Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Top 10 Metal Albums from the First Half of 2012

#10 Omerta Adrenaline Mob (Capitol)

I've written before about how my friends and I like to dream up different scenarios of our favorite metal musicians getting together and creating something truly special between them. Well sometimes those dream scenarios become reality, and such is the case with Adrenaline Mob, as prog metal legends Russell Allen (vocals) and Mike Portnoy (drums) team up to create something...not prog metal. This music rocks hard and in a straight line, with no complexities or experimentation to be found. The main draw here is Allen's monstrous, beefy vocal delivery, as he manages to sound like a more powerful, rangy version of Ronnie James Dio--a good enough reason on its own to check this out.

#9 Asphyxia Sangre Eterna (Maple Metal)

You might hear the distictive buzzsaw guitar tones and gothic keyboard work and instantly assume this was recorded in Sweden--probably even at the legendary Sunlight Studios where said sound was invented. But you would be wrong. Hailing from Serbia of all places, Sangre Eterna sound like Character-era Dark Tranquillity mixed with a bit of Eternal Tears of Sorrow--an impressive pedigree of melodeath to be sure. Their fresh and energetic take on the genre gives them a credibility that many of their copycat peers lack.

#8 Eulogy for the Damned Orange Goblin (Candlelight)

Eulogy for the DamnedLike a more soulful version of High on FireOrange Goblin bring the high-intensity energy and trucker speed of Motorhead and the killer riffing of Sabbath and Zeppelin. The soulfulness of Orange Goblin is noteworthy, though, as they temper HoF's bone-jarring grit with the smooth, groovy melodies and bass lines of southern rock. In the name-dropping trend of this entry, I would have to say there is more than a little Skynard mixed into this collage of styles, especially on tracks like "Save Me From Myself." In essence, this everything good about 70's music all blended together into one especially tasteful dish.

#7 Steel Battle Beast (Nuclear Blast)

Vocalist Nitte Valo sings with balls and range that no female (and few male) vocalists in metal can match. Her range is probably the most impressive aspect, as she manages Dio-esque grit and Halford-like wailing both with equal force and gusto, while also occasionally showing off an operatic soprano more typical of her contemporaries like Tarja Turunen and Simone Simmons. Aside from the vocals, Battle Beast also offer insanely catchy choruses and riffs, soulful and technically impressive soloing, and a heavy dose of cheesy (but still awesome) synth work. Other than Valo's vox, there's not a whole lot here you haven't heard before, but for some extremely finely constructed power metal, you need to look no further than Steel.

#6 Stalingrad Accept (Nuclear Blast)

StalingradBlood of Nations was a huge (and pleasant) surprise for me (as I'm sure it was for most people). I just cannot fathom how, 30+ years after their formation and 14 since their last studio album, these German heavy metal legends were able to create arguably the finest work of their career. After that, I was prepared for Stalingrad to be killer as well, and I am not disappointed. The same fire, energy, and bare-chested swagger exists in equal quantities here. Maybe the only aspect that doesn't quite stand up to BoN is that there are no instant-standout tracks like we got in "Teutonic Terror" or "Bucket Full of Hate," but make no mistake, this still an great album from front to back. Just accept it!

Rengeteg#5 Rengeteg Thy Catafalque (Season of Mist)

Rengeteg is this year's winners of the To Mega Therion award for "I don't know what the hell I'm listening to but I freaking love it!" Highly experimental, but still firmly rooted in the metal sound (in other words, there's enough heavy riffs, fast drumming, and emphatic vocals to remind you what genre you're actually listening to), Thy Catafalque manage to blend black metal, avant-garde, folk, death metal, prog, ambient, and electronic into one tightly-delivered and mesmerizing package.

#4 Batavi Heidevolk (Napalm)
Heidevolk have returned with what is easily their best album to date. Though they still are and always will be defined by their spectacularly unique dual harmonized vocal leads, the band has really spread their wings on this recording by incorporating heart-stopping riff progressions and tempo changes, more leads, solos, folk instrumentation, and growled vocals. Probably the most noteworthy addition to their sound, however, is a newfound aggression. Some of these riffs and vocals parts are downright vicious and add a excellent spice to what could otherwise have devolved into a dull repetition of the same sonic flavors.

#3 And So It Came to Pass Dyscarnate (Siege of Amida)
And So It Came to Pass
I'm pretty sure the International Chiropractors Associations sponsored this album as a way of creating more business for themselves. Henceforth, when referring to a situation where I headbanged so much that I hurt myself, I will refer to that as "dyscarnating my neck." Hailing from the UK, Dyscarnate play a groovy form of death metal. The key in their creation of countless headbang-inducing riffs lies in their tempo; most of these songs are mid-tempo, with almost no blast-beating and only few periods of extended double bass to be found. Don't let that lull you into a false sense of security, though, as few albums are as unrelentingly violent or overpowering as And So It Came to Pass.

#2 Deathhammer Asphyx (Century)
The riffs. Oh the riffs! The weight and meatiness of the riffs by these Dutch death metal legends is such that you can almost feel them thickening the air around you as you listen. This is an album that manages to be incredibly heavy without trying to be "brootal," a rare feat for today' death metal scene. Even rarer, these songs have a definite tunefulness to them as well. The secret lies in their grooviness of the bass and riff progressions, and the result is an old-school death metal sound that few can achieve and even fewer have mastered the way Asphyx have.

#1 Bury the Light Pharaoh (Cruz Del Sur)

Bury The LightPharaoh fall firmly into the classification of what I call "songsmiths;" they craft songs the way an artisan metalworker would craft a fine blade--shaping it, refining it, sharpening it, and polishing it until a beautiful and killer result is achieved. It can be difficult to quantify exactly what it is that makes these songsmiths so good at their crafts. Yes, the riffs and solos here are spectacular, but not better than plenty of other bands out there. Yes, the vocals are fiery and full of passion and conviction, but again, this is done better elsewhere. The real strength of Bury the Light is the way all these spectacular elements are forged together into a flawless weapon--razor sharp and pointed at your ear hole.

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