The end of the year is upon us, a time I’ve looked forward to all year, because of the very purpose of this review, this list of top albums of the past 12 months, for which I will place 20 titles. What I did not anticipate was how hard it was going to be to rate all of my favorites in some kind of order. The top 10 I feel strongly about, and especially the top three. After that, #11 through #20 are pretty much interchangeable.
It has been an amazing year for the kind of music we promote on Heavy Planet, the kind of music we all love to listen to over and over again. At least I'm going to call it that kind of year. It's the kind of year where I had to pare down to 20 favorite albums. I mean, come on! How can it not be awesome when for the albums of which I'm aware, which is definitely a percentage of viable candidates, is pared down to 20. Simply phenomenal and epic. 2013 promises to be as good, if not better. Perhaps it’s a trend and not an anomaly. We can only hope.
I want to pay tribute to albums that I feel are much deserving of credit but for which I did place in my list and is further proof of how much incredible music was created this year:
Torche - Harmonicraft
Mother Mars - Fossil Fuel Blues
Mother Corona - Out of the Dust
Buffalo - Los Dios Lentos
Stoner Jesus - Seven Thunders Roar
Triggerman - Hail to the River Gods
Wight - Through the Woods Into Deep Water
Black Space Riders - Light is the New Black
Wheelfall - Interzone
Captain Crimson - Dancing Madly Backwards
Binford - Binford
Great Western - Warrior of Light
And that's not to count all the albums for which I never got to hear, albums showing up on others' lists, allowing me as a fan to discover even more of what is available out there.
Without further ado, Nuclear Dog’s Top 20 Albums of 2012:
#20 Dwellers - “Good Morning Hara Kiri”
One of the many and awesome releases by Small Stone Records this year, although it seems to have been lost in the flotsam and jetsome of a prodigious array of other releases from Small Stone this year. It is quite worthy of more recognition than it perhaps received. The hallmark of Small Stone artists is, of course, huge guitars, and Dwellers bring gargantuan licks and riffs to the fray, cutting large swaths with vigor and fury, while simultaneously delivering nimble and fresh solos and fuzz induced hallucinations. Vocals are rich and full, well suited to this acid trip odyssey of an album. Melodies are memorable and absorbing, while Dwellers’ sound is uniquely their own and easily recognizable.
Favorite Song - “Old Honey”
#19 Stubb - “Stubb”
Thick and fuzzy, full of energy and fun, this album came out early and may have been forgotten by many, but this record has staying power, awesome each time you listen through it. Stubb employ the signature stoner sound through much of their music, plus they have created wonderfully melodic songs, the solos and riffs are quality, and the vocals have an edgy, gritty side that fit perfectly with the their music.. That’s a winning combination and a worthy effort.
Favorite Song - “Scale the Mountain”
#18 The Midnight Ghost Train - “Buffalo”
The music on “Buffalo” is quite simply kick ass. It’s black boots with silver studs smacking you upside the head powerful. Add to it the gnarliest vocals around and you have power and bliss on a sinfully enjoyable album. The guitars are huge and hairy, laying down some of the nastiest riffs and knife attack solos of the year, the melodies are well written, the sound is addictive with plenty of low tuned riffs, and buckets of fuzz and distortion. The Midnight Ghost Train employ an energetic, athletic method of drum work throughout the refrains, placing an indelible and unique stamp on their music. Every aspect of “Buffalo” by The Midnight Ghost Train is positive, making it an album for the ages.
Favorite Song - “Foxhole”
#17 Mangoo - “Neverland”
The second album from Small Stone Records to make my list is Mangoo’s (pronounced man - go, like the fruit, which was a relief to learn) “Neverland”. Full of incredibly interesting songs that will slake both your stoner and your psychedelic cravings, this collection of brilliantly written songs are clever and well crafted. Guitars go low, carrying the listener inexorably forward in a deliberate pace that opens up vast opportunities for their laser beam solos. Vocals are crisp and adept, beautifully suited for these psych trips of musical fantasy. Melodies are intelligent and memorable. Mangoo’s sound is uniquely their own while easily fitting into the underground retro sounds of the majority of Small Stone’s artists.
Favorite Song - “Neverland”
#16 Cortez - “Cortez”
Full of weighty riffs and scorching solos, the vocals on “Cortez” are deft and deadly. The album is chock full of songs that range in sound from huge, heavy, and deliberate stoner/doom onslaughts to psychedelic odysseys of mind sharpening adventure with bits of punk, speed metal, eighties hair band epics, and much more thrown in for varietal effect and enjoyment. Cortez are especially adept at creating melodies that are impressive and memorable, displaying a strong ability to mold songs that pull you in quickly, deeply, leaving an indelible impression that won’t soon go away.
Favorite Song - “Nice Try”
#15 Indian Handcrafts - “Civil Disobedience for Losers”
This album scores huge on uniqueness, but that’s not all that gives it a Top 20 listing, it’s how well their unique sound is structured and delivered. The standard low tuned guitars are well represented here, cranking out an onslaught of cannonball distortion throughout the album and accompanied by some of the most clever, scorching solos around. Melodies are incredibly interesting and memorable and when combined with velocizombie vocal deliveries makes for an incredible listening experience, an adventure of rock through an underground maze of fuzz and fun.
Favorite Song - “Centauri Teenage Riot” / “Lion at the Door” (I love them both equally)
#14 Five Horse Johnson - “The Taking of Black Heart”
Another Small Stone artist, Five Horse Johnson are veterans of the underground rock landscape. They play a sound that is reminiscent of the southern rock of the Seventies with huge, powerful guitars that also incorporate a beautiful blues infusion. Vocals are edgy and raw, but adept and well suited to the music. Melodies are good, some memorable. The combination of blues guitar and raw, edgy vocals, along with a consistent melodic signature make Five Horse Johnson easily recognizable. The album boasts guest vocals by Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander on one memorable song.
Favorite Song - “You’re My Girl”
#13 Steak - “Steak”
Steak are a stoner band, first and foremost. The sound is signature fuzz, low tuned and beautiful, carrying the banner throughout each song and throughout the entire album. Vocals on this album are perfectly matched to the melody and rhythm of the songs with a deep, rich delivery that never wavers high or low. While the sound may not be unique, it is uniquely stoner, harkening back to the sounds of Dozer, AstroQueen, Truckfighters, Firestone, et al. It is simply a beautiful stoner album.
Favorite Song - “The Butcher”
#12 Nightstalker - “Dead Rock Commandos”
Small Stone Records strikes again with this memorable album from Greece rockers Nightstalker. The guitars here are as meaty and juicy as any you will come across this year. The melodies Nightstalker have created for this album are intelligent, clever, and memorable, stuff that will stay with you for ages. Vocals are good and the sound is exciting. Solos blister and riffs are like avalanches in Echo Canyon. The name of the album alone is enough to satisfy the most adventurous of stoner rock souls.
Favorite Song - “Dead Rock Commandos”
#11 Summoner - “Phoenix”
If this album were named album of the year it would be well deserved. The sound is a blend of signature stoner riffs and psychedelic execution, arranged intelligently, cleverly, interestingly on all tracks. The energy is high and relentless, with massive, gut crushing guitars, accompanied by pitch perfect vocals, athletic and nimble. The songs and melodies are top notch and memorable. The sound is classic and perfectly rendered, which for lovers of stoner/psych/doom is exactly what we thirst for. Consider your thirst slaked on this album.
Favorite Song - “The Interloper”
Alright, down to brass tacks, as they say. These next 10 are simply amazing collections of rock and roll bliss. I love them all.
#10 Kadavar - “Kadavar”
From Berlin comes a blitzkrieg of retro metal exploding in an onslaught of guitar and power, leaving depleted, exhausted victims in its wake, quivering in delight. The influences of past metal masters is mighty on this album, making for a tremendously satisfying romp through minefields of pure metal. The solos are blistering, gatling guns of might, the melodies Sabbath like gems of intelligence and fun. Vocals match perfectly with their jack hammer sound increasing the enjoyment quotient significantly. In their debut release they have crafted a fine collection of retro rock treasures.
Favorite Song - “Creature of the Demon”
#9 DSW - “Dust Storm Warning”
I almost let this one get away without notice. I discovered it late despite its early summer release. That just made it all the more enjoyable upon re-discovery. DSW have crafted an impressive array of songs that are mighty and memorable, to say the least. “Dust Storm Warning” wastes no time in kicking you right square in the eyes with the opening track and never relinquishes its onslaught until you’ve listened to each song completely through. Classic stoner low tuned guitars drive the songs forward in a vanguard of fuzz, solos sear and incinerate, melodies are memorable and clever, vocals are raunchy and muscular, perfectly attuned to melody and instrument. The quality of the songs make this album stand out from the rest and should land “Dust Storm Warning” into heavy music player rotation for millions of stoner/doom fans.
Favorite Song - “Tripping the Drill”
#8 Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight - “Going Home”
Right off the bat you know you’re listening to something special here. Intelligent, memorable melodies are the hallmark of this album, which isn’t to say the meaty, beefy guitars aren’t present because they kick the whole she-bang off in a massive onslaught of low, fuzzy distortion. Trippy Wicked are absolute masters of weaving a masterful array of sounds throughout their songs, creating richly textured and memorable music. Vocals are perfectly matched to the melody and ably adept at delivering what are some of the cleverest lyrics around. “Going Home” is a unique and brilliant masterpiece.
Favorite Song - “Going Home”, “Ain’t Gonna End Well”, “I Want Another Drink”, “Hillbilly Moonshine”
#7 Orange Goblin - “A Eulogy For the Damned”
Stoner/Doom veterans Orange Goblin released another great album this year. It is a rare thing for a stoner rock artist to have the incredible longevity that Orange Goblin enjoy, but to consistently create quality music over the course of 16 years or so is phenomenal. “A Eulogy For the Damned”, if anything, displays the highest qualities Orange Goblin have engendered over nearly 2 decades. There will always be arguments as to what is their best album, but this one should likely be in the discussion as it delivers quality front to back. Signature booming guitars as well as high energy drum work are accompanied by some of the best vocals in the industry. Add to it melodies that continue to be first rate, an unbelievable achievement in and of itself, as this album stands out like no other.
Favorite Song - “The Filthy and the Few” a perfect epithet for stoner rock and all its adherents.
#6 Wo Fat - “The Black Code”
Wo Fat joined the Small Stone label this year and out of the gate kicks major ass with “The Black Code”. Guitars don’t get mightier than on this album. Exquisitely low and powerful, relentless, inexorable, brutal, and bold the guitars are like the full fury of a Marine Corps assault. Wo Fat takes the blues, southern fried rock, stoner/doom metal, melts and molds it all under white hot fury, and returns it to us in a form uniquely their own and as dominating as anything ever heard. Melodies are righteous. Vocals are perfectly suited to Wo Fat’s swampy, backwoods tone. This album will likely make someone’s list as #1.
Favorite Song - “Hurt at Gone”
#5 Gandhi’s Gunn - “The Longer the Beard the Harder the Sound”
This album delivers full satisfaction from beginning to end. It is incredibly pleasurable to listen to this album all the way through over and over again. Humongous, hairy guitars bring the down low in a rumble and roar ubiquitous and unique. Drums are prominent and tight, the bass insistent and adept. Songs are clever and well written. Paired beautifully with their gargantuan guitars are the equally enormous, eloquent, yet beefy vocals, mighty in tone, raucous in delivery, and matched to perfection with the great stoner/doom sound of this album and this band.
Favorite Song - “Breaking Balance”
#4 Enos - “All Too Human”
Following up on the story of Enos, the second, and last chimp into space, a tale begun on Enos’ excellent debut album “Chapter 1”, comes “All Too Human”, continuing the saga of the ill fated primate and surpassing its predecessor in quality and enjoyability. Enos are a brilliant and gifted band, creating some of the most memorable music in years on these 2 albums. Enos deliver clever, intelligently constructed songs to match the mood of the scene for which it portrays in the saga of an abused but incredibly brave chimp. Enos move through songs of sublime beauty and grace and into heavier, rauchier fare with an elegant deftness of skill, laying down tracks of massive guitars that seethe, smolder, and sear in an onslaught of distorted fury, low tuned tyranny, and laser beam solo assailment before moving neatly back into haunting melodies of pain, regret, and fear. Vocals are crisp, yet edgy, perfectly weighted and matched to the music. The mesh of sound engendered on this album with the guitar work is mesmerizing and ingenious. Truly a masterpiece, “All Too Human” will be an enduring and memorable album to be enjoyed for years to come. And when paired with its predecessor the pair become an abiding, timeless treasure.
Favorite Song - “Collisions”, “Another Solution”
#3 Colour Haze - “She Said”
Colour Haze always have been, and continue to be, incredibly brilliant. Unique, intelligent, artistically gifted, and timeless, it’s hard to pay justice to this tremendous band, and with them their latest release, “She Said”, which is as brilliant as anything they’ve created before. Colour Haze have certainly moved slightly away from an almost strict rock/grunge/psych approach of their first few albums, infusing more of a jazz component, but the rock is still there, the guitars are both massive and incandescent, singular in style and delivery, and the absolute center of each song. Along with the huge guitars are the equally huge drums, a sound robust and rich that doesn’t simply supply the rhythm, but adds texture and depth by delivering brilliance of its own, adding to the sound of the music in such a way as to be unsurpassed in overall quality. The biggest quality of Colour Haze is, of course, their instrumentation and their composition of elegant melodies. Vocals are ethereal and adequate, and by now their signature sound. The band makes music that is uniquely their own, not even classified necessarily as stoner/doom/psych/retro, but fitting well enough into those categories with their huge and fuzzy guitars that most fans of underground metal find their guitar work deeply satisfying and enjoyable. The fact they were able to create and release this album at all is a testament to their enormous affinity for what they do as they had to overcome severe, debilitating obstacles in order to make and release the album. When listening to their music, on almost any song, as you ride along the melody of the moment and enjoy the hugeness, the power of the experience, you are always taken aback a bit when they introduce a new riff or solo that jumps into a higher, louder, more powerful level, bringing wonder and amazement at such incredible adroitness and artistic mojo. Another album for the ages to go along with several such albums.
Favorite Song - “Slowdown”
#2 Admiral Sir Cloudesely Shovell - “Don’t Hear It . . . Fear It!”
Good God! What an album. I can’t contain my excitement for this incredible collection of just crazy, yet crazy good music. While I’ve heard some version of the sounds on this album in the past I don’t know if I’ve ever heard it quite like this. The guitars are incredible, simply sublime, seemingly on the verge of a loss of control, but obviously all cleverly herded in such a way as to create exactly the sound and quality desired. I would classify this music as retro as much as anything. There isn’t much in the way of the characteristic stoner/doom sound with low tuned guitars, but the guitars are divine and irreverent, reminiscent of some of the sounds of the seventies, even if slightly so. Vocals, too, are incredible, a wonderful screech that hits just the right balance between control and shriek. Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell are song masters, creating memorable, artistic melodies that take the time to showcase drums and bass in such a way as to add to the beauty of the song. Uniqueness is the hallmark of this album, standing alone in its quality, tone, and incredible sound. This is the kind of album that comes out of nowhere, unexpected and invigorating in its freshness, a blessing to be enjoyed for ages.
Favorite Song - "iDeath"
#1 Feuerzeug - “Dead Wahines and Tsunamis”
I did the review for this album back in August and knew then it was a contender. That left over 4 months of new music coming in to unseat it as #1 which Colour Haze and Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell quite nearly did, especially the latter, but when you listen to this album, this baker’s dozen of solid rock music, you can’t help but be amazed at what these rockers from Switzerland were able to create. Stack up the categories and they score high in each one. Guitars? They supply heavy, low tuned morsels of beef and bone without a doubt, plus they scorch and sear white hot on solos. But, add to it a deftness of extras, additional snippets and riffs that add quality and flavor. Funky little runs or quick little outlays of unique tenor and tone. You’ll hear similar stuff in Colour Haze, Enos, the Admiral, if I may, but Feuerzeug ride some kind of cosmic tribal vibration that resonates deep within our musical soul, perfectly attuned in accordance with primal rythyms. They do it every time out of the gate . . . thirteen times . . . on this album. Vocals? The voice on this album is pitch perfect, a sound that could be used with almost any style, but fits perfectly here, memorable and amazing. Melody? The song writing is incredible, each of the baker’s dozen a potential hit on its own. Each song is filled with hooks and intelligence. Uniqueness? They have certainly carved out their own sound, fitting in perfectly with stoner/psych/retro sounds while maintaining their own signature, that is slightly reminiscent of past artists, but barely so. When you consider this is their second album, that in 2010 they had another 12 songs of incredible artistry, this, then becomes a candidate for band of the ages if they can carry their monoply for quality forward on subsequent releases. They are unsigned at the moment, which is quite amazing given their quality. My hope is they are able to stick together long enough to find a label, create another 2 to 20 great albums, before disbanding due to artistic differences. Despite their current and relative obscurity, right now, for Nuclear Dog’s Top 20 Albums of 2012, Feuerzeug are King, Champions for the season. Party in Switzerland tonight!
Favorite Song - All of them. Seriously. Choose one. It’ll play on any ‘hard rock’ station in the world, and better than that, it’ll play on the iPod of the most hard core stoner rock fan as well.
Record Label of Year - Small Stone Records
I want to take the time to recognize Small Stone Records for their accomplishments this year. This record label has to be the most prolific, hardest working label in existence for the fuzz. The releases in 2012 are phenomenal:
Sun Gods in Exile - Thanks for the Silver
Dwellers - Good Morning Hara Kiri
Five Horse Johnson - The Taking of Blackheart
Greenleaf - Nest of Vipers
Abrahma - Through the Dusty Paths of Our Lives
Mangoo - Neverland
Mother of God - Anthropos
Wo Fat - The Black Code
Lord Fowl - Moon Queen
Skanska Mord - Paths to Charon
Larman Clamor - Frogs
Nightstalker - Dead Rock Commandos
Sons of Otis - Seismic
If you were to add in Gandhi’s Gunn, who released an album in 2012, promptly changed their name to Isaak and then signed with Small Stone, you would have 14 albums in one year. Every one of those albums is on someone’s top ten or top twenty list, 5 of them on mine. 2013 promises to be quite exciting for them as well with even more new releases, with some heavy hitters coming down the pike, including Gozu and Sasquatch already in the works (Sasquatch? Yes, Sasquatch! YESSS!!) at a minimum. I heard at one point Roadsaw, too, were planning on releasing a new one, but I don’t know how official that may be. We can only hope. Thank goodness for Small Stone Records.
Album Artist of the Year - Alex von Wieding
Wow. I envy Alex von Wieding with every bone in my body. He is one prolific and imaginative dude. He had covers for Mangoo, Cortez, Five Horse Johnson, Lord Fowl, Sun Gods in Exile, Hellwell, Nightstalker, Abrahma, Sonic Titans compilation album, Wo Fat, and, for my money, album cover of the year, Enos’ “All Too Human” which barely squeaked out a victory over Wo Fat’s “Black Code”. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention he did the cover for Larmon Clamor, which is his band, a band for which he writes, sings, and plays guitar. He’s one talented dude, to be sure. Thanks for the great images, Alex.
And last, but certainly not least, I want to recognize the tireless efforts of Reginald Rykaczewski, Heavy Planet site administrator, progenitor of the almost daily feature "New Band to Burn One To", and all around ASS KICKER! He is Heavy Planet. And he has unwittingly unleashed one radioactive canine upon the stoner/doom universe.
Thank you Seth, Zac, Toby, and Reg for your unyielding support of Nuclear Dog. It matters more than you'll ever know.
Thank you Heavy Planet followers for reading what we write. Hopefully in return we've introduced you to some incredible music this past year. The guys I work with at Heavy Planet are the absolute best in the world. They are passionate about what they do, which always seems to make for a great environment. Most of all, thanks to all the great musicians and artists out there who work with us to get the music onto the site so more people can be exposed to it. Talk about passion for what you do, these artists have it in spades, clubs, hearts, and diamonds. It was a great year. I'm looking forward to 2013.
Ken 'Nuclear Dog' Elliott