#10. Ashencult - Black Flame Gnosis (Black Metal)
This album is easily the biggest surprise of the year. Ashencult came out of nowhere and delivered a debut album that completely exceeded any kind of expectations. This Philadelphia band didn't take the usual route and release a demo to showcase their sound, instead they released a full album in "Black Flame Gnosis," and it kills. This is black metal in the vein of the Swedish masters like Dissection, Sacramentum and the like, which means thrashy riffs and chilling melodies galore! Hit up Ashencult on their Bandcamp profile where you can get the album for free!
Highlights - "A Glorious Elegy," "The Isolate" and "Race of the Blood Insane"
#9. Lich King - Born of the Bomb (Thrash)
I've been a big supporter of Lich King since their earlier days when they were pissing off black metal fans with their sarcastic wit, but not even I could of seen this coming. Their fourth full-length "Born of the Bomb" made the Bay Area style of thrash awesome again, with infectiously catchy riffs, kickass vocals and some terrific solos to top it all off. This is far from the same band who wrote "Necromantic Maelstrom" and even "Toxic Zombie Onslaught," this is a band that has nearly got the thrash song down to a proper science. Head on over to Stormspell Records and get one of the best thrash albums of the year!
Highlights - "We Came To Conquer," "In the End, Devastation" and "Axe Cop"
#8. Altar of Oblivion - Grand Gesture of Defiance (Epic Doom/Heavy Metal)
I don't really consider myself an aficionado of the doom metal genre, though I do enjoy a fair amount of it, and while I don't know every older band around, I know even fewer new ones who are worthwhile, but after listening to "Grand Gesture of Defiance," I've come to the conclusion that Altar of Oblivion just oozes of quality goodness. The sound on this record is a great mix of doom metal in the vein of Candlemass or Solitude Aeternus, and heavy metal that would make Altar of Oblivion's ancestors/fellow countrymen in Mercyful Fate proud. This is epic, gloomy and doomy metal at it's finest, so be sure to make Shadow Kingdom Records a destination so you can get your hands on this album!
Highlights - "Graveyard of Broken Dreams," "In the Shadow of the Gallows" and "Sentenced in Absentia"
#7. Cauldron - Tomorrow's Lost (Heavy Metal)
Cauldron is another band that I've been following for a while and I couldn't have been more pleased with the band's third full-length "Tomorrow's Lost," which I believe is the band's best album yet. Cauldron has always had a doomy/melancholic vibe to their music, but they've managed to manifest it in the most memorable way on this album. The music ranges from faster paces, to doomy overtones, back to standard heavy metal fanfare courtesy of Angel Witch, Halloween and the like. Cauldron has proven to be one of the best bands from the Great White North, and that's a pretty big accomplishment given the amount of talent to have spawned from Canada, so get your ass to Earache Records and pick this awesome album up!
Highlights - "Summoned to Succumb," "Endless Ways" and "Tomorrow's Lost (Sun Will Fall)"
#6. Hellbringer - Dominion of Darkness (Thrash)
It seemed as if thrash wasn't going to have such a prosperous year in 2012, but Australia's Hellbringer managed to make sure that at least one killer thrash album got out there. "Dominion of Darkness" sounds exactly the way you would expect it to sound after looking at the artwork and reading the album title - this is evil, wicked and fast thrash that is extremely catchy. A lot of bands can make evil sounding thrash with reverb-soaked vocals and fast riffs, but Hellbringer manage to make memorable music that possesses razor-sharp riffs, as well as a haunting atmosphere similar to groups like Infernal Majesty, Antichrist, Necrodeath, etc. High Roller Records would be the awesome label to hit up for this beast of an album!
Highlights - "Dominion of Darkness," "Bell of the Antichrist" and "The Rites of Evil"
#5. Nekromantheon - Rise, Vulcan Spectre (Thrash)
Nekromantheon's sophomore full-length "Rise, Vulcan Spectre" actually shares a lot in common with the Hellbringer album that was ranked just below this one, but the only reason "Rise, Vulcan Spectre" got a higher ranking is that this record has been out since the very beginning of 2012 and still managed to stand out from the hundreds of albums that came after it. Not only is this album a lot better than the band's debut record, but it's better than most thrash albums that came out after 2000. The riffs, vocals, atmosphere and every other intangible make Nekromantheon's second album a must-have for thrash fans. Norway's Indie Recordings should be an ideal stop for you now.... Pick up this album!
Highlights - "Embrace the Oracle," "Coven of the Minotaur" and "Rise, Vulcan Spectre"
#4. Trial - The Primordial Temple (Heavy Metal)
Anyone who's kept up with this zine, knows that I'm a huge fan of both the Swedish and Australian scenes. Sweden has produced arguably my favorite new band In Solitude, while Australia has been giving me new favorites to enjoy every year. Trial blends the best of both worlds, as they play a mysterious brand of heavy metal in the vein of their countrymen in In Solitude, Portrait, Ram, etc, but in no way would you confuse Trial for one of the others. They're also signed to the awesome Australian label The Coffins Slave, who simply knows how to pick the good ones. "The Primordial Temple" is a monolith of mystery, beauty and darkness that will (hopefully) get Trial the attention they deserve. You're gonna need to go down under and contact The Coffins Slave for this absolute gem of an album, so don't sit on it!
Highlights - "The Primordial Temple," "The Sorceress' Command" and "Phosphoros"
#3. Horrendous - The Chills (Death Metal)
I was lucky enough to receive an advance promo for this album at the end of 2011 and this record has found its way into a regular rotation since. I haven't had this much hope for a newer band in a while, but I have nothing but high hopes for this amazing, young band. It's not just that Horrendous is an American band (though, that definitely helps), but the brand of death metal that is played on "The Chills" is just such a refreshing sound. It's nothing new or innovative, just real, raw and instantly memorable. If it wasn't for the record ranked above this one, "The Chills" would easily be the debut album of the year, but being able to release a full-length this good on your first try is unbelievable. This is an album for fans of all death metal as it captures bits and pieces of many of the terrific bands of old we've all come to love. Dark Descent Records is known for bolstering a roster full of awesome death metal acts, but Horrendous is an absolutely brilliant find and I can't recommend enough that you get "The Chills" immediately.
Highlights - "Ripped to Shreds," "Fleshrot" and "The Ritual"
#2. Mongrel's Cross - The Sins of Aquarius (Black/Thrash)
To the surprise of nobody, a band from Australia is in one of the top spots on this list. Mongrel's Cross have delivered a violent, twisted and epic record in "The Sins of Aquarius," and I find it hard to believe that this album leaves any kind of rotation of mine anytime soon. The one thing that truly separates Mongrel's Cross from so many other bands playing the black/thrash subgenre, is this band's ability to conjure amazing riff after amazing riff. The structuring of the songs is another aspect of the music that separates the music on "The Sins of Aquarius" from the hordes of other pretenders. I need to cut myself off before this turns into a whole other review of the album, but take my word for it, you NEED this album. Once again, to the surprise of nobody, this album is also available on arguably the best record label going today in Hell's Headbangers, so pick it up!
Highlights - "The Sins of Aquarius," "Lead Them From the Promised Land" and "Revelations Transpire"
#1. Necrovation - Necrovation (Death Metal)
It's like clockwork; a band from Australia gets the number two spot, while another phenomenal band from Sweden grabs the top spot. This album completely blew me away from first listen, and it's incredible to see how much Necrovation has grown. Their debut album was nothing more than derivative Swedeath worship, but their sophomore self-titled is a twisted, dark and insane ride that you'll want to ride over and over again. The eerie melodies, morbid riffs and repulsive vocals all contribute to one of the best death metal albums I've heard since Tribulation's "The Horror," and it wouldn't surprise me to see this album considered a future classic by those fortunate enough to experience the horrific waves crashing into them repeatedly. Agonia Records are the masterminds who signed these guys, so throw your money at them and get this masterpiece!
Highlights - "Necrovorous Insurrection," "Pulse of Towering Madness" and "Ill Mouth Madness (The Many)"