Best of 2012 – Peter Atkinson
1. CATTLE DECAPITATION – Monolith of Inhumanity
Death-grind perfection from a band who for much of their career were little more than a sick joke. But they really got their shit together on this their seventh album, combining savage brutality, gruesomely effective and deceptively intelligent lyrics, epic arrangements and some of the most insidiously catchy melodies you’ll ever find in music this harsh. Speaking of which, the video for “Forced Gender Reassignment” will make you hurl.
2. NAPALM DEATH – Utilitarian
The godfathers of grind keep chugging along, showing as much savvy and smarts as ever and proving an old dog can do new tricks. John Zorn’s careening saxophone on “Everyday Pox” is genius and guitarist Mitch Harris’ more prominent vocal presence feels natural and adds texture to the band’s still punishing fare.
3. CANNIBAL CORPSE – Torture
See Napalm Death, above – only substitute “death metal” for “grind.” While there are no saxophones here, a more even split in the songwriting among bassist Alex Webster and guitarists Rob Barrett and Pat O’Brien made for greater variety and the usual dose of creative killings. “Encased in Concrete” was, in my book, the death metal song of the year.
4. MARDUK – Serpent Sermon
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more feral frontman in black metal than Marduk’s Mortuus. His clenched-teeth, low-register snarl makes what he does with the already evil-sounding Marduk all the more convincing. Even the mid-tempo, anthemic “Temple of Decay” from the Swedish band’s 12th album — and fourth with Mortuus — sounds like a veritable death march as he barks the orders and cracks the whip.
5. KILLING JOKE – MMXII
Long-running English heavyweights Killing Joke remain as biting, relevant and apocalyptic as ever. MMXII pulses with anti-government/corporate rage and end of the world prophesizing, and though we seem to have dodged the doomsday bullet the Mayans supposedly predicted, “Rapture” and “Colony Collapse” resonate nonetheless. So, too, the climate-change harangue “Pole Shift” and the harrowing “FEMA Camp,” where disaster-relief housing is likened to concentration camps. Not a comforting thought for those who lost just everything in Superstorm Sandy.
6. HOUR OF PENANCE – Sedition
Italy’s Hour of Penance produced one of the most stupefyingly fast death metal albums of the year with Sedition. Simply unrelenting. Ironically, drummer Simon Pras, who provided the light-speed battery here, was later replaced. Guess one can only keep up this pace for so long.
7. GORY BLISTER – Earth-Sick
Score another one for Italian death metal. Hardly the splat-metal act the band’s name implies, Gory Blister’s technical death metal weaves in ample off-kilter arrangements and melodic splashes, along with thought-provoking lyrics dealing with mad science. A far wiser, craftier band than one might expect.
8. PRONG – Carved Into Stone
Prong mainman Tommy Victor finally gets things going in the right direction again after a couple pretty awful albums that followed the band’s reformation. Carved Into Stone goes back to the basics of the Beg To Differ era, ditching the industrialisms that came later and sticking to a power trio sound that is spot on.
9. CIRCUS MAXIMUS – Nine
I’m hardly the biggest prog-metal fan, but the third album from Norwegian quintet Circus Maximus — and first in five years — is just awesome. Sort of a mix of Dream Theater — sans all the wank and drama — and Opeth — sans all the hippie bullshit — Nine is awash in instrumental prowess, crunch and grandiosity. Yet the band are careful not to crawl up their own asses trying to show off or string together a billion parts just because they can. That Nine ended up as ninth on the list here was pure coincidence, by the way.
10. GOJIRA – L’Enfant Sauvage
More “mature sounding” usually equals boring or less adventurous – Metallica, cough! But France’s Gojira manage to prove that they’ve grown up while still retaining the power, punch and progressive bent that have carved a unique niche for them over the course of five albums. Though perhaps showing a bit more brains than brawn here, Gojira still do things with death metal that other bands can hardly even imagine.
11. ENSLAVED – RIITIIR
12. AEON – Aeons Black
13. MESHUGGAH – Koloss
14. JOB FOR A COWBOY – Demonocracy
15. BLACK BREATH – Sentenced To Life
16. KREATOR – Phantom Antichrist
17. ALLEGAEON – Formshifter
18. PERIPHERY – Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal
19. PIG DESTROYER – Book Burner
20. THE WRETCHED END – Inroads