Few years in recent memory have produced as much quality heavy metal as 2012. The last 12 months hit that rare equilibrium between powerful debuts, glorious comebacks and brilliant work by elite bands. As such, more than ten albums could populate this list and it'd still lack a bad one in the bunch.
Even among champions, however, some are kings. With this in mind, here are the ten records I can confidently crown as the year's best.
1.) Pig Destroyer's Book Burner Book Burner is a work that gestated for five years and it shows. It's the extreme music equivalent of Michael Jordan playing basketball or Michelangelo painting chapels. For those into music that's brutal but catchy, spastic yet satisfying and always deranged, this is must-own. From start to finish, every moment is what grind metal sounds like at its best.
2.) Nachtmystium's Silencing Machine Silencing Machine sees Nachtmystium take their hallucinogenic extremity toward new heights. Chilling and psychedelic, it's a bad acid trip delivered with black metal's primitive fury. Part Darkthrone, Part Pink Floyd, the end result is a wicked album that never leaves The Dark Side of the Moon.
3.) Ihsahn's Eremita Eremita may rank among heavy metal's best solo efforts. With the grace of a master conductor, Ihsahn has crafted a challenging journey through sweeping moods and epic themes. Though it's complex, it never loses sight of Ihsahn's genuine emotions, and therein is its brilliance.
4.) Converge's All We Love We Leave Behind Converge cornered the market on blood, sweet and tears ages ago and All We Love We Leave Behind is no exception. Despite this, the Massachusetts quartet has rarely displayed as much emotional rawness as they do here. Vulnerable yet vicious, it's a record that lays it all on the line for listeners with its intensity.
5.) Woods of Ypres' Woods 5: Grey Skies and Electric Light Woods 5 cements Woods of Ypres' legacy as one of heavy metal's most poignant bands. Released a year after the death of frontman David Gold, it's a fitting swan-song to a remarkable career. Combining bleak world-weariness with a hint of hope, it's a triumph that redeems one of music's freshest tragedies.
6.) Lamb of God's Resolution Lamb of God fans know they're getting an aural beatdown every time Richmond's finest drop a new album. It's a testament to the band's talent, then, that Resolution rips with all the energy of their earlier fare. Big and bad, it doesn't leave room for subtlety. It's a record that wants heads banging and bones rattling hard.
7.) Gojira's L'Enfant Sauvage Few bands hit the head and the heart as powerfully as Gojira. L'Enfant Sauvage toes that line between visceral and cerebral, satisfying punch-drunk moshers and philosophy professors alike. At day's end, it's a record that's as crushing for the former as it is clever for the latter.
8.) Neurosis' Honor Found in Decay Honor Found in Decay finds Neurosis exploring the tension between serenity and discord that's always defined their best work. This time, however, they've turned their music into one spectacular spirit journey. Along the way, listeners find brief transcendence, only to come crashing back down into stark reality. It's a brilliant juxtaposition, and one that makes Honor Found in Decay one of 2012's most thunderous compositions.
9.) Cattle Decapitation's Monolith of Inhumanity Much like a fine wine, Cattle Decapitation gets better with age. Their latest finds the San Diego metal squad crusading for environmental justice at new altitudes. Unlike earlier assaults, however, Monolith of Inhumanity makes the most of the band's unhinged style. It's thus Cattle Decapitation's crowning achievement so far.
10.) Hooded Menace's Effigies of Evil Hooded Menace have outdone themselves with Effigies of Evil. Taking their doom and gloom plod, they've reanimated it with fiendishly catchy melodies. The resulting Frankenstein makes for a monster album, and the band's style has never sounded more alive.
The Best Of The Rest (Honorable Mentions)
Goatwhore's Blood for the Master
Hail Spirit Noir's Pneuma
Sigh's Insomni Phobia
Corrosion of Conformity's Corrosion of Conformity
Cannibal Corpse's Torture
Hour of Penance's Sedition
Ufomammut's Oro: Opus Primum
Ufomammut's Oro: Opus Alter
High on Fire's De Vermis Mysteriis
Municipal Waste's The Fatal Feast
Fear Factory's The Industrialist
Paradise Lost's Tragic Idol
Kreator's Phantom Antichrist
Winterfylleth's The Threnody of Triumph
Om's Advaitic Songs
Ne Obliviscaris' Portal of I
Kunvuk's Consume Rapture
Daylight Dies' A Frail Becoming
Testament's Dark Roots of the Earth
As I Lay Dying's Awakened
Ahab's The Giant
Agalloch's Faustian Echoes
Drudkh's Eternal Turn of the Wheel
Nate Hall's A Great River
Assembly of Lights' Assembly of Lights
Pilgrim's Misery Wizard
Fight Amp's Birth Control
Carach Angren's Where the Corpses Sink Forever
Nile's At the Gates of Sethu
Be'Lakor's Of Breath and Bone
Matt Hensch's Top 10 List
1.) Kamelot's Silverthorn Kamelot seemed to be on the fritz after a lackluster final album with Roy Khan, but their return with new vocalist Tommy Karevik proved to be a dark masterpiece that shows a new band rising from the ashes. As poignant as it is electric, Silverthorn shows a band reclaiming their throne. Best album of 2012? I think so.
2.) Hail Spirit Noir's Pneuma Take a high-quality black metal band, Genesis or another high-quality progressive rock band, a blender, and mix. This Greek faction's debut album is equally enthralling and interesting. Dark, complex, abstract, and devilish; a fan of weird music like myself can't ask for more.
3.) Dragged Into Sunlight's Widowmaker Widowmaker sounds nothing like the DIS debut Hatred For Mankind. Widowmaker is beyond definition. DIS previously showed they could live up to a title like Hatred For Mankind, but here they show a new side of misery, using a creepy intro and two monstrous slaughters to explain their darkness. DIS is changing extreme metal right before your eyes.
4.) Sigh's In Somniphobia It shouldn't be surprising if you see In Somniphobia topping many year-end lists. The finest band out of Japan, Sigh's diabolical representation of avant-garde and extreme metal is horribly nightmarish and fun, just as twisted as it is enjoyable.
5.) Sound Storm's Immortalia Chances are you've never heard of this symphonic/power metal band, but they've been stirring up quite a racket for some time, and Immortalia is a fantastic feat similar to countrymen like Rhapsody of Fire. It's surprisingly fun yet totally epic and divine. Superb release.
6.) Corrosion of Conformity's Corrosion of Conformity No Pepper? No problem! Going back to a three-piece for the first time in a long time, COC's amalgamation of everything they've ever released makes their self-titled release one of their finer offerings, busting out the toe cap with great riffs and excellent songs.
7.) Cannibal Corpse's Torture Cannibal Corpse never throws a curve ball, but they don't need to. Torture is a step-up from recent CC albums which weren't weak at all, but they pushed beyond their limits and it shows. Brutality at its finest.
8.) Ne Obliviscaris' Portal of I These Aussies made a name for themselves when they released an acclaim demo several years ago. In 2012, they finally released this extreme progressive metal record that saw similar reactions. A band like Ne Obliviscaris makes Opeth look dopey, and the monumental Portal of I sings to all sorts of emotions and colors.
9.) Nekromantheon's Rise, Vulcan Spectre This band is intensity itself. Seriously. Nekromantheon sounds like a real thrash band; something like old Slayer, Sepultura before they became a terrible nu-metal/hardcore band, or Possessed. Tons of great riffs here, and your neck will probably break, but it's definitely worth it.
10.) Bombs of Hades' The Serpent's Redemption Old-school Swedish death metal performed by some of the scene's founding fathers. No nonsense or additives that some groups depend on; just butchering riffs and old-school honesty. A must for fans of Entombed, Dismember, Grave, and others.
Crystal Viper's Crimen Expecta
Annal Nathrakh's Vanitas
Pilgrim's Misery Wizard
Neurosis' Honor Found in Decay
M-pire of Evil's Hell to the Holy
Deathamphetamine's The Lost Album
Dying Fetus' Reign Supreme