The 2012 HOLY SHIT List, my favorite albums for the year

I have been reading a lot of year-end best of album lists, so I suppose I should make my own list. Metallomusikum is nearly a year old; it’s due for that kind of thing.

Some of the “best of” lists I have found are ludicrous; like really, what were the writers thinking? I knew that Village Voice list was going to be a joke when it actually started with the sentence “It’s that time of year again.” That writer was phoning it in.

Some lists remind me about albums I missed that I should go back and listen to. I thought Pitchfork’s top 40 metal albums list was pretty good, albeit filled with bands all but the most astute (read: hipster) metal heads would be aware of. It was a good laundry list for me since it was longer than most out there.

With some of the lists, I wondered if the writer was just trying to stroke an ego or be charitable. You see a lot of people listing the same albums—the usual suspects. SPIN’s Top 20 list was a little bit like that, although the inclusion of bands like Enabler and Eagle Twin made me take it more seriously.

Who knows what, if any, pressure these writers are under when they compile these lists? Everyone has a right to an opinion, even if it is wrong.

Well I have no one to answer to and no one to appease. I just calls it likes I sees it. So in the spirit of “it’s-that-time-of-year-again” and “as-if-my-opinion-mattered,” this is Metallomusikum’s first ever “HOLY SHIT” list for 2012. The criteria for an album to make this list are simple:

  • It must be an album of new music, not a reissue, compilation or best of and not an EP or a demo. Sorry kids, come at me next year with your full length. (I reserve the right to make an exception to this rule especially in a lean year.) 
  • It must have been released between January 1-December 31 of the given year. Duh. 
  • It must cause me to declare “HOLY SHIT” at least three separate times during the course of listening to it. I will count them. One hit wonders will not get on this list. 
  • It must make my pupils dilate, my heart to race and the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up to create a physiological effect I like to call an “eargasm”. 

Any genre is eligible. But y’all know what I mostly listen to. Still you might be surprised. There are some obvious items missing from this list. I did not want to repeat what everyone else was saying. There were a lot of really good albums put out this year, but I really wanted to bring you something different. The HOLY SHIT list items are special to my heart.

In compiling this list, I learned a little bit about myself. For one thing, I chose no “light hearted” music. Most of this stuff is pretty intense and serious. I would not characterize anything here as fun or rollicking. Heck, there’s not even any thrash in this list. But I think the list reflects me, at least where my head is at this point in my life. So here we go in no particular order: 

1. Dragged Into Sunlight – Widowmaker 

This new effort from DIS has a completely different vibe from the group’s earlier Hatred for Mankind. In three movements, I think this album more deeply explores DIS repertoire of emotions better than their previous work did. There are many HOLY SHIT moments in Widowmaker, but I recommend listening to this recording in its entirety. I wrote a more complete review here.

2. Enslaved – RIITIIR 

RIITIIR charges forth from the pit of Hades and slowly transformed into a collection of hymns. The lovely clean vocals of keyboardist Herbrand Larsen are featured in near duets now with the growls of Grutle Kjellson. Melody has overtaken the buzz of the tremolo riff. Some people have really criticized Enslaved for the way their sound has evolved and softened over time. I think they are moving closer and closer to their inspirations: Pink Floyd, King Crimson and Led Zeppelin, and I don’t see this as a bad thing. I love this group’s entire body of work and RIITIIR is just another chapter in that unfinished tome. Frankly, Enslaved could record a collection of their belches, and I would probably at least listen to it.

3. Abigail Williams – Becoming 

This album came out at the beginning of the year eventually met with tons of critical acclaim. Did you forget about it? I didn’t. I reviewed it back in January here. It is still one of my favorite albums of the year and will probably be among my favorite albums of all time. This album represented a severe departure from the sound that Abigail Williams developed up to that point. If fact it was so different, I think there was pushback from some long-time fans of the group who did not know quite what to make of it. Yet others, like me, were completely delighted. Then the band broke up. Or maybe they didn’t ,and they will be back in 2013. Who cares really? Just listen to it.

4. Lord Mantis – Pervertor

Lord Mantis shares members with Nachtmystium, and both groups were touring together this fall. A live performance of Lord Mantis will turn your head around like an icy wind coming in off of Lake Michigan. There’s a lot of rage in this music, and I suppose there must be a lot of rage inside of me because I cannot stop listening to this record. Maybe this is the sound you get when you let the drummer from one band become the front man for another – it’s pure unadulterated venom and totally beautiful. I would go see them again in a second. Also, the cover art is delightfully disturbing.

5. Carach Angren – Where the Corpses Sink 

Carach Angren makes concept albums that could (and should) be turned into movies or better yet, theatrical stage productions. I never tire of their gruesome stories set to the most grandiose symphonic black metal you could imagine. They are also one of the few bands I don’t mind wearing corpse paint. I can listen to individual songs, but mostly I want to just start the thing from the beginning and geek out like my friends who bliss out listening to the soundtrack of Cats. Carach Angren write “musicals” fit for the king of underworld, which makes them infinitely better than anything Andrew Lloyd Webber could come up with.

6. Nile – At the Gate of Sethu

Why do these guys keep making Egyptian-themed technical death metal? Why do I keep listening to it? Why is that even a thing? I don’t know, but I love it despite the fact that being fascinated by pyramids and hieroglyphics and sarcophagi fell out of fashion decades ago. I am pretty sure that my love of Nile is grounded in my admiration for guitarist Karl Sanders, whom I would probably fall to my knees and worship in an embarrassing Wayne’s World kind of way if I ever met in person. I would probably act foolishly in front of George Kollias as well.

7. Car Bomb – w^w^^w^w

I first encountered Car Bomb through their documentary “Why You Do This,” a self produced documentary about the band touring across the country in a broken down van and getting ripped off by venues and promoters. I didn’t get a good sense of the band’s music from the movie, just that life of a touring musician was hard and mostly not worth it. I had not actually thought much about Car Bomb until I saw they had not given up but had persevered and released a new album that even featured the vocals of Gojira’s Joe Duplantier. Car Bomb probably classifies a “core-something” band. The music is extremely experimental and makes it onto my HOLY SHIT list mostly for its intoxicatingly innovative approach and extreme honesty. I chose Car Bomb over more obvious top choices like Pig Destroyer’s Book Burner and Meshuggah’s Koloss. I love both of those aforementioned albums, but Car Bomb pushed boundaries that made me sit down and question what music even was. It’s not an easy album to listen to but definitely has its eargasm inducing moments

8. God Seed – I Begin

From start to finish, there is nothing I do not love about this studio recording from God Seed, a band comprised of former Gorgorothians Gaahl and King ov Hell and a rotating crew of other super star performers such as Enslaved’s Ice Dale and Dimmu Borgir’s keyboardist Geir Bratland. In some ways, God Seed probably sounds like what Gaahl might have wanted to do with Gorgoroth had things with Infernus panned out differently. But all’s well that end’s well I say. God Seed imbues everything with epic melody, soaring vocals, wondrous keyboards and enough malevolence to make this an album worth numerous HOLY SHITs. I think critics are skipping it for no reason but this thing rocks.

9. A Forest of Stars – Shadowplay for Yesterdays 

Another entry into the realm of the excessively theatrical, A Forest of Stars takes all the edgy rawness that I love about black metal, and mixes in storytelling, prog-rock complexity and maybe some Jethro Tull-like folk elements to create a masterpiece. Each mesmerizing song is composed with layers of richness and melancholy. This group not only deserves recognition, I say they ought to command it. I feel they are being overlooked because they cross so many boundaries and can’t be neatly categorized. Pop this recording on the next time you have a long car trip and don’t be surprised if you find yourself completely unaware of your surroundings.

10. Darsombra – Climax Community 

I have not done any drugs in a long time. Back in the day, however, I dropped some acid and smoked a little weed. I could understand why one might feel compelled to partake in such things to enhance the experience of avant-garde psych rock guitarist Darsombra/Brian Daniloski. With Climax Community, I see no need—the music alone is capable of moving you into a transcendent plane of existence. A soloist, Brian’s compositions are masterful and beautifully executed, drawing upon metal, jazz, post-rock and with exotic scales and rhythms. Add to these aural hallucinations Ann Everton’s cinematic visualizations, which you can access with a password on Vimeo, and you have 75 minutes worth of drug-free HOLY SHITs guaranteed to keep you mentally high for a long time.

OK, that’s it for this year. I invite your comments and feedback below. Tell me about your favorite albums.

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