Best of 2012 — 1. PALLBEARER, “Sorrow and Extinction” (Profound Lore)

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With success comes derision. You can see that already with the incredible debut album “Sorrow and Extinction” from Pallbearer, a stunning, elegant serving of old-school doom metal that seems to have won over most of the metal world. But if you look around, you’re starting to see the barbs, the arrows slung because so many people have embraced this record. That comes with the territory. Detractors think it’s an organized groundswell. But don’t listen to any of that if you haven’t visited with this incredible band yet. From the moment I first heard this album early in the year, I knew it was going to take a dramatic effort from another band to rip away its album-of-the-year status. We’re talking something I’ve felt strongly since January. I’ve been waiting that long to crown it. So now’s the time. Here it is. Meat Mead Metal’s No. 1 record of 2012. No other album really stood a chance.

The Arkansas-based band already did a killer job with their demo, and those of us who heard it already were clamoring for more. This album, to me, drew a line back to the genre’s beginnings. Most doom bands these days are embracing as much death as doom, and I’m cool with that. Love the approach. But I also love the nod back to the old guard, which Pallbearer seemed most intent to carry out. There is melody on top of melody, a great display of drama and emotion, and spectacular songs that should live through the ages. The magic of this album was immediate, and even upon recently getting my hands on the vinyl version of the album, it seemed to gain even more momentum with me. That’s rare these days. This is simply a no-brainer of a decision, and if they recorded it for Profound Lore or motherfucking Victory (that would be a hoot), it would be No. 1. Fuck it. It’s great.

We had the honor of talking to bassist Joseph D. Rowland about their debut album and what it meant to them. Many thanks to him for taking time and to the rest of his band members – guitarist/vocalist Brett Campbell, guitarist Devin Holt, and drummer Mark Lierly (Zach Stine played on the record) for their vision and artistic output. Long may they reign.

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Meat Mead Metal: We’ve named “Sorrow and Extinction” as our No. 1 album of 2012. Obviously this record’s gotten a major amount of adulation from pretty much all over. Did you expect such a huge reaction to this record? Did you realize you had something special when you finished it?

Joseph Rowland: First of all, thanks! We definitely did not expect anything of the sort in terms of adulation or even attention the record has gotten in general. Of course, the album was special to us and was something we felt HAD to make. It had a big impact on us, but we didn’t envision that it would impact on so many others. If anything, we wanted something with lasting value, like I would think any musicians would, no matter who ended up listening or not.

MMM: Doom has had a pretty huge year both with the volume of releases and the amount of good music that came out of the genre. Pallbearer‘s approach is one of the more traditional out there — clean vocals, no growls, a lot of drama. Did the band have a desire to do something different from everyone else? Or is this just a summation of your influences and personal tastes?

JR: I think our approach definitely comes from a different place than at least a good portion of bands playing what people would consider doom metal. Honestly I find a lot of today’s doom to be kind of uninspiring. Many bands seem too focused on just riffing out or trying to make things sound “evil” or “psychedelic” with not nearly enough attention to songwriting. I don’t mind seeing bands like this in a live setting when I’ve had a few beers, but it’s just not really a compelling listen in my opinion. Our interests lie pretty specifically with bands like Camel, Marillion, and Pink Floyd when it comes to how we look at melody and sense of feeling within how our songs tend to fit together. So while what we make may still be fairly traditional in one way or another, we’re at least going at it in a way that’s exciting to us, and maybe interests others too.

MMM: Your record was released by Profound Lore, one of the most respected labels in underground metal. Who pursued who? Did the band have a desire to be on the label, or did they track you down? How do you feel about the relationship?

JR: I don’t want to get too deeply into the business surrounding labels pursuing us about the album out of respect for people’s affairs, but we had been talking for some time to Chris (Bruni) at Profound Lore, thanks to Mike from LOSS getting us in touch. Once we were totally certain about moving forward with Profound Lore, we did so and have enjoyed it very much since. Chris is great to work with, and I feel it’s been very mutually beneficial thus far.

MMM: The band certainly has been busy touring. Are the songs changing at all in a live setting? Are you expanding on anything or trying anything new that grew out of the songs being played live?

JR: We’re always tinkering with pieces here and there, plus adding a bit of expanded improvisational parts too. We’re definitely not a band that flourishes in playing the songs exactly like the recording. I think there are always opportunities to make little new points of interest and in-the-moment inspiration to possibly make every performance a bit unique, without going too overboard of course. Although it’s possible that we might have done that a time or two depending on how much we’d had to drink before we played!

MMM: Any thoughts on new material yet?

JR: We’ve got a lot of new things in the works, some of which will be the second album and some on some smaller releases.

MMM: The band has a huge tour coming up in 2013 with Enslaved. Very diverse bill as well with Royal Thunder and Ancient Vvisdom. Is that going to be a landmark accomplishment for the band? What do you hope to get out of such a huge journey?

JR: I just found out that Royal Thunder is added to the tour, which rules. We love those folks to death! We had a great run with them back in September. The tour is definitely going to be interesting and very cold! We’re not used to serious wintry weather and are dreading that a bit. It might add a bit of grim edge to our playing on the tour! We’re looking forward to it though. It will be exciting playing with legends like Enslaved, in places we have yet to venture so far! We look forward to exploring some new locations, assuming we don’t freeze to death, and of course getting to meet up with old and new fans and friends along the way.

MMM: Looking back on 2012, what are some of the highs, and maybe even some lows, you take away that will help build the band toward its future?

JR: It would be tough for me to go into all the highs. We’ve had a lot of amazing opportunities given to us this year, and we’ve met some truly incredible and gracious people. One of the big highlights for me was playing two special one-off shows in one night in Brooklyn, New York, back in May. It was our first time in NYC, and it was just a stellar time. I found out while we were there that the venue hosting the first show of the night, Saint Vitus Bar, was located on the same street that much of one of my all-time favorite movies was filmed on (the movie is “Street Trash,” by the way, one of the best sleazy ’80s horror films) so it made that night into something I won’t forget. And while there has definitely been a lot to celebrate in a way, in terms of low points, it was disappointing when our former drummer Chuck informed us of his plans to leave the band. But even that resulted in a great situation with our current line-up which I feel is stronger than ever. We’ve also dealt with some personal hardships, which always add fuel to our slow-burning creative fires. So good or bad, the band is definitely pushing forward into even more complex headspace of darkness and light. It will be interesting to see where it leads.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/pallbearerdoom

To buy the album, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/plr-items/pallbearer-sorrow-and-extinction/

To buy the vinyl, go here: http://www.20buckspinshop.com/collections/front/products/pallbearer-sorrow-and-extinction-2xlp

For more on the label, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

Best of 2012 — 2. EAGLE TWIN, ‘The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale’ (Southern Lord)

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Eagle Twin’s sophomore record “The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale” was an instant classic the first time I heard it. A sludgy, doom-infested record that combines crows, snakes, Biblical Adam, and destruction sounds about as metal as it gets, and the Salt Lake City-based duo’s approach toward their art is unique, unsettling, and maybe even a little too abrasive and weird for some audiences. Maybe that’s why this masterful record hasn’t ended up on more best-of lists. That has to be the reason, because I can’t figure out any other logical explanation for why adulation hasn’t been showered down on this album. That’ll be our job, then, as I cannot say enough good things about this great document.

Guitarist/vocalist Gentry Densley and drummer Tyler Smith not only comprise an impressive and powerful band in the studio, they also become a totally different beast live when they reinterpret their music. It’s anything goes, a 30-minute, non-stop slab of improvisation and inroads back to their albums. Seeing them live on their tour with Earth provided that hammer-home moment for me, when I realized just how great “The Feather” is, and it was a soul-moving experiences hearing this stuff performed by the duo on stage. I’ve had this record since late summertime, and it’s been in regular rotation for me, be it in the car, at work, or at home on my turntable. It’s one of the most impressive albums I’ve heard in some time, a collection that elevated the band in my mind to one I really liked to one that is one of my favorite groups in metal.

Today, we celebrate “The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale,” a crushing piece of doom that also will have your mind and heart racing and, if you’re as intrigued as I was, you going for some books. If you haven’t checked this thing out yet, do so right now. See if your world isn’t as devastated and quaked as mine was after spending ample time with this masterpiece. We had a chance to ask Densley some questions about the record, the band, and the mysterious liner notes in their record jacket that seems to put their future in question. Thanks a million to him for taking the time, and to his band for this great record.

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Meat Mead Metal: We’re naming Eagle Twin’s “The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale” as the No. 2 metal album of the year. It’s a really killer record that I’m surprised hasn’t gotten more adulation than it has. How do you feel about the final product?

Gentry Densley: We are very happy with the record!  We had it done a year before it came out.  I guess that gave us a chance to get everything just the way we wanted, which was a blessing.  The sounds we got were great and everything was expertly captured by Randall Dunn. There was a lot of dark stuff we were working through in our personal lives, and it made its way into this record and intensified it.

MMM: Your lyrical references certainly are steeped in Biblical folklore, Adam, the origins of humankind, serpents and crows, judgment, death, etc. It also sounds quite involved and personal. What inspires this story? What are you trying to say on this record, and how does it relate to what went down in “The Unkindness of Crows”?

GD: We been brought low by certain circumstances, suffering for no good reason, like Job.  Poisoned by knowledge best left unknown.  The lofty bird had been turned into the lowly snake.  The music at one point imitates the mutation.  The material for the record became entwined in our lives, and I wasn’t sure whether it was life imitating art or vice versa.  We thought we should take the album in a direction that brings us back to the Crow.  That material always felt more … like us, like where we wanted to get back to.  Crow doesn’t care about society or God, he just does his thing, and sometime has a bit of fun while doing it.  So we made a conscious choice to influence our lives by changing the end of the album.

MMM: It also, from the liner notes, seems to indicate this is the end of one phase of the band and the start of a new. Please explain. And what can we expect of the Smith Twins, Rowan and Adler? Will the
continuation of the story perhaps signal a different sound or approach? A different name? Am I reading too much into this?

GD: Every ending is a beginning of sorts.  The conclusion we speak of was the end of the dark times we were going through that this album chronicles.  Rowan and Adler are Tyler’s twin boys. They definitely bring some light and new life into the picture.  Things will change but we will continue on in much the same way.  We have an EP brewing of some alternate tangents from the “Feather Tipped…” material.  And a third album is taking form as well.

MMM: In addition, you pay homage to the Bible, poet Ted Hughes, Gene Roddenberry, and Fredrico Garcia Lorca, who obviously wrote about Adam. How specifically did these writers inspire the band and the story of “The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale”?

GD: All of them wrote about Adam. Ted Hughes has great many poems about the serpent, and the garden, and all. Crow even makes an appearance in some of those.  The bonus track for the vinyl was adapted from Roddenberry, a “Star Trek” episode where they try to reach planet Eden. One of the space hippies sings about “The Way to Eden.”  All these sources are working in the same fields of storytelling and allegory. The Bible, “Star Trek,” the Crow, all drawing from these universal myths.

MMM: I caught you guys live recently with Earth, and it was just a pummeling, unique performance. Is each night’s show a little different from the last? Do you do a lot of improvisation, because it felt like
you guys were just going off, and now and again you’d bring it back to one of the songs? Really good stuff. Please explain.

GD: That’s how we do it live.  We try to keep each other on our toes. It keeps things interesting for us and exciting for the audience. Nothing is predictable, believe me.  We have learned to go with it. We go off cause we can, and it’s a blast! We always strive to be musical and give the audience a good story and a better performance.

MMM: You both seem to have a cosmic connectedness playing live. There’s a synergy there that I don’t experience with many bands. It’s hard for me to put in words, but it feels like every move the band makes on stage is almost telepathic. Where does that come from?

GD: Many, many years of working together I guess.  We’ve developed a kind of language – no hand signals or cues really, just subtle things in our playing.  We know how to get the other to react and we know how to react to each other.  On the road, on the long drives, we actually practice reading each other’s thoughts.

MMM: What does Eagle Twin have coming next? It seems there’s a pretty wide open future.

GD: I mentioned the EP, the “Crow/Snake Addendum,” it has some alternate endings and tangential material from the “Feather Tipped…”  album. The third LP is also taking form, a more mammalian form, with hooves and horns and wolves and tusks and a more elemental return, all over seen by the birds. As we saw in the end of the last record, Crow still has some battles to fight.

For more on the band, go here: http://us.myspace.com/eagletwin

To buy the album, go here: http://www.southernlord.com/store.php

For more on the label, go here: http://www.southernlord.com/

Best of 2012 — 3. BLUT AUS NORD, ‘Cosmosophy’ (Debemur Morti)

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Metal needs more visionaries, artists without fear who will take their ideas to places not approached before, reaction from the masses be damned. We have one of those in Vindsval, the man behind Blut Aus Nord who has stretched his black metal wings so wide, that he hardly can be contained in heavy metal anymore. We’ve gotten  a taste of his ambition over the years (along with creative partners W.D. Feld and GhÖst), but it wasn’t until the “777” trilogy that his true colors were revealed. We found an artist without a care for genre boundaries or how things are “supposed to be done” and went on to put together three of the most compelling records in his and his bandmates’ history as creators. The “777” finale “Cosmosophy” is a masterpiece.

One could argue “Cosmosophy” isn’t purely a heavy metal record, and really, I understand that stance sonically. But in a question I’ve asked all year on this site, what really is heavy metal? Is it a sound, or is it a philosophy and an attitude? I say it’s a bit of both, and clearly Vindsval always has been a master of both. This record is an incredible sonic and spiritual journey, one that you never will have heard anything like if you haven’t spent time with “Cosmosophy” yet. There are elements of post-rock, trip-hop, electronic music, and plenty other sounds that wrap the swirling black metal with colorful texture.  There’s more clean singing than you’ve ever heard from Vindsval, and it even has dashes of gothic madness. The 45-minute collection of these five epitomes completes the story arc of one’s search for meaning, time, a higher being, and place in the cosmos, and I still am trying to figure out what it all means to me many, many plays later.

It is a great honor to us at Meat Mead Metal than the man behind the machine, Vindsval, took some time to answer some of our questions about “Cosmosophy,” the “777” trilogy, and the future of Blut Aus Nord. We could not be more thankful and humbled to bring you words from this incredible artist. Also, do yourself a favor a listen to this masterpiece that’ll make you reconsider what you think to be heavy metal.

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Meat Mead Metal: We’re naming “777-Cosmosophy” our No. 3 metal album for 2012. Yet, it certainly goes beyond just metal. Did you know all along that this final installment of the “777” trilogy was going to sound like this? Is this something you always wanted to try?

Vindsval: Yes, absolutely, the whole trilogy was supposed to be a way towards a form of light, since the beginning the falling point is luminous centre of the last cover. Even if the inspiration forms a significant part of the process, everything was written a long time before to start the real work of composition.  I had a very detailed idea of this specific sound, at the same time celestial, thick and extremely heavy. Same thing about the musical evolution of the whole trilogy.  I knew the result before, to start to compose, and the challenge was to concretize and give a sonorous form to this abstract creation.

MMM:  Is the style of music we hear on “Cosmosophy” something we can expect to hear more of in the future? You know you’ll have those listeners who will just want bludgeoned with black metal, but is that something that even bothers you? Do you operate at all with others’ expectations in mind?

V: Everything is possible in the future. Blut Aus Nord is a totally free project. We absolutely don’t care about the expectations of the listeners and the listeners like that. They know that they will be surprised with each new album. Blut Aus Nord is an exciting project for them and…for us.

Meat Mead Metal: What were you hoping listeners took both philosophically and musically from both the “777” trilogy and the “Cosmosophy” album? Is there any room for interpretation, or is your message/story to the point and not open to other views? Is this a summation of your own personal philosophies or did you draw from something else?

V: “777” is about the annihilation of the obsolete concept of time, it represents different stages of the modification of a human soul who becomes a particle of God, comparable to an alchemy in the Flesh of mankind. “777” is the sublime subversive strength of light beyond every forms of beliefs and devotion…The Destruction Of Reason By Illumination. “777,” celestial body, is the purest symbol of the collapse of a world of references.

MMM: Now that the entire “777” trilogy is out there and completed, how do you feel about the project as a whole? Do you feel like the whole story you were trying to tell was conveyed the way you envisioned? 

V: Absolutely, the result corresponds exactly to the initial idea. “Cosmosophy”  is the culmination of a project that dates back 18 months ago. Now the trilogy “777” is complete and the listening of the three albums is extremely comfortable in term of sound, style, etc. This is the most important thing. The evolution from the first epitome to the last one is perfect and very progressive; everything is logical and evident.

MMM: What’s next for Blut Aus Nord. These records certainly followed a rather aggressive release schedule. Is it time for a break, or are you already thinking about your next steps?

V: A break? Absolutely not! I’m already working on new songs for a split with Rebirth Of Nefast. I’m also working on a new project called 777 (the project, not the trilogy), entirely electronic/ambient music, a very dark and strange experience, like a new emanation of Blut Aus Nord. I have a ton of new ideas, projects, and a ton of things to compose and record. I can’t take a break with music, just because music doesn’t want to take a break with me!

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Blut-Aus-Nord/53193141113

To buy thee album, go here: http://e-shop.season-of-mist.com/en/items/blut-aus-nord/777-cosmosophy/cd-digipack/32651

To buy the album digitally, go here: http://dmp666.bandcamp.com/album/blut-aus-nord-777-cosmosophy

For more on the label, go here: http://www.debemur-morti.com/default.php

Best of 2012 — 4. DRAGGED INTO SUNLIGHT, ‘WidowMaker’ (Prosthetic)

dragged cover

It’s perhaps a bit of an understatement when I say a lot of metal bands work really hard to be a scary and disturbing as possible. Problem with that, other than saturation taking away the shock effect, is that the bands that really are scary and threatening are few and far between, while so many groups are just going through the motions. So how do you find the real ones, the bands that are genuine and really do shake you to the core? Your ears and your mind should tell you, and if they’re being honest, they’ll take you right to hooded UK band Dragged Into Sunlight. Over two records now, they’ve displayed a sense of menace and fright few bands can touch, and their slow-driving, blackened, sludgy doom is some of the best out there. Their live shows? Ridiculous. Infernal. Damnation on a stage.

Dragged Into Sunlight did something with their second record “WidowMaker” that not a whole lot of bands try these days: a three-movement triptych stretched over 40 minutes. The first third is stretched over nearly 15 minutes, with dramatic movements, strings, and the voices of serial killers such as Tommy Lynn Sells and Richard Ramirez. That explodes quite literally into “Part II,” where the band begins to lay down layers and layers of murder and filth, making for one of the gnarliest, angriest sections of music the band’s ever produced. There are massive guitar lines, some doom breakdowns that flat out destroy the earth’s crust, and emotion that never lets up. “Part III” is more adventurous, proggy in some parts, and filled with noise and chaos. It’s a slow drip that doesn’t ease you or let you rest for a second and fills your body with infection and soot.

Now, sadly, the Dragged fellows were inundated with media leading up to the holidays, so we couldn’t meet up to talk about the record. But we’ve been assured that after the holidays, we’ll hear from these mysterious figures, who will pontificate on “WidowMaker” and the insanity behind the album. For now, we’ll leave you with an audio clip from the band’s You Tube page to give you a taste of what “WidowMaker” is about. Remove all sharp-edged objects from your room before consumption.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.draggedintosunlight.co.uk/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.indiemerchstore.com/item/16739/

For more on the label, go here: http://prostheticrecords.com/

Best of 2012 — 5. ANHEDONIST, ‘Netherwards’ (Dark Descent)

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“Netherwards,” the debut full-length from wrenching Seattle doom crew Anhedonist, was high on the list of most anticipated albums of 2012. Their demo “The Drear” was a major eye-opener in 2010, and its brutality and expansive violence pointed toward greater things ahead once the band got more experience under their belts and an even greater idea of what their vitriolic vision could be. “Netherwards” is the culmination of all of that, and to say it blew my already lofty expectations out of the water would be a major understatement.”

Consisting of four songs that stretch over 40 minutes, the band mixes strains of traditional thinking in with their death-smeared new vision of what doom is in 2012. The songs are slow, pulverizing, and chock full of misery and depression, while guitarist VB’s guttural growls and shrieks paint the perfect picture of torture, both musically and psychologically. It’s an incredible listen, from pulverizing opener “Saturnine” all the way through to dark, foreboding closer “Inherent Opprobrium,” that even shows off some of their Black Sabbath worship. “Netherwards” is a modern doom classic, one that belongs in your collection immediately. We had a chance to ask bassist DF a few questions regarding the release, and his very to-the-point replies are below. Thanks to the band for their cooperation and for making one of the best metal records of the year.

anhedonist

Meat Mead Metal: We named “Netherwards” our No. 5 metal releases of 2012. I was a big fan of “The Drear” release but really had my expectations blown away by the full-length. How do you feel about the album now that it’s been out a while and you can fully digest it?

DF: Honestly I can’t say that I have listened to the album since we got the final master back prior to release. That said, I certainly am still satisfied performing these songs live. No complaints.

MMM: The music, especially lyrically, is rather hopeless and bleak. From what do you draw inspiration for these songs? On that same note, how close to reality is the band’s name to how the band members feel about everyday life, or is the moniker more a living-vicariously-through-others kind of thing?

DF: A selection of literature and personal experiences influenced the content of the album specifically the lyrics, though a lot of it comes from a place only VB truly knows. People can have their own guesses about what miserable shits we are or are not, I suppose.

MMM: The Alexander Brown-created artwork certainly is intriguing. Was it totally his idea? Did the band have a concept in mind and go to him with it? What is the meaning behind the cover? It feels like a cloudy, murky human downward spiral.

DF: We had a couple rough ideas, and Alex did a brilliant job of actualizing them. The flesh of humanity dragged into nothingness.

MMM: Live actions have been limited recently mostly to the West Coast, which is understandable. Do you envision expanding touring a little more in the future? Or is that a factor or time and money that prevents you from doing so?

DF: We actually did a full U.S. tour in 2011 and have played in Canada once. Further shores are on the horizon now, as well as a full U.S. tour with a few festival stops in May/June. We aren’t particularly interested in touring too heavily for personal reasons.

MMM: The band hooked up with Dark Descent, a huge favorite over here at Meat Mead Metal and one of the most reliable death and doom labels going. How did your relationship come about? Are you happy with the arrangement?

DF: Matt is one of the most reliable, hard-working maniacs there is out there. DDR shall remain our label home for the foreseeable future, and we are beyond pleased with the support he has given us.

MMM: The band still has ties with Parasitic (along with Nuclear Winter Records) for the vinyl version of “Netherwards.” Talk about your relationship with Parasitic and what that’s meant to the band.

DF: Tim Parasitic did our first label release with the vinyl edition of the demo, and has done an unreal job with that and the “Netherwards” LP which was co-released with Nuclear Winter. Beyond that he has been a close friend and ally of ours for some time. As long as we release material I hope he will be involved somehow.

MMM: What does the band have scheduled for 2013? Are you thinking about new music yet? Any other interesting projects in the work?

DF: We are always working on new material. A split EP with Knelt Rote is nearly complete. Live demonstrations in the U.S. and abroad are in the works.

For more on the band, go here: http://anhedonist.blogspot.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.darkdescentrecords.com/store/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.darkdescentrecords.com/

Best of 2012: 10-6

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10. HELL, “III” (Eternal Warfare) – There may be no more fittingly named band in all of metal than Hell, the Oregon-based project of M.S.W., who has been working on this trilogy since 2009. The three efforts that make up this triptych are mean and nasty and depressing, and each effort has upped the ante over the one before it. With “III” finally in our grasp, the carnage – both musically and psychologically – is at an all-time high, and the album will leave you physically punished. It also has a musical poetry and dark melodicism added, and as furious as it is, it’s incredibly listenable.

There are only two tracks on the album, with the whole thing running just over 37 minutes. It is a damaging adventure that opens with a rich, atmospheric passage on “Mourn” before it completely breaks down into madness and audio fright. The manic shrieks, the waves of guitars, the bubbling panic all work to make this song the incredible testament it is. “Decedere” is a different beast in some ways. Opening cleanly and calmly, like something that could soundtrack a damp spring evening, it eventually lets strings flood in and then cathartic guitar chaos that’s accompanied by a woman singing arias behind it. Noise and chaos do return, however, leaving you to wonder where that serenity dissolved. It’s a fantastic final installment to this story, one that should put Hell on the doom map permanently.

To buy the album, go here: http://loweryourhead.bandcamp.com/album/hell-iii

paroxsihzem

9. PAROXSIHZEM, self-titled (Dark Descent) – I could understand you being surprised that this Toronto-based blackened death juggernaut is in the top 10, simply based on the reaction elsewhere. Not that Paroxsihzem didn’t get accolades in other places, but to the level I expected they would. This band is a fire-breathing, furnace-dwelling beast, and their self-titled debut blew me away from the first time I heard it. In fact, I’ve been completely hooked on it ever since. Imagine a more explosive Portal and you get somewhere close to what this band sounds like, and each step they take is a deadly one.

At seven tracks, nearly 38 minutes, this record is paced just right, with an ideal serving size. The guitars churn like death metal royalty, sometimes take on some hardcore fist-mashing, and Krag’s vocals might as well be flowing from the mouth of a dragon, they’re that charred and smoking. In fact, one time I was listening to the album while running on the treadmill, and when I came downstairs my wife said it sounded like I was listening a pit of snakes arguing. I can hear that. Anyway, this record has been woefully underappreciated, and I think they’re, by far, the best new death metal band of 2012. These guys have wicked, infernal promise, and I’ll be following their future with great interest. (Oct. 31)

To buy the album, go here: http://www.darkdescentrecords.com/store

m rites

8. MUTILATION RITES, “Empyrean” (Prosthetic) – Brooklyn quartet Mutilation Rites have had a pretty gigantic year. They released two smaller efforts (we discussed them last Friday, if you want to sift back), signed to Prosthetic, and released their menacing first full-length “Empyrean,” a record with which I’ve spent almost too much time. There’s nothing pure or clean about these songs, and this band attacks their songs like they have something against them. Lyrically, they’re not revealing their hands, but drugs, depression, and destruction are said to be popular topics. Damn if it doesn’t make a ton of sense knowing that and then taking on this monster of an album.

If you were worried this filthy crew would go polished and clean for Prosthetic, guess again. That’s not to say the record doesn’t sound great, because it does, but it serves to suit the band’s blackened death and thrash and their campaign, not a desire to move units. The vocals clearly are audible yet still kind of buried under the madness, the guitar work is infectious like a deadly pathogen, and the drumming is calculated, well-paced, and not all over the fucking place just because that’s what’s expected. This is a crusher, a drunk mauler, a night-time attacker, and a record that keeps giving me tender black patches around my eyes. (May 22)

To buy the album, go here: http://www.indiemerchstore.com/item/14874/

To get it on vinyl, go here: http://www.gileadmedia.net/store/

panopticon-kentucky-cover

7. PANOPTICON, “Kentucky” (Handmade Birds) – It’s not uncommon in European metal to hear strains (or giant sections) of a band’s local folk music shining through in their work. Admittedly, that’s not my favorite style of metal, but it’s always interesting to me to hear how a band’s heritage influences their dark arts. But there’s not a whole lot of that in the United States, which is a shame. But Austin Lunn is changing that with “Kentucky,” a roots-filled black metal opus about the horrors and pain generated by the state’s coal mining industry, and it is the metal album most likely to influence its readers to pick up a book and learn something.

There are the cascading metallic anthems we expect from Panopticon, but here and there they’re cut with banjos, strings, and singing that makes you think of sitting in the backwoods somewhere. There also are traditional coal mining songs and protest anthems given new life, and throughout, we also hear quotes from old miners about what they went through, how it affected their lives, and how it impacted Kentucky. It’s a gorgeous, heart-swelling anthem that clearly was a labor of love and wanting to have this story told. It’s a beautiful document, arguably Panopticon’s best yet. (June 12)

To buy the album, go here (currently sold out): http://www.handmadebirds.com/store/

Aldebaran-EmbracingTheLightlessDepths

6. ALDEBARAN, “Embracing the Lightless Depths” (Profound Lore) – The slow simmering funeral doom of Aldebaran always makes me feel like I’m floating to a far-off destination in space, never to see my home again, likely never to draw a breath again, seeing things I never thought I’d see. The band takes its name from the brightest star in the constellation Taurus, so the space opera sense is not wrong, and this record is loosely based on the short story “An Inhabitant of Carcosa,” an Armageddon tale about a distant planet that also has influenced many writers. There’s a lot to dissect here, and that’s before you even get to these epic treatments of doom.

The album is made up of two celestially giant songs (each nearly a half hour long), along with three mood-enhancing interludes.  It’s a crushing, ambitious album that will take patience and eagerness on the listener’s part to enjoy and absorb fully, but if you do, you’ll take a journey you’ll never forget. Sometimes there is a calmer mood and even some whispered passages to cut the mood, which reminds me a bit of Agalloch, but for the most part the record feels like your planet’s gravity turning against you and pressing you hopelessly against its surface. I said it when I reviewed this album, and I’ll repeat it here: Aldebaran is one of modern doom’s greatest hopes, and this record makes that point abundantly clear.   (May 15)

To buy the album, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/plr-items/

To buy the cassette version, go here:  http://www.parasiticrecords.bigcartel.com/product/aldebaran-embracing-the-lightless-depths-cs

Best of 2012: 16-11

Ufomammut

15. UFOMMAMUT, “Oro: Opus Primum”/Oro: Opus Alter” (Neurot) – Italian space-age instrumental doom dreamers Ufommamut had a pretty big 2012. For one, they landed at Neurot, a place practically hand-crafted for their metallic vision, and they also put out a pair of albums that are designed to act as one piece of music. So is each piece equally as good? I don’t think you can judge them that way, as they act as a whole, so that’s why we’re placing them together on this list. If you just take on “Opus Primum,” you’ll have to be intrigued to hear “Opus Alter.” If you start with “Alter,” you’re in the middle of the story. They’re inseparable.

The two records focus on alchemy and the magic and science behind that concept, and the more than 90-minute journey travels over nine tracks, a lot of tumult, some of the band’s most agitated music yet, and the crown jewels of the group’s already awesome collection. You can sit back and put these albums back to back on your headphones and imagine a cosmic journey, if you will, or the alchemic creation of metals and elixirs designed to expand human possibilities. Either way, you’re bound to be fully mesmerized by this bizarre trio. (April 13/Sept. 17)

To buy the album, go here: http://www.bluecollardistro.com/neurotrecordings/categories.php?cPath=1030

ash borer

14. ASH BORER, “Cold of Ages” (Profound Lore) – It’s hard to find out a whole lot about Ash Borer, an atmospheric black metal and doom band that’s been blowing people out the last few years with a bunch of smaller releases. But after signing with Profound Lore, it appeared the band was ready for an all-out assault to show they have the machinations to be dangerous, and “Cold of Ages” makes that statement. This blanket of smoke and churning chaos is the best this band has sounded to date, and while they drill holes into your soul and fill them with soot, they also drub you with punishing testaments and terror-filled diatribes that fill you with excitement and fear.

There are but four tracks on “Cold of Ages” that, combined, run more than an hour long, so you’re in for a marathon engagement and sprawling epics that leave you heaving in a cold sweat. But while many bands run on and on either for vanity or because they don’t know when to say when, Ash Borer get every drop of value out of these songs, and there are times when songs end, such as riveting “Phantoms,” when I wonder what they could have done with five more minutes. These guys long have been underground phenoms waiting to break out into more ears, and they’ve done with that this album. God have mercy if you weren’t ready for this. (Aug. 14)

To buy the album, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/plr-items/

Bosse-De-Nage-iii

13. BOSSE-DE-NAGE, “III” (Profound Lore) – The more albums I hear from Bay Area lunatics Bosse-de-Nage, the more I wonder if one of their recordings sessions is going to end in ritual suicide. Their psyche sounds that unsteady on their albums, and they always seem on the brink of snapping. That’s not in the same sense that many other black metal-based bands seem to distribute self-destruction and mental self-immolation, because what this group practices is more of the mental deterioration variety and not the Satanic barbarism sense. That way, it’s more genuine to the fragile listener.

After a run on Flenser Records (they handle the vinyl version of “III,” though), the band jumped to Profound Lore for this astonishing, riveting display of aggression and meltdown that has as much to do with ’90s-style indie rock as it does with black arts. The messages and stories unfurled by B’s manic shrieks are enough to grab your attention and maybe even keep you up at night, and the rest of the band’s amalgamation of styles both can blow away the music dork in you and captivate the dark parts of your brain that are obsessed with fury. This band certainly isn’t for everyone, but those who get them cannot get enough of their bloodshed. As long as they don’t turn the blades on themselves.  (June 26)

To buy the album, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/plr-items/

To buy it on vinyl, go here: http://store.theflenser.com/

neurosis cover

12. NEUROSIS, “Honor Found in Decay” (Neurot) – Easily one of, if not the, most influential bands in extreme music today, Neurosis could get away with cranking out the same shit over and over again. Who would question them? But they don’t do that, and each time out they try to add new layers into their sound and create something different than what came before. Perhaps that’s why they go so long between releases, and if that’s the case, they’ll get no questions from me, especially when they come up with something as enthralling and honest as “Honor Found in Decay.”

This seven-track, hour-long collection shows the band painting their canvas with more organic, folk-minded colors, to be expected with some of its members side projects, and the rage and power on display on this record is both astonishing and moving. Their muddy doom and atmospheric post-metal still surpasses by wide margins all the bands they influenced, and this statement by these veterans goes a long way toward proving that when someone is inspired by what’s in their hearts and souls, they never run out of meaningful contributions to give the world. This album is a triumph. (Oct. 30)

To buy the album, go here: http://www.bluecollardistro.com/neurotrecordings/categories.php?cPath=1030

bell witch

11. BELL WITCH, “Longing” (Profound Lore) – Late in the year, a ghost entered the room, and it turned out to be one of the more memorable apparitions in some time. It was the debut full-length “Longing” by Seattle-based duo Bell Witch, who originally floored us with their demo but just blew the doors of that thing entirely with this six-track, 67-minute opus. It’s a different kind of record than we usually get from the doom or sludge categories, though those traits are there as well, but they have a neat imagination and a way about searching some of the softer sides of these sounds that puts a human face on an otherwise damaged style.

The first two songs on the record push you to the half-hour mark already, and the wonderfully rich, varied compositions show the depth of their abilities. The filthy, buzzing bass work makes the need for other guitars obsolete, and the harsh growls and anguished vocals also step aside for cleaner passages and damn-near folk-level singing. This whole record is just so cool sounding, so damn listenable, that is has dominated my listening the past couple months. If you haven’t visited with Bell Witch yet, fix that problem right now and prepare to be haunted. (Nov. 13)

To buy the album, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/plr-items/