David Lazar Galić Of Draconic: 2012 Year In Review

David Lazar Galić is the bassist of Belgrade’s modern metal outfit Draconic, who occasionally works as Prog Sphere’s columnist. This article is David’s look on 2012.

PART 1: Best Albums

Baroness – Yellow & Green

Choosing to veer off the path of the progressive sludge metal that they perfected over the course of their last two albums, Baroness made a choice to follow their guts and hearts into new territories, crafting an exhausting but ultimately very fulfilling and brave journey across 18 songs and 75 minutes of melodic, sometimes psychedelic, other times catchy, but always earnest progressive rock music. Here’s hoping that they recover from their horrific bus crash quickly so that they can continue showcasing this amazing work to the world in a live setting, where it is, no doubt, even more impactful.

Pig Destroyer – Book Burner

Simply put, Scott Hull rights better riffs than just about everyone playing metal today. Bolstered by the energy and precision of new drummer Adam Jarvis (Misery Index), “Book Burner” sees Pig Destroyer stripping down the slightly busier style of their last album “Phantom Limb,” but without losing the jagged grooves so prominent on that album, and focusing on a more direct approach that has them crafting as visceral and innovative a grindcore offering as ever.

Cattle Decapitation – Monolith of Humanity

Easily the breakout album of the year, “Monolith of Humanity” has elevated Cattle Decapitation into the upper echelon of deathgrind bands. Their songwriting has never been better and they have managed to clean up their production without sacrificing any of the brutality. However, the star of the show is vocalist Travis Ryan, who offers up more extreme vocal styles than anyone in the business and even adds a snarling melodic voice to his repertoire this time around, which helps to set the album’s sound apart from any other band operating within this gory realm today.

Enslaved – RIITIIR

Enslaved have been painstakingly working on fusing black metal and progressive rock over the last decade or so and their efforts have resulted in what could be one of the most complete albums of the band’s career. While the formula does not stray far from what the band has been doing on most of its recent albums, RIITIIR shows them really honing their sound, production, and songwriting skills by striking a perfect balance between extremes – effortlessly blending harsh vocals and sublime cleans, blast beats and warm analog keyboards, and expansive prog explorations with memorable choruses.

Anaal Nathrakh – Vanitas

Without compromising any of the chaos, Anaal Nathrakh have recorded what is probably their catchiest offering to date. All of the vitriol and anger is still there, keeping the over-the-top production, harsh electronics and blasting black metal riffs intact, but the epic choruses are more massive than ever this time around and the songwriting is a lot stronger than on the slightly disappointing “Passion.”

Pharaoh – Bury the Light

If you are looking for a traditional metal band that is able to sound classic without sounding dated, Pharaoh is the band you need to hear. Matt Johnsen sets the tone with perfectly-plotted melodic, progressive-tinged riffs and incredibly tasteful soloing and vocalist Tim Aymar, best known for his work with Chuck Schuldiner’s Control Denied, has never sounded better.

Om – Advaitic Songs

Building on the foundation laid on 2009’s “God is Good,” Om have taken the added “classical” instrumentation they experimented with on that album and made it an integral part of the band’s sound on this record. “Advaitic Songs” perfectly blends the hypnotic, transcendental and spiritual state in which bands like Earth operate with the colossal heaviness of their Sleep-related lineage.

Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind

Converge seems to be one of those bands that will never let you down. They have been sitting atop the modern hardcore scene for over a decade and still refuse to get lazy. “All We Love We Leave Behind” is yet another all-engulfing slab of metal-infused hardcore that is as emotionally potent as it is technically impressive and musically unrelenting. No matter how unbelievable it sounds, this album is proof that Converge might not have even reached their artistic peek just yet.

Meshuggah – Koloss

What do you do when entire scenes are created for the sole purpose of copying your sound? You strip that sound down to its most rudimentary essentials and prove that you are still the only eight string guitar-wielding band that matters. “Koloss” plays like a montage of Meshuggah’s impressive career, featuring not only nods to the futuristic neo-trash of their youth, but also some of the most impressively soul-crushing polyrhythmic, down-tempo dirges the band has ever created. Choosing subtle and deceivingly naïve grooves over pointless exhibitions of guitar pyrotechnics, the Swedes make yet another churning statement of supremacy with their latest offering.

Torche – Harmonicraft

This Torche album gives me the same heartwarming and fuzzy feeling that Devin Townsend albums used to give me. After the perfect “Meanderthal” and infectiously melodic “Songs for Singles” EP, Torche take yet another step towards creating an incredibly unique sound that manages to retain the heaviness of their sludgy heritage while creating some of the most melodic and bombastic heavy metal anthems of the year.

Dysrhythmia – Test of Submission

Dysrhythmia continue to make some of the most engaging and interesting instrumental metal around, and “Test of Submission” might be the power trio’s finest album yet. The band effortlessly blends dissonance and complexity with broodingly dark atmospheres through innovative and unorthodox guitar and bass interplay. “Test of Submission” cements them as one of the most original and instantly-recognizable bands on the planet, instrumental or otherwise. This album has me even more excited to hear what Kevin and Colin were able to add to Gorguts’ already-recorded but yet-to-be-released new album, which is far and away my most anticipated album of 2013.

Asphyx – Deathhammer

Why would you listen to lesser bands trying to mimic 90s death metal when Asphyx are still around and as good as ever? This is a lesson in crafting bludgeoning 90s-style death/doom if there ever was one, as Van Drunen and his cohorts continue to show the kids how it’s really done.

Spawn of Possession – Incurso

There’s a good chance that the new Necrophagist album still isn’t done because Muhammed Suicmez heard this album and decided that it was time to go back to the drawing board. “Incurso” is as close to technical death metal perfection as it gets in 2012, with Spawn of Possession continuing to set new standards in terms of complexity and brutality. Check the ten minute-long, symphonically-adorned “The Evangelist” for confirmation of this.

Gaza – No Absolutes in Human Suffering

I usually don’t enjoy bands like this, but Gaza’s mathcore/sludge mix is so brutally convincing that the quality of this material is hard to ignore. This album is unapologetic in its rage and unrelenting in its approach, making it easily the angriest and one of the most powerful albums of the year in heavy music.

Dodecahedron –s/t

Many might dismiss this band as a Deathspell Omega wanna-be on first listen, but upon further inspection, there is a lot more going on. This debut album is an incredibly dense work of dissonant black metal art that owes as much to bands like Immolation, Gorguts and even bands like Botch, as it does to the mysterious Frenchmen.

PART 2: Honorable Mentions

High on Fire – De Vermis Mysteriis

Getting Converge guitarist and producer extraordinaire Kurt Ballou to work with them on this album is the best decision that Matt Pike could have made. Ballou’s studio skills enable High on Fire to crystalize their sound without losing any of the weight and pummeling punch that have been the band’s trademark. Unfortunately, the songwriting on the album is a bit uneven and bounces from less-inspired retreads of former creations to absolutely monumental pieces like the album’s centerpiece “King of Days,” which just might be the best metal song I heard this year.

Gojira – l’Enfante Sauvage

There is nothing wrong with this album other than the fact that when I want to listen to Gojira, I usually tend to reach for their two prior releases. “l’Enfante Sauvage” finds them further refining their sound, choosing to focus more on making the melodic hooks and atmospheric guitars shine, while staying firmly grounded in the groove-heavy, progressive death metal that has become their calling card.

Dordeduh – Dar De Duh

If you had hoped for Negura Bunget to continue on the path of their seminal “OM” album, you can now rejoice. Dordeduh do just that as former members of the innovative Romanian band, leading further explorations into the realms of atmospheric and progressive folk-inspired black metal that results in music that is as beautiful and haunting as it is harrowing.

Black Breath – Sentenced to Life

This album is just a plain old good time. If you are a fan of Entombed-core, this won’t disappoint. Imagine a less complex and heavily mid-period Slayer influenced Trap Them, and you have a good idea of what Black Breath are all about. “Sentenced to Life” is the perfect soundtrack to heavy drinking and any poor life decisions that may result from it.

Rush – Clockwork Angels

Even though this can’t be considered a metal album really, it’s hard not to give a nod to the legendary Rush, who have created yet another great album in their illustrious career. As heady and ambitious as ever, but with much more immediate songs than on their more recent offerings, this is easily my favorite Rush album since “Counterparts.”

PART 3: Biggest Disappointments

Witchcraft – Legend

Witchcraft really had something going for them with 2007’s “The Alchemist.” They had an airy and psychedelic sound that really separated them from the proto-metal pack. This album, while very good, takes a step back by increasing the prominence of heavier riffing and making them sound more like a lot of the other retro Sabbath-worship, leather vest and mustache-clad bands that are so hip these days. While Witchcraft are still a lot better than most of these neo-hippie metal bands, I was expecting a lot more from this release after such a long wait.

The Devin Townsend Project – Epicloud

After spending the last 15 or so years of my life being an unapologetic Devy fanboy, the fact that none of his recent output does anything for me is really a quiet tragic personal realization for me. “Epicloud” lacks all of the emotional depth that made me connect so strongly with Townsend’s earlier music and leaves me feeling unaffected. This poppy side of Devin has always been there, but all of the earlier vulnerability seems to have been abandoned, leaving only the glossy pomp and increasingly daft humor with nothing more substantial to balance it out.

Nachtmystium – Silencing Machine

Again, an album that while good, did not meet my high expectations. Even if the touted return to more primitive black metal was definitely over exaggerated, there is still not enough experimentation and variety on this album to satisfy me as a huge fan of the last two albums, though there are several songs on the album that do floor me on a regular basis.

PART 4: Biggest Surprises

Haji’s Kitchen – Twenty Twelve

Eleven years after their last release, these Shrapnel Records favorites released a fantastic album that came out of nowhere. Enlisting the help of former Tesseract vocalist Daniel Tompkins, who does a great job fitting into the band’s aesthetic, Haji’s Kitchen were able to modernize their original blend of alternative groove metal and shreddy guitar leads perfectly, catching the ears of younger metalheads while keeping their old fan base satisfied.

Drottnar – Stratum

I have never heard of this Norwegian band earlier, despite the fact that this is their third full length and they have been around since the mid-90s. Technical black metal is an apt description of this album, though it might not sound like what you would expect. Drottnar combine a black metal atmosphere with influences that run the gamut of technical heavy metal heavyweights, touching on everything from nimble Watchtower-inspired riffing to the complex thrash sounds of “Undeceived” and “Synergy” era Extol.

C.B Murdoc – The Green

When the guys in Meshuggah constantly gush about a band you have never heard of and even insist on taking them out on the road with them, you better have a listen. It’s hard to describe C.B Murdoc’s sound other than the fact that they are really good. With influences ranging from At the Gates to Gorguts and Meshuggah, these guys play a highly original and very intense and energetic style of extreme metal, and this album should put them on everyone’s radar as a band to watch in the coming years.

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

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