The 10 Best Metal Albums of 2012

December 26, 2012


10) Black Breath – Sentenced to Life

Black Breath channel their punk influences and energy into uncompromising metal. This is a hybrid whirl of punk, death, thrash, and hardcore, complete with Gothic flourishes. Sentenced to Life is all energy, all excitement, and it’s likely the best metal album you didn’t hear this year.


9) Lamb of God – Resolution

It was a rough year for LOG’s lead-singer Randy Blythe as he spent much of in a Czech prison over a touring incident, and so much of the US and the world of metal fans as a whole were left without a chance to see the band’s latest, Resolution, performed live. The pre-release hype for their latest album was big in the heavy rock community–LOG have arguably risen as high in popularity as a band can without becoming crossover stars. And although some who see their last few records as polished and clean might disagree, LOG haven’t compromised their music in any cross-over appeals as most big-ticket metal bands in their shoes have done in the past. LOG could possibly be as big as Metallica or Pantera in their own way, but they’ve just continued making Death-Metal influenced American Heavy Metal, with catchy choruses, propelling beats, great intense vocals, and (most of the time) actual worthwhile lyrics (as Blythe did in addressing his own battles with alcoholism on early songs, or by making an  entire album of socio-political commentary on the Iraq War with Ashes of the Wake). Resolution isn’t the best album they’ve ever made, but it is more than solid with quite a few great songs.


8) Dying Fetus- Reign Supreme

With a ridiculously offensive band name that practically ensures noone outside of metal will ever give them an open ear, Maryland’s Dying Fetus have kept a career going full of albums that pummel listeners with the loudest, fastest, most musically and vocally insane grind-influenced American death metal being made today. Their latest, “Reign Supreme” sets out to display everything they do best, and as such this is either for your or a nightmare for your ears and good taste. Yet despite their name, DF don’t wallow in offense for offense’s sake or retread tired exploitative lyrical territories. They perceive themselves as a political band, and behind the contorted growls and kick-drum blast-beats,  social commentary and pseudo-intellectual observations (couched in aggressive language of punk and protest) abound. This is intense music, good to head-bang or work out to, but it’s also musician’s music in its own way in that this is not simply made material. This album is the heaviest piece of work I heard all year, at least without forsaking song structure and melody completely. This really does work and it works better the more a listener allows its layers to unwrap.


7) Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth

Eddie Van Halen is the reason countless metal guitarists first picked up the axe to play–and likely also the reason many hung it up in frustration that they couldn’t reach his soaring heights. David Lee Roth may often come across as a caricature and a jerk, but he’s also the blue-print for many a lead singer who followed him in heavy music. Together, these two forces created one of the best heavy rock albums of all time with their debut Van Halen album. Unfortunately, few albums in the band’s long history (and after Roth’s departure) ever lived up to that first effort. Now, the brief reunion (which collapsed before the tour was even more than halfway under way) didn’t produce the exact results of that original outing 30 something years ago, but A Different Kind of Truth is the best Van Halen record to come along since. The opening cheesiness of “Tattoo” is classic Van Halen, as is the quick follow-up “She’s the Woman.”  The opening riff for “You and Your Blues” is phenomenally simple, “Big River” rolls like one, and the closing “Stay Frosty” is the best Van Halen song in more than two decades. This album is supposedly the result of a revisit by the band to old demos and left aside tracks from their earliest days, polished and played with a career’s worth of experience behind them. As such, it’s a pleasant surprise, an album much better than anyone could have expected.


6) Christian Mistress – Possession

Christian Mistress have received most of their attention because of their front-woman Christine Davis. Here is a female singer in a heavy metal band that carries the band to another level altogether. Female artists get a lot of attention in metal (and in hip hop) due to how badly they’re outnumbered by the boys, but Davis deserves attention for reasons wholly more than gender in that she is simply a terrific lead singer. She’s the heart of this band, and although their guitarists and drummer are all great and make great, neo-classicist heavy metal, Davis soars through each song with a powerful range and presence that accents each and every word with power. All the songs here are good, whether Gothic tinged ballad or full-throttle heavy metal anthem, but my favorite and most-played track of them all is “Conviction”–there’s something bone-chillingly haunting yet simultaneously gorgeous about the mid-song breakdown with Davis’ moaning intonations, and the kick-start that amps the song back up after that to race it to its end is that much better because of it.


5) Baroness – Yellow & Green

Baroness have been more “metal” in the past; with their latest double album release of the next two albums in the “color” series, Baroness move away from Doom and Sludge–and some would say of metal altogether. Yet something beyond just their history in the genre cements this work in the (at least outer circles) of the metal genre. The vocals are clean and clear, the music is fully approachable,  but the emotional heaviness and intensity with which even the softest of songs are approached here remains, in whatever way, metal. “Take My Bones Away” and “March to the Sea” are reminders of a certain way of doing Rock that isn’t heard too often these days and a reminder of how that is missed.


4) Nile – At the Gates of Sethu

Talk about a unique niche–ancient Egyptian death metal. Of course, there are now a few other bands who lyrically narrate songs about ancient Egyptian and middle eastern cultures and religions, but few ever reach the level of consummate genius that Nile has over a series of increasingly excellent albums. At the Gates of Sethu is the latest and greatest work of the band and includes everything fans love about them–heavy, dense, technical guitar mastery, sonic extremity, detailed lyrics (complete with liner notes which analyze the texts that inspired and are often incorporated into the songs) that faithfully and truthfully transmit historical texts, and  one of the best melodic death growl vocals in metal.


3) Testament – Dark Roots of the Earth

Testament are a relentless thrash metal band. They’ve been making pure Thrash metal since the “big four” (Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer) started their careers in it and have continued on, an album every couple of years, long after most other Thrash bands have softened, moved on, or burned out. They’ve never moved in any sort of way to the mainstream, which has  certainly endeared them to metal-heads even if it has kept them underexposed to a larger audience. Dark Roots of the Earth is a great, fast, fun metal record from start to finish, full of stellar riffs and rollicking drums, and surprisingly, chock full of hooks. The vocals here are full of melody and there are sing-along choruses galore–something not found on every Testament record, but something done well here which works and manages to keep the songs grounded in Trash without moving them into some sort of cheesy pop metal. “Rise Up,” “Man Kills Mankind,” and the title track all display what this band has done best for more than 25 years now.


2) Deftones – Koi No Yokan

I wrote a bit about why the Deftones are so good when explaining my pick of the Koi No Yokan track “Entombed” as one of the “Top 25 Singles/Songs of 2012” here. “Entombed” is a beautiful, soft-loud alternative metal ballad, a type of song that Deftones do better than anyone else. They do that sort of thing elsewhere on the record, notably with “Rosemary.” On these sort of songs the Deftones showcase their Smiths influence without being over-run by it as most other more recent heavy or emo bands influenced by Morrissey and company. Chino Moreno is a great vocalist who can really sing (as he uses to full-effect in his side-project Crosses in addition to these ‘tones ballads). He is unafraid to make “pretty” music as he has said, and that’s what much of Koi is, even at its heaviest moments. This band can switch from soft to heavy, from emotional and warm to full-force and thrashing without ever losing the melody. The above-mentioned “Rosemary” is a good showpiece for these disparate talents in its flux and pace-changes throughout. Then there’s the hand-clap rumble of “Poltergeist,” the unfurling psychological workout of “Leathers” (reminiscent of the classic “Change (in the house of flies) track from the bands seminal work White Pony), or just solid songs like “Goon Squad” and “Swerve City.” This is the best work the band has done in awhile, at least on fresh ears–there are songs from “Diamond Eyes” just now making their way into my listening rotation and catching on, so who knows which songs will stand-out from this set for me in a couple of years.



1) Pig Destroyer – Book Burner

PxDx also made my overall “10 Best Albums of 2012” list with their latest effort. You can read why here.


2 Responses to “The 10 Best Metal Albums of 2012”

  1. Bruce Prost said

    “OBSESSION – Order of Chaos” came out in October 2012… one of the best metal albums of the year.

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