Best of 2012: 10-6

hell

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