2012 EOY Album List


A Pitchfork reviewer wrote:

"I've been making these sorts of lists long enough to know they're not an exact science, and they don't please everyone. In the end, they're snapshots that remind the individual stressing out over said lists about what was important to them within a particular time span." 

I can't stress this enough.  I've always been very list obsessive, and I probably put way more time into this than I should, but in the end these lists are just a way for me to accentuate what I love.

 1. Ahab - The Giant

This album is better than The Divinity of Oceans and The Call of the Wretched Sea. In fact I like it much, much more than those albums. Ahab has to be, especially with this release, the most accessible funeral doom band out there. For a genre that's usually a hard pill to swallow for even the most open-minded listeners, funeral doom doesn't produce music this well done very often. I feel that this album, because it's so well done, is more accessible than maybe any other funeral doom album to date. If this is your introduction to the genre, fortunately or unfortunately for you - whichever way you look at it - the bar has been set incredibly high.

The Call of the Wretched Sea was a Moby-Dick themed album with a lyrical fixation on dark, oppressive, oceanic themes. The Divinity of Oceans was a soundtrack to Owen Chase's infamous book, "Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex," published in 1821, that in fact inspired Herman Melville to write the classic story, "Moby Dick." And their 2012 album, The Giant, takes its inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket," which happens to be about a whaling ship called the Grampus and the various adventures and misadventures that befall the poor captain (including shipwreck, mutiny, and cannibalism) on his journey across the southern seas.

I used a similar analogy with Borgne's album, but Ahab’s music is as reminiscent of the ocean as its lyrics are. Sonically, The Giant at times paints a picture of calm waters and fair seas, and other times paints a dark, horrifying picture of tempests and the terrible might of the vast, powerful sea. The dynamics switch from soft to heavy, calm to violent, in the blink of an eye, recalling the unpredictable savagery of the ocean. The album opener, “Further South,” is a fine example of this. It begins softly with delicate guitar notes, subdued drumming, and clean vocals for the first 4:30 before the song explodes into heavy, doomy riffs. Such dynamics are showcased throughout the entire record, which makes it superior to its predecessors. This album is dynamic in every way. It's hard to stress how critical this is - dynamics are the difference maker between good albums and great albums. The Giant is really all over the place in terms of musical ideas and sounds. It's even accurate to say post-rock is an influence here. I never thought I'd say it... post-rock influenced funeral doom.

The vocals on this album are also incredibly dynamic and diverse, ranging from whispers to refined cleans to bellowing shouts to gutterals to screams. Sometimes he sounds like a ship captain verbally abusing his crew. The vocals change up on this album constantly (an aspect of it that I absolutely love), and they're very layered and compliment perfectly every tone this album projects throughout its great length. At times there is an echo present behind them. Even Herbrand Larsen makes a guest appearance on "Antarctica the Polymorphess" and "Fathoms Deep Below" to offer yet further vocal diversity.

Overall, the cleaner production, increased dynamics, influence, carefully crafted atmosphere, and the shear massiveness of this album sonically makes it album of the year. This is the most ambitious body of art that's come out of the metal department in a number of years. For those who aren't fans of Ahab's first two albums - give this one a chance. It's a different animal altogether. 

 2. Pallbearer - Sorrow and Extinction

This album didn't sink in with me for the longest time. There was so much praise revolving around it I continued to give it more chances, and I'd personally hyped it up a lot coming into 2012 after hearing Brett Campbell's stunning guest vocal work on Loss' 2011 debut, Despond. When an album doesn't grab me there comes a point when I just discard it. That point comes at different times with different bands and different albums (I'll give some albums more chances if it's by a band with a strong discography, for example, of if it's by a band I've historically been a fan of). Thankfully for me, I kept giving this one more chances, and because of that at one point it just clicked with me and I allowed myself to be engulfed by it. I discovered how amazing this band really is, and what a monolith of an album they had created.

Given to the Grave is an unbelievably powerful song. Four lines make up the lyrics to an eleven minute song:

Carry me to my grave,
When at long last my journey has ended,
On the path that leads from here to oblivion,
Where no more sorrow can weigh me down.

Campbell's vocals are enough to bring you to your knees. High and mighty, coming off like an amalgamation of Ozzy Osbourne and Geddy Lee, the grief soaks into every fabric of your being. As one review said, "he sounds like a wise and weary old soul that's traveled many a desolate mile, and can now finally sleep in the eternal arms of the reaper." There are moments where he genuinely sounds like he's on the verge of weeping.

There are so many reviews out there of this album, most of which praise it. Desolate, depressing, crushing, stunning, visionary, haunting, etc. are all some adjectives I've seen thrown around a lot to describe it. But what is really noteworthy is how reading all the reviews is really fun because everyone seems to have a different take on it. That's perhaps the best part about the record - there's so much to be taken away from it. Way more than you could possibly take after first listen. This album has many, many different things to offer - way more than most albums. Chances are, if you're looking for something, it's in this album somewhere.

As for my take, there's a very strange un-doomy sound in this album that coincides with the grief and sorrow and funereal depression it embodies - an almost uplifting sound. This album is the soundtrack of embracing death with open arms. It's definitely a soundtrack to dying, but a lot of melodies seem more uplifting than depressing. It's more like it's a soundtrack to accepting your fate, or of a kind of relief experienced after realizing the fate that awaits you. The album artwork heavily uses purple and gold - the color purple is associated with mourning, and according to the bible, Christ was shrouded in a purple cloak on his way to be crucified. Which probably explains why a lot of classic doom bands like Sabbath and Saint Vitus used purple in their logos/cover art/etc. After Jesus accepted his fate he embodied it, and I think that's the tone this album sets.

Also, I saw it questioned somewhere whether or not the ship on the cover is supposed be Noah's Ark. Which would further extend the biblical metaphor even though there's no biblical lyrical content on the album. It would make sense though considering the overall theme of the album, and with "extinction" being in the title. There you go, I know some of you conduct interviews... so if you ever happen to find yourself sitting in front of Mr. Campbell with a recorder in hand, ask him if the ship on the cover has any metaphorical meaning to "extinction."

Of all the themes and lyrics in this album, and of all the things you can take from it, there's a passage that's at the heart of all the others:

In the shadows I wander
A solitary man, fearing not the hidden
But searching
In this harsh world of deception, I will stand up once more
And find within myself the strength to stumble again

I tremble when I read it and I tremble when I hear it. My eighth grade English teacher used to say "a hero is one who stands up when he can't." Every time I listen to this album I envision Brett Campbell walking towards his grave and falling over time and time again on his way. But he always manages to stand back up, even when he can't, and keep on walking towards it.

 3. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!

Yes, the mighty return of Godspeed. I found out about this on October 1 around 10:00pm when I was on Sputnik browsing some reviews for F# A# Infinity, and someone posted a link to a tumbler page that had some pictures of - what appeared to be and allegedly was - a new album for sale at GY!BE's show in Boston. Sure enough, it was the real thing. Within the next 12 hours Constellation confirmed the release, the vinyl was ripped, it leaked, and I had it on itunes the next morning.

This album is definitely a return to Godspeed You! Black Emperor's traditional post-rock hallmark. It's better than Yanqui U.X.O., and on a tier just below F# A# Infinity and Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven. And it's only just below those two because the two standout tracks on this album are quantitatively less than on F# A# and Lift Your Skinny fists. "Mladic" and "We Drift Like Worried Fire" belong right up there in Godspeed's mighty rafters. Add a third twenty minute song of that caliber to this album and it's as good as their first two, no doubt.

To criticize first, the two drone tracks, "Their Helicopters' Sing" and "Strung Like Lights At Thee Printemps Erable," are a little lacking. It wouldn't be as much of an issue if they composed less of the album, but between the two of them they make up about fifteen minutes. Godspeed has always utilized drone material in-between their elaborate compositions, what some argue is "filler" material, which I have tended to argue against... but this time around it does sort of feel like "filler" material, even if it comes in places where transition pieces are necessary. It wouldn't have been difficult to throw some sound samples in the mix, an eccentric recording or two - some Murray Ostril or Arco AM/PM Mini-Market. I know these have meaning in the context of their surrounding arrangements, but surely ten years on leave has given the band time to find ample "awesome stuff" they could have used; it's one of the reasons they're so eclectic. Historically, it hasn't been hard for this band to make mundane things interesting. "Strung Like Lights At Thee Printemps Erable" though, is pretty damn mundane without being interesting.

"With his arms upstretched, with his arms upstretched, with his arms upstretched, can you get him, do you see him? Hang on, hang on, hang on..." I about lost it when I listened to this for the first time. It was immediately recognizable as the band that has done more for me in the last five years than any other, and this was the first time since being introduced to them that I was listening to something new. The strings on this album are very strong and prominent, "Mladic" (especially) is very angry and throbbed with distortion, and it's probably accurate to say this is the heaviest material Godspeed has ever recorded. The third track is the best on the album... it's rhythmically and structurally complex, littered with beautiful harmonies that shift easily and naturally between sections. I mentioned in the Summer Fades Away blurb that few post-rock bands can shift between sections and arrangements effortlessly - well, Godspeed is the master of it. One thing leads to another, perfectly and seamlessly. Volume levels are used to alter the prominence of individual instruments and melodic lines.

I had been waiting patiently (and impatiently) for years to hear new Godspeed material. This year I finally got it. 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! was the best surprise of 2012. And it was also awesome that there were no press releases or announcements of the album until it was available for purchase. And in the one press statement Efrim gave he basically criticized press statements. 

 4. Baroness - Yellow & Green

There seems to always be an album or two every year that divides fans. I think most would agree this is that album, or at least one of them, this year. A wise man named Chris Poling who reviews albums on Jukebox:Metal, and is known elsewhere as Natrlhi, said in regards to this album, "now that the dust has settled from all the butthurt, false praise, hype, anti-hype, wailing & gnashing of teeth and so forth that took place when the album first dropped, I think I can say that it was a challenging album to love right out of the gates, but the more I listen to it, the more I appreciate it." 

That more or less sums up my thoughts on the album perfectly. To be even more of a deviant, I think the Green side is better than the Yellow side.

Like any other product or piece of art, music is never as good when it's forced. The greatest creations come from the heart - it's the key ingredient. And as long as it's sincere, usually the result is at least good and/or respectable. Listening to this album, I really feel Baroness are doing just that. They aren't trying to force out a product their heart's not in... they're doing what they feel like doing. I will take that any day over "going through the motions and putting out another metal album just to please fans." This album is sincere, there's a ton of feeling and emotion in it, and c'mon... it's fucking Baroness. It's practically impossible for them to write bad music, even if it's not the style you're looking for. But before we denounce this album from being metal or anything like that, let's be clear... this album is very rooted in metal, it's primary influence is metal, and parts of the album are metal. Especially on the Yellow side. Very distorted bass is heard frequently, and parts are sludgy. But if the whole album had to be classified, I would go with heavy alternative rock. But has any band ever done it like this? No... no they haven't. At least not that I've heard. This is the most unique album of the year, like it or not. This album takes rock, metal, folk, alternative, progressive, maybe even pop, and throws them all in a cup. Stirs. Tips the cup... feeds the fire.

The Yellow theme is the least memorable of any of Baroness' themes. Of course, "Take My bones Away," "March to the Sea," "Cocainium" and "Back Where I Belong" are excellent tunes, and some of the best tracks on the album. It quickly becomes evident that Baroness went into experimental mode with this album. They do things with their guitars they've never done before (strange noises), there are keyboards, there are - what sounds like - electronic effects, the drums are different than they were on the previous two albums, the vocals are clean and there aren't any of those infamous John Baizley shouts we all know and love so much. But as interesting as things were on the first half of this record, things went into perfect flow and motion on the Green side. The theme is back up to Baroness standards, and from there to "If I Forget Thee, Lowcountry," the emotion pours out through soothing ballads and gentle guitar tunes, and I find myself drifting in audio heaven. I was always a sucker for 80's ballads, and it doesn't bother me one bit that this whole side, with very few exceptions, is soft and mellow.

"MTNS. (The Crown & Anchor)" is one of the best songs on the album. "Psalms Alive" -> "Stretchmarker" is absolutely brilliant. "Stretchmarker" is the best <4:00 song of the year, and it's not even close. It's simple but absolutely gorgeous. There are so many musical ideas and textures on this album... yet it's still cohesive. There are some dud tracks, but overall Yellow & Green is - in my mind - well worth the patience, and more than the sum of its parts.

 5. pg.lost - Key

It's easy to hear post-metal influence seeping into pg.lost's music. Russian Circles and The Evpatoria Report can be heard in this album! It’s a welcome change of pace for a band that previously relied heavily on Explosions in the Sky as influence, and didn't really push its boundaries. “Terrain” is a prime example of this - the band has revitalized its style of songwriting. While retaining the beautiful aspects of its sound, pg.lost adds the aforementioned heavy instrumentation with skill. Like much of Key, "Terrain" is very driven with a strong sense of focus (though slightly repetitive), with the percussion being very responsible for keeping a deliberate pace. This album ends stronger than it begins. By the time we get to “Weaver,” the album has already left an impression, but this is the track that drives it home. It's very different from the rest of the record, as it lacks the overall focus of each of the other tunes. It lacks repetition. But it makes up for anything it lacks with fantastic atmosphere and very impressive songwriting. Piano and guitar paint a sense of urgency as the song goes through multiple transitions until it finally reaches a breathtaking climax and eventual release. “Weaver” is pg.lost's flagship tune to date, revealing the band's true potential as songwriters and musicians.

 6. Borgne - Royaume des Ombres

I was shocked by how very, very good this album was. Borgne specializes in industrial black metal. Unlike many bands that incorporate electronic effects into black metal, which usually effectively creates ambient black metal that lacks aggressiveness and "big" sound, Borgne writes huge compositions and gorgeous soundscapes that are unbelievably atmospheric and broad in scope. CS Lewis said that if we zoom into a painting, we will see dots of color and can discover things about those dots, their patterns and structure according to the limited view we hold. Borgne draws huge elaborate pictures, but it's better to not zoom in on it - just sit back and admire it.

At times in some of these songs I picture a boat caught in a tempest. There's a wall of sound that sounds like its rocking up and down, back and forth, on large violent waves. At times it's actually soothing and solemn, other times it's completely misanthropic and lacks any notion of hope or salvation. The last three or four minutes of "All These Screams Through Me" is a good example, and it's also the best track on the album.

You want to leave but you can’t
You have no place to be
Even in your body you’re not well
Even in your head you’re not well

The night is looking at you, and following you
Others want to avoid you
You want to be a debt for someone
But you never will be

“Only The Dead Can Be Heard,” and the album closer “The Last Thing You Will See,” explode out of the speakers with a furious assault of quasi-traditional black metal. Fans of Leviathan, Xasthur, or even Burzum should dig these tracks. A lot of this album is reminiscent of Burzum, just with heavier guitars. Most of the album is midpaced and it's very lengthy. Overall, this album has the best atmosphere of any black metal album I've heard this year. And it's also the most emotional.  

 7. OM - Advaitic Songs

Read my attempt at dissecting this album here.

 8. Les Discrets - Ariettes Oubliees...

This was the first album I flipped out over in 2012. It somewhat made up for what Les voyages de l'âme lacked, and for that I was thankful because the Alcest album hit me hard and sent me into a negative frame of mind looking ahead into 2012. This album is the Écailles de Lune of this year. Not quite as good, but still good - definitely the best shoegaze record since. I didn't expect it to fall out of my top 5.

This album is not a big departure from the debut, but it's very good nonetheless. It's only a little shorter, but it feels lighter and less dense. I really like Fursy's songwriting and style, so I don't really mind more songs in the same vein as those on the debut, and I think it's too early to criticize the band for lack of evolution, but regardless this album has received a very luke-warm reception. The material here is very well written and thought provoking. There is a gorgeous reprise in this album. Some albums utilize this so well it elevates the enjoyment and memorability of the album considerably, examples being The Beatles' Abbey Road, Arcade Fire's The Suburbs, and Baroness have nearly perfected it (especially with Blue Record), and with the intro to the album, "Linceul d'Hiver,"and "Les Regrets," Les Discrets write a tune that's definitely worth remembering and definitely worth repeating, and the second time around it leads into an explosive climax. The atmosphere of this record ranges from bright and hopeful to bleak and disconcerting, but overall Les Discrets focus on making warm, enveloping music that concentrates on creating beauty more than anything else. The album ends very strongly - the last four songs are all gorgeous. And the last song is an acoustic version "L'Echappee," which was on one of their splits some time ago. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. 

 9. Leech - If We Get There One Day, Would You Please Open The Gates?

Leech is an almost ambient post-rock band from Switzerland that has a pretty sparse discography. Their last album was released in 2007, which I haven't heard, so I'm guessing they worked on this one for quite a while before putting it into form. This album, by a quick rough count, is about ninety minutes in length.

Leech uses piano and electronic touches like Mogwai and God Is An Astronaut, but also the classic post-rock formula perfected by Godspeed You! Black Emperor - loud-quiet dynamics and build-ups. The build-ups are less "epic" than some other bands have done and do, but they're effective nonetheless. This album is especially low-key for a post-rock album, it makes for easy, unfatigued listening. It's very soft, pleasant, soothing, and even therapeutic. In fact, for an album that lacks the advantage of containing a lot of harsh "in-your-face" moments, this one is downright emotional. There are a few heavier parts, like around 8:00 into "March Of The Megalomaniacs," and one passage in "Hand Full of Hearts, Heart Full of Stones," but this album never hit me upside the head or crushed me with heaviness or burdened me with weight. Quite the opposite, in fact. The ambiance and gentle catchiness lifts the weight off your shoulders... makes you feel a little freer and innocent (or perhaps less guilty). It's a very intimate album. Fans of post-rock should definitely devote a little time to this one. It's been under-acknowledged and under-appreciated in a year that's largely been overshadowed by the first post-rock release by a certain band in a decade.

By the time "Endymion" comes around, the album begins to take shape in the listener's mind as a journey of some sort - maybe the journey of life - in which "Endymion," with its brilliant build-up and eventual climax, represents man reaching his final resting place. If we happen to find ourselves waking up next to a certain wall with a gate, this album playing might actually convince God to allow us admittance to the other side, even if we don't deserve it. 

 10. Ash Borer - Cold of Ages

This is classic Ash Borer in every way just with better production. Their being signed to one of the hottest metal labels out there right now has not caused them to take a turn for the worse or lack what made them great to begin with. And no, they're not becoming the next Wolves in the Throne Room.

The production is definitely better. Vocals are higher in the mix as well. Ash Borer excels at creating emotional landscapes that have immense atmosphere - perhaps influenced by doom and post-rock - and playing a few riffs per song that play off one another and bridge seamlessly from one to another. The atmosphere is chilling and dark, and a lot of the riffs are downright terrifying, especially with the choirgirl vocals. The non-metal ambient passages on "Removed Forms" with choirgirl vocals are extremely effective (the opening in particular, as well as the passage around the 7:45 mark) and cause the long songs to feel even more elaborate than they already are.

Jessica Way of Worm Ouroboros lends her beautiful voice to this album, and it increases the atmosphere of the second half of the record quite a bit. Ash Borer is not a band that really wants to accent vocals too much, but rather, use them for atmosphere and ambiance. Her vocal parts really do this well. If you enjoyed Faith Coloccia and Jessika Kenney on Celestial Lineage and Jamie Myers on Malevolent Grain, chances are you'll like the similar touch here as well. I don't even think she's singing any lyrics, she's just adding beauty to the songs.

 11. Summer Fades Away -  We Meet the Last Time, Then Departure

I would really like to sit down with this band and ask them what their inspirations are - what their favorite movies are, what literature they like, or anything to get some sense of where they draw ideas from, because this band's music is special. It just sounds like it's drawn from someplace deep. "I Still Love the Blue Sky" is about as inspired as music can be.

Summer Fades Away released its first EP, Unkind Time, Beautiful Memory, last year via 1724 Records out of Beijing - which describes itself as "new sounds from China" - and ended up being one of the best post-rock releases of 2011. A lot of Chinese bands tagged with the ‘post-rock’ label beat the ‘quiet-loud-quiet’ formula to death, which quickly gets annoying when they all try to sound like Mogwai. I enjoy dynamics and all, but it's better when bands try to at least weave it in. Summer Fades Away doesn't break this pattern, but they do a much better job of 'putting things together'. Instrumental guitar ambiance evolves and guitars are slowly amplified to reach climaxes. Dynamics shift, but everything is woven together very nicely to create seamless compositions. Hear "Love Song" for a case in point. The music is very melodic and the guitars are very atmospheric, not unlike the atmosphere in a lot of the post-black metal some of us like so much.

"Flower Mio" begins with what sounds like a xylophone. And "Yukiho" features a flute or a wind instrument of some sort. There's more folk music on this record than on the EP (credit on the bandcamp page goes to Gang Wu), which is a fantastic addition to this band's sound. Summer Fades Away is now folky post-rock. There's never an eruption of sound on this album that matches the power of "A Pavilion" on Unkind Time, Beautiful Memory, which is my one gripe with it. The band obviously tried to create something more beautiful and serene with this release, and in doing so left out the 'punch to the face' that was "A Pavilion," which sort of detracts from things. Nevertheless, I really like this record and this band, and I'll continue following them for sure.

 12. Fun. - Some Nights

Indie pop is normally a genre I don't identify with at all. So I feel a bit strange liking this album so much, but damn what an album. I haven't heard the band's debut, and I was first introduced to this band through the hit single, "We Are Young" (featuring the lovely Mrs. Janelle Monáe, who released the incredible The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III) back in '10), which has been all over the radio since sometime last year. This is one of those albums that disguises what it means with its sound. On the surface this is an upbeat, positive, motivational feel-good album. There are a handful of really infectious tunes here that have the same effect a lot of radio songs do at first - they make you feel a little dumber after you listen to them.

Upon second listen, we find something a little different. The lyrics are deeply burdened with uncertainty, regret, melancholy, and nostalgia. Why am I the one always packing up my stuff?, and everyone I love is gonna leave me, and I don't need a new love or a new life, just a better place to die. A lot of these feelings are presented in response/reaction type fashion. The album paints a picture of how these emotions are being dealt with, and the result is very interesting. Perhaps not genuine (difficult to tell) or consistent, but interesting. It manages to be weighty in subject and carefree in presentation. The vocalist puts his heart and soul into the music. It's very dynamic and very personal, and most importantly, very emotional and easy to relate to. It's "comforting." The following line is the best possible summary.

I've given everyone I know a good reason to go
I was surprised you stuck around long enough to figure out
that it's all alright

 13. Mgła - With Hearts Toward None

With this release Mgła has supplanted itself as one of black metal's best current projects/bands. Like Furia, Mgła is from Poland, and certainly lives up to that Polish reputation of producing uncompromising, unforgiving black metal that emphasizes atmosphere and traditional BM. The tracks are organized around a few carefully chosen guitar riffs that repeat throughout the tracks, much like what Darkthrone did in the 1990s (and a lot of bands for that matter). This formula has dissolved somewhat over the years, but makes for a strong and enticing building block (you all know what I'm talking about - Iron Maiden perfected it). With Mgła it's just a little less conspicuous. But I love that approach to songwriting.

All seven tracks are dense and ruthless. There are no keyboards or folk instruments. The production is top notch. This album sucks the listener into an abyss. Groza, Mgła's debut, was more interesting and experimental than this record, but the sheer quality of With Hearts Toward None is enough to impress any black metal fan, especially those with a hankering for the traditional aspects of the genre. Everything is more condensed but the riffs are better and the songs have a strong sense of direction. There are times when drums take the front seat, and when they do it's damn impressive. With Hearts Toward None goes for the jugular - don't expect an easy listen.

14. Leeches of Lore - Frenzy, Ecstasy

Frenzy, Ecstasy is a unique recording. Tags on their bandcamp page include: rock, country, doom, experimental folk, noise, and Albuquerque. Parts of this album feel like they should be the soundtrack to a very comical post-1960s spaghetti western. I mean, how else can you possibly describe the first 1:20 of "L'evoluzione dei Microbi?" After that I feel it picks up a little in seriousness. Not that the opening sequence isn't fantastic. It's just comical. Imagine two gentlemen riding on donkeys through a hail of gunfire in the midwest.

The intro track, "Afghanistan Banana Stand," creates similar ridiculous imagery. Picture a few Afghan men frantically and vociferously wheeling carts of bananas down busy market streets in Kabul. This album is wild and silly. It's impressive musically, though. Everything is very intricate and well written. Parts are very catchy. There's some brass throughout the album, varying acoustic guitar styles, and some instruments I can't place. The core of the album is one of sludge-type metal, I guess. This is one album where I feel I can say "listen for yourself" and not feel like I'm copping out on the review. Do that - listen, and realize that making musical lunacy is serious business for these guys. If at some point in the future I find out Weird Al Yankovic produced the album, I won't be surprised.  

 15. Ea - Ea

I just now realized this band has four albums, this being their latest. For some reason I thought this was their debut. This album is one massive 47-minute track that covers a ton of ground throughout its great length, and is apparently separate, both musically and ideologically, from the trilogy that came before it. Ea is from Saint Petersburg, and the band members remain strictly anonymous and keep their identity unknown (kind of like Dragged Into Sunlight's band members, without the balaclavas). The band likes to write about ancient civilizations and dead languages, and being from Russia, there are literally tons of long-dead Indo-European languages to choose from. I have a personal fascination with language and glottochronology, so this sort of thing appeals to me. The relationship between language and the world, and what it means in terms of history, philosophy and even bio-physics, is very interesting. Props to Ea for dedicating music out of reverence to things that have long been extinct from the earth.

Ea plays funeral doom metal, so obviously their attitudes towards these things are sorrowful and mournful, as if the band is very regretful that these cultures and languages vanished in the first place. And also regretful that nobody ever thinks about them or equates them with our own cultures. Their use of piano, which appears in several passages including the intro, turns the whole composition into something like late 19th century / early 20th century formal orchestral music with dollops of crushing doom to spice it up when it gets a bit melodramatic. Vocals are pretty sparse, but when they appear they do so in the form of low death metal growls and harsh black metal shrieks; and soothing female vocals even appear for a brief time if I remember right. At times the music is literally at a crawl, with only a few bare notes being played, but even during these parts there is great substance and strength in the music. Near the 38:50 mark, unexpectedly, we hear the sound of splashing water - what sounds like a child walking through a shallow stream. I'm not sure what that signifies. One of the best parts of the album comes at the 20:43 mark, when a guitar solo comes in, and serves as the album's climax.  

 16. Sentimen Beltza - Zulo Beltz eta Sakon Honetan

Oindurth SaVinitta is Sentimen Beltza, this is his third full-length, and the only way from here is down. Zulo Beltz eta Sakon Honetan is one of those albums that had me hooked almost immediately because of the first track's melody. Twelve minutes of beautiful, depressing melody. "Mendi Urdinak" is one of my most-listened-to songs of 2012... a soaring, depressive, epic black metal anthem that's more emotional than almost anything else that's come out this year. The entire album is not up to this caliber, though. And that's the only reason Zulo Beltz eta Sakon Honetan is not higher on my list. "Neguko Goiz Bat" is also a catchy, epic track that reaches the album's pinnacle state of psychadlic-like hypnosis. The guitars are raw and dissonant even though the production is stellar, the pace varies but it's often on the slow side which just enhances the depression, the atmosphere is very alive but dead at the same time, most importantly though... this album is so, so emotional. The negative charge in this album is something special. Few artists can take inner conflict and create music out of it as well as SaVinitta can. Black metal enthusiasts looking for only blistering riffs and blastbeats need not look here. "El Tiempo Bajo Polvo" is one of the few tracks where the pace really speeds up permanently, to the delight of the average BM listener. Otherwise prepare for a long haul of varying tempos - usually mid to low - and music full of anger, hate, sadness, conflict, inner-torment, etc. 

 17. Atriarch - Ritual of Passing

Atriarch is a fairly young band signed to Profound Lore that just released its debut album, "Forever the End," last year. They did a split with Alaric earlier this year that has a different version of one of the tracks on this album on it (a better version), and now this album, and these three releases comprise Atriarch's discography to date. The opening riff in "Parasite" that's played behind the spoken vocals is pretty killer. The vocals throughout the record are pretty annoying (coming from someone who has little use for punk and hardcore), I would have preferred it if Lenny Smith had stuck to chanting, spoken vocals, and black metal screeches. But the sound of the music is very interesting. The guitar tone often reminds me of a doomy Celtic Frost. The punk influence is definitely there, but so is gothic influence, so the blackened, sludgy doom that is Atriarch is born from different roots than most other bands in its genre pool. They're not trying to clone popular or classic doom metal bands, they're trying to carve their own niche and make their own way with a sound that's unique to them. 

 18. Furia - Marzannie, Królowej Polski

Furia's third full length is not quite as multi-layered or intricate as Deathspell Omega's brand of black metal, but the disjointed guitar melodies combined with the overall avant-garde atmosphere definitely appear to be influenced by Deathspell at times. But to be honest, I enjoy this more. This is some cold, hazy BM. This album actually has a few upbeat passages throughout though, something that's unusual for a lot of black metal - especially Polish black metal that's long had a reputation for being harsh and unforgiving. The opening riff in “Wodzenie,” for example, and the repetitive (and almost psychedelic) overtones threaded throughout “Sa to Kola,” are some examples. With all its rhythms and dissonant atmosphere, it's very obvious Furia’s core is still firmly rooted in "old school" classic black metal. The melodies lay the groundwork for most of the tracks, the dynamics shift quickly at times, and there are moments throughout the album that are downright heartfelt - even if only for a few seconds before a blistering blastbeat tears it away. There's something very genuine about this kind of music, and the same goes for Lunar Aurora and Mgła's as well. These musicians are pouring their souls into it, and I'm not sure they're trying to get anything in return besides the gratification of somehow managing to manifest their feelings into this ugly, fractured music.

 19. Lunar Aurora - Hoagascht

I've read that Lunar Aurora broke up for good earlier this year, so it's likely Hoagascht will be the last record we ever hear from them. It's really a shame, but it's hard to complain when a band has been as consistently good over such a long period of time as Lunar Aurora. This band has put out a large number of atmospheric black metal classics over the past few decades before hanging it up temporarily in 2006 for reasons I'm not sure about (to be honest I'm not sure what musicians are were in the band when they recorded this album). Andacht was a phenomenal album. This one isn't as good as I hoped it'd be after six years of silence, and it's certainly not as varied or up to par audio quality-wise with Andacht, but it's still a fine record. The riffs are strong, the atmosphere is fairly cold and old-world feeling, synthesizers and guitars are blended very well, and overall it's a solid effort by an awesome band that's been around a long time. I do wish Lunar Aurora had tried to branch out a little and throw in some different vocal styles or something, but even though they're basically doing the same thing on every track, the album still has a really cool sound to it. "Nachteule" is one of the catchiest and riffiest tracks on the record; the last two minutes are bliss. Due to the reduced guitars, the atmosphere is pretty essential, which is partly created by the reduced guitars. And with synths, the result is something that doesn't sound dark and depressing, but rather, mystic and rustic. 

All the song titles and lyrics are in a German dialect that's spoken in Northern Germany - where the band members are from I believe. And the album title translates into "homeland" or "home garden" or something of that sort, so it would seem the band has ended it's career by returning to the place it loves most.  

 20. Aptorian Demon - Libertus

This is Aptorian Demon's debut, and it is a fantastic release. This band already has a masterful understanding of pacing, song dynamics, song structure and versatility. The opening track begins with a - what sounds to be - priest speaking in a perhaps Scandinavian tongue. The band is Norwegian so perhaps it's that, but I'm a sucker for sound samples. Sound samples are attention grabbers, especially if utilized well, and the opening few minutes alternate between sound samples with a choir/bells background combination and chunky black metal riffs coming in and out. Around 1:50 a buzz-saw guitar rips in, and then some deep, gut wrenching vocals. Vocal styles are all over the place. This is not a run-of-the-mill one dimensional BM record... everything is spread out, diverse and intelligent. There are some very tasty riffs. If one part of a song grabs you, hold onto it, because you won't hear it for long. The last minute of "Ignitus" is a melodic acoustic passage. 

Most of the songs are conventionally lengthed, but "Ignitus" and "Libertus" are longer at nine and thirteen minutes (of course making these two the best). The shorter songs are seemingly more atmospheric. Some of this album is very evil and foul, and some of it isn't. "Amir al-Mu`minin," for example, is very soft, clean and upbeat.

21. Ides of Gemini - Constantinople
22. Witchrist - The Grand Tormentor
23. Dødsengel - Imperator
24. Sektarism - Le Son des Stigmates
25. té - ゆえに、密度の幻想は綻び、蹌踉めく世界は明日を『忘却』す。(Thus, the Illusion of Density Comes Apart at the Seems)
26. Crimson Mourne - Bring Your Desires Here
27. Caspian - Waking Season
28. Profetus - ...To Open The Passages In Dusk
29. If These Trees Could Talk - Red Forest
30. UFOmammut - Oro: Opus Primum
31. Enslaved - RIITIIR
32. Aldebaran - Embracing the Lightless Depths
33. Niechęć - Śmierć w miękkim futerku
34. Castle - Blacklands
35. Black Moth - The Killing Jar


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