Sunday, January 6, 2013

The State of Metal 2012: Judge Dredd's Dreaded Top 10

On a personal note, this was probably one of the best years of my life.  I spent the first half finishing up a year teaching English abroad in Santiago, Chile.  Then I spent a great summer home with my family and friends.  Finally, in August, I came to South Korea to teach English for an undetermined amount of time.  So far, I have been absolutely loving it.

Similarly, I think 2012 has been one of best years for Metal in recent memory (coincidence?!).  Now, let me clarify that statement by saying it is most certainly not from an objective point of view.  In fact, it's a 100% subjective point of view, know...that's how music preference works.  Almost every one of my currently active, favorite Metal bands released an album in 2012, and almost all of their releases were stellar.
I guess the prospect that the world may be ending this year really lit a fire under the asses of several of my favorite bands.  Pig Destroyer and Neurosis put out their first albums in 5 years.  Old Man Gloom put out their first album in 8 years.  Besides those three, some of my other favorite Metal bands including Enslaved, Meshuggah, Ihsahn, Dysrhythmia, Torche, Nachtmystium, and Baroness all released amazing albums.  

Of my favorite active Metal bands, the only two that are sadly missing the 2012 cut are Cult of Luna and Gorguts.  The former is in the process of recording for an early 2013 release while the latter has finally found a label to distribute its new album.

Of all of the Metal subgenres, I think the one that had the most amazing year was Doom Metal.  Admittedly, I am not the biggest fan of Doom Metal.  In fact, there are virtually no Doom Metal bands that I listen to.  BUT, I can't help but to give credit where credit is due.  Of course, you had "Sorrow and Extinction" by Pallbearer, which everyone was shitting their pants over.  Additionally, there were new releases from Samothrace, Evoken, Interloch, Bereft, Anhedonist, and a bevy of others. 

Before we get to the list, I should probably add that, with the exception of number one, the order I put the albums in could be shuffled on any given day.  They're just all soooo daaaamn goooood...

Now, on to the dreaded (Dredded) list:

10.  Book Burner, by Pig Destroyer
It could be that I just need to give this one a few more spins, but I think that "Book Burner" pales in comparison to 2007's "Phantom Limb".  But, I mean, this is fucking Pig Destroyer!  Of course they are going to make an album that knocks everyone on their collective ass.  It's just that some of the songs don't rip your balls off after knocking you on your ass.  Despite my opinion that it doesn't hold up to its predecessor, "Book Burner" is easily still one of the best albums of the year.

9.  Silencing Machine, by Nachtmystium
While I liked 2010's "Addicts: Black Meddle Pt. II", I thought it was a bit scatterbrained and just plain silly in some places.  "Silencing Machine", on the other hand, is one focused, bitter Black Metal monstrosity (in the best possible sense).  For "Silencing Machine", Nachtmystium stripped much of the unnecessary experimentation from the last two albums, and turned up the Black Metal a couple of notches.  Some have compared it to 2006's "Instinct: Decay" for the rawer sound, but the songwriting is so much better on "Silencing Machine" that it's really only possible to compare the two in superficial terms.

8.  Honor Found in Decay, by Neurosis
I can't say that I was ever too terribly impressed with 2004's "The Eye of Every Storm" or 2007's "Given to the Rising", so I really wasn't sure what to expect with "Honor Found in Decay".  It has all of the elements you would expect from a Neurosis album, especially emotional catharsis, but I think this their most focused album to date.  It's almost as if every drum hit, every note, every sound - has genuine intention and purpose.  It sounds like everything that they have been working towards for the span of their career came together on this album.  That's a lot to say for a band that has been around for over 25 years. 

7.  777: Cosmosophy, by Blut Aus Nord
"Cosmosophy" gets my vote for the best of the "777" trilogy.  Whenever I listen to this album, I imagine myself walking around a post-apocalyptic world full of industrial and urban decay.  Hallucinogenic and otherworldly as always.

6.  Yellow and Green, by Baroness
If you don't like this album, I seriously don't even care about what you have to say about anything ever.  

5.  Koi No Yokan, by Deftones
This is still the most surprising entry in my top 10.  While I really enjoyed "White Pony", I have always been more or less a passive Deftones fan.  Some of their material I really enjoy and some I just "meh" over.  Admittedly, I have never listened to "Saturday Night Wrist" or "Diamond Eyes", but "Koi No Yokan" blows all other Deftones albums I've listened to out of the water.  I think this has a great deal to do with my preference for their more ethereal and atmospheric material.  On "Koi No Yokan", a majority of the songs have this unexplainable dreamy quality to them, which I am immediately drawn to.  Additionally, Chino's vocals absolutely make some of these songs.  His range and knack for memorable hooks and melodies are really showcased here, probably moreso than any other Deftones album.  I hope to hear Deftones continue in this direction.

4.  All That We Love We Leave Behind, by Converge
And we thought that they could never outdo "Jane Doe".  How wrong we were!  This is Converge at their most raw and unhinged.  As Converge guitarist/producer, Kurt Ballou explained to Pitchfork, "There's no artificial distortion, triggers, or Auto-Tune on this album. It's all organic, it's real sounds that capture the way the band performs live." 
Even after repeated listens, I'm convinced this outdoes "Jane Doe" in almost every conceivable way.  Obviously, you may not agree with me, but that's OK!  Just know that you're very, very wrong. 

3.  NO, by Old Man Gloom
Eight years is an excruciatingly long time to wait for one of your favorite Metal bands to write and record a new album.  I mean, I was a fucking freshman at university when the last full length came out!  That in itself is just totally bat shit crazy to think about.  The mythos (essentially, returning to a primordial state of being) that Old Man Gloom has created for themselves is only part of the fun of listening to them.  Neolithic, caveman stompers like "Carry the Flame" are slamming headbangers, where as songs like "Rats" build up for their stoner in all of us, only to end in a delightfully crushing bang.  While the experimental and atmospheric electronics are still a part of the OMG sound, they lost Luke Scarola, who was their electronics guy.  As a result, there are two or three tracks that tend to really drag with a lot of more or less empty space, whereas if they still had Scarola in their ranks, I would imagine he would throwing in all kinds of weird sounds.  Nonetheless, a great comeback album.  It's also worth noting that Caleb Scofield is still as hot as ever (tee hee hee!). 

2.  RIITIIR, by Enslaved
It's amazing how this band continues to put out extraordinarily consistent, fantastic albums.  There is honestly not one Enslaved album that I have been disappointed by since they put out "Below the Lights" almost 10 years ago (note: six full lengths produced in that time).  For some reason, "RIITIIR" feels like it is Enslaved's most consistent and fluid album.  In fact, it almost feels as though there is some sort of story arch that I should be following.  Not one track really stands above (or below) the rest.  However, I will say that the last few tracks do drag a bit.  If it weren't for that caveat, I would have hailed this as Enslaved's undisputed masterpiece.  Nearly perfect.

1.  Dodecahedron, by Dodecahedron
Surprised?  I started this post off talking about how all of my favorite bands have released albums this year, and I pick a debut as my number one.  I'm so tricky!  I'm a tricky tricky trickster! 

I first heard this back in January, and I knew from that time on that it would end up on my top 10 list for the year, but I had no idea that it would be my number one.  Of all the new releases this year, Ii've listened to this one the most by far.  There are a number of reasons I like this album so much, but one reason I can play it over and over again is that there is just so much fucking shit going on all of the time.  The layers, dude!  The laaaayyyyeeers.  Whether it's the harmonically intricate guitar interplay or the underlying and ominous electronic sounds, it seems like something new pops up every time I listen again.  It's honestly not too surprising that Dodecahedron features members of Progressive Metal band, Exivious, as Dodecahedron show a lot of influence from the progressive realm of Metal.  Lots of weirdy time signatures and instrumental acrobatics.  Yet, they don't overemphasize their progressive tendencies and they really know how to build an atmosphere - something that Progressive Metal bands often severely lack, in my opinion.  

If any album released this year could be described as "labyrinthian", this would be it.  I feel like Wulf as I'm typing this, but listening to this album often reminds me of one of my favorite novels, "House of Leaves" by Mark Z. Danielewski.  Some moments are stranglingly claustrophobic, while others are really open and atmospheric.  I could write days about this album, but just do yourself a favor and check it out!

Honorable Mentions:

With Hearts Toward None, by Mgla
Koloss, by Meshuggah
Eremita, by Ihsahn
Test of Submission, by Dysrhythmia
Harminocraft, by Torche
Selenelion, by Vaura
The Seer, by Swans
Sorrow and Extinction, by Pallbearer
Empyrean, by Mutilation Rites
Utilitarian, by Napalm Death

 Well, that's all!  I hope everyone had as awesome of a year as I did!  Here's to 2013!


WULF said...

This was awesome Dr. Dredd!! I look forward to checking these bands out very soon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

WULF said...

This was awesome Dr. Dredd!! I look forward to checking these bands out very soon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!