Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in review - top 66 albums of the year (part 3)


34. WINTERFYLLETH The Threnody Of Triumph
Winterfylleth's true coming of age, a glorious album that is by far their best yet - bleak and intense tremolo-picking savagery intertwines with acoustics and grand sweeping passages that recall the majesty of old Albion with the force of a weary but still grandiose battle roar.

33. MUTILATION RITES Empyrean
A band featuring Tombs' old drummer and Today Is The Day's current bassist can't go far wrong, can it? Fortunately their first album far surpasses the shadow of their other collaborations and stands proud on its own as a meaty, raging crust black metal explosion, full of seethingly furious riffs like those that 'Fogwarning' is ridden with. Amazing prospect for the future.

32. KATATONIA Dead End Kings / PARADISE LOST Tragic Idol / MY DYING BRIDE A Map Of All Our Failures
2012 has kindly given us some of the finest albums of the past few years by other legendary purveyors of 90s misery. Paradise Lost stripped themselves bare and laid down simple, unpretentious and thunderous doom-rock songs like they hadn't done since, erm, ages. My Dying Bride showed further signs of life/death with a colossally bleak album, following the great 'The Barghest O'Whitby' EP with what is, by far, their best full-length effort since 'The Dreadful Hours'. Maybe the next one will finally be on full par with their 90s output. Finally, Katatonia extricated themselves from the boring prog-mire they had settled into for a couple of albums and also returned to a simpler time where fragile, heartbroken melodies and great songs full of sadness and distant hope were all that mattered - check out the outrageously beautiful 'The Racing Heart' as one of the best examples.

31. THE SECRET Agnus Dei
Up the chaos! That seems to have been the motto for the Italian band to be able to follow up their gigantic 'Solve Et Coagula' album from 2010. 'Agnus Dei' is darker, more steeped in grindcores foul juices and more chaotic than ever. The first few listens will fly by in a terrifying blur, with less of the heavy, Trap Them-ish catchiness of the previous album, but once you get used to the darkness, it'll have the same effect.


30. OBELYSKKH White Lightnin'
Dude, that skull has a moustache. How cool is that? That's what 'White Lightnin'' will do to you. After the seemingly endless trip through warped out spacey landscapes that these seven songs make up has come to a close, hair will grow on your face instantly, even if you're long dead. Trippy, heavy and psychedelic, fusing together the best of Black Sabbath, Hawkwind or Ufomammut, it's a ride you can't afford to miss.

29. NECRO DEATHMORT The Colonial Script

Scraps of Godflesh, NIN, Fuck Buttons, Skinny Puppy and Swans, unbearable tension, claustrophobia, horrifyingly focused and clearly planned bursts of pure darkness throughout, Gnaw Their Tongues with the lights out. Or, to put it another way:
SKKKRRRRRRZZZZZZZZZZZZFFFFFFFFTTTZZZZTHUDTHUDTHUDTHUDBZZZKKKTTTGRAAAAAHHHHHHTHUDTHUDTHUD.

28. UNDERSMILE Narwhal / GRIMPEN MIRE A PLague Upon Your Houses / CONAN Monnos
England has an amazingly rich heritage when it comes to doom in all its forms and variants, from Black Sabbath to Iron Monkey, and 2012 has seen the release of three debut albums by English bands that seem set to carry that glorious torch well into the foreseeable future. Neither of them came as a surprise, as all these three bands had previously released EPs of stellarly promising quality, but it's heartwarming to see that all of them confirmed our highest expectations. All of them quite different between themselves too, grouped only under the great banner of UK doom. Undersmile offered a huge nautical nightmare, a droning, sludgy journey of no return across the seas of doom that lulls you into a sense of uneasy peace with the creepy siren-like chants of Taz and Hel, only for them to crush you into a hopeless heap immediately after with gargantuan riffs, backed up by a rhythm section that would, all by itself, make Satan's own bowels twist and turn. They prompted me to use the word "weightmongers" in a review, so make of that what you will. Grimpen Mire plagued us with some of the year's most despair-ridden, hopeless doom, a crushing 42 minutes that won't let up from the first burst of slow hatred that is 'Bloodcult Reborn' until the aptly titled 10-minute closer 'Black Mass Hallucinations'. Swarms of black locusts have been known to invade houses where this thing has been played. Finally, Conan further slashed all the wounds their 2010 EP 'Horseback Battle Hammer' had opened (I even considered it a proper album at the time just to shove it into that year's list) and laid down a ridiculously heavy, bludgeoning album that will give you headaches for years. If you were down the front for any of their gigs this year, your ears are still ringing for sure, like mine are after Roadburn. And if you weren't, well, then you're a bit of a pussy, aren't you?

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27. PROCESS OF GUILT FAEMIN / BESTA Ajoelha-te Perante A Besta
Because it's about time that Portuguese bands rise to the occasion and plant their boots in the faces of bewildered fans outside our own little country in the ass-end of Europe, these two hungry beasts (both puns intended) stepped out of the mire in 2012 with offerings to please any filthy soul looking for unholy noise. On one hand, Process Of Guilt continue on their ever-ascending path with what is by far their best album to date. A dense, almost impenetrable maelstrom of Godfleshian riffs that drip contempt and sweaty testosterone all over you, as vocalist/guitarist Hugo Santos plunges deeper into his bile sack to unleash an arsenal of raging howls and screams that make this tenebrous music all the more human. On the other hand, Besta seemingly operated by the same motto as The Secret and just let loose all the chaos on your face, with barely controlled under-two-minute blasts flying past like a deranged lunatic throwing smashed bricks at you until one of them breaks your nose in half. Don't fuck with the Portuguese.

26. ANAAL NATHRAKH Vanitas
Speaking of broken bones and things you shouldn't mess with, here's Anaal Nathrakh with what will surely prove to be their best record since the über-classic 'The Codex Necro'. Varied, introducing hints of melody and catchiness in the riffs, but devastatingly chaotic all the same, their newfound sense of musicality even makes Dave's usual vocal insanity sound more unhinged than usual. Check out that beastly shriek at the end of 'Forging Towards The Sunset' for proof.

25. REVENGE Scum.Collapse.Eradication
Why? Because fuck you, that's why.

24. LORD MANTIS Pervertor
Last time I interviewed Indian's Dylan O'Toole, he almost spent more time talking about his drummer Bill Bumgardner's band Lord Mantis than about Indian's music itself (he doesn't remember any of the music he's written himself, apparently, but let's stick to the point here), and he had a good reason to. You see, he had heard what would become 'Pervertor' already at the time, and it's an all-consuming feast of obliteration of such proportions that it's hard to think of anything else once you've let it roam free in your mind. Combining nasty, angular sludge as if someone drenched Today Is The Day in sticky mud with the most demonic black metal, 'Pervertor' is one of the year's most confrontational albums.

23. CHELSEA WOLFE Unknown Rooms: A Collection Of Acoustic Songs
Chelsea is beautiful and this is an acoustic album, but don't think the combination of these things amounts to peace, syrupy contemplation of the stars or any of that nonsense. The underlying menace and emotional intensity usually present in anything this woman does seem to take these songs way beyond their deceptively simple form. It's as if she's sifted the ghosts of Townes Van Zandt, Hank Williams and PJ Harvey (I know she's alive, shut up) through the oblique shadows of her 'Apokalypsis' album, and came through with a quietly foreboding outcome on the other side, an outcome that culminates on the harrowing, life-destroying 'Sunstorm', quite possibly the best song of the year, or decade, or whatever. Just listen to it.

22. DRAGGED INTO SUNLIGHT WidowMaker / SWITCHBLADE Switchblade
It's an odd pair, yes, strictly musically speaking, but one that makes perfect sense in my mind, and not only because they're both split into three more or less untitled parts each. It's mostly because of the feelings evoked by both these records. They both feel fucking evil. There's no screaming of Satan or frenzied blastbeats on any of them, but they both seem to creep up on you with the intent to do the most unspeakable harm possible. 'WidowMaker' starts with a fifteen minute quiet strumming, making you wait for the drop that never comes, at least not until you're plunged straight into hell for 'Part II', a hell from which you won't come up until the mysterious four-piece are done pouring their take on the most malicious doom on you. 'Switchblade' (their sixth self-titled album - they don't bother with titles much), on the other hand, creates tectonic movement grooves throughout its 37 minutes, maintaining a dirge-like quality that will beat you down even harder than any of their previous towering records. The appearance of a sombre, sinister Hammond and Lord Seth's (yes, that one) crypt-demon vocals, plus a few other guests, don't disturb the organic flow of the album, and you'd be hard pressed to even think about the fact that they don't have a bassist anymore. The ending of 'Movement III' could be used to describe what "heavy" means to visiting aliens. And to scare the shit out of them back to their own planet, too.

21. 16 Deep Cuts From Dark Clouds
One of my favourite bands of all time, 16 hit back with a new drummer and further prove they can do no wrong when it comes to bleeding out sludgy sonic misery. 'Deep Cuts From Dark Clouds' is a more shadowy affair than their unforgettably, gloriously bruising 2009 return 'Bridges To Burn', not as immediate and not as instantly gratifying. Give it time to inject its poison on you, however, and the sneaky, underhand menace of little horrors like 'Her Little "Accident"', 'Ants In My Bloodstream' or desperate closer 'Only Photographs Remain' become frighteningly apparent.

Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 in review - top 66 albums of the year (part 2)

Carrying on.

49. ACEPHALIX Deathless Master
Gone is the crusty d-beat part of Acephalix's initial equation, and there's nothing left but good, old, battered & beaten death metal. Simple in its delivery and ferocity, combining the best groove of the Swedish school with the most fetid stench of old Incantation or even Master themselves, Acephalix achieve true greatness with a few smatterings of infectious, subterranean melody and the truly inhuman throat of Daniel Butler, who surely gargles with week-old demon sweat every morning to achieve that despicable roar.

48. TEST Árabe Macabre
These two dudes carry their gear in a van and just take it out and play a gig whenever and wherever they damn well please, often outside venues before "proper" shows, ie, shows for all you pansies who need to get into a building to bang your heads. The frenetic energy of their crusty street-grind is by now legendary in their native Brazil and it's starting to spread, and the fact that they're able to capture that primal and free spirit so well in their first full-length (well, technically speaking, though the thing is only a pleasant 21 minutes long) speaks volumes about the talent available here. And, you know, power duos are replacing power trios as the new cool.

47. STRUCK BY LIGHTNING True Predation
I first started throwing the name of this band around when I was still doing the Band of the Day thing on Terrorizer's website, and it was so long ago that the post doesn't even exist anymore for me to link to it. Their first album 'Serpents' had just come out, so it was in 2009. Was there internet at all back then? Was there electricity even? I don't know, I get confused when my head gets hit repeatedly by vicious sludgy hardcore-of-the-devil (meaning, it's hardcore but it's fucking necro and no, you don't get to wear a cap), like the kind 'True Predation' delivers. Everything 'Serpents' promised, and then some.

46. BARONESS Yellow & Green
I know that's just half the cover, but it's missing the 'Green' part on purpose - it's because all the best bits of Baroness' double-album are contained in the 'Yellow' part. Sure, 'Green' is more elaborate, it reveals itself over time, it's a grower, it's everything a pretentious intellectual git like me should recommend. But fuck that when I can just hum the super-sticky choruses of 'Take My Bones Away', 'Cocainium' or 'March To The Sea' all day long. It's awesome that they're recovering well from their horrifying bus crash from a couple of months ago, and it lends the huge rockouts of 'Yellow' an even greater feel-good factor.


45. THE HOWLING WIND Of Babalon / SERPENTINE PATH Serpentine Path
Bundled together because both of them feature Unearthly Trance's Ryan Lipynsky - The Howling Wind, which consists of Ryan and Aldebaran drummer Tim Call, is already on its third album and it keeps developing their dense, piercing take on black metal, while Serpentine Path is a new entity featuring the entire Unearthly Trance line-up enriched with ex-Ramesses Tim Bagshaw. The result is exactly what you'd expect from these seasoned doom-mongers, crushing and completely hopeless in its delivery of misery. After the release of the album, they announced Winter's Stephen Flam as the new addition to the already stellar bunch, so it seems like 'Serpentine Path' might just be the beginning of a long friendship.

44. THERAPY? A Brief Crack Of Light
Their rock superstar days are long gone, but rather than fizz away and turn into whatever commerciallized crap other bands tend to in order to recapture the larger audiences from yesteyeards, Therapy? don't give a damn and just keep on rocking, their records as brilliant as they've ever been. Opener 'Living In The Shadow Of The Terrible Thing', catchy instrumental 'Marlow' or the deliciously fractured 'Get Your Dead Hand Off My Shoulder' are just some of the many examples of how to write a bloody awesome and creative rock song in 2012. Shame very few of us are listening.

43. BENEATH Enslaved By Fear
Brutal death metal, remember that? How cool it was before it drowned in a sea of mutilated vaginas, splattered internal organs and meaningless hyperblasts? Well, some of the greater activists of the genre still remember how to actually write songs, and one of them is Gísli Sigmundsson (once at the helm of the frankly legendary Sororicide - remember, tape-traders?) and his merry band of men in Beneath. 'Enslaved By Fear' took its own sweet time to appear after our appetites had been whetted by the 2010 EP 'Hollow Empty Void', but its unstoppable power more than made up for the wait.

 
42. IHSAHN Eremita
Yeah, it irks me somewhat to see Ihsahn sort of rubbing shoulders with the whole unbearably pretentious proggy bunch (you know, Devin Townsend, Steven Wilson, Cynic, the lot), but it was rather inevitable given the man's charmingly nerdy approach to his music. In any case, regardless of who he hangs out with, musically speaking, his records are still untouchable. 'Eremita' has it all - it's singularly oblique, jazzy but never meandering, angular but never unapproachable, deliriously creative but always with a hint of dark malice to it. His best solo album to date, no question about it.

41. EARTHEN GRAVE Earthen Grave
One of the biggest surprises of the year. With a cover like that and with a band featuring legendary doomsters Ron Holzner (Trouble, The Skull, Place Of Skulls, Novembers Doom, you name it) and solid, seasoned musicians like Jason Muxlow (The Living Fields, Wintering) to be equally solid and traditional, but Earthen Grave have taken an extra adventurous step with their self-titled debut. Not only is vocalist Mark Weiner is truly a one-of-a-kind find, a unique voice that can elevate songs to a whole new level by itself, but the songwriting is far from obvious. Traditional-sounding and down to earth yet forward-reaching, if that seems possible, they're as much Witchfinder General (whom they cover brilliantly) as they are Hammers Of Misfortune. Oh, and if you really need to use a violinist in your band, give Rachel Barton Pine a call first. She'll surely teach you how to pull it off, based on her unbelievable performance on this.

40. DORDEDUH Dar De Duh
Sometimes a split can really result in two good things. Negură Bunget is still doing great records and going strong, and now we have Hupogrammos and Sol Faur's new band going their own path, and brilliantly so. 'Dar De Duh' has been described as a sort of successor to 'Om', Negură Bunget's 2006 stone cold classic, and in a lot of ways it harks back to that masterpiece, naturally, but at the same time it's also deep into a more elaborate musical path - the detail and intricacy of these compositions is simply staggering, and after listening to it for months now, it feels that we're just scratching the surface. A record for the ages.

39. PIGS You Ruin Everything / RABBITS Bites Rites
I'm not just doing the cute because both bands are named after animals, they really do belong together as the two nastiest, most vicious noise rock attacks of the year. Unsane's 'Wreck' was a bit of a disappointment considering the expectations that preceded it, but fortunately Dave Curran still makes the list with Pigs, a sludgy, chaotic, messy heap of AmRep energy, Jesus Lizard-infused creepiness and old-fashioned bad taste. As for Rabbits, 'Bites Rites' builds on 'Lower Forms' delivered last year, punkier and more hardcore thank Pigs but still very much oozing from the same horrid primordial soup. What a deranged fucking petting zoo these two make up.

38. NAPALM DEATH Utilitarian
Oh, come on. You don't want me to go on about Napalm Death, do you? It's Napalm Death, they're doing their thing, they're still consistent, relevant, essential and damn angry, so you'll sit up and listen when they're making their racket, and that's it.

37. HORSEBACK Half Blood
Though it falls just short of knocking off 'The Invisible Mountain' from the special place that album holds in my heart, 'Half Blood' goes about that task with passion, as Horseback mutates into an murkier, shadowy beast on this. The demonic and the earthly sides of Jenks Miller's band are more fused than ever, and even at their noisiest (which is very fucking noisy, thank you), Horseback are still able to evoke a sweeping, inspirational feeling rather than the one-dimensional pitch-blackness of lesser outfits. AND they'll still scare you shitless afterwards, like on the three 'Hallucigenia' tracks that close out this difficult monster.

36. MGŁA With Hearts Towards None / SVARTIDAUÐI Flesh Cathedral
Are they paired up because they have weird crossed-out letters in their names? They might, flimsy as my reasons to just pile up more and more records onto a supposedly numbered list tend to be, but no, in this case it really makes sense. Mgła means fog in Polish, and that reveals exactly why I've bundled the duo with the Icelandic four-piece (who feature the guitar player for the amazingly promising Gone Postal, put out a new album already, damn you!), because the thick mist these ultra-kvlt albums envelop you is of the same kind. Icy, chillingly emotionless black metal that is, in both cases, deceptively simple - as you peel away at its outer layers of unspeakable bleakness, they begin to reveal their splendour - in Mgła's case, a Watain-esque meaty, epic approach to the black metal art, while Svartidauði take the path of human decay and urban stench as the basis for their hideous odes. Both of them completely mandatory if you've ever raised a pair of horns.

35. BONG Mana-Yood-Sushai
Bong's many releases are usually so sprawling in nature and so hard to encapsulate within the confines of the written word that I tend to look at their work (their mind-altering, mesmerizing live shows included) as just one long, continuous, resonating hum from the earth itself, but 'Mana-Yood-Sushai' is remarkable enough for the hum to vibrate inside me hard enough to jolt me into singling it out as the best thing they've ever done. And no, I'm not high as I write this. You won't need to be high to appreciate this record either, as the blissful sitar-enriched repetition that makes up the half-hour of the first piece and the droning, tribal yet solemnly holy feeling of the 19 minute-long second piece will elevate your spirit all by themselves.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

2012 in review - top 66 albums of the year (part 1)

I took a sabbatical, alright? I had shit to do all year, and we all survived the absence, so there. Let's plunge straight into the next list, which is all that you're here for. Not the usual 100 this time - I trimmed it down to 66 because it's a cute number and it's just a 6 away from Satan. Ironically, 2012 has arguably been the richest year since I started publishing my lists, a year in which I could easily have come up with a top 200, so if a record made it to this top 66, it means it's really special. Collect them all, as they say. Onwards!

66. THE 69 EYES X
I was so happy with the return of The 69 Eyes that I even considered extending the list to a top 69, just to have them placed at #69. Who cares about list positions though. The Finnish vampires hadn't put out a really good record since the (unintentional) 1999-2002 trilogy of 'Wasting The Dawn', 'Blessed Be' and 'Paris Kills', and it's great to see them return to form with all the silly, corny splendor they're capable of, syrupy ballads ('Borderline') and all. Screw all you trvekvltists, get some eyeliner in your lives for once. This is melodic ear-candy of the highest order.

65. GOJIRA L'Enfant Sauvage
Another good return to form - 'The Way Of All Flesh' had its fans, but it was miles below the influential kick of 'From Mars To Sirius'. 'L'Enfant Sauvage' is Gojira sort of reinvented, fusing melodic richness with an urgent intensity that had been sorely lacking in the past few years.

64. BIRDS IN ROW You, Me & The Violence
In a good year for proper screamo (not the modern trendy crap that's passed for it in the last few years), Loma Prieta almost made the list with their 'I.V.' record and Birds In Row sneak in with a remarkably violent effort, as its title implies. Emotional and passionate, yes, but face-rippingly so, the French trio's first effort owes as much of a debt to the traditional screamo of yore as it does to Converge.

63. SECRETS OF THE MOON SEVEN BELLS
I've never been the biggest of Secrets Of The Moon fans, mainly because I could see tons of potential that always seemed to be held back by a sort of presumption by the band itself that they're much better than what they actually show through their music. 'Seven Bells' finally disposes of all the pretense of past efforts and focuses on delivering concrete, to-the-point stomping mid-paced black metal songs, and the result is (finally) staggering. Hard-hitters like the title track and 'Blood Into Wine' are clearly the best material the German band has ever produced.

62. BLUT AUS NORD 777 - Cosmosophy
The first two parts of the 777 trilogy made it to my list last year at #29, and I mentioned at the time that "Harold Camping will probably come out of retirement to announce another end of the world when the final part of the trilogy comes out in 2012." There was plenty of apocalyptic hullaballo this year with old Harold going all nutty on us once again, but '777 - Cosmosophy' didn't feel at all final. In fact, it's inspiring and far-reaching enough to feel as a new beginning, leaving any specific genre notion behind and fusing melody, harmony, rhythm, light and darkness together for a truly epic broadening of horizons that only Vindsval would have been capable of.

61. PRONG Carved Into Stone
No one seems to care for Prong anymore, some were even surprised the band was still around when I declared my excitement after I got my hands on 'Carved Into Stone', and while most of that is probably the band's own fault (the two albums they've done since 1996's 'Rude Awakening' are far from unforgettable, ever since Tommy Victor started collaborating with other bands like Danzig and Ministry), it doesn't mean they don't deserve a chance, and this album should be the best way to get back into the band for any old fan. 'Keep On Living In Pain' or 'Revenge ... Best Served Cold', just to mention the best cuts, would have a place in any Prong record, and that's saying quite a lot.

60. ALKERDEEL Morinde
Well, that cover more or less says it all. Slightly more elaborate than 'De Speenzalvinge', 'Morinde' is nevertheless still a nasty, filthy beast, ripping apart the crustiest elements from the smelly corpses of sludge doom and black metal and leaving them outside to rot further. Lovely music for children's parties.

59. BELL WITCH Longing / INDESINENCE Vessels Of Light And Decay
It doesn't matter if it's into an old abandoned house or into, erm, the realm of unending decay, or whatever it is that's going on in the Indesinence cover, the point is that the reaper will lead the way and you will damn well follow. Two soul-emptying, crushing doom albums from the typically faultless Profound Lore this year that, particularly if you listen to them back to back, won't fail to ruin your day week month life.

58. GRAND MAGUS The Hunt
I just mistyped the album title as 'The Hung', and still considered leaving it like that. Such is the amount of true heavy metal testosterone that oozes from songs like 'Sword Of The Ocean', 'Valhalla Rising' or the giant epic 'Son Of The Last Breath' that you'll probably be hung like a racehorse after repeated listens. Even if you're a girl, so beware.

57. HOODED MENACE Effigies Of Evil
On my list of best 2011 split releases, I mentioned that "anything Hooded Menace releases will always have a place in my lists. Even if it's just Lasse Pyykkö strumming the same note with that tone, I'll be in doom heaven," and it holds true. Though 'Effigies Of Evil' falls slightly short of the necro-glory of 2010's 'Never Cross The Dead' (which obviously made that year's list), it's still fetid death/doom like no one else is able to do.

56. LAZARUS BLACKSTAR Hymn For The Cursed
I?ve barely seen this album mentioned anywhere, what's wrong with you people? Their first album with new vocalist Mikhell spews forth a torrent of misery, filth and desperation, just like Lazarus Blackstar have always done, rightful heirs of the grand British sludgehorror throne. Yeah, sludgehorror, I just made that up. Like Iron Monkey before them, Lazarus Blackstar are way above (below?) categorizations, they just violently heap doom, crust, sludge, doom and week-old piss onto the fire and get it done.

55. PRIMITIVE WEAPONS The Shadow Gallery
Though it came out quite early in the year, 'The Shadow Gallery' has remained on my regular playlist. The dissonant, meaty mix of AmRep noise rock, doom and chaotic hardcore they belt out is infectious, energetic and powerful, and I can't wait for the next installment of it.

54. AN AUTUMN FOR CRIPPLED CHILDREN Only The Ocean Knows
Every single album by this mysterious Dutch ensemble has made it to my lists, because they capture an eerie, enveloping atmosphere that is subtle, unique and quietly captivating. More soaring and more atmospheric than the more black metal-focused (well, sort of) two previous albums, 'Only The Ocean Knows' is mournful, tragically beautiful and still remarkably intense.

53. ASPHYX Deathhammer
All the hints you need to the essential nature of 'Deathhammer' are in the album itself. "This is true death metal, you bastards," iconic frontman Martin Van Drunen spontaneously and defiantly shouts before the title track, while the eighth song is aptly titled 'We Doom You To Death'. There you go, that's all you need. Now bang your fucking head to some of the best death metal of the fucking decade.

52. HEXVESSEL No Holier Temple
More pastoral than occult, more nature-worshipping than spirit-invoking, Mat McNerney wandered into the Finnish woods for Hexvessel's second album, found a few like-minded hippie friends (most of them members of Dark Buddha Rising) and never came out. 'No Holier Temple' isn't as immediate as its predecessor 'Dawnbearer' (very highly placed on last year's list) was, but the delicate fusing of man and nature that emanates from its songs is so lushly beautiful and enveloping that it'll become equally addictive.

51. GRAVEYARD Lights Out
It wouldn't have hurt to wait a little longer after the bluesy magic of 'Hisingen Blues' justly propelled Graveyard into rock-stardom, as 'Lights Out' falls just a little short of their previous record timeless magic, but hey, there's no arguing with the70s-fixated rockout power of songs like 'Goliath' or 'Slow Motion Countdown'. If we really must live in a Led Zeppelin-less world, then Graveyard will more than do as a worthy substitute.

50. BEHOLD! THE MONOLITH Defender, Redeemist
Behold! The Monolith should be reaping the rewards that so many lazy Southern-styled sludge-rock bands are enjoying these days while releasing albums on autopilot and filling out damn arenas and shit. Thing is B!TM worry about actually crafting songs, and proof is in a crushing 13-minute anthem like 'Cast On The Black / Lamentor / Guided By The Southern Cross', an unsung future classic that all the Mastodon-and-clones of this world combined wouldn't know what to do with even if it landed its enormous girth on their laps.