Parthan’s Best of 2012 List

2012 was honestly the first year where I truly paid attention to “current” music. I used to be an unabashed “there’s been no good music made since the mid-’90s” kind of guy, but 2012 got me listening to all kinds of things that I hadn’t given a chance before. My tastes heavily skew towards rock and metal, so the list will reflect that. These are what I think were the best Rock/Metal releases of 2012.

5. Krinkle – Thishitlist

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I love me some Guns N’ Roses. I’m not ashamed to admit it. Neither are Krinkle, apparently. But they also love them some Queens of the Stone Age, System of a Down and Jane’s Addiction, and they’re not afraid to wear those influences on their sleeves either. Krinkle’s debut EP features some good old-fashioned blues-and-booze-fuelled riffing fortified with a healthy dose of ’90s alt-rock and alt-metal weirdness. Classic, yet modern, hard rock fun!

4. Skyharbor – Blinding White Noise: Illusion & Chaos

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The Djent scene might have set the record for least time taken to go from novel and innovative to oversaturated to the point of stupidity. However, Skyharbor’s debut was one of the standouts of 2012. Mastermind Keshav Dhar eschews mindless djenting for actual riffs that groove and pique interest. Songs develop coherently. Ambient sections are seamlessly incorporated into the songs rather than serving as placeholders. Then you have the superb contributions of the All-Star cast consisting of Daniel Tompkins (ex-TesseracT, White Moth Black Butterfly) on vocals, Anup Sastry (Jeff Loomis, Intervals) on drums, Sunneith Revankar (Bhayanak Maut) on vocals, and Marty Friedman (ex-Megadeth) with a couple of sweeeeeet guitar solos. Basically this is everything that Progressive Metal in the 21st Century should be.

3. Agam – The Inner Self Awakens

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A startling young band who combine Progressive Metal in the vein of Dream Theater with Indian Classical in a fusion of styles that has managed to enthrall even the notoriously elitist fans of Carnatic (South Indian Classical) music. It’s virtually unheard of for a band in India to be equally comfortable playing to moshpits full of black-tshirted metalheads, as they are to concert halls with white-haired septugenarians, but that’s exactly what Agam has made its reputation doing. The Inner Self Awakens’ strong focus on songwriting at the expense of extended instrumental masturbation actually works in its favour, and the album is challenging, compositionally tight and technically impressive without a single note wasted.

2. Indus Creed – Evolve

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Stalwarts of India’s hard rock scene return after a 14 year hiatus with arguably the best Indian rock album both of the year, and possibly of all time. The band has traded in its erstwhile ’80s-flavoured hard rock and metal for a faux-prog sound that is often reminiscent of some of the more pop-oriented moments of Porcupine Tree and Spock’s Beard. There isn’t a weak moment on the album, with hooks galore and instrumental flash that always perfectly complements the song. This is a rare album indeed.

1. Twelve Foot Ninja – Silent Machine

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Eclectic, unpredictable, wacky fun. Twelve Foot Ninja’s masterpiece Silent Machine is music for the ADD-afflicted. Containing a surprise-a-minute, Silent Machine makes stylistic jumps that span djent, dub, latin jazz and disco, often within the same song! Twelve Foot Ninja are the spiritual successors of Faith No More and Mr Bungle, particularly when it comes to vocalist Kin, who sometimes sounds like a Mike Patton clone. However, Twelve Foot Ninja are purely their own beast and there is very little in the world that sounds like them.

Bob’s Top 5 of 2012

Honestly, this was the first year I REALLY got into music and while I came across some of my favorite stuff little by little before 2012, I had no idea how much goodness I was missing. Of course there is so much goodness I am still missing and sadly will never hear of but this is the year I started wading from the kiddie pool over to the deeper end of what music can offer me. Here’s my top five from last year:

5) Travis and Fripp- Follow

Progressive rock fans are very much familiar with seminal icon Robert Fripp both with his solo outings as well as his frequent collaborations with Brian Eno as well as the obvious King Crimson. Another partner the man liked to hook up with is a flautist by the name of Theo Travis. Their brainchild, Follow, is a special kind of serene beauty that normally only nature can replicate. This ambient masterpiece is a meticulously crafted, fully realized journey that soothingly pulls you along a wistful cloud of moods and feeling that fans of ambient simply must experience.

4) Hail the Sun- Elephantitis

In not-so-stark contrast to the ephemeral beauty of Travis and Fripp comes a clinic on how good post-hardcore can sound these days. Now don’t get me wrong, that’s not to say that previous incantations were bad by any means but for me, at this point in time, this expertly executed example by Hail the Sun reigns supreme. This is blatent Dance Gavin Dance worship no doubt about it but with 100% more prog and 50% more imagery in the album title. The drummer is the lead singer in this band which quite frankly is mind boggling. Moving and coordinating so many parts of your body independently speaks to the skill exhibited here. Couple that with catchy, proggy hooks just played just as adroitly as the drumming and you have one blistering and melodic release.

3) Niechęć- Śmierć w miękkim futerku

Niechęć is a jazz band, and one that heavily improvises. This unfortunately many times equates for such a dense, distorted wall of noise that naught but the most ardent of jazz lovers can see the joy buried within (for the record I am not one of those people at all). This group of Polish instrumentalists have found some sort of secret formula however as not only is it easy to tell that Śmierć w miękkim futerku is improvised at many points, but it all comes off sounding quite frankly amazing. Your senses will still be bombarded with sax, drums, and trickling piano but the group never loses direction in all this chaos. Maybe I’m just a loser for not getting the beauty of free-jazz but if this is where it’s going I’ll be on the first bandwagon, ears perked and body erect.

2) Thank You Scientist- Maps of Non-Existent Places

Take everything I said about Hail the Sun minus the singer/drummer and the fact that its post-hardcore, add jazz-fusion and 3 more instrumentalists all virtuosos with their craft and you have the band Thank You Scientists and their debut Maps of Non-Existant Places. I have no idea how 7 guys, all top tier with different instruments, and able to write such technical, jazzy, and rockin’ songs found each other. Quite frankly its not fair. The music is varied, incredibly written, never ever ever boring and constantly pushing the boundaries of jazz-fusion. One more record like this outta these guys and I’m gonna have a long talk with myself and my ordering of favorite bands.

1) Exotic Animal Petting Zoo- Tree of Tongues

And here’s my favorite album of 2012, the dark, twisted second offering of the criminally underrated Exotic Animal Petting Zoo, Tree of Tongues. Now I saw this record is dark and twisted and it is, but not in any sort of obvious way. Its soaring vocals and seemingly metalcore-ish (I guess, I’m not sure what genre this record is) stylings all hide a dark, melancholy mood. This mood immediately hit me and while being the happiest person I know, I didn’t necessarily  connect with it, but I loved the subtly of it and was wracked in appreciation all the more for it. While not overtly technical or melodious, Tree of Tongues balances all of its influences and song structures on a needle point, and for all its spastic riffing and wild crooning never sways.

(Oh and Through the Ticket…..Across Endless Mountains is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard in my life)

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Mark’s Best of 2012 List

2012 was an incredible year for music across the board; there were honestly quite a few surprises from an incredible array of genres. Whether you focused on hip hop, metal, or pop, there were ample reasons to get excited about 2012.

Without further ado, here are my top five releases of 2012:

5.

Swans_The_Seer_album

Swans-The Seer

Swans certainly have an illustrious past; for a band with over thirty years of experience, The Seer certainly feels like an album that is a culmination of that. The entire album is a dark, harrowing journey that oppressively leads the listener through a two hour epic. While not entirely accessible, it is without a doubt an incredibly strong album and worthy of listening through the lengthy runtime. Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs  and Jarboe make respective appearances on The Seer, and the collaborations give some metaphorical light to cut through the darkness that is this album. Overall, this is an album that defies genre tags and is a worthy listen for anyone willing to visit the experimental territory that Swans have crafted.

4.

Channel Orange

Frank Ocean-Channel Orange

Frank Ocean keeps some obnoxious company; as a part of collective OFWGKTA, one could be forgiven for thinking that this would be more of the of the same shock-value drivel that his peers have released in the past few years. Of course, this isn’t to say that there is the occasional stellar track to come out of Tyler, the Creator or Mike G, but Channel Orange is the very definition of consistency and excellence. Ocean’s soulful croon and impeccable falsetto very obviously carries this release, but his willingness to venture into interesting territories not normally reserved for soul/R&B is what makes this such an exciting album. “Thinkin Bout You” drenches the listener with bittersweet melodies about love that has long past, but more experimental cuts like “Pyramids” play with epic song lengths and more interesting structures. Even with stripping the creative music that surrounds it, the lyrics read like Ocean’s personal journal entries and it couldn’t be more fitting. You celebrate with Ocean’s victories, feel his pain about lost love, and reminisce about times that you weren’t even around for; all of this being done with candid lyricism and heart-rending vocals. Even with all of the positive things to say of Channel Orange, the truth is that it is incredibly evident that Ocean is still finding his feet and that this is certainly not his magnum opus.

3.

Macklemore-The Heist

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis-The Heist

I have to admit, I had my concerns when “Thrift Shop” was being played on the radio endlessly and I would be lying if I said that song is not what stopped me from listening to The Heist within the first few months of its release date. It was silly and aimed for the masses, and while very fun, it just didn’t have the substance that I generally look for in hip hop. It is easy now to look back on that decision with regret, as this is easily one of the best hip hop releases to grace 2012. There is a often sought-after balance of serious subject matter and wry self-deprecation that just cannot be found for most artists, but Macklemore has a death grip on it, and it doesn’t look like he is letting go anytime soon. It is just so evident that he does not care what anyone thinks of him or his music; he puts his true self into each track without sacrificing the quality of the album as a whole. The “cool” perspective that floods the genre is eschewed in favor of the originality that spills forth from songs like “Ten Thousand Hours” and “Same Love”. The latter being a song that speaks of equal rights for homosexuality, with Macklemore musing on the irony of quoting a book “written 3,500 years ago” in relation to a current event. Quite simply, more artists need to take initiative like this; what Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have done here is touch on current events that needed a positive take in a more public situation. He should be commended for doing so, and still not sacrificing the musical integrity of The Heist. The best way to sum up this album is the following verse from “Ten Thousand Hours”:

You see I studied art
The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint
The greats were great cause they paint a lot

I will not be a statistic, just let me be
No child left behind, that’s the American scheme
I make my living off of words
And do what I love for work

And got around 980 on my SATs
Take that system
What did you expect

Generation of kids choosing love over a desk

2.

mewithoutyou-ten stories

Mewithoutyou-Ten Stories

I have had a very long love affair with mewithoutyou; the band has been one of my personal favorites for a long time. When Catch for Us the Foxes came out, it spoke to me in a way that I thought impossible; every anguished lyric that spewed forth from Aaron Weiss’ mouth might as well have come from my own mind. I spent quite a while chasing after another album that resonated with me as much as that album did, and the sad truth is that the combination of events that made CFUTF so special to me may never come again. With all of that being said, Ten Stories is an incredibly strong album. The passion that made them so wonderfully volatile on past albums and the sober, mature lyrics of later albums combine here in a perfect amalgamation of what mewithoutyou is all about. The groove-laden atmosphere and confessional-style vocals make it a more personal listen than other albums of this ilk, and the campfire-style storytelling of 2008 album It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright is used in less doses and thus works in the grand scheme of what Ten Stories intends to accomplish. It is a gentle reminder of the constant progression of the band as a whole; the raucous and post hardcore energy of “February, 1878” is met with the more gentle and acoustic-based “East Enders Wives”. It is indeed a nice retrospective on the styles that the band has embodied over the years, and it needs to be stated that I have never been happier to report that Weiss seems to have finally found some personal happiness (see jaunty “Cardiff Giant”).

1.

Aesop-Rock-Skelethon-cover

Aesop Rock-Skelethon

Aesop Rock has always been known for incredible production and beats accompanied by a less than stellar flow, but Skelethon is improved in every way. Stream-of-consciousness lyrics fit the interesting and varied beats, giving the album an overarching feeling that it is more than just a run-of-the-mill hip hop album. Nothing here is forced, and the beauty is that Aesop doesn’t turn his back on experimental beats in order to make it sound more natural. The music ranges from ethereal and haunting (“Ruby ’81”), utilizing a dramatic spoken word approach, to employing an off-kilter keyboard and more traditional hip hop beat in “Fryerstarter”. His passionate delivery and incredibly involved lyricism have never been more on point than on Skelethon, and it is certainly fun to pore over the lyrics that he has so obviously immersed himself in. Going along with the sometimes exhausting and overbearing atmosphere, Aesop has kept this primarily his affair, only utilizing one guest spot. In keeping it a project that is wholly his own without other rappers contributing verses, he is able to better control the atmosphere of the listener’s experience which is key for the album as a whole. It is random, claustrophobic, and for some reason, makes complete sense when taking the entirety of Skelethon into consideration. The high level of lyricism present here trumps any other release of 2012, and the truth is that Aesop Rock has created the perfect aural soundscape for the haunting passion of his gritty lyrics.

Robert’s Best Of 2012 List

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.

5.

dragged into sunlight

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.

4.

we lost the sea

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.

3.

ash borer

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.

2.

Vanitas

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.

1.

Finsterforst

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.