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2012 – The Year in Albums

With the year in gigs covered, it’s time to turn to the album releases of 2012. Note that these are just the albums I got – there are countless others, obviously! Albums listed are in no particular order.

All That Remains – A War You Cannot Win

Keeping their trademark dual vocal sound and with the usual variety of material, A War You Cannot Win keeps All That Remains up there in the “bands you should check out” list. Heavy, melodic vocals mixed with more deathy stuff, good riffage and some genuinely catchy moments. Top Track for me is probably “Sing For Liberty”.

Shinedown – Amaryllis

Bloody hell, what an album. Not a bad song on it. Pumping rock songs, lilting ballads, great lyrics, catchy tunes – this album has it all. Great vocals, guitars, bass and drums; well produced; superb live act to back it up. This definitely falls into any “album of the year” category I might have. Top Track? I couldn’t pick just one. I just couldn’t.

Die Toten Hosen – Ballast der Republik

A first studio album in four years for the long-standing German punk band, and as bouncy as ever. This offering is all in German so I can’t comment on the lyrical content (they have done some English tracks in the past), but the music’s great. If you’re not nodding your head along to the beat by the time you’re half-way through you’re either dead or stuck in some kind of neck brace. There’s a surprising number of acoustic, or predominantly acoustic, numbers on here as well. Top Track would probably be the title offering, although there are a few that chase it mainly due to the variety of material on offer (“Das ist der Moment” probably closest).

Sabaton – Carolus Rex

Not their strongest release, but perfectly fitting with their existing catalogue. The main theme for this is the life and times of King Charles XII of Sweden, the songs detailing various battles, aftermaths and the downfall of the Swedish empire. I’ve got the English version, but the album is also available in Swedish which I think is a great idea given that it tells their history. Indeed, they played “The Carolean’s Prayer” in Swedish when I saw them in Glasgow earlier this year. Top Track is definitely “1648″ although their cover of Status Quo‘s “In The Army Now” is pretty good also.

Testament – Dark Roots of Earth

Another quality release from a long-standing band, this is – in my opinion – their strongest album since Souls of Black. A precision blend of classic thrash with heavier vocals, some great lyrical themes and a crushing live performance to support it. Opener “Rise Up” is my Top Track, and also the perfect (if predictable) gig-opener. “True American Hate” is a close runner-up, and their cover of Maiden’s “Powerslave” rounds things off well.

Dethklok – Dethalbum III

A real album from a “virtual” band featured on the cartoon show Metalocalypse. Their third, in fact, and it’s par for the course with the other two. Genuinely good songs, though obviously tongue-in-cheek to those in the know or who have watched the program. This third outing is more like a “real” album with far fewer 1-2 minute tracks. My main complaint, and this has dogged the series as well as the earlier albums, is that the vocals are far too low in the mix. Top Track is “Impeach God”, though there’s not much in the way of stand-out material.

Heart of a Coward – Hope And Hindrance

After seeing them with Heights and Devil Sold His Soul on the Metal Hammer Razor Tour, and being suitably impressed, I grabbed a copy of the hardcore industrialists’ album and gave it a try at slightly lower volume than the Cathouse provided. It’s good. Not brilliant, but good. Angry, a little arhythmic in places, but crushing and unrelenting. Definitely a promising first album and, believe me, they come across well live. Top Track would go to “We Stand As One”.

The Darkness – Hot Cakes

Another swift change in musical direction and on to the third album from that band that never quite made it as big as their record company thought they would. They’ve maintained their sound throughout their time together and it’s good to have them around, though there’s nothing fresh on Hot Cakes. However, if it gets them out on the road touring again then it’s worth picking it up to encourage them. Top Track, for it’s pace, is “Nothin’s Gonna Stop Us”. Great for driving to if you’re not worried about losing your license.

Stone Sour – House of Gold & Bones Part 1

A band who peaked early with the superb Come What(ever) May? Or one who can maintain that quality? Well HoG&Bpt1 indicates that they’re definitely not resting on their laurels. Probably heavier overall than previous records, but Corey does still get to stretch his vocal cords into various shapes covering more balladic sounds however briefly. “Taciturn” is the only really soft track on the album, and it’s no “Through Glass” – maybe it needs to grow on me. Top Track for me is “Absolute Zero”.

Linkin Park – Living Things

A return to their earlier sound – though nowhere near as good - Living Things continues to show that Linkin Park are running out of ideas. Despite having a couple of the strongest albums of the time back in the day, I just don’t seem to have enjoyed anything since Minutes To Midnight eventually grew on me. A Thousand Suns was just dreadful, and although Living Things is better, it’s just not managed to grab me like Hybrid Theory. Top Track is, just, “In My Remains” as it reminds me of the older stuff.

3 Inches of Blood – Long Live Heavy Metal

Let’s be fair, with a title like that you know what to expect. After first seeing them in a dinky venue in Leeds (Cockpit?) with Trivium, I’ve kept an eye on this band and pretty much enjoyed what they’ve churned out. Basically, if you like Warhammer and classic metal, you’ll enjoy them. Long Live Heavy Metal isn’t a huge departure, but it’s good. Opener “Metal Woman”, for instance, sounds like classic Judas Priest which can’t be a bad thing. Another Top Track selected purely for its pace, this time “My Sword Will Not Sleep”.

Machine Head – Machine Fucking Head Live

Their second live album, this one encompassing three more albums since Hellalive some years ago. Great production, great selection of songs. If you saw them touring recently, this is pretty much the set I remember and it’s cracking. It’s maybe not right to pick a Top Track from what’s effectively a greatest hits album but I’ll plump for “Ten Ton Hammer” simply because I love it.

Hayseed Dixie – Nicotine and Alcohol

Swift change of musical direction and some redneck-geared banjo-twirling yee-haw-ing in this release from a band who became famous for their bluegrass covers of metal bands (and for letting me stand on stage at the Glasgow ABC to propose to my then-girlfriend/now-wife). As with most of their releases these days, it’s predominantly original material (plus an excellent cover of Die Toten Hosen’s “Hier Kommt Alex“), and to add a twist a few of the songs are in German. It is slightly less accessible than their covers material, but that doesn’t detract from how enjoyable it is once you give it a couple of listens. The band have a great sense of humour and this seems to be conveyed by the music as well as the lyrical content. Top Track for me is “A Jug of Whiskey (The Drunken Sailor Revisited)” mainly as I can picture this going down a storm live.

Dying Fetus – Reign Supreme

As the band were touring earlier this year and the tickets were cheap, I thought I better check them out. This is the current release and it’s a very accessible piece of death metal. Their older stuff – and they go back quite a few years – is a lot heavier, simpler and gorier. Reign Supreme is a more mature effort with excellent production. Top Track: “Second Skin”

Lamb of God – Resolution

A pretty tumultuous year for Lamb of God with the farcical arrest and detainment of front man Randy Blythe in the Czech Republic. This is the album they were/are touring on at the time and it’s pretty representative of their music. Lamb of God aren’t a band I listen to much, but they’re brilliant live so it’s good to know the songs. I’d not say that Resolution stands out as a brilliant album in its own right, but it’s certainly not bad. Going through it for this blog posts, I am actually finding myself enjoying it so I think it may be getting some more listens over the next few weeks! Top Track would be the sixth on the album: “The Number Six”.

Seed of Sadness – Seed of Sadness EP

OK, not a commercial release but the band went to the trouble of asking me to review it which I did. It’s a free download (via this link), it’s a damn good listen if you like your female fronted melodic metal and I wish them all the best! Top Track of the five is the opener, “Remnant of a Dying Smile”.

Turbonegro – Sexual Harassment

Another album supported with a brilliant live performance from the bunch of nutters responsible for writing it. Don’t expect good taste, and you won’t be disappointed. Expect simple, short, pop/punk numbers and you’ll get what you want. There are so many good tracks for pick from, but to pluck one semi-randomly from the best of the bunch I’ll award Top Track to “Shake Your Shit Machine”.

Papa Roach – The Connection

A band which continually gets put down for being “emo” or whatever, I’ve liked them since the beginning. Good material, decent lyrics, always something easy to sing along to on each album and a solid live show each and every time I’ve seen them. Their new release isn’t a highlight in the way that works such as Lovehatetragedy and Getting Away With Murder were, but it’s not bloody bad. “Still Swingin’” is indicative of the sound of the album with a fair bit of keyboards and a nice, shouty chorus (reminiscent of “Kick in the Teeth” from the previous album). A couple of the tracks, mainly the lighter ones, are far more influenced by those keyboards to the point where the introductions start to sound a little bit too much like Linkin Park. However, once they kick in, the slight change in sound is less noticeable and you get songs like my Top Track “Breathe You In”.

Fear Factory – The Industrialist

Yet another release from the premier industrial metal band. While Burton’s vocals certainly aren’t as good live as they once were, he’s managing fine in the recording studio and The Industrialist is one of the better recent Fear Factory releases. From the atmospheric opening of the title track to the spooky overtones of “Human Augmentation” you have an album that sounds like it was recorded in the factory that makes the T-1000. I don’t think FF have ever released a better produced album, even if the songs aren’t quite as good as some earlier (classic) material. Top Track: “Recharger”.

DragonForce – The Power Within

This one took a while to grow on me purely as I found the new vocalist’s voice too different from Theart’s. As time went on, and after a quality performance at the ABC, the material did grow on me, and it’s now  a regular player in the car. After finally realising that it’s not a Slayer cover, Top Track goes to “Die by the Sword”.

Halestorm – The Strange Case Of…

As with their first album, this one was purchased as a gig and signed by the band. Frankly, I don’t think Halestorm can do any wrong at the moment (apart from Lzzy Hale not being prepared to acknowledge my fanboy existence though I think the wife would have issues). With show-stealing support slots and a sell-out headlining show which had to be upgraded to accommodate ticket sales, they’re definitely a band on the up. Given the strength of their material as well as their live show, it’s not surprising and The Strange Case Of… is a great collection of rock songs. Great sound quality, though my other half reckons the slight hoarseness of Lzzy’s vocals comes across better live than on recording which is too “clean”. I think she has a point. Like Shinedown’s Amaryllis which I covered earlier, it’s very difficult to pick out a Top Track from this collection. Bend my arm behind my back and I guess I’d go for “Here’s To Us”, partly as we used it for the music at our wedding when we were signing the register :)

Cannibal Corpse – Torture

Possibly the longest-surviving of the gore metal bands and almost certainly the best known, Cannibal Corpse kept on trucking (over splintered bones and squashed internal organs) with Torture. Maintaining the good production values of recent years and the usual horror film lyrical content, this follow-up to 2009′s Evisceration Plague is decent enough but not quite as good as the simply-named Kill from 2006. Still, decent stuff and if CC are your bag of swollen, fetid guts then it’s likely something you’ll enjoy. Top Track: “Followed Home Then Killed”.

Paradise Lost – Tragic Idol

It’s great to see the lads from Halifax (the real one, not the Canadian knock-off) still plying their gothic metal wares after so long, and their current release shows how they’ve managed to survive. Changing their sound a little with each other album, they’ve stayed faithful to their roots without becoming boring. Tragic Idol is more of the same without simply being more of the same. As good an introduction to their music as it is a continuation for those who’ve been following them all these years. Top Track: “To The Darkness”.

Six Feet Under – Undead

In my opinion as good a band as Cannibal Corpse, but with very much their own sound, Six Feet Under continue to go from strength to strength with each release although I do have a soft spot for their covers albums. Undead is, like their older material, slightly more accessible to the non-fan than most of Corpse’s material. I guess it’s all a matter of taste. Still, I liked it and I do keep my eyes out in case they tour sometime! Top Track: “18 Days”.

Rare Breed – Welcome The Strange

Yeah, you’ve probably not heard of this lot. It’s a bunch of lads from Glasgow who I first saw opening for Tigertailz in 2011. It’s always good to see fresh talent coming through and they impressed at that gig. This EP is downloadable for free (via SoundCloud) and well worth a listen. They’ve obviously taken a lot of time and effort over it, and I know they’re still looking for places to play live. Top Track: “The Haunting”.

And that’s yer lot. I know there were probably more releases and I’m aware of some I missed (like Bowling For Soup’s wonderful idea of releasing an album along with the bands they were touring with in October, or Biohazard’s first album in seven years). However, I am only one person with so much time and so many finances!

No denying, though, that it was a hell of a year for bands big and small. Anyone who says rock’n’roll is dead should consider themselves well and truly corrected!

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