Best Metal Albums of 2012
There were no pathbreaking records but there also weren’t any Lulu-size disasters
What a weird and wonderful year it’s been for metal. We came into 2012 still reeling from the nameless horror of Lulu to find out that Coal Chamber was coming back. Then began some of the ugliest public fights in the history of metal: Tony Iommi fought leukemia but Black Sabbath fought each other. Geoff Tate pulled a shiv on the QueensrÃ¿che members and found himself looking for a new job. On the other end of the spectrum, Opeth’s Michael Ã…kerfeldt’s and Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson’s bro love and mutual musical masturbation club produced Storm Corrosion, an album of breathtaking vacuousness. The end of the world was nigh. But then the metal world collectively redeemed itself by its total rejection of the Butcher Babies, proving that they wouldn’t trade quality metal for all the T&A in the world.
But as albums go, it was a fairly solid year. There were no path breaking records but there also weren’t any Lulu-size disasters. Here’s our pick (in alphabetical order for the nitpickers) of the ones that made the cut this year.
Baroness ”“ Yellow & Green
The Georgia band’s third album came very close to falling out of the narrow confines of “metal” but we weren’t about to give away an album this good to the prog rock list. On Yellow & Green, their beefy Southern swamp sludge has grown up, gone to college, got laid, dabbled in psychoactives, discovered Radiohead and got in touch with its sensitive side. It’s still beautiful sludge, but Baroness slyly sneak in post-rock, guitar psychedelia, pop and ambient rushes when you’re not looking. So good.
Listen to “Take My Bones Away” from Yellow & Green here:
Cannibal Corpse ”“ Torture
When a Cannibal Corpse record finds itself on a list, people will usually accede to it without namecalling, out of sheer respect for the band. But everyone knows they’ve been putting out more or less different iterations of the same album for the last 24 years. But”¦ have they? Torture was Cannibal Corpse with teeth and claws; it had an edge. It was dynamic and engaging ”“ death metal tightened to a screaming point without compromising on their cheery rip-stab-kill lyrics. This was easily one of their best in decades.
Listen to “Demented Aggression” from Torture here:
Deftones ”“ Koi No Yokan
How do they do it? First White Pony, then Diamond Eyes and now Koi No Yokan have squeezed fresh life out of a genre that’s been done to death, resurrected, butchered, then turned into wallets. But even the wide ambit of alternative metal can’t hold Deftones any more. Koi No Yokan is a sensuous beast, both sticks and stones and love letters, shoegaze and punk. Chino Moreno blurs the line between sex and violence, and the album hangs suspended in that moment when pain becomes pleasure. It’s grand. It’s probably the album of the year. Haters can leave the building.
Listen to “Leathers” from Koi No Yokan here:
Devin Townsend Project ”“ Epicloud
At a time when bands are struggling to put out one album in three years, this one man music factory cranked out three in the space of 15 months with another one due soon. Deconstruction and Ghost were at two extreme ends of the spectrum ”“ one was ball-crushingly heavy, the other a floaty message from the far reaches of outer space ”“ like the mad meanderings of mismatched lovers. 2012’s Epicloud was their beautiful bipolar love-child, generations of madness distilled perfectly into one unit that was equal parts jazz, metal, pop, Iggy Pop, country, wall-of-sound, guitar wash and homicidal rabbits. It’s almost frightening to consider what upcoming Casualties of Cool will be like.
Watch “Lucky Animals” from Epicloud here:
Â Gojira ”“ L’Enfant Sauvage
This one was a bit of a head-scratcher. On first listen, L’Enfant Sauvage felt like a low-cal version of Gojira, a ratatouilleÂ to their earlier confit de canard. But it takes a few listens to realize that L’Enfant is actually a full gourmet meal with appetisers, entrees, dessert and a coffee and cigarette finish, all consistently fantastic. The band have stuck to their sound template but added layers, then buffed and polished them. They’ve got hooks and chasers, circling guitars, well-paced drumwork, groove”¦ oh! So much groove! It’s a mixed bag that pushes all the right buttons to make this list.
Watch Gojira’s “L’Enfant Sauvage” here:
- Ihsahn ”“ Eremita
Former Emperor guitarist Ihsahn’s sax and violence saga continued on his fourth studio album, chasing Nietzsche in a fever dream over bleak Norwegian snows. Though far less accessible than his earlier work on Eremita, Ihsahn perfected his singular blend of dark symphonic soundscapes, menacing guitars and staccato abrasive saxophone, capturing all the stark, contained violence of a Norwegian winter landscape. It’s Ihsahn with a side serving of Ihsahn garnished with a hint of Emperor.
Listen to Ihsahn’s “The Eagle and the Snake” from Eremita here:
Kreator ”“ Phantom Antichrist
Hipsters, exit stage left. Kreator showed why they’re sitting, indisputably, on top of the thrash pile. In 2012, the band were beyond the point of having to prove anything to anyone anymore. They reclaimed thrash territory with Hordes of Chaos (2009). They even went at it analog, just to flip the bird to new-age upstarts whose music began and ended on the computer. On Phantom Antichrist, they sweetened the thrash attack with melody, spiked it with death metal, wrapped it in razor wire and bowled it into the apocalypse. They said it was progressive. We said it was awesome.
Listen to “Phantom Antichrist” here:
Â Pallbearer ”“ Sorrow and Extinction
Do you know what it felt like to wait for the world to end, and not have it happen? Apparently Pallbearer knew and soundtracked it. This Arkansas band’s debut churned ominous doom, deep melancholy and, strangely, upliftment into a beautifully haunting whole. Sorrow and Extinction is mournful without being lugubrious, massive without losing grace; it strikes a balance that established bands have tried for years to perfect. It’s doom at its finest.
Â Listen to “The Legend” from Pallbearer’s Sorrow and Extinction here:
Â Spawn of Possession ”“ Incurso
Balls-to-the-wall technical death metal, the way it should be done; the way no one else did in 2012.
Listen to “Apparition” from Incurso here:Â
Testament ”“ Dark Roots of the Earth
Converge ”“ All We Love We Leave Behind
Evoken ”“ Atra Mors
So we cheated. Bite us.
Testament made a tremendous case for kicking Metallica out of the Big Four with Dark Roots of the Earth, selling hooky, beautiful thrash; Evoken challenged even doom metal fans with an exhausting but rewarding piece of mindfuck; and Converge made the list because we like pissing metalheads off by throwing in a hardcore record. No, but really, All We Love We Leave Behind is a beautiful mess that deserves a slot on this list, even if it has to share.
Listen to “True American Hate” from Dark Roots of the Earth here:Â
Listen to “Sadness Comes Home” Â fromÂ All We Love We Leave BehindÂ here:Â
Listen to Evoken’s “Atra Mors”here:Â
Love it? Hate it? Tell us on Twitter on @RollingStoneIN why Koloss should have made the list. Think the exclusion of Periphery makes this null and void? Bring it on, we say.Â