The man who compiles a Best Metal of the Year list takes his pride into his hands. As a rule, metal fans are a diverse bunch, with the singular exception of their attitudes towards those who disagree with their critical assessments. In creating this list, I can be assured that someone will find fault with my rankings, and I can be assured that said person will shower me with vitriol, perhaps calling into question my parentage and sexuality in the process.
I’m willing to brave the inevitable verbal onslaught, however, to honor my favorite guttural growls, blast beats, and crunching riffs of 2012. To the uninitiated, metal can seem like aimless cacophany, a testosterone tsunami attempting to flood the eardrums of innocent listeners everywhere. But to lovers of heavy music, the noise and chaos at the heart of metal is a thing of beauty, an arena in which anger and passion can be unloaded on the world with no fear of reproach. The records below span a wide-range of sub-genres, but they share an unadulterated passion for and belief in the power of extreme music.
This record is straight bananas. If you spend much time reading about Liberteer, you’re likely to hear that they are a “grindcore” band. And, while this is undoubtedly true, it undersells the band’s ambition tremendously. Although there are 17 “songs” on this album, Better to Die… is essentially one continuous, frenetic track, filled with as many horns and mandolins as it is with thunderous guitars. The best metal stands apart from the rest of the pop music world in its fearlessness, its willingness to take chances, its courage to experiment without self-consciousness. Better to Die…is one of the most fearless albums of 2012, and anyone with a passing interest in the genre should hear it.
For the uninitiated who are wondering what “doom metal” sounds like: it sounds like this. And it’s awesome.
Strictly speaking, this isn’t really a metal album. In fact, were it not for Baroness’ pedigree, it might fit more comfortably on our psychedelic list. The band’s Blue Record was likely the best metal release of 2009, and consequently the hype for Yellow & Green was overwhelming. And while Y&G may have managed to live up to the hype, it did so by mixing sharp metal riffs with Cure-inspired post-punk and (gasp) Radiohead mimicry. While it may have been a disappointment to fans of the band’s early southern sludge, Yellow & Green charts a fascinating new course for Baroness, and one on which they deserve to be followed.
In preparation for this column, I re-listened to dozens of metal albums on a traffic-ridden drive from New York to Baltimore. At about hour 4, my innocent, accomodating wife, desperately attempting to appreciate the music through her bleeding eardrums, commented “I like the the kind of metal that I could play on Guitar Hero.” Suffice it to say: she loved Into the Lair of the Sun God.
Bosse-de-Nage is the kind of band that polarizes the metal community. Those fans with more adventurous tastes might welcome the inclusion of shoegaze and post-rock elements present on the excellent III, while more traditional listeners might vomit upon reading the first half of this sentence. I for one happen to like it when my metal throttles me with nihilism one minute and inspires me to break out my Slint records the next. Anyone who thinks metal is a worn out, predictable genre is encouraged to immerse themselves in III and the music of Bosse-de-Nage.
This is the part of the list where some enraged reader calls me hipster scum, finds out where I live, and throws a Molotov Cocktail through my window. For those who think hipsters are gentrifying metal the way they’ve gentrified Bushwick, Vattnet Viskar is exhibit A. Yes, this black metal quartet from New Hampshire happen to growl about environmental issues, and yes, they happen to be vegans. But despite the effete CVs, these guys make punishing, gorgeous music, full of widescreen atmospherics and roaring guitars. At only 27 minutes, Vattnet Viskar Ep is disappointingly short, but it is a debut that bodes well for the future of metal.
At least one FP staffer liked De Vermis Mysteriis enough to rank it near the top of his year-end top 20 albums list, and I can’t say that I blame him. In our recent list of the ten best psychedelic albums of the year, I noted that the band Woods was a victim of its own consistency, and the same could be said of High on Fire. With seven excellent LPs in 12 years, Matt Pike’s post-Sleep trio is disturbingly reliable. While De Vermis Mysteriis might not reach the heights of masterpieces Surrounded By Thieves and Snakes for the Divine, it’s filled with enough raging solos and violent riffage to please even the most jaded metal fan.
Sorrow And Extinction is the kind of anthemic, lighters-in-the-air metal that spans the generations. Opening track “Foreigner” begins with a minute and a half of acoustic simplicity, only to erupt into the kind of six-string transcendence worshiped by anyone who’s ever plugged in to a Marshall stack. While the Ozzy-inspired vocals may seem a bit cheesy to your typical prisoner of irony, any music fan who likes some sincerity while getting his ass kicked is bound to love Pallbearer’s awe-inspiring debut.
French black metal masters Blut Aus Nord have been spent the last two years re-defining metal with their 777 trilogy. Last year’s 777: Sect(S) landed 9th on our year-end list, while its follow-up, 777: The Desanctification, was so full of mystical atomospherics that the term “metal” seemed close to inappropriate. With 777: Cosmosophy, Blut Aus Nord have created their mastwork, a synthesis of the many diverse elements that have made them one of the world’s most challenging metal acts for the better part of a decade. A true work of transcendent, nihilistic beauty, 777: Cosmosophy will sadly be heard by far fewer music lovers than it deserves, put off as they may be by the notion of “black metal.” Lets hope that you are not one of these frightened music lovers. Lets hope that you take the risk. Blut Aus Nord have made it worth your while.
For many years, the heroes of metal were accorded the fame they deserved. Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Motörhead, Iron Maiden, Metallica: all have claimed their rightful positions in the rock n’ roll canon. Had metal not assumed fringe status over the last 15 years, Converge would have joined these legends on rock Olympus by now. Their 2001 LP Jane Doe remains arguably the best metal release of the last 15 years, and since this time they have churned out hardcore masterwork after hardcore masterwork. All We Love We Leave Behind, the band’s 8th LP, sits comfortably beside their finest work, mixing the pulverizing riffage of Converge’s best work with a (slightly) more melodious vocal sense. The result is 38 minutes of thrashy genius, worthy of the adoration of even the most timid music fans.
Honorable Mention: Car Bomb - w^w^^w^w; The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza - Danza IIII: The Alpha – The Omega; Ash Borer - Cold of Ages; Nachtmystium - Silencing Machine; Gojira - L’Enfant Sauvage.