Spawn of Possession- Incurso
The return of Technical Death Metal legends Spawn of Possession did not disappoint, as the Swedes showed that their long time away from the musical arena has not impacted them or their knack for inhumanly precise devastation of the brain cavity. While the obnoxiously clean production sound takes some punch from the bands sound, the song-writing here is just phenomenal: highly atmospheric and complex while never losing the speed and brutality we have come to expect from the band. Tech Death may have fallen out of vogue, or more precisely changed its name and started calling itself "occult," but Incurso proves that there is still room for this kind of aural micro-surgery in Death Metal today.
Muknal/The Haunting Presence- Split
Occult visions and the bellowing of secret, evil things long forgotten. That's what to expect when two of the premiere young extreme Metal acts get together to release a 4 song split that never loses it's edge despite it's running time. Muknal are simply one of the best new acts around regardless of genre, and have tapped into aspects of Atmospheric Black/Death that few bands have been able to obtain while doing very little which would be described as purely original. The band are merely song-writing savants. The Haunting Presence may be less dynamic, but are even more savage: the battle-cry of the angel slayer. The split format saw a lot of great releases in 2012, but few better than this.
Rahu- The Quest for the Vajra of Shadows
Drawing a fairly even mix of Burzum and Darkspace with just a hint of Horna, Rahu's The Quest for the Vajra of Shadows can devastate as well as entrance. At times even a bit "beautiful"(or as beautiful as raw, static choked Atmospheric Black Metal can be), The Quest for the Vajra of Shadows is not an easy album to absorb in a single sitting, yet never comes off as overwhelming or that it sets any serious barriers to entry. It's an album which creates an atmosphere of dread no doubt, but it's also inviting; the siren song encompassed.
Plague Widow- s/t
There certainly wasn't a more exciting, and ridiculously addicting, release in 2012 than Plague Widow's self-titled debut EP. With so many Death Metal bands picking one style and sticking steadfastly to it while incessantly dissecting competing styles for their "trveness" or "the level of talented needed," it proved incredibly refreshing to find a new band say "fuck all that shit, lets just mix them." When the only way to describe your band is Blackened Brutal Technical Death-Grind, you know you are in for either a giant fucking mess or something special. We definitely got something special here though: taking the best elements of bands like Portal, Deeds of Flesh, Circle of Dead Children, early Decrepit Birth and Mitochondrion, this s/t never lets up, deftly jumping between atmospheric sections and good old muscle and speed with ease and skill. Songwriting doesn't get more varied yet catchy.
Putrevore- Macabre Kingdom
I admit I never thought I would hear from Putrevore, a Rottrevore worship/tribute act from Dave Rotten and Rogga Johansson, again after their incredibly good debut album Morphed from Deadbreath. The project languished in obscurity despite it's quality, and with Rogga and Rotten involved in multiple other acts with a much higher profile, I thought Putrevore would end up on the back burner until it was charred beyond use. However, 2012 brought one of the most welcome surprises I've ever had when Macabre Kingdom hit with little fanfare. And after listening to this album, I was hit with an even bigger surprise: Macabre Kingdom is no Rottrevore worship album. Yes, Rottrevore's Americanized and brutalized Swedish Death Metal remains at the heart of the album, but Macabre Kingdom is far more dynamic than mere worship: it's an album which encompasses huge swaths of Death Metal, from modern Occult Black/Death to Death/Doom to classic gut-bucket 1989 old school and back. Truly a magnificent return for Putrevore. And I can without a doubt make this claim: the vocal performance by Rotten on Macabre Kingdom is easily the best of 2012, if not the last 5 years.
Vattnet Viskar- s/t
So, are we still calling this stuff "Hipster Black Metal?" Or "Blackgaze?" Do I care? No, not really. Vattnet Viskar might be a huge number of things, and all of them are positive: dynamic, emotional, powerful, complex. Whether or not the band have any "kvlt" credibility or listen to a little more Neurosis than Mayhem, what Vattnet Viskar were able to accomplish on this self-titled EP is nothing short of astounding. This sound, a mix of Atmospheric Black Metal and Post-Sludge with a cleaner, more defined production style, is incredibly trendy and pretty big right now. And for my money, Vattnet Viskar do it better than anyone else.
Antediluvian/Adversarial- Initiated in Impiety as Mysteries
Throughout the history of Death Metal, I am generally unsure how many split albums would be considered "essential." Splits have always been the mechanism of economics: limited edition recordings where the costs are shared, usually used to increase the hype for a future full-length for one of the acts or for an established act to help promote a young up and coming act looking to break through but lacking name recognition. Yet make no mistake; Initiated in Impiety and Mysteries is not some thrown together hype release, but a focused, artistically minded full-blown release by two of Death Metal's premiere bands. Both Adversarial and Antediluvian, while having distinct sounds that share little straight up correlation, brought their best material to date to bear here and appeared to have a completely focused thematic direction in mind for the split. Adversarial's sonically devastating mix of Bestial brutality with hyper-speed technicality and Antediluvian's murky, musty Satanic bowel movements play beautifully off of each other here, and combine to create arguably the best Death Metal collaboration of all time.
Wreck and Reference- No Youth
No Youth is the definition of bad mood music. Nothing good ever happens to anybody who listens to it, and you can't shake the feeling that nothing good ever happens to the guys in Wreck and Reference. It's essentially Breaking Bad or Oldboy in musical form: the sins continue to pile up, higher and higher until they blot out all light. Those caught underneath the shade grow colder and colder until there is little left to hope for and life becomes a cruel cosmic joke devoid of a punchline. Musically, the bombastic mix of thick electronic noise and acoustic drumming with the Michael Gira-esque vocal attack and healthy doses of skull-fucking Sludge and Black Metal makes No Youth simply one of the darkest albums I've ever heard. And one of the best.
If you are not on the band-wagon, allow me to make a seat for you next to me.
Without a question in my mind, Muknal are the best new band in Death Metal. The band's self-titled debut has become a personal classic for me, and it's simply one of the best written, performed and produced Death Metal albums I have ever heard. The music perfectly evokes the gorgeous cover art: cosmic, occult, shifting and hiding in the blackness of the Earth until it can claim the blackness in your soul. The thick, musty production remains perfectly even, giving every instrument a say in the overall tapestry, while the vocals are simply unhinged and demonic. But it's the song-writing above all else that makes Muknal as close to perfect as it can be: no section goes on longer than it needs to be yet the album creates a flawless and suffocating atmosphere of dread. It evokes an even mix of endless navel-gazing and uncontrollable head-banging, while maintaining a consistent theme and tone throughout. The bands sound remains firmly rooted in the Old-School while feeling forward thinking and starkly original. Simply put, Muknal is one of the best Death Metal albums I have ever heard. Not bad for the three song debut EP.
And the best album of 2012:
Charon- Sulfur Seraph(The Archon Principal)
In order to verify my personal feeling that Charon's Sulfur Seraph(The Archon Principal) was truly the best album of 2012, I gave myself a challenge: don't listen to it for a solid three months at least. Step away from the album which was becoming a solid part of my listening rotation and see if it holds up to the changing of time and perspective. It's a tough test for any album to over-come, and banishes more than one former flame to obscurity.
What I found surprised me: not only did Sulfur Seraph hold up, it felt...well, as the song goes, it felt like the very first time. Charon's sound is easy to describe yet difficult to envision, utterly accessible yet beyond heavy and incredibly fast, mired in Old-School sensibilities yet as fresh as anything I have heard in a long time. The sound Charon achieved on Sulfur Seraph is simply magical; Thrash, Black Metal and Occult Black/Death all meet at a perfect center apex and proceed to savage the fuck out of your ear-drums while never coming off as overly abrasive or self-indulgent. It's this surprising listenability, this "pick up and listen" style of brutal, fast and evil song-writing that doesn't feel like a rehash of early 90's Death Metal that makes Sulfur Seraph such an impressive album, and the best album of 2012.