2012 was a really strong year for metal, especially for the categories of progressive metal, thrash, and extreme metal. There were a lot of strong albums to consider and it was really hard to narrow things down to ten. However, the research was definitely fun and in the end these are the ten best albums that every serious metal head should own.
#10. Monolith of Inhumaity – Cattle Decapitation (Deathgrind)
I want to start off by saying that I have never really been a huge grindcore guy, but 2012 has started to change my opinion on the music as a whole. If grindcore artists continue to put out albums as good as this latest Cattle Decapitation effort, then I’m all ears. The music is loud and brash, which is typical for any deathgrind band, but the difference is that there was a lot of effort and talent put into this record. Most of the time grindcore and deathgrind is created with the idea to be as loud and obnoxious as possible without much thought toward musicianship. The songs on Monolith of Inhumanity are well written, have blistering yet technically sound riffs and drums, and were created with a purpose, not just as a joke. It also lays claim to one of the sickest music videos you will ever see for the song “Forced Gender Reassignment”. Check out the video if you have a strong stomach. I highly recommend this album, even if you are someone that has never listened to or liked deathgrind or grindcore.
#9 Incurso – Spawn of Possession (Technical Death Metal)
As far as technical death metal records go, there were a few good ones this year. The one I have seen on most lists is Koloss by Meshuggah. I listened to it. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a great album, but Incurso by Spawn of Possession blows it away. There is such a great mix of brutal death metal sounds and strong technically perfect progressive riffs. There are only 9 songs on the album, but the majority of them clock in at over five minutes. This is literally one of the best technical death metal records I have heard in years. Make sure to check out the songs “Apparition” and “Where Angels Go Demons Follow” if you are going to test out the material. However, I just recommend purchasing it right away. You won’t be sorry.
#8 De Vermiis Mysteriis – High on Fire (Sludge/Southern Metal)
Although High on Fire is from California, they really know how to create a perfect southern sludge metal record. There are the strong forced vocals like those of Kirk Windstein of Crowbar, but the riffs are a bit faster than what Crowbar would play and are more like you would find on a C.O.C. or a hardcore record. It’s the best of both worlds. De Vermiis Mysteriis is a solid concept album dealing with a fictional twin of Jesus Christ that can time travel. I know it sounds weird, but I assure you it is an excellent and well written record. If you want to hear something unique in the world of metal, make sure you give this one a whirl.
#7 Dominion of Darkness – Hellbringer (Blackened Thrash)
Hellbringer is a fairly new band from Australia. They released their first record under the name Forgery. They recently changed their name and released their album Dominion of Darkness. In my opinion blackened thrash is one of the best subcategories of heavy metal because you have a mix of one of the top mainstream types of metal in thrash and arguably the most popular category of extreme metal in black metal. There is something for the mainstream fan and the extreme metal fan. This album is no exception. Although it leans more toward thrash than many other blackened thrash acts, this is some of the heaviest and most extreme thrash that you will hear. It hearkens back to the days of bands like Kreator, Venom, and Immortal. These guys are going to be a force in extreme metal for years to come.
#6. The Paralax II: Future Sequence – Between the Buried and Me (Progressive Metal)
I mentioned in the open that this was this was a strong year for progressive metal and since this is already the second progressive record on the list, I think you can see that. The album is full of brutal, heavy riffs mixed with great jazz fusion breakdowns and beautiful and well placed atmospheric sounds. The songs “Telos” and “Astral Body” are perfect examples of the trip that you are in for if you choose to dive into this album. This a perfect progressive metal album from one of the best progressive metal acts in the game right now. The musicianship is great. The songs are epic and wonderfully written. It was hard for me to have this album all the way back at six because it is so unbelievable, but like I said it was a strong year for metal.
There must be a shift toward the more serious in the world of grindcore because this is the second grindcore record on my list. This is absolutely unheard of for me. I listened to this record and could not stop listening to it. Again it is brutal and heavy, but the technical perfection of the music along with some added progressive elements made this one of the best grindcore efforts of all time. I have heard the record referred to as art-house grindcore. What does that mean? That almost sounds like a cross between grindcore and The Who and actually now that I think of it that’s the perfect way to describe it. It’s well controlled chaos. Once again the songs are well written and have a purpose which is almost unheard of in the world of grindcore. I really hope this movement continues. Make sure you take a listen. You won’t believe what you’re hearing.
#4. Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal – Periphery (Progressive Metal/Djent)
This brings me to the third and final progressive record on the list. Periphery are virtual new comers to the metal scene, but they have managed to release two albums in the last few years that are benchmarks for progressive djent music. I loved their first one and thought it would be almost impossible to top it, but Periphery II shows so much growth and improvement in the band’s sound. The musicianship is perfect and the vocals are out of this world going between death metal growls and the melodic upper register. The album features guest solos from John Petrucci of Dream Theater and Wes Hauch of The Faceless. As with many djent albums there are some overused and misplaced electronic sounds that are not necessary. However, they are mostly at the end of tracks, so you can skip them and move on to the next track. The best tracks on the album are “Have a Blast”, “Make Total Destroy”, “Scarlet” and “Erised”.
Back in the 1990’s. I was a huge Deftones fan. They were a nu metal band that was able to use atmospheric elements to expand on their sound and keep themselves relevant. Unfortunately they lost me with the albums they released after White Pony, but now they’re back! Koi No Yokan has the perfect mix of heavy riffs, the unique vocals of Chino Mareno, and beautiful, perfectly placed atmospheric sounds. This is their best release since White Pony and I would even argue that it’s their best album yet. The songs “Swerve City”, “Leathers”, “Entombed” and “Tempest” are perfect tracks to check out to hear the unique heavy atmospheric Deftones sound. Even if you only like extreme metal, I still recommend giving this a shot. It’s well written and different than anything else you will hear in mainstream metal.
#2. Unsung Heros – Ensiferum (Viking/Folk Metal)
The newest effort from Viking metal heavyweights, Ensiferum, is great from start to finish. The songs literally make you envision being on a Viking boat getting ready to raid a village. The songs are a metal nerd’s wet dream with subjects ranging from swords to queens. I can literally see a lot of this material being used as soundtrack music for HBO’s Game of Thrones. With that said, the songs are awesome and well written. There is a great mix of heavy metal riffs, folk instruments, death metal growls, and melodic sea shanty choruses. There are a few tracks that even slow the pace and feature acoustic instruments and female vocals. Unsung Heroes leans more toward a melodic death metal sound which is different than the traditional black metal leaning that Viking metal typically uses. This gives the band the ability to have a better true folk sound. This album is an excellent mix of heavy extreme metal and melodic folk music that will have you swinging your arm from side to side. Make sure to check out the track “In My Sword I Trust” first. You’ll get the idea.
#1. Fire From the Sky – Shadows Fall (Neothrash)
I did a ton of research before compiling this list. It mostly consisted of hours of listening to different records. I did also spend some time reading other lists on the internet. Much to my disappointment, many of the lists did not have this album on them or had it listed at a lower number than it should have been. Unfortunately, I think this has a lot to do with many metal fans’ dislike of metalcore, which Shadows Fall is often mis-categorized as. Many people probably bypassed the album all together because of this notion. If you did, you missed something really great. Although Shadows Fall does have some hardcore elements, it leans much more toward thrash. Most old school thrash bands had punk and hardcore influences, but no one ever called them metalcore. Fire From the Sky does not have any weak spots. It is the perfect mix of thrash, hardcore, and melodic death metal which is exactly what makes up the neothrash subcategory. However, the album is unique in the world of neothrash as it adds smatterings of root metal and glam metal helping to set Shadows Fall apart from other neothrash bands like Machine Head and Chimaira. Yes I said glam metal. The glam metal pieces are slight and only appear here and there, but it gives the record that little something extra to set it apart. The glam elements consist of some chorused vocals, occasional virtuoso use of cymbals, and acoustic, ballad like breakdowns. The guitar solos are top notch and the thrash riffs are fast and perfectly played. The songs are all well written and the vocals are growled, raspy, and melodic. The sound is hard to describe, but imagine that pre-Black Album Metallica, Converge, At the Gates, and As I lay Dying were mashed together and were dotted with a slight bit of Iron Maiden and Motely Crue. What you have is a unique and unbelievable record. It starts with a blistering thrash riff on the song “The Unknown” that is reminiscent of 1980’s thrash and the album literally never lets up. This is easily the band’s best release and in my opinion the best metal release of the year.