Our main man in the thick of the action for the last year or so, Ben Alexander has picked his highlights from 2012 for your reading pleasure. Over to Ben...
*Disclaimer* These eleven albums have been selected by me and no one else. I acknowledge that your favourite album may have been omitted from the final selection, but 2012 has been a seriously rocking year. There are many albums that I have left off that still get regular spins. I’m also aware that a ‘top ten’ is more conventional, but everything goes to eleven – haven’t you seen ‘This is Spinal Tap’?
11. Architects – Daybreaker
The Brighton-based metallers have had something special tucked up their sleeves for some time. Somewhere between the fret-board scaling brilliance of ‘Hollow Crown’ and the anthemic tunes packed into ‘The Here and Now’ lies a middle ground full of sharp, modern metal belters that are ready to blow you away. Architects do get a lot of shit about straying from their tech-heavy sound and their ‘metal’ credentials, but anyone with an operational set of lug-holes can hear that these boys know their craft. Sam Carter is a furious ball of energy that bounces around the stage and possesses one hell of a voice. He can scream with the best of ‘em and carry a tune without ever sounding limp. ‘Daybreaker’ brings back the heavier side of their sound and infuses it with the skills learned from their previous album to create the anthem-deploying beast we wanted. This is widely seen as a return to form and Architects continue to pummel in the live environment, whatever is coming next may be something truly special.
One to download (Legally, obviously): Devil’s Island
10. Black Breath – Sentenced to Life
Black Breath are all about snarling, nasty, pissed off, blackened noise. After leaving quite an impression on us all with the foam-at-the-mouth fury of their live shows and the stellar ‘Heavy Breathing’, the Seattle ragers are back with more crust than a pork pie. This sound is becoming a hallmark of their record label, Southern Lord, who boast other talents like Trap Them, Enabler and Xibalba. Buried amongst the sheer hatred lurks savage, dirty riffage and unrelenting percussion topped with Neil McAdams’ signature gnarly roars and screams. He has even managed to sound more vexed than on the first album! Their influences are quite varied as they take your favourite elements of crust, black, thrash, death and hardcore, drop in the buzzsaw guitars and kick up the speed. Did I mention that it’s rather angry?
Download: Endless Corpse
9. Dyscarnate – And So It Came to Pass
This is a colossal record. The sheer weight of the downtuned riffage is as heavy as the songs’ subject matter. The raw power of each note is carefully calculated by the band, who have clearly focused on the song writing aspect of their music. Another simply amazing fact is that Dyscarnate are a three-piece. Yep, three people can be louder than any deity. This is British death metal at its bone-shattering finest, with each track carrying thunderous riffs and devastating vocal lines. Vocal duties are shared between Tom Whitty and Henry Bates who play guitar and bass respectively. If you want music to take on the apparent apocalypse of 2012 (what a let down that was, not even a small fire storm?) or stand defiantly against the gods then this is it. With lyrics
like ‘We shall not bow down to he who shakes the earth’ this was never going to be anything less than planet-rocking heaviness. This is a stunning piece of work by the heir apparent to the throne of death metal.
Download: A Drone in the Hive
8. Ihsahn – Eremita
After rounding off his first spectacular trilogy with the glorious ‘After’, Ihsahn is back to start the cycle again. This has been labelled as the start of another collection and is continuing the quality shown in all his previous work. From the early black metal roots of Emperor to this sprawling, atmospheric, grippingly proggy showcase of sounds, Ihsahn’s remarkable talent has never been in question. His clean singing voice is rapidly improving with each release and his shrieks have evolved into a harsh, abrasive roar. The mind-melting complexities of Ihsahn’s 8-string guitar and Jorgen Munkeby’s sensational sax playing are still key to the thought-provoking sound. Don’t think that it’s all gone a bit floaty on us, because when the heavy is turned up it still packs a gnarly punch. This is a thinking man’s metal record in the same vein as luminaries of The Devin Townsend Project – with Hevy Devy himself appearing on ‘Introspection’.
Download: The Eagle and the Snake
7. Bury Tomorrow – Union of Crowns
I know what most of you are thinking. Urrggghhh!!! Metalcore, get in away from my children. Metalcore may have become something of a dirty word and a stagnant genre in our world but Bury Tomorrow are here to change that school of thought. This anthem-loaded barrage brings memories of exciting metalcore flooding back. If you were lucky enough to be around when heavy-hitters like Trivium, Killswitch Engage and As I Lay Dying broke out of the underground then you know the feeling and the buzz surrounding it. Bury Tomorrow took the formula of their first album, ‘Portraits’, and achieved what most bands strive for – to make the clean chorus’ even huger and to make the heavy parts even more crushing. This is gloriously achieved as every band member has spent the few years between albums honing their musicianship, which has paid off for the South Coast mob.
Download: The Maiden
6. A Forest of Stars – Shadowplay for Yesterdays
Unlike most of the other albums on my list, A Forest of Stars is not as instant. This is an entirely different concept all together. The Gentleman’s Club of A Forest of Stars won’t pummel you with beatdowns or serenade you with choruses. They will cocoon you in a hazy cyclone of atmospherics, strange instruments and brilliant songwriting. Mister Curse’s tormented shrieks and cries plot the decay of his sanity and are beautifully layered over repeated instrumental passages from the violin, guitar or even a flute. This seven-piece band really shows what it’s about in person.
They cast a spell over people like no other band; it’s almost like watching a heavily dramatized theatrical piece. The expertise that each club member displays of their music is phenomenal. They have to be seen to be believed and have emerged as one of my greatest finds of 2012. 1891 has never sounded so good.
Download: A Prophet for a Pound of Flesh
5. Karybdis – From the Depths
Young Londoners Karybdis are leaving their mark on the live scene with their boundlessly energetic performances and searing melody-laced death metal. Any credible band that packs this kind of show should have an album rammed with belting tunes, right? That’s exactly the case with Karybdis. Although they set out on their metal voyage in 2009, it has been 2012 that has seen huge leaps for Karybdis. Improving at this rate will see them leaping into up the festival bills and grabbing everyone’s attention. This is a band to watch grow, big things could be in front ofthem.
4. Bull-Riff Stampede – Scatter the Ground
Although not a very well known choice to occupy such a high spot, Bull-Riff Stampede have the chops to back up such an impressive debut. This is thrash metal for the 21st century. They produce a very modern, crushing and most importantly, blitzkrieg fast wave of aggression that should be making a bigger splash than it is. Guitar-wielding frontman Dave Garnett’s vocals sit somewhere between the grating screams of Mille Petrozza and a thunderous deathly wallop. Bull-Riff’s other shredder, Jay Walsh, has served in the Blaze Bayley band and tears through his riffs and solos like a demon. There is a battering ram of groove underlining their sound, which is a credit to their skill and the effort that goes into writing. This is an album that you can’t afford to miss out on any longer, so do your ears a favour and pick it up.
Download: Thrashing Machine
3. Sylosis – Monolith
The shredding from Reading are back only a year after the sensational ‘Edge of the Earth’. The productive, eight-legged riff machine has once again valiantly dropped another crunching masterwork. This album still stays within the template of their previous LP but noticeably improves every aspect of their sound. I have adored everything that Sylosis has put their name on and have championed the band as Brit metal saviours since ‘The Supreme Oppressor’. That may sound a tad hipster, but their exquisite modern take on thrash shot them to position of ‘new favourite band’ in my eyes. Splitting with former vocalist Jamie Graham has proved to be a good move for both parties because we now have a confident Josh Middleton bellowing along to
great material and Jamie has formed djent-tinged hardcore mob ‘Heart of a Coward’ – win, win for the fans, I think.
Download: Born Anew
2. While She Sleeps – This Is the Six
While She Sleeps have burst on to the scene almost from nowhere, it seems. With a solid but hardly groundbreaking mini-album ‘The North Stands for Nothing’ under their belts, WSS were creating sweat-covered warzones in venues across the UK. Now the Sheffield quintet have some real anthems to bring to the party, their already stunning live show will now be unstoppable. They win new fans wherever they play and are leading the charge for a new wave of British bands. Whilst technically they could fall under the ‘metalcore’ tag, most prefer the term ‘metallic hardcore’.
Whatever you call them, there is no denying that this is a brilliant album and the band clearly have their sights set on bigger things. The raging ‘Dead Behind the Eyes’, the fists aloft, chant-a-long ‘Our Courage, Our Cancer’ or the punky vibes peppered on ‘Be(lie)ve’, there will be something for everybody here. This is an absolute triumph and this is the start of a great thing.
Download: Dead Behind the Eyes
1. Gojira – L’Enfant Sauvage
Gojira have shown their greatness across each of their stunning albums and with each release that passes, they scarily improve – So much so that you begin to wonder where they stop. Total domination of the extreme metal universe seemed inevitably within their grasp. ‘L’Enfant Sauvage’, or ‘The Wild Child’ en anglais, is a spellbinding body of work from these French masters. It fully draws you in and engulfs you in its sensational soundscapes. This is widely regarded as one of the finest albums of 2012 and undeniably my number one. Gojira really set the bar high with
their effort from 2009, ‘The Way of All Flesh’, and against all odds have managed to at least equal it. So, an album that may not even be Gojira’s best work has stormed to number one?! Who knows what the Bayonne riff lords have in store next. ‘L’Enfant Sauvage’ is packed full of almost understated sonic aggression yet treads delicately into progressive waters. Joe Duplantier is a fantastic frontman who never fails to deliver his weighty vocal lines and accompanied by drumming virtuoso and brother, Mario, are capable of unleashing brilliance. Words cannot do this album justice. This is essential listening.
That just about wraps up my top albums of 2012 and we all survived the apocalypse. So let’s triumphantly head into 2013 and make it another great year for heavy music. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the pit.