A Look Back At The First Half Of 2012: Best Albums

By Aniruddh “Andrew” Bansal

I love reading and writing list-based articles, and it’s that time of the year again when I get to write another one. Today is the 30th of June, which marks the end of the first half of 2012, and it gives me a chance to reflect on 2012 as a year in metal releases so far. Right from the month of January itself, I knew that 2012 would beat 2011 in terms of the sheer quality of music being released. I expected quite a lot of great music to be put out by the time we reached this June 30th date, and things have turned out even better than I had imagined back in January. That’s the reason I’m doing this half-yearly list for the first time ever. Picking the best albums out of just these six months was harder than making the 2011 year-end list, to be honest.

Just to clarify, I have considered full-length albums of all sub-genres of hard rock and heavy metal, with release dates between January 1st and June 30th 2012. EPs, split releases and reissues haven’t been taken into account for making this list. The months of January and February saw a lot of good releases, but it was interesting for me to find out which of those albums stood the test of time. I really liked quite a few of the early 2012 albums when they were released, but some of them didn’t make this list, and were outdone by albums that came later. So without further ado, I’ll get into the list:

#12. Behold! The Monolith – Defender, Redeemist – Los-Angeles based stoner trio Behold! The Monolith came out with their sophomore effort earlier this year, and with eight killer tunes that present a combination of hoarse foot-stomping rock ‘n roll and ominous doom, this album grabs the listener by the throat and never lets go. The musicianship of the trio is exemplary. An amazing album, beyond all doubt.

#11. Angel Witch – As Above, So Below – The British traditional metal veterans made a brilliant comeback this year with “As Above, So Below”, their fifth studio album and first in 14 years. Ever after all these years, Kevin Heybourne sounds terrific on vocals, and his songwriting is as compelling as ever. The album includes some tunes that were written at least 25 years ago, so it attempts to showcase the old and the new facets of the band’s music, and this has resulted in an excellent album. If you’re a fan of NWOBHM, this is one release you can’t afford to miss.

#10. Gojira – L’Enfant Sauvage – Perhaps the most hyped metal release of the year, French progressive death metal band Gojira’s fifth studio album finally graced the world wide web earlier this month. Being a huge fan of their first four albums, I was waiting for this album as eagerly as anyone else. Their interpretation of heavy music is incredibly unique and atmospheric, and that’s the sound fans have missed for the past four years. But, the band did set lofty standards with their previous work, and it was always going to be hard for them to match those efforts with this new album. So, while “L’Enfant Sauvage” is not exactly Gojira’s best, it’s still one of the best albums released so far in 2012.

#9. Jeff Loomis – Plains Of Oblivion – In his first solo album since parting ways with Nevermore, master shredder Jeff Loomis has once again showcased his prowess as a musician. “Plains Of Oblivion” is filled to the brim with Loomis’ scorching solos, along with contributions from guest musicians Marty Friedman, Tony MacAlpine, Chris Poland, Ihsahn and Christine Rhoades. These musicians not only enhance the album’s strength, but also make it diverse by stamping their own individual styles onto the tracks they’ve played on. The album’s title is very fitting in many ways, not least because these tunes really paint a complete landscape of Loomis’ musicianship.

#8. Royal Thunder – CVI – Not the heaviest release of the year, but certainly as powerful as any of the ‘heavier’ releases, Royal Thunder’s self-titled full-length has been one of the musical highlights of the year, in my humble opinion. Mlny Parsonz’ mesmerizing voice draws the listener towards the album, and with their kind of interplay between the vocals and the various musical elements, Royal Thunder revisits the musical approach of 70’s rock, an approach hardly seen in bands these days. One of the purest rock albums I’ve heard in a long time, I have no doubt that the entirety of this album will stay in rotation on my playlist not only throughout 2012, but much beyond that.

#7. Witch Mountain – Cauldron Of The Wild – Even though they put out their previous album “South Of Salem” not so long ago, Portland, Oregon’s Witch Mountain came back with an immediate follow-up album titled “Cauldron Of The Wild” this year, and I’m glad they did, because for me it has turned out to be the doom metal release of the year (so far). The music is as good as any they’ve put out in their career, but Uta Plotkin’s vocals have reached new levels on this album. Upon listening to the previous album itself, I was convinced that she had already hit the peak of her performance. But I was pleasantly shocked when I heard her vocals on “Cauldron Of The Wild”. She has expanded greatly from previous albums, and has managed to carry her voice better than ever. With the possibility of tunes such as “Lanky Rae”, “Beekeeper”, “Shelter” and “Never Know” being included in their live set lists from now on, Witch Mountain look set to become one of the best live bands going around at present. Mind-blowing album, to say the least.

#6. Dawnbringer – Into The Lair Of The Sun God – Amongst the plethora of music released every year, there are older bands that meet my expectations, and then there are bands that are extremely young and new, or whom I wasn’t previously too familiar with. It’s exciting when such bands come out with unexpectedly amazing albums. In 2009, that band was Skeletonwitch, Holy Grail in 2010, and Danava in 2011. So far in 2012 it’s definitely Dawnbringer. The Chicago-based traditional metal band’s latest full-length effort “Into The Lair Of The Sun God” can be best described as 45 minutes of sheer heavy metal awesomeness. The pristine vocals, catchy riffs, sweet twin guitar harmonies, out-of-the-world solos and a smooth rhythm section decorate this album and give the listeners just about everything they would expect from a metal album. The guitar solos are certainly the best I’ve heard this year, and if not for anything else, I’d suggest you to pick up this album for the solos. This Dawnbringer album is the surprise of the year so far.

#5. Orange Goblin – A Eulogy For The Damned – British stoner lords Orange Goblin have put out a truly fantastic album for us to savor this year. Right from the opening tune “Red Tide Rising” all the way till the final track, the album treats listeners with some thoroughly enjoyable music. There are so many bands playing stoner-type metal these days that sometimes it gets hard to separate them from each other. But frontman Ben Ward’s thumping vocals make sure that Orange Goblin stand out from the rest. The music played by his band mates also matches up to the strength of his voice. A stellar effort, this one comes as very, very highly recommended from me to all fans of heavy music.

#4. 3 Inches Of Blood – Long Live Heavy Metal – Canadian metal warriors 3 Inches Of Blood are back with their latest effort “Long Live Heavy Metal”, and trust me, it’s every bit as good as its title. A true salutation to classic heavy metal, this one consists of tunes such as “Metal Woman”, “Leather Lord”, “Look Out” and various others that are reminiscent of Priest, Dio, Deep Purple and the likes. The most notably positive change from previous albums is the prominence of Cam Pipes’ clean vocals. A few generic growls aside, “Long Live Heavy Metal” is just about the perfect set of tunes for the traditional metal fan.

#3. Philm – Harmonic – Having seen this band grow from its birth to what it has become now, I was probably as excited as anyone on this planet to see the release of Philm’s debut album, and even though I had already seen the band play a chunk of it in their shows, a sizable portion of it was still new to me, and it exceeded all of my expectations. The trio of Dave Lombardo, Gerry Nestler and Pancho Tomaselli have come up with something amazingly raw, truly unique and extremely powerful. This band does not have a single frontman, as all other bands do. All three members are frontmen in their own right, and the chemistry between them is there for everyone to be seen and heard. This is not a metal album in the conventional sense. It’s a much more stripped-down style of rock, I’d say. But even as a metalhead, I find myself completely engrossed in it, such is the impact of its boundless energy. Philm’s “Harmonic” is undoubtedly one of the best things to have happened to 2012.

#2. Overkill – The Electric Age – Two years ago, perennial thrashers Overkill released an album called “Ironbound”, which was unanimously greeted with approval by fans and critics all over the world. The album is unbelievably great, on all counts. It seemed almost impossible to even think that a thrash album as good as “Ironbound” would come along any time soon, not even from Overkill.  But sure enough, the band has delivered the follow-up album “The Electric Age” in 2012, and it indeed succeeds in matching up to Ironbound, continuing from where that album left off. With tunes like “Come And Get It”, “Electric Rattlesnake” and “Wish You Were Dead”, the album gets the listener pumped straightaway, and its intensity simply never fades. ‘The Electric Age’ is a magnificent composition that sets the bar really, really high for the rest of 2012.

#1. Accept – Stalingrad – And at number 1 for the first half of 2012 is none other than the legendary Accept, with their latest album “Stalingrad”. After the resounding success of “Blood Of The Nations”, the first album released in 2010 by the reincarnated, Mark Tornillo-fronted Accept, the onus was on the band to make it count, and to keep things moving forward. It’s clear that the group was creatively motivated after the aforementioned 2010 release, because “Stalingrad” is an even better album, in every single aspect. It feels like they re-established themselves with the previous album, and as a result wrote the songs on “Stalingrad” with a greater degree of freedom and confidence. It’s more of a multi-dimensional effort, and is noticeably diverse. The band that gave us “Teutonic Terror”, the metal anthem of 2010, has treated us with some more on this album, with the tunes “Hung Drawn and Quartered”, “Stalingrad”, “Hellfire”, “Revolution” “The Quick And The Dead” and “The Galley” having the same anthemic qualities that should place them in the same league as Accept’s most popular songs of all time. “Stalingrad” has ruled the world of metal in 2012 so far, and it will be interesting to see whether it’s surpassed by any of the upcoming album releases during the rest of the year.

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