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Top 30 Metal Albums of 2012

by Chuck Eddy

Top 30 Metal Albums of 2012


If you want a quick clue as to how excellent a list of albums this is – and how bountiful a year for the genre 2012 was in general -- consider that the most critically acclaimed metal album of the year is only the 30th-best of the 30 albums below. That’d be BaronessYellow & Green (no. 15 on SPIN’s overall year-end list, no. 47 in Paste, no. 2 in metal bible Decibel), a record that many cut slack because of its ambitious size and scope, because it sounds kind of like indie rock, because it was a moderate commercial success (entered Billboard at no. 30), and maybe because the band survived a horrific tour bus trash in August. But a respectable record nonetheless.

The other most critically acclaimed metal album of 2012 (Converge’s All We Love We Leave Behind, no. 1 in Decibel) doesn’t even make this list at all; nor does the non-metal album most praised by metal critics (SwansThe Seer, no. 25 in Decibel), or any number of other albums less compelling than their reps suggest (from Torche, Testament, High on Fire, Meshuggah, Napalm Death, Pig Destroyer, etc.) You’re perfectly welcome to prefer any of those – hey, it’s a free country, and if either of us have horrible taste, that’s cool, ‘cause horrible taste comes in handy in Metal Land, right? But if you care about metal at all, perhaps we can at least agree on this: There was sure a ton of awesome stuff out there to chose from.

The awesome stuff below, admittedly, leans more toward the trad/power/doom/party/boogie/NWOBHM end of the spectrum than the grindcore/death/black end of the spectrum (much less the metalcore end, which still outsells everything else without getting much respect, usually for good reason). But that’s because more and more smart bands seem to have figured out that mere brutality is a well of inspiration that ran dry eons ago. Bands still settling for being “extreme” without concocting memorable songs or hiring actual singers this late in the game seem really lazy, and the pre-thrash metal of the ‘70s and early ‘80s is a conversation that got rudely interrupted without being completed. So now you’ve got reformed Vancouver metalcore gang 3 Inches Of Blood making like an undercard band on a 1980 Maiden or Priest bill, and even former black metal monsters like Ulver filling an album with covers of lost nuggets from the proto-psychedelic mid ‘60s. Which isn’t to say everybody should just ape Mesozoic sounds – there’s a reason the top two albums below both fall under the futuristically dystopian “industrial metal” rubric.

Anyway, a brief demographic breakdown. Well over a third of the bands below (13 to be exact, not counting Accept, who now have a Jersey-born singer) come from the United States, including three from Texas and two from Georgia. Six come from Sweden; three from the U.K.; two each from Germany and France; one each from Ukraine, Canada, Denmark and Norway. Four picks (Spiders, The Shrine, Larman Clamor, Hellwell) are debuts, though the last of those has a singer who turned 55 in early December; seven bands Treponem Pal, Angel Witch, Mekong Delta covering their own convoluted prog-thrash, 45 Grave who might be old punks, but are at least as metal as Swans for chrissakes), Tygers of Pan Tang, Accept) have recording careers dating back to the ‘80s, but have experienced multiple hiatuses and lineup switcheroos since then, replacing members to achieve longevity like reptiles sprouting new tails. (Coven Worship New Gods -- basement goth-doom previously released only on super-limited vinyl to the band’s Detroit fans a quarter-century ago – is technically both a debut and from the ‘80s, if you want to get nit-picky.)

Record label of the year has to be Small Stone out of Detroit, which ties the venerable German-founded concern Nuclear Blast for first place by placing four artists on the honor roll ([Lord Fowl], Abrahma, Larman Clamor, Skånska Mord) despite being a shoe-string operation with way more limited distribution. Honorable mention goes to Pittsburgh’s maybe even smaller eight-year-old Shadow Kingdom, just behind with three entries (Coven, Altar Of Oblivion and Hellwell, plus if Pagan Altar’s The Time Lord hadn’t been disqualified for being a reissue, they'd have had four, too). And finally, it’s definitely worth a mention that four bands on the list (Spiders, 45 Grave, Christian Mistress, Royal Thunder) are fronted by women -- not a new trend by any stretch, but always a welcome one. 2013 should be so lucky!

30) Baroness, Yellow & Green
29) Crazy Lixx, Riot Avenue
28) Ulver, Childhood’s End
27) Accept, Stalingrad
26) Witchcraft, Legend
25) Honky, 421
24) Skånska Mord, Paths To Charon
23) Tygers of Pan Tang, Ambush
22) Bullet, Full Pull
21) Hellwell, Beyond The Boundardies Of Sin
20) Altar Of Oblivion, Grand Gesture Of Defiance
19) The Sword, Apocryphon
18) Royal Thunder, CVI
17) Larman Clamor, Frogs
16) Abrahma, Through The Dusty Paths Of Our Lives
15) Pharaoh, Bury The Light
14) Christian Mistress, Possession
13) 3 Inches Of Blood, Long Live Heavy Metal
12) The Shrine, Primitive Blast
11) Bible Of The Devil, For The Love Of Thugs & Fools
10) Lord Fowl, Moon Queen
9) Venomous Maximus, Beg Upon The Light
8) 45 Grave, Pick Your Poison
7) Spiders, Flash Point
6) Coven, Worship New Gods
5) Grand Magus, The Hunt
4) Mekong Delta, Intersections
3) Angel Witch, As Above, So Below
2) Thunderkraft, Totentanz
1) Treponem Pal, Survival Sounds