Shaman Lee’s Top 10 Albums & 2012 Year Review

Well what an amazing year 2012 has been for music and everything that’s been happening at Shaman HQ, the website continues to grow from strength to strength with visits at an all time high, the same year also saw me take a more active role with Future Noise on the booking side of things so expect more from that in 2013!

As many of the readership know, 2012 was also the year that saw me set up a record label, the aptly named Shaman Recordings with the first release being the debut album ‘Nature Is The Devil’s Church’ by Liverpool doomers Black Magician, the support and response I’ve had for this has been nothing short of amazing so can I take this opportunity to thank all those that bought a copy, listened to, reviewed, interviewed or featured the band and/or the release. And in the first part of 2013, Shaman Recordings will be releasing the Coma Wall/Undersmile Split 12”, a project I’m extremely excited to be involved in, so keep your eyes peeled for more news on that being announced over the coming weeks.

Now it’s time to run through my top 10 albums of the year, it was extremely difficult to narrow it down to just 10 as there’s been some incredible releases over the last 12 months, in fact my first shortlist featured 35 albums, but as I’m also submitting this list to Roadburn for their readers’ poll (If you haven’t submitted yours yet, you can do so HERE), 10 it is and are listed in alphabetical order as its impossible to have an outright winner.

Conan 'Monnos' Artwork

Conan ‘Monnos’
This band simply want to crush everything in its path and this year’s ‘Monnos’ is a testament to that ethos, not a band to sit on their laurels and churn out ‘Horseback Battle Hammer’ part II, ‘Monnos’ delved a little deeper and explored new territories but still delivered a crushing blow to your now withered and wilted frontal cortex, the band also have new releases planned for 2013, so it’ll be interesting to see what the glowing valves bring us…Hail Conan!

Goat 'World Music' Artwork

Goat ‘World Music’
After being exposed to my fair share of heavy music for most of the year, Goat were a refreshing change, whether I buy into the whole background story, and really care who the actual members are, what they do deliver is, I guess you could call it, ‘Good Time Music’, as the whole sound and vibe is incredibly uplifting, with an almost carnival feel going on. I was also lucky enough to witness their performance at Supersonic and they certainly have that visual presence to go along with the sound track, whether the band has longevity has yet to be seen, but for now, just enjoy!

Lazarus Blackstar 'Hymns For The Cursed' Artwork

Lazarus Blackstar ‘Hymns For The Cursed’
Lazarus Blackstar has to be one of, if not the, nastiest, filthiest band on the planet, the grime this band produces oozes out of its pores like a virus and ‘Hymns For The Cursed’, the first full album to feature MikHell on vocals, carries on this tradition, why on earth this album or the band don’t get more coverage is beyond me as people really should stand up and take note, hell the album even features an Infest cover, it doesn’t get much nastier than that!

Saint Vitus 'Lillie: F-65' Artwork

Saint Vitus ‘Lillie: F-65′
I do sometimes tire of all these reunions, but in the case of Saint Vitus, this could quite possibly be the missing album Chandler and Co never made. Everything about this album is why I love Doom so much, thought provoking lyrics, monster riffs, thundering bass and drums, Chandler’s crazy trademark guitar solos and the voice of Wino, what more could you ask for? From the opening track of ‘Let Them Fall’ to the closer ‘Withdrawal’, the album flows seamlessly which is helped along by Tony Reed’s skills behind the mixing desk, basically an essential listen for any doom freak!

Samothrace 'Reverence To Stone'

Samothrace ‘Reverence To Stone’
2 tracks, 35 minutes and a 4 year gap between albums, I was ready for this! Slow, brooding, crushing and seriously heavy is what you get from these Seattle based doom deviants and an album that, at times, is reminiscent of Ocean and their monolithic release from 2005 ‘Here Where Nothing Grows’, not that that’s a bad thing! The band have also been confirmed to play next year’s Heavy Days In Doom Town festival in Denmark so let’s hope there’s room in the schedule for them hit the UK while they’re in Europe!

Songs Of Townes Van Zandt Artwork

Scott Kelly, Steve Von Till & Wino ‘Songs Of Townes Van Zandt’
A close friend of too many years to mention has introduced me to some incredible (non-metal) music since my teenage years, it started with Bob Dylan & Neil Young and took in the likes of Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie, Bo Diddley, Robert Johnson and a man by the name of Townes Van Zandt. From the off, his music struck a chord with me so to see my musical peers pay tribute to the legend immediately made me sit up, and I’m happy to say the result did him justice, each musician gives their own spin on tracks from Van Zandt’s back catalogue while keeping the feel and emotions that are so prevalent on the originals, an amazing release and one I hope will also encourage people to check out the music and life of Townes Van Zandt.

Serpentine Path - S/T - Artwork

Serpentine Path – S/T
When the coming together of 2 behemoths of the Underground, Unearthly Trance and Tim Bagshaw of Ramesses/Electric Wizard fame, you just know the offering will be something truly evil, 40 minutes of devastating and crushing Blackened Death Doom that worships at the frosty altar of Winter, and fate certainly played its part as after the release of the album, Stephen Flam, he of Winter, joined the band on 2nd guitar, I for one will be waiting with baited breath to see what 2013 will bring for this New York based doom crew.

Ufomammut 'Oro' Artwork

Ufomammut ‘Oro: Opus Primum’ & ‘Oro: Opus Alter’
At the moment, this band can do no wrong in my eyes, and yes ‘Primum’ & ‘Alter’ are technically 2 individual albums, but it’s difficult to separate them having been released only a few months apart as both display the band at their peak, titanic riffs that pile drive you into submission under their sheer weight that are transposed with touches of psychedelia, there another band in the top 10 that I caught at this year’s Supersonic with a set that was both tranquil and crushing in equal doses.

Undersmile 'Narwhal' Artwork

Undersmile ‘Narwhal’
The first time I heard this album my jaw literally hit the floor (well as near to it as it could get!), 80 tortured minutes of skin crawling, despondent, malevolent doom, surely the sound track to a serial killers crazed mind if ever there was one? The harmonized vocals of Hel and Taz relinquish in agonized pain under a mold infested blanket of twisted and tortured drone, there is no band around quite like Undersmile at the moment, think the bastard off spring of Corrupted and Babes In Toyland that’s been sectioned in a mental hospital and your somewhere close.

Wino & Conny Ochs 'Heavy Kingdom' Artwork

Wino & Conny Ochs ‘Heavy Kingdom’
The second acoustic album to be featured and the third to feature Wino, his recording and tour schedule over the last couple of years has been relentless, solo tours and recordings, Premonition 13 album and tour, The Obsessed festival appearances, Saint Vitus album and tour, but also this, the collaboration with German singer/song writer Conny Ochs, a man I first got to know when he supported Wino on his ‘Adrift’ tour. The album, although highly emotional, is a joy to listen to, the musical chemistry between Wino and Conny is quite breathtaking armed with just 2 guitars, 2 vocals and occasionally a kick drum, the album might not appeal to die hard Wino and Doom fans alike, but all kudos to Exile On Mainstream for making this happen.

I can’t end this list without some notable mentions to albums that didn’t quite make the cut, 2012 saw pioneers of our incestuous scene unplug their amps and pick up their acoustic guitars, 2 albums made it into the top 10, but we also had worthy releases from USX founder Nate Hall and the album ‘A Great River’, Yob’s Mike Scheidt gave us ‘Stay Awake’, Scott Kelly teamed up with The Road Home to bring us ‘The Forgiven Ghost In Me’ and Dylan Carlson introduced us to Drcarlsonalbion and although not strictly acoustic it was a pleasure to hear his Americana take on English folk.

We also had outstanding albums from 3 stalwarts of the post-whatever genre in 2012, namely ‘The Seer’ by Swans, ‘Honor Found In Decay’ by Neurosis and last but by no means least ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!’ by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, all 3 delivered incredible albums and seeing Swans play Manchester the other week was simply awe inspiring, an experience that has to be witnessed to be believed.

The world of dub gave us new albums from Necro Deathmort, a band I’d not really taken much notice of previously to being featured on this site, but with a lot of encouragement from Shaman scribe Pete Green, his enthusiasm for the band made me sit up and take note and you should too if your salivating for dark, transcendent dub. Justin K Broadrick also unleashed his JK Flesh moniker with the album ‘Posthuman’ which is best described as’ Streetcleaner’ era Godflesh given the Dub treatment in Justin’s own unique style, nuff said! And finally, Tristan Shone under the guise of Author & Punisher released ‘Ursus Americanus’ which delved further into the dub side that previous recordings had hinted at.

The 70’s vibe continued to thrive in 2012 with a full album from Hastings retro crew Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell and ‘Don’t Hear It…Fear It!!’, no bells, no whistles, just head down, arse kicking rock n roll, a spirit which is also echoed with Rise Above label mates Horisont and their ‘Second Assault’ album, and not to be the token Swedes, Witchcraft unleashed ‘Legend’, their first for Nuclear Blast and the first to see Magnus Pelander step away from playing guitar and concentrating on his vocals only. Ripple Music also continued with the rock vibe by releasing 2 standout albums featuring Mr Tony Reed, the first being a live Stone Axe album from their Roadburn performances and the second ‘Nomads’ by the recently re-ignited Mos Generator, both are essential listens to the heavy rock enthusiast as the things that man can do with a guitar and a recording studio are simply amazing.

Dipping my toes into the acid, 2012 saw new albums from White Hills and their psychedelic master class that is ‘Frying On This Rock’, genre defining legends Hawkwind released ‘Onwards’, an album that I didn’t think would be anywhere near as strong as it is, definitely a hark back to the golden days, and The Shaman’s very own scribe Saul introduced me to new space kids on the block Spectral Haze whose demo I repeatedly listened to on their bandcamp page, highly recommended if your hankering for some psychedelic doom.

And not forgetting the Heavy, Head Of Crom released the incredible new Slomatics album on alluring orange vinyl, like Conan, as well as having a love for amplifiers, they’re also not a band to simply churn out the same old, but are forever re-inventing themselves by pushing the boundaries, and this is probably no more evident than on ‘A Hocht’. Switchblade delivered their self-titled album with devastating effects that also gained them a slot on next year’s Roadburn while OM gave us ‘Advaitic Songs’ which is probably their strongest album to date and shows that the band aren’t just a one trick pony.

One often overlooked band that although missed out on the top 10 really need to be mentioned and that is the UK’s Bastard Of The Skies, a band often hard to pigeonhole, there not doom and certainly not sludge, there just fucking heavy with a sound that encapsulates the Amp Rep back catalogue of old and I’m a firm believer if this band were from out of Seattle and not the old derelict mill town of Blackburn, things would be very different, just check out their latest album ‘Tarnation’ and you’ll know what I mean!

So there you have it, I’m bound to have missed something out, but that’s basically my highlights of what I’ve been listening to in 2012, ohh and of course Black Magician’s ‘Nature Is The Devil’s Church’ which would have easily made my top 10, but that would have been just plain biased!

And before I sign off, I’d once again like to say a massive thanks to our readership and the loyal team of scribers I have at The Sleeping Shaman, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, without you, there would be no site so thanks y’all.

Here’s to a doom riddled and haze filled 2013 \m/