Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Top 10 Overrated Metal Albums of 2012

This post, as is always the case on this blog, is just my opinion. As such, if you see an album you really love on this list, take solace in the fact that you may well have better taste than I do. With that being said, as I've perused end-of-year lists of the best metal albums, I've seen many of the same names repeated again and again. Pallbearer, Woods of Ypres, Cattle Decapitation, and plenty of other bands whose new material I myself rated high have done quite well. Naturally, I've also seen many albums I didn't pick make repeated appearances on other lists. In many cases, these are albums I didn't hear, or albums which I liked but which didn't quite make the cut in my mind. Some, however, I have heard and I simply don't understand what about them excites so much positive attention. I said "overrated" in the title to save space, but in this post what I'll really do is list the top albums that I've seen on numerous year-end lists, but which I don't think belong anywhere near the top of the heap this year. These albums are presented in no particular order.


Les voyages de l'âme -by- Alcest
This one seems to be all over the tops of lists. I thought it was fairly pretty, but it was also a little boring and fairly forgettable. I can see why somebody might find this record somewhat appealing, but I really can't believe anybody thinks this is even close to the best record released this year.

Yellow and Green -by- Baroness
To be fair, I've never really gotten into Baroness, and it's entirely possible that I'm just missing something when it comes to their music. It is therefore no surprise that I didn't care much about this album. Even many Baroness fans seem to have issues with it, though, so it seems bizarre to me how many people have latched onto this as one of the year's top releases.

Book Burner -by- Pig Destroyer
Compared to the towering Monolith of Inhumanity, Pig Destroyer's grind effort felt like a generic and fairly mediocre offering. Yet somehow it seems to get placed right beside the former in many estimations of the year's best grind material. Sure it was aggressive, but it wasn't very interesting. Basically, it was just an okay album that has received a ton of positive attention.

All We Love We Leave Behind -by- Converge
I don't like Converge. I've never liked Converge, and while I'm willing to keep an open mind, I kind of doubt I ever will like Converge. With each new release, I see critics and reviewers pile praise on this band, and this year was no exception. I still don't see the appeal, though, and their newest record did nothing to change that.

RIITIIR -by- Enslaved
This record was decent. I even toyed with the idea of putting it in a low spot on my own list, though in the end it was well short of making the cut. It was too slow and it was not terribly metal, but it was reasonably well composed. Enslaved seem to be immune to criticism for some reason, though, because while other bands would have been decried as sellouts for producing this, Enslaved have instead been credited by many reviewers with releasing one of 2012's best albums.

Autotheism -by- The Faceless
This was another album that was perfectly decent, but nothing more. I'd heard good things about this almost as soon as it was released, and I've now seen it appear high on many lists. It's just nothing special as far as I can see, though. I mean, it doesn't annoy me or anything, but I went with a Top 40 list and I never got close to including it. In fact, I could easily have gotten to 60 or 70 before giving this serious consideration.

Whitechapel -by- Whitechapel
Ugh. I've been sick of Whitechapel since about a month after they released their debut album. I know I have a lot of metalheads on my side on this one, but there are also plenty who seem perfectly willing to accept these guys as much more than simply a mediocre deathcore band. Their new record, just like their previous ones, is extreme only in its ability to be boring and generic. Somehow, it's found its way onto several year end lists, which I largely attribute to listeners who simply don't know any better.

De Vermis Mysteriis -by- High on Fire
This one kind of pains me to include, because I actually like High on Fire quite well and I really wanted to enjoy this album. When I heard it, though, it just fell flat in my estimation. Since I can't give any concrete reasons why this release was worse than their usual fare, I may easily be in the wrong on this one. Still, it's been all over the top albums lists, and I just don't think it was that good.

A Map of All our Failures -by- My Dying Bride
Probably the best album on this list, my problem here is with just how much hype this record has received. It's a good doom album, and I can understand including it somewhere low on the deeper lists. But in a year that gave us brilliant material by Evoken, Ahab, Pallbearer, and Dopethrone (to name a few of the best) I cringe every time I hear this called the best doom album of the year.

Tragic Idol -by- Paradise Lost
If I had to pick a single word to describe this album, it would be "forgettable". I actually had to rework this list because I had totally forgotten about the album in the time between deciding to write this post and sitting down to actually do it, so I forgot to include it. I also had to look up the title two or three times, because I kept forgetting what it was called. Plenty of people liked it and remembered it fondly enough to include it on their lists of the year's best, but it made absolutely zero impression on me.

SPECIAL NOTE:

Koi No Yokan -by- Deftones
I've seen this record on enough lists of top metal albums that I feel I need to address it. It's a pretty good rock album, but that's what it is: a rock album. It doesn't really belong with these other albums, so it's not a part of the list proper. I just wanted to point out that I don't like hearing it called a top metal album, that's all.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Top Metal Albums of 2012

Now that I've posted more detailed entries on all 40 of my selections, here is a quick list for easy reference of my entire Top 40. This will also likely be my last post of the year, so Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everybody. If you don't do Christmas, then Happy Whatever-You-Celebrate.

1. In Somniphobia -by- Sigh
2. Monolith of Inhumanity -by- Cattle Decapitation
3. Atra Mors -by- Evoken
4. Odalheim -by-Unleashed
5. Rastlos -by- Finsterforst

6. The Giant -by- Ahab
7. Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light -by- Woods of Ypres
8. Honor Found in Decay -by- Neurosis
9. Where the Corpses Sink Forever -by- Carach Angren
10. Sorrow and Extinction -by- Pallbearer

11. Sorathian Dawn -by- Sorathian Dawn
12. L'Enfant Sauvage -by- Gojira
13. III -by- Dopethrone
14. Sentenced to Life -by- Black Breath
15. The Burden of God -by- Nightmare

16. Deathwomb Catechesis -by- Pseudogod
17. Drought (EP) -by- Deathspell Omega
18. And So It Came to Pass -by- Dyscarnate
19. Time I -by- Wintersun
20. Thou Strong, Stern Death -by- Põhjast

21. Bury the Light -by- Pharaoh
22. Land of the Evening Star -by- Dark Forest
23. Eternvs Mos, Nex Ritvs -by- Thy Darkened Shade
24. Alpha Noir -by- Moonspell
25. Portal of I -by- Ne Obliviscarus 

26. Sedition -by- Hour of Penance
27. Caligvla -by- Ex Deo
28. The Hunt -by- Grand Magus
29. Of Breath and Bone -by- Be'lakor
30. Dark Roots of Earth -by- Testament

31. Omen -by- Ahnengrab
32. Dar de Duh -by- Dordeduh
33. Blood for the Master -by- Goatwhore
34. Vessels of Light and Decay -by- Indesinence
35. Creation of Earth -by- Tenochtitlan

36. Enter the Dagobah Core -by- Umbah
37. Torture -by- Cannibal Corpse
38. Koloss -by- Meshuggah
39. Aeons Black -by- Aeon
40. Incurso -by- Spawn of Possession

[Edit] Just for fun, and since I've been thinking about how close they got to being included in my end-of-year writing, I feel I should point out that one album is the clear #41. It barely got cut at the last minute, in a very tough call. The record was Curse  by Wodensthrone, and I think it deserves an honorable mention.

Top 40 Metal Albums of 2012 Part 4: 1-10

Here we are, the top 10. These are the albums that stood out above the rest in even this phenomenal year. It's impossible to have heard every good album that came out, because there is just too much material out there for one person to listen to it all, but I did a pretty good job of keeping up with new metal this year. Of the hundreds of new releases I checked out in whole or in part, these were (in my opinion) the absolute pinnacle. So without further ado, here we go.

The Top 10 Metal Albums of 2012

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10. Sorrow and Extinction -by- Pallbearer

This traditional doom record, the band's full-length debut, made quite a splash early this year. On my initial listen I enjoyed it, but that was it. Since then, it has continued to grow on me, establishing itself in my mind as one of the premiere doom releases of the year. The long, sluggish, well-structured slabs of sorrowful goodness are all very strong and all work together to put this record amongst the year's best.







9. Where the Corpses Sink Forever -by- Carach Angren

I've stated before that this album is a little on the melodramatic side, but it's unique and so brilliantly orchestrated that it is still the best black metal record to come out this year. A symphonic piece of black metal that pulls more stylistic influence from Wagnerian operas than classical symphonies, the songwriting and orchestration at work here are delicate and beautiful but they retain the requisite black metal darkness.






8. Honor Found in Decay -by- Neurosis

The brilliant and nebulously classifiable Californians released their first studio album in five years just a couple months ago, and yet again they produced a remarkable record. The tightness and complexity of their music, together with their sludge-based heaviness and hostility, keeps them at the top of the post-metal mountain.










7. Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light -by- Woods of Ypres

Admittedly, this is a somewhat sentimental pick for me. Woods of Ypres was one of my favorite bands, and David Gold's untimely death adds a cruel irony to his lyrics about death and mortality. A combination of factors made this release really hit me on an emotional level, and I can honestly say I cried the first time I played this album. The music is excellent, but this album is here for its ability to make that kind of genuine emotional impact.





6. The Giant -by- Ahab

These Germans were one of several funeral doom bands to release really strong albums this year. I've heard some complaints that this record is not as heavy and unrelentingly dark as its predecessors, and while that claim is true, I'm not convinced that it's actually a bad thing. I think the glimmers of light in the dark enhance the overall effect of the music. Ahab can be as slow and heavy as anybody, but by adding some points of contrast they augment that heaviness in a really appealing way. As blasphemous as it may be to say, I might like this even better than their dark and brilliant 2006 full-length debut The Call of the Wretched Sea.



5. Rastlos -by- Finsterforst

This was the best folk metal album of the year. I'd been looking forward to it for months, and when I finally heard it I was blown away. With a perfect balance between folky catchiness, epic fantasy drama, and excellently composed metal this album really has everything any folk metal fan could ask for. Germany has long been one of the premiere countries for folk metal, and this album secures Finsterforst a place amongst that nation's elite folk metal outfits.





 
4. Odalheim -by-Unleashed

Old school death metal has gone through a major resurgence in recent years, and several classic bands have returned with proof that they can crush most of the newcomers into dust. Standing out head and shoulders above the rest of this year's old school death releases is Unleashed with their magnum opus, Odalheim. This is not just brutally heavy, well written, and tightly performed. It's also stunningly cold sounding, with an inexplicable black metal feel to the clearly death metal material. Hedlund and company perform the material with an energetic ferocity one would expect from a much younger band, but with the expertise of masters. This is the best album Unleashed have ever released.




3. Atra Mors -by- Evoken

Evoken are probably the best funeral doom band in the world. This year, they further cemented their place at the top with Atra Mors, a flawless slab of gloomy, gorgeous, and monumentally heavy doom. It's absolutely everything a funeral doom record could ever wish to be, and I can't honestly think of anything about it that could be improved. In a normal year it would easily be the top album, but 2012 has just been absurdly good.






 2. Monolith of Inhumanity -by- Cattle Decapitation

I don't like Cattle Decapitation. Their militantly vegan message  is annoying, and their style has never been my favorite. That's what makes their placement this high on my own list so bizarre to me, but they've earned it. Monolith of Inhumanity  is a crushingly brutal deathgrind release. What sets it apart, though, is the inclusion of enough melody and restraint in all the right places. This side of their new approach highlights and enhances the intense highs to absolute perfection. The vocal acrobatics at work are some of the best and most interesting of the year, and the overall effect is just stunning.


1. In Somniphobia -by- Sigh

This is it, the best album of the best year in recent metal memory. And it comes from . . . Japan? Yes, the Japanese avant-garde masters released the most deliciously bizarre and wonderful record of 2012. Its massive array of musical instrumentation and creative song structures dazzle the mind. Despite incorporating elements of a half dozen or so metal sub-genres, together with wildly diverse vocals and every instrument from bongos to saxophone, the entire album is so coherent and airtight that it doesn't even seem possible for all these sounds to fit together so smoothly. This has been my top pick for the year's top album since March, and not once did anything else manage to budge it from that spot. It's a really great record.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Top 40 Metal Albums of 2012 Part 3: 11-20

The best of the albums that missed my Top 10, these are another set of excellent releases. Here's the third installment of the year's best metal records, numbers 11-20.

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20. Thou Strong, Stern Death -by- Põhjast

This full-length debut from Estonia/Germany is perhaps the most accurate recreation of Bathory's classic era black/Viking metal sound that I've ever heard. The record makes no attempt at ingenuity or originality, but it sounds so good that I really don't care.










19. Time I -by- Wintersun

One of the most anticipated metal releases in years, Time I  predictably elicited highly mixed reactions. For my part, I think it was a very good album with one massive standout track that was totally brilliant, but the remainder of the record didn't quite live up to the hype. It annoys me that many people have called this basically an EP, since it's 40 minutes long, but that's a total aside. Ultimately it was almost impossible for this record to meet the fantastically overblown expectations built up around it, but it was still beautifully executed.





18. And So It Came to Pass -by- Dyscarnate

This is carnal, balls-to-the-wall death metal that brings an unrelenting assault. It's got a bit of a modern flavor, and there are a few places where it veers close to deathcore, but it never quite crosses over into that territory. This British trio isn't terribly varied or creative in their approach. Rather, they basically just grab a hammer and bludgeon their listeners for the duration. The pure force of this album makes quite an impression.






17. Drought (EP) -by- Deathspell Omega

This is the only EP on this list. I hadn't intended to include EPs at all, but this was so good I couldn't help myself. The Frenchmen have established a name for themselves in recent years as possibly the best and most creative black metal band on the market today. This release, in that tradition, was brilliant and inventive and just stunningly impressive. If it had been a full-length release, it would probably be in my top 5 or 6 albums of the year.







16. The Burden of God -by- Nightmare

This was my favorite power metal album of the year. The French band has all the presicion and skill you'd expect, but they add in a good deal of grit and a lurking sense of darkness that is pretty rare in extreme metal's most flowery sub-genre. The vocalist kind of reminds me of Dio, which is a big selling point all by itself. Additionally, this record had one of my favorite tracks of the year, "Crimson Empire".








15. Deathwomb Catechesis -by- Pseudogod

A Russian blackened death metal band, Pseudogod finally released their first full album this year after several years of splits and demos. This thing sounds evil as all hell. It's big, loud, ugly, and sinister. It captures the feel of an occult death-doom group like Incantation, then it fuses that with the cold hatred of black metal.










14. Sentenced to Life -by- Black Breath

I've seen this death/thrash/crust release from Seattle at the top of more than one end-of-year list. It's an extremely tough, gritty, and hostile release. For those who love their metal mean and ugly, this is a great record. Rather than tying themselves down to any one style, they employ a hybrid with all the nastiest bits of each. It's a pretty effective formula, and it certainly left an impression.








13. III -by- Dopethrone

This is another one of those albums that makes no pretense of originality. Even the band's name makes it obvious who they're imitating. Basically add the hateful snarls of a sludge vocalist to Electric Wizard, and this is what you get. It may not be new, but it sounds incredible. I honestly enjoyed this more than just about anything else I heard this year, and to any fans of sludge or stoner doom I'd absolutely recommend getting this.






12. L'Enfant Sauvage -by- Gojira

When I first heard this, I was really surprised. Gojira have never been particular favorites of mine, but with the inclusion of a little early Gothenburg sound in their formula, they created an album that I really enjoyed. To be honest, it's fallen a bit as time has passed, since at one point I had this in my top 5 for the year. Even so, it's a very strong and very enjoyable album that should please fans and may win over some people like me who were on the fence.







11. Sorathian Dawn -by- Sorathian Dawn

This blackened death metal debut from Australia was a marvelous surprise. It's well written, well executed, and just varied enough to keep it interesting without ever really veering off course. In ways it reminds me of Dissection, just further on the death metal side of the spectrum by a bit. It really is an excellent album, and in most years it would be a definite top 10 entry.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Top 40 Metal Albums of 2012 Part 2: 21-30

Today I bring you the next 10 albums on my Top 40 list of the year's best metal. Like 2012 in general, there's a mix of different sub-genres that make solid showings here. It's also been interesting to watch my own opinions shift, as some of these records started out either much higher or much lower than where they are on this list today. Anyway, without further ado, here are the next 10.

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30. Dark Roots of Earth -by- Testament

Several long-standing thrash juggernauts released strong albums this year, and in my opinion Testament's effort was the strongest. Given that I think this was the best straight thrash metal album of the year, 30th may seem a bit low on the list. I'm honestly not a big thrash guy, though, and I think several other sub-genres produced better than thrash did this year. With all that being said, Dark Roots of the Earth  is a wonderfully executed and surprisingly beautiful album.






29. Of Breath and Bone -by- Be'lakor

Australian melodic death metal isn't exactly the biggest scene in the metal world, but it produced one extremely well-executed and enjoyable album this year. Be'lakor's third release goes a long way toward establishing them as one of the better active names in the melodeath sphere. This album didn't leave the biggest impression, but it was very easy to digest and enjoy.









28. The Hunt -by- Grand Magus

Supremely catchy traditional heavy metal is Grand Magus's forte. With The Hunt, they added yet another strong entry into their catalog. I've listened to this album more than most of the other records on this list, since it's mellow enough to play anywhere but it's good enough to play even when there's nobody around to object to heavier music. Plus, many of the tracks are highly infectious, including one of my top songs of the year "Sword of the Ocean".







27. Caligvla -by- Ex Deo

Roman-themed death metal from what amounts to Kataklysm in costume, Caligvla  taps into some themes and sounds rarely touched by death metal. The absurdly catchy title track is one of my favorite songs of the year, and the unusual atmospherics keep the entire album interesting and enjoyable.










26. Sedition -by- Hour of Penance

Hour of Penance, a brutal tech-death outfit from Italy, have released a string of very strong records over the past decade. Sedition  is the latest in that series of successes. With all the intensity and precision you would hope for from an album in this style, this release also features a rare amount of melody and cohesion. All in all, this gives you all the things you'd want from a brutal technical death metal album.








25. Portal of I -by- Ne Obliviscaris

The full-length debut from these Australian extreme progressive metallers has received a fair amount of hype in the metal world. Beautifully crafted and epic in scope, I'd say it almost lives up to the publicity. This is clearly an ambitious record, and I love to see a band shooting high, even if they fall just a tad short of their goal. It's an excellent album that's worth the time of anybody out there who is interested in hearing the debut from the next Opeth.








24. Alpha Noir -by- Moonspell

Hailing from Portugal, Moonspell are one of the relatively few Gothic metal bands that release material I personally find interesting. Alpha Noir  is a very engaging album with many catchy tracks and a generally very digestible sound. I can't quite put my finger on what exactly I like so well about this album, but I've come back to it repeatedly over the past several months and I always enjoy it.








23. Eternvs Mos, Nex Ritvs -by- Thy Darkened Shade

One of the best black metal releases of the year was the debut album from these Greeks. It's just rough and primitive enough to appeal to the kvlt crowd, but it's well written, well balanced, and well executed enough to make it appealing to anybody who likes good black metal. For a while, I considered this the best black metal album of the year, and given that it's a debut, I look forward to seeing this band's future production.






22. Land of the Evening Star -by- Dark Forest

A Canadian release that falls into that nebulous pagan metal/epic black metal vein, this is the second release by the David Parks solo project. This album really falls into my wheelhouse, with a sweeping epic aesthetic that conjures images of the vast northern wilderness. I was looking forward to this for months before I finally heard it, and it was everything I'd hoped it would be.








21. Bury the Light -by- Pharaoh

One of the best power metal releases of the year came from the Philly-based group Pharaoh. This is highly technical and polished, but it manages to avoid sounding weak or frilly like many power metal albums do. The guitar work is especially strong, but really it's a well-rounded release with no notable flaws and with plenty to enjoy for anybody who thinks power metal would be good if it didn't sound so girly.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Top 40 Metal Albums of 2012 Part 1: 31-40

As I've previously stated, 2012 has been a monumental year for metal, and I listened to far more new material this year than I usually do. This is the first day of my Top 40 list, all of which are good enough to have had a shot at making my Top 10 list from last year. Today I present albums 31-40.

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40. Incurso -by- Spawn of Possession

This Swedish tech-death crew released an excellent slab of brutality this year. Incurso  shows some subtlety and variety in just the right places, but it never wanders too far off its crushing death metal course.












39. Aeons Black -by- Aeon

Another Swedish death metal release, Aeons Black  came out less than a month ago. Aggressively anti-religious, the style here is just straight up, no frills death metal. It's not the most unique or inventive release, but it's meaty and heavy and just very good all around.












38. Koloss -by- Meshuggah

I'm typically not a big fan of Meshuggah. Their dis-harmonic, alien sound has just never appealed to me. With Koloss, the band took on a more organic sound that I found far more listenable. Many Meshuggah fans seems to have reacted negatively to this change, but personally I found this record easier to enjoy than any of their previous material. 










37. Torture -by- Cannibal Corpse

As they have matured, Cannibal Corpse have grown increasingly technical and precise. I find the band's more recent output to be generally better than their crudely performed early albums, and Torture  continued that trend. In that way, this was one of many very strong releases from veteran death metal acts over these past couple of years.










36. Enter the Dagobah Core -by- Umbah

When I first heard this bizarre avant-garde electonic/industrial metal record, I really didn't know what to think about it. To be honest, I'm still not totally sure. What I do know is that it left a very big impression. I keep coming back to it and enjoying it long after I've forgotten most of the albums I initially heard at around the same time.










35. Creation of Earth -by- Tenochtitlan

A Russian tribal metal band, Tenochtitlan's newest album is probably the band's strongest release to date. The blend of uniquely Russian flavor (which is generally quite different than the feel of other European groups) with traditional instrumentation from the old Native American empires and electronic programming to fill in the gaps creates an unusual and very appealing sound.









34. Vessels of Light and Decay -by- Indesinence

A British death-doom release, this is one of those records that isn't terribly unique but is very good. It's just well performed, powerful, and generally quite enjoyable. Basically, if you like doomy death metal, there's no reason you wouldn't like this.











33. Blood for the Master -by- Goatwhore

Goatwhore have become one of the more consistently strong bands in extreme metal over the past decade. Their brand of blackened death metal brings tons of hostility and aggression to the music without a feeling of being tied too tightly to any one sub-genre. This may well be their best album to date.









32. Dar de Duh -by- Dordeduh

I only recently heard this while reviewing it for Full Metal Attorney. This is a folky atmospheric black metal release from Romania. It's easy for this type of music to get lost in its wanderings and turn into a bunch of dull pattering, but this stays on track well enough to keep listener interest. It's beautifully crafted and should be very appealing to anybody who likes subtle delicacy in their metal.









31. Omen -by- Ahnengrab

A powerful pagan metal release, this was for a time the best that general sphere had to offer this year. It's got a lot of grit and force behind it, but it's also incredibly catchy. I'm still a little torn as to whether "pagan metal" is really the right label for this, but I don't want to dive into that right now.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Top 10 Metal Songs of 2012

It's the time of the year that we all start churning out our lists of the best [insert thing you like here] this year has produced. I've got my big year-end album list together, and I've decided to spread it out a little this time around. Last year I hadn't been on the ball enough to really put together anything beyond a top 10, and even that was a little wobbly. Well not only have I kept up with new material much better this year (I listened to around 250 new metal albums this year, and I sampled tracks from many more) but 2012 has also been a colossal year for metal output. It must be all the apocalyptic energy in the air, because the metal world has positively exploded with brilliant output over the past 12 months. In my opinion, this year has produced more great metal than any other year of the new millennium thus far.

While I was compiling my top albums, I found that the natural place to stop seemed to be around 40, so this year I have a top 40 list. I'll post it in 4 segments of 10 with short write-ups about each record, and I'll start that tomorrow. At the end I'll give a quickly collected summary with just the titles and band names for convenience.

Before I dive into that, though, I'll open the listing times with this collection of my top 10 metal songs of the year. These, unlike the albums list, are not in any particular order.

Here we go:

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Grave Desecrator

I make a habit of only reviewing new releases, but since I recently received a promo copy of Insult  by Grave Desecrator, I figured I'd at least talk briefly about it. These Brazilians have evidently been together since 1998, though it was not until ten years later that they released a full-length album. Insult, from 2010, is the second and most recent full-length.

The band plays an ever-so-slightly-blackened style of death metal that sounds very '80s, largely due to the thrashy remnants lingering in several tracks. Having heard all that, and keeping in mind their nation of origin, it will come as no surprise when I say that this album reminds me of old Sepultura. I'm still not totally sure if this sounds like a natural continuation and extension of their better known countrymen, or if it's just a knock-off. Since it's all well executed and it sounds pretty good, I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt here and just say that they really draw a lot of influence from Sepultura and chose to create a kind of hypothetical alternative path for their compatriots' later career.

In short, if you liked Arise, it might be worth your time to give this a whirl.


Monday, December 17, 2012

XII Boar - Split Tongue, Cloven Hoof

XII Boar are a British sludge band who recently sent me their newest EP, Split Tongue, Cloven Hoof.

The band adopts a groove-laden approach to their music, with really catchy riffs and guitars solos that sound like they come from a classic rock album. The gruff, punkish vocals took a minute for me to get used to, but I think they work with the rest of music. Fusing these elements together into a sludge record gives this a pretty unique sound. In general, I'd say it's like what would happen if a modern sludge band had been recording back in 1975. It doesn't really sound like any particular band I can bring to mind, and that's always something I appreciate.

The downside of this is that the retro feel does cost this album some in the hostility department. It's not as ugly and hateful as many of its brothers and sisters, which causes it to make a less powerful impression. Still, it's infectiously catchy, and it's quite enjoyable if you're not looking for anything too intense.

Grade: B


Friday, December 14, 2012

FMA Review and Driving

My newest guest review on Full Metal Attorney went up here a couple days ago. Right now I'm getting ready to leave for my parents' house for Christmas break. Hopefully I'll be ready to get back to regular posting this weekend.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Soon...

I still have a few reviews to write for FMA, and I'd like to talk about a few bands who have sent me material in this past week or so. That said, it's finals week. On top of that, I've been dealing with a series of meetings and vital paperwork. My old computer also finally gave out, so I just bought a new laptop yesterday. I guess what I'm getting at is that I've been a little distracted lately.

Anyway, in the next day or two things should settle back down a bit. I'll get those reviews up, and then I'll be about ready to get the ball rolling on my end-of-year lists. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

My Top Five Bands Right Now

Metallattorney just published a post of his current top five favorite bands. We all have our established long-time favorites, but at a given time, the bands that are really doing it for us may not be those exact same ones. Well, I really liked the idea of that post, so I'm going to totally rip him off and do the same thing.

As of today, these are the top five bands I'm listening to and loving the most.

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#5. Grand Magus
When I've felt in the mood for something just straight-forward, old-fashioned, and catchy as hell I've found myself turning to Grand Magus an awful lot recently. It helps that their newest album was strong and enjoyable. I'm actually listening to this song right now.




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#4. Unleashed
I was absolutely blown away when I heard the new Unleashed record, and that got me going back through their older material. They've been incredibly consistent for a couple decades, and they've got their own flavor that doesn't seem quite the same as any of the other big Swedish death metal acts. 



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#3. Amon Amarth
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I am ALWAYS in the mood for Amon Amarth. In terms of their ability to instantly appeal to me at any time, regardless of my what else I may be listening to or feeling or thinking about, it would not be out of line to say that Amon Amarth are my number one go-to band.


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#2. Septicflesh
Unfortunately I didn't hear The Great Mass  when it came out last year. I've been making up for it, though, with repeated listenings over the past few months. It really just has a grand sense of drama that augments the harshness extremely well, and I'm absolutely loving it recently.


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#1. Melechesh
The Middle Eastern monsters are my top band at the moment. They've got fantastic material, and since Nile have grown kind of stale in recent years, Melechesh have basically taken over their spot. More than that, they've easily surpassed any level of interest I've ever had in Nile, with their flawless blend of black metal, death metal, and regionally appropriate folk music. Right now, I'm really buying what they're selling.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

South Park Ranked by Season

I have watched every episode of South Park. I've seen most of them many times. I am, and have been for some time, a massive South Park fanboy. As I was looking over the DVDs and deciding which one to pop in the player, I began reflecting on how much more frequently I watch some of them than the others. And because I like lists, this naturally prompted me to start trying to rank the seasons from best to worst. So here's the result. I have ranked all 16 seasons of the show in order, starting at the bottom and working my way to the top. Along with my rankings and comments about each season, I've included my pick for the best and worst episode each season has to offer, as well as a selection of other strong episodes worth highlighting but which I didn't have the time or space to write about individually.

Southern Badass - Born in Mud

I recently received an email from Arno Bechet of the band Southern Badass. A French project, Southern Badass makes southern stoner metal. In June they (or just he, as I understand it to be a solo act) released Born in Mud,  which can be found on their bandcamp here.

Arno claims that his goal with this music is to pay tribute to groups like Down and Corrosion of Conformity, and that comes through in the material. It's definitely in that vein, though perhaps just a touch more on the rock (rather than purely metal) end of the spectrum than those bands. The riffs have that good meaty southern flair to them, and the music is catchy and enjoyable. Something about southern metal just always sounds like the bands playing it are having a good time, and this is no exception in that regard. It's a quality that I find generally enhances the overall listening experience.

The vocals, for me, are the one downside of this record. They're largely delivered in a somewhat peculiar clean style that will probably appeal to some people due to their weirdly idiosyncratic nature, but I personally found them somewhat off-putting. That said, they do stand out, so the band avoids sounding like a clone.

On the whole, this was pretty entertaining. It pays fitting tribute to its predecessors, but it has enough individuality to separate itself from them. I'm not a fan of the vocals, but I have a feeling they fall into that Lee Dorrian variety of love-or-hate styles, so other listeners may enjoy them.

Grade: B-


Monday, December 3, 2012

VBMC: Still Vegan and Still Metal

A while back, I wrote a short post mentioning the YouTube channel Vegan Black Metal Chef. I'm going to bring it back up again today for three reasons.

First, when I initially encountered the channel I really didn't really know how long it would stick around on YouTube. The channel was only about a month old when I wrote up that first article, and I figured there was a good chance it would just disappear after a little while. Other novelty cooking shows were springing up on there at the time, so it seemed natural for some smaller ones to emerge and just fade away after failing to capture much of an audience. So I'm bringing it up simply because I'm glad to see it has survived. The videos have been extremely infrequent, with today's upload being only the second in the past six months, but the channel is still alive.

Second, because they just produced a new video and I just watched it, it is on my mind at the moment. Not only that, but it has made me hungry. I think I'll go make something to eat when I'm finished posting this.

Finally, the real reason I'm so drawn to that channel is that while the music is presumably just a novel vehicle for giving cooking instructions, it is actually surprisingly good. Over the past year and a half, the sound has been polished and improved to the extent that I'd honestly rather listen to the newest VBMC video than over half of the "real" black metal songs I've heard this year. I really enjoy and appreciate that element of the videos, and it makes me want to share them.

So anyway, here's the new Vegan Black Metal Chef video.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pseudogod - Deathwomb Catechesis

Pseudogod are a Russian blackened death metal band. They've evidently been around since 2004, and they have produced a scattering of demos and splits over the past few years. It was not until this past April, however, that they released a full-length album, entitled Deathwomb Catechesis.

While the music on this record is not even remotely like sludge, for some reason the word that comes to mind when trying to describe this is "sludgy". I think it's the murky production. Combined with the deep, guttural, and abnormally pervasive vocals, there just seems to be this expanse of sticky, swampy, gloomy, sludgy noise running throughout the whole record. The instrumentation either juts out from this muck like a dead branch grasping desperately out of thick bed of mud, or it swirls over top of it like a ghostly, concealing mist. Either way, this oozing expanse of stink and rot and decay lies at the foundation, the underlying evil from which the lumbering beast emerges to assault our ears and minds.

This is a strange record for me to talk about, for some reason. When I attempt to pull it apart and figure out what is making it tick, I just seem to run up against a wall. Instead, I'm just left with a general impression of this monolithic mass of darkness rising up out of a dead swamp. The riffing and drumming are both solid but sluggish. Their real quality, though, is the sense of foreboding and evil they carry with them. It's hard to place the origin of this feeling, yet it's by far the most distinct aspect of the overall sound.

Deathwomb Catechesis is a really strong record. I'm frustrated by my inability to give any valuable analysis of the music, but what I know for a fact is that it left a bigger impact than many of the death metal releases I've heard this year.

Grade: A-


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Metal in the Family

The other day, one of my brothers finished recording a metal song. He was aiming for something along the lines of an atmospheric black metal track with death metal vocals. Personally I enjoy it, but admittedly I'm fairly biased.

In any case, I thought I'd share it here and see if anybody had any opinions or criticisms they'd like to voice.



Please Note: Just because it's by my brother doesn't mean I'm going to cry or get butthurt if you don't like it.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Varg Review

Yesterday my review of the new Varg album went up on Full Metal Attorney. You can read it here.

Please note this is a German band called Varg. It is not the Norwegian musician.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

National Beard and Moustache Championship 2012

On the 11th of November, Las Vegas played host to the Third Annual National Beard and Moustache Championships. I keep hoping to go to one of these, but so far I've never been able to make it. The first was held in Bend, Oregon, where an old college roommate of mine lives. I'd thought it might be a good opportunity to go visit, but I didn't have the time or money. Then last year it was held in neighboring PA, though it was on the other end of the state. I figured I could drive out to it, but I didn't have the time or money. Then this year was in Las Vegas. I lived around there for years, and I'm sure I could have stayed with friends if only I could have gotten out there, but I didn't have the time or money. I'm sure by now you've detected a bit of a pattern. I've got no idea where the next one is going to be held, but I'm pretty sure about two things: I'll want to go, and I probably won't have the time or money.

In any case, for those interested, the results of the competition are posted here on Beard Team USA's website.

Incantation - Vanquish in Vengeance

Incantation, possibly my favorite old-school death metal band, is based out of Pennsylvania. They made their name as part of the New York death metal scene, alongside the likes of Suffocation and Immolation. This week, the masters returned with their first full-length release in six years, Vanquish in Vengeance.

In many respects, this is the same Incantation we've grown to know and love over these past two decades. The riffs are still crushingly heavy, the vocals roar their way through the tracks, and the band collectively produce an ugly beast of a record. At this point, it would be moot to point out that I've always preferred the days when Craig Pillard was on vocals, because he's been gone for so long that it's no longer a relevant issue when discussing the band.

What's new here is the cleaner, sharper production. Some people have embraced this move into the modern world, but I have to admit I'm not totally sold on it myself. The murky, muddy, oppressive sound Incantation always maintained was a big selling point in my mind, and on this release that is largely absent. I'm not one to let production ruin a record for me unless the violation is really extreme, so I'm willing to accept this new turn, but that doesn't mean I'm thrilled about it.

Strangely, this review looks kind of negative so far. It shouldn't, though, but I actually did like this record. Incantation are fantastic practitioners of their art, and they bring the pain on this record. It's dark, heavy, and powerful. I guess the reason I'm dwelling on the negative is that it's not their darkest, heaviest, or most powerful. Over the past couple of years, several old names in the death game have really stepped up and released some monumental slabs of punishment. Sadly, that is not really the case here.While this record gives no signs that the band is slowing down, it doesn't really step up and impress, either.

Grade: B
It's good. Incantation are always good. But it's nothing particularly special.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Over the Thanksgiving break I collected up and took home our old Super Nintendo. I now have a big TV in my bedroom, and I've begun going back through the greatest video game ever made, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

It's amazing to me that in all the years I've been playing video games, I've still never encountered one that I thought was better than this one. It may well be a bias on my part; after all, this was the first video game we ever owned. At the time, there was something truly magical and mysterious and foreign about the world of video games, so this maiden voyage probably made a disproportionate impact. With that being said, I can still sit down today and enjoy every minute of replaying this classic.

The LoZ franchise has always been strong. For many people, the original NES Zelda game is still a high-water mark in early home gaming. Later on, when 3-dimensional game design started to take off with the N-64 and the Playstation, the Zelda game Ocarina of Time rose to the forefront as one of the most loved and highly-regarded games of all time. In between those, though, the Super Nintendo dominated the world of home gaming. And along with a handful of other ultra cool classics, A Link to the Past solidified one of the definitive gaming franchises.

There are other games that I really love playing. There are more challenging games, better looking games, and more exotic games. But when it comes right down to playing something that combines all that is best about video games, for me this is it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Snow Time

It's that time of year again. We just had our first snow of the coming winter. I'm at my parents' house for the rest of the weekend, and I do not have access to my computer files, so no reviews until Monday at the earliest. I can, however, present you with these two things: a documentary about Nocturno Culto of Darkthrone fame, and a cartoon about a cat and a bird in the snow.




Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

May your turkey be a totally metal one.


Bloodbeast Review

My review of the new Bloodbeast album is up on Full Metal Attorney here.

Black Metal Documentaries: Black Metal Satanica

This documentary has interviews with many current black metal acts, often reflecting on how they were influenced by the genre's progenitors and what course they believe the music is taking as their own careers develop. It also looks at the history and culture of Scandinavia, and it reflects on how that cultural backdrop informed the major black metal movements in the region.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Black Metal Documentaries: Once Upon a Time in Norway

Yet another documentary centering on the Norwegian branch of black metal. This one runs just under an hour, and it provides yet another interesting piece of viewing for anybody intrigued by the most notorious movement in metal history. 


Leshak - Пустосвят

Leshak (Лешак in Russian) are a Moscow-based folk metal band. This year they released their second full-length album, entitled Пустосвят, through Sound Age Productions (which is a good label for a wide range of eastern European metal).

Leshak play that brand of upbeat, energetic folk that just makes you want to get up an dance on an oaken table in a warm, smoky tavern while the wind howls and the snow piles up outside. Supposedly their lyrics are rooted in the local culture and myths, but I can't understand a word of it. That's okay, though, because it's fun to listen to. This is unapologetically hammy folk metal at its best. Accordion and flute prance through the middle of bouncy guitar riffs with death metal vocals barking in accompaniment. The drumming does its job of herding the music along at a brisk gait, giving way for periodic passages of pure folk where the accordion and flute totally take over and the vocals shift to the guttural slurring of gruff spoken segments.

The criticisms for this record are basically the same ones that could be leveled at any comparable folk metal output: it's cheesy, it's been done by many others already, and it doesn't bring anything deep or serious to the table. If you are inclined to take your metal very seriously, this may not be the record for you. The Russian lyrics and traditional songs do add a bit of flavor that falls outside the norm, since most material in this vein derives from Scandinavia, and the vocals are harsher than those of many folk metal bands. Otherwise, it's pretty similar to the other purely fun-and-games folk metal on the market.

Grade: B+
Instead of progressive musicianship or introspective philosophy, it sends you a buxom tavern wench with a flagon of mead and a plate of dripping giblets. If that's what you're looking for, have a seat an enjoy.


Black Metal Documentaries: Until The Light Takes Us

I've mentioned this documentary before, since I personally really enjoy it. This one exclusively focuses on the second wave of black metal that emerged from Norway, but I think it does a good job of exploring the thoughts and ideas that motivated several of the key figures in that movement. It looks at the music, but what it really examines are the social movement and the individual personalities involved. I personally find it fascinating, and I recently discovered that the whole thing is available in a single video on YouTube.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Recent Listening: Pilgrim, Spawn of Possession, Elysian Blaze

Three more albums I've listened to recently, and all of these were definitely worth my time.

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Pilgrim, a young doom band from Rhode Island, released their full-length debut back in January. I've heard that record, Misery Wizard,  compared to Sorrow and Extinction  by Pallbearer. Stylistically, it's true that they're pretty similar. I personally think the Pallbearer record was stronger, but there's no particular reason why anybody who liked that wouldn't like this too.

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Spawn of Possession, a Swedish technical death metal band, released their third album Incurso  in March. The record has garnered a considerable amount of positive attention, and it's easy to see why. The band accents their interesting and creative musical constructions with other elements that would normally seem quite out of place on a record like this. For example, the pipe organ on this track. Really, this may be the strongest new tech death release I've heard this year.

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Elysian Blaze, and Australian funeral doom act, also released their third album this year. Blood Geometry came out in June, and it is yet another strong addition in a year that has been very good for it's sub-genre. The blackened approach taken by Mutatiis, the band's sole member, serves to differentiate this somewhat from other funeral doom that has made a splash this year. The music is very atmospheric and kind of gothic feeling, with cavernous production and extensive keyboard/organ work setting the stage for the doom and gloom. At first I wasn't too crazy about this, but it has definitely grown on me.


Black Metal Documentaries: One Man Metal

A friend shared this with me on Facebook, and I thought it was kind of interesting. It's got faults, to be sure, with some debatable claims and some slight inaccuracies. And personally, I find the pretentiousness level of certain individuals portrayed to be nearly off the charts. Still, for those interested in the world of modern black metal solo projects, this documentary is worth watching. It's divided into three parts, which I'll post below in order.


Recent Listening: Blood Feud, Cauldron, Horrizon

Three of the albums I've been listening to recently that are good enough to provide entertainment, but which don't really inspire me to sit down and write a full review. I'm toying with making this a regular feature, since it seems that most of the records I've listened to recently have elicited this basic response.

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Blood Feud are an Icelandic band who play a brand of death-infused thrash metal. They've been around for a few years, but it was not until this summer that they released their first full-length album, Hiding Behind the Light.  The music is relatively straight-forward, and I'm not totally sure how I feel about the vocals. But the songs are solidly constructed, and the album provides a fairly enjoyable listening experience.

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Cauldron are a traditional heavy metal outfit based out of Toronto. Last month they released their third full-length, Tomorrow's Lost.  It's relatively mild as modern metal goes, with clean vocals and a sound rooted in the 1970s. Not the strongest example on the market of a new band taking this older approach, but it's a moderately entertaining record.

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Horrizon, a melodic death metal band from Germany, released their debut Time For Revenge  back in April. It's one of those records that I like the most during its mellower moments, since I think they do the soft, beautiful passages much better than they do the intense metal end of things. Part of that is the strange and slightly off-putting vocals, but part of it is that those soft intros and interludes just sound really good.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Korpiklaani - Manala

Korpiklaani are one of the most popular folk metal bands in the world. The Finns, who have maintained an extremely high rate of output since their inception in 2003, released their eighth full-length album a few months ago, entitled Manala.

Over the past several years, Korpiklaani have become one of the prime punching bags for metal purists who want to single out a folk metal band to attack. Their popularity, clean production, bouncy rhythms, redundant output, and booze-obsessed lyrics have all fed into the general image of them as the bubblegum pop princes of folk metal. The band has never pretended like they were trying to be serious or intellectual, so personally I enjoy them for the light-hearted good times that they offer, but for many metal fans they represent all that is wrong with the metal world today.

Because of all this, I was quite surprised by this newest record. In contrast to the enjoyable but empty calories that most of their previous work has offered, this album actually has some meat on its bones. Don't get me wrong, this is still jubilant, polka-infused folk metal ideal for drunkenly dancing to in a pub somewhere, but there's a hard edge to it that has been lacking on every record after their debut. The guitars have a crunchier tone, and there are actual metal riffs present on several songs instead of just folk riffs played on an electric guitar. The drumming is a little sharper, the bass factors into several tracks, and the accordion/violin duo aren't quite as dominant in the mix as they have been on other releases. The vocals feel like they have a little more force behind them than usual. Stylistically they haven't changed much, but they just come across as being a little gutsier and more assertive.

Ultimately, there are three big factors worth noting about this album. One is that the songwriting feels like it has begun to shift toward a more metal sensibility. Folk melodies still dominate the record, but there are traces of riffs and progressions that were clearly not pulled from their traditional folk playbook. Another factor is the production, which for the first time in years actually sounds like production that belongs on a metal record. It's still clean and clear, but there's a trace of dirt in there and it makes a noticeable difference. Finally, and by far most importantly, when I heard it I did not think to myself "this sounds just like the last one did". Over their past several releases Korpiklaani have fallen into a major rut, simply producing the same record again and again every year or two with nothing but with a new title. This sounded different, though. I mean, it still sounded very much like Korpiklaani. It was by no means a reinvention or anything, but it was an audible change from its immediate predecessors.

Manala, in my opinion, is an extremely important release for the health of this band. For the first time in several years, it feels like there's some life and vitality back in their music. Hearing this got me excited to see what Korpiklaani will put out next, and that's not something I expected to feel when I sat down to give this thing a spin.

Grade: B+
The best Korpiklaani album in years, this is a strong folk metal record for those who just want to have a good time. But be warned: it's still relatively shallow and goofy.


I'd just like to note that this is my 400th post on this blog. I really didn't know when I started it if I was going to stick with it for long, so it's kind of cool to get to any kind of productivity milestone like that. This comes just a couple days after I officially got my 15,000th hit, so I'm glad that my time on here has been noticed by at least a few people. I realize that other metal bloggers have produced far more content and have received far more views, but I'm happy with the feeling that I've made some kind of dent in my little corner of the metal blogosphere. Many thanks to Metallattorney and Full Metal Attorney for linking to me from their own blogs, for the shout-outs and featured reviews, for all the comments, and for making me decide to start writing about metal in the first place.

Deathspell Omega - Drought

Deathspell Omega, the French avant-garde black metal giants, have released two of the most highly regarded extreme metal albums of the past five years. This summer they put out their newest EP, Drought.

This EP carries the same intoxicating blend of creativity and ferocity that Deathspell Omega have become known for. This is not so much on the black metal end of the band's sound, though it's still terrifically intense and aggressive. There is a lot going on here, with odd beats and dissonant guitar progressions keeping the listener slightly off-balance as the band surges forward with a non-stop assault. The production perfectly captures the required blend of clarity and grit, allowing the performances to shine through.

I have no idea who handles the drumming duties for the band these days, but whoever it is does an admirable job on this record. They blast away with tons of energy when it's needed, and they just as easily slide over into lighter, jazzy beats when those are called for instead. The guitar work is scintillating. It's fast and sharp with strange progressions and an array of shifting, swirling riffs. The bass doesn't take center stage too often, but it crops up and plays an appropriate role in fleshing out the sound and adding some depth to the dynamic instrumental interplay on display. There are also some synths or keyboards in the background, though those only take on a noticeable role in a few brief passages near the end. The unrelentingly intense vocals are really noteworthy too, since they have more character than most extreme metal vocals, and they lack nothing in terms of power and impact.

Fans of the band have come to expect the best from these guys. Though it's not a full-length record, this does not disappoint. I'd say it's the one EP that has a good shot at making my end-of-year top albums list.

Grade: A
If you like Deathspell Omega's other recent albums, or just experimental and interesting black metal in general, you'll like this.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

GSL Follow-Up

Just a quick note on my GSL 5 prediction from a few days ago. I was right on 4 out of 8. Not great, since I basically could have done as well by just tossing a coin. Additionally, my top 2 picks to win the tournament both got knocked out, so only MarineKing remains from my selection of front-runners. The other players I guessed correctly were Ryung, HyuN, and Leenock.