Better to die on your feet, than to live on your knees…
I’ve had a lot of problems with 2012, but they weren’t music related. So yes, seeing this year fade away into obscurity was a good thing. A highlight for me was seeing Worm Gear return with an energy and passion that once rotted on the vine so to speak. Many thanks to Jim for rekindling that fire. It has been a blast and I’m eager to see where this goes from here.
Unlike so many other critics out there, we waited until 2012 was over before presenting to you our lists. You’d think this wouldn’t be this difficult to accomplish… think about all you have appreciated and make a list. Go ahead…. give it a try! I bet most of the things you select came out last year. Either way, it has been a pleasure bringing all of you our thoughts on this and we are eager to get some feedback from all of you and see what your lists are for the year.
Thank you for putting up with our 2 week hiatus. It’s good to be back and 2013 will see us hitting the ground running. Look for interviews with Evoken and Canis Diris soon! So that’s it. Enjoy the Indesinence interview, our lists, a handful of reviews, and Zahler’s extensive essay on slamming death metal.
Jim Clifton top 10 of 2012
As most of us that take our music seriously do, I have a love/hate relationship with End of Year / Best of Year Lists, as ultimately, even with writers that are informed, intelligent, and that I trust, disagreements remain inevitable, “What the hell? Bullshit!” will be uttered, and ultimately, it always comes down to personal taste. Still, I think EoY and BoY lists are helpful to the seekers amongst us, so my humble offering follows; feel free to offer up your own lists in the Comments, as I know Worm Gear’s readership are no less skilled than myself in uncovering and disseminating the best of the best. Into the fray:
1. Panopticon – Kentucky
The originality and power of what may be the world’s first “blackgrass” album hit me like a ton of bricks, with a combination of bold musicianship and equally bold message centering on coal mining, labor and the history of both in the state that is the record’s title and bluegrass-ed soul. Sadly, it is difficult to find (where’s our CD version, Austin?) but if you like your Black Metal boundary-pushing, it’s worth the search.
2. Weapon – Embers and Revelations
Weapon’s latest – a tour-de-force of classic Thrash and Death Metal – has a Satanic twist so sincere you’ll be lighting candles and chanting Babylonian texts before you know it. Riffs once-familiar are imbued with subtle Eastern sensibilities, elevating them to Metal mastery, and Vetis Monarch’s catchy vocal lines stick in your mind with the effectiveness of super-glue. Embers and Revelations is for those Death Metal fans who remember -and still enjoy – the genre’s older siblings.
3. Binah – Hallucinating In Resurrecture
A perfect counterpoint to the avante-garde listen of Kentucky, Binah’s head-crushing white noise of Bolt-Thrower/Swede guitars will have you oscillating between drooling-trances and fevered head nods with each passing track. This album may seem like a simple monument to rage at first, but trust me, it is anything but. Let Hallucinating in Resurrecture ‘s intensity sink in, and it will surprise and reward you with its elegance.
4. Evoken – Atra Mors
Evoken’s heralded return grabbed me late in the year, but when it finally finished sinking it’s grimy claws and excellent guitar lines into my skull, I was hooked. Agonizingly well-crafted Doom that doesn’t trade memorability for complexity, Atra Mors will have you weeping in a way only records this melancholy can.
5. Desolation Shrine – The Sanctum of Human Darkness
To those of you wondering what Death Metal has left to say, I submit Desolation Shrine. The Sanctum of Human Darkness is a cavern leading to Hell, with blackness oozing from the walls, giving you no handholds as you descend, no light to give you hope. Riffs and drums that lead everywhere and nowhere. A game-changer, period.
6. Wodensthrone – Curse
Need musical accompaniment for a Winter drive or walk in the woods? Curse is your answer. Every note on this album exudes the cold, but with a celebratory, majestic angle that is altogether unique and the furthest thing from being trite or unnecessarily hyperbolic. I explore my Northern Michigan surroundings often, and when the snow is on the ground, Wodensthrone is in the player.
7. Indesinence – Vessels of Light and Decay
As the resurgence of Doom/Death rolls on, Indesinence return to the scene after six years with an album that decimates. By incorporating winning atmospheric elements with a balanced riff-writing attack eluding most of their peers, these UK-commandos have stepped to the forefront of the movement with constructions that crush lyrically and sonically. A journey of energy and depth in equal measure.
8. Agalloch – Faustian Echoes
Agalloch continue extending of the palette of Black Metal with exemplary lyrical content, neo-folk infusions and intricate arrangements that are interestingly indulgent and – unlike others that borrow from a plethora of genres – relatable. Only a band with their talent level could tackle the expansive myth and meaning of Faust and succeed.
9. Maveth – Coils of the Black Earth
The template for blackened Death Metal has been remade with Maveth’s masterpiece, Coils of the Black Earth. The pummeling is there, but it’s the haunting, atonal Black Metal chordings that force your eyes back into your head, possessing you with everything dismal that Finland has to offer. Absolutely sinister heaviness, built to scour the Sun from the sky.
10. Azaghal – Nemesis
Prolific orthodox Black Metal bands can be an iffy prospect, often an exercise in quantity over quality. Not so with Azaghal. Nemesisshows the band doing what they’ve always done, providing listeners with straight-up BM lightly peppered with varying melody, tempo, riff, and vocalization types that give each track its own distinct hue, defying the ‘all-sounds-the-same- approach’ employed by others in the ‘kvlt’ realm.
Nominon – The Cleansing
Father Befouled – Revulsion of Seraphic Grace
Dawnbringer – Into the Lair of the Sun God
Pig Destroyer - Book Burner
Incantation – Vanquish in Vengeance
Pseudogod – Deathwomb Catechesis
Label of the year:
Dark Descent Records
Marty Rytkonen top 10 of 2012
2012 has been another great year for metal, though I admittedly had a really hard time compiling this list. Most of the items I initially selected to be here, turned out to be 2011, so my pact to document releases that I like throughout the year as they happen, once again didn’t happen. In this case, hindsight is piss poor, so I began digging through the piles of CDs and digital files sent in for review to rekindle some memories on what I have been listening to. A lot of the releases listed below, are surprisingly STILL in heavy rotation on my work Ipod and in my vehicle which says a lot. To keep new releases this active in favor of the older stuff I typically listen to says a lot. Looking forward to 2013 now that Worm Gear is back in full swing, and once again having the opportunity to hear new music as it happens. Maybe this time I’ll keep better track of the new stuff…
1. Nechochwen – Oto (Bindrune Recordings)
I initially considered not including this and the Blood of the Black Owl releases to the list since I did after all release both, but to deny this slab of vinyl as being my album of the year would be criminal. I release music not as a business decision, for we all know many of you are drifting away from tangible media, but because I truly connect with the artist and their art. Having said that, OtO is magnificent. So much passion for the subject matter and musical creativity/atmosphere, every time I spin this release, I am mystified and enchanted. Folk. Metal. Native American subject matter. Brilliant and endlessly unique. OtO is a very welcoming listening experience and I can’t stop spinning it.
2. Tempestuous Fall – The Stars Would Not Awake You (I, Voidhanger)
I just recently got this album after reviewing the digital files for you guys and I have been blown away/listen to it often. Highly emotive doom with crawling funeral characteristics. What sets T.F. apart from so many others in the genre is the organic gothic strand of music spun deep within the distortion and guttural vocals. The melodies that arise from this material are simplistic, highly memorable, and suffocating with a depressed feeling of loneliness. This is an Australian mans attempt to emulate an English style of doom, all the way down to the violins, but instead arrived at something that is definitely influenced by old My Dying Bride and Anathema, though fiercely unique. This will be a tough album for Dis Pater to follow-up.
3. Borknagar – Urd (Century Media)
I did not expect to be this impressed with a Borknagar release ever again. In many ways, I have given up on caring for this band after Quintessence and Votrex’s initial departure. I’ve never loved Vintersorg’s vocal style over the years, but he shines on Urd and is perfectly offset by Vortex’s mighty harmonies. Also the song Frostrite, written by and sung by Vortex, is an amazing track that demands repeated listens and offers such an unfaltering melody for the bulk of this album to rest upon. Borknagar really needed this album, and the amazing songwriting could have easily been the proper follow-up to The Archaic Course. If you too have fallen off of Borknagar’s trail, Urd is an album that will lead you back in line for the band sounds utterly revitalized and firmly back on track.
4. Wodensthrone – Curse (Candlelight)
Changing singers didn’t detract anything away from the brilliance that is Wodensthrone. If anything, the now shared vocal attack opens up another dimension to an already colorful palette of sound to expand and flourish. Curse sounds like an album created by a band that has 4 other influential albums behind them, for the maturity of this material feels very comfortable with itself and every note screams a vitality/urgency rarely heard in newer bands these days. The Name of the Wind closes this album out with one of WT’s most impressive and striking tracks in their already amazing catalog. Don’t let this album pass you by.
5. Weapon – Embers and Revelations (Relapse Records)
Behold! The best death metal album you likely heard in 2012. Embers and Revelations is superiorly produced with a clean, though wicked/cutting tone and it allows the memorable/mighty riff work to hail the ancient years of the death genre (Altars era Morbid Angel anyone?), while sending a sonic “fuck off” to the modern age. Not only is this album a well written and eternally memorable strike of important and dedicated death, it is the culmination of Weapon’s impressive catalog to reach a higher plateau of deadly artistic vision.
6. Blood of the Black Owl – Light the Fires (Bindrune Recordings/Glass Throat Recordings)
For those of you who have followed the career of Chet Scott and Blood of the Black Owl, it has been one of personal growth and exploration. Light the Fires! Is Scott’s most personal offering yet and this passion is not lost on the listener. It is rare for me to get choked up over material on an album, but there have been several moments in several tracks on this release that really spoke to me, even summing several tears. There isn’t a lot of metal on this one, but the intention in the music, swirling in ritualistic elements, 70’s inspired prog, feels very rustic, possessing an edge that is haunted by metal thoughts. Light the Fires! is a long, though very rewarding experience. And the packaging is also killer.
7. Finsterforst – Rastlos (Napalm Records)
Having never heard of this band before, Rastlos, Finsterforst’s 3rd full-length album, came as a huge surprise. Subtle folk elements empower the metal (black) foundation on this album. The feel, atmosphere, vocal choirs, and overall mid tempo push of the music puts one in mind of the Viking era of Bathory. Finsterforst had me there, but they also go one step further by actually putting their own fresh stamp on this impressive and emotive album.
8. Panopticon – Kentucky (Handmade Birds/Pagan Flames)
Evolution has been the law in the Panopticon camp since the prolific beginning and sole proprietor Austin Lunn has reached new heights on Kentucky. The political/socially charged black metal unleashed by Panopticon has always been lethal, but on this album, the sound production offers a level of clarity to the metal attack, allowing the riffs and layers to strike much deeper than before. The bold addition of bluegrass/country to exist within the metal, and on its own, just feels like a brave step forward for not only Panopticon, but the whole genre.
9. Maveth – Coils of the Black Earth (Dark Descent Records)
Completely evil sounding death metal, from the production, all the way down to the riffs. Dark and nightmarish, but not so much so that it alienates the listener. This is a long album, but never grows tiring thanks to the superior songwriting. Dark Descent has had a great year, as Horrendous and Desolate Shrine also deserved to dwell on this list…
10. Hellwell – Beyond The Boundaries of Sin (High Roller/Shadow Kingdom Records)
Manilla Road meets Deep Purple? Yes. And it works. Mark Shelton and several old MR alumni have reunited for this project that definitely sounds like Mark’s main band, but the subject material is far darker, as is the aggression at times. The accompanying organ offers a different kind of atmosphere that works quite well. Amazing solos. Bizarre though great vocal lines. Fans of MR will eat this one up as I have.
Horrendous – The Chills (Dark Descent)
My dying bride – A Map of all our Failures (Peaceville)
Desolate Shrine – The Sanctum of Human Darkness (Dark Descent)
Incantation – Vanquish In Vengeance
Overrated album of the year:
I think that Enslaved’s years of trying to find themselves are a hell of a lot more hungry and worshipable than this collection of progged out and boring to the core songs. Yes their journey has been long, but let’s not sacrifice energy and inventive song structure for hopelessly wandering, go nowhere drivel. Just thinking about this makes me yawn.
Best label in 2012:
Dark Descent Records (Matt Nailed it this past year. Cheers!)
S. Craig Zahler Top 10 of 2012
Below are my favorite albums of the year. 2012 yielded nothing historic, but a lot of good, solid albums.
I will not put my band Realmbuilder’s second album Fortifications of the Pale Architect on the list, since that would be rather biased, but yeah, of course I think it’s good enough to be on there. Judge our new tunes for yourself—
1. Sabaton – Carolus Rex
Sabaton = Chorus masters. Their best album.
2. Hellwell – Beyond the Boundaries of Sin
One of the most consistent Mark ‘The Shark’ Shelton releases ever.
3. Urogenital Macrophage — Perversion and Sickness Destroy the Human Race
Curious about slamming brutal death metal? Start here.
4. Wrathblade – Into the Netherworld’s Realm
Quirky epic metal that grows on you.
5. No One Gets Out Alive – Like a Lamb to the Slaughter
Behold the death metal cricket.
6. Kraanium — Post Mortal Coital Fixation
Raunchy slamming death metal covered in phlegm.
7. Dexter Ward – Neon Lights
This is the new band from former Battleroar vocalist Marco. Although nowhere near as good as Battleroar’s To Death and Beyond… [which is one of the 25 best metal albums EVER], this is a cool mix of NWOBHM with some forays into epic and power metal. I imagine 99.9% of the people who like Trespass, Red Lights and Bashful Alley will dig blue collar metal tunes like Metal Rites & Ghost Rider
8. Horrendous – The Chills
Dismember + Bolt Thrower with singing like Van Drunen. I want these guys to play in Marty’s house. Highlight cut: Fatal Dreams
9. Begging for Incest – Orgasmic Selfmutilation
10. Abominable Putridity – Anomalies of an Artificial Origin/Nile – At the Gates of Sethu/Manowar – Lord of Steel 3 way tie