So here goes with my year end list. I'm starting with #20 and working my way to #1, you know, for the rising suspense. If an artist released two albums of a similar style and gait and I really liked both, I condensed them into one slot.
Years Past Matter" [Self-Released/Gilead Media]
Krallice is the ultimate black metal experience for eggheads like myself. While still maintaining a muscular, hyperblack physique, it's what goes on underneath which has made this "supergroup" of sorts one of my absolute favorite US bands. Constantly changing pulses, Hindemith-obsessed tonality, and a great communal ear for powerful arrangements, this transformation of the modern classical style, which is largely unknown and unresearched in black metal, to a familiar texture is really something to behold. They definitely made a gutsy move when Marston, Barr, McMaster, and Weinstein collectively decided to self-release the CD edition, and maybe it's a sign that you don't always need a label, though the excellent 2LP, handled by the ever great Gilead Media, sure helps the other side of that argument
Anatomy of Habit EP" [Self-Released]
This collective of Chicago misfits has done it once again. The band's second release, this (currently) vinyl-only, self-titled EP offers up two more slabs of Anatomy of Habit's signature heavy, introspective post-punk/superdoom hybrid. I have to admit, I wasn't totally sure about this one at first, seeing as this particular EP utilizes a lot more "studio magic" (read as: overdubbed vocals, extra instruments) than their previous full-length, which sounded much more like their extremely oppressive live shows, but I finally came to my senses. "After the Water" and "The Decade Plan" are definitely live favorites, so it's nice to hear them fleshed out to their full potential. Sadly, various circumstances resulted in the band parting ways with drummer Dylan Posa and Greg Ratajczak, so who knows what the future spells for Anatomy of Habit? I'm definitely interested in hearing how next month's studio session (with session musicians, no less) turns out, and will be picking up the soon-to-be-released CD edition of both the LP and EP.
Wreathes" [Brave Mysteries/Pesanta Urfolk]
An excellent, excellent neofolk album. An offshoot of Kinit Her, musicians Troy Schafer and Nathaniel Ritter formed Wreathes as a sort of "songwriting-based" counterpart to their main project, and this concerted effort towards songwriting resulted in some of the strongest neofolk this side of the Atlantic. Schafer's seemingly infinite layers of guitars, violins, and bass intermingle so perfectly with Ritter's loops, synthesized sounds, and advanced keyboard work. I've recently joined Wreathes as a live member, so I guess there's a sort of "conflict of interests" going on here...but I guess that's a sort of testament to how much I enjoyed the music, right? Right? Exactly. Get this one on CD from Brave Mysteries or gatefold LP from Pesanta Urfolk.
The World Is A House On Fire" [Type Records]
If ghosts played music, it would probably sound like this. Ethereal, almost jazzy "slowcore" (read as: excessively minimal, quiet "rock" music), Zelienople never ceases to amaze with their unique, almost sleep-inducing approach. As unique an experience as it is, The World Is A House On Fire feels as if you've put on your favorite Miles Davis album at half speed and crawled into the speaker with a warm blanket and a good book. If you're into music which moves like a filmreel of an empty, lamplit street in slow motion, you definitely need to experience Zelienople (especially live).
Pinkish Black (Everything Went Dark)" [Handmade Birds]
Texas duo Pinkish Black was definitely the "dark horse" for most 2012 lists. Coming out of left field at a million miles a second, Pinkish Black is an expertly crafted "deathrock" album, complete with forays into Om-inspired stoner doom, crazed black metal, and oddball krautrock. Completely foregoing the use of guitars, or any string instruments for that matter, Pinkish Black only uses voice, synthesizer, and heavy-hitting percussion, which is extremely impressive. Though I'm a little sore they signed to Century Media, which I find a little weird, I hope they find the unanimous recognition they deserve with their new home.
III" [Eternal Warfare/Pesanta Urfolk]
I never really knew what to make of Hell's first two full-lengths. A weird combination of Sabbath-inspired doom, funereal drone, and soaring post-rock, it almost seemed sort of scattered and lacked focus...but the potential was there. With III, the end of the initial Hell trilogy, solo musician M.S.W. found that focus and laid waste to everything in his path. Utterly despondent, romantic, and with a heaviness which goes unmatched, III is Hell's triumph, featuring some of doom metal's most powerful, moving songwriting since Asunder called it quits. This is one of those albums to which you can listen over and over again without it ever getting stale. Brilliantly executed and welcomed with open arms. The tape edition, handled by Eternal Warfare, is sold out through the usual channels, but an LP edition will be made available via Pesanta Urfolk sometime next year. Get into this.
Wow. Just wow. Dawnbearer was a solid effort, but this? This is just excellent. No Holier Temple is by far one of the best "psychedelic folk" releases I've heard in a long time, and this Finnish troupe's tribute to the often-attempted-but-never-fully-realized 70s folk scene is as close to perfection as one can get. A brilliant amalgam of proto-doom, gorgeous vocal arrangements, tasteful progressive rock, and, of course, Hexvessel's own "deranged hippie" folk, No Holier Temple is as overwhelmingly catchy as it is deep and brooding. Another mark on singer/songwriter Mat "Kvohst" McNerny's excellent track record, which also includes black metal weirdos
and DHG. Proof that great things come from colliding worlds.
You know you're in for a treat when cold/synthwave label Wierd Records bites the bullet and signs a metal band. The union of shoegaze's height, post-punks moodiness, progressive rock's braininess, and the scorn of black metal, Vaura's Selenelion opens up a new plane of experimenting for metalheads and goths alike, but what else would you expect from members of Religious to Damn, Dysrhythmia, maudlin of the Well/Kayo Dot, and the Secret Chiefs? Do I need to say more?
Half Blood" [Relapse Records]
One of the best feelings in the world is when your most anticipated album of the year just so happens to end up on your year end list. Horseback mastermind Jenks Miller's blend of Morricone-meets-Young (Neil, not La Monte, though if you think about it...) Americana and groovy doom metal is one of those rare successes in the world of "weird" genre fusion, which is usually rife with bands which try way too hard to be unique but end up unlistenable. A continuation of the style he revolutionized with 2009's The Invisible Mountain, Miller's unexpected addition of power electronics and noise to the fold might have come as a shock to many, but those elements were always sort of there, buried in the background. A shining force to be reckoned with.
Well, there you have it. Living up to my "Captain Neofolk" status on Last.fm, my favorite release of 2012 just so happened to be one of the neofolk variety. Hailing from Madison, Wisconsin, Nathaniel Ritter and Troy Schafer's Kinit Her is all about boundary breaking. Much like Krallice's fusion of the unfamiliar and the familiar, Kinit Her's Storm of Radiance is a melding of avant-garde abstraction with traditional neofolk leanings, resulting in an inward journey through neomedieval landscapes and modern opera houses. Read my full review, which was featured as part of the Sounds of Autumn review series I ran from August to early November, for both a song premiere and me waxing poetic for a few pages. More than impressive. Can't wait to receive my copy of the special edition double LP, which should arrive at my doorstep soon (hopefully).
Runners Up (a.k.a. things which are also awesome and I needed to make sure I said nice things about them)
11. Wreck & Reference - "No Youth" [Flenser]
One of the few bands who completely eschews the use of direct-recorded guitar for metal. No bass either. The fact that Felix and Ignat were able to craft extraordinarily heavy music utilizing samples, voice, and drums is both amazing and terrifying. Dark, jarring, disturbing, and ethereal, No Youth is a flexing of one gigantic creative muscle. Imagine if they collaborated with Iron Forest?
12. Neurosis - "Honor Found In Decay" [Neurot/Relapse]
Neurosis is back. In most cases, that's all I really have to say, but I feel I'll go a little further. With all the solo work Scott Kelly and Steve von Till have been churning out since Given to the Rising, we really see a melding of the miserable, Townes van Zandt-inspired bummercountry Kelly and von Till emulate and the unique "tribal drone post-hardcore" Neurosis have honed. It's awesome, maybe not their best work, but that still places them much higher than most of the music world. Big, emotional, and beardy.
13. Syven - "Corpus Christi" [Audiokratik]
Syven's sophomore effort was an exercise in simultaneous music modernization and preservation, in this case the music of the Knights Templar. I'd go deeper, but I wrote a huge feature on this and feel I said everything I needed to say here. It is excellent. Listen to it. Love it.
14. Ævangelist - "De Masticatione Mortuorum in Tumulis" [I, Voidhanger/Blood Harvest]
Absolutely putrid, vile death metal. It seems "war metal" is the big thing now, with basement Blasphemy-worship bands releasing demos in droves, and it's almost completely watered down. Ævangelist's full-length debut seems to be making up for lost time, spewing forth some of the most frightening, baffling blackened death metal I've heard in some time. Extra kudos to vocalist Ascaris, who manages to sound even more disgusting than Craig Pillard's early work with Incantation.
15. Jodis - "Black Curtain" [Hydra Head/SIGE]
I wasn't really certain how I felt about Jodis's previous album, Secret House, but the fearless genre fusion found on Black Curtain absolutely blew me away. Aaron Turner's powerful croon dances about over excruciatingly slow dronepop dirges, carefully crafted by doom duo James Plotkin and Tim Wyskida. It's a rare feat to find music which is heavy both aurally and emotionally, and Jodis definitely embodies that rarity.
16. Guzzlemug - "Nervously Counting Rosary Beads" [Self-Released]/"To Leave The Earth" [Speaks Volumes/Bad Human]
I'm not really one for "progressive" music, but, man, Guzzlemug really hits the spot. Recently relocated from Minnesota, this progressive rock/metal act tastefully utilizes elements of free/avant-jazz, 70s psychedelia, modern choral music, and anything else they really feel like using. The expansive and lengthy Nervously Counting Rosary Beads's excellent voice work and massive, through-composed arrangement pairs perfectly with the "shorter," much more succinct tunes found on To Leave The Earth. This is a demonstration of true musicianship without crossing that oft-passed border of "wankiness." Progressive music with passion, which is something I can get behind.
17. GOG - "Ironworks" [Utech Records]
Though I've recently found myself avoiding drone, I couldn't help but check out the newest album from Mike Bjella's GOG. In our Architecture This Resounds, which was released earlier this year on King of the Monsters, showed GOG taking on more musical qualities, which was a welcome change, but I never would have guessed Bjella would have taken the plunge with Ironworks. At times an almost-black metal shadowplay, at others a slow piano dirge with terrifying screeches (a first for GOG), Ironworks is a beautiful eulogy for the American dream.
18. Dreamless - "All This Sorrow, All These Knives" [Handmade Birds]
Pleasant surprises are always welcome here, and Dreamless's magnificently heavy shoegaze was much more than pleasant. Though this was supposedly released excessively late last year, I felt an inclusion in this year's year end list was necessary. Fans of Hum, Justin Broadrick's various projects, and The Angelic Process will be more than happy to experience this one. I actually took a Megabus to Minneapolis to see these guys perform, if that's any indication.
19. Servile Sect - "SVRRENDER" [Handmade Birds/King of the Monsters]
The companion piece to last year's magnificent TRVTH was bound to end up on a few lists. SVRRENDER begins as a demonstration of raw black metal might, but slowly transforms into some of Servile Sect's most intriguing work to date. Krnkr and Clmnt's first time utilizing a full band, this is definitely the ledge off of which one would want to jump if you've been meaning to delve into weird, blackened psychedelia.
Cool people who deserve infinite thanks but weren't mentioned above: my writing staff, Dave and Liz Brenner/Earsplit PR, Kim Kelly/Catharsis PR, Scott Alisoglu and Ryan Ogle/Clawhammer PR, R. Loren/Handmade Birds, Chris Elmore and Harold Niver/HSS, Josh/That's How Kids Die, Ben/Black Metal and Brews, Ian/Don't Count On It Reviews, Nick and the rest of the Blackened Slugs crew, Keith Utech, Mike Genz/King of the Monsters, Hector/Triangulum Ignis, Garry, Dorian, and Chris/Cara Neir, Jordan, Rae, and the rest of the Last Rites/Metal Review crew, Mike Sepesi/Fallen Empire, Karl Rogers/Fall of Nature, Alex Poole, Clay Ruby, Joe Beres/Small Doses, Stuart Dahlquist, Adam Wright/Crucial Blast, Timoth "timeMOTHeye" Renner/Stone Breath et. al., The Elitist/YTIMS, my Backlit buddies, all our loyal readers, and anyone else who helped out along the way by being awesome and/or making/releasing cool tunes. See you in 2013!