If you’re at all interested in my uncouth musical tastes, or, if you’re like me and you actually like metal, than this post is for you! Since the beauty of this musical style is entirely lost on most of my friends and family, I won’t waste time defending myself. They wont read this with any real curiosity, and that’s ok…sorta. You either like this stuff or you don’t.
Here’s my line up:
10. Eluveitie’s Helvetios
Mild curiosity at this band’s wide-ranged use of instruments was about all I could have said for their earlier two releases. It’s extreme metal with a fun twist steeped in Gaulish history (it’s actually an obsession approaching Nile’s monopolization of Ancient Egyptian themes) and close kins to Viking metal extremists Wintersun and Ensiferum. Apart from a few catchy riffs here and there on their first two, they had little to stand out with. But Helvetios caught my attention. Why? It’s a concept album, which has proved a risky move for bands in the past. Unless you’re Queensryche, they tend to fall flat, getting caught up in the story and leaving the music to drift or allowing it to distract from the story. It’s a tricky balance, and Helvetios, a harrowing story about the Roman destruction of the Gaul homeland, mixes a fabulous blend of voices and moody instrumentation to capture the life of the story. I’m a sucker for good stories, but Eluveitie manages to keep things interesting on the musical surface too. Surprisingly, not all the songs sound the same. In fact, it seems to be the storyline that keeps the same rhythmic aggression from running all the songs together like it did in their old stuff. They use some beautiful-sounding instruments, and this album proves that they belong in a metal album.
9. Kamelot’s Silverthorn
We all thought Kamelot was dead with Roy Khan gone…then we heard Tommy Karevik was stepping in, and we breathed a little easier. Then we heard their single, “Sacrimony,” the world seemed a better place. This is one of the only albums I’ve ever pre-ordered, and it was worth it for sure. But not as worth it as I was hoping. It’s good. It’s amazing. Don’t get me wrong. Good enough to make this list, but after a three week Seventh Wonder hype in my ipod I was willing to believe Karevik could do anything. In actuality, though, the only shortcomings of this album were my expectations and one or two weaker songs, but it’s still Kamelot. And that’s all we can really hope for. No lie: I’ll probably pre-order their next album and not regret it one bit.
8. Texas In July’s self title
This was a surprise. Perhaps one of the biggest musical surprises for me in 2012. That is to say, Texas In July is a band I had written off a while back as boring, cliche, and poorly produced. I have to revoke all of those insults for this album and throw a good deal of praise at them. The guitar riffs are refreshing and the production is almost perfect. The breakdowns are fabulous and new. In short, this is an almost 100% perfect metalcore album. That is to say, there’s nothing too new here, but all the old tricks are masterfully done, and no one should be able to complain that it’s not enjoyable. The replay value is high, especially on tracks like “Cry Wolf” and “Without a Head.” It’s heavy and it just keeps on rolling. Let me go so far as to say that August Burns Red is going to have a tough time one-upping this…what am I saying? Of course they will!
7. Elitist’s Reshape Reason
Hey look! Another surprise. Sure, I knew Sean Hall was a good guitarist who has written some of the catchiest, grooviest djent riffs this year, but I never expected Elitist to pull off something this good. It’s actually mature song-writting, not just recycled Meshuggah pounding. That’s not necessarily a sin (Meshuggah itself seems to be just recycling its own riffs these days), but this fresh. This is the album that will take this band far. The song “Sacred Geometry” features a gorgeous, soothing piano wind-down ending, and that song as well as “Equinox” share some clean vocals that sound like they belong on a Tesseract album. That’s a good thing. There’s just something about the way this album was put together. It has charisma. It’s well produced, but not sterile. It’s heavy, but not brutal. It’s groovy–it’s djent, of course it’s groovy–but not narrowly focused. Remember how fast The Volumes got boring? (If it hasn’t that’s likely because you’re used to Lamb of God and Unearth). Reshape Reason is a smooth balance of intricacy and catchiness.
6. Borknagar’s Urd
People like to throw around words like avant-garde when jawing about their favorite forward-thinking artists. Even more abused in the music world is the word “progressive.” Urd deserves both of these labels as easy as it deserves to be on this list. But why is this new? Borknagar has always had those labels. That’s practically what they set out to do since their self-titled debut. And have they ever disappointed us? Have they ever gone stale with one of their 9 or so studio releases? Folks, you’ve got to hear it to believe it. I think the thing that impresses me most about this band is the layers. I always hear something new if I listen closely, or I should say deeply, enough. It’s what we might expect from a supergroup, but it doesn’t go over my head. I never did understand Transatlantic, but with Borknagar there’s enough catchiness and well-defined rhythms to follow it the whole way through. It might just take a very, very careful listen. Keep an open mind.
This is the first half of the top ten list for 2012. Get ready for the real heavy-hitters by the end of this week!