Top 20 Albums Of 2012

By Aniruddh ‘Andrew’ Bansal

It’s the month of December, which means it’s time to look back on the music that was released this year, and to attempt the unenviable task of making a list featuring the best albums. Because of my return to India, I obviously wasn’t able to attend nearly as many gigs as I did in LA, but that gave me a lot more time to listen to new music, so I’m probably in a better position to make a year-end albums list than ever before. Before the year began, I was eagerly anticipating new releases from three bands I most religiously follow, Motorhead, Death Angel and Holy Grail. Unfortunately, none of them could come up with a new album this year, but there were more than plenty of other great releases to fill the void.

This year I decided to make a list at the half-way point, in the hope that it would help me do the year-end list with a bit more ease. But I realized that quite a few of the albums released in the early part of the year faded away, while some others that didn’t make the first list really grew on me. And then there were lots of them that turned out to be disappointing. Anyway, without further ado, here’s my top 12 for the year 2012. And in case you’re unfamiliar with my list-based writing, I just want to remind you that I haven’t considered EPs, split albums, live albums, all-covers albums, compilations and re-releases for this list.

#20.Wintersun – Time I: Wintersun’s long-awaited ‘Time I’ finally hit the stores this year, and despite being deemed ‘over-produced’ by many, the album does what it sets out to do. The band has to be commended for the intricacy of the production, the instrumentation, and the massively epic feel of the album overall. The use of the acoustic guitars is my favorite part. If you’re into epic metal even one bit, this album wouldn’t have let you down.

#19.Six Feet Under – Undead: On the strength of a rejuvenated lineup, death metal giants Six Feet Under released ‘Undead’ this year. This one’s all about the groove and not so much about the technicality or the speed, but I think that’s what makes it different from other extreme metal albums. This slow, groovy, riff-based death metal is something I’m really able to get into. Riffs on tunes like ‘Frozen At The Moment Of Death’, Formaldehyde’, ’18 Days’, ‘Missing Victims’ and ‘The Scar’ take no longer than one listen to hit the nail on its head, while frontman Chris Barnes is as good as ever, delivering those mighty grunts at will. ‘Undead’ is indeed a killer album.

#18.Dethklok – Dethalbum III: As far as Dethklok’s studio albums go, Brendon Small has come up with his best work till date, and Dethalbum III stands out to be musically far superior to the previous two dethalbums. Brendon’s guitar work on this new album is exemplary, which might be an after-effect of the solo album he released under the name Galaktikon. The album still consists of the humor element that typifies Dethklok tunes, which should please the fans. A thoroughly enjoyable effort.

#17.Between The Buried And Me – The Parallax II: Future Sequence: BTBAM’s magnum opus has taken the band to new levels of creativity in musicianship. And if you read my review of the album, I certainly liked most of it at first listen. But despite that, I feel it’s a bit too complex and spacey to be enjoyed in a single sitting. With that being said, the music adheres to Tommy Rogers’ lyrical concept perfectly, and would have pleased most if not all progressive rock fans.

#16.Yakuza – Beyul: Chicago-based experimentalists Yakuza came up with a very interesting album this year. It took a couple of listens for me to really get into the music, but once I did, it took me to a whole another place, mentally. It explores world music-type sounds, but is still based on metal, which is where people like me and indeed the readers of this website would find this album appealing. All in all, a very intense and powerful piece of music. It’s not your run-of-the-mill heavy metal album by any means, but if you’re in an introspective mood, give this a try, and it shall most certainly blow your mind.

#15.Bevar Sea – Bevar Sea: Indian doomsters Bevar Sea released their debut album this year, and although I had heard these songs plenty of times in their live shows during the course of the year, it was still a great feeling to get them on record and see what treatment the band gave to the same songs in a studio setting. The album very much has a ‘live’ feel, and Bevar Sea’s organic nature of musicianship has been maintained, which I was extremely glad to see. They vindicated my belief that they’re one of the handful of Indian bands worth a listen, and whether or not you’re Indian doesn’t even matter. This is classic doom metal at its purest.

#14.Kreator – Phantom Antichrist: This one did not quite sit right with me at first, but as soon as I saw the band perform a good chunk of it on stage at the Bangalore Open Air gig earlier this year, I was instantly converted into a fan of Teutonic thrash veterans Kreator’s latest effort ‘Phantom Antichrist’. Perhaps not the devastating thrash album that represented the band’s style in their early year, this one has the depth and melody that’s seldom been heard in Kreator’s music. Whether that’s good or bad is for the fans to decide, but for me this musical maturity makes the album more of a complete heavy metal record rather than just another thrash release.

#13.The Devin Townsend Project – Epicloud: No matter what he does, the great man never fails to amaze, and even though this album has a lot of qualities that you’d associate with a more commercial style of music, the metalhead is me still loves it nonetheless. There’s just something about the music this guy composes, I don’t know what exactly it is. The quieter, softer tunes are powerful in their own way, and the heavier bits like ‘Lucky Animals’, ‘Liberation’ and ‘Kingdom’ are crushing. An insane roller-coaster ride, this album epitomizes its creator to perfection.

#12.Grand Magus – The Hunt: Swedish heavy metal trio Grand Magus’ sixth studio album ‘The Hunt’ is definitely a grower. I did enjoy large portions of the album even on first listen, but my liking for it grew over time. JB’s vocal delivery is as brilliant as his guitar work, and the music on the whole is simple, catchy and heavy. This is an album worthwhile for fans of straight-up, no-frills metal.

#11.Royal Thunder – CVI: It’s extremely difficult to find female-fronted metal bands that release long-lasting music, but this Atlanta-based quartet answered the call this year with their new album ‘CVI’, which is definitely a keeper in my opinion. Mlny Parsonz’ carries this album on her shoulders with her deeply soulful, haunting and hypnotic vocals, but her band mates play crucial roles as well. The band has their own identity, and to me they actually succeed in revive the 60s rock aura with shades of Purple and Zeppelin, without even deliberately being a ‘revival’ band. Hats off to them for treating us with this beautiful album.

#10. The Shrine – Primitive Blast: Venice, California-based rock ‘n roll trio delivered exactly what the album title suggests, a primitive blast. This new album of theirs is vintage, raw, psychedelic, punk-infused rock at its violent best. Josh Landau’s guitar tone and vocals, Court Murphy’s fuzzy bass, and Jeff Murray’s drumming gels together and the result of their great chemistry is in front of us. There are no bells and whistles on here, and the album successfully captures the band’s on-stage sound and energy. One of the best live bands I saw while I was in LA, the band didn’t disappoint on this studio release either. If this album doesn’t make you bang your head off and yell out of pure joy, I don’t know what will.

#9.Overkill – The Electric Age: Just like fine wine, thrash legends Overkill seem to get better and better with age, and there is no greater proof of that than their sixteenth studio album ‘The Electric Age’. Bobby Blitz sounds absolutely fantastic on the vocals, and the rest of his band haven’t let anyone down either. One of the fiercest albums of the year, this is a must-have for the mosh-pit loving, head-banging, screaming thrash metal fan.

#8.Testament – Dark Roots Of Earth: Achieving the seemingly insurmountable task of following up to an album like ‘The Formation Of Damnation’, San Francisco Bay Area thrash masters Testament delivered the goods on their tenth studio album, one that showcases the fury and the finesse possessed by these great musicians, an album that boasts of a greater prominence of Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson’s guitar melodies and solos, to complement the ever-amazing bestiality of Chuck Billy’s vocals and the rhythm section of Greg Christian and Gene Hoglan. It’s not exactly an out-and-out thrash album, but it’s a great metal album without a doubt.

#7. Philm – Harmonic: The Dave Lombardo-led trio Philm released its much-awaited studio debut this year. Being a keen follower of the band ever since they started out in 2010, I expected great things from this release, and it exceeded all of my high expectations. It’s hard to even describe what this album sounds like. It’s one of those, you’ve just got to listen to it and experience it yourself. Lombardo has revealed new, never-before-seen aspects of his drumming, but this band is not all about him. Lombardo, Gerry Nestler and Pancho Tomaselli are equal parts frontmen here, and you can tell that upon listening to the album. ‘Harmonic’ is a beast of its own, and while it takes the award for the most unique musical offering of the year, for me as a fan of heavy music, it still stands tall amongst the more conventional metal releases of the year.

#6.Orange Goblin – A Eulogy For The Damned: London, England’s Orange Goblin smashed us in the faces with this kickass stoner metal record. Ben Ward’s crushing vocals give the band a certain character that’s hard to replicate, and the musicianship of his band mates seals the deal. Creating simple music with a long-lasting impact is an art as great as that of making complex music, and this band succeeds at the former with emphatic aplomb. The mightiness of these riffs captivates the mind of the listeners and grabs them by the throat and doesn’t let go. Tunes like ‘Red Tide Rising’, ‘Acid Trial’, ‘The Filthy And The Few’, and ‘Return To Mars’ ensured that the album earned its rightful place in this list.

#5. Gypsyhawk – Revelry & Resilience: Los Angeles’ very own Gypsyhawk reached new heights in their short career this year, with the release of their Metal Blade Records debut ‘Revelry & Resilience’. Employing a songwriting style that’s much more focused than what they did on the previous album, they gave us 50 minutes of no-bullshit rock ‘n roll awesomeness. Songs like ‘Overloaded’, ‘The Fields’, ‘Hedgeking’, ‘Galaxy Rise’, ‘1345’, ‘Silver Queen’ and ‘State Lines’ are filled to the brim with unmatchable zest and energy. Gypsyhawk is one of those rare bands that do a good job at pulling off classic hard rock music, while still maintaining an air of uniqueness they can call their own. A ‘rocking’ album, in the truest sense of the word.

#4. The Sword – Apocryphon: A lot was expected from The Sword’s fourth studio album ‘Apocryphon’, and after the huge effort that entailed their previous release, the concept album ‘Warp Riders’ the band did exactly the thing a lot of people would have hoped for, i.e. go back to doing the simple things best. The best album of their career in my opinion, this one puts forth the power of the riff, as JD Cronise and the boys adopt a completely riff-based approach. The riffs that begin in the opening tune ‘Veil Of Isis’ get you totally hooked to the album, and the next 45 minutes simply fly by. Vocally, Cronise has given his best performance thus far, which makes this a purely delightful piece for fans of classic heavy metal. It has made me a much bigger fan of The Sword than I ever was, and I’m sure it’s had the same impact on plenty of other people too.

#3. Dawnbringer – Into The Lair Of The Sun God: As the year went on, this album grew on me like no other. I found that the amazingly pristine sound of every single musical element that forms this 44-minute album began having an incredibly powerful impact on my mind, and it only heightened further with every subsequent listen. If all the guitar solos from the nine tracks are collected into a single musical piece, that would be mind-blowing in itself. With that said, the vocals and the rhythm section fits into the sound perfectly as well. The Chicago-based quartet has come up with what I would describe as a timeless classic.

#2. Enslaved – RIITIIR: Ever since I saw them as an opening act for Opeth in 2008, I’ve always had appreciation and respect for Norwegian extreme progressive metal band Enslaved’s style of musicianship, and while I enjoyed all of their previous releases, I felt they really hit the home run with ‘RIITIIR’. To call this album a musical journey rather than a mere album would actually be an understatement. It takes you through twists and turns, most of them unexpected, has several layers, and lets you discover new elements every time you repeat it. Having experimented with multiple sub-genres throughout their career, I think they found the perfect balance this time, with this one offering plenty in the progressive realm as well as sheer black metal savagery. Quite a few of the Scandinavian bands start out playing extreme metal and go into commercial territory, and I don’t think I even need to mention their names. Enslaved defies the norm, and while this album has undoubtedly gained them new fans, it hasn’t alienated the old ones either. ‘RIITIIR’ is a top-notch effort.

#1. Accept – Stalingrad: Old-school metal lords Accept have built upon the overwhelmingly massive success of their comeback album ‘Blood Of The Nations’, and the German juggernaut has rolled on with full force, as the follow-up ‘Stalingrad’ was unleashed upon us in the early part of the year. If anyone had doubts about the credibility or quality of the reincarnated version of Accept, all of those doubts were dispelled and the Mark Tornillo-led Accept lineup was vindicated further. Whether ‘Stalingrad’ is better than its predecessor is still up for debate, but in my opinion, there was nothing better released this entire year. This was my number 1 pick on June 30th 2012, and remains my number 1 at the end of year. This is true heavy metal at its best. Stalingrad rules the metal world! \m/