10. Unsane – Wreck
I am totally biased when it comes to Unsane. Some give me grief about their metal credentials, but to that I say to hell with you! Since their reformation in 2003 every subsequent release crushed the previous. They delved into the existential from time to time, bred strange bluesy sounds occasionally, Wreck rivals any of their early material, adding a sense of place that can only be felt by a band two decades into their career. Drenched in pain, suffering and infinite intensity Unsane never garnering the love of the media, nor a huge audience, those of us who went for the ride will never get off.
9. Between the Buried and Me - Parallax II
When I first interviewed BTBAM, they were fresh on their tour for the Alaska album. Having a sense of the place they were in, but no idea where they would wind up or how they fit into the world of metal. Evident by not only their following releases in their catalog. More eclectic, melodic and progressive in their approach, BTBAM has somehow found a niche in the metal fans psyche by divulging every part of the process, and recording all the pieces that seem to come to their mind in each recording session working it seamlessly into the beauty of their style. While I felt the first installment was the weaker of the two The Parallax II: Future Sequence just completes a dangling thought process perfectly as only Between the Buried and Me can do.
8. Pig Destroyer – Book Burner
7. Pathology – The Time of Great Purification
Death, deathy death death. Not what one would imagine from a Victory Records band, but that adds some charm to such a brutal display of metal. When Dave Astor stopped working with The Locust and Cattle Decapitation time would be the only obstacle to what endeavor he dreamed up, and Pathology was born a few years late with their first release in 2006, and Ep called Surgically Hacked. In six short years they have accomplished what many don't in a lifetime, exchanging all of the personnel in the band (other than Astor) and an album every year since 2008. With the addition of vocalist Johnathan Huber, Pathology found their stride on this record making one of my favorite Death metal records to date.
6. Black Breath – Sentenced to Life
Crust punks unite! Noisy, hardcore, unhinged, all great adjectives to describe the second full length from Washington's Black Breath. It feels like a wave moving over you as you listen to this album the ebb and flow of a gigantic circle pit moving with violent grace and synchronicity, as the music careens from every corner of your cranium. I refuse to jumble them into a sentence about who they sound like, or resemble, that would be in earnest, as there are so many influences Kurt Ballou was able to help conjure during the recording of this album. Sentenced to Life leaves behind many of the past albums slower blackened tones for the faster more aggressive approach, but I feel like they stand at the precipice of even greater things.
5. Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind
Speaking of Kurt Ballou, that bastard represents some of the best qualities alive in metal today. Full of heart and vigor, helping bands whittle out their sound from the void while somehow reserving some of the best ideas in his playbook for All We Love We Leave Behind. I am not entirely sure how it is possible to keep a reserve of music on standby just for your band, but somehow Ballou can work with Black Breath, Trap Them, Gaza, All Pigs Must Die and so many more while maintaining a level of musicianship with Converge that is unrivaled. This album had moved around in my list from #1 but found a comfortable spot here, undoubtedly one of the best albums of the year.
4. Kreator – Phantom Antichrist
After 30 years of thrash, Kreator has every right to put out a pile of crap and have metalheads buy it and actually enjoy it. They could rest on their catalog and play album tours, or just decide their career was over after Extreme Aggression and head back to Germany feeling great about themselves, but somehow these metal warriors outdo themselves every few years with another album. Phantom Antichrist does not revive thrash metal, imitate it or spoof it, it IS thrash, and a big win for Kreator. Their stage show left a little to be desired, but this album blew me away.
3. Anaal Nathrakh – Vanitas
This is probably one of the more divisive choices for my top 20 list, Anaal Nathrakh stretches the boundaries of how metal can be imagined. I don't want to go into depth on this record, you need to experience it blind and either enjoy it, or cringe in severe pain. Totally satisfying.
2. Gojira – L’Enfant Sauvage
Not a single critic can argue with having this album at or near the top of the list of the best albums this year. Gojira created what I can only describe as a masterpiece with L'enfant Sauvage. Musically it does not stray from their signature aggressiveness, guitar squeals, barking vocals and forward thinking timing structure, but this album has a sophistication not seen previously from them. The sense of purpose, surrounded with sometimes delicate sounds juxtaposed with an intensity unrivaled in this years group of records. I own their entire catalog, but feel like I had never heard Gojira until this album.
1. High on Fire – De Vermis Mysteriis
When Matt Pike and company played the first show of their Fall tour in Austin it was kismet, at least in my mind. I listened to this record more than any other this year, and one of the main reasons I placed it at the very top of this years Metal Albums of 2012. What may seem to be an easy choice, I struggled with, although so many records were in my playlist for so long, De Vermis Mysteriis had a sense of anticipation attached to its release like I had not felt in so long. High on Fire clings to my imagination and made the album that reached into my cynical metalguy and spoke directly to my inner child, this is how I felt when I first read Lovecraft, Orwell or Wells. Congrats to them, from a critic and a fan, this is the best album of 2012.
The Sword – Apocryphon
Pallbearer – Sorrow and Extinction
Goatwhore – Blood For the Master
Vision of Disorder – The Cursed Remain Cursed
Napalm Death – Utilitarian