Friday, December 21, 2012

Scott's Top 10 Metal Albums of 2012

2012 has been one crazy and awesome year for music. I've heard more new releases than I ever have in one year, but most of the choices in my top 10 were fairly easy to make. If you've read most of my reviews this year, many of these choices will be obvious. For some reason, my choices tend to be a lot more mainstream than most other lists I look at, but the reality is that these are really great albums. Sometimes (read: most of the time) metal is way too serious. If you can step back and enjoy records that are fun, you are going to get a lot out of my top 10.

#10. Unisonic - Unisonic (Heavy/Power Metal)
Unisonic's debut could have been very disappointing if you had hoped it would sound exactly like Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt. 1/2. There are only a few tracks that are pure power metal, and while they are the best ones, there is still a lot of other quality material here. Kiske still sounds amazing and is the definite highlight of this album. A couple of the songs are a bit too light for me "Star Rider" and "No One Ever Sees Me", but this is still a killer album.

Highlights - "Unisonic," "Renegade" and "My Sanctuary"

#9. Rocka Rollas - Conquer (Speed/Heavy Metal)
"Conquer" is a completely different beast from this band's first album; however, it manages to be even better. This release is like the reincarnation of Running Wild. Galloping rhythms and soaring melodies are everywhere on this 4-track EP. It seems like the genius behind this band already has a large amount of material written for the future, so make sure to get this EP while it's still new from Stormspell Records.

Highlight - "Bloodbath"

#8. Sabaton - Carolus Rex (Power Metal)
Although this is among Sabaton's weaker releases, "Carolus Rex" still ranks among the best of the year, simply because of how good this band is. The title track is one of Sabaton's best anthems. The rest of the album has some unique tracks for the band. 2012 was definitely the year that Sabaton became one of my favourite bands and "Carolus Rex" definitely helped add to that hype!

Highlights - "A Lifetime of War," "Carolus Rex" and "Killing Ground"

#7. Testament - Dark Roots of Earth (Thrash Metal)
This is where this list really starts to get serious. Testament have come back with an album that really surprised me. Most of these songs are beyond heavy and are filled with riffs. Even though Chuck Billy mainly uses his clean singing voice, he still manages to sound brutal. Skolnick (and surprisingly, Peterson) are shredding all over this record. The only downfall of this album is that some songs sound like they are trying too hard to sound like Metallica. In particular, the title track and "Cold Embrace" have some very "new-Metallica" moments (I love new Metallica, but it doesn't fit this record). Still, "Dark Roots of Earth" is one of the best of 2012 and needs to be heard by every thrasher.

Highlights - "Native Blood," "True American Hate" and "Last Stand For Independence"

#6. Lich King - Born of the Bomb (Thrash Metal)
I have never come across a band who has improved so substantially on each album more than Lich King. I was introduced to the band by "Toxic Zombie Onslaught", which is an enjoyable record that is marred by poor production. 2010's "World Gone Dead" fixed the production and was an excellent thrash release by a promising band. "Born of the Bomb", however, is on a whole other level. The songwriting is still hilarious but is much more intense than it has ever been. The Agent Steel cover proved that Tom Martin is an even better singer than I had ever thought. Warning: not for those who are against fun in metal.

Highlights - "We Came To Conquer," "Wage Slave" and "Combat Mosh"

#5. Cauldron - Tomorrow's Lost (Heavy Metal)
Over the course of their last couple of CDs, Cauldron have really found a special sound. Their brand of hypnotic, solo-infused heavy metal has been occupying a lot of my time. "Tomorrow's Lost" is definitely an appropriate follow-up to "Burning Fortune" (though a bit weaker). The band has an amazing ability to take songs that could be quite boring (because they are mid-paced and don't have a ton of riffs), but turn them into really catchy tunes. If there is one band that I really struggle to describe, it would probably be Cauldron. With that said, if you like any form of simple heavy metal, this is for you.

Highlights - "Summoned To Succumb," "Burning Fortune" and "Tomorrow's Lost (Sun Will Fall)"

#4. Cannibal Corpse - Torture (Death Metal)
Cannibal Corpse is by far the best death metal band around today. They are consistently releasing records that compete with their classic material and "Torture" is no exception. This is one of their heaviest albums and definitely has the most memorable songwriting that the band has ever provided. Erik Rutan did a killer job with the production and all of the band members stepped it up on "Torture". The best moment is definitely the killer bass solo on "The Strangulation Chair"! Overall, this record was beyond satisfying and an appropriate addition to Cannibal Corpse's great legacy.

Highlights - "Encased In Concrete," "As Deep As The Knife Will Go" and "The Strangulation Chair"

#3. Wintersun - Time I (Melodic Death Metal)
"Time I" was possibly the most hyped album of the year and I think it actually did manage to live up to the expectations. I like guitar riffs as much as the next guy, but if you go looking for them here, you will end up disappointed. This album is all about creating epic moods and atmospheres that bring you into a wintery time. This album is mainly driven by the opener, "Sons of Winter and Stars". It is by far the best song on the album (and the best song to come out this year). I would buy this album for this song alone, but if don't mind very produced albums with lots of keyboards, check out "Time I".

Highlights - "Sons of Winter and Stars" and "Time"

#2. Dragonforce - The Power Within (Power Metal)
It is no secret that Dragonforce is one of my favourite bands. They take everything that is great about power metal and make it just a little bit more extreme. I found their previous effort, "Ultra Beatdown", to be the only album of theirs that was not amazing, so I was skeptical about another new album (with a new singer too!). The good news is that Marc Hudson is a killer singer. It didn't hurt that Sam Totman rediscovered how to write brillant songs. The tracks are a bit more concise, but they still sound like Dragonforce. This is an absolute necessity for all fans of power metal.

Highlights - "Fallen World," "Give Me the Night," "Seasons" and "Heart of the Storm"

#1. Kreator - Phantom Antichrist (Thrash Metal)
I wasn't sure if 2009's "Hordes of Chaos" was an anomaly in Kreator's catalogue, or if it was the start of Kreator's dominance in the thrash metal scene. Although their last two records have not been stylistically different from "Violent Revolution" and "Enemy of God", they display by far the best songwriting of any thrash band in recent years. All of these songs are beyond infectious and the melodies are triumphant. If you don't own this, you are missing the best album of the year.

Highlights - "Phantom Antichrist," "From Flood Into Fire," "Civilization Collapse" and "The Few, The Proud, The Broken"