Unveiling the top five hard rock and heavy metal albums of this half year
By Peter Lindblad
And then there were five. Fine specimens of skilled musicianship, thrilling energy and conceptual artistry, these sparkling diamonds bear hardly any rust, even if Judas Priest is nowhere to be found among them. From the devastating brutality and white-hot intensity of Whitechapel and Kreator to the steam-punk splendor and adventurous progressive spirit of Rush and black melodic magic of Kill Devil Hill, 2012 has been a banner year for hard rock and heavy metal up to this point.
And though any of the four mentioned above could easily have garnered the top spot, none of them did. There is another whose mystical vision and raging metal tumult simply boggles the mind. It is a perfect storm, one that would make meteorologists quiver with excitement. And it will leave you disheveled and dumbstruck, scrambling your brains so thoroughly that you might not remember where you are or how you got there. Feel free to agree or disagree with the list or its order, as long as we can do it over drinks at an establishment of my choosing.
|Whitechapel - Whitechapel 2012|
5. Whitechapel: Whitechapel – Nobody’s taken a bigger leap forward in 2012 than Whitechapel. It’s not enough anymore for deathcore’s biggest breakout act to take audiences by brute force. It’s not enough for them to terrify the easily offended with gore-splattered lyrics. These tortured Tennesseans with the swarming, intricately woven triple-axe attack have gone all in on their self-titled not-so-pretty hate machine, with back-breaking tempo shifts, maximum riffage and crazed dynamics threatening to consume Phil Bozeman’s guttural growl. Pretty little piano passages – a tribute to a fallen friend – set listeners up for the kill, as the imaginative sonic architects of Whitechapel makes good on their promise to conquer expectations.
|Kill Devil Hill - 2012|
4. Kill Devil Hill: Kill Devil Hill – A thick slab of surging, darkly melodic doom metal, Kill Devil Hill’s powerhouse debut bulldozes gothic ruins of riff-heavy rock and builds towering, monolithic new song structures atop the sacred burial grounds of Pantera and Ozzy-led Black Sabbath. More than the sum of its talented parts, Kill Devil Hill – created by former Sabbath and Dio drummer Vinny Appice, with ex-Pantera bassist Rex Brown onboard – introduces to the world Dewey Bragg, a man with the voice of a lion, and guitarist Mark Zavon, whose Panzer-like guitar forays seem directed by Rommel himself. The Alice In Chains comparisons are unavoidable, but with Brown lending heft and potency to the low end and Appice beating the living daylights out of his kit, Kill Devil Hill – immersed in all the haunting blackness and gloom of a graveyard after hours – boasts way more sonic mass than its grunge-era counterparts.
|Rush - Clockwork Angels 2012|
3. Rush: Clockwork Angels – 2112 was a great album … for its time. Clockwork Angels is better. Blasphemy, you say? Clockwork Angels is heavier – “BU2B” and “Carnies” – and more complex musically, although perhaps less raw and angry. The elaborate story, welded to some of the most grandiose sonic architecture the Canadians have ever constructed, of Clockwork Angels is wonderfully crafted, a mature, thought-provoking concept with none of the holes or the confused hokum of the 2112 saga. Where revisionists might see 2112 as the epochal moment where Rush’s power and progressive-rock inclinations clashed to create a compelling piece of art – which 2112 surely is – Clockwork Angels finds Rush still suspicious of totalitarian authority but more articulate and elegant about how they construct a response to it. And “The Wreckers” is one of Rush’s finest creations.
|Kreator - Phantom Antichrist 2012|
2. Kreator: Phantom Antichrist – Across a hellish, smoldering wasteland of apocalyptic imagery fly these four horsemen of thrash, soaring to dizzying heights on spiraling arpeggios, pounding whole cities into piles of ash with bombing drums and frenzied riffs that attack with an unquenchable blood lust, and speeding at high velocity into the unknown with an unrestrained fury bordering on madness. Screaming for vengeance, tracks like “United in Hate,” “Death to the World,” and “Civilisation Collapse” rain torrents of fiery thrash down on the unsuspecting, while “Until Our Paths Cross Again” and “Your Heaven, My Hell” offer brief moments of bruised beauty amid an outpouring of transcendent power-metal drama. Once again, Mille Petrozza whips this reconnaissance mission of the damned through its paces, and the result is a magnificent manifesto forged of startlingly brilliant technical musicianship and cataclysmic, compelling song craft. Phantom Antichrist will make you a believer.
|High On Fire - De Vermis Mysteriis 2012|
1. High On Fire: De Vermis Mysteriis – In the eye of a wintery hurricane of blustery, tempest-tossed guitars and roiling rhythmic seas stands High On Fire’s Captain Ahab Matt Pike, daring an angry God bent on destruction to silence his roaring, ragged voice as he relates the woeful plight of Jesus’ cursed twin brother. Mystery, madness, time travel and gale-force riffs threaten to tear the good ship De Vermis Mysteriis to pieces, but Pike’s able seamanship steers this scarred vessel through treacherous, rumbling melodic currents and violent, battering storms of sludgy metal. Epic is too small a word for such a monstrous beast. It’s only four letters after all.