And so, 2012 draws to a close, the world is as fucked and incomprehensible as ever – financial institutions continue their skullduggery unabated, humans continue to tear each other to shreds anywhere you care to look. In other words, not very much has changed, but thankfully the constant flow of good music has not seen any change either. I think it’s of note that, of these 22 albums (so sue me! You want a flippant/short list, go read Kerrap or Terriblizer!) 8 of them are débuts! There is music aplenty to make you headbang, dance, raise a claw, drink, fight, cry and fuck – sometimes all at once. I have listed them in alphabetical order, behold the cavalcade of horror and glory that is my personal faves of 2012!
ANATOMIA: “Decaying in Obscurity” – The phrase “Autopsy worship” is used all too often these days, but in the case of Anatomia, it applies in spades. The only band to have really captured the slimy vibe of “Retribution for the Dead”, Japan’s finest death metal band have achieved a second album that utterly pulverizes you from the word go. All lurching bass and v-beat drums, you couldn’t ask for a better death metal record, especially with artwork as great as Eichi Ito’s gracing the cover!
BLACK MAGICIAN: “Nature is the Devil’s Church” – A nigh perfect forty minutes of REAL doom metal, the spirit of the Sixties folk revival is as clear an influence on guitarist Kyle Nesbitt’s virtuoso playing as the over-the-top horror doom baroque of Scott Reagers is on Liam Yates’s vocals. An album of depth and skill that merits repeat listens!
BONG: “Mana-Yood-Sushai” – If you are great, Bong are a great band. If you are limited, Bong are limited.
DR JOHN: “Locked Down” – I’ve seen a lot of folks referring to this album as a “…return to his Night Tripper roots…”, but that’s really doing this stupendously good record a massive disservice, confining it to the all-too-common doldrums of mere nostalgia. Whilst the elements of the Bayou music, sleaze and weirdness that spawned Rebennack’s alter ego all those years ago, there’s so much more going on in “Locked Down” than a simple exercise in recapturing past glories (although I also loved his more “conventional” output of recent years). Tipping its hat to funk and even Afrobeat, this infectiously danceable record is an exotic mix of perfection, helmed by Dan Auerbach into a musical Nirvana that is warm, fuzzy and soulful!
EIDETIC SEEING: “Drink The Sun” – There is so much piss-weak snooze-music out there masquerading as psych these days, that you’d be forgiven for just plain giving up on the genre as whole, and sticking to your Hawkwind records like a disillusioned old codger! But that’s where we at The Shaman come in, to filter out the guff and point you in the direction of the pearls among the swine, and Eidetic Seeing’s blissful début is a much-needed dose of gleeful fun; well written, well played and very essential.
FELLWOODS: “Wulfram” – Everyone with an overpriced vintage guitar and a boutique fuzz pedal seems to think they can capture “the spirit of the Seventies”, whatever the fuck that is. The simple fact of the matter is that the art of good songwriting prevailed, and Fellwoods do just that with this deliriously enjoyable début that draws from the sonic palette of Leaf Hound and Sir Lord Baltimore whilst not being a mere copycat.
ICE DRAGON: “Dream Dragon” – Ice Dragon are one of those feverishly active bands, having released three albums in 2012 alone. Of course, the content is very variable, ranging from the mediocre to the brilliant. Naturally, this record belongs very much in the latter category, and is a total antidote to the bloated bass-heavy boredom that is so in vogue these days. A dreamy exercise in delicate psychedelia, this album is a total floating cloud of bliss!
KONKOMA: “S/T” – Bollocks to pretentious Swedes laying spurious claims to practicing voodoo, THIS is the “world music” (oh how I HATE that term) record that should be on people’s lips this year! Featuring a member of one of my favourite “fusion” groups of all time, Osibisa (“Criss-cross rhythms that explode with happiness!”), this towering achievement of a record is a joy from start to finish, It’s funky, it’s heavy, it’s funny, it’s danceable! Blending elements of Fela Kuti with Ghanaian blues (see also Soundway’s fantastic 5LP compilation!), this album also gets the award for best vinyl of the year, clear, warm and crisp, a lot of love has clearly gone into making this wax sound as good as possible – it’s a shame that this kind of attention to detail isn’t visible across the board! Dance record of the year, and a good companion-piece to the Dr John album mentioned above!
LUGUBRUM: “Face Lion/Face Oignon” – OK, this technically came out at the very end of 2011, but frankly this band doesn’t get anywhere near as much mention as they should, and with all the average-to-dire black metal that is style over substance doing the rounds, this kind of originality is to be lauded and championed. There is no-one out there that sounds even remotely like Lugubrum do, and as with their previous masterpiece “Albino De Congo”, this is a completely demented and fucked up exercise in weird experimentation, as frightening as it is bewildering. Like being trapped in a fever dream, this sends spikes up your spine and lingers in your mind like the stench of a turd. Utterly brilliant.
NIGHTSTICK: “Rock + Roll Weymouth” – A totally unclassifiable record, taking in the skree of Ginn’s best solos, the bludgeoning bass of early Melvins and the speedy psychedelia of Hawkwind, this record is an offbeat treasure-trove of disjointed genius. If you need any more convincing, my co-conspirator Paul Robertson gave a far better account HERE of this record (and a potted history to boot) than I ever could. Nothing like it.
PROCLAMATION: “Nether Tombs Of Abaddon” – Still worshipping at the altar of the Gods of War, still keeping the Oath of the Black Blood, Spain’s (possibly defunct?) prime purveyors of bestial primitivism have offered the closing chapter of a series of albums that offer zero progress, just chaos and a wall of noise as intense as it is messy. Unintelligible vocals (even with the lyric sheet), pounding, monotonous drums and guitars that are all mid and treble: in short, perfect.
RANGDA: “Formerly Extinct” – sublimely intricate sophomore release from a trio consisting of Sir Richard Bishop, Ben Chasny and Chris Corsano (aka best drummer currently doing the ‘underground’ circuit). By turns playful and focused, this record has the adventurous spirit and breadth of scope of Frank Zappa or The Mahavishnu Orchestra. A record that gets better with every listen – beautiful stuff!
RAVENS CREED: “The Power” – Utter thrash destruction from Albion’s finest masters of speedy riffs. Killer artwork and production, too!
REVELATION: “Inner Harbor” – Wish that someone would revive that “Maryland Doom” sound”? Me too, but no bugger appears to be capable. Still, guess it’s not a high priority when stalwarts of the movement (a somewhat extravagant word, but never mind…) like Revelation are still putting out albums as great as this one. By turns psychedelic, heavy and progressive, this is a unique record that isn’t really comparable to anything else! The open-minded will not be disappointed!
SAINT VITUS: “Lillie F-65” – Far from being a redundant exercise in reliving their glory days, Chandler and co. produced the finest “comeback” album of recent years (rivaled only by Autopsy). The elements that made their classic records so timeless are all there – batshit crazy solos, killer lyrics, riffs that make your head bang and a punk spirit. They couldn’t have done it any better, a masterclass in doom!
SATAN’S SATYRS: “Wild Beyond Belief!” – A crusher of lo-fi proto-punk madness, there is more spit and venom in this rager of a record than most bands can even dream of. It has the same fuzzed-to-fuck May Blitz roll of the last two Electric Wizard albums, and coupled with the blown-out, wild-eyed vocal delivery, you’d have to be made of stone not to dig this record. Filthy enough to make you want to touch yourself and marry a freak at a circus.
SEREMONIA: “S/T” – Finland’s new garage-rock supremos sing their well-thought out lyrics in their native language over a gloriously stripped down barebones sound. This is rock music as it was intended to be: no frills, no bangs, no whistles! Just great songs, killer hooks and great vocals. In age gone by, this record might have stood a chance in the pop charts, but sadly it’s “confined” to the relative obscurity of the independent/underground scene. All the more for us!
SERPENTINE PATH: “S/T” – Supremely brilliant Winter-worshipping death-doom with added Autopsy for extra creepiness, this record is absolutely sublime. Riffs that speak of frost and fire. RISE.
SPECTRAL HAZE: “S/T Demo” – Demo of the year from this ridiculously heavy Norwegian horde – Hawkwind channeled through Can and the Flower Travelling Band, clear production, top notch songwriting and excellent playing. Masters of the Universe.
TEITANBLOOD: “Purging Tongues” – Well, technically this is just an EP, but I couldn’t give a shit less, it’s a brilliant follow up to the genre-defining masterpiece that was “Seven Chalices of Vomit and Blood”. There’s a fair few bands that have been trying to capture the insane depth of tone and outright mystical insanity that made that record stand out so much in a sea of shit, but they’ve all failed. Even the promising Wrathprayer couldn’t quite deliver the goods (although you’ll find plenty of people who say otherwise…); that said it would be unfair to label “The Sun of Moloch” as dogshit! So instead, these disturbing fifteen minutes of savage, unrelenting death/black metal will have to do.
UZALA: “S/T” – Black metal aesthetics prevail on this uniquely frosty doom metal offering from Boise newcomers Uzala. A novel approach to production and songs that have clearly been fine-tuned before entering the studio have given us a record that stands on its own as a unique oddity that is neither flippant nor overly pretentious.
WITCH MOUNTAIN: “Cauldron of the Wild” – The riffs are great, the production is perfect, but it’s the stupendous vocals of Uta Plotkin that lift this record into the stratosphere. Her (classically trained?) range is quite breathtaking, and the result is a truly superlative, soulful album of fist-pumping (oo err) heavy metal!
Seeing Keiji Haino’s noisy power-rock trio FUSHITSUSHA in a dilapidated church in Hackney was undoubtedly the most mind-blowing, loud, psychedelic, intense and downright brilliant concert I experienced this year. Reformed NWOBHM legends SATAN deserve a special mention too, however! Not just for pulling out a total corker of a set at the Metal Assault festival this year, but also for proving that reunions do not have to suck by default. They sounded better than on their poorly-produced classic début, all original members were involved and they played new songs that utterly destroyed! A totally unexpected surprise, and provided me with the best singalong I had all year with “No Turning Back”. Seeing GROUP DOUEH effortlessly play a set of amazing Saharan blues at Berlin’s Festsaal was another live highlight!
And now the obligatory “honourable mentions” bit! Holland’s SANTA CRUZ proved that there is a darker side to Orange Sunshine, TRIPPY WICKED gave us a total stormer of a rock’n’roll record to make you grin from ear to ear!The HELLWELL record was a really frustrating experience, as it could so easily have been one of the best albums of 2012, but Mark “The Shark” Shelton’s insistence on producing his own records is proving to be his downfall, with the resulting album rendered almost unlistenable, the drums sounding paper-thin, with the (otherwise excellent) keyboards suffering a similar fate. That said, the songs are too much fun for it not to get a mention altogether, one can only hope the new Manilla Road record doesn’t suffer the same sad fate.
Paul Speckmann continued the good, thrashy death-metal tradition with a MASTER album that was a very worthy successor to the excellent “The Human Machine”. Al Cisneros finally decided that OM needed a new riff and pulled an unexpectedly diverse and enjoyable record out of his proverbial bag. A special mention for the CAN 3CD box set of odds and sods; many people will tell you that the collection was more sod than odd, and there is a grain of truth to that, but frankly there is more than enough good material on this set to merit money leaving your wallet – “Are You Waiting for the Streetcar?” alone is worth it!