The best of 2012 ... so far (Part 1)

Picking the finest metal, hard rock releases of the half year

By Peter Lindblad

If this were a physical examination, the patients known as hard rock and heavy metal would get a clean bill of health. 2012 has witnessed a flurry of fine rebound albums from the reinvigorated likes of Fear Factory, Slash, Rush, Prong, and Kreator – to mention a few. No one is writing them off anymore. Even Van Halen returned from a long self-imposed exile to prove to everyone that Eddie was still God and that nepotism can work, even if they do have incredibly bad taste in first singles – “Tattoo”? Really?
There’s a new half a super group called Kill Devil Hill that’s fusing Pantera grooves with Black Sabbath’s gothic dirges and churning out wickedly melodic metal. For so long, Whitechapel has been chained to a radiator in the grim, dingy basement known as deathcore, but with their latest hate-filled self-titled missive, they have blasted their way out of their restraints and moved on to more adventurous sonic exploration. Cattle Decapitation has scared everybody out of their wits with some of the most uncompromisingly brutal music in recent memory, and progressive-metal architects Gojira have given the French – the French, of all people – a reason to get excited about their musical export business.
And there’s more to come. Testament is going back to its Dark Roots of the Earth, Dying Fetus hasn’t been aborted and The Deftones are reportedly set to release a record this fall. Strap yourself in folks. 2012 is going to be a white-knuckle ride, and a crash is inevitable. As for the first half of the year, I’ve compiled my Top 10, which is subject to change. The first five (Nos. 10-6), included here, are just a taste.  

Fear Factory - The Industrial 2012

10. Fear Factory: The Industrialist – Jackhammer industrial beats and raging vocals swim in the deep, toxic pool of disturbing dystopian visions, crushingly heavy guitars, and cinematic soundscapes of what may be Fear Factory’s most ambitious concept record yet. Fascinating alien melodies probe and prod a sound that is at once cavernous and claustrophobically condensed, with Dino Cazares constructing a Byzantine labyrinth of densely layered guitars under the imaginative lyrics and righteous bellowing of Burton C. Bell.

Slash - Apocalyptic Love 2012

9. Slash, Featuring Miles Kennedy and the Conspirators: Apocalyptic Love – On the heels of a scintillating live album, Slash lays down some of the slinkiest, most infectious grooves of his career, with knock-down, drag-out brawls like “You’re A Lie,” “Standing in the Sun,” “No More Heroes” and “One Last Thrill” capturing at least some the grit and dangerous energy of Appetite for Destruction. Providing a thrilling foil to Slash’s smoking, snaky leads is singer Myles Kennedy, whose spine-tingling vocals circle high above the fiery rock ‘n’ roll crashes Slash and The Conspirators gleefully orchestrate. Axl can have the Guns ‘N Roses name. Slash doesn’t need it.
Prong - Carved into Stone 2012
8. Prong: Carved into Stone – In full gallop, with smoke blowing out of its nostrils, “Eternal Heat” charges hard out of the gate, setting the blistering pace and aggressive tone for what is surely one of the most punishing records of Prong’s career. Seething with rage, Carved into Stone abandons industrial rigidity for a thicker, fuller sound that takes a baseball bat to society’s sick head and beats it bloody with violent, bare-knuckled poetry. Urgent and restlessly creative, Carved into Stone is a heat-seeking missile that’s locked onto its target and that target is you. Get ready to be blown apart.
Over Kill - The Electric Age 2012
7. Over Kill: The Electric Age – Relentless from beginning to end, The Electric Age spits fire and rages against the dying of their light – with apologies to poet Dylan Thomas – by tossing this exceedingly vicious and extraordinarily tight thrash-metal Molotov cocktail right in the face of a dogma that believes extreme music is entirely a young man’s game. Rarely has Over Kill sounded so dangerous and desperate, as rampaging drums, searing guitars, and the venomous, teeth-gnashing vocals of Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth propel these grizzled, gasoline-guzzling East Coast veterans on a high-octane journey through an urban wasteland of garbage-strewn dark alleys and lawless streets.
Accept - Stalingrad 2012
6. Accept: Stalingrad – Thankfully, Wolf Hoffman didn’t empty his bag of riffs on 2010’s Blood of the Nations, considered by many as the best metal album of that year. A worthy successor, the storming Stalingrad is one scorching meat grinder of a track after another – thanks to Hoffman’s rugged, gnarly guitars and the sweaty toil of a band that’s regained its hunger – and singer Mark Tornillo’s balls-to-the-wall screams are winning over converts who swore they’d never accept an Accept without Udo Dirkschneider. 

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