It’s been a damn good year for heavy metal. Here’s a list of what I think are the ten best slabs of metal to come out this year. Horns up, fist high, click play and read on.
V.I.T.R.I.O.L.’s (aka Dave Hunt) vocals are akin to live feline vivisection and gargling with gasoline. Irrumator (aka Mick Kenney) takes care of everything else… Wait, what? Anaal Nathrakh is a twosome? That’s right. Except for when they play live – when they’ve been aided in the past by members of Napalm Death, Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, Mistress and Fukpig, among others – extreme black/death metal group Anaal Nathrakh are a two-man operation. The deep recesses of dark lord Mick Kenney’s mind must be quite the freaky place, considering the frenzied chaos he comes up with, wicked sounds that are only further twisted by Hunt’s screeching, howling, and monk-like chanting.
This is the fifth full-length “mass” to be released by Belgian post-metal/doom outfit Amenra. The album’s four tracks, all of which run over nine minutes, are lush, beautifully crafted pieces which succeed in quietly sparking the darker emotions and blowing on the coals for the flames to catch until finally, the whole Thing goes up in a gloriously melancholic bonfire. This is not a metal beast that attacks with dagger claws and bloody teeth, but rather one that wears its willing listener down with a cold, hypnotizing stare. Enjoy.
Featuring members of Botch, These Arms Are Snakes, Unbroken and Tropics (a few examples on a long list of notables), Seattle’s Narrows are only two LPs deep in what will hopefully be a long career. Their latest effort Painted loudly announces their arrival to the post-hardcore party. Clocking in at less than 27 minutes (which includes the eight-minute long monolith that is “Greenland”), this piece of work doesn’t waste any time saying what it has to say. Armed with Dr. Dave Verellen’s sandpaper vocals and Jody Cox’s and Ryan Frederiksen’s doomy guitar work, Narrows are a tight unit whose full-blast yet thoughtful approach to aggressive metal is sure to make them a force to be reckoned with in the near future.
I’ve been dying for some new Zozobra for years now. I still mourn the passing of Isis. I’m a recent convert to Doomriders and Converge. Old Man Gloom, at least as far as my own tastes are concerned, is pretty much a can’t-miss combination. Made up of guitarist/vocalist Aaron Turner (Isis), drummer Santos Montano (Zozobra), guitarist/vocalist Nate Newton (Converge, Doomriders), bassist/vocalist Caleb Scofield (Cave In, Zozobra), Old Man Gloom unites a group of adventurous musicians that excel at pushing boundaries. The eerie atmospheric terror of “Shadowed Hand” is the very definition of foreboding and fear, reminiscent of Fantômas’ Delìrium Còrdia. The clean vocals and acoustic guitar in “Crescent” end up being the last soothing bits of a coherent reality to hang onto before “Shuddering Earth” rudely barks the beginning of the end to one of this year’s most interesting and engaging albums.
I think it’s safe to say that Deftones shed the garbage-smeared “nu-metal” label with 2000’s White Pony, easily one of the best albums of the ‘00s. Having set the bar so high with White Pony, the group’s following releases – Deftones in 2003 and Saturday Night Wrist in 2006 (both of which had their fair share of great material) – saw fans start to reluctantly face the plausible reality that the band’s best may very well be behind them. Bassist Chi Cheng’s tragic car accident in November 2008, from which he is still recovering, seemed to all but slam the door on the prospect of future greatness. Then came Diamond Eyes (2010), which saw the group deliver their strongest effort in a decade and reclaim their rightful place atop the alternative metal mountain. Koi No Yokan sees them maintain that momentum and continue to flex their signature musical muscle, marrying Carpenter’s chugging-cum-spacey guitars and Cunningham’s tight, crisp percussion with Moreno’s unique vocals, which have never sounded better.
5. Rise and Fall – Faith
March 20 – Deathwish Inc.
Ghent hardcore upstarts Rise and Fall are among the best and brightest of modern metal/core. Produced by Kurt Ballou (Converge) and with cover art by Converge frontman Jacob Bannon, Faith is sure to prompt comparisons. That said, the band’s fourth full-length sees them further define their own unique sound, a mix of galloping hardcore (“A Hammer And Nails”) and more expansive, groove-oriented metal – think sludge metal jabbed with a syringe full of adrenaline and 151. With the group finally getting some love this side of the pond, it will be interesting to see what their next move is.
I’d never given Orange Goblin the time of today until this year; I embarrassingly admit that I’d waved them off due to their name, which I still find silly but now find myself proudly championing. While a lot of the albums in this here list are ideal for prompting an existential identity crisis and bashing your skull in, Orange Goblin’s seventh LP is an album that needs to be rolled up, smoked, air guitared and chased with a few shots of Jack. Equal parts blues, rock and metal, Eulogy for the Damned struts in with the swagger of Clutch, raises its Lynyrd Skynyrd fists, and laughs a Motörhead whiskey laugh right in your freshly slapped face.
Arguably the most potently visceral release of 2012, Gaza’s third full-length is a harrowing exercise in emotional and aural resilience. The ferocity and crushing weight of the title track alone makes this album worthy of a spot on any Best Albums list. The Salt Lake City foursome have truly come into their own on this latest release; Jon Parkin’s vocals reek of conviction more than ever and are elevated by riffs that either rip like a demented buzz saw or pound like a rusty wrecking ball. Produced by modern metal golden boy Kurt Ballou (yup, him again), No Absolutes is an intimidatingly raw and vicious collection of metal with which one should not fuck.
If you play the word association game with metalheads and say “polyrhythm”, chances are more than a few of them will say “Meshuggah”. Now a quarter-century old (not sure what that is in space-metal years…), these guys are showing no signs of slacking. Considered by many to be the high priests of extreme, technical math-metal (or what have you), the very name Meshuggah elicits both loving awe from its legion of fans and frustrated confusion from those who just don’t get it. This music isn’t for everyone, and the band’s fans relish this; being one of the chosen who truly appreciate Meshuggah gives one the sense of having climbed the wall separating conventional metal and oblivion, getting a glimpse into the realm of… actually, nevermind. Just throw on “The Demon’s Name Is Surveillance” and imagine flying a death chopper outfitted with machineguns, cannons and spinning razorblades into a swarm of killer robots.
With their eighth studio album, Converge have whipped out the red hot iron and further seared their worthy name onto the metal world’s fat ass. The group is heralded as one of the groups that has helped define metal over the last decade, successfully mashing together metal, punk and various “-core”s, to the bloody pleasure of eager ears worldwide. “Sadness Comes Home” is an excellent snapshot of Converge at its best – a slow stoner riff that’s slashed open by frantic guitars, spiked with Bannon’s mental vocals, and pushed to the brink by Koller’s rabid drum trampling. If you’ve been away from the scene for a while and are wondering what the hell’s going on, there’s no better example of the metal zeitgeist than All We Love We Leave Behind.
Here are a few more very worthy albums that fought valiantly in my brain for a spot on the list but didn’t quite make it:
Hey reader! So, what do you think? Did we nail down your favourites and now you love us forever? Or did we royally blow it? Let us know! Leave us a comment with what you think was this year’s best metal.