The Best Metal Albums of 2012 Pt. 2

Here is part II of the metal music finals for 2012. There is a good chance that in the future I will be making music related posts in a new blog (that’s if I can ever get my act together and find the time). For now, I’ll post this here because 2012 is over!

gojira5. Gojira’s L’enfant Sauvage

French heavy-hitters, Gojira, took their time coming out with this. It turned out to be worth the wait. What I hear is a good blend of From Mars to Sirius and The Way of All Flesh. The stomping-ground, mosh pit arena, industrial riffs are undeniably there, but so is the emotion and writing that makes it feel like more than just a gun show. Gojira has guns to be sure, possibly some of the biggest in the metal scene; they also have one of the most unique sounds, and that shows more than ever on Sauvage. Stand out tracks are “The Ax,” “Liquid Fire,” and “The Gift Of Guilt.”

doon4. Impending Doom’s Baptized in Filth

I was worried about Baptized in Filth before it ever came out. In case you didn’t know, Impending Doom is a Christian band. Could have fooled me with the cover art and the name. But they have always been like that–more interested in a revelatory, apocalyptic, thou-shalt-burn-in-hell sort of Christianity…where do they make these people?! Whatever. It’s best to adopt a boys will be boys attitude with these metal-heads and enjoy the pleasure of being crushed under the churning wheels of their battle music. I loved their previous album, There Will Be Violence (I can still hear the pummeling chorus of the title track in my head when I write those words), and I was ready for more when it finally hit iTunes. With Death Metal it’s hard to decipher stand out tracks at first. It takes an educated (or desensitized) ear to listen for the best riffs. After the first few listens I kept discovering them…and discovering them until I realized that every song was a series of the most exciting explosions I’d ever heard. There are no stand out tracks. This has become one of my favorite albums that I mostly keep to myself, and it’s proof that not all Deathcore sucks.

contor3. The Contortionist’s Intrinsic

The Contortionist takes the gold medal for jumping off the tallest career cliff ever…and walking away unscathed. At least mostly unscathed. After Exoplanet’s extraterrestrial magnificence they were safer taking the low road and writing a clone with a few twists. Historically, bands get sawed in half when they change as much as these guys did (look no further than In Flames). But the progressive sophomore cool-off album, Intrinsic can still hold its head up high. The album is practically a study of progression, and I can’t help but think these boys planned it all along. It takes patience. Give it a little time and Intrinsic will grow on you. Only then do you notice the undercurrents of genius in the music feeding those roots.

tota2-cover2. This Or the Apocalypse’s The Dead Years 

One of the most underrated bands in metalcore? Maybe. After their magnificent previous album Haunt What’s Left hit the scene, I became a loyal fan of their near flawless, energizing beats. I didn’t think anything could overpower Haunt, and while I’m still not sure which I like more, The Dead Years is undeniably a step forward for this band. Haunt What’s Left was a bundle of melodic metal joy. But The Dead Years is heavier, meaner, more experimental, more emotional and catchier than anything before. They took risks here. It shows. So most impressive of all is the fact that the risks paid off. Their other albums were solid and enjoyable; The Dead Years is…brilliant. This is better than August Burns Red and Parkway Drive. It’s better than As I Lay Dying. Hell, ToTA is the best metalcore band in the pantheon right now.

Between-the-Buried-and-Me-Parallax-II1. Between the Buried and Me’s The Parallax II: Future Sequence

As fun as it would be to throw an underrated band into the number 1 slot, I have to be real…when the dust clears, no one can reckon with Between the Buried and Me. This album didn’t come as a surprise at all. After the fabulous part one EP of the Parallax series everyone who listened to it knew what was coming (give or take a few extra experiments). Do yourself a favor and listen to this album in its entirety as it was meant to be. If you have even more time start with Parallax I and flow through to “Goodbye to Everything.”

The Best Metal Albums of 2012 Pt. 1

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 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.

Kamelot-Silverthorn9. 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.

texas-in-july8. 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!

reshape7. 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.

urd6. 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! 

Should not go unnoticed

Have you ever heard a song that reminds you why life is great? I get this way about music a lot.

Unfortunately, most of the stuff I love others don’t or have never heard of. This is unhappy.

In the end I’ll roll to the beat of my own heavy, double bass-pedal drum set, but along the way I’ll do my best to get others to understand this ecstasy.

Here’s a soft one.

Drop Everything and Listen!

Last night, I had the privilege of taking some friends out to go see the Grand Rapids symphony. ($5 for students. Just sayin’).

I had never been to a professional symphony before. I, sadly, didn’t even know the difference between a symphony and an orchestra. My friends were nice and pleasant when I asked them, but I know they think I’m an idiot. It’s ok. I’ll get over it…But, really, for someone who professes to love music, and even has the gall to post music on his blog and pretend to say intelligent things, he really doesn’t know much.

I’m learning. And one thing I learned last night as I shifted between ecstasy and antsy-ness while sitting through a 50 minute Romantic piece was that we (a collective group hug; me included) have lost the attention span necessary to really hear beautiful music. Seriously, when is the last time you’ve listened to an entire album, even?

Challenge:

Close your eyes.

Sit back.

Take your favorite album (not filler/billboard music, but something with substance).

And let it move you.

If this is too hard, listen to an entire song. I heard a ringtone the other day. Mozart. Maybe. My ability to recognize classical compositions is limited, but the point stands: It was classical. I realized, as the recipient of the Mozart ruffled through her bag and answered the disruptive call, that such a use would have made Mozart weep.

“It’s ok,” we say to weeping Mozart, “she likes your song enough to download a 10 second clip of the best part on her phone. And that’s the tone announcing her boyfriend. (Her mom got the Imperial March). So, Mozart, keep your wig on. That’s flattering ’cause you’re like up there with T-Swift.”

I submit to you that no one even a generation ago dreamed of music being used this way. We complain about screamo (I don’t) and bad popular artists (I do). “It’s noise,” we say.

It’s ALL noise!

The way we fill our lives with bits and clips of commercially driven, interrupted music makes it all noise. I have a friend who, I swear, has never heard an entire song in his life. I catch two bars from a car zooming past. The strip mall is playing “Call Me, Maybe” again, but thankfully I duck into the Rite Aid before the chorus gets glued in my head. I come home and crank up the speakers to get that song out of my head then walk into the bathroom. We skip, rewind, pause, turn down, fiddle with the bass.

It’s no wonder we all have ADD nowadays! Sometimes there is music playing over music – a whole house of jostling, baffled air molecules. The only option then is to play yours louder because your music is undoubtedly superior to everyone else’s.

That’s a fact.

I don’t know much about other time periods, but I guarantee that when Mozart wrote music it was made to be listened to at the very least. People sat down, gave their ears, kept their prehistoric cellphones in their pockets, even dressed up! A piece was played in its entirety. 50 minutes, I learned, is enough to yawn a few times, but I’m crippled by my habits, which are everyone else’s habits.

I write this to call attention to the importance of music in our lives. We would not be having this conversation if it wasn’t. But the way we treat music needs reform perhaps. Maybe not always, but sometimes. I’m not saying all the time. But try taking a full album and focusing on it; sometimes musicians want people to hear their work. It’s about as hard for us as sitting down for an hour with a book. (That’s another subject; I won’t get into it).

Sitting there in the presence of these sweating artists who have dedicated their lives to the instrument in their hands, I realized how important it is to drop everything and listen – put music in the foreground every once in a while. There was something therapeutic about sitting on my hands and pouring all my attention into the sound waves in my head. Suddenly, it wasn’t just noise. The stresses of the day fell away, and I was genuinely awed by the beauty of it. It was, if I may say it, a worshipful time. And it stuck with me.

Try it out!