Well here we are again at the precipice of a new year, which of course means that it’s time to reflect on the past 12 months and ponder those albums that evoked the most emotion within each of us. As you read through these “best of 2012” lists, you’ll undoubtedly notice a variety of artists and albums from each member of the Heavy Planet staff. And that my friends, is a good thing. In fact, it’s what I love so much about music and why I find it to be such a beautiful thing…the sheer variety to be found in it…its openness to interpretation…and most of all, the art of it. Keep in mind that even though these are all amazing collections of music that I thoroughly recommend checking out, this list should be taken with a grain of salt as it would likely look completely different if I put it together tomorrow. With that, I give you my greatest hits from 2012.
10) Trippy Wicked & the Cosmic Children of the Knight – Going Home
On Going Home, this UK three-piece delivered a massive slab of fuzz n roll that featured captivating melodies, powerful vocals, crunchy guitars and…trumpets? Yep, just when you thought the album’s eight minute title track couldn’t get any more epic, Trippy Wicked broke out the horns (mellotron?) and elevated their sound from standard, everyday riff-rock to the type of soaring, metal anthems that have been known to induce goose-bumps in many a listener. Whether it was the intense vibe of songs like “Up the Stakes” and “Go Outside” or the more carefree odes to self medication that made up the album’s mid-section, the band displayed a unique knack for mixing bluesy grit with low end groove and the result was an album that drilled its way into my cranium and stayed there throughout 2012.
9) Band of Skulls - Sweet Sour
I figure I'll probably get all sorts of shit for this one, but I can't lie to you, I was mesmerized by the mixture of heavy blues and sticky sweet harmonies that this UK trio laid down on Sweet Sour. In fact, I'm kind of shocked that the "indie rock" community has seemingly embraced this band while the "stoner rock" faithful have largely ignored them. Maybe I'm missing something, but fuck it…I dig this shit. You can hear what I mean on the title track, which opens the album with a guitar lick reminiscent of Hendrix and builds in intensity into a full-on blooze-fest. "Bruises" opens with an admittedly poppy male/female sing along, but transitions into a straight-up head nodding, foot stomping rock song. "Wanderluster" is similar in it's build up and when it hits its stride, you'd be lying if you said you weren't moving to it. But it's the riffs that ultimately landed Band of Skulls in my top 10 of 2012. Just check out "The Devil Takes Care of His Own", "Lies" or the final couple of minutes of "Lay My Head Down" and you'll see…yeah you'll see.
8) Orange Goblin – A Eulogy for the Damned
Another UK band, the mighty Orange Goblin finally resurfaced this year and unleashed album number seven after what seemed like an eternity since we’d last heard from them. Beginning with the buzz saw guitars and thunderous rhythm section of “Red Tide Rising”, Ben Ward and company wasted no time reintroducing us to the psychedelic biker metal that’s helped to build the Goblin a legion of fans over the last fifteen plus years. From the galloping riffs of “The Fog” to the soulful, southern rock of “Save Me from Myself”, Eulogy was like listening to Skynyrd riff on Sabbath after a night of binge drinking. Throw in a dose of experimentation, like on “Return to Mars” where the band grooves out enough to almost be considered funky and vocals that sound like a boozed up Lemmy after gargling with broken glass, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a record.
7) Deftones - Koi No Yokan
Some will likely argue that Deftones have no business being on a top ten list of the best stoner, doom, sludge and psychedelic rock albums of the year. I would counter that their noisy experimentations with everything from nu-metal to post-metal and from drone to shoegaze makes them a perfect candidate for what we do here at Heavy Planet. Furthermore, after surviving possibly the worst casualty a band can undergo (their original bassist Chi Cheng has yet to fully recover from a 2008 car accident that left him comatose), Deftones retooled with Sergio Vega of Quicksand fame, released the phenomenal 2010 album Diamond Eyes and toured with the likes of Baroness, Alice in Chains and Mastodon. If none of that whets your appetite for Koi No Yokan, then go ahead and skip ahead to number six. Songs like "Romantic Dreams" and "Poltergeist" feature overwhelmingly heavy riffs and crisp drumming combined with vocalist Chino Moreno's signature blend of aggressive screeching and blissful crooning. And songs like "Swerve City" and "Tempest" keep the riffs monolithic while introducing an ethereal, Cure-like feel to the album. Going on twenty-five years as a band, Deftones continue to push the envelope and reinvent themselves and with Koi No Yokan, they stay well within the heavy music spotlight and are well deserving of a spot on this list.
6) Greenleaf – Nest of Vipers
It’s hard to believe that Greenleaf started as a side-project of sorts for various members of the Swedish bands Dozer and Truckfighters. The lineup has changed since their inception, but this incarnation still maintains former members of both bands and after hearing Nest of Vipers, we can only hope that this "project" has become their priority. Paying homage to the likes of Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple and even Zeppelin (tell me that guitar solo on "Dream Catcher" doesn't remind you of Jimmy Page) while staying true to the desert rock sound that originally put each of these guys on the map, Greenleaf have created a true gem with Nest of Vipers. It doesn't get much better than album opener "Jack Staff" where the guitars are the musical equivalent of cotton candy, the percussion a symphony of rolling toms and crash cymbals and the vocals a display of range and register all the while staying appropriately buried in the overall mix. From moody and atmospheric ("Tree of Life") to radio ready alt-rock ("Sunken Ships"), Greenleaf leaves no stone unturned, no matter how small.
5) King Giant - Dismal Hollow
It's a tribute to how good Dismal Hollow is that it was released way back in January 2012 and now, a year later, it still finds a well deserved place on this list. Essentially laying the foundation for King Giant's music is the land they call home, which happens to be the Appalachian foothills of Virginia. The album melds a slew of harrowing tales, including Civil War battles, vengeful victims of spousal abuse and old Southern bootleggers with bluesy dual guitar work, a gut busting rhythm section and vocals raspier than your granddad after a pack of smokes. Dismal Hollow puts Virginia on the southern metal map kind of like Crowbar, Down and their ilk did for NOLA. After the release of this album, the band was hit with a streak of bad luck as both guitarists suffered violent injuries in unrelated incidents that essentially rendered the band out of commission for most of the year. Here's to a healthier 2013 for King Giant and to finally getting the slow southern steel that is Dismal Hollow out on the road.
4) Summoner - Phoenix
Boston's Summoner (formerly Riff Cannon) play a wonderfully loud blend of doom, stoner and psychedelic on their latest album Phoenix and it is not to be missed. Dual guitars that simultaneously interweave heavy-as-fuck riffing with dreamy noodling (check out "Winged Hessians") combine with thunderous drums, pummeling bass and throat wrenching vocals. The band stops and starts on a dime (see "Conjuring") and they aren't afraid to experiment with tempo shifts and a variety of dynamics within any one particular song. Furthermore, Summoner can kick your ass quickly, such as "The Interloper" which fires out of the gates…well…like a cannon. Or they can take their time in doing so, like they do on the epic "Let the Light In" which patiently builds, then batters you unmercifully and then evolves into a beautiful coda that carries the song through its nine minute run time. Look, when I found out Heavy Planet would be hosting a CMJ Showcase in New York City in 2012, it only took one listen of this masterpiece before I extended an invitation for Summoner to play it. That's probably all you need to know about Phoenix.
3) Witchcraft - Legend
It's been five years since we last heard from Sweden's Witchcraft and in that time they've shaken up their lineup (only two of the five band members return from 2007's The Alchemist) and more importantly they've re-tooled their sound. Seemingly tired of the "new wave of analog-rock" that they practically invented with their self-titled debut back in 2004, Witchcraft went in a new direction with Legend and the result was a crisp, clean and refreshing album that threw a noticeable twist in the band's impressive legacy. Unlike previous albums, this one features overtly catchy riffs (see "Deconstruction"), lyrical content dealing with "real world" issues (see "Democracy") and a mind blowing dual guitar attack (see "An Alternative to Freedom"). I understand that some people are disappointed with the new direction…aren't they always…but if you'd prefer the pseudo-vintage sound of the band's past, there are plenty of other artists dabbling in that genre for you to fall back on. Witchcraft on the other hand have decided to eschew convention and to strike out in a new direction. I find that incredibly admirable and I found Legend in my constant rotation in 2012.
2) Baroness - Yellow & Green
Speaking of catchy…and speaking of defying convention…Baroness completely blew the doors off of expectations with their latest effort, Yellow & Green. In this instant gratification, pay what you want/steal if you can't society, who the fuck puts out a near flawless double album? I don't want to go overboard here, but this thing is quite frankly like stoner rock's version of The Wall. Divided into two equally impressive halves, Yellow & Green is extensive, it's gratifying…it's phenomenal. Baroness have completely evolved from the little, old Savannah, Georgia sludge metal quartet that we once knew into a progressive and wholly interesting rock band. If Witchcraft evolved "their" sound on Legend, then Baroness evolved the sound of rock music as a whole with Yellow & Green. Songs like "Take My Bones Away" and "Board Up the House" will literally have you singing along while pondering their meaning. With that said, there's a sense of melancholy permeating this entire body of work (listen to "Twinkler" or "Eula") a sort of ethereal sadness. But emotions are the truest inspiration for art and what emotion is more powerful than pain? With Yellow & Green, Baroness have created music that makes you think, it makes you long for something and most importantly, it makes you feel. That's what good music (and all good art) is supposed to do and that makes Yellow & Green infinitely successful.
1) Torche - Harmonicraft
And that brings me to my number one record of 2012. Similar to Baroness, Miami, Florida's Torche have written an album chock-full of hooks, sing-along choruses and other contagious musical moments that will have you returning to have your head bashed time and again. The difference here is that Harmonicraft strips away the instrumental mood pieces (the lone exception being the riff infested title track) in favor of a lean, mean approach that clocks in at under 40 minutes. Not a second is wasted here and the band's signature sound, which is often described as "sludge pop"…cute…is apparent after the first five minutes wherein you'll have already experienced the album's first two tracks. Songs like "Snakes Are Charmed" and "Kiss Me Dudely" sound like Helmet jamming with the Melvins on some Beach Boys tunes…heavy, slow and so damn catchy it'll have you puking rainbows (speaking of which…did you see the excellent cover artwork?). Want atmosphere? Look no further than "Solitary Traveler" which bares down on you like the weight of the world. I can't quite describe to you how I feel or what I take from the latest Torche LP, I just know that I can't stop listening to it and that's why it deserves this spot on my list. Perhaps the band themselves best described their sound with the made up word that they chose for the album's title. Harmonicraft indeed.