2012 has been a strange old year for metal in the UK.
It saw the dissolution of our much treasured Roadrunner Records UK as an independent label and the shocking cancellation of one of the country's fastest growing metal weekenders, Sonisphere Festival UK.
Talk about 'bummer'.
Now, if all of this wasn't terrible enough, lest we forget that even before this double-whammied catastrophe; one of our most beloved, innovative and iconic guitarists, Tony Iommi, announced that he had been diagnosed with the early stages of lymphoma.
Fucking shit, isn't it?
The good news, however, is that the former Roadrunner Records dudes have found new jobs – still fighting the good fight for metal, the tour de force that is Sonisphere Festival UK looks set to go ahead as per usual in 2013 and and Iommi played both his hometown of Birmingham and an epic headliner slot at Download Festival with Black Sabbath and is now on the mend, currently doing as well as can be expected.
Despite the doom and gloom that threatened to permanently scar 2012, there actually were a shitload of great releases within the world of rock and metal. Don't believe me? Well, here are my top 10:
10. Testament – Dark Roots of Earth
Testament, Testament, Testament. Is it possible for them to put a foot wrong? I think not. The Godfathers of thrash metal have once again delivered a minotaur of a record – it even entered the Billboard 200 at number twelve! NUMBER TWELVE! Shit the actual bed. It's actually the highest charting debut in the entire history of their label Nuclear Blast. Slaying and making history, all in a days work. 'Dark Roots of the Earth' is a superbly solid offering and most certainly a reassuring presence. True pioneers of the genre, innovators of heavy music and mentors to younger bands, Testament are a thrilling example strength, resilience and perseverance. It's delightful to see the Californian natives are firing on all cylinders these days – here's to the next three decades.
9.Cancer Bats – Dead Set on Living
The Cancer Bats' flame burned so brightly in their early days that it was in danger of snuffing out altogether. But four albums later and Canada's finest post-hardcore-punkers are still as viceral, ferocious and hungry for blood as ever. One of the most exciting bands to emerge in the past decade, Cancer Bats don't do 'disappointing' – it's not in their creative DNA and 'Dead Set on Living' is proof of this. An energetic injection of furious reckless abandon, this record encapsulates the unmistakable twang-tinged vocals, an insatiably bizarre pace that can comprehensively crush or pummel at break-neck speed as required and a hairy heavy metal basting of powerful rhythmic stoner riffs. To put it plainly, 'Dead Set on Living' is good enough to eat.
8.Stone Sour – House of Golden Bones Pt.1
Corey Taylor might just be the hardest working man in metal. He's already well-established himself as the heavy-weight skipper of masked metal mob Slipknot, been on a plethora of solo tours and has even written a book. But regardless of what his mind-boggling work schedule brings, he somehow makes time for his first love – Stone Sour. Oh, and did I mention that he doesn't do things by halves? The latest offering by the aforementioned is 'House of Gold and Bones Pt.1' – the first half of their first ever double concept album. The album signals a game-changing career move for the band, a giant leap from everything they've done up to this point and an unchartered step into the abyss – a risk that has clearly paid off. 'House Pt.1' is simply stunning; intricately arranged motifs peppered on a strong orchestral foundation with soft sophisticated string parts coquettishly complimenting the records emotionally intelligent tone. Bring on Part 2 baby.
7.Down – Down IV: The Purple EP
After 5 years without anything new from Down, I would have settled for a fresh turd, quite frankly. So you can imagine my delight when up popped Down IV: The Purple EP. A departure from their thrice-regular formula of a full length record, The Purple EP is the first of a four-part installment from The Big Easy's stoner-rock supergroup and a sure-fire snapshot of what's to come. Aurally, you can hear Down tapping into their doom and black metal influences much more than the classic rock and heavy metal crosses they've been known to proudly bear. They deserve all the credit they get for trying something new, whilst simultaneously staying true to their own particular tastes and influences that evidently brought them into this game in the first place. The proof is in the pudding with Down and while we eagerly await the sequels, let's just enjoy an EP that's so individual and refreshing that no other band could come close to making it themselves.
6.Sylosis – Monolith
‘Monolith’ is a big-sounding record, there are are no filler tracks and every sound and utterance is presented as if it’s been conceived and then sculpted with a surgeon’s precision. It encompasses atmospheric tones and layers of ambient nimble fret-waxing abreast tangible slices of thrash and waves of expansive doomy riffs that lull and aurally inveigle. The almost 20 minute epic closer may very well be the jewel in the crown of ‘Monolith’; imagine the sound of the four horsemen of the apocalypse meeting the undead spirit of 80’s thrash. Here’s a composition that weaves powerful and progressive technical chapters with delicate and emotive melodic tangents; complete with a two and a half minute interval, naturally. Beautifully orognal and covertly stylish, this truly is what metal in 2012 should be. And more.
5.Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind
Converge are basically a religion at this point. With an original line-up since inarguably their greatest album, Jane Doe, creating music is almost a sixth sense for this Massachusetts foursome. The title 'All We Love We Leave Behind' is a nod to the personal sacrifices that being in this particular band brings as they travel the world on a modest budget with a DIY ethic; that includes humbly sound-checking their own instruments. Converge are the definition of 'no-frills'; they like to keep things basic and showcase their art with maximum effect. Their eighth record in eighteen years sees the band succeed at capturing their live sound organically – their own unique brand of emotive avante-guard hardcore is genuine, uncompromising and totally fearless. Converge confess to not listening to much outside the band, so their inspiration derives from a relentless artistic internal whirlind – it's really quite impressive. The energy they spread on this record is nothing short of infectious and their egoless, ball-to-the-wall attitude is truly majestic. Keep it coming lads.
4.Baroness – Yellow & Green
This year Baroness proved that they are actually death-proof. Whilst on tour in the UK their coach plunged 30 feet into a viaduct when the brakes failed and several people were seriously hurt. This traumatic accident had the potential to threatened their very livelihood, but the band have pledged to continue their musical journey after recovery. As an entity, they truly are the personification of 'courage'; their bravely and positivity are both remarkable and inspiring. Prior to the incident that reared its ugly head on 15th August, Baroness released the double LP 'Yellow & Green' keeping the trend of colour-coding their back-catalouge. With a new member and a fresh approach to songwriting, Baroness have slowed down, stripped back and concentrated more on the songs than the riffs within their sludgy progressive metal tapestry. Still sticking to their conceptual-blueprint-guns, Baroness express their mission statements with truth and maintain the belief that an album is a full piece of work and not killer plus filler. 'Yellow and Green' demonstrates the unbridled ambition within the band; their originality and creativity holds no bounds. Sky's the limit.
3.Slash – Apocalyptic Love
When your debut solo record features the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy and Iggy Pop – it's undeniably going to be a hard act to follow. Not many could pull it off, but Slash, the guitar-hero of our generation has only gone and done the impossible, creating another absolute belter of a record in 'Apocalyptic Love'. Using just Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge as the sole vocalist this time, the two guitarists co-wrote the entire album together, the concept loosely based on the humorous suggestion of the last intimate thing you'd do if the world was ending. Fair play, quite frankly. Slash's signature guitar-playing is simply iconic. Keeping true to his beloved instrument, he wrote most of the guitar parts and bestowed Kennedy with trust and confidence to write the record's lyrics and to also sing them all; executing what could very well be the most talented and decadent rock'n'roll vocals in the industry today. 'Apocalyptic Love' is a mix bag of slow-burners and rip-roarers, guaranteed to keep your ass off your seat and your feet on their toes.
2.Orange Goblin – A Eulogy for the Damned
It could be said that Orange Goblin may have already seen their best days and then some, but the insatiable spirit and fire that burns passionately within them has motored one of the only true pillars of London’s modest stoner-rock live circuit to once again unleash another monumental dollop of swampy, riff-enchanted heavy metal. Here’s a band who have heavily contributed to this particular rich and authentically meshed sub-genre; deserty Southern-infused arrangements that Skynyrd would be proud of, a thick dusting of ambiguous smattering of dreary doom and more hooks than a Peter Pan convention. The seventh record from the mighty Orange Goblin is the ultimate soundtrack for long-standing fans of rock and metal, it's got about as many mood swings as a team of schizophrenic teenagers on a game-show and it's even manlier than a ZZ Top beard. The show-stopper, if there is only one, has to be the aptly-named gargantuan seven minute title-tracked closer: ‘A Eulogy for the Damned’. Metalheads – assemble.
1.Deftones – Koi No Yokan
Jesus-fuck. Deftones continue to out-do themselves time and time again. They survived the nu-metal swill of the 90's and inspite of musical uncertainty and the tsunami of the digital age, have managed to continually evolve and stay in keeping with what's relevant, whilst simultaneously staying true to their core values. Despite being in their late 30's for the most part, the band some how mange to exude such potent teenage-angst, it's both formidable and endearing. Deftones mix of organic, testosterone-fulled alternative metal and earthy garage-rock gives the finger to commercial twaddle those that choose to play it safe. The production on this full-length epic is absolutely glorious and how could it not be, when birthed at the hands of the legendary Nick Raskulinecz? The only way imaginable to enjoy this record more is potentially in a live capacity and at this point in their career, Deftones credibility speaks for itself – there's no hiding from true talent. Fan-bloody-tastic.