To say that we've had a few musical treats this year would be, well... understatement of the year. Deciding what makes the cut in a definitive ‘top 20 albums’ for 2012 has been pretty tough, but the SoundShock team have finally stopped racking their brains and re-listening to the many, many phenomenal records released this year.
Editor Calum Robson takes us through SoundShock's top 20 albums of 2012.
1. Gojira – ‘L’Enfant Sauvage’ [ROADRUNNER]
There was a lot of pressure on Gojira to succeed in this fifth full-length album, especially given it’s the band’s Roadrunner debut. The French act spent four years creating this anticipated follow-up to the commercially successful ‘The Way Of All Flesh’ album and thankfully, it has absolutely eclipsed previous works. Musically, Gojira have cultivated their signature groove-infested DM and exploited it to greater effect with flashes of destructive yet concise riffing, impeccable tech drumming and coarse, passion-filled vocals, resulting in ‘L’Enfant Sauvage’ being the standout achievement in the band’s discography. With the help of Josh Wilbur (Lamb Of God) producing the record, this spectacular record has an added radio-friendly edge that makes ‘L’Enfant Sauvage’ a potential ‘gateway’ metal album for a lot of previously unaccustomed folk – and that surely can’t be a bad thing. The four-piece are at their most exposed now; they’ve put everything into this and they’re reaping the rewards, standing before the masses surely aware that anything is possible now.
2. Alcest - ‘Les Voyages de L'Âme’ [PROPHECY]
The vision of one man never ceases to amaze. As mastermind of Alcest, Neige has never created a bad piece of music and the run of form continues with this otherworldly creation. Joined by the expert work of now-full-time drummer Winterhalter, ‘Les Voyages de L'Âme’ puts listeners under the illusion of astral travel and stretches the ‘post-black’ tag with intense transitions; from gentle melodic passages to shivery sections of metallic guitar verse. This record has single-handedly introduced Alcest to a wider audience and put the French act in pole position to ascend more (not only metal) minds to the beautiful world of Neige.
3. THE DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT – ‘Epicloud' [INSIDEOUT]
Last year, Devin topped our end of year polls here at SoundShock with ambient beaut ‘Ghost’ making our joint eighth spot and the mind-blowing ‘Deconstruction’ coming in at number one. With the knowledge that this fella owned 2011 through and through, it would be unrealistic to expect that he could do it again, right? Wrong. ‘Epicloud’ holds the usual blueprints of Devin’s trademark riffery and penchant for huge choruses. But it’s also an album with a pop vibe that allowed it to hit the mainstream UK charts at number 27 and threw a lot of hearty Strapping Young Lad fans off at the time of its release. There’s no second-guessing what direction the prolific musician will take; he clearly knows no bounds yet everything he touches turns to gold and that makes him one of the most exciting musicians of our time.
4. Enslaved – ‘RIITIIR’ [NUCLEAR BLAST]
Enslaved seem to have the ‘aging like a fine wine’ quote following them around these days and that’s because the five-piece out-do their incredible bench-marks on each new release. How do you follow up from outstanding 2010 album ‘Axioma Ethica Odini’? Make ‘RIITIIR’ is the answer. The Norsemen have created an unstoppable album with some of the most life-affirming lyricism and inventive ideas we’ve heard all year. Still embracing their squeaky-clean production but not losing any of their intensity, Enslaved have created another progressive black masterpiece.
5. Ihsahn – ‘Eremita’ [CANDLELIGHT]
The release of ‘After’ in 2007 carried on the vastly changing sonic landscape for the former Emperor musician and it continues to morph in new album ‘Eremita’. This fourth solo attempt is an intelligent arrangement of progressive metal music, bolstered by the intensity of Ihsahn’s black metal past and brought to life with guest slots including Devin Townsend, Jeff Loomis and Shining’s Jorgen Munkeby; the latter bringing an experimental vibe with some bombastic sax playing. If you didn’t know it before, then perhaps you do now; ‘Eremita’ has proven that Ihsahn is a dynamic musical genius.
6. Katatonia – ‘Dead End Kings’ [PEACEVILLE]
For over 20 years, Katatonia have returned to the very inner core of our lovely black hearts and do so yet again with ninth album ‘Dead End Kings’. The Swedish five-piece outshine previous effort ‘Night Is The New Day’ by building on their reflective atmospheres with a bout of depressive rock and cold alternative metal.
7. Wintersun – ‘TIME I’ [NUCLEAR BLAST]
It took eight years, but it was worth the wait. Epic folk metallers Wintersun exceed themselves with a beautifully composed and painstakingly well-arranged second album. Jari and co. enter metaphysical realms in ‘TIME I’, dressing our ears with lashings of skyward power metal, dazzling virtuoso axe-playing and a grand orchestral backing, to leave us floating in a celestial dimension somewhere between dreams and reality.
8. Meshuggah – ‘Koloss’ [NUCLEAR BLAST]
Such is the fandom of Meshuggah these days that a four-year wait between last album ‘obZen’ and new record ‘Koloss’ was almost cruel. The rampant Swedish metallers have shown us why people remain stalwartly loyal to the band, with a mind-bending crush-spree of technical metal that makes a clear statement of brutal intent, separating the quintet from the zillions of bands who wish they were Meshuggah.
9. Dragged Into Sunlight – ‘Widowmaker’ [PROSTHETIC]
The mysterious Dragged Into Sunlight set their sights high with second album ‘Widowmaker’. The ambitious 40-minute piece is divided in three eerie parts with audio samples from serial killers, reiterating that potential for evil within every individual of the human species. ‘Widowmaker’ boldly builds from a disturbing ambience and comes to an abominably heavy conclusion with swathes of blackened sludge and fierce doom, affirming it as one of the heaviest treats of the year. A stroke of brilliance from the Liverpool act.
10. Anaal Nathrakh – ‘Vanitas’ [CANDLELIGHT]
Seven albums in and Brummie grinders Anaal Nathrakh aren’t letting up on the intensity. Dave Hunt and Mick Kenney have made a beast of a record in ‘Vanitas’, with insane blackened shrieks, a piercing fury of grind, moments of dirty industrial thumping and amongst the chaos; those uplifting clean vocal choruses. Another totally brutalising trip into the soul-crushing void of human desperation.
11. Neurosis – ‘Honor Found In Decay’ [NEUROT]
There is honour (as we Brits spell it) to be found in aging and essentially, decaying. Why inject plastic ideas and scummy botox into an entity that gracefully gets older and continues to be renowned for the bone-deep lyricism and changing musical goals? From the early crust to the post-metal incarnations, Neurosis will be able to look back on their career and know that this milestone tenth album is another masterful addition to their already gargantuan legacy.
12. Napalm Death – ‘Utilitarian’ [CENTURY]
We all know what the legendary Napalm Death have done for British music. The four-piece are a riotous force, beating with a heavy pulse at every social injustice, seething at political powers with teeth bared and venom spitting, offering a voice for the hopeless idealist, the jobless outcast, the claustrophobic office worker. But we’re not going to be nostalgic today. Why? Because the 15th album from the Birmingham act is quite simply, one of their best yet. ‘Utilitarian’ still has the old-school aggression but it’s siphoned by volcanic outbursts of deathgrind with a vicious vocal performance from frontman Barney Greenway that ranks as the finest hour of his 25-year history with the band.
13. Baroness – ‘Yellow & Green’ [RELAPSE]
US band Baroness escaped a nasty bus crash earlier in the year when promoting this brilliant double-album on tour in the UK. ‘Yellow & Green’ hears the exciting quartet create a charismatic record that has its sludge rock n’ roll sensibilities, but with an added layer of accessible pop charm, making you shake, boogie and headbang all at the same time.
14. Winterfylleth – ‘The Threnody of Triumph’ [CANDLELIGHT]
Winterfylleth have led the charge for a couple of years when it comes to heritage-inspired black metal in the UK. The five-piece might be the cream of the crop, but that hasn’t stopped them adding a cherry on top of the icing with third album ‘The Threnody of Triumph’. A testament to what they’re capable of, ‘…of Triumph’ is a bold, blackened journey to the forests of ancient Britain.
15. Between The Buried And Me – ‘The Parallax II: The Future Sequence’ [METAL BLADE]
Between The Buried And Me are the reaffirmed victors that have risen above the stereotypical vision of a certain ‘metalcore’ genre, swooping past the swamped and the saturated with virtuoso technicality and progressive ambition. The five-piece from North Carolina rise above the mire yet again, to show the wannabes how it’s really done.
16. Wodensthrone – ‘Curse’ [CANDLELIGHT]
Wodensthrone had a major task on their hands when charismatic frontman and lyricist Brunwulf left the band in 2011. Fortunately, the Sunderland five-piece have not only bounced back, but have eclipsed their excellent debut record, ‘Loss’. ‘Curse’ is more ambitious, less ambient, wick with an ancient atmosphere and delivered with epic and progressive moments of melodic black metal.
17. AAFCC – ‘Only The Ocean Knows’ [AETERNITAS TENEBRARUM MUSICAE FUNDIMENTUM]
An Autumn For Crippled Children remain on the edge of obscurity with their strange moniker and even stranger sound. But in truth, this third album from the Dutch trio is their most captivating yet. Dreamy shoegaze textures are ripped through a blender of agonizing black metal and cured with a licking of post-rock to make for a stunning emotional ride into the depths of self-reflection and personal longing.
18. AMENRA – ‘Mass V’ [NEUROT]
When AMENRA signed to Neurot in 2011, followers of the Church of Ra knew that this was a perfect move for the Belgian act. ‘Mass V’ is their debut on the esteemed label. It’s a pulverising contrast of post-metallic hardcore plagued by stormy explosions of doom riffery, haunting ambience and a solid wall of iron sludge at least a metre thick. It’s the masterpiece they’ve always hinted at.
19. Orange Goblin – ‘A Eulogy For The Damned’ [CANDLELIGHT]
Stoner kings Orange Goblin have quenched the riff-thirsty and fed the fun-hungry for the past 15 years and their generosity continues with album number seven, ‘Eulogy For The Damned’. The English foursome don’t do a size in small; their chunky stoner riffage and massive whiskey-soaked choruses have a bluesy charm that keeps you stumbling back for more.
20. Testament – ‘Dark Roots Of Earth’ [NUCLEAR BLAST]
2013 marks Testament’s 30th anniversary as a band. What better way to open up a new era than release tenth album ‘Dark Roots of Earth’. The Californian five-piece have unfinished business in the world of thrash because there’s no complacency here; Testament have shown the kind of form that once again puts the jitters up the Big Four.
Some albums didn't quite hit the Soundshock overall top 20 list, but were just simply too good not to mention. Editor Calum Robson and Assistant Editor Jason Hicks bring you two albums they feel deserve special mention.
Calum Robson (Editor):
A Forest Of Stars – ‘A Shadowplay For Yesterdays’ [PROPHECY]
Britain’s Victoriana-influenced A Forest Of Stars changed the dynamics of their sound with the departure of guitarist Kettleburner and the addition of new guitarists Sir Gastrix Grimshaw and Henry Hyde Bronson alongside new bassist Titus Lungbutter. The result is a different outcome from the dark, agitated and rain-soaked sadness of eerie second album ‘Opportunistic Thieves Of Spring’. ‘A Shadowplay For Yesterdays’ is charged with some of the seven-piece’s most unrestrained BM material, yet it’s doused in an extra spattering of 70s prog rock and smoothed out gorgeously with charming British folk influences. ‘A Shadowplay For Yesterdays’ is a challenging but ultimately rewarding listen, standing in a musical and lyrical class of its own.
Jason Hicks (Assistant Editor):
Kontinuum – ‘Earth Blood Magic’ [CANDLELIGHT]
This debut full-length from Icelandic ambient metallers Kontinuum is without a doubt, one of the most underrated gems to have been released this year. As bleak and beautiful as a freezing snowbound night, this is an album that effortlessly mixes sorrowful atmospheric majesty with black metal flourishes to produce something truly wonderful. ‘Earth Blood Magic’ is an album that deserves to be in the collection of any self-respecting fan of post-blackened metal.