Honorable Mention: NOCTURNAL VOMIT - CURSED RELICS
These Greek death metallers step away from their bestial war metal sound of the past, an embrace a venomously dark death metal sound on their debut full length. A twisted blend of Asphyx-esque riffs and vocals with the darkened sounds of Cruciamentum and Dead Congregation, Cursed Relics delivers memorable and haunting death metal. Some of the tracks outshine others, and it can be a bit repetitive at times, but the album just feels rotten and hellish in all the best ways.
10. MARTYRDÖD - PARANOIA
The Southern Lord debut from the Swedish crust veterans is not one to be missed. Paranoia sticks with the slightly dialed back production of Sekt, especially compared with the raw, bombastic sound of In Extremis. But it is a blistering ride nonetheless, loaded with the trademark Swedish crust sound. This album isn’t going to surprise anyone, but if you enjoy Martyrdöd and their peers, this is a must grab.
9. MG łA - WITH HEARTS TOWARDS NONE
With Hearts Towards None will likely stand as Mgła’s magnum opus when all is said and done. Where other black metal “super groups” have faltered, this Polish bunch have triumphed. Memorable, intertwined melodies are everywhere on this album. While the songs tend to be built around only a couple riffs, the rhythmic variance, subtle variations, and hypnotic nature of the songs draws you in and enthrall you. Outstanding black metal that puts most of its orthodox brethren to shame.
8. KNELT ROTE - TRESPASS
No album released this year wields more awesomely destructive power than Trespass. Portland’s black-grinding warriors lay down a blistering wall of vitriolic fury. Knelt Rote’s latest effort is as relentless as it is disparaging. Bestial guitars compose a dense wall of layered, hopeless melodies over furious blast beats, topped off with wretched vocals churned from the abyss. A must-listen that fits well within the NWN catalog.
7. PSEUDOGOD - DEATHWOMB CATECHESIS
Pseudogod’s brand of black/death metal is barbaric and frightful. These Russians hold nothing back. Their debut full length evokes feelings of militant supremacy, painting an image of hell’s legions marching across the battlefield of Armageddon. Hellfire riffs savage your eardrums, punctuated by bestial roars and machine gun blasts. This album is not for the faint of heart.
6. WRATHPRAYER - THE SUN OF MOLOCH: THE SUBLIMATION OF SULPHUR’S ESSENCE WHICH SPAWNED DEATH AND LIFE
At first I missed the ultra-muddy production value of their first demo, but Wrathprayer’s debut LP stands strong on its own. And certainly don’t take that to mean the production isn’t incredibly dense and bestial. Wrathprayer’s brand of head nodding, mid-to-high tempo death/black metal is in full force here. While the standout tracks are re-recordings of their demo material, there isn’t a stinker on the disc. Savage and triumphantly mighty, these Chileans struck a blasphemous chord with this album.
5. DAWNBRINGER - INTO THE LAIR OF THE SUN GOD
Dawnbringer casts aside the crowds of “retro” heavy metal dorks, and continues their history of forging truly original, melodic heavy metal. What the album lacks in bite, it makes up for with terrific leads and excellent vocals. This concept album is almost humble, especially compared with the other-the-top, bombastic nature of some of the bands treading in heavy/speed metal territory these days. Yet, it takes itself seriously and isn’t afraid to gallop and shred when necessary. It contains its virtuoso performances, but it has self-control and wields them with precision. This isn’t for ragers in your basement, this is for the heavy metal die-hard.
4. DESECRESY - THE DOOM SKEPTRON
Desecresy certainly didn’t aim to re-invent Finnish death metal with this release, but this album stands tall with all but a chosen few masterpieces of the country’s finest export. Laced with twisting Finnish darkness, this album hammers you from start to finish. Brutal depth underlies the harrowing, sepulchral melodies. It’s the booming bottom end and surprisingly in-your-face nature of the album that pushes it over the top.
3. DERKÉTA - IN DEATH WE MEET
Derkéta has emerged from the depths of time at precisely the right moment. This all-female Pittsburgh quartet hasn’t recorded anything since 1999, and those two tracks were their only since 1990. In Death We Meet is a immensely heavy and somber venture in the death/doom sound that’s ever so popular right now. It laughs at pretenders like Hooded Menace and one-ups established vets like Evoken. Some of the deepest growls you’re hear interweave with dark and textured yet vastly heavy riffs. The rhythm section suspends the monolithic creation, even if the bass is barely audible. Normally when a band forces you to wait 22 years since their last solo release, it’s not worth the wait. In Death We Meet is.
2. DRAGGED INTO SUNLIGHT - WIDOWMAKER
Cast aside any comparisons to Dragged into Sunlight’s exquisite full length debut, and evaluate this album on its own merit. Widowmaker is a phenomenally heavy and dark album that shows its sludge heritage more than its predecessor. This is the UK quartet’s epic, a very-tightly structured and programmatic, yet crushing, voyage into their twisted collective psyche.
1.BASTARD SAPLING -DRAGGED FROM OUR RESTLESS TRANCE
Richmond’s Bastard Sapling are the best example of what black metal in 2012 should be. While their music acknowledges the recent black metal hybrids with doom and crust, it is still predominantly in the lineage of what was happening in Nordic countries during the 1990s. Despite the callbacks to bands like Ulver and Darkthrone, the cold, driving melodies on Dragged from our Restless Trance never sound stale. The songs are long and do a lot to build a chilling atmosphere, but they don’t meander or become stale. Truly a gold standard for USBM.
This list is just comprised of full length, physically released albums. I’ll be posting a list of the “best of the rest” later on, as well as my annual year-in-review show on January 30th. Stay tuned to the MTKP facebook page for more info.