Stereogum's Top 40 Metal Albums Of 2012

When I wrote about Decibel’s list of the year’s best albums, I talked more about what was missing than what made it, and in a way, that was inevitable: It was a weird year for metal. I’m hesitant to call it an “off” year, because so much incredible music was produced, but the conversation was so diffuse that it seemed to lack a center; even the most prominent themes were slippery, seeming more like regressions or anti-trends than movements. For example, in July, Metalsucks published a parody post about a supposedly emergent subgenre they termed “vest metal” — basically composed of traditional metal, doom, and retro-occult metal bands allegedly being adopted by scene dilettantes — but while the coinage was silly and the tone condescending (not to mention tongue-in-cheek), the observation was apt: I heard more clean singing and fewer blast beasts on metal records in 2012 than I have in any year since the ’80s. In fact, though many of the best so-called “vest metal” albums just missed inclusion on our list (namely Christian Mistress, Graveyard, Royal Thunder, and Witch Mountain, all of which are absolutely worthy of your attention), the albums occupying both our Nos. 1 and 2 slots might fall into the subgenre as Metalsucks defines it. Both are stone classics in my opinion.

The year was defined by other oddities, too. I closed my analysis of the Decibel list with two takeaway points, both of which I’d like to readdress here in relation to our list, as well as 2012 in general:

1. Why are there so few black metal albums on Decibel’s list?

I’ve had a number of friends make the argument to me that 2012 was a bad year for black metal, and I can see where they’re coming from. Since 2006 or so, the genre has consistently made enormous strides forward every year on the backs of breakthrough releases from bands like Nachtmystium, Watain, Ludicra, Leviathan, Krallice, Cobalt, Altar Of Plagues, Agalloch, Alcest, Deathspell Omega, Wolves In The Throne Room, and Inquisition, backed up by vital releases from past masters like Burzum, Immortal, Marduk, Darkthrone, and Enslaved. This year, the only bands in the former category to release new LPs were Nachtmystium, Alcest, and Krallice, none of which felt as essential as any of those bands’ last three respective albums. Meanwhile, DSO and Agalloch released excellent but slight EPs. In the latter category, Burzum released the worst album of his career, while new albums from Marduk and Enslaved were strong but comparatively lackluster.

Still, great black metal was released in 2012: Winterfylleth’s The Threnody Of Triumph may not have crossed over as successfully as Marrow Of The Spirit or Celestial Lineage, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t deserve to. Meanwhile, the genre’s young guns — among them Ash Borer, Mutilation Rites, Vattnet Viskar, and Lord Mantis, all included on our list — are probably one album away from a significant breakthrough.

By and large, though, the most exciting black metal being produced in 2012 had no hope or intention of crossing over: The genre’s most vital music was produced on nonexistent budgets with rudimentary recording tools and released on cassette by basement labels like Colloquial Sound Recordings, Rhinocervs, and Fallen Empire. The bands themselves were frequently anonymous or cloaked in secrecy. Our list includes a handful of releases from those bands — A Pregnant Light (from Grand Rapids, MI), Wylve (from Portland, OR, and featuring members of the equally excellent Blut Der Nacht), Witch In Her Tomb (Chicago, IL), and the Rhinocervs collective (Long Beach, CA) — but that’s a small sampling of the scene as it stands. As a movement, it makes sense: Black metal is essentially antisocial music, so its adherents are naturally and deliberately withdrawing from the mainstream at a time when mainstream interest has never been greater. (One production note here: I’d like to point out that I chose to include for streaming A Pregnant Light’s seriously fucking amazing cover of Madonna’s “Live To Tell” below, but that’s not entirely representative of the band’s sound; I’d also encourage you to listen to “Burning Basin” from their split with Obscure Lupine Quietus, and then just find all their music, because they’re unbelievable.)

2. Why are there so few Profound Lore releases on Decibel’s list?

In terms of personnel, Profound Lore isn’t much more substantial than any of the basement labels mentioned above: It’s basically just one dude, Chris Bruni, operating out of “the vast countryside about an hour-and-a-half west of the godforsaken Greater Toronto Area.” He’s not just the guy who signs the bands; he’s also the guy who works out details with the vinyl pressing plant, works out song premieres and interview requests with Stereogum and Decibel (and Pitchfork and Cvlt Nation and NPR and every other media outlet in the world), the guy who goes to the post office twice a week to ship out CDs and T-shirts. Yet since its inception in 2004, Profound Lore has established itself as the most important metal label in the world, as well as the most consistently engaging. Decibel’s list inexplicably included only two of PFL’s 2012 offerings: Pallbearer’s Sorrow And Extinction, and Evoken’s Atra Mors. Ours includes those, too, plus five more — PFL releases comprise nearly 20 percent of our whole list, four of which are in the top 10, including BOTH top spots — and I still feel we should have found space for at least four others: the Bell Witch’s Longing, Dysrhythmia’s Test Of Submission, the Howling Wind’s Of Babalon, and Witch Mountain’s Cauldron Of The Wild. And even that leaves out terrific 2012 releases on PFL from Yakuza, Menace Ruine, Occultation, and more.

But even at that, I’m selling PFL short: The label’s fingerprints are all over our list well beyond the records for which it was directly responsible. We’ve got albums on here from Winterfylleth, Agalloch, Krallice, and Hooded Menace — all of whom have released music on PFL in the past, but whose 2012 albums were released elsewhere — plus Samothrace, who share members with the Bell Witch, PLUS the Rhinocervs collective, two of whose member bands — Tukaaria and Odz Manouk — had their 2011 albums re-mastered and reissued by PFL this year (both of which would have been strong contenders for this list if they had been new in 2012, too).

The other 2012 trend I see represented on our list is an unexpected but totally welcome one: ancient relics coming back to release work that rivals their best ever, and sometimes tops it. Grave, Cannibal Corpse, Kreator, Asphyx, and Incantation have been plugging away since the ’80s, not always in peak form, yet I defy you to find for me a fan of any of those bands who will not include their 2012 releases among their finest, period. These were not merely surprises but revelations. Similarly, Pig Destroyer, Unsane, and Neurosis came back after five years off and delivered triumphs across the board. And High On Fire — whose leader, Matt Pike, has been a scene mainstay since forming Sleep in 1990 — released the best album of their decade-and-a-half-long existence.

A quick note about our methodology before I exit: This list was compiled by me with Stereogum contributors Aaron Lariviere, Wyatt Marshall, and Doug Moore. You’ll notice four albums are conspicuously absent: Baroness, Swans, Torche, and Converge. I omitted those releases from consideration. This is partly because all those albums were included on Stereogum’s big list, and I saw no reason for redundancy — this is not to say that they would have topped this list even if they had been considered, although I suspect all four would have at least made the list. However, I also chose to omit them because … are they even metal? I mean, you could ask the same question about Circle Of Ouroborus or Pinkish Black — heck, even Blut Aus Nord at this point — all of whom are on the list, but of the four ineligibles, only Converge even sounds like metal, and they’re a hardcore band!

I’ve talked a lot already, and touched a little bit on a good amount of the music on this list, yet I still haven’t said a single word about so many of my personal favorites — Secrets Of The Moon, Black Breath, and oh my fucking god Martyrdöd, among others — so I’ll just leave you to listen to them all, with the knowledge that their music makes a stronger argument than I could ever manage anyway. Because Doug, Wyatt, and Aaron went voiceless in this introduction/essay, I’ve encouraged them to contribute their thoughts in the comments. I hope you will, too.

STEREOGUM’S TOP 40 METAL ALBUMS OF 2012

Witch In Her Tomb - Witch In Her Tomb40 Witch In Her Tomb – Witch In Her Tomb (Crippled Sound Records)

Horseback - Half Blood39 HorsebackHalf Blood (Relapse)

Kowloon Walled City - Container Ships38 Kowloon Walled CityContainer Ships (Brutal Panda)

Cannibal Corpse - Torture37 Cannibal CorpseTorture (Metal Blade)

Kreator - Phantom Antichrist36 KreatorPhantom Antichrist (Nuclear Blast)

Horrendous - The Chills35 HorrendousThe Chills (Dark Descent)

Wylve - Wylve34 WylveWylve (Fallen Empire)

Agalloch - Faustian Echoes EP33 AgallochFaustian Echoes EP (Dämmerung Arts)

Lord Mantis - Pervertor32 Lord MantisPervertor (Candlelight)

Rhinocervs - RH 1231 RhinocervsRH 12 (Rhinocervs)

Neurosis - Honor Found In Decay30 NeurosisHonor Found In Decay (Neurot)

Hooded29 Hooded MenaceEffigies Of Evil (Relapse)

A Pregnant Light - Live To Tell28 A Pregnant LightLive To Tell; APL/OLQ Split (Colloquial Sound Recordings)

Vattnet Viskar - Vattnet Viskar EP27 Vattnet ViskarVattnet Viskar EP (Broken Limbs)

Secrets Of The Moon - Seven Bells26 Secrets Of The MoonSeven Bells (Prophecy Productions)

Incantation - Vanquish In Vengeance25 IncantationVanquish In Vengeance (Listenable Records)

Circle Of Ouroborus - The Lost Entrance Of The Just24 Circle Of OuroborusThe Lost Entrance Of The Just (Handmade Birds)

Deathspell Omega - Drought EP23 Deathspell OmegaDrought EP (Season Of Mist)

Pig Destroyer - Book Burner22 Pig DestroyerBook Burner (Relapse)

Mutilation Rites - Empyrean21 Mutilation RitesEmpyrean (Prosthetic)

Bosse-de-Nage – III20 Bosse-de-NageIII (Profound Lore)

Unsane - Wreck19 UnsaneWreck (Alternative Tentacles)

Black Breath - Sentenced To Life18 Black BreathSentenced To Life (Southern Lord)

Pinkish Black - Pinkish Black17 Pinkish BlackPinkish Black (Handmade Birds)

Grave - Endless Procession Of Souls16 GraveEndless Procession Of Souls (Century Media)

Krallice - Years Past Matter15 KralliceYears Past Matter (self-released)

Meshuggah - Koloss14 MeshuggahKoloss (Nuclear Blast)

Indesinence - Vessels Of Light And Decay13 IndesinenceVessels Of Light And Decay (Profound Lore)

Atriarch12 AtriarchRitual Of Passing (Profound Lore)

Dodecahedron - Dodecahedron11 DodecahedronDodecahedron (Season Of Mist)

Evoken - Atra Mors10 EvokenAtra Mors (Profound Lore)

Blut Aus Nord – 777: Cosmosophy9 Blut Aus Nord777: Cosmosophy (Debemur Morti)

Martyrdöd - Paranoia8 MartyrdödParanoia (Southern Lord)

Asphyx - Deathhammer7 AsphyxDeathhammer (Century Media)

Ash Borer - Cold Of Ages6 Ash BorerCold Of Ages (Profound Lore)

Samothrace – Reverence To Stone5 SamothraceReverence To Stone (20 Buck Spin)

Winterfylleth - The Threnody Of Triumph4 WinterfyllethThe Threnody Of Triumph (Candlelight)

High On Fire - De Vermis Mysteriis3 High On FireDe Vermis Mysteriis (E1 Music)

Dawnbringer - Into The Lair Of The Sun God2 DawnbringerInto The Lair Of The Sun God (Profound Lore)

Pallbearer - Sorrow And Extinction1 PallbearerSorrow And Extinction (Profound Lore)

 
Comments (100)
  1. I really don’t understand why Metal needs its own list, but if you’re going to start splitting stuff into genres can we please get a top mixtapes of the year list?

    • I agree. I’d love a hip-hop Top 40 albums/mixtapes. I think this has been a brilliant year for hip-hop (Kendrick, Killer Mike, El-P, Action, Ab-Soul, Schoolboy, Cpt Murphy, Macklemore (seriously, I haven’t heard anything about this album, but I can’t understand why)).

      • I agree with seeing a hip-hop Top 40, sure, but I don’t get why metal wouldn’t have it’s own list. It’s a very specific genre (much like hip-hop).

        Glad to see someone put Winterfylleth on their list, loved that album.

        • Well there were some hip-hop albums on Stereogum’s main 2012 list, but no metal albums (I think?).

          • Not unless you count Converge.

          • Right, and Baroness, Swans, and Torche. Look, those are great bands who made great albums in 2012, but they don’t represent an especially vivid or accurate cross-section of the genre. Heck, the metal-only list has 40 albums and is still missing several dozen others that absolutely deserve to be mentioned. It’s a diverse and vast community making a lot of great art.

      • A Rap top 40 would be nice, but although metal is starting to get some more coverage in Stereogum, Rap already has way more coverage, and most of the really good rap albums and mixtapes were already placed in the main list (Kendrick, El-P, Future, Killer Mike, Schoolboy Q, Rick Ross, Action Bronson, Etc.)

        also, I’d just like to say that I just can’t fucking stand Macklemore and his shit doesn’t belong anywhere near a top 40 list of any albums. As someone who’s actually from the Northwest, I’d say even though it’s like a desert as far as rap music goes, there have been much better rap mixtapes to come out of the Northwest this year than his album. At least Nacho Picasso.

      • The reason Macklamore isn’t gettin’ MORE attention (i mean it reached #2 on the Billboards brah), is because besides 3 songs, the album is kinda whack. The beats and the production are A+, but Macklamore kinda comes off as a goof and his lyrics really only resinate with like 16 year olds.

    • I think that lists benefit from being separated like this; the unspoken rule of other lists is something like this: Source is going to release a list about hip-hop, Decibel a list about metal and Rolling Stone a list about mostly genial rock. Even though music blogs and websites are increasingly more eclectic than ever, experimental and fringe music is overlooked due to the nature of the lists themselves (often because of this eclecticism, many mainstream genres may seem underrepresented). By providing separate lists for these acts, we kind of acknowledge that music isn’t beholden to one metric of appreciation.

      In other words, more lists means more spotlights being thrown on more music, which to me is the point. Now, I am going to go buy Pinkish Black on the strength of this list.

      • i agree. list like these makes me look out for stuff that i may have missed amidst the chatter of more “popular” indie releases….

        Thanks Michael for the list!

      • True, but also because it’s hard to compare different styles of music that attempt to do totally different things, so how do you make the assessment, for instance, that Cloud Nothings is more relevant than Roc Marciano? I’d actually go so far as to say that it’s the general lists that are the most irrelevant, not the genre breakdowns.

        • Yeah I always prefer genre-based lists, it makes more sense. I’d also say that the reason metal is on a separate list is because for the most part it has not merged with pop/mainstream culture, unlike hip-hop or electronica for instance, so no one is bothered when you put hip-hop on a list along with rock, pop, electro. It’s probably a little different if you try doing that with metal, especially death metal because somehow black metal is kind of trendy (relatively speaking).

    • Because it’s a niche genre, many people listen to mostly metal but not into other popular music genres and vice versa

    • The simplest answer to that question would be that none of the writers have volunteered to compile such a list, but Michael Nelson expressed an interest in doing a metal top 40 and there you go. I’m sure if someone stepped up and said they’d like to do a hip hop or mixtape list – and maybe they have – Stereogum would be unlikely to reject the idea.

    • If Frank Ocean and Japandroids can be on the same list, why can’t Pallbearer?

    • Metal needs its own list because rarely do “respectable” critics write about it. I would argue that it’s the music that its fans are most passionate about.

  2. Not putting Converge on this list is a glaring mistake, but hey, it’s your list.

  3. Stereogum, I love you. Kiss me.

  4. Looks like I need to check out some Winterfylleth and Martyrdod. Nice work Micheal, great article.

  5. I’m liking where Unsane’s Wreck is on the list, nice work Michael. Now we need a Stereogum’s Top 40 Slutpop albums of 2012 and I want to see Taylor Swift as an honorable mention.

  6. Does Deathspell Omega’s EP count as an album?

    • We didn’t differentiate between EPs and full-lengths for the purposes of our voting. A lot of my favorite releases this year were EPs; my personal top 20 has 4 of them:

      20. Diskord – Dystopics
      19. Lord Mantis – Pervertor
      18. Gojira – L’Enfant Sauvage
      17. Author & Punisher – Ursus Americanus
      16. Gaza – No Absolutes in Human Suffering
      15. Witch Mountain – Cauldron of the Wild
      14. Indesinence – Vessels of Light and Decay
      13. Antigama – Stop the Chaos
      12. Neurosis – Honor Found In Decay
      11. Car Bomb – w^w^^w^w
      10. Nidingr – Greatest of Deceivers
      9. Flourishing – Intersubjectivity
      8. Krallice – Years Past Matter
      7. Deathspell Omega – Drought
      6. Dysrhythmia – Test of Submission
      5. Necroblaspheme – XXVI: The Deeper, The Better
      4. Pig Destroyer – Book Burner
      3. Unsane –Wreck
      2. Meshuggah – Koloss
      1. Dodecahedron – Dodecahedron

  7. I mostly listen to the doom/sludge/stoner/psychedelic side of metal and this year, apart from those on the list above, I really enjoyed the releases from Witch Mountain, Saint Vitus, Ufomammut (the second one), Black Moth (The Killing Jar), Royal Thunder, the Elder EP, Conan, as well as the collection of b-sides from Kylesa.

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  9. Amenra – Mass V

  10. I definitely appreciate that you didn’t include Converge, etc. Especially Converge, whose All We Love We Leave Behind was certainly more hardcore than metal, and I felt like that Decibel list just included them because they’ve dabbled in metal in the past. They’ll always be a hardcore band foremost, though.

    That said, no Chelsea Wolfe? j/k j/k…

    • These comments always confuse me. There are multiple songs on AWLWLB that have nothing hardcore about them at all. The title track, Aimless Arrow, Predatory Glow, Trespasses, Shame in the Way, Coral Blue….Why would Converge not be considered metal? I understand they are part hardcore and part metal, but they’re at a minimum 50 50 I would say.

      • Converge obviously have lots of metal elements and a massive following of metal fans, plus Ballou produces lots of metal bands. If AWLWLB hadn’t been on Stereogum’s big list, it certainly woud have been eligible here. But 1. This allows us to show love to a few more bands, and 2. It would be oddly counterintuitive to see Converge at 40 on the big list, and then at (let’s say for the sake of argument) 5 on the metal list behind Pallbearer et al. Wouldn’t that suggest that Pallbearer et al. should have been on the big list, too? I prefer to keep the two lists distinct; it’s just convenient that the “metal” albums that made Stereogum’s Top 50 (Converge, Swans, Torche, and Baroness) aren’t really by definition metal. Which isn’t to say they’re not metal, though.

        • Converge are hardcore and hardcore has had an increasing cross-pollination with metal over the last decade, so I don’t see anything remotely controversial about including them on a metal year end list unless you just want to be super purist about it. Similarly, Torche and Baroness have released albums that were decidedly “metal” in the recent past, so I don’t see the value in cutting them out of the equation the minute they start to experiment with non-metal styles.

          Swans is the only one of those bands that I’ve been seeing on a lot of metal year end lists, and yes it’s a great album but Swans have traditionally had limited (if any) crossover with the metal realm, so I can see why someone would omit “The Seer” from their metal list in spite of it being a better album than most of the ones that did in fact make the cut (I definitely omitted it from mine, though I’ve also seen it included on a number of others).

          • Totally agree with all you’re saying — to me it just made sense to make those albums ineligible because they were already represented on the Stereogum Top 50. The fact that they’re not, like, Cannibal Corpse or Meshuggah makes that decision a bit more defensible, but if you disagree and would prefer to see where they’d rank on our metal-specific list, I can’t blame you. (My guess is they’d all place and rank pretty high, but I don’t know that any of them would supplant Pallbearer at 1.)

          • (disregard above comment. I misread the argument as well as not having pored over the list in detail, so I thought I was defending the inclusion of bands that were actually omitted for reasons that I, yes, glossed the fuck over. Durr)

  11. | #1 Agalloch: Faustian Echoes

    FTFY

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  13. Great list. Lots of stuff to check out. I loved Napalm Death’s Utilitarian this year too. Surprised that did not make it.

  14. I think metal is one of the hardest genres to penetrate, if nothing else because it’s divided into so many damn subgenres. Doom metal? Sludge? Black metal? Death metal? I don’t know what the hell any of that stuff means. If someone could point me to a resource to help that would be fantastic.

  15. no love for Earth – Angels of Darkness Demons of Light II??

    • Not a metal album (and before anyone points it out, yeah there are other non-metal albums in this list).

      What this list and every metal year-end list needs though is the new Desolate Shrine. This album slays.

  16. I don’t know a single band on this list!

  17. I love black metal as much as the next guy, but I don’t get the uproar if these year end lists aren’t filled to some arbitrary quota with black metal. In the last year or two I think the most adventurous stuff has been coming out of the doom/sludge subgenre, yet no one ever fusses if a top XX list doesn’t feature enough sludge albums, do they?

  18. “You’ll notice four albums are conspicuously absent: Baroness, Swans, Torche, and Converge. I omitted those releases from consideration.… are they even metal?”

    Yet you included Unsane, who I’d never think of as metal.

    Swans definitely isn’t metal. I’d argue Converge is, though – I don’t know what else to call them. Hardcore doesn’t seem adequate, given how heavy they are. (Or maybe I should say “were” – I’m judging them based on the set I saw them play at a Dethklok/Mastodon/High On Fire/Converge show a few years ago).

    I can see the controversy over Baroness and Torche, though. The latter sounds more like 70s rock and the former has gotten a serious prog/psych jones going on the new record. It begs the question, though: where do you draw the line between “metal” and “hard rock”?

    • Totally. I honestly shouldn’t have included that note in my intro — the only reason I made those four albums ineligible is because they were already represented on the Stereogum Top 50. I was kind of asking a broader question about “what is metal?” — especially as it is presented in more general-interest contexts — but I didn’t frame it well at all. Clearly all those albums deserve to be included in any conversation of metal in 2012,but I felt it made more sense to leave them off here, because they’d already been voted onto a much higher-profile list published by the same blog.

  19. I’ll be honest here, I’m very sad to see Witch Mountain left off this list, and I gotta say, I’ve tried to listen to that Pallbearer album, and it puts me the fuck to sleep. So goddamned boring :/ Doom is dead, long live doom.

  20. holy shit, that Wylve track blew me away

  21. As far as black metal goes, how come no one has mentioned Mgla- With Hearts Toward None?

    • It was on at least one ballot. I slept on it, honestly, to my chagrin. I went to the Messe Des Morts festival in Montreal to see them (among many others) but they couldn’t get visas so I’ve kind of had a few missed connections with that band. I’m gonna get a copy this week; I’ll report back here with my thoughts.

      • It would’ve made my top 20 if I hadn’t included EPs. Awesome album.

      • it’s in my top three favorites this year. my other two favs are the new goatwhore and converge albums. haha, i just checked- no goatwhore either? for shaaaameee

        • Goatwhore is one of the best live bands in metal but their albums just don’t do much for me. Dunno why. They are absolutely beloved by people whom I respect, but none of those people contributed to this list.

          • I only thought they were ‘alright’ until ‘A Haunting Curse…’ which is probably my favorite of theirs. I really like Carving Out the Eyes of God, which I think has their most ‘accessible’ jams like The All-Destroying, the title track, and To Mourn and Forever Wander Forgotten Doorways. I think the new one is great too, maybe their ‘best’. Funeral Dirge for the Rotting Sun has grown on me and I still haven’t gotten into the first. Love them live, too. They’re a lot of fun.

  22. 20-fucking-12! So much to say! Here’s an apology up front: I plan to ramble.

    2012 was the year of doom, and not in the Mayan sense. In my mind, this is the first time since Sabbath held the throne way back when that doom has ever completely dominated the metal landscape. The prominence of female-fronted retro doom acts got a lot of attention, but there were a million other variations that catapulted the genre forward, out of the gutter and into the (almost) mainstream. Atriarch’s fusion of doom, goth, and black metal was easily one of the best albums of the year (besting their brilliant debut in almost every way) and Pallbearer’s simple twist of mixing clean vocals on top of epic funeral doom made for the strangest animal of all: an uncompromising, seriously deep metal album with legitimate crossover appeal. It’s amazing how far actual songs can take a band.

    Now, within doom, you’ve got a million subgenres, right? Besides the female retro-doom thing that’s been discussed everywhere else (in the metal world), the REAL trend is the out-of-nowhere resurgence of funeral doom and death/doom. For the uninitiated, funeral doom is essentially ultra-slow, ultra-heavy doom played with epic song structures. Vocals are typically guttural bellows, and haunting melodic lead guitars are pretty common. Death/doom is similar, and there’s a huge amount of crossover, though most death/doom is more of a straight hybrid of doom and death metal: so ugly, chromatic riffs that sometimes pick up the pace to a mid-tempo death metal march. A few years ago you’d get a handful of funeral doom records in a year, maybe. Hardly any were getting attention, and none would have come close to topping a year-end list. Death/doom was, for all basic purposes, completely extinct since the early ’90s. This year we saw ancient bands resurrected in new forms (members of Disemboweled reforming as Inverloch), old unknowns taking center stage (Indesinence), and long-time death metal bands turning in some of the doomiest work of their career (Incantation and Asphyx). As with everything else that kicked ass this year, Profound Lore led the charge with Indesinence, Evoken, Aldebaran, Bell Witch, and Pallbearer (funeral doom with trad-doom vocals). But there were plenty of other gems from both genres that came out to slightly less acclaim, all worth seeking out: Hooded Menace brought melody and groove to their brand of death/doom, Ahab drifted into cleaner waters than before without sacrificing the weight of their funeral doom past, Anhedonist spiraled downward forever in a filthy, subterranean blend of straight death metal and murky doom, Inverloch were all discordant crush, as impenetrably dense as anything from their old band, Disemboweled, and even genre progenitors My Dying Bride bring more death than they have in years and it’s surprisingly good.

    And that’s just the doom side of the year! Death metal had a banner year with oldsters like Cannibal Corpse topping just about everything they’ve done before and new, younger bands like Horrendous proving that songwriting can set you apart from the pack. Black metal had an awful lot of brilliant releases but less from the heavy-hitters than normal, so they generally flew under the radar. Also, 2012 saw a lot of the black metal elite drifting from their roots even more than usual: Deathspell Omega’s latest is closer to prog than black metal and the final installment of Blut Aus Nord’s 777 trilogy can barely be called metal at this point (much closer to black metal influenced goth/industrial). That said, all of the black metal on this list is absolutely essential, particularly Winterfylleth and Ash Borer. It didn’t quite make the list, but I highly recommend the False/Barghest split released by Gilead Media. And the last few releases I’ll mention are just personal favorites that have been overlooked most everywhere else: Hells Headbangers is my favorite metal label, just edging out my general love of Profound Lore. They specialize in the kind of cult releases that the world really ought to hear, but rarely do. Hells Headbangers released some of my favorite unsung releases of the year, including: Pseudogod (Russian black/death), Deiphago (insane Portal-sounding war metal from the Philippines by way of Costa Rica), Mongrel’s Cross (Australian black/thrash), and this last is just an updated reissue of a compilation of early tracks but it is seriously better than anything else that was released this year anyway: I speak of Midnight’s “Complete and Total Fucking Hell”, which you should buy immediately on vinyl.

  23. Spooky header image.

  24. I would like to say in a more positive comment than my last one, nice job Stereogum! I always love metal lists because, regardless of placing, it gives me a whole bunch of new bands to check out. You guys have probably released the most kvlt list I’ve seen so far;) Congrats!

  25. the one guy who did all those album covers had a busy year

  26. Fairly solid list! I feel like the intros sum up a lot of my feelings on BM this year. I’ve seen a lot of love for the new Pig Destroyer, with many calling it a return to form from “Prowler” and a more grind sound. Unfortunately it felt like a really big spoon of brutal death pablum ala Misery Index to me, with a level of restraint that never broke into anything unhinged enough to be especially convincing. One album that I think is missing – Bastard Sapling’s debut. Awesome stuff.

  27. I’d like to echo Michael’s point about good black metal in 2012–it was out there, it just took some searching to find. Winterfylleth and Ash Borer may have been my favorite “big” black metal albums of 2012, but I equally enjoyed a number of cassette-only releases (many of which are also available digitally–if not initially, then eventually.) A Pregnant Light, Wylve, Rhinocervs and Witch in Her Tomb were absolutely killer, but that only scratches the surface of what is out there. Anything put out by the labels that released those four artists is worth a listen.

    • Also highly recommended–Forteresse’s Crepuscule d’Octobre. It was released late last year and missed out on most lists for 2011 and was ineligible for 2012.

  28. Witch In Her Tomb are from Central Illinois, not Chicago.

    • Thanks for the heads up. Not sure where I got Chicago.

      While we’re doing corrections: Bruni emailed me pointing out that he’s at the post office five days a week, first thing in the morning, not two. :-)

  29. ‘Downfall of gaia – Suffocating In The Swarm of Cranes’ was the BM-leap forward of this year. Hear for yourself.

  30. No Between The Buried And Me? C’monnnnn the new album is so much fun to listen to );

  31. Cattle Decap anyone?

  32. The new Blut Aus Nord album is spectacular. definitely one of my favorite albums this year in any genre.

    • You should check out their EP from this summer if you haven’t. I liked it a lot more than the LP, but I prefer noisy/scary BAN to melodic BAN.

  33. I actually liked Winterfylleth until I found out they were a bunch of racist dicks.

  34. 1. calling Enslaved’s album lackluster and then praising a bunch of American bands that play mediocre retreads of what innovators like Enslaved did 15 years ago.

    2. naming Kreator and Cannibal Corpse albums in an effort to create the illusion of having listened to metal before 2002. Both of those albums rank in the bottom half of their catalogs.

    3. Pallbearer is the most overrated band of the year. If you have early Warning and While Heaven Wept albums in your collection, everything Pallbearer plays is essentially unessential.

    • 1. Compared to the last two Enslaved albums, it was a letdown for me. I’ll still see them next year when they tour with … Pallbearer.

      2. I’ve been listening to Kreator since the release of Extreme Aggression. I sincerely believe Phantom Antichrist is their best since Coma Of Souls. I’m a huge Kreator fan and I love this record.

      3. It’s plainly inspired by Warning and While Heaven Wept, both great bands. It’s hardly redundant IMO. I think it’s an album of staggering power and sadness. I loved it on its release and I love it more now.

      • Torture doesn’t rank in the bottom half of CC’s catalog if you’re not a Chris Barnes fan, and I can’t stand the guy.

        Phantom Antichrist did nothing for me, though. It sounds like the band got together and said “OKAY GUYS, WE NEED TO WRITE SOME FRESH CHORUSES TO PLAY AT WACKEN THIS YEAR!”

    • Death is in the eye of the beholder, sure, but Torture is easily the best CC album. It’s not even close. Tomb of the Mutilated and The Bleeding are classics, no question. But the hits are laced with filler, and… Chris Barnes, man. Vocally speaking, Barnes doesn’t hold a fucking candle to Corpsegrinder. “Hammer Smashed Face” sounds a thousand times better live, and the current incarnation of Cannibal is the best lineup they’ve ever had, with the strongest batch of songwriters, and the production on Torture is the best they’ve ever sounded, with the biggest/best variety of songwriting, yadda yadda. There’s no “effort to create an illusion” of anything.

      Your argument against Pallbearer is that they vaguely sound like other doom bands with clean singing, and that Enslaved are better than everything that’s come since because they did it first? I bet your lawn is pristine and well-protected from the neighborhood kids.

  35. Thank you for including the Cannibal Corpse record. Worried that too many folks are taking that one for granted! The Asphyx seemed to get a little more love this year, but another thanks for top-10-ing that; it’s an incredible album.

    My sense is that we’ll be hearing a lot about Pallbearer’s overratedness as “Majesty and Decay” continues to pop up on year-end lists both metal-centric and non-. Is “M&D” a groundbreaking or even very novel record? No, sir. Is it an insanely addictive record of deep, beautiful, affecting songs? Yes, and thus all the fuss is warranted. Looking outside the metal sphere, Japandroids’ “Celebration Rock” is a similar kind of album, i.e., easy to underestimate in theory, but pretty much impossible to deny while it’s actually playing.

    Btw, my No. 1 record of the year (metal or otherwise), to be revealed soon, doesn’t appear on the main list but is cited in your intro…

  36. I appreciate how kvlt this list is; lots of stuff to check out. But, I do keenly feel L’enfant sauvage should be on here. Without changing their very extreme sound much at all, Gojira had a banner year. Seeing them play live, I felt like I was in the presence of true masters. They know exactly what they are doing at all times. It was without doubt one of the best shows I have ever seen. Though it isn’t underground, L’enfant sauvage is fucking brutal, perfectly composed and beautifully paced. What made you guys not include it, just out of curiosity?

    • Just taste and a insane volume of music. Of the four of us, Doug is the biggest tech-y guy, and Gojira was 18 on his ballot. Your description makes me wish I had seen them when they played here, though. I’ll make it a point to catch them next time they’re in NYC.

      • I am not much into the tech-y side of death metal either but Max is right. It was legitimately one of the best shows I have ever seen. They absolutely commanded the stage. That is one confident band.

  37. No Between the Buried and Me – The Parallax II or The Faceless – Autotheism? Come on guys, I know it’s not “hip” to like prog-related stuff and I don’t even consider Parallax as one of BtBaM’s best, but both of those albums are better than about a good bit of what’s on here IMO.

    And I have to agree with the majority here about Pallbearer, just can’t get into them at all. Not to mention that they were boring as hell when I saw them live.

  38. Well I personally believe some albums here are not worthy of my own top albums. Here are some of my favorites.Worm Ouroborus-Come The Thaw(brought me to fucking tears, and still does), Hell-III(Dante Alighieri soundtrack while venturing through the circles of hell) , Elysian Blaze-Blood Geometry(this is eerie shit.), Gaza-No Absolutes In Human Suffering(fucking angry, and emotionally driven at times), Love Sex Machine-S/T(sludgy- fucking amazing), Dragged Into Sunlight(mixed reviews but once it grew on me holy shit did I love it.), Amenra, Binah-Hallucinating In Resurrect(death metal that has a certain twist), The Great Old Ones(absolutely gorgeous, probably my album of the year) Pseudogod(just listen to the track Azazel), Inverloch(obviously), Bell Witch(if you think Pallbearer evoked sorrow, this will blow your mind, at least for me it did.)

  39. Why does metal get its own list and South American funk doesn’t? wtf Stereogum?!

  40. Witch in Her Tomb! My first exposure and I’m blown away! Can’t wait to dig into some of these others I haven’t heard of yet!

  41. lol where is channel orange…. this list is stupid…

  42. For me the best metal album of the year is easily Devin Townsend Project – Epicloud.

  43. I actually like the last Dawnbringer album (Nucleus) a lot more than the new one. I mean, a LOT more. I seem to be the only person in the world who does, though.

  44. No Gojira????!?!?!?!?!?

  45. I’m surprised by no Panopticon :( Kentucky was my favorite album this year.

  46. Where is Paradise Lost with Tragic Idol ?Are all asleep ?There are so many rehashed jobs in this top…

  47. What a pile of crap this list is. The metal genre has fallen into a state of utter decay and talentlessness. Anything with that irritating death metal type vocals can be summarily dismissed on grounds of sheer stupidity and irritation. If I hear that voice I stop the song right then and there cuz I know it would be pointless and irritating to continue. That gets rid of about 90% of the list right there. I listened to a random selection and none of them were at all impressive. The top ones were actually as bad as the bottom ones. I can’t even think of any bands worth listening to now other than the original DragonForce and maybe Helloween and Unisonic. End of list really.

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