And so dear friends that time is here again, to look back on the music of the last year and pick the favourite records of the past 12 months. Who are the winners and losers over the last year of rock and metal?
Compared to 2011 there weren’t so many misfires. I certainly didn’t listen to many albums that I thought were downright dreadful – well apart from the Kiss album. There were some disappointments though. The biggest failure for me was Epica’s Requiem for the Indifferent. The band’s previous album Design Your Universe was a cracker, but Storm the Sorrow aside, this new album had few memorable tracks. It was one of those albums where everything seems familiar but you couldn’t much tell one song from another.
Other disappointments included Slash’s Apocalyptic Love. The previous album was great fun so I was really looking forward to a full record with Myles Kennedy on vocals. But the songs just weren’t as good this time around. Anastasia was fabulous, the rest not very memorable. I was also disappointed by Delain’s We Are The Others. Again this is a band I really like and I admire the earnest sentiments of the record, but poor lyrics and a lack of convincing metal elements let the side down.
I must admit I was very tempted to make The Gathering’s Heroes for Ghosts the song of the year for the second year running. After all it was released as a single in 2011 and on an album in 2012. But while it may still be my favourite song of recent times it’s only fair that we give some new to 2012 tunes a chance.
However I’ve not actually managed to pick a winner. I’m going to fudge it. So we have two winners. The first is another track from The Gathering. It’s called I Can See Four Miles and is another brilliant Floydian ambient track. There’s not a note wrong – from the deliberately messy start, to Marjolein Kooijman’s lovely bass riff, Silje’s beautiful voice and the epic build towards the conclusion. Wonderful stuff.
Secondly I’ve chosen Primal Rock Rebellion’s Tortured Tone. I’m not going to say much more about it, just listen to the bloody thing, it’s brilliant.
There are several records I really enjoyed this year that didn’t quite make the cut when it came to compiling the top ten.
Be’lakor’s Of Breath and Bone is a fabulous, gritty, important sounding death metal album. And really it should be in the top ten. But there was something that nagged me about it that put me of slightly. It’s those staccato harmony guitar parts. They often sound more like a Stylophone than guitars. Yes I know it’s a production nitpick, but it does dampen my enjoyment of the album a little. But still, Of Breath and Bone is a great metal album. Do check it out.
Katatonia’s follow up to Night is the New Day is a strong record. But while Dead End Kings is fabulous it really hasn’t got under my skin in the way the previous album did. So a strong outing for the ambient metallers but not quite making the short-list this year.
If I was compiling a top 11 instead of a top ten then Pythia’s The Serpent’s Curse would be in the list. This fabulous UK metal record features the operatic vocal stylings of rock goddess and sometime Medieval Babe Emily Ovenden. She is the lucky owner of one of the best set of pipes in metal today. I’ve always got time to hear her sing.
But without further ado, let’s get on with the show. Here I present…
TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2012
ANATHEMA – WEATHER SYSTEMS
I’m sure a few of you will be scratching your heads wondering why this terrific ambient post-rock album isn’t further up the list. Well it does tail off a little towards the end and at times wanders a little close to Deacon Blue territory to be a wholly successful album. Despite that this is Anathema’s best album to date. It is easily the most beautiful sounding record on this year’s list and is a must for anyone pining for a new Pink Floyd record. If only the band had the patience to put epic opening track Untouchable at the end.
7 HORNS 7 EYES – THROES OF ABSOLUTION
Many of the reviews of 7 Horns 7 Eyes focussed unfairly and critically on the Christian elements of this epic progressive death metal album. In a genre clogged with the dumb theology of teens angry their parents made them go to church 7H7E’s lyrics are a breath of fresh air. Stupid anti-faith lyrics are a terrible cliché in metal and I was glad to listen to a superb album full of exciting compositions and musicianship without having to switch my IQ to its lowest settings. This is a smart, powerful, crushing record that definitely deserves to be on your playlist.
TESTAMENT – DARK ROOTS OF THE EARTH
Last year Anthrax made the top ten with Worship Music and here we have another eighties thrash contemporary hitting us with a brilliant record. Chuck Billy’s vocals have never sounded so powerful and insistent and I could happily listen to Alex Skolnick’s exciting solos all day. Dark Roots of the Earth isn’t perhaps the weightiest piece of art on the list, but it is a catchy, powerful, heavy album.
PARADISE LOST – TRAGIC IDOL
Ever since Paradise Lost decided they didn’t want to be Depeche Mode after all the band has been on a return to form. 2009’s Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us was a step in the right direction. But it’s here on Tragic Idol we hear classic Paradise Lost. Sitting somewhere in style between the band’s two best albums – Icon and Draconian Times – Tragic Idol is a reminder of what a great doom band Paradise Lost are. The music is slow, bleak and everything that is wonderful about Halifax’s greatest export.
IN MOURNING – THE WEIGHT OF OCEANS
Bloody hell what a record. In Mourning’s The Weight of Oceans sounds like an important record. It is. This moody, powerful and thrilling slice of progressive doom metal fills the gap left by no Opeth album this year. There are moments of beauty, moments of sheer heavy power and every moment leaves you wanting more. From the album’s more delicate ambient moments to the crushing sections there’s not one thing wrong with this brilliant metal offering. If you like progressive heavy music this is an album you must own.
STORM CORROSION – STORM CORROSION
Last year’s top ten featured albums by Opeth and Steven Wilson. This year we have an album featuring Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt and Steven Wilson. These two great friends have combined to create some special and rather disturbing. Opeth’s frontman only sings on one track, leaving Wilson to helm the rest, but between them they’ve composed a strange meandering largely-acoustic album that feels like the soundtrack to a seventies horror film. Storm Corrosion is the musical equivalent of The Wicker Man. It’s creepy as hell and perhaps the heaviest record on the list, without actually featuring any heavy music.
ANNEKE VAN GIERSBERGEN – EVERYTHING IS CHANGING
Anneke, how do I love thee, let me count the ways. Regular readers will know I’m something of an evangelist for The Gathering. And why not, the (mostly) Dutch band is one of the best rock bands working today. But I’m no rabid fan-boy and when Anneke left the band I wished her well in her new endeavours and have since loved the newer records with Silje Wergeland on vocals. Anneke went her own way and that led to some cheery pop records that weren’t my cup of tea. That’s totally okay. Anneke was doing what she wanted to do. This latest solo album though features a return to a rockier sound and more my thing. The first few tracks lead you in with catchy pop rock, but it’s the progression through the album that is so interesting. As we head into the second half we enter familiar Gathering like territory of meandering powerful guitars and bleak ambient compositions. This is delicious stuff and exactly what suits Anneke’s gorgeous voice best.
PRIMAL ROCK REBELLION – AWOKEN BROKEN
I didn’t like this album the first time I heard it. But by the end of the year it had become one of my favourites. Primal Rock Rebellion is a collaboration between former SikTh front-man Mikee Goodman and Iron Maiden’s guitar wizard/epic songwriter Adrian Smith. Remember Satellite 15 the strange intro to the last Maiden album? That was something Smith knocked together in his own studio than a real Maiden track and listening to Awoken Broken really puts it in context. Smith and Goodman have create a really interesting rock album here that defies convention – and certainly will surprise many a Maiden fan – and serves up track after track of delicious and sometimes bonkers tunes. Well played sirs.
THE GATHERING – DISCLOSURE
The biggest surprise for me this year is that this album isn’t at number one. In any normal year it would be. I think in terms of artistic creation and importance it should be at the top. This is The Gathering’s best record since How to Measure A Planet. It is beyond superb. Every moment of this exciting post-rock record is fantastic. If I could only listen to one singing voice for the rest of my days it would be Silje’s. There’s not a single thing I would change about Disclosure, it is every bit as brilliant as I hoped when I first heard Heroes For Ghosts over a year ago.
SABATON – CAROLUS REX
Now here’s the big surprise. Not only have Sabaton actually made a good record, it’s my favourite record of 2012. This bonkers, epic, at times silly, cheesy, traditional metal romp is the most fun and catchy thing I’ve heard all year. This concept albums tale of the short-lived Swedish Carolean Empire of the late 17th and 18th centuries.The deluxe album features both English and Swedish versions of the record, though there’s plenty of Swedish in the English version too. Swedes will tell you there’s more depth to the Swedish lyrics, but neither set are hardly Shakespeare. Nor are they particularly historically accurate – instead we get songs that more reflect the feelings of the time in which they are set.
Any road up, the album is packed with genuinely exciting, ridiculously catchy metal songs that will have you singing along with such tracks as “Gott Mit Uns” at full volume. The guitar work is pure eighties class, with The Killing Ground being a completely obvious rip-off of Somewhere in Time era Iron Maiden, and bloody good for it. The whole album could have collapsed under the weight of such preposterous cheesy metal as makes up every track, but it’s held together by the astonishing vocal performance of Joakim Brodén. He plays it so straight, with so much conviction, that you can’t help but believe this is the best record you’ve heard for years. This is pure manly metal, the biggest, most joyous, perhaps silliest and most wonderful album of the year. I dare you to try to listen to it just once. Well done Sabaton, your Carolus Rex is the official Grumpyrocker best album of 2012.