Monday, December 17, 2012

The Best Of 2012

The Best Of 2012

2012 will go down as somewhat of a lost year for me, with my writing taking a backseat for the better half of the year to spend time with my family. But while I’ve been absent on the written word front, it hasn’t meant that I’ve totally tuned out any of the countless album’s released throughout the latter half of the year.

As in life, the music offered up throughout 2012 has been a mix of jubilation, disappointment, and unexpected surprises. Suffice to say that if this year is anything to go by, the business model of music may have changed dramatically over the course of the last twelve months, music seems to be in abundance within the metal scene.

Anyway, that’s enough of my cryptic rambling. Below I humbly offer up my final thoughts on the best, the worst and most surprising releases from 2012.

Top Ten Albums For 2012

1. Killing Joke – MMXII (Spinefarm Records/Universal Music Australia)

I’m a big fan of Killing Joke, but not the kind of fan that believes everything that has emerged from the band is pure genius. But I will go as far as to say that this is without a doubt one of the band’s finest releases in years. Unlike their scattered ‘Absolute Dissent’ from 2008, Killing Joke sound more focussed, driven and inspired than they have done in years, and it certainly shows on their latest release. Not bad for a band that’s been around for more than thirty years.

2. Europe – Bag Of Bones (Hell & Back/earMUSIC/Edel Germany)

Since reforming in 2003, Swedish hard rock outfit Europe just seem to be making stronger and more confident sounding releases. 2009’s ‘Last Look At Eden’ was always going to be a challenge for the band to follow up, but to everyone’s surprise, the band traded in the orchestral elements of the past, threw in a heap of blues influences and come up with a serious classic hard rock album that easily ranked as one of the band’s finest to date.

3. Ginger Wildheart – 555% (Independent Release)

Ginger Wildheart is without a doubt one of the most underrated singer/songwriters in the rock scene today. In fact, I would go far as to say the guy is a living legend. Few would release a triple album in this day and age, let alone cover virtually every genre known within the music realm the album’s thirty tracks. Only someone like Ginger would. It’s an album that takes time to fully absorb (It is a triple album after all!), but well worth the time invested. A must have for Wildheart fans everywhere.
4. Katatonia – Dead End Kings (Peaceville Records)

Is Katatonia capable of making a disappointing album these days? On the strength of their latest album, the answer would be a resounding ‘NO’! Although not straying too far from the sound the band have called their own for the last decade, ‘Dead End Kings’ has just enough differing elements and influences to prove the Swedes aren’t going through the motions and churning out the same old music for those already converted. This is another first class release in a long line of classic efforts from the moody/melancholy/depressive rockers.
5. Rush – Clockwork Angels (Anthem Records)

In recent years, there’s been a heightened awareness of Rush. And with good reason – Rush are legends. The band have weather the ups and downs of their four decade career like true gentlemen, and their music for the most part has been nothing short of perfection. With the years getting longer between releases, every new release from the band is an absolute gift from the Gods. And ‘Clockwork Angels’ is another absolute masterpiece from the band. While the Canadian trio are getting on, their passion for making music hasn’t diminished one bit. If this is Rush’s swansong, then all I can say is that it’s one hell of a way to go out.
6. Borknagar – Urd (Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia)

Borknagar is one of those bands that seem to divide opinions amongst fans as to which album most consider to be their most acclaimed. But I think most fans would agree that ‘Urd’ is without a doubt one of their strongest in years. With bassist/vocalist ICS Vortex back into the fold after a decade away, Borknagar sound reinvigorated and more inspired than they have done in years. Diverse, progressive, cinematic and blackened in equal measure, ‘Urd’ is classic Borknagar at their best.
 7. Napalm Death – Utilitarian (Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia)

U.K. grindcore/punk/death metal pioneers Napalm Death are one of the few acts that seem to buck the trend of slowing down and relying on past glories to maintain their existence in the scene as the years roll on. ‘Utilitarian’ is yet another crushing and unbelievably heavy release from the band, and showcases their determination to continually push their sound forward rather than remain idle. With its brief forays into experimentation, relentless passages of all-out grind, death metal template fused with a distinct punk edge and lashes of melody amongst the entire platter of chaos, ‘Utilitarian’ is every bit as essential to Napalm Death fans as any one of their early classic releases.

8. Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind (Epitaph Records)

Converge are one of the few metallic hardcore outfits that have pushed their sound with every new release. After a string of near perfect albums (Everything the band have released since 2001’s ‘Jane Doe’ has been amazing), I had high expectations of ‘All We Love We Leave Behind’. And sure enough, it lives up to them. The album is raw, aggressive and live sounding, and yet is full of depth and feel. Converge is without a doubt one of the best acts in today’s saturated metallic hardcore genre, and their latest album is solid proof of their continued relevance and importance.
9. Skunk Anansie – Black Traffic (100% Records)

After eight year apart, U.K. alternative punk/metal rockers Skunk Anansie returned in 2010 with ‘Wonderlustre’. And if the truth be told, I was bitterly disappointed with the album. So with their second post-reunion release, I was a little concerned that the band’s best days were behind them. But lo and behold, the band have rediscovered their hard edged sound (And cut down on the slower/ballad direction of the past), and released one of the surprise kiss-ass rock albums of 2012.

10. Paradise Lost – Tragic Idol (Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia)

Paradise Lost’s new album is a bit of a no-brainer for my top ten albums for this year. After a few years spent in the wilderness (In which time the band produced some great albums I might add), the Halifax legends marked an almighty return to form a few years ago with ‘In Requiem’ (2007). Since then, the band has maintained their heavier sound and consistent song writing, right through to their latest effort. There’s no real new territory unearthed by the band on this latest release, but if you enjoyed their last couple of releases, you’ll understand just how enjoyable ‘Tragic Idol’ is.

Top Ten Songs For 2012

O.K., just for the record, this isn’t really a collection of my favourite songs of 2012. Instead, this is rather a collection of acts that didn’t make it into my top ten releases for the year (I’m someone who listens to an album, rather than individual songs). So for this category, I’ve decided to pick my favourite tracks from my favourite runner up albums. Anyway, here it goes...

1. Silversun Pickups – Skin Graph (From 'Neck Of The Woods')

Silversun Pickups’ third full-length album was something new for the band, with the album taking a bit of work from the listener to fully appreciate. And while I was disappointed upon a first listen, the album has won me over with repeated runs. Album opener ‘Skin Graph’ is a clear example of the band’s rather adventurous sound, but a rocking effort nonetheless. If you like this song, you’ll definitely enjoy the album as a whole.

2. Tremonti – So You’re Afraid (From 'All I Was')

Creed/Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti stepped out on his own this year with ‘All I Was’, and what a great little album it was. ‘So You’re Afraid’ is fairly indicative of what listeners can expect from the album, with Tremonti delivering some harder edged riffs, strong and likeable vocals and plenty of memorable melodies to sweeten up the whole package. Of course, we’re not talking about anything remarkably ground breaking, but it does rock.

3. Pharaoh – The Year Of The Blizzard (From 'Bury The Light')

I’m not really a huge fan of power metal, but I do enjoy some bands that do it well. And one of my favourites is U.S. act Pharaoh. ‘Bury The Light’ is another great effort from the band, and ‘The Year Of The Blizzard’ is a perfect example of the band’s ability to incorporate ‘70’s inspired progressive rock into their familiar modern power metal framework. This is definitely one of my favourite tracks on their latest release.

4. Lostprophets – Bring ‘Em Down (From ‘Weapons’)

O.K., so ‘Weapons’ is a bit patchy in places, but a great song is still a great song right? ‘Bring ‘Em Down’ is the huge opening track on the Welsh alternative/hard rocker’s newest release, and it’s a killer. Everything from the clever build up at the start, the huge shifts in tempo (The transition from hard rock verses to stadium inspired choruses), the mix of electronic elements and the clever use of guitar riffs is well put together, and overall represents Lostprophets at their best.

5. Feeder – Hey Johnny (From 'Generation Freakshow')

Much like Lostprophets’ latest effort, Feeder’s new effort is frustratingly patchy, and probably not top ten material. But like the Lostprophets, when they get it right, Feeder can really hit the mark. ‘Hey Johnny’ is without a doubt classic Feeder with its catchy choruses, simple guitar solo and infectious vibe throughout. It’s taken Grant Nicholas a long time to pay tribute to original drummer Jon Lee, but this track has been well worth the wait.

6. Municipal Waste – New Dead Masters (From 'The Fatal Feast (Waste In Space)')

After missing the mark with ‘Massive Aggression’, Municipal Waste made sure that their latest effort ‘The Fatal Feast (Waste In Space)’ hit the mark in a major way. ‘New Dead Masters’ is classic Municipal Waste with its fast thrashing riffs, humour lyrics and distinctive vocals from Tony Foresta. If there’s one thing this track makes clear, it’s that few do crossover thrash as good as Municipal Waste these days.

7. Anathema – Untouchable Part 1/Untouchable Part 2 (From 'Weather Systems')

Anathema are undoubtedly peaking right now, with everything the band releasing sounding nothing short of amazing. ‘Weather Systems’ isn’t quite up to the same level as their former effort (2010’s ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’), but it does come close. The two part opener ‘Untouchable’ is one of the album’s truly beautiful efforts, and one of my definite favourites. Quite simply, this eleven minute epic has everything you could have possibly asked for from Anathema.

8. Chris Cornell – Call Me A Dog (From 'Songbook')

I’ve never been overly excited by live albums, but I do enjoy the odd unplugged effort. And while ‘Songbook’ is a good album, it’s Cornell’s rendition of Temple Of The Dog’s ‘Call Me A Dog’ that really stands out. Cornell’s voice may not be what it once was, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t hit every note here on the night. This version can proudly stand alongside the original as an absolute classic.

9. Steven Wilson - Luminol (From' Get All You Deserve')

What we have here is a new track from Steven Wilson’s upcoming third solo effort which has made its debut on his latest live D.V.D. ‘Get All You Deserve’. ‘Luminol’ is quirky, jazz influenced at times, progressively edged throughout and dark and melodic in equal measure (Especially towards the tail end). I’ll be curious to see how different the studio version is on ‘The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)’, but if it’s half as cool as this take, it should be something else.

10. OSI – Wind Won’t Howl (From 'Fire Make Thunder')

As this point, I don’t expect Kevin Moore to radically change direction or sound with his music. And nor should he. He has a unique sound, and it works well for him. Album number four for OSI wasn’t a huge departure from the band’s familiar minimalist/progressive rock sound, but it did reveal a few new ideas to fans. One of those few new influences and ideas to emerge on the album came in the form of ‘Wind Won’t Howl’, which featured some rarely used layered backing vocals from Moore alongside some highly effective piano and guitar work. This is one of the real gems to be found on ‘Fire Make Thunder’ for sure.

Biggest Surprise Of 2012

T&N – Slave To The Empire (Rat Pak Records)

The idea of a band re-recording some of their older hits is hardly a new one. And if history tells us anything, it’s rarely a good idea. So when I heard that three original members of Dokken had plans to re-record some of their best known tracks alongside some originals, I wasn’t overly enthused. After all, I’m one of the few who actually bought a copy of Dokken’s ‘Anthems’. But T&N (Tooth And Nail) have managed to breathe some new life into the old classics. Sure, there’s nothing here that surpasses the originals (Although Jeff Pilson’s take on ‘Into The Fire’ is an interesting twist on the original), but overall the album was an unexpectedly fun listen, and one that I’m sure I’ll return to from time to time.

Best Newcomer Of 2012

Call Me No One – Last Parade (7 Bros. Records/Asylum Records)

In the early days, I was a big fan of Sevendust. But as the years roll on, I’m hearing less and less progress in the band’s sound – so much so that their albums tend to all sound the same these days. So with that mindset, I wasn’t holding out for anything remarkable on Call Me No One’s debut effort. Man, was I wrong. The project formed by vocalist/guitarist Clint Lowery and drummer Morgan Rose is really something quite different from their work in Sevendust, and in all honesty, a damn sight more enjoyable than anything that band has come up with in years. I can only hope it’s not a one off effort.

Biggest Disappointment Of 2012

Stone Temple Pilots - Alive In The Windy City (Eagle Vision/Eagle Rock Entertainment Ltd./Shock Entertainment)

Fans have been waiting for a live D.V.D. from this band for a long time, and now that we have one, all I can say is that it’s a bit late coming, and a wasted opportunity at that. The concert is good, but far from depicting a band in their prime. And the so-called extras are quite thin on the ground. The interviews are painful to watch (Aside from being released a year before this release), and seem tacked on. And bands and labels wonder why people aren’t forking out their hard earned cash on music these days.

Most Anticipated Album Of 2013

Ginger Wildheart

The albums I’m most looking forward to next year are the impending new releases from Ginger Wildheart – namely his heavy sounding double Mutation effort (‘The Frankenstein Effect’ and ‘Error 500’) and his ‘noisy pop’ side-project Hey! Hello! alongside vocalist Victoria Liedke. Hell, if Ginger’s next album was a spoken word effort based on readings of the phone book, I’d be a first day buyer!

© Justin Donnelly