Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Top Ten Albums of 2012

It's time once more to call attention to what I feel are the ten albums released in 2012 (which I have personally heard) that are most praise-worthy. There were a fair number of highly anticipated metal and hard rock releases in 2012 that wound up being more disappointing than remarkable, with Lacuna Coil, Katatonia, Dokken, and Tiamat topping that notorious list, but there were enough diamonds in the rough to cobble together a list of ten of the best. So with that....

#10 - Legacy by Oakenshield (Einheit)

Although the sophomore album from British multi-instrumentalist Ben Corkhill, aka Oakenshield, doesn't approach groundbreaking status, it is nevertheless a flawlessly executed example of undiluted Viking folk metal. Many bands already established within this sub-genre of music have strayed from the core sound and values that put this style on the metal map, leaving Oakenshield's Legacy as a refreshing return to the basics. (Full review here)

#9 - Evil Deeds by The Graviators (Napalm Records)

It could reasonably be said that 2012 was the year of retro rock releases. From occult rock to stoner doom, innumerable bands produced album after album of groovy, fuzzed out psychedelia. Sweden's The Graviators joined the fray with their sophomore album Evil Deeds. What separates this album from the conquering horde of others released during the year is frontman Niklas Sjöberg's willingness to sing outside of the box, giving the album that spark of variety to set it apart. (Full review here)

#8 - Excess All Areas by Hollywood Burnouts (Rock Road)

The abundance of stoner doom and occult rock albums released in 2012 was matched by the number of albums resurrecting the sleazy hair metal sound. Excess All Areas, the debut full-length from German rockers Hollywood Burnouts, exemplifies the sound perfected by bands such as Poison, Ratt, and L.A. Guns. Many of the sleaze metal albums released in this day and age tend to drift into either modern rock or classic rock territories, and sometimes both, but Excess All Areas remains pure, unadulterated fun. (Full review here)

#7 - Alpha Noir / Omega White by Moonspell (Napalm Records)

Portugal's Moonspell have established themselves as one of the leaders of the Gothic metal genre, as well as one of my personal favorites. The band's ninth studio album is an epic, two-disc release that serves as a career retrospective of sorts as the band incorporates all of their various stylings from their twenty-year existence. Alpha Noir / Omega White is an ambitious album that trumps many of the other albums released by Moonspell's peers in 2012. (Full review here)

#6 - 1986 by The Order (Massacre Records)

Switzerland has churned out a good number of melodic metal bands over the years, most of which straddle the line between old-school AOR and Euro-style power metal. With 1986, the band's fourth album, The Order skillfully recreate the sounds of mid-'80s Sunset Strip hair metal. While similar in style to the aforementioned debut full-length from Hollywood Burnouts, 1986 presents a tighter package and slightly more nostalgic listen - thus edging higher on this year's Top Ten list.

#5 - Death of a Hero by Bakken (self-released)

Hailing from Northern Ireland, Bakken burst onto the metal scene this year with their debut release Death of a Hero. With the traditional metal resurgence in full swing, there were a number of releases in 2012 by well-established acts such as Cauldron and 3 Inches of Blood - but Bakken's skillful musicianship and excellent songwriting ability propels their contribution to the genre ahead of those more well-known outfits. This is a band definitely worth keeping an eye on. (Full review here)

#4 - Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light by Woods of Ypres (Earache Records)

Canada's Woods of Ypres has been perhaps one of the most overlooked dark metal outfits. Their style is a gripping blend of lush atmospheres, somber Gothic accents, and brutal highlights. Just before Christmas 2011, tragedy struck the band when iconic frontman David Gold was killed in an auto wreck. Woods 5, released just two months after Gold's death, stands as a heart-wrenching eulogy for one of metal's most underrated vocalists. Guitarist Joel Violette has stated that Woods 5 will be the last Woods of Ypres album, and rightfully so.

#3 - The Hunt by Grand Magus (Nuclear Blast)

The sixth full-length album from Sweden's Grand Magus serves as an example of how to pay homage to the greats of heavy metal's past while still maintaining a fresh perspective. The Hunt resurrects the familiar sounds of bands like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and Saxon while adding enough of a unique flair to give Grand Magus a sound that is identifiably their own.

#2 - Tragic Idol by Paradise Lost (Century Media)

As one of my most anticipated albums of 2012, Tragic Idol was one of the few albums I was looking forward to that did not disappoint. While not as monumental as some of the band's previous efforts, Paradise Lost's thirteenth studio long-player nevertheless tops the Gothic metal releases for the year and shows the band to still be at the top of their game. (Full review here)

#1 - Dismal Hollow by King Giant (Path Less Traveled)

The only album by an American band to crack my Top Ten list this year, Dismal Hollow's supreme  ranking is due in part to its uniquely American sound. Virginia's King Giant have mastered the "Southern Doom" niche with their sophomore album, infusing rather straightforward stoner doom with a sound that is moving and unmistakeably Appalachian. (Full review here)

And there you have it. Of the albums that I heard in 2012, there just weren't enough remarkable efforts to make choosing the ten best much of a chore. Hopefully the task will be much more difficult this time next year.

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