High on Fire and more...
While Mixtarum Metallum now begins to look forward to what 2013 has in store for us metal fans, we leave you with this infernal manuscript documenting 20 of 2012’s most devastating metal records.
Sometimes the difference in song-writing class from a band’s first EP to studio album can blow your mind and leave you questioning whether it is even the same band at all. Atlanta Georgia’s Royal Thunder released their self-titled EP back in 2010; a collection of doomy songs that showed some potential but did nothing to prepare you for the sultry sludge and blues that was to become their full-length debut, CVI. CVI was evocative in an understated manner, and its combination of otherworldliness and earthiness added much to the record’s definitive allure. Vocalist Mlny Parsonz’s smoky tones and idiosyncratic delivery—moving from an eerie whisper to a powerful howl in a heartbeat—took the majority of the praise, and her instinctive ability to captivate and lure us through the tar-filled, Delta blues riffs and swinging rhythms that bubbled and burst, embraced and crushed at different stages through this dynamic record, was frightening as it was invigorating.—DB
Agnus Dei, the fourth full-length from Italian blackened crust and grind quartet the Secret, contained enough causticity and abrasiveness to strip skin from bone. Recorded by Kurt Ballou, the Secret’s follow-up to the widely hailed Solve et Coagula was barbarous in the extreme. Opening with a black metal bombardment, Agnus Dei was an overpowering onslaught of feedbacking riffs, decimating percussion, and nihilistic snarls. With 13 songs spread over 43 minutes, the band relentlessly surged ahead, spitting out tales of doom and despair, hopelessness and fury. Where a lot of metal is presumed to be deleterious before it’s even heard, Agnus Dei is the real deal, providing an apocalyptic and blasphemous torrent of corrosiveness that is mayhem, hostility and hate incarnate. The Secret’s label Southern Lord has put out a lot of fantastic crusty metal and hardcore this year (see Black Breath, Wolfbrigade, Acephalix and Martyrdöd for some decimating battering) and Agnus Dei‘s unencumbered ferocity sees the Secret fighting for leadership of that pack.—CH
De Vermis Mysteriis
This year will go down as a bittersweet year for metal lifer, Matt Pike. His struggles with addiction way-laid the promotion of High on Fire’s sixth studio effort, De Vermis Mysteriis, but the intensity of the music and the intrigue of this record’s fantastical concept has not wavered in the slightest. An engrossing tale of Jesus’ time travelling twin set against the backdrop of Pike’s volcanic riffs/virtuoistic leads, Jeff Matz’s bellowing bass lines and the tribal war of Des Kensel’s drums, De Vermis Mysteriis finally fused the stoner doom of Pike’s now legendary time in Sleep to High on Fire’s prowling sludge metal. And it’s this sonic union of ravenous present meeting potent past—best heard when comparing the fierce blow-back of “Fertile Green” (find the official video, now!) with the Celtic Frost hammer drop of “Madness of an Architect”—that made De Vermis Mysteriis a highly intoxicating trip worth taking over and over.—DB
Few bands can demoralize with the gut-wrenching efficiency of New Jersey-based Evoken. Atra Mors was the funereal doom quintet’s first album in five years, and it was as perfect a monument to anguish and disillusionment as fans could have hoped for. Crushing in its unrelenting misery, Atra Mors contained eight edifices of ruinous intimate weight. Ridden with reverb, the album’s ominous, protracted riffs were shattered by death metal fusillades, with John Paradiso’s guttural vocals communicating the emotional carnage, and keyboards and strings adding dramatic, haunting beauty. Atra Mors‘s mournful balladry was made for solitary listening as it explored the ravages of loss. As I said when it was released, the thought that life is nothing more than a lurch from lament to lament seems entirely plausible as you listen to Evoken’s red-raw lachrymosity (and watch it bleed indelible trails of despair). Atra Mors represents the pinnacle of Evoken’s celebrated career thus far.—CH
Southern Lord’s insatiable hunger for crust bands showed no signs of stopping this year when the respected label released Paranoia by the hostile Swedes of Martyrdöd. A thrilling pile-up of d-beat crust punk, hardcore, Michael Kjellson’s scathing vocal delivery, and black metal’s sneering attitude, Martyrdöd battled with their labelmates in Black Breath and Wolfbrigade, and managed to match the aggression and tenacity of these bands one scouring riff at a time. Recorded at the legendary Studio Fredman, these crust veterans (containing former members of Miasmal and Skitsystem) filled each song with enough rusty hooks and barbed guitar harmonies to keep things interesting: from the cruel intent of opener “Nog Är Nog”, to the spitting rock ‘n’ roll of “Köttberg” and “Det Sker Samtidigt”, and most effectively heard on the mid-album pairing of “Hör Världens Rop” and “Ett Hjärta Av Eld”. Paranoia, from top to bottom, contained no filler just a rough ride through crust’s most exhilarating characteristics—crust album of the year, no doubt.—DB