THKD’s Top 20 Metal Albums of 2012

2012 has been more stressful than a motherfucker; probably one of the most all-around stressful years of my life. Buying a house + assorted family and work-related issues that I wouldn’t even dream of getting into here managed to turn the year into a goddamn pressure-cooker. I’m pretty sure the only things that kept me alive were my wife’s unwavering love (and limitless patience) and an avalanche of incredible music. In 2011 I was feeling pretty jaded and dissatisfied with the state of heavy metal, this year I found myself feeling better about things than I have in years. That isn’t to say there weren’t great albums released in 2011, there were, but in 2012 I felt like there was so much greatness that I couldn’t possibly keep up with it all.

In spite of the stress, 2012 was also a year of accomplishment; with the help of some of the best writers and designers in the riff-filled land, Brandon Duncan and I realized our mutual dream of creating a zine, unleashing the bastard child known as Backlit upon the world. To say that I’m proud of what we’ve achieved would be an understatement, and I look forward to seeing where the journey takes us.

Before we dive into the year-end list proper, I’d like to take a moment to recognize my friends that have released great albums in 2012. One of my favorite aspects of doing THKD is making the acquaintance of some phenomenal musicians along the way, several of whom I’ve come to call friends and comrades. There is no way that I could put a ranking on the incredible music these brothers-in-arms have unleashed upon the world this year, so I’ve decided to honor them in their own special category, in no particular order…

We love it when our friends become successful:

The Ash Eaters – Ruining You (self released)
Umesh Amtey and I have been corresponding ever since I reviewed the final album from his previous project, Brown Jenkins, for the now defunct Sonic Frontiers.net. His guitar-work speaks to me on a level that I have yet to fully comprehend; simply put, it is one of the most utterly unique and mesmerizing approaches to the instrument that I’ve ever experienced. The Ash Eaters is the next phase of Amtey’s musical evolution, and Ruining You is a constantly shifting, hypnotic scoundscape of six-string schizophrenia that’s not for the faint of heart. (review HERE, interview HERE)

The Sequence of Prime – Inter- (self released)
Brandon Duncan is quite simply one of the most intelligent and talented motherfuckers I’ve ever met; I keep waiting for him to take over the world. But in all seriousness, he’s both a gifted musician and visual artist, and when those elements converge in The Sequence of Prime, they become a force of technological terror that decimates everything in its path. The futuristic cyber-grind Duncan has conjured up for Inter-, his most vicious and visceral work to date, will blow your mind and rip your face off at the same time. (review HERE, interview HERE)

Fiends at Feast – Towards the Baphomet’s Throne (Horror Pain Gore Death Productions)
I was introduced to Fiends at Feast via my wife’s connections to the Bay Area music scene and was pleasantly surprised by a band that does traditional black/death metal the right way. The quintet possesses an old school mentality which works in their favor; Fiends at Feast understand that the forefathers of extreme metal were first and foremost master craftsmen and this quality shines through on Towards the Baphomet’s Throne. No overly technical wanking, no over-the-top antics and no bullshit, just straight-up evil-sounding and ass-kicking blackened death metal of the highest order. (review HERE)

Now, without further ado and in no particular order, THKD’s top 20 metal albums of 2012. This year and forevermore, I have decided to can the “album of the year” honors. How can one really say “this black metal album is better than all of these grindcore, death metal, doom, etc albums?” Apples and oranges folks; in other words, it just doesn’t make any fucking sense when you really stop and think about it. Also, some of these albums are actually splits, demos, etc and some of them are probably only tangentially metal, but you know what? My list, my rules, muthafuckaaaa! In most instances I’ve already talked about these releases at length elsewhere or interrogated the musicians involved, so I’ve kept things as short and sweet as possible in the hopes that you’ll actually read this abomination.

Top 20 of 2012 (in no particular order):

1. Bosse-de-Nage – III (Profound Lore/Flenser)
Bosse-de-Nage are the first band to successfully combine black metal with elements of post-rock and indie/alt rock. They’re also the first band in a long time that had me reading the lyric sheet front-to-back. The mysterious Bay Area quartet embrace the tenets of post-modernism and surrealism to craft something so fascinatingly bizarre that I’m still searching for the right words in spite of having already written about the band at length (HERE and HERE). As great as III is though, I have a feeling this band has only just begun to blow our fucking minds.

2. Rhinocervs – RH-12 (Rhinocervs)
The anonymous tapes released by Rhinocervs have rapidly become some of my favorite recent American black metal recordings. RH-12 sees the collective taking the genre deep into the maw of the void, creating something that’s legitimately haunting, eerie and depressive, effortlessly embodying the core characteristics that many black metal bands spend their entire careers striving for. This is some seriously brooding, almost frightening music, the likes of which have not been heard since Xasthur or Leviathan. I spilled the digital ink about Rhinocervs and its (apparently) defunct sister label Crepusculo Negro HERE.

3. Weapon – Embers and Revelations (Relapse)
Few bands have grabbed my attention the way Weapon have over the course of their three full lengths. Embers and Revelations is their latest and greatest recording to date, a black/death metal hybrid optimized for thermo-nuclear combat. Everything about this album, from the sleek, streamlined and crystal-clear production scheme to the flawless execution of the songs themselves tells me that Weapon are ready to kick down the doors to the halls of the black/death metal elite and slit every fucking throat. (review HERE)

4. Early Graves – Red Horse (No Sleep Records)
Against all odds, Early Graves have risen above tragedy and released one of the year’s meanest motherfucking albums. Red Horse is one giant fuck you to the Grim Reaper and a fitting tribute to their former singer, the late Makh Daniels. It also captures a band ready to shake off their scars and take the world by storm, kicking the living shit out of anyone who gets in their way. (album review HERE, live review HERE)

5. Mutilation Rites – Empyrean (Prosthetic/Gilead Media)
Of all the great USBM that came out this year, Mutilation Rites’ Empyrean punched me in the gut the hardest. These guys can stomp like Hellhammer and scream like Burzum, but they do it with an American swagger that’s more rock/punk than black metal, all without being “black ‘n’ roll.” It’s incredibly rare that a band can pull off both the atmospheric side of black metal and the pummeling, aggressive side with equal aplomb, but Mutilation Rites do it effortlessly. Expect even bigger things from this band as they continue to hone their craft. (review HERE, live review HERE, more digital ink HERE)

6. Menace Ruine – Alight in Ashes (Profound Lore)
Montreal duo Menace Ruine are probably my greatest discovery of the year, as embarrassed as I am to admit that I’ve apparently been sleeping on them for quite some time. Their mix of black metal atmospheres, primitive electronics and almost medieval-sounding folk is totally captivating; it’s one of those “this is the music I’ve been waiting my whole life to hear” moments that come along all too rarely. One can point to bands such as Suicide and Silver Apples (thanks Umesh ;)) as possible precursors to Menace Ruine, but few if any current bands are taking harsh electronics into such interesting territory. (review HERE)

7. Pig Destroyer – Book Burner (Relapse)
After the major letdown that was Phantom Limb, I have to admit I was not expecting to enjoy Book Burner. But Pig Destroyer’s fifth album sees them bringing back the short, sharp, shocks of ultra-violence that characterized their best work, while at the same time taking things in some new and unexpected directions both musically and lyrically. Scott Hull’s riffs are as crushing as ever, conjuring the ghost of Piggy and kicking it into overdrive, while JR Hayes screams bloody murder about topics ranging from killer siblings, to scoring drugs, to deranged fantasies about stalking and strangling a complete stranger. In other words, a welcome return from the current kings of grindcore. (review HERE)

8. Aluk Todolo – Occult Rock (Ajna)
While Aluk Todolo’s previous recordings failed to resonate with me, Occult Rock has become something of an addiction. Throwing elements of black metal, krautrock, post-punk and just about anything else they feel like into their black cauldron, these French instrumentalists have hit upon something that legitimately sounds like nothing else out there. This sprawling, cinematically-sequenced double-album is some of the most original, intensely creative music I’ve heard not just this year, but pretty much ever. Again, words fail me. (interview HERE)

9. Wreck and Reference – No Youth (Flenser)
California duo Wreck and Reference make some of the heaviest, most caustic music out there, all without the use of a single stringed instrument. No Youth is their most accomplished recording to date, a harrowing barrage of industrial, dark ambient and synthesized noise that pulverizes the conventions of metal with frightening ease and self-assurance. No Youth proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Wreck and Reference are one of the most forward-thinking young bands in all of extreme music, bound and determined to drag it kicking and screaming into the future. (review HERE)

10. Barghest / False – split (Gilead Media)
Although Barghest and False both fall under the banner of black metal, the two bands couldn’t be more different; Barghest throws down with a swampy, sludgy take on the genre that seethes with an old school death metal vibe at times, while False harken back to the orchestrated chaos of Emperor and early Old Man’s Child, infusing their ornate blackened assault with an enthusiasm and vigor that is distinctly American. This split may not technically qualify as an “album,” but it fully demonstrates the diversity and devastation that today’s USBM scene is capable of. While I find myself more drawn to False’s contribution, both bands are more than worthy of your attention. (review HERE, additional words HERE)

11. Mgla – With Hearts Toward None (Northern Heritage)
There are plenty of bands working to push black metal forward, but one must never forget the importance of orthodoxy and tradition. Fortunately we have Poland’s Mgla to remind just how awesome traditional black metal can be when it is executed with passion and dedication. On With Hearts Toward None, the duo of vocalist/guitarist M and drummer Darkside craft an old time spiritual for those of us that welcome the fall of mankind. Fueled by unshakable faith in the great adversary, Mgla are leading a path away from the light towards oblivion, and wherever they go, I shall follow. (review HERE)

12. Nachtmystium – Silencing Machine (Century Media)
After Addicts: Black Meddle Pt.2, I was sort of hoping that Nachtmystium would be releasing an album of certified club-bangers ala “No Funeral.” But of course, Blake Judd and Co. aren’t exactly known for doing what their fans expect (or want, for that matter) from them, so they did what literally no one expected: they put out a fucking black metal album in the form of Silencing Machine. Granted, it is a black metal album filtered through the industrialized, quasi-psychedelic weirdness the band exhibited on the aforementioned Addicts… and Instinct: Decay, but a black metal album nonetheless. It’s also the most straight-up ass kicking thing they’ve put out in years, continuing the band’s progression but also bringing back the fire. (review HERE)

13. Revenge – Scum.Collapse.Eradication (Nuclear War Now!)
After a four year layoff, J Read and Vermin returned in 2012 with another blast from the unholy black/death noise machine that is Revenge. The duo are as abrasive as ever on Scum.Collapse.Eradication, bringing their patented brand of controlled chaos with a new-found clarity that allows one to truly appreciate the musical carnage they’re capable of unleashing. In a metal scene filled with posers and wannabes, Revenge are a band that sounds genuinely extreme and frightening. Truly sick shit, and I mean that in the best way possible. (review HERE)

14. Napalm Death – Utilitarian (Century Media)
Napalm Death can do no wrong. It really is as simple as that. The band has been through more members than you can count, made significant stylistic shifts throughout their career, and yet they still manage to make music capable of killing every motherfucker in the room over 30 years deep into their career. Utilitarian is the latest installment in the band’s legacy of brutality and it is also one of the most varied and catchy releases in their catalogue. Songs like “Everyday Pox” and “Quarantined” will stick in your head while they cave it in, mixing up grindcore, death metal and just a hint of hardcore to inflict maximum violence. In other words, another great album from a group of living legends. (review HERE)

15. Corrosion of Conformity – s/t (Candlelight)
I was pretty apprehensive about Corrosion of Conformity reuniting w/o Pepper Keenan; I absolutely love Deliverance, Wiseblood and the underrated In the Arms of God, but never really got into their earlier pre-Keenan work. Turns out I had nothing at all to fear; COC have maintained the Southern-fried stomp Keenan brought to the table, but injected it with the blistering punk/thrash sound that characterized their early material. The mix is surprisingly potent and makes one realize that COC are just as vital and vicious today as they were those many years ago. Don’t call it a comeback. (review HERE)

16. Pallbearer – Sorrow and Extinction (Profound Lore)
Simply put, the best traditional doom album of 2012 and an instant classic to boot. The Arkansan quartet known as Pallbearer have crafted something truly special with Sorrow and Extinction, an album that indeed lives up to its title, yet at the same time seems strangely uplifting the more one listens. It’s a musically and emotionally crushing piece of work that most likely won’t be surpassed or even equaled… that is, until Pallbearer puts another album out; it really is that damn good. (review HERE)

17. Deiphago – Satan Alpha Omega (Hells Headbangers)
Deiphago is one of the most all-out blistering, furious-sounding bands I’ve ever come across. Sure, they’ve dialed the corrosive noise assault of Filipino Antichrist back a few notches for follow-up album Satan Alpha Omega, but this actually ends up making for an even more destructive musical salvo, because it’s easier to discern the hellish sonic warfare being inflicted upon your ears. Deiphago puts 99.9% of so-called “bestial” metal bands to shame, and the beyond-brutalizing Luciferian beatdown that is Satan Alpha Omega is indisputable proof. (review HERE)

18. Baroness – Yellow & Green (Relapse)
Alright, I think we can all agree that Yellow & Green isn’t a metal album, but it still makes this list by virtue of being totally fucking awesome. Baroness have abandoned all their most metallic leanings here in favor of a sound that recalls heavy Southern rock mixed with mid-nineties alt-rock, and the band is all the better for it. Catchy riffs and choruses abound, as well as hints of psychedelia, making for a sprawling two-disc trip through the technicolor fantastic. (review HERE)

AnaalNathrakh_Vanitas_rgb-e134695274762219. Anaal Nathrakh – Vanitas (Candlelight)
I can’t exactly say what prompted me to check back in with Anaal Nathrakh after all these years, but I’m damn glad I did. Vanitas is industrialized black metal done right, infused with an epic Emperor-esque compositional sense that most bands attempting this style just flat-out lack. In addition to this, the band knows how to ratchet up the extremity to levels that are genuinely terrifying, while at the same time making each track distinctive and even catchy in many instances. If you’re looking for some state-of-the-art black metal to usher in the impending apocalypse, then look no further. (review HERE)

20. Bell Witch – Longing (Profound Lore)
The year’s most agonizing slab of heart-rending ultra-doom. Longing is possessed by real depression and sorrow; like being set adrift for all eternity upon a vast, waveless ocean of misery. It’s the kind of album that makes the room get darker and darker as it pours out of your speakers, drowning out every emotion that isn’t total sadness. What’s even more impressive is that this soundscape of suffering is being achieved with only drums, bass guitar and voice, and that it is Bell Witch’s debut album. (review HERE)

Honorable mentions:
God Seed – I Begin (Indie Recordings)
Obolus – Lament (Flenser)
Atriarch – Ritual of Passing (Profound Lore)
Ash Borer – Cold of Ages (Profound Lore)
Katatonia – Dead End Kings (Peaceville)
The Sword – Apocryphon (Razor & Tie)
Odz Manouk – s/t (Profound Lore)
Wildernessking – The Writing of Gods in the Sand (Antithetic Records)
Grave – Endless Procession of Souls (Century Media)
Pinkish Black – s/t (Handmade Birds)
Evoken – Atra Mors (Profound Lore)
Kreator – Phantom Antichrist (Nuclear Blast)
High on Fire – De Vermis Mysteriis (E1)
Melvins – Freak Puke (Ipecac)
Ketzer – Endzeit Metropolis (Iron Bonehead Productions)
Killing Joke – MMXII (Spinefarm)
Kadavar – s/t (Tee Pee)
Orange Goblin – A Eulogy for the Damned (Candlelight)
Incantation – Vanquish in Vengeance (Listenable)
Panopticon – Kentucky (Handmade Birds / Pagan Flames)

Well, I reckon that wraps it up for THKD’s year-end shenanigans… hopefully it wasn’t too much of a chore for y’all to get through. I’d like to give shout-outs to the folks that make this metal thing worth doing; the lovely and talented Mrs. THKD – without whom none of this would be possible, my Backlit zine bros Brandon Duncan, Jordan Campbell, Danhammer Obstkrieg, The Dragon of M87, Spencer Walker and Philip Tyson- I couldn’t ask for a better crew to work with, Umesh Amtey for being such a great friend these past few years, Tony, David and Fiends at Feast, soon-to-be Backlit staff writer Kyle Antivenin, Matt Mooring at Terrible Certainty, Michael Wuensch, Rae Amitay and the Metal Review kidz, my OG homies Dante S. and Katie Pieps, The BD Posse, Dave and Liz at Earsplit PR, Fresno Media, Catharsis PR, Clawhammer PR, Adam Bartlett and Gilead Media, Chris Bruni and Profound Lore, Mike Meacham and Loss, Vetis Monarch and Weapon, Mitchell Luna and Maruta(RIP), Andy O’Connor, Jon Rosenthal and The Inarguable, those crazy kidz at Lurker’s Path, Michael Nelson, Lars Gotrich at NPR, Farhaad Esfandiary, Alex and The Casual Rapists, Jonathan Flenser and Flenser Records, Keenan Oakes and Wildernessking, Shawn Sambol and Antithetic Records, Sean Crook and The Path Less Traveled Records, Alee Karim, C. Haze at Six Noises, Metal Matt Longo, Matt Harvey and Exhumed, Nate Fetus, Adam, Shane and The Lurking Corpses, Nathan T. Birk, Megan Halpin, Jimmie Brandon, Rich and Michelle Horror, Kim Smith, Max at Metal Bandcamp, Atanamar Sunyata, Carl Schultz and Action PR and last but most definitely not least, everyone that has read THKD over the years and/or supported it in any way… without y’all I wouldn’t be here. If there’s anyone I left out, my humble apologies and I’ll get ya next year.

10 thoughts on “THKD’s Top 20 Metal Albums of 2012

  1. Both the Menace Ruine and Anaal Nathrakh releases were arguably their worst – not to say they were bad albums, just disappointing compared to their backlogs – so the fact that you are just now discovering them and enjoyed their most recent outputs means you are going to have your mind blown once you start working your way back. That’s some pretty exciting stuff.

    Solid list mate, i definitely share some of the same on mine – though we have somewhat dissimilar tastes in comparison – and that speaks a lot about those albums staying power and strength. Well presented, reasoned, and chosen; keep it up, my friend.

  2. The whole reason I even subscribed to this blog was because of the finely tuned and well pronounced review of the Rinocervs tapes. A well compounded list too, thanks for the words! Look forward to more reviews next year

  3. @Alain – thanks for the kinds words! It’s funny, it seems like everyone I talk to about that Anaal Nathrakh says it’s either their best album yet or their worst, with no in-between. I’ve always been intrigued by albums that have that kind of polarizing effect on fans and I’m excited to catch up their older stuff. I’m working my way backwards through Menace Ruine’s catalog and I’m loving Union of Irreconcilables, looking forward to exploring the rest.

    @Mel, I’m glad you like the Rhinocervs piece, that one was a labor of love for me. You can definitely expect more coverage of cassette releases in the coming year. Glad you enjoyed the list as well!

  4. I think there are only two or three of these that I’m even considering for my list. Strange, that. Several of them I haven’t heard, and there’s one I strongly disagree with. (However, nothing I’ve heard this year has been so offensively terrible to warrant awarding a “worst album of the year.”)

    I feel like I should apologize for not commenting lately . . . the primitive Internet Explorer we have to use at work no longer allows me to post comments while there, which is where I typically read these. I can’t comment on Heavy Blog Is Heavy either, but I stopped reading that more than a year ago.

  5. Also, two of your honorable mentions are going to be in my top three, and a handful of others are probable inclusions.

  6. @UA – no way I could leave out Deiphago, that album is fucking ferocious.

    @FMA – I think that all says a lot about what a deluge of great metal we experienced this year. No need to apologize re: commenting, I don’t get to comment on other sites/blogs nearly as much as I’d like to these days. That said, I do visit your blog pretty much daily as part of my morning reading.

  7. I’m still anxiously awaiting my copy of the Bosse De Nage Release, their whole back catalog still blows me away each listen. I’m surprised the earlier Aluk Todolo Lps/Eps didn’t do it for you, all of their past material is excellent in my humble opinion, including Occult Rock. It seems to me that this album is a little tighter and more cohesive when compared to earlier works. Great calls on the PallBearer and Mgla albums! I look forward to exploring the other listed releases. Thanks for the well written and insightful posts in 2012. Looking forward to more-Wayne p.s. you oughta talk UA into some physical Ash Eater releases! ;)

  8. Bosse-de-Nage, Pallbearer, and Mutilation Rites are just scratching the surface. Scary.

    Weapon really surprised me. That album’s an unstoppable riff-machine.

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