Welcome to PopMatters 2012 metal end-of-the-year list, where we celebrate 20 of the very best albums from the genre this year. Metal presents us with a broad and ever-flowing stream of artists and sub-genres, and only a glimpse of the raft of fantastic releases from 2012 are captured here. As you might rightly point out, there are albums that you’d consider leading contenders for 2012’s list that are entirely absent—we agree too, there are albums we all voted for that aren’t here. But ultimately, it’s that very hot-blooded passion about metal that makes it such a rewarding sphere, and we argue, fuss, and fight about thunderous sounds, crushing albums and, dexterous riff mastery because those elements matter in our lives. Metal is here to provide us with the fire in our bellies, all the cerebral jaunts we require, and is a crucial domain to ceaselessly question stale norms and tired conventions. There’s no doubt 2012 has been another great year for metal in that regard, with releases from veteran road dogs and fresh young bands alike providing endless roaring highs and churning, filth-ridden lows. So, with without further ado, lets dig in.
It’s the year of the eclectic. Together with Devin Townsend Project and Diablo Swing Orchestra, Japanese avant-garde metal band Sigh draws from a diverse range of musical genres that are not commonly associated with heavy metal—yet they are one of those talented bands that blends them with heavy metal expertly. Be entertained by how well the slick orchestration, atmospherically malignant synthesizers, jazzy piano parts, sexy saxophone solos, male-female vocal harmonies, and even whistling (heard in “The Transfiguration Fear Lucid Nightmares”) fuse with the heavy metal guitar melodies to concoct an exotic brand of extreme metal unlike anything you’ve heard before. Dane Prokofiev
Diablo Swing Orchestra
With its general Broadway vibe and skillful incorporation of a smörgåsbord of unmetal sub-genres (i.e., swing revival, classical music, oriental music, and even nu-metal!), the Swedish avant-garde metal band Diablo Swing Orchestra has cemented its place in the eclectic wing of heavy metal’s Hall of Fame. Their sound can only be likened to a rainbow-colored pony that happily trots towards the horizon in a sweltering desert, leaving behind a glittering trail of microscopic razorblades that will rip up the interior of your lungs when inhaled. It’s cultured; it’s bombastic. It’s so unmetal that it ironically becomes all the more metal because of it. Dane Prokofiev
Tales of sailing ships and underwater behemoths are not generally thematic motifs used in doom metal, but German quartet Ahab is celebrated for its portentous and tempestuous nautical tales. The band’s 2012 release, The Giant, knots typhoon-sized riffing and thunderous percussion into a maelstrom of monolithic funereal doom. However, breezier and temperate threads of post-rock and balmier vocals see the album expertly balance its squally requiem mass against far more melodic intricacy. Those new rhythmic and harmonic elements offer shade, nuance, and shelter from the storm—setting Ahab on a new tack that will be the key to the band’s endurance. Craig Hayes
Constructed in similar style to their previous album The Way of All Flesh, L’Enfant Sauvage further cements Gojira’s reputation as master craftsmen of rhythmically complex compositions. Like their namesake, the boys from Bayonne destroy everything in their path with the jack-hammering, mechanical grooves of “Explosia”, “The Mouth of Kala”, “Liquid Fire”, and the sheer intensity of the title track. With L’Enfant Sauvage honed for the 21st century and beyond, Gojira stand tall as one of the most imposing bands ever to be labelled with the progressive metal tag. Dean Brown
Blut Aus Nord
The first thing people likely noticed about 777—Cosmosophy, the final instalment in a trilogy that began with 777—Sect(s) and 777—The Desanctification, is how different the sleeve art is compared to its predecessors. Cosmosophy opts for a black/white scheme that’s quite beautiful, as well as the most spiritual looking of the three. This spiritual dimension is captured masterfully in the quality of the songs, a collection of gorgeously textured “Epitomes” that bear marked similarities to the increasingly popular “black metalgaze” trend. Make no mistakes, though: this is quintessential Blut Aus Nord, and their best since The Work Which Transforms God. Brice Ezell