As 2012 flutters away into the ether, metal continues to stand tall as an imposing force. And if this year has proven anything, it’s that the future of metal will continue to thrive and remain resolute in the years that follow. To bolster PopMatters’ “Best of Metal” 2012—a collaborative and entirely democratic top 20 metal albums of the year list conceived by PopMatters’ metal writers—we here at Mixtarum Metallum unveil our 20 powerhouse metal records of 2012 in our fourth instalment of this monthly metal round-up. In typical MM fashion no record takes precedent over the last: there is no ranking in order of preference, nor is there a score given. Each record that has made it to this list has done so because of its own metallic glory. Strains of black metal, doom and sludge govern here—and for good reason—as the bands practising these dark arts have created some of the most lasting and essential releases this year; experimentation and genre interpolation have been the key to their artistic achievements. And while MM now begins to look forward to what 2013 has in store for us metal fans, we will leave you with this infernal manuscript documenting 20 of 2012’s most devastating metal records.
Honor Found in Decay
Neurosis’s 10th studio album, Honor Found in Decay, was the band’s most intimate work in years. Following up the onslaught of 2007’s Given to Rising, Honor Found in Decay was tempered by traces of the darkened folk and psychedelic solo work of vocalists and guitarists Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly. It was a more fragile album, but its transcendental sway and emotional complexity was no less powerful or heavy than Neurosis’s brawnier releases—the album redirecting the band’s visceral punch for a more epiphanic momentum. Of course, Honor Found in Decay still contained an abundance of Neurosis’s bombastic vitality and all of its textural interplay, only in this case it was a slow steady burn—no less combustible, simply more controlled. Neurosis has always been defined by its integrity, and Honor Found in Decay was as creatively and emotionally honest as the band’s best work, showing once again why it has long been acknowledged as a true artisan of intensity.—Craig Hayes
Better to Die on Your Feet than Live on Your Knees
Better to Die on Your Feet than Live on Your Knees was not only one of the year’s most defiant statements, but also the title bestowed upon the incendiary debut from Matt Widener’s (Exhumed, The County Medical Examiners, Cretin) anarchist grindcore project, Liberteer. There is nothing new about anarchism in a genre as politically minded and violatile as grindcore, however, the way multi-instrumentalist Widener wielded major-key riff marches, blasting drumming and martial snare attacks, horns, banjos and mandolins took the basis of something tried and trusted and created songs of a triumphant, and dare I say, positive nature. There was a grand scheme to proceedings, and the brass accompaniments and favoured major keys, provided the soundboard for Widener’s Libertarian Socialist beliefs. But the genius of this record was Widener’s awareness that his anarchic ways may not sit well with everyone, and he made sure to insidiously wrap his message in songs that sounded eccentric at first but left those who spent time with them shouting along to his blazing rhetoric.—Dean Brown
Sorrow and Extinction
Back in February, Arkansas doom band Pallbearer released its debut Sorrow and Extinction, and such was its seemingly never-ending resonance that it hasn’t left the top 10 list of many metal fans since. The roll call of doom bands that released great work in 2012 is long, but what sets Pallbearer apart is simple: virtuosity, creativity, and most importantly of all, authenticity. Sorrow and Extinction‘s gloom-laden ambience and prodigious riffs spoke directly of metal’s foundational elements, cutting straight to the heart of doom with its mix of profound somberness and strength. Awash in warm analog tones and achingly beautiful plaintiveness, Sorrow and Extinction was beyond reproach, moving you to tears with its breathtakingly delicacy while pounding its burliness home with riff after riff. Sorrow and Extinction was an absolutely classic debut, and heartache has never sounded so alluring. Pallbearer stands proud as an exponent of poignant artistry.—CH
Sentenced to Life
Sentenced to Life saw the grizzly Seattleites of Black Breath tone down the Swedish death ‘n’ roll that entombed their debut, Heavy Breathing, and sharpen the metallic hardcore side of their mongrel sound into a rampant, no nonsense assault of ragged riffs, and noxious vocal hooks ripped straight from the scarred throat of Neil McAdams. 10 songs in 30 minutes, Black Breath’s sense of urgency was palpable: the band doled out beating after aural beating, whether running through the first three tracks at break-neck pace or careening into the heaving, serrated grooves that dominated the likes of “Obey” and “Endless Corpse”. In an effort to enhance the strength of the attack, Black Breath also made sure each song was paired back to the bare essentials—just listen to the face to face collision of Cro-Mags and Slayer on “The Flame” for a song without any excess—and because of this compositional directness, Sentenced to Life was a savage success.—DB
Vocalist Gaahl and guitarist King ov Hell (both ex-Gorgoroth) returned in 2012 with I Begin, their debut studio recording under the God Seed banner. Joined on the album by a motley assortment of artists, I Begin was an impressive amalgamation of progged-out ‘70s keyboards, psychedelic and industrial rock, twisted effects, and rip-roaring screeds of bitter second-wave black metal. The album unequivocally manifested Gaahl and King’s ‘will to grow’ as bloodcurdling growls mixed with Hammer Horror keys, King Crimson-worthy breakdowns and sci-fi orchestrations—and it was all fantastically unflinching and unruly. Retaining the essential black metal core needed to secure God Seed’s cold-blooded roots, I Begin‘s adventurousness never obscured its pitiless heart, but there was no doubting the band’s clear desire to step outside genre restrictions. As the album’s title made clear, I Begin was an aggressive first salvo aimed at establishing God Seed as a distinctive entity, and the album was a superb launching pad for fresh journeys into blasphemous realms.—CH
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