Friday, January 25, 2013

Curse of the Great White Elephant: Top 20 Albums of 2012 Part 1

Sadly, this list is going to feel largely incomplete.  There were dozens of albums I wanted to listen to more closely over the last few weeks but time has just not permitted it.  As such, I imagine there will be several albums left off of this list that deserve more serious consideration to be on it.  Regardless, the show must go on and I can only go with the albums which have proven their staying power and impact.  So without further a do, here is the Curse of the Great White Elephant Top 20 Albums of 2012.

Pseudogod- Deathwomb Catechesis

Swirling, thundering waves of chaos and devastation rip the very ground beneath your feet asunder as Deathwomb Catechesis unleashes its furious and unholy magics upon you.  In terms of sheer aural hammering and relentlessness, it's an album which has no real equal in 2012.  But amid all roar of blast-beats and the endless procession of incomprehensible riffs, Deathwomb Catechesis has proven a far more atmospheric and intelligent album than I first gave it credit for.  This is not the pinnacle of creativity by any means, but Deathwomb Catechesis can show restraint and even subtlety when the moment calls for it, breaking up the monotony of pure speed with some doom-laden introspection and eery, dischordant riffs that feel as though they are being played on strings made from the broken hairs of angels.

Locrian & Mamiffer- Bless Them That Curse You

As much as I loved Blessed Them That Curse You, the brilliant collaboration between Drone/Black Metal noisemakers Locrian and Ambient Drone duo Mammifer, it was an album I never felt comfortable reviewing.  Trying to put the experience of Bless Them That Curse You into words is a difficult task, seeing as how it has little parallel to my typical musical discourse.  Other than the final track, the unbelievably glorious "Metis/Amaranthine/The Emperor," it features no semblance of Metal or even anything analog to it, as most of the album fills the air with ambient sounds, dark electronic shrieks and gorgeous, melodic yet twisted piano work(the main contribution of Mammifer I believe).  However, Bless Them That Curse You is utterly and completely transfixing, slowly and methodically waltzing along the ill-defined line between music and raw sound.  It's long, effortless tracks make time stand still and perspectives shift, while drawing from the listener a wide variety of emotional responses.  Bless Them That Curse You is a somber, subconscious experience that while limited in it's listenability, provides an incredible experience in the right setting.

Fiona Apple- The Idler Wheel...

Say it with me: The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Chords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Ever Do.  It's an album titled which reeks of pretentiousness and self-serving infatuation with one's own creativity.  And surely enough, The Idler Wheel occasionally crosses that line into pure pretense, Fiona Apple's voice creaking like the most self-absorbed screen door ever opened.  But Apple, the legendary semi-mainstream 90's singer-songwriter, simply cannot be denied here: The Idler Wheel is the single best Non-Extreme Music album I have listened to this year.  Apple's voice is incredible, moving from a dull, warbling rumble to an enraged growl to a beautiful bell with an effortlessness that is near unmatched among here peers.  And musically, The Idler Wheel is as adventurous and bleak as any album this year.  The dark, piano driven "Jonathan" pulsates with power and dark electronic rhythms, while "Daredevil" is a ferocious, percussion heavy piece that would not be an easy task for any singer, yet Apple nails it.  This is not a catchy or accessible album in any way, instead choosing to challenge and push the limits of the listener to the limit in a way not expected from this genre.  Apple can have as many words in her album titles as she wants if she can back them up, and like Kate Bush and Bjork before her, Apple backs up the pretense gloriously.

Receptionist- This is Everything

Metalcore is fucking dead, but that didn't stop Receptionist from digging up it's corpse for one more go around.  Violent, angular and incredibly pissed off, This is Everything could easily be mistaken for a long lost Deadguy album  Strikingly original?  Not even close, This is Everything feels literally lifted directly from the 90's Metalcore-era.  But that was the point: to give a long dead genre a breath of life, and in this era where "Metalcore" has become the most bastardized and reviled genre's of Extreme Music, it's a damn important album too.

Desecravity- Implicit Obedience

How the fuck do so many bands keep fucking up this sound?  Brutal Tech Death is an easy genre to do right: keep things fast, technical and insanely brutal without over-producing the tracks to the point where the guitars sound digital and the drums sound like a type-writer.  Desecravity prove how simple, yet incredibly effective, the formula can be on Implicit Obedience, and album which possesses not one ounce of originality yet works on so many levels.  It's just so rare to hear a modern Brutal Tech Death band that actually, ya know, plays riffs.  And has hooks.  And doesn't throw a shit-ton of ham-fisted "melody" and "electronics" at the listener.  It's become so rare that Implicit Obedience feels brand new even if it's parts are well worn.  It's that even mix of tech and muscle that always works no matter how cynical about the genre one becomes.

Axis of Light- By the Hands of the Consuming Fire

Raw and brimming with rage and hate, By the Hands of the Consuming Fire helped usher in Axis of Light as one of the most exciting new Black Metal projects from an emerging English Extreme Metal scene.  The production here could not be less accessible, featuring almost no low end and a thin, shrieking guitar tone that grinds against the ears with that rare warm abrasiveness.  Yet the emotion here is even more raw than the production and this album seethes with hated and disgust.  The vocals are immense and incredibly intense and the instrumentation is the definition of controlled chaos.  The best music is the most emotional music, and By the Hands of the Consuming Fire is overwhelming in that regard.
The Ash Eaters- Ruining You

Another album I wanted to get to but just couldn't squeeze in, Ruining You is one hell of a ride down the rabbit hole.  The Ash Eaters, once known as Black Metal/Doom band Brown Jenkins, actually released two brilliant albums in 2012, Ibn Ghazi and Ruining You, but of the two Ruining You is the bands first full length and the fullest realization of The Ash Eaters twisted sound.  It's a sound which can be painfully difficult to describe, but the closest I can come is Blackened Instrumental Psych-Rock.  Making heavy use of thick guitar riffs heavy on repetition and simple yet aggressive rock rhythms, Ruining You creates an incredible amount of atmosphere despite being largely mid-tempo and devoid of much fluff, even vocals.  The guitar work drives the entire album, and it's simply some of the most caustic, dissonant and fantastic guitar work you'll ever hear.

Witch in Her Tomb- Witch in Her Tomb

2012 could be described as the year of Bandcamp: this is the third album on this list so far that has almost been exclusively distributed via Bandcamp.  Bands like Witch in Her Tomb are now able to spread their music farther than any underground musical artist has been able to before, and this is a glorious thing.  Featuring the best bass sound of 2012 and a raw, Punk-edged Black Metal attack, Witch in Her Tomb is a simple but powerful listen that is equal parts pure hated and insatiable catchiness.

Coheed and Cambria- The Afterman: Ascension

Welcome back, Coheed and Cambria. 

Now, this is not the best album that Coheed and Cambria album.  Not by a long shot.  But after the complete and utter garbage of Year of the Black Rainbow, merely coming close to returning to their glory days is a massive and welcome achievement.  The return of drummer Josh Eppard was the single best thing that has ever happened to the band, period.  With Eppard back behind the kit(and turning it the single best drumming performance of 2012), Coheed and Cambria made a return to their roots: a mix of Prog Metal and sugary sweet Pop caught in an extremely dark haze.  Claudio Sanchez is back to loving his own distinctive and divisive falsetto vocals, and the balance of epic guitar masterpieces and straight bubble gum head boppers is back and as good as ever when the band hit that sweet spot.  Without a doubt the best return of 2012.

Monomakh- MMXII

With a distinctive blend of straight up Incantation worship and classic, old school Black Thrash and even Melodic Black Death concepts, Monomakh's MMXII is at once thoroughly crushing in it's atmospheric holocaust, yet devoid of much if any repetition and jam-packed with riffs and even solos.  It's a strange dichotomy, but Monomakh makes it work in a way that I never would have begun to guess would work.  The production is thick and hazy, the vocals are powerful and evil, and the guitar work is simply marvelous: layered, diverse and devoid of any filler.  MMXII is without a doubt the most listenable and versatile Death Metal album of 2012, and since it is completely free on Bandcamp I urge everyone to check it out.

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