Best Heavy Metal and Hard Rock Albums of 2012 List
Well, here we are at the end of yet another year, and regardless of all the doomsdayers, life goes on. One inevitable fact about the year ending is the endless amount of top-lists that circulate throughout the music world, and whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, it’s always nice to look back and see what music made the year what it was. Many folks across the interwebs have already published their best of lists and so far I’ve looked over many and have come to the conclusion that no one list can ever be ‘correct’, but that’s what makes them so special. Personal lists by nature are the single most bias form of writing and for every list you find there are sure to be many reasons to disagree. As a music writer, most of my time is spent ploughing through the endless new albums that come out, but nobody can listen to everything that is released, which is why there are so many discrepancy’s in people’s lists. That being said, I’ve spent the last two weeks re-listening to all of my favourite albums of the year and have somehow culled them down to fifteen metal releases and fifteen rock releases that I know will remain in my regular rotation well into the future.
First up here are the fifteen metal albums that kicked my ass the most this year…
01 AETERNAM – MOONGOD
Every single inch of this release is album of the year material as far as I’m concerned. A vast improvement in every area over the band’s debut and musically MOODGOD kicks all sorts of ass. The heavier parts are great, the clean vocals are sublime, the atmosphere is perfect, the lyrics and overall theme are great, the production is monstrous, hell even the artwork is a perfect companion to what is going on between the covers. MOONGOD was a grower for me and started out as about an 8 out of 10, but as the year went on I found myself going back to it more and more until I just couldn’t get enough of it. My most played album of the year by around 35 listens or so and a clear standout in year that offered up so, so much for us metal lovers. I don’t actually have one, but if I had a ‘desert island’ album wishlist this one would be on it for sure.
02 WINTERSUN – TIME I
Though it may have taken like a bazillion years for WINTERSUN to get this album out, I’d say it was worth the wait for sure. I have read that many people find it inferior to the band’s debut, but for me this is the best of the two. Building off a melodic black metal backbone and filling the gaps with orchestration, folk elements, power metal, symphonic influences and progressive metal just shouldn’t work this well, but it does, and for that I am grateful. Overall the sound is toned down from the aggression of the band’s debut, but as many bands have shown over the last few years, taking the grunt down a notch or two can really enable you to add much, much more feeling and individuality into your music. I can understand why dedicated fans of a heavier sound could feel a little alienated here, but the rest of the metal world should be in love with album, it’s one of those records that takes you on a trip and demands repeated listens.
03 TESTAMENT – DARK ROOTS OF EARTH
Like a majority of metal-heads, METALLICA were my gateway band into all things heavy. The next band I got into though was the almighty TESTMAMENT, via their classic albums like THE NEW ODER and PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH and then head-first into the LOW era too. All these years later and the band still manage to blow me away, and DARK ROOTS OF THE EARTH may well be their finest moment in over a decade. I’m pretty confident to say that for me personally this is hands-down the best and most complete pure Thrash Metal album of the last five or six years. Chuck Billy sounds as good as ever here and has found the perfect middle-ground in between his earlier thrash vocals and the more recent death metal-esque screams. This album makes the so called “big four” seem like a bit of a joke really.
04 EYEFEAR – THE INCEPTION OF DARKNESS
THE INCEPTION OF DARKNESS is the first of a few Aussie albums gracing my top list this year and I’d like to take this opportunity to say just how proud of my homeland I am at the moment as far as fantastic internationally recognized music lately…well done us!!! While this album may not be any revelation to the more straightforward progressive metal listener, the general soundscape that it outputs is just amazing. The clean vocals are melodic and majestic and could easily give Jorn Lande and Russel Allen a run for their money, and the occasional growled vocals are provided by George Kosmos, who is the frontman for another Aussie band mentioned in this list BE’LAKOR. There’s a slight Melodic Black Metal feel in a few songs that add little highlight moments, and it may well be the single-most best production on an Aussie metal album ever.
05 NE OBLIVISCARIS – PORTAL OF I
Best debut of the year?…. Probably. Best Aussie release of the year… Just about. Epic, grandiose, stunning?… Fuck yes!!! Once again a bunch of local lads grace the list, and if you think I’m being biased, check it out for yourself. PORTAL OF I is an audiophile’s dream, and if you mix this album with some high-quality headphones and a session of your favourite beverage you are in for a night of pure bliss. Very,very few bands could get away with going straight from a full-on black metal assault into a solo violin section mixed with clean and growled vocals and get away with it, but NE OBLIVISCARA just seem to have that certain something. Unbelievably this is a debut album, and if a band can land their debut at number 6 in one of my lists, then it’s safe to say that I will be watching them like a hawk to see what comes out next. When the cleaner section kicks in at around the ten minute mark of the epic opening track it takes me to another plane, and while it takes slightly away from the intensity, it sure adds to the overall scope of the album.
06 TANK – WAR NATION
Okay, so this certainly wasn’t the TANK you may remember from the early days, there’s no doubt in my mind that the addition of Doogie White into the vocal chair has done wonders for this classic NWOBHM act. Yes, it’s his second albm with the group, but this time around it all just feels good and right. WAR NATION was my driving album this year, and I’ve already worn out one copy and onto the second one. Overall it’s pretty far away from their original sound, and to be fair the original membership is well down, but this is METAL in its purest form. No mixed genres, no experimentation, just straight to the point classic Heavy Metal that ticks every single box and then some.
07 LINEAR SPHERE – MANVANTARA
And the award for best laid out and most interesting concept album of 2012 goes to…MANVANTARA. Reading as a tale of mankind’s journey through the agesand using Atlantis as a starting point, the lyrical content of this album could easily be transferred and expanded into a best-selling novel. Of course, just the lyrical content alone doesn’t make a champion album, but guess what?… Everything else about the album is almost perfect too. Musically, progressive metal is the straightforward answer, but there’s so much more going on here too. Jazz-Fusion, Symphonic Metal, classic Prog-Rock and more, is Technical Progressive Metal a genre?… Fuck it, it is now! A lot of bands that attempt grandiose concept albums get lost sticking their heads up their own asses, but LINEAR SPHERE do it all in style.
08 ENSIFERUM – UNSUNG HEROES
It’s been very interesting to read the general feedback about the lasts ENSIFERM album across the interwebs. There’s a large majority of the band’s hardcore fanbase complaining at the fact that the band have opted for a slightly for accessible sound this time around, then there are those praising the band for embracing some new elements and adapting their sound Me, I’m in the latter camp. I’ve enjoyed just about everything this band has released in the past, but due to my musical tasted being so varied, is slightly softer version of ENSIFERUM speaks to me on more levels than any of their previous work. I’m not brave enough to claim this album as the band’s best work… Let me just say that it’s MY personal favourite album of theirs and artistically it is the most complete.
09 BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME – THE PARRALAX II: FUTURE SEQUENCE
Whaaaaa????? How can anyone keep their music cred and admit to liking a Metalcore band? Well firstly, let me say that while there aren’t many bands in the genre that I have enjoyed, I have much less of a problem with the style than most others. BTBAM are a different kettle of fish though and as their career has progressed so has their sound. This year they released a fantastic album that only retains the barest of Metalcore elements and is better described as Modern Progressive Metal. I’ve always been impressed with the musicianship of this band but never before have they actually managed to transfer that skill into something so listenable. Being a high profile release means that there was a decent production budget which really does help bring the most out of the sound. Albums that transcend their base genres have been a bit of a theme for this list and this is yet another album in that mould that should be given a fair shot by any type of metal fan that likes their music thought-provoking and interestingly crafted.
10 IRON FIRE – VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED
I am as shocked as anybody to find an IRON FIRE album on a top-list let me tell you. I’ve always enjoyed their releases, but most of the time one or two listens has been enough. VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED is a massive improvement for the band though and a very worthy entrant into this list. The band have adjusted their usual style a little by adding a very slight modern touch, especially in the vocal department and in the process have shed almost every element of cheese they ever had attached to them. It’s still an album that will please Power Metal purists, but I hope fans of a more modern style aren’t afraid to give it a look in.
11 PALLBEARER – SORROW AND EXTINCTION
12 PHSYCROPTIC – THE INHERITED REPRESSION
13 FIREWIND – FEW AGAINST MANY
14 HELLBRINGER – DOMINION OF DARKNESS
15 REVERENCE – WHEN DARKNESS CALLS
So, I’m sure that’s different to how many of you guys felt, and as far as the order goes some of these could be changed around without a problem. There was a shit-ton of other great metal albums released this year but the bands it pains me the most to not include are BE’LAKOR, MESHUGGA, PIG DESTROYER, CATTLE DECAPITATION, WILDERUN, CANDLEMASS, BLACK MAJESTY, DESTRUCTION, ARKHAM WITCH and KALTER especially.
Now for the less-metal side of things… The ROCK list. This list covers a pretty broad spectrum so you’ll have to work with me a little here. In all honesty it seemed a little bit of a thinner year as far as rally good Melodic Rock and AOR releases go. Don’t get me wrong, there were a few gems alright, but the numbers seem a little down compared to the last few years. I did find plenty to like in the wider reaches though and was quite impressed with some more current rock styles and newer bands…
01 FOXY SHAZAM – THE CHURCH OF ROCK AND ROLL
No other album, across all genres, gave me as much pure joy as the newest FOXY release. As soon as it came out waaaay back in January I knew it would end up high in my best of the year list, and here we are with it still sitting in the top spot. No other band today manages to blend modern rock and classic seventies pomp rock as well as these guys do. Great vocals, great image, great lyrics and most importantly great music that is perfect for long car drives, parties or just about anything. I proclaimed earlier in the year that I hoped that this was the next stepping stone for the world of modern rock music, and I’d like to reiterate that here, seriously, the world needs more bands like FOXY SHAZAM. So cheers guys to an awesome album and a very worthy number one spot holder!!
02 COHEED AND CAMBRIA – THE AFTERMAN: ASCENSION
The first of a couple of albums on my rock list that could have/should have been a part of the metal list, the latest opus from COHEED AND CAMBRIA, was one of my most played albums of the year. I know there are a lot of people that can’t get past the unique vocals of Claudio Sanchez, and that’s fine, but if you dig a little deeper you will find one of the most exciting ROCK bands of the current age. I was pretty disappointed with their last album YEAR OF THE BLACK RAINBOW, so I was ready to tear this one apart when it came out, but my faith in the band has been fully restored and the follow-up which is due next year is easily my most anticipated release of 2013. Compared to most music parading around these days as Alternative Rock, THE AFTERMAN: ASCENSION just blows the rest out of the water.
03 DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT – EPICLOUD
Unlike a lot of people, I am not a manic DT fan. That being said though, I have enjoyed many of his releases and still think that the earlier stuff he did with SYL is some of the most under-rated metal music of the era. His other material, as we all know by now is a bit of mixed bag, and for every one of his albums I’ve liked, there’s been one that hasn’t interested me. His latest album, released under the DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT moniker is one though that I really liked, but for different reasons than usual. No matter which way I looked at it I couldn’t class it as Metal though, which is why it has shown up here in my rock list. Moments here and there barely even qualify as Rock either, but you catch my drift. EPICLOUD still has that colossal wall of sound that DT always supplies, but it is layered this time around with a much more up-beat and poppy vibe. It’s a very ‘happy’ sounding album, which is the exact reason a lot of folks panned it, but those of us with a more open mind enjoyed this one immensely.
04 JOE BONAMASSA – DRIVING TOWARDS THE DAYLIGHT
As disappointing as it is to not be able to feature the lackluster third album from supergroup BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION in this list, I am very happy to have the latest solo album from Joe Bonamassa here instead. Across the year a few of the cover songs on the disc have lost a little of their spark for me, it was still a regular visitor to my stereo. Modern electric blues has been awaiting a new hero and it’s probably about time that JB was officially given the crown. 2012 was a busy year for Bonamassa, and while the fallout between he and Glenn Hughes continues to fester at least somebody from the BCC camp gave us another gem this year.
05 MARK TREMONTI – ALL I WAS
Standard modern rock was given a swift kick up the ass this year with the release of CREED/ALTER BRIDGE guitarist MARK TREMONTI’S first solo outing ALL I WAS. I’ve always respected Tremonti as a guitarist but I wasn’t expecting such a great album from him that’s for sure. If you look past the commercial studio sheen you’ll find one of the best modern rock records in years, and the most surprising part was that Mark Tremonti decided to take on the lead vocals by himself…All the while proving to be so much better at it than Scott Stapp. Seriously, if Tremonti had of fronted CREED in the vocal department they may have gained much more critical respect that they could have ever thought possible. ALL I WAS also wins the award from me as the best produced rock album of the year.
06 IMPERIAL STATE ELECTRIC – POP WAR
Trying to follow the career of musical mastermind Nicke Andersson (The Hellacopters, Entombed, etc..) is tricky work. The first IMPERIAL STATE ELECTRIC album showed some signs of his rock side coming out, but as an album it fell a little flat. This time around though Andersson and co. went all out to produce what became one of the best rock records of the year. Obviously with such a wide range of influences this was never going to be standard rock fare, but the hybrid sound created by the band is an exciting glimpse into a possible future where these guys are smashing radio charts to pieces while still maintaining their underground cred.
07 SOUNDGARDEN – KING ANIMAL
If somebody had of told me five or so years ago that SOUNDGARDEN, one of my favorite bands from the nineties, would be releasing a new album in 2012 I would have scoffed at the thought. I enjoyed some of the stuff Cornell did with AUDIOSLAVE, but when he went ‘pop’ and released that junk album SCREAM I was pretty certain that he was lost to the rock world. Now, if that same person had of told me that the album would actually be any good, I would have found a way to travel through time just to see if they were right. Well, the whole time-travel thing may have been a little out of reach, but the album, KING ANIMAL, well now that was a ripper. Taking everything that made the band great in their heyday and adding an ever-so discreet modern sheen, the band have just moved forward as if they were never gone. There’s a slight possibility that I looked at this album with rose-tinted glasses, but I still stand by its position on the list. To get a true judgement of where they are at, let’s just wait and see what they do next…
08 H.E.A.T – ADDRESS THE NATION
H.E.A.T have probably been my favorite Melodic Rock/AOR band of the last six years or so, and that had mainly been due to the great unique vocals of Kenny Leckremo. I was shattered when I heard he was leaving the band, and even further so when the band announced that their replacement was an also-ran IDOL contestant who previously, had release a couple of pop based albums. The fact that ADDRESS THE NATION still ended up a great album is probably the surprise of the year for me, and in a year that was a little thin on the Melodic Rock front it was pretty easy to put this one on top. I wouldn’t say it’s as good as the band’s previous two albums, but it still sounds definitively H.E.A.T, and for that I am thankful.
09 ECLIPSE – BLEED AND SCREAM
Not nearly as heavy is the artwork and album would lead you to believe, but this follow-up to their Melodic Rock masterpiece ARE YOU READY TO ROCK? Is everything I want in a rock album and then some. Adding a little more edge and grit to the Melodic Rock formula isn’t anything new, but these guys simply do it better than most others. There was around a two month gap between the last time I listened to this album and my latest listen recently, and all of the melodies and choruses came straight back to me… Now take that for what you will, but for me it shows just how much this album managed to worm its way into my brain regardless of how much music I listen to on a daily basis.
10 THE KILLERS – BATTLE BORN
BATTLE BORN was one of the most interesting albums to put my support behind this year. Reading all of the hate from the fanboys of the band’s past glories was funny as all hell and the reaction from people when I told them how much I enjoyed the album ranged from pure confusion to anger. As a KILLERS album, it doesn’t really compute, but as a tribute to the slightly progressive synth rock albums of the eighties it works perfectly. Definitely not an album that you could pull individual songs off, but it’s worth as a long-player can’t be understated. I’d like to see the band take this vision even further to create a bombastic, symphonic masterpiece, but for now I’ll settle for listening to this one as a great palate-cleanser between my usual diet of rock and metal.
11 THE ORDER – 1986
12 TEN – HERESY AND CREED
13 SUNSTORM – EMOTIONAL FIRE
14 MAGNUM – ON THE 13th DAY
15 TANGO DOWN – IDENTITY CRISIS
Honourable mentions list – IAN HUNTER, SAGA, GASLIGHT ANTHEM, COLD CHISEL, DIAMOND DOGS, JORN, LEE SMALL, IT BITES, HARDLINE, DORO, JIMI JAMISON, GOTTHARD, CRAZY LIXX.
So there are my best-of lists done for another year. Now it’s onto 2013, which looks yet again to be a stellar twelve months of music. I’m already rotating new records from HELLOWEEN, PINK CREAM 69, SNAKECHARMER, DEATHRONIC, ZOMBIFIED and SKINEATER, and that’s before the New Year even begins to kick into gear. A little advice for any bands wanting to get on best-of lists though….DON’T release albums after the last couple of days of December guys, most of us are wrapping up for the year after that and looking toward what’s next which always leaves a handful of albums in limbo. I’d like to take this chance to thank all of you readers who constantly read my reviews and MIND SCANS, and also to thank my fellow MGM guys for all the work they do to keep this site alive. Feel free to leave your lists in the comments sections below…. Happy holidays to all, bring on 2013!!!