Friday, December 14, 2012

Top Heavy Metal Albums 2012

1) Judas Priest- Screaming For Vengeance (reissue) with DVD

This top Rock/Metal release for me laid waste to everything "new" this year. It was nice to have the great sounding reissue, but the live dvd is what this is really all about. Never have I seen Priest so charged up and hungry in a live context. No contest with the other albums, THIS IS JUDAS PRIEST!

2) Accept- Stalingrad

I really liked the return of Accept on Blood of Nations, but for me that album was weighted by way too much filler. Stalingrad is a better album as a whole, good from top to bottom, and from that perspective their best since Metal Heart.

3) Testament- Dark Roots of the Earth

I wasn't wild about the first album back with Alex Skolnick, but this one completely trivializes any doubts. This isn't just a scathing Thrash album, it is a songwriting monster, their best in that aspect since Practice What You Preach. The lead guitar playing on this is the best this year for "classic" metal stars (don't get depressed boys and girls but yes, Testament qualifies as classic).

4) Nile- At the Gate of Sethu

Another killer lead guitar record, but besides that and a bunch of really ripping, oddly accessible yet technical death metal songs (in that iconic, Middle Eastern idiom), the title track breaks new ground in what seems to be the first Death Metal Operetta.

5) Candlemass- Psalms For the Dead

Last album with Doom Metal vocal legend Robert Lowe, and he and the band go out with a solid effort all the way around. A little too digitized sounding in places, but the songs and eerie atmospheres put this over the top. Haunting ghost yarns, told in Lowe's inimitable Sorceror-Storyteller way.

6) Kreator- Phantom Antichrist

Less of the ewww-y Melodic Death Metal influence, more of the ARRGH! type 'o Thrash. The melodicism that is here seems far more naturally integrated than on past albums, and there are half a dozen tracks that are a must have.

7) Desecravity- Implicit Obedience

Easily the hottest new tech death band around, edging out their peers by dint of their innate savagery. Most Tech Death can just whiz by with minimal headbanging. This will knock your teeth down your throat, and you'll be glad it did.

8) Dragonsclaw- The Prophecy

Best new classic Metal band, supersonic vocalist Giles Lavery's Steve Grimmet-esque soaring really helps propel this. Fans of the aforementioned Grimmet's Grim Reaper, 90s Riot, and Powerslave-era Maiden have reason to rejoice...finally.

9) Bevar Sea s/t

Best Doom Metal debut I've heard since Solitude Aeternus, the despicable (in the "good" way) vocals combine with the rawther nawsty guitar tone quite compellingly. Have a shower nearby whilst listening, it's hell getting it out of your hair.

10) Aborted- Global Flatline

When I first saw this as an album cover I was fondly nostalgic for Deceased. And the second track definitely enunciates the high, apocalyptic peoplefest concept. But the other songs, as old school killer death-grind musically as you can imagine, get lyrically cartoony in a worshipful, yet uniquely killer Carcass-ian monument. Do any of us who appreciate the putrefecators' disciples, or even young upstarts like Devorument really care much about originality anyhoo? 

11) Dying Fetus- Reign Supreme

I haven't heard a bad album yet from the violent death grinders, but this is probably their most engaging musically ever, and no they didn't sacrifice one ounce of the intensity. It's actually getting harder to call Dying Fetus grind anymore, there are too many accomplished parts from the individual musicians, plus real songs. Closer to old school Tampa (they always did have those shades of Obituary), while succesfully carrying over their state-of-the-art brand of siege.

12) Slash- Apocalyptic Love

Slash's solo album boasts some fine vocals by Myles Kennedy, but it's his stellar (and woodshed-benefitting) playing that's really on display. That is, a few really good songs, but the album is more like "dude, have you HEARD Slash's playing lately?".

13) Cattle Decapitation- Monolith to Inhumanity

Includes all the requisite monster blasting and ugly face making, but this band actually takes songwriting chances at several points on this album, consequently showcasing a very interesting sense of dynamics...there's actually an aim toward an expressive flavor to their sound, and it really makes the work stand out. Easily their best music, and keep in mind that I've always liked them. Even if you just buy this album for the maniacally brilliant first three songs, it's worth it trust me.

14) Atkins/May- Valley of Shadows

Really good classic Metal with a contemporary production, with one of the genre's defining founders and an excellent guitar performance courtesy of Paul May.

16) Cannibal Corpse- Torture
This band will always be irresistible to me. More gory fodder, but done with so much passion, overall probably their best since the masterpiece that was Kill. This album gives me a bit of the Punky fun thrill I had when I first heard Eaten Back to Life.

17) Albatross- The Kissing Flies This release is part of a split with a band that I wasn't too impressed with, otherwise I would have put this classic Mercyful Fate/Candlemass loving dynamo up higher. If you're into the aforementioned at all, you're probably going to like this. It helps too that these folks from India have enough imagination and ingenuity to keep "Kissing Flies" from being a tribute album, there are some great, epic Classic Metal songs on this release. Highly recommended.

18) Putrid Pile- Blood Fetish Who says only Black Metal bands can be one man? Shaun LaCanne once again proves both his allegiance to the old school of Death, while carving out a corrosive niche of his own. The highish screams bring to mind Deicide and CC, and there's even an almost Punk-ish vibe to a couple of pieces, but LaCanne also integrate sSlams, grindy blasts, and other elements to make this world his own. This is one of those albums that is just plain fun to listen to.


Black Country Communion's "Afterglow"- Close the Show

Both because of my admiration of Glenn Hughes' work with Deep Purple and Black Sabbath and the reccomendations of some very knowlegeable Rock fans and friends, I've given each of the three BCC releases a few listens. My conclusion is that Black Country Communion is another waste of time in a long line for a man who remains one of best musicians the Rock genre has ever known (and if you don't know I'm talking about Hughes, you need to stop reading). Put it this way, I'm glad I borrowed the cds, as I hate paying for reheated drivel.

Afterglow for me both underscores and adds further firefuel to the above conclusion. Not one of the BCC albums is much different songwriting-wise from what Hughes wrote on, say, the "Soul Mover" album, in fact a lot of it is the same from not only a structural but atmospheric standpoint, just a stiff notch down in quality. This last is especially bad news, since "Soul Mover" was mostly reheated Hendrix/Zeppelin/Purple/Wonder to begin with...sound familiar?

Bonamassa is definitely part of the problem; not in small part due to the fact that he seems to experience the same lack of personality assertion in the songwriting department as he does in his guitar playing. This makes him a far more pronounced non-entity in the Rock field than the Blues, since the former is pretty much based on aggressive ego-assertion. Every solo he takes on Afterglow...shoot, on ANY of the BCC albums, I missed out on and had to rewind later in order to make sure there was one. It's like he's not really there, if you get my meaning. The Bonham drums are about the same as they've ever been, which means they could have been played similarly by about a hundred other percussionists out there, and I'm being kind. The production on Afterglow isn't much of an improvement on the others, meaning it's bad, bad, bad. Everything sounds the same, and considering that the base itself is almost cartoonishly banal, it's high time to hang this "supergroup" up.

I can't wrap up this review without noting that Glenn Hughes' voice often sounds quite good, especially considering the recreational wear it's gone through over the years (not to mention his tendency toward the acetylyne torch approach). It's amazing that he sounds this great, especially when so many other heavy rock masters from the 70s barely have their original tone anymore (Gillan and Coverdale anyone?).Glenn always sounded best to me when he largely eschewed the Funk influence and focused on belting out the straight Rock, and he does almost as good here as he did on Sabbath's Seventh Star (the latter was in my mind the best he ever sounded prior to Afterglow).

So, it you are a fanatic for Glenn Hughes's voice and just can't get enough of the sound of ancient Purple/Zep/Hendrix (no matter how microwaved), I definitely reccomend this album. As for me, I give it a simple "blah" rating, not terrible, but not good or worth buying either. Two out of five stars.

Or, to put it more concisely, looking forward to the afterglow of no more Black Country Communion.