A Blaze in the Southern Sky:
Best 25 Metal Albums of 2012

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Dropped by Robert Miller

As the rest of the Dropp gets ready to share its best albums of 2012 and already shared the best songs and best performances, it’s time for me to share my favorite metal albums from this year. 2012 has been interesting for me in the heavy music department because I’ve had so many “firsts,” if you will—even for bands that have been around for a while. I’ve been introduced to so many good acts lately that I don’t know what to do with it all! This list was actually quite hard for me to put together and especially hard to order. So try not to read too much into the order of this list as each one is an exceptional entry in its own right.

Also, I’d like to note quite a few Florida-based acts made a killing this year with some stellar releases. You’ll see a couple below, but I want to give a shout-out to all of the hard working bands from the Sunshine State that poured their blood, sweat and tears into albums, EPs and shows. It’s been an impressive year. I’d also like to note that my absolute favorite album of 2012—by a landslide—was Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, and even though the first track on that monstrous grand-return album had quite the heavy influence, it’s by no means a metal album, so you won’t find it here. And finally, you may notice as you look through here that quite a few of these entries come from Profound Lore records. I have no idea what it has been about the Ontario-based record label, but Chris Bruni has helped provide some fantastic metal albums this year for me and many others. Anyway, enough chatter . . . on to the list.

Oh, and Merry Christmas, or Kwanzaa, or whatever.


Conan - Monnos

Conan: Monnos (Burning World/Gravedancer)
Conan: “Hawk As Weapon”

Early Graves - Red Horse cover

Early Graves: Red Horse (No Sleep)
Early Graves: “Red Horse”

Neurosis: Honor Found in Decay (Neurot)
Neurosis: “At The Well”

Bosse-de-Nage - iii cover

Boss-de-Nage: III (Profound Lore)
Bosse-de-Nage: “The Aborist”

Nachtmystium - Silencing Machine cover

Nachtmystium: Silencing Machine (Century Media)
Nachtmystium: “Silencing Machine”

Evoken: Altra Mors (Profound Lore)
Evoken: “Descent Into Chaotic Dream”

Bell Witch: Longing… (Profound Lore)
Bell Witch: “The River of Ash”

Krallice - Years Past Matter review

Krallice: Years Past Matter (Self-released)

Mutilation Rites - Empyrean

Mutilation Rites: Empyrean (Prosthetic)
Mutilation Rites: “A Season of Grey Rain”

Black Breath - Sentenced to Life

Black Breath: Sentenced to Life (Southern Lord)
Black Breath: “Feast of The Damned”

Loma Prieta - IV

Loma Prieta

Take screamo—circa 1997—throw some feedback, chaotic fuzz and a few circle-pit-friendly intros into the mix and you have a raw rejuvenation of a genre that has slowly but surely dwindled into a self-referential fashion statement for teens. I.V. is a straight shot to your nervous center. Blunt. Invasive. Utterly unforgiving.

Loma Prieta: “Fly By Night”

Horseback - Half Blood cover

Half Blood

Horseback’s brew of blues rock, jazz strings, demonic vocals and doom-level decibels is a confounding and wholly rewarding experience. By the time you get to the Hallucigenia trilogy at the end, it’s as if you’ve stepped into a psychedelic haunting.

Devalued - Plagues cover


South Florida-native hardcore trio, Devalued, shared their first release this year for a chaotic, discordant and nearly aimless tape about the elementary and base nature of human beings. Just the same, the album willingly throws itself into a dirty mess of schizophrenic heavy. Plagues doesn’t know if it wants to be hardcore, grindcore, metal, punk, sludge, screamo—whatever!—and that’s perfectly fine, because it does each one of those fervently and ferociously.

Devalued: “Mandark”
Devalued: “Boulders”

High on Fire - De Vermis Mysteriis

High on Fire
De Vermis Mysteriis

De Vermis Mysteriis is somewhat of a concept album, and while concept albums can be quite fun, they can also get lost in their own lore and miss out on being a good musical project in the first place. Stoner metal band High on Fire’s sixth LP sort of loses its focus in the story realm, but retains the enveloping feeling in its music. No matter what story they may be after, De Vermis Mysteriis is still a mythical sounding album, and that’s the most important aspect anyway.

High on Fire: “Serums of Liao”

Holly Hunt - Year One album cover

Holly Hunt
Year One
(Other Electricities)

Another South Florida band for the list, the droning doom duo Gavin Perry and Beatriz Monteavaro released their first full-length album barely a few weeks ago, so Year One is sort of a last-minute submission to this list, but it’s worth it. Trashing the very idea of vocals entirely, Holly Hunt pound along Year One with the sort of relentless jam-band attitude that never seems like it wants to let up. The album is almost a test of will—stamina at its finest—as Monteavaro beats her kit into the ground and Perry elicits static resonance from his guitar like an incantation.

Holly Hunt: “Klub”

Gates of Mourning - Nightfall Blooms and Golden Horns

Gates of Mourning
Nightfall Blooms and Golden Horns

Daniel Morris’ solo black metal project Gates of Mourning released Nightfall Blooms and Golden Horns in late 2011, so it’s not even really a 2012 album. But with the kind of painstaking yowls, walls of blast beats, shrieking guitars and fair folk influence, Nightfall Blooms is an endeavor worth your investment.

Gates of Mourning: “Of Beauty, Lust and Thrones of Blood”

Gaza - No Absolutes in Human Suffering cover

No Absolutes in Human Suffering
(Black Market Activities)

Not only are there no absolutes in human suffering, there are no absolutes in the anguish Gaza brings with their 2012 release. Gloom, doom and dystopia, No Absolutes in Human Suffering isn’t the happiest of albums, but with production prowess from Converge bassist Kurt Ballou, it’s more of an epileptic release than anything else.

Gaza: “Not With All The Hope In The World”

Pig Destroyer - Book Burner cover

Pig Destroyer
Book Burner

For some reason, a lot of bands came out with “long-awaited” albums this year. There was mewithoutYou’s first self-released album, Ten Stories, Godspeed You’s first album after a decade-long hiatus/complete breakup, and now that also applies to Virginia/Maryland grindcore bruisers, Pig Destroyer. It has been over five years since their last official album, so it’s safe to say they were due for a reboot. With death metal band Misery Index’s drummer Adam Jarvis taking the seat at PD’s kit and frontman J.R. Hayes barreling his entire body into his vicious vocal performance, Book Burner is an abrasive and grand album that spans 19 tracks in a measly half an hour. It’s not for everyone, but it could just be the bone-breaking wake-up call you need.

Seriously. Imagine “Burning Palm” as an alarm clock on your phone at 7 a.m.

Pig Destroyer: “Burning Palm”

Blut Aus Nord - 777 Cosmosophy cover

Blut Aus Nord
777 – Cosmosophy
(Debemur Morti)

French black metal avant-garde band Blut Aus Nord completed their trilogy concept, 777, this year with 777: Cosmosophy. Dark, gothic, melodic and majestically paced, this cap to their trilogy may not be what most people would expect, considering the bands original strict back-to-the-basics black metal roots. Even harsh industrial tones are incorporated from time to time, such as on the opening “Epitome XIV,” where Vindsval harrowingly sings in a chorus with other voices in a pure clean style. Echoing chords reverberate alongside synthesizer hooks through the dank halls of Cosmosophy where most of the atmosphere is forbidding and cold. It’s definitely not what most black metal fans would come to expect; in fact, aside from a couple instances, it’s almost not black metal at all. But the submerging tone of this album is thoughtful and sort of anxious. I’ve rarely felt so restless yet so peacefully satisfied listening to a single metal album.

Beyond Terror Beyond Grace - Nadir

Beyond Terror Beyond Grace

Australia’s Beyond Terror Beyond Grace released an expansive album this year called Nadir. My jaw dropped when I first heard the noisy reverberation of “Dusk” erupt into the relentless blast beats, droning guitars and monstrous growls. Based on that album cover, it felt like listening to Dark Funeral while riding in a wooden barrel down Niagara Falls—simultaneously gorgeous and deadly. Beyond Terror’s previous material, including 2010′s Our Ashes Built Mountains was almost exclusively grindcore, but Nadir takes that grindcore sensibility and blends it perfectly with expansive black metal. I found myself returning to this album over and over again this year. The pure replay factor of this album is enough to edge it near the top of this list.

Beyond Terror Beyond Grace: “Requiem For The Grey”

Agalloch - Faustian Echoes

Faustian Echoes
(Dämmerung Arts)

Agalloch’s Faustian Echoes is not very accessible. It’s an EP that just so happens to be a single 21-minute song. “Faustian Echoes” is like a German lit class with Portland, Oregon’s black metalers Agalloch. Much rawer and not so post-rock-leaning as their past material, Faustian Echoes takes a lot of cues from the back bone of the other half of their genre. Incorporating actual lines and audio samples from film versions of Faust, Agalloch retells the story of the original deal with the devil. “Then man is only air as well,” Faust proclaims at the end of the song, leaving a hollow ring permeating till the end. A fitting and bold move from a band that released a highly acclaimed post-rock/black metal blend of an album two years ago.

Sorrow & Extinction
(Profound Lore)

Much like Baroness’ Yellow & Green album this year, this is another one of those metal albums that has some people scratching their heads, thinking, “Metal? Really? Where’s all the screaming and . . . heaviness?” My answer: were you not listening?! Brett Campbell’s voice skyrockets about the music like a missile, looking down on all of the crunching guitars, bass and feedback lurking on the ground below. This young, relatively new band chose a name that fits quite perfectly with their doom genre. Pallbearer’s carry caskets during a funeral procession and doom is a very heavy and dark form of metal obsessed with death. The beautiful thing about Pallbearer’s Sorrow & Extinction, though, is its ability to rumble your brain into a smoking pile of rubble, but uplift you in spirit. Just listen to how the discordant guitar solo on “An Offering of Grief” falls into a a soft acoustic interlude before it erupts into a slow-but-sure crescendo of guitar fret work. It’s the most beautiful metal you’ll hear in quite some time.

Ash Borer - Cold of Ages cover

Ash Borer
Cold of Ages
(Profound Lore)

With a fairly standard black and white cover on their album, California’s Ash Borer craft a black metal album worthy of its bleak, cold outlook. Haunting, calm, quiet and careful, then suddenly thunderous, blasting and malevolent, Cold of Ages is a droning and sometimes psychedelic trek with Worm Ouroboros’ Jessica Way’s unearthly cadences and layer upon layer of mixing that just confounds you on one listen. Lay back, play Cold of Ages in full, and give yourself a chance to explore its depths.

Ash Borer: “Removed Forms”

Converge - All We Love We Leave Behind album cover

All We Love We Leave Behind

I realized that in my review of Converge’s All We Love We Leave Behind that it sounded as though I was saying these guys were like grandparents in a hardcore band—crutches, tattoos and all. That’s pretty ridiculous, considering most of these guys are only in their 30s, but the point I was trying to make is that they aren’t 16 anymore, they’re not 19 anymore, and they’re not even in their 20s. Thirty-two, 36 and 38 aren’t exactly over the hill, but they’re inching their way there, and most people that age gave up music like Converge long ago. So All We Love… is an album that needed to be balanced. They seem to now walk a fine line of aging well and holding onto the hardcore scene as best they can. It’s obviously a struggle, and it makes for a deeply personal album, but that’s what makes it so endearing, so attracting.

The passing of time is beautiful and tragic, just like the simple and fantastic lunar cover of this album shows, but Converge are working through it all just like the rest of us. All We Love… is all of the heavy dissonance a hardcore/metal fan needs and all of the personality and humanity any music lover could ever want.

Converge: “Aimless Arrow”
Converge: “Sadness Comes Home”

1. Drudkh: Eternal Turn of the Wheel
(Season of Mist)

I love albums with a concept or an overall grand, majestic feel. High on Fire flirted with the idea in De Vermis Mysteriis, as well as Baroness on their double-LP release; and as much as I loved Converge’s All We Love We Leave Behind (and believe me, the No. 1 spot was neck-and-neck in my rattled head), I wanted to hear an even grander approach to engross me. I like drone, I like psychedelics, and I like it when a band takes their sweet time between loud, caustic, bludgeoning bouts. Drudkh, an obscure Ukranian black metal band, know when to pull back on the reins and let a few carefully strung notes ring out and slowly build up to the next frame of hyper blast beats and tremolo guitars. Eternal Turn of the Wheel is their most recent release from this year and it finds the band raging into a warzone that feels mythic, majestic and monumental all at the same time.

Frontman Thurios’ voice is a bellowing lamentation that is simultaneously heartbreaking and empowering. At times a bark, and at times a moan, I can’t tell if the man is in pain or dealing pain—oftentimes, I think it’s both. And with the mix of post-rock grandeur and black-metal crunch, Drudkh walk a cavernous depth of metal similar to Norway’s Ulver or the stateside Olympians Wolves in the Throne Room. Like the album title suggests, Eternal Turn of the Wheel is an ongoing narrative that I can’t exactly interpret (seeing as how the band sings exclusively in Ukranian and don’t release their lyrics anyway), but I can certainly feel it.

There is a considerable amount of controversy surrounding the Ukranian group and their past ties and alignments to select bands and record labels that may have buzz words like “ethnic cleansing” and “Aryan” circling above their heads like callous vultures (surprise, surprise). But that is all sort of secondary to the band’s otherworldly music. I much prefer to separate the artist from the art—for example, Burzum’s Varg Vikernes who gets a lot of influential comparisons to this band—and when there is a sudden soft interlude on “When Gods Leave Their Emerald Halls” that builds up with prog-like ride until it stops quiet again and bursts with a wall of black metal vibrato, I get chills that last throughout the rest of the song. And that’s really all I ever want in a good metal album: a sinking feeling that there’s more to this than meets the ear.

Drudkh: “Farewell To Autumn’s Sorrowful Birds”

Mon Dec 24

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