Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 in review - top 66 albums of the year (part 2)

Carrying on.

49. ACEPHALIX Deathless Master
Gone is the crusty d-beat part of Acephalix's initial equation, and there's nothing left but good, old, battered & beaten death metal. Simple in its delivery and ferocity, combining the best groove of the Swedish school with the most fetid stench of old Incantation or even Master themselves, Acephalix achieve true greatness with a few smatterings of infectious, subterranean melody and the truly inhuman throat of Daniel Butler, who surely gargles with week-old demon sweat every morning to achieve that despicable roar.

48. TEST Árabe Macabre
These two dudes carry their gear in a van and just take it out and play a gig whenever and wherever they damn well please, often outside venues before "proper" shows, ie, shows for all you pansies who need to get into a building to bang your heads. The frenetic energy of their crusty street-grind is by now legendary in their native Brazil and it's starting to spread, and the fact that they're able to capture that primal and free spirit so well in their first full-length (well, technically speaking, though the thing is only a pleasant 21 minutes long) speaks volumes about the talent available here. And, you know, power duos are replacing power trios as the new cool.

47. STRUCK BY LIGHTNING True Predation
I first started throwing the name of this band around when I was still doing the Band of the Day thing on Terrorizer's website, and it was so long ago that the post doesn't even exist anymore for me to link to it. Their first album 'Serpents' had just come out, so it was in 2009. Was there internet at all back then? Was there electricity even? I don't know, I get confused when my head gets hit repeatedly by vicious sludgy hardcore-of-the-devil (meaning, it's hardcore but it's fucking necro and no, you don't get to wear a cap), like the kind 'True Predation' delivers. Everything 'Serpents' promised, and then some.

46. BARONESS Yellow & Green
I know that's just half the cover, but it's missing the 'Green' part on purpose - it's because all the best bits of Baroness' double-album are contained in the 'Yellow' part. Sure, 'Green' is more elaborate, it reveals itself over time, it's a grower, it's everything a pretentious intellectual git like me should recommend. But fuck that when I can just hum the super-sticky choruses of 'Take My Bones Away', 'Cocainium' or 'March To The Sea' all day long. It's awesome that they're recovering well from their horrifying bus crash from a couple of months ago, and it lends the huge rockouts of 'Yellow' an even greater feel-good factor.

45. THE HOWLING WIND Of Babalon / SERPENTINE PATH Serpentine Path
Bundled together because both of them feature Unearthly Trance's Ryan Lipynsky - The Howling Wind, which consists of Ryan and Aldebaran drummer Tim Call, is already on its third album and it keeps developing their dense, piercing take on black metal, while Serpentine Path is a new entity featuring the entire Unearthly Trance line-up enriched with ex-Ramesses Tim Bagshaw. The result is exactly what you'd expect from these seasoned doom-mongers, crushing and completely hopeless in its delivery of misery. After the release of the album, they announced Winter's Stephen Flam as the new addition to the already stellar bunch, so it seems like 'Serpentine Path' might just be the beginning of a long friendship.

44. THERAPY? A Brief Crack Of Light
Their rock superstar days are long gone, but rather than fizz away and turn into whatever commerciallized crap other bands tend to in order to recapture the larger audiences from yesteyeards, Therapy? don't give a damn and just keep on rocking, their records as brilliant as they've ever been. Opener 'Living In The Shadow Of The Terrible Thing', catchy instrumental 'Marlow' or the deliciously fractured 'Get Your Dead Hand Off My Shoulder' are just some of the many examples of how to write a bloody awesome and creative rock song in 2012. Shame very few of us are listening.

43. BENEATH Enslaved By Fear
Brutal death metal, remember that? How cool it was before it drowned in a sea of mutilated vaginas, splattered internal organs and meaningless hyperblasts? Well, some of the greater activists of the genre still remember how to actually write songs, and one of them is Gísli Sigmundsson (once at the helm of the frankly legendary Sororicide - remember, tape-traders?) and his merry band of men in Beneath. 'Enslaved By Fear' took its own sweet time to appear after our appetites had been whetted by the 2010 EP 'Hollow Empty Void', but its unstoppable power more than made up for the wait.

42. IHSAHN Eremita
Yeah, it irks me somewhat to see Ihsahn sort of rubbing shoulders with the whole unbearably pretentious proggy bunch (you know, Devin Townsend, Steven Wilson, Cynic, the lot), but it was rather inevitable given the man's charmingly nerdy approach to his music. In any case, regardless of who he hangs out with, musically speaking, his records are still untouchable. 'Eremita' has it all - it's singularly oblique, jazzy but never meandering, angular but never unapproachable, deliriously creative but always with a hint of dark malice to it. His best solo album to date, no question about it.

41. EARTHEN GRAVE Earthen Grave
One of the biggest surprises of the year. With a cover like that and with a band featuring legendary doomsters Ron Holzner (Trouble, The Skull, Place Of Skulls, Novembers Doom, you name it) and solid, seasoned musicians like Jason Muxlow (The Living Fields, Wintering) to be equally solid and traditional, but Earthen Grave have taken an extra adventurous step with their self-titled debut. Not only is vocalist Mark Weiner is truly a one-of-a-kind find, a unique voice that can elevate songs to a whole new level by itself, but the songwriting is far from obvious. Traditional-sounding and down to earth yet forward-reaching, if that seems possible, they're as much Witchfinder General (whom they cover brilliantly) as they are Hammers Of Misfortune. Oh, and if you really need to use a violinist in your band, give Rachel Barton Pine a call first. She'll surely teach you how to pull it off, based on her unbelievable performance on this.

40. DORDEDUH Dar De Duh
Sometimes a split can really result in two good things. Negură Bunget is still doing great records and going strong, and now we have Hupogrammos and Sol Faur's new band going their own path, and brilliantly so. 'Dar De Duh' has been described as a sort of successor to 'Om', Negură Bunget's 2006 stone cold classic, and in a lot of ways it harks back to that masterpiece, naturally, but at the same time it's also deep into a more elaborate musical path - the detail and intricacy of these compositions is simply staggering, and after listening to it for months now, it feels that we're just scratching the surface. A record for the ages.

39. PIGS You Ruin Everything / RABBITS Bites Rites
I'm not just doing the cute because both bands are named after animals, they really do belong together as the two nastiest, most vicious noise rock attacks of the year. Unsane's 'Wreck' was a bit of a disappointment considering the expectations that preceded it, but fortunately Dave Curran still makes the list with Pigs, a sludgy, chaotic, messy heap of AmRep energy, Jesus Lizard-infused creepiness and old-fashioned bad taste. As for Rabbits, 'Bites Rites' builds on 'Lower Forms' delivered last year, punkier and more hardcore thank Pigs but still very much oozing from the same horrid primordial soup. What a deranged fucking petting zoo these two make up.

38. NAPALM DEATH Utilitarian
Oh, come on. You don't want me to go on about Napalm Death, do you? It's Napalm Death, they're doing their thing, they're still consistent, relevant, essential and damn angry, so you'll sit up and listen when they're making their racket, and that's it.

37. HORSEBACK Half Blood
Though it falls just short of knocking off 'The Invisible Mountain' from the special place that album holds in my heart, 'Half Blood' goes about that task with passion, as Horseback mutates into an murkier, shadowy beast on this. The demonic and the earthly sides of Jenks Miller's band are more fused than ever, and even at their noisiest (which is very fucking noisy, thank you), Horseback are still able to evoke a sweeping, inspirational feeling rather than the one-dimensional pitch-blackness of lesser outfits. AND they'll still scare you shitless afterwards, like on the three 'Hallucigenia' tracks that close out this difficult monster.

36. MGŁA With Hearts Towards None / SVARTIDAUÐI Flesh Cathedral
Are they paired up because they have weird crossed-out letters in their names? They might, flimsy as my reasons to just pile up more and more records onto a supposedly numbered list tend to be, but no, in this case it really makes sense. Mgła means fog in Polish, and that reveals exactly why I've bundled the duo with the Icelandic four-piece (who feature the guitar player for the amazingly promising Gone Postal, put out a new album already, damn you!), because the thick mist these ultra-kvlt albums envelop you is of the same kind. Icy, chillingly emotionless black metal that is, in both cases, deceptively simple - as you peel away at its outer layers of unspeakable bleakness, they begin to reveal their splendour - in Mgła's case, a Watain-esque meaty, epic approach to the black metal art, while Svartidauði take the path of human decay and urban stench as the basis for their hideous odes. Both of them completely mandatory if you've ever raised a pair of horns.

35. BONG Mana-Yood-Sushai
Bong's many releases are usually so sprawling in nature and so hard to encapsulate within the confines of the written word that I tend to look at their work (their mind-altering, mesmerizing live shows included) as just one long, continuous, resonating hum from the earth itself, but 'Mana-Yood-Sushai' is remarkable enough for the hum to vibrate inside me hard enough to jolt me into singling it out as the best thing they've ever done. And no, I'm not high as I write this. You won't need to be high to appreciate this record either, as the blissful sitar-enriched repetition that makes up the half-hour of the first piece and the droning, tribal yet solemnly holy feeling of the 19 minute-long second piece will elevate your spirit all by themselves.

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