Each year the decision of the best albums in the world of extreme music becomes harder and harder. I’m always convinced that nothing can surpass the year ending and then the next year I’m gratefully wrong. 2012 was no different. This was an astounding year in extreme music, one that made searching out just twenty albums more difficult than I remember in years past. After several months of listening to everything I had gathered over the year, I finally managed to get my list completed. I must warn you, I see the parameters of extreme music in much broader terms than just “metal”, so don’t be surprised to see some odd choices here. I hope you have half the fun reading the list as I had writing it
On a personal note, I must thank everybody who comes to Crave Online to read my work. From the constant reader to the occasional glance, I appreciate you checking out what I do. Some come to praise, some come to hate, some come just to insult and that’s just fine. Every person who flaps an eye over my writing is important to me and I thank you.
Okay, enough mushy bullshit. On with the list.
Label: Hydra Head Records
Those who feel they have a real hold on Black Metal should run their music up the Nihill flagpole and see how they fare. Verdonkermaan is a frigid, brutal, and unforgiving album that never lets up. Waves of noisy, lo-fi guitars playing at hyper speed over blast beats and growling vocals, this is the landscape Nihill carve out for themselves, a sort of musical equivalent to the arctic tundra in the dead of night with high winds. What’s really interesting about Verdonkermaan is that with no dynamics, no melody or anything outside of absolute brutality, the record is impossible to stop listening to. The intensity of the songs, the full on hatred by which the album is delivered, it all leads up to a record more people need to know about.
19. Endless Procession Of Souls
Label: Relapse Records
Endless Procession Of Souls calls upon that Grave mixture of Swedish old-school death metal, a bit of the doom and the bone crushing D-Beat thrash. Song after song, Grave just makes you excited to listen to metal. It’s that visceral, fist pounding, head banging type of metal that made us all goofy nerd fans of this genre to begin with. As much of the old school Swedish death metal as Grave incorporate, they never sound dated or nostalgic. Instead they straddle the line between the new and old, keeping their roots deep in death metal but allowing their songs to blossom a bit with newer guitar riffs and massive drums. Endless Procession Of Souls in another in Grave’s endless procession of great albums
18. Like Rats
Artist: Like Rats
Label: A389 Records
Most of the metal world slept on Like Rats and that’s just too damn bad for them. I first heard about the band from a friend and then sampled their abilities on the A389 Sampler. I was impressed. The full length came out and I was slapped hard to the floor. Like Rats are another in the small pocket of bands that can play metallic tinged hardcore with a true black metal influence and pull it off. The riffs here are fast, but still memorable; Like Rats know how to put together a song with maximum punch without getting caught in the repetition trap. Those who dig Burning Love, Converge, Trap Them or Cursed, should hunt down Like Rats.
17. Dark Roots Of The Earth
Label: Nuclear Blast
Testament does what Testament does. Every time these guys unleash a record you sit there and say “Of course. This is what was missing”. With all the extreme this and that, all the screaming, odd time tempos and cold brutality, a gap remains in the metal world. That gap is good old-fashioned riffmania thrash with vocals you can understand the first time around. Anthrax still does it, but outside of that most bands have moved far away from the thrash. Dark Roots Of Earth fills that gap with some of the best work Testament has turned out thus far. Ripping guitar harmonies, riffs that put any and all other bands to shame and a spirit of early thrash that may be assimilated into modern metal, but never executed to this level of greatness. I was not only amped on Dark Roots Of The Earth, I was thankful for it.
16. The Fatal Feast
Artist: Municipal Waste
Label: Nuclear Blast
Municipal Waste is a thrash metal party. You’re invited. I’m invited. Everybody’s invited. So bust out the denim vest with the Dark Angel back patch, load up the van with beer and weed and get ready to travel back to 1983. Municipal Waste is not afraid to let their retro-flag fly which, in a funny way, keeps them from being a retro or nostalgia trip. Embracing their love of old school thrash and then coupling it with great songwriting, Municipal Waste remind us that great metal doesn’t have to be some long jawed opus about the horror of mankind. There’s nothing wrong with metal being fun, especially when the band behind it is as talented as Municipal Waste.
15. No Absolutes In Human Suffering
Label: Black Market Activities
Though they’ve been kicking around for years, Salt Lake City grindcore, sludgecore band Gaza really comes into their own with No Absolutes In Human Suffering. Live the band has always been monsters, but their earlier albums failed to catch their intensity. No Absolutes removes that issue with songs that are rapid-fire machine gun bursts of hatred wrapped snugly in some of the more interesting songwriting in heavy music. Creepy guitar sweeps, off the cuff solos, time changes and crescendos help to broaden the over all pummeling nature of what Gaza does. These are not just songs, they’re small explosions aimed specifically to derail a human condition that none of us can tolerate. Gaza’s music is like audio terrorism. It strikes out of nowhere, with multiple angles of attack and leaves you devastated. I expect hugeness out of them in the future.
14. Book Burner
Artist: Pig Destroyer
Label: Relapse Records
Hello there. How are you? Good to hear. Anyway, I was curious if you would be able to give me subtle songs that are tender in their delivery. Wait? Is that a middle finger? Why yes it is. Know why? Because Pig Destroyer are screaming fuck you as loud as they can while blitzing your soul with unmerciful blasts of guitar driven grindcore. When I first heard Book Burner, the repetitive nature of it bothered me. Over the course of the next few months I found myself unable to turn away from it. Not only to Pig Destroyer keep a solid middle finger up at what the genre expects of them, they also are one of the few bands that match guitar aggression with vocal aggression. Vocalist J.R. Hayes is a man possessed and that possession, coupled with their Mjolnir-to-the-skull style of music, becomes intoxicating. What started off as a really good album, in my eyes, has become one of the best in 2012.
13. 777 – Cosmosophy
Artist: Blut Aus Nord
Label: Candlelight Records
French, progressive, black metal outfit, Blut Aus Nord unleashes not just a great record, but also their own experimental statement with 777-Cosmosophy. Taking the basic ideas of black metal, e.g. hammer drums and tremolo guitars, Blut Aus Nord add anything and everything they can to expand the experience. Industrial, gothic, noise, ambient soundscapes, even dark and thematic rock comes into the mix. While most other bands would lose control with so much happening, Blut Aus Nord allows an organic flow over the chaos. I love any band that chooses to work with textures and multiple layers of sound, especially when it expands already solid songwriting. Blut Aus Nord say that their music is a “Solitary experience” and I agree. You bring your own experiences to the dance with 777-Cosmosophy. The album allows you to integrate your own ideas into the musical landscape, which makes the rewards of listening very personal.
12. Better To Die On Your Feet Than Live On Your Knees
Label: Relapse Records
Liberteer’s Better To Die On Your Feet Than Live On Your Knees takes the sounds of bluegrass and folk, and combines them with grindcore and black metal. However Better To Die is not a standard album in that it isn’t a collection of songs nor is it a concept record. Better To Die is a single idea broken up into chapters. Each chapter is surprisingly good but not nearly as impactful as the completed story. The mastermind behind all this is Matthew Widener from Exhumed, County Medical Examiners and Cretin. Widener’s message is clear, he wants to tear down a system he can no longer abide. Better To Die is that statement, a thirty-three minute eulogy to armed revolution and social chaos.. Better To Die is surprising not just because it’s so involved but also that it’s catchy as hell. When was the last time you heard a grindcore album that had riffs you could really cling to? I even dig Widener’s voice. It’s a desperate mix of hatred and disillusionment.
Artist: Old Man Gloom
Label: Hydra Head Records
Some see Old Man Gloom as boring. They would be wrong. Old Man Gloom is the audio equivalent of Jackson Pollack, lots of colors and patterns working together to create art. There will be those who see only a mess and those who get it and see the greatness being laid out. At time slow and heavy, at others fully noisy and experimental and often creepy and haunting, NO is an album filled with mystery and surprise. It’s not an easy record to digest and it’s not for everybody, which is okay. Old Man Gloom proves extreme music is a vast landscape that is controlled simply by the imagination of the players. Some want their bands to color within the lines, which is fine. When that isn’t enough, when you need a band to push the parameters of extreme music and truly lumber into undiscovered country, you turn to a band like Old Man Gloom. NO is a testament to all of us who refuse to let the music we love become too simple and the genre to become to factory like in nature.
10. Alight In Ashes
Artist: Menace Ruine
Label: Hydra Head Records
If you were standing before the large black monolith in the film2001 A Space Odyssey, it might emit Menace Ruine’s Alight in Ashes. There is some thing so disturbing just below the surface. Like the monolith, it beckons for you to dig deeper into what the album really is. Alight In Ashes isn’t just black metal or noise or experimental, this is a true evolution of all three into a twisted sonic mutant. The power of Menace Ruine is two-fold. First, the music is a kaleidoscope of sound. Throbbing noise lays gently over abrasive guitars; at times simple electronic bleeps play against harsher tones of ambient soundscapes. What you ultimately get is something haunting, piercing and deeply emotional. Tying all of this together is Genevieve, who’s unforgettable voice comes in dark waves of shaking tremolo. The result of all these ingredients is one of the most alluring, complex and intoxicating albums of the experimental extreme genre.
Artist: Anaal Nathrakh
Label: Candlelight Records
Irrumator, the musical mastermind behind Anaal Nathrakh, unleashes his full experimental fury with Vanitas. The music isn’t restricted to just guitars and blast beats, though they are plentiful, it’s also sonic blips, feed back, electronic chirps and discharges of noise. Irrumator loves to screw with structure; he inserts quick time changes that catch you off guard. Right as you think you’ve settled into them, he’s onto something else. V.I.T.R.I.O.L. does vocally what his partner does musically; he experiments and decides what’s necessary for the song. The screams aren’t singular; V.I.T.R.I.O.L. uses different levels to express himself. Some are desperation, some rage, some hatred and some indifference. When he needs to make a point he’ll switch to the clean vocals, and that section suddenly transcends itself. Vanitas fell under the radar this year, mainly because it was released with little fanfare. Too bad, it’s one of the best the genre has offered in 2012.
Label: Nuclear Blast
When it comes to riff-mania. When it comes to etched grooves of such weight they could build a Flintstone house! When it comes to writing seventies inspired rock jams that demand to be heard while really high so the full breadth of the riffpocalypse can be heard, nobody steps up like Witchcraft. Magnus Pelander dropped guitar and decided to focus on his ridiculous voice. Seriously, every rock band ever should try to have vocals as killer Pelander. Standing behind him, creating rock waves that would make Phil Liynott, Wino and Tony Iommi jealous, is an entirely new band. Pelander may have dropped his old compadres, but the music didn’t suffer. If you love huge rock that grooves like a motherfucker being punched forward by staggeringly good vocals, then be sure to putLegend on your Christmas list.
Label: Pagan Flames Productions
Much like Liberteer, Kentucky’s Panopticon uses a savage blend of black metal, folk music and bluegrass to create and Americana sub-genre. Panopticon is also a one-man band. Mastermind A.Lundr plays all the instruments and spits all the screaming venom. The result is something that terrifies and touches the heart. The Americana stuff strikes a personal chord, even if you’re not into bluegrass or folk. You feel the mountains of Kentucky, the rural identity and you instantly understand why Lundr named this after his home state. At the same time the blasts of visceral and dynamic black metal stir our rage and anger towards the same places we’ve come to love. That dichotomy is what makes Kentucky so effective. Though both Liberteer and Panopticon come from the same creative place, I think the latter makes a more personal statement and uses his plethora of musical ideas just a bit more creatively.
06. Sorrow And Extinction
Label: Profound Lore Records
Sorrow And Extinctionis a lesson in how to craft slow, plodding but always unique and interesting songs. Doom metal can be, by its own design, incredibly boring. Pallbearer side step that problem by making sure that slow doesn’t mean repetition of down tuning. The music going on in Sorrow And Extinction is complex and layered, with multiple guitar sweeps happening beneath each major crunching riff. Instead of bashing you over the head, Pallbearer’s work flows over you like a dark ocean. The only light in the darkness is the dreamlike vocals, which come off like a distant wizard from a book featuring orcs and trolls. Sorrow And Extinction isn’t just heavy to be heavy, there’s a narrative going on here. Both the music and the vocals swell and back away to create dramatic tension. Not only is this a terrific album, it’s one that demands repeat listens to absorb everything happening within it.
05. Rotten Thing To Say
Artist: Burning Love
Label: Southern Lord
While 2009’s Songs For Burning Lovers gave us an unrefined look at how good Burning Love could be, nothing could have prepared us for Rotten Thing To Say. Frontman Chris Colohan (formerly of Cursed) and his intrepid band rip through thirty-four minutes of post-hardcore tinged death metal that never lets up. What allows Rotten Thing To Say to stand apart from other albums in the genre, besides the endless creativity per song, is the honesty. With every turn Burning Love buck trends and genre parameters. When other bands would slow it down, Burning Love speed up, when other bands might hit the blistering fast riffage, Burning Love dig deep into a groove. Nothing is what you expect from Rotten Thing To Say, except that it kicks massive ass.
04. De Vermis Mysteriis
Artist: High On Fire
Label: eOne Music
De Vermis Mysteriisis the culmination of everything High On Fire has done previously. This album offers up a really challenging brew of music that enlists the power, the crushing rhythms and huge riffs of High On Fire, then adds a clarity that hasn’t been there before. The package is part doom, part stonerrock and part Motorhead. De Vermis Mysteriis raises High On Fire’s level of songwriting to new heights. The band has never sounded so sure of themselves nor have they committed to their sound with such fury. This is no longer a band living in the shadow of Sleep. High On Fire have corroded that entire idea away with the opening note of De Vermis Mysteriis.
03. All We Love We Leave Behind
This Converge record was a happy fuck you for me. So many of the band’s purist fans flipped out when the first single, “Aimless Arrow”, dropped because vocalist Jacob Bannon was doing more singing than screaming. Then, All We Love We Leave Behind hit everybody in the chest like a freight train. Not only is this just as heavy and bullshit insane as Converge’s other albums, it’s one of the best they’ve ever done. Psychopathic drums drive guitar madness and the wailing of Jacob’s most pain-inflicted screams holds it all together. The speed and chaos of Converge often betray their complexity. It’s astounding the work that bassist Nate Newton and guitarist Kurt Ballou weave between each other. The sound here is so much bigger than what one bass and one guitar should be able to do.
02. Honor Found In Decay
Label: Neurot Recordings
Honor Found In Decayhas caused a lot of controversy for Neurosis. While critically the album has been met with unfettered excitement, some fans have been quick to call it boring. They’re wrong. Neurosis never make the same album twice and they’re crusade to push their own boundaries has always superseded their need to please any one group. Honor Found In Decay is truly brilliant, a mix of slow musical movements, hard and driving rhythms and then quiet, low sections. Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till bring their work on solo projects into Honor Found In Decay, which raises the personal statement of this album to a new level. Every Neurosis album is a statement, but with the injection of darker vocals and negative space within the song structures, Honor Found In Decay is more contemplative than past releases. Don’t get me wrong, the album is still heavy as balls and sludgy as deep swamp water, but now there’s a humanity to it that takes center stage. Instead of just screaming about their demons, Neurosis are questioning those demons and looking within their own fractured psyche to drive those demons out. That kind of honesty, mixed with this level of song writing, demands to be in the very top tier of 2012 releases.
01. ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Artist: Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Nothing could have prepared me for this album. Years of being a GS!BE fan was only a drop in the bucket to how my brain would react to this example of sonic perfection. There is no “best track” on ‘Allelujah!; there is only a singular audio movement featuring complex textures, emotional ranges and intellectual challenges. ‘Allelujah is a thousand strands of audio woven together in a lush and gorgeous tapestry of creativity and sound. I’ve always thought of GS!BE as modern era classical music, the type of stuff Amadeus would piece together if he lived in the modern age. Everything happening here has a purpose, each audio blip, all the feedback and electronic noise, none of it is wasted. Each movement on ‘Allelujah starts with the tiniest speck of sound, which begins to build upon itself. Layer after layer until the emotional crescendo hits with a manic euphoria. Few albums demand to be heard in one sitting the way ‘Allelujah does. Challenging, emotional, dramatic, tense and noisy, ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! uses everything that is in the human soul, both joy and turmoil, and translates it to sound. As I said at the end of my initial review of the album. Simply. Fucking. Staggering.
So that’s it, the best in extreme music for 2012. Some will agree, some will differ, and some will hate it just because it’s my opinion. Regardless, these are the albums I feel stepped outside the genre or at least played within that sandbox better than everybody else. 2012 was a banner year for extreme music. I can’t wait to see what 2013 brings.
And again, thanks so much for reading my work. It means the world to me.