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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.