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.

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:

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?

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.

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.

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.

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