finest stoner doom records. Of course the influence of Sleep can be heard on this record, but Samothrace still make a conscious effort to make something a little more them and the sublime gentle melodies that wash over the dense walls of entrancing riffs on the 14 minute ‘When We Emerge’ lays as proof that what we have here is a band capable of the captivating. Meanwhile, ‘A Horse of Our Own’ descends into some wretched depths, displaying a gripping dichotomy at the same time.

18: Wreck and Reference – No Youth
No Youth came out of nowhere. This duo makes some of the most enthralling noise you’ll hear for some time, sans guitar but laden with myriad electronics, frenetic drumming and disturbing vocals. Dipped in misanthropy, there is disdain and scorn oozing from every pore of this record, whether it’s the haunting intro of ‘Spectrum’ or the uneasy volatility of tracks like ‘Inverted Soul’ and ‘Winter’. When No Youth isn’t exploding in caustic rage, it’s seething in hostility once again, anxiously and agonisingly getting closer to falling over the edge once more.

17: Assembly of Light – Assembly of Light
Assembly of Light’s self-titled album is one of the year’s pleasant surprises. The all-female choir, based in Rhode Island, first started to become known somewhat thanks to their collaboration with The Body on their All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood album. Assembly of Light is simply power, the collective of voices creates a staggering atmosphere and is complemented by the fragile addition of other instrumentation and vocals courtesy of members of The Body and Braveyoung, as well as a guest appearance by Daughters vocalist Alexis Marshall. However, this album is centred on the captivating voices of these women, whose vocal presence is just astounding.

16: Martyrdöd – Paranoia
Along with Wolfbrigade, Southern Lord continued their crust signing spree with fellow Swedish punks Martyrdöd and their latest LP Paranoia, and it’s an album effortlessly jammed full of adrenalized fury. The opening riff of ‘Nog Är Nog’ is completely unforgettable, and in fact this is an album loaded with hooky riffs that don’t come at the expense of ferocity, as evidence by ‘Köttberg’, and it all comes to a head with the closer, the utterly uncompromising ‘Varje Val Har Sitt Pris’.

15: Wodensthrone – Curse
2012 has been chock full of black metal records of the highest quality, from all angles, and unfortunately so many are omitted from this list, heartbreakingly so. Wodensthrone’s second album Curse was nearly guaranteed a spot though. Released back in April, it marked a massive leap in ability and ambition from Loss. At nearly 70 minutes, Curse is a sprawling epic in every sense of the word, conjuring images of vast forests and devastatingly cold winters but all the while still ridden with a sense of melody that ties everything together. An impressive record to say the very least.

14: The Great Old Ones – Al Azif
Exploring the works of HP Lovecraft is certainly nothing new and plenty of times throughout 2012 you’d find a press release shamelessly describing x band or x album as “Lovecraftian”. The Great Old Ones, from Paris, are one such band but thankfully the near-pastiche ends there, as their debut Al Azif is one of the year’s very best black metal records. Taking in a little bit of that "post-" element, TGOO have been easily compared to Altar of Plagues and Wolves in the Throne Room, perhaps unfairly so, but there’s certainly a similarity in intensity to be heard, particularly with the former. More importantly though, The Great Old Ones still sound fresh and invigorated and where they go next could be something very special.

13: Absolutist – Ave
This one sort of came out of nowhere too. The Aberdeen, by way of Northern Ireland, trio released their reasonably solid demo in 2011 but the jump from that to this LP, Ave, is quite the feat. Effortlessly blowing it out of the water, Ave is a savagely belligerent crust record that’s terse and concise in its ferocity.  Each of the seven tracks is a caustic tale of cathartic fury that keeps augmenting in intensity with each song, eventually coming to a boiling point with album highlight ‘Tectonics’ and the subsequent short closer of ‘Vile Communion’.

12: Alcest –Les Voyages De L'Âme
Alcest’s continued growth continues to astound and the conscious steps away from black metal with every release has actually worked wonders for the band who are now much more in tune with a shoegaze and post metal vibe. Les Voyages De L'Âme is Alcest’s most affectingly beautiful and equally dramatic album yet and one that’s completely enthralling. Work has already begun on a new record, one where Neige says any kinds of harsh vocals will be scrapped entirely and the band are working in Sigur Rós’ studio, perhaps suggesting a path even more ghostly and ethereal than before.

11: Oak Pantheon – From A Whisper
Following the impressive EP effort, The Void from last year, with their debut full-length, From A Whisper, is folk-tinged atmospheric metallers Oak Pantheon. Obvious comparisons to Agalloch aside, From A Whisper is another beautifully crafted record on this list. Flourishes of black metal are more than prevalent at times but it’s the lush post rock sensibilities and the gentle acoustic folk moments at play too that make this an album you can fearlessly lose yourself in.

10: Downfall of Gaia – Suffocating in the Swarm of Cranes
Listen to Suffocating in the Swarm of Cranes, then listen to Epos. It almost sounds like a different band. Epos was below average, unfocused on a main aim and a little too ambitious given the band’s ability at the time. Two years, and an amazing split record with In The Hearts of Emperors, later and the German band is on Metal Blade and have released one of the best postwhatchamaycallit records of 2012, but still espousing much of their hardcore sensibilities. Raw and energetic but still poised with melody and cerebral atmosphere, Suffocating in the Swarm of Cranes’ ambition is, this time, met perfectly by the band’s honed ability.

09: Cloudkicker – Fade
Ben Sharp cannot be stopped. Under the guise of Cloudkicker, he’s been releasing at least one record a year. 2011’s subdued Let Yourself Be Huge and 2010’s animated and edgy Beacons were two of his finest, and newest effort Fade sees the instrumentalist strike a wondrous balance between the two. Still creeping more towards his heavier tendencies with riffs galore (‘Our Crazy Night’ is easily one of the year’s very best riffs) and equally, intense and sombre moments like the mid passages of ‘Seattle’, there really doesn’t appear to be any end in sight for Sharp’s abilities.

08: Ne Obliviscaris – Portal of I
It was far too long coming. Australia’s Ne Obliviscaris released their hugely impressive demo The Aurora Veil in 2007 and a series of stop/starts hindered the album, whether it be line-up shifts and even guitarists being deported. Finally, in 2012, Portal of I has arrived and it’s everything the BM turned prog metallers needed to make to justify the waiting, meshing lush melodies of latter Opeth and Enslaved with several violin lines and the to and fro of clean and coarse vocals. It’s grandiose and sprawling in every aspect, all aided by the polished and roomy production. A definite triumph, top to bottom.

07: Scott Kelly and The Road Home – The Forgiven Ghost In Me
If you ever have a chance to see Neurosis’ Scott Kelly play a solo live show, you should take it. His previous solo records are emotionally heavy to say the very least, for just a coarse voice and an acoustic guitar, and that emotion blooms into something else entirely in a live setting. After a few years, Kelly has put out a new solo record under a new name – Scott Kelly and The Road Home, entitled The Forgiven Ghost In Me. Bringing in select few guest musicians, Kelly has churned out a heart achingly beautiful acoustic record, once again paying homage to the folk elders that informed his craft but also reflecting on his own expansive musical career.

06: Between the Buried and Me – The Parallax II: Future Sequence
You can’t help but be impressed by how one band can manage to reinvent themselves with every release and that’s exactly what Between the Buried and Me have done over the last ten years, reaching another zenith with this, their most ambitious effort to date. Beginning last year with the EP release The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues, the band commenced the introduction to this sprawling concept record that clocks in at a staggering 72 minutes, and it coalesces the myriad components that make BTBAM such an unrivalled force in progressive metal into one impressive feat. And while not exhibiting the same awe as, say, Colors, The Parallax II: Future Sequence is still utterly monumental.

05: Pig Destroyer – Book Burner
It’s hard to think that anyone was expecting anything else than this. Book Burner may not be of the same visceral quality of Terrifyer or Prowler in the Yard, but the long awaited new Pig Destroyer album is every bit as fierce  and vigorous that it needed to be; and granted, with it comes some changes. New drummer Adam Jarvis (Misery Index) has been subject to some scrutiny in filling the (rather large) shoes of one Brian Harvey, but his clinical performance speaks for itself. Meanwhile, Scott Hull’s riffs are untouchable and JR Hayes’ vocals sound more pissed off than ever and the lyrics are just as unnervingly stirring too.

04: Enabler – All Hail The Void

Talk about a band that sounds invigorated. If there’s only one way to describe All Hail The Void, it’s adrenaline burst. Enabler’s metallic hardcore, as clichéd as it sounds, gets in your face but it doesn’t sacrifice any hooks either, as the totally unforgettable ‘True Love’ will attest in spades or the searing lead riff on ‘Speechless’. There isn’t a bad track to found on this record, it’s start to finish unrelenting and while the album is still confrontational, the cathartic release in each song is an altogether affirmative one. Hands down, the best hardcore full-length of 2012.

03: Anathema – Weather Systems
Anathema couldn’t release a bad album if they tried. Following up 2010’s We’re Here Because We’re Here was never going to be easy and the debate still stands on whether or not Weather Systems tops it but it certainly matches it anyway. Once again ridden with an overwhelming emotional depth and poise, Anathema have completed their transfiguration from purveyors of gloom to a staggeringly life-affirming, and simply beautiful, collective. The wondrous two part opener ‘Untouchable’ lays as evidence with Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas proving why they’re the most captivating vocal duo of recent years and when the final moments of album closer ‘Internal Landscapes’ plays out and the hypnotic haze you were immersed in for 55 minutes ends, you’ll find yourself lunging for that play button again and again.

02: Dragged Into Sunlight – Widowmaker
Also from Liverpool but totally on the other end of the world to Anathema is Dragged Into Sunlight. Furious, caustic and unhealthy are just some of the words that best describe this band and their general ethos, as portrayed by 2009’s album, Hatred for Mankind. Widowmaker marks an important stylistic shift for the band, fraternising with more doom elements. A single piece of 41 minutes, Widowmaker sees the band move through  a myriad moods and tones (all negative, mind you) and while still dripping with bile, the album is actually totally invigorating as the band has, whether intentionally or unintentionally, crafted a seismic and fiery record that is utterly astonishing and unavoidably absorbing.

01: Neurosis – Honor Found in Decay
Is anyone surprised by this? Probably not, but the top spot was actually a very close call. However, trying to put into words why Neurosis have the album of the year in the end is more or less pointing out the obvious. After five years since Given to the Rising, the band have mustered up a record that is one of their best, if not the best, album since Times of Grace. Honor Found in Decay is every bit as intense and emotionally wrought as anything they’ve done through the years, from the pacey meanderings of ‘We All Rage In Gold’ to the soul and head crushingly beautiful ‘My Heart for Deliverance’ straight through to ‘Raise The Dawn’s sublime and hypnotic close – Neurosis simply just doing what they do better than everyone else.

Thanks for reading. 

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