So here it is, 2012 was a big year in music. Not just for the avid metal fan but across all genres. As most of you know I’m a particularly metal focused guy and there were plenty of hyped, anticipated and shocking releases to be found throughout 2012.
That’s not to say that none of them are worthy of a mention especially considering the caliber of band’s releasing music.
Those worthy of notice includes Cannibal Corpse – Torture, Kreator – Phantom Antichrist, Katatonia – Dead End Kings, Enslaved – RIITIIR, Stone Sour – House Of Gold And Bones Part One, as well as a monolithic host of others that achieved more than the usual accolades of over hyped magazines. Regardless of this and that, here’s my top five albums of the year 2012.
Dragged Into Sunlight – Widowmaker
It’s fair to say that Dragged Into Sunlight’s second offering is a fair change from the band’s debut. The masked doom/sludge outfit has churned out something spectacular; everything from dank riffs, pained screams to masterful sweeping shoe-gaze atmospherics, this is not an album that contends with itself rather this three tracked opus swells, transforms its atmosphere into its own entity somehow tying in the aggression and rampart intensity with beautiful minimalism in passages. The album itself is a telling story that breathes intensity, bridging and a regression of sorts showing that all three chapters in this story are there for a reason. It could be said that a “less is more” approach was used in comparison to the debut, ‘Hatred For Mankind’ but it remains an exploration of sounds away from the foundation of the previous album. Dropping the typical track-list format of conventional albums was only the first step in achieving this rounded, yet manipulative sound. As a whole the record is sinister, complex, twisting, and aggressive without being over the top. Dragged Into Sunlight has created a milestone of sorts with their sophomore record. For those expecting something in the similar vein of the debut, chances are this may just looking at something disappointing, instead look at this record on its own terms and the result will be fantastic through the overall clarity of the record.
We Lost The Sea – The Quietest Place On Earth
Sometimes the music we listen to is not supposed to be that ‘happy experience’ we all crave. That’s certainly the feeling I got when listening to Australia’s We Lost The Sea. The Quietest Place On Earth is far from what the title suggests but don’t go into it expecting the rawest of black metal offerings, instead sit back and let the album slowly swallow you whole. The entire album is a contrasting pool of angry, calm, broken yet completely uniformed thoughts. As a whole, The Quietest Place On Earth is a telling story of pain, suffering focused into one recording with an almost flawless make up. The emotive music, lyrics are far from a mindless and aimless indulgence instead the album is gripping from start to finish and all over again. The story only becomes more real and pressing as those familiar with the band tell the story of vocalist, Chris passing shortly after the release of the album. The band has cited that the music was an outlet for Chris’ depression and the emotion you hear becomes too real. This album is far from a pretended, fake offering, it is the legacy that one vocalist could not only leave to his band members but also to the fans that either have or have not yet heard the music.
Ash Borer – Cold Of Ages
It’s good to see some of the bigger acts in extreme metal continually reaching towards the heights, rather than trying to cling to an older success. Ash Borer has done just what they needed bringing together new elements with old influences. At a basic level, Ash Borer is still the band playing to some laughably small numbers in a dark bar somewhere. Only the dark bar has been transformed into a world stage and that laughable number? Well you get the idea. If anything can be taken from the fact the band signed on to Profound Lore, it’s that the label has little to no influence on the band’s overall sound highlighting just how impressive this release truly is. Cold Of Ages is a black metal highlight, not only in the year 2012 but for many more years to come. Taking a modern influence into their music has really helped Ash Borer climb the metaphorical black metal ladder, the cleaner production has allowed for the album’s atmosphere to take on new life and with the project now naming tracks, slightly more accessible for the casual listener. This is a band that is on a high, with absolutely no indication of coming back down any time soon.
Anaal Nathrakh – Vanitas
How’s this for intense? If you’re even remotely into aggressive up-tempo music, Anaal Nathrakh’s Vanitas is a must hear. Sure, the drums may be electronic and almost impossible to play for a real drummer but that takes nothing away from the absolute monstrosity to be found on this record. If that hasn’t piked your interest, skip to the second track and play the last two minutes of ‘Forging Towards The Sunset’. Breathe, just breathe it’s intense, angry, furious, beside itself but is far away from being a gimmick. That scream alone is worthy of a mention and signifies just how sick and tormented the individuals that present this music are. Electronics, triggers, double bass, tasteful cleans and most importantly an intensity rarely seen in the metal genre all surface hear. This music is often described as the ‘soundtrack to the apocalypse’ and rightly so. Vanitas will stick to you like hot tar, it will burn for a bit but once it has cooled it will mark you forever.
Finsterforst – Rastlos
Imagine a barren mountain path; it’s tranquil yet eerie at the same time. Look over the edge, see everything before the horizon and back again. The vision is massive, ever reaching – you see many things, and it takes a while to see everything; from the gentle stream in the middle of a forest to a crushing waterfall, before you see the chasm right beneath your feet, death may only be seconds away but you can’t help but enjoy the beauty and despair of the vision you behold. As much could be said for Finsterforst’s 2012 release Rastlos. The album is massive from start to finish the listener is entrapped by this display of depth and well-crafted song-writing only to play it again. This seven track affair never loses pace and is far from a tiring listen. Coming in at almost eighty minutes Rastlos utilises features cross the board; from brass to woodwind and even a dabble in the occasional ambient/drone section. Every component comes together to create this opus of an album.
Despite the excellently presented vocals that when used command a lot of the listeners’ attention, this album is very much an instrumentally based affair. The beauty of the album comes in the form of its instruments, not to mention all the other sounds sources (tweeting birds etc.) The instrumental feature is not taken in a way where the record is void of all vocal lines, rather the screamed vocals, clean notes and soothing chanting that will on occasion present the listener with a battle theme. Rastlos is impressive in its construction; conventional black metal aesthetics interlay with folk themes in a way not unlike any of Primordial’s releases except here there is more to listen for, more to be absorbed. Listeners’ may not receive the albums’ full potential on a first listen but on a secord or even third the listener may begin to understand Rastlos’ depth. Brass instruments, woodwind, strings all add to this album full of contrast showing off vibrantly just how all these elements can come together without becoming a muddled mess. Add a media sample of running water, birds and the imagery created comes together for the listener in a positive manner.
Rastlos achieves what most other albums of the genre fail to. Usually where a culmination of sounds are pushed together the result sounds forced, unnatural to fit within the record while also creating a tiresome listen. Fortunately for Finsterforst the result here does not fall into any of the above mentioned. Ideas are far from repetitious and blend naturally from section to section. It’s astonishing how well it comes together. There’s never a dull moment on this record; its seven tracks come and go like a journey and this eighty minute affair swings by making the most of the listeners’ attention. Whilst predominantly full of the riffs and screams that stereotypically fit the confines of the genre Rastlos sounds fresh on the ears of the listener, there is enough here in the folk-ish/pagan crossover to keep the listener well entertained. Even the twenty-two minute final track ‘Flammenrausch’ brings the album together reinforcing the album’s ever present imagery and finishing the album off in a very positive manner.
Overall, Rastlos is a release that should not be missed simply because it comes at the end of the year. For fans of pagan metal, this is a must. For all of its symphonic elements and excellently presented musical ideas this release may not be as cheese-y as it sounds. For those who found Eluveitie’s Helveltios to bouncy or too full cheese-y, or respectively found Korpiklaani’s Manala a flat record this album is sure enough to be able to turn the tides. Rastlos touches on a lot of ground without managing to be confusing or forced. There is light where there is dark, tranquil where there is anger. Rastlos is an album that is full of surprises, twists and turns – yet nothing is out of place.