What does June make you think of? The warming weather, as our planet rockets towards global apocalypse, maybe the difference between the dead rising from the grave and the moronic lepton that ignites bath salts for a high? Regardless, the first month of summer brings all kinds of different ideas into our brains. For me, it signals the halfway point of the musical year.
We’ve had six months of 2012 and a few shining stars have punched through the otherwise dark matter of music releases. To celebrate this milestone, I have concocted a list of the ten best records to be released so far in 2012. The lean is towards metal, but the title Best Metal Records is a bit restrictive for what we've got here. But what the hell? We make the rules. Here we go…..
10. Old Man Gloom - No
Hydra Head Records
Fret not followers of the heavy music trail, I only put Old Man Gloom at number 10 because it dropped in on me just under the wire. Less a band than a music project, Old Man Gloom returns after eight years with No, and the ass kicking begins swiftly. Part noise, part doom, part experimental bouillabaisse of sound scratches and grooves, No constantly tests your ability to think past your ideas on extreme music. Imagine thinking man’s evil that rocks and you’ll start to get the idea.
09. Torche - Harmonicraft
I thought I had made a lofty connection by calling the new Torche album Foo Fighters with balls. Then a friend said it reminded him of Sugar and suddenly I wanted to quit writing. He was right, so was I and yet we’re both wrong. While elements of those bands swirl aroundHarmonicraft, the core of what’s happening is all Torche. I’ve waited for an album like this for a long time. A record that’s not afraid to match catchy hooks and pop choruses with High Rocktane power. Harmonicraft is a good time album that reminds us how the term “pop” music used to mean catchy music that moved us and not prefabricated crap.
08. Pallbearer - Sorrow And Extinction
Profound Lore Records
Right out I should say this is woefully unrecognized album. I’m not sure why a record this good hasn’t been screamed from the lips of all who claim to appreciate extreme music but it hasn’t. I’m just as guilty, I found this through a friend’s post on Facebook for Christ sake. Pallbearer has made an album that is epic, creepy and heavy but also weaves in sublime textures of folk and tribal story telling of another time. The music weighs in at a 1000 pounds but the vocals are sung as though the holy man from a mythical mountain came to sing to us about the history of all creation. Doom heads will dig on the grooves but those who need to feel something deeper will marvel at the tiny particles that are stitched together to create this monolith.
07. Killing Joke - MMXII
The tribe returns in 2012 with an album that dictates their own ideas on the end of the world. As always, Killing Joke takes the typical and flips it on its head by addressing the end of the world more as a global change then global destruction. Killing Joke’s original line up use their unique chemistry to look at how any impending global catastrophe will reorganize the order, how nature will return to power and people will live together as brothers. The music is heavier Killing Joke, more on the edge of Killing Joke 2003 mixed with their last album.
06. High On Fire - De Vermis Mysteriis
High On Fire has always been a controversial band. Some say they are the second coming of rock, others claim they’re too muddy to be convincing and their production always sucks. Welcome to the game changer. De Vermis Mysteriis is a an album that is so good it will be recognized in years to come as High On Fire’s “Ride The Lightening” or “Reign In Blood”, the album that changed them from a band to an institution. Heavy, mean and filled with solid riffs, HOF raise the bar this time on songwriting and producer Kurt Ballou brings out a crispness and clarity to the songs that we’ve never heard before. Ballou’s pulling back the mud curtain has done nothing to effect the heaviness of De Vermis Mysteriis but it has allowed the album to showcase more what the band is capable of.
05. Nate Hall/Steve Von Till/Scott Kelly/Wino - A Great River/Songs Of Townes Van Zandt
Okay so I cheated a little. I have two albums on one line to keep the whole “10 count” thing legit. Instead of calling foul, just listen to the two records I offer up as #5 on my list. First is the solo album from US Christmas front man Nate Hall titled A Great River. Hall has always had a unique voice but when coupled with the melancholy acoustic guitars on this album and the bits of Roky Erickson inspired swirling electric guitars and noise, his work become transcendent. This album is pure integrity, pure honesty and done with the open-nerve raw emotion so many singer/songwriter’s lack. If you love hearing the human drama sung out over really interesting musical beds, then A Great River is for you.
Equally as impressive is the Townes Van Zandt tribute album. I don’t usually put much stock into tribute albums simply because most of them are just covers. With Songs Of Townes Van Zandt, Neurosis veterans Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till and the doom legend Wino, take the singer/songwriter’s tunes and make them their own. The cadence changes, tempos change, the entire scope by which you hear the songs becomes different. While owning these songs is important to the three artists, they never lose the spirit of the original tune. Songs Of Townes Van Zandt is a masterful tribute to a true and largely unknown genius.
04. Horseback - Half Blood
Ever wonder what Neurosis would sound like if they took a lot of Quaaludes and then listened to experimental noise records and Neil Young at the same time? If so, then strap in for the Half Blood ride. Horseback have unleashed an album that is a fucked up noise experiment wrapped within the meaty colon of a doom band. Super heavy riffs, weird demon vocals, thick and sludgy song structures and then a lot of feedback and noise. Horseback takes all the rules of doom and destroy them, replacing it with the audio equivalent of a psychotic break. Half Blood is not for those who like their music put into small and easily digestible boxes. It is for those who want to see extreme music continue to grow beyond its own limitations.
03. Beastmilk - Use Your Deluge EP
Dark, ambient, catchy and low-fi, Helsinki’s Beastmilk has created a sound that is part Joy Division, part Danzig, part Echo And The Bunnymen and part Peter Murphy. As many influences as the band has going on, Use Your Deluge never comes off as a nostalgia trip or a bunch of kids attempting to reignite the eighties. Instead there’s a darkness to what Beastmilk does, they are disturbing but also seem to have a sense of humor about what their work. The music will make you dance, it will touch the inner melancholy Goth artist in you and long for a day when bands return to making music that was not afraid of pop sensibilities, but also not beholden to them.
02. Burning Love - Rotten Thing To Say
Southern Lord Records
Ever know a kid who was too smart for his own good so he was always angry? Yeah, well, that kid exploded into a band called Burning Love. Their new album, Rotten Thing To Say, is nothing short of perfect. Explosive, charged with bitterness and intelligence and all within tunes that poke the rat in the cage as well as making it dance. Born from the ashes of post-hardcore band Cursed, Burning Love is that beacon of light that shows what could have happened to hardcore if people thought more and “moshed” less. Besides being a opus to violent change, Rotten Thing To Say bristles with lyrics that will touch you on a personal level. A multi-layered triumph and an album I have yet to stop listening to.
01. Slow Machete - Evening Dust Choir
There is nothing like this album at all.
Though masterminded by one man, Slow Machete is the celebration of the culture and musical gifts of the Haitian people. Joe Shaffer, a humanitarian and artist, has been going to Haiti to work with various charitable organizations for years. Having led his musical assistance to other projects, Shaffer was able to recruit Haitian musicians to put together this masterpiece. Evening Dust Choir has so many things happening at once that you can’t see it as individual tracks. This is one album filled with hundreds of bits of music all sewn together to help represent a culture. At times Evening Dust Choir is haunting, at others joyful and then reflective. This is more than an album, this is the recording of the human spirit as interpreted through the artists that exist there.