I decided I would do a top 15 albums of 2012, initially it was going to be a top 10 but I didn’t think it was diverse enough so I added 5 more. Firstly I want to say this is just the music I found the best to my tastes as opposed to what everyone would like and was is publicly a ‘good album’. Some of these may have been slated but I really like them, this isn’t a review but a personal analysis. Secondly I have in no way scratched the surface of albums released this year, there are hundreds of amazing albums I haven’t heard and thousands of albums released, I just haven’t had the pleasure (or displeasure) of listening to them all. I aim to listen to a lot more new music in 2013 so the top however many at the end of that year will be much more diverse and stray away from the hard rock/heavy metal category. Finally these are in no particular order and are just the 15 I think I’ve most enjoyed listening to.
Here’s the list, scroll down for an explanation as to why I picked the album:
- Storm Corrosion – Storm Corrosion – Psychedelic/Folk/Art/Avant-Garde
- Coheed and Cambria – The Afterman: Ascension – Progressive/Rock
- Tremonti – All I Was – Heavy Metal/Rock
- Down – Down IV, Part I – The Purple EP – Sludge/Metal/Doom
- Soundgarden – King Animal – Grunge/Rock
- Stone Sour – House Of Gold & Bones: Part I – Metal/Hard Rock
- Sylosis – Monolith – Thrash Metal/Heavy Metal
- Gojira – L‘Enfant Sauvage – Progressive/Death Metal/Metal/Groove Metal
- Flying Colors – Flying Colors – Progressive/Rock
- Lamb of God – Resolution – Groove Metal
- Neil Cowley Trio – The Face of Mount Molehill – Jazz/Instrumental
- Rival Sons – Head Down – Classic Rock
- Joe Bonamassa – Driving Towards The Daylight – Classic Rock/Blues
- Slash feat Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators – Apocalyptic Love – Classic Rock/Hard Blues
- Rush – Clockwork Angels – Classic Rock/ Progressive Rock
Storm Corrosion – Storm Corrosion
Perhaps the ‘weirdest entry’ in my list. I was quite excited for this release as at the time Steven Wilson & Mikael Åkerfeldt were both relatively new to me and, though I’d only listened to the most ‘commercial albums’ by their bands, I was hoping for an epic hard rock masterpiece to rival anything they’d ever done.
However when Drag Ropes was released as a video I was exposed to the serene, beautiful and yet chilling side of their musical ingenuity. Though at first I was unsure I came around and loved the track.
When the full album came I was a bit more prepared and was thankful it was similar to Drag Ropes; putting you into a dream like state when you truly open your mind and focus yourself whilst listening to it. Drag Ropes is probably the scariest song whilst Ljudet Innan however takes a turn in the opposite direction and feels much lighter and surreal. The whole thing goes through a range of emotions and is a nice retreat from my usual heavy music.
A surprising product of Åkerfeldt’s imagination, yet something not so surprising from Wilson. I think it’s a great combination and trust these two musicians to make anything they do interesting, regardless of whether or not it is considered ‘good music’, it will no doubt make me think long and hard whilst listening to it on how they even came up with it. I hope to hear more in the future.
Tremonti – All I Was
I am a massive Tremonti nut so when I heard he was releasing a solo album whilst Myles was with Slash I was ecstatic, two albums by two of my idols (Myles and Mark) in one year. I was also informed it’d focus on the heavier side of his song writing; so as Creed focussed on more ballady songs (a very broad look on Creed) and Alter Bridge being the perfect culmination of heavy riffing and melody (best band in the world I’ll have you know), I was pretty excited to see how heavier this would be.
Though on the whole maybe it is just ‘a heavier Alter Bridge with Tremonti singing’ but that’s fine. If you really listen to Alter Bridge you’ll know it doesn’t sound a lot like them, hardly like them in fact. The songs on this album are heavier than most AB and Creed yet still retain the melody that made their songs so catchy. The solos are blinding and riffs pulverising. Mark had an incredible backing band recording this and touring it (Eric Friedman, who also plays with Creed live and is a great guitarist in his own right and also played bass on the albums too. Garrett Whitlock, who is a highly skilled drummer and exceptionally energetic on stage. Brian Marshall played bass live for a time, who fans of AB and Creed will already know of his talents. Finally Wolfgang Van Halen who took over bass duties after Brian had to leave.)
I think this is a great rock album, some of the songs may have similar qualities but that doesn’t detract much from the solid piece of Metal that this album is. Looking forward to Alter Bridge IV in 2013 and hopefully for Tremonti solo releases.
Coheed And Cambria – The Afterman: Ascension
Coheed and Cambria have a massive concept throughout all their albums that all play a part in the story of Heaven’s Fence. The story is huge and very interesting, the fact that they technically have a concept discography is amazing to me.
The story of this album is told through the songs of course and assistance of All-Mother communicating with the protagonist Sirius Amory. The album however can be listened to without knowledge of it being a concept. The album flows exceptionally well and is very well crafted.
The former drummer has returned and a new bassist is included in the line up, but where this may hinder some creative minds, they gel brilliantly together and have produced some amazing tracks. The dark intro of Key Entity Extraction I: Domino The Destitute (The first single) leads you down an eerie path and a pulverising verse section, familiar to that of Welcome Home (arguably the band’s most recognisable song), though the album isn’t all the same formula, The Afterman being a beautiful light ballad and Goodnight, Fair Lady having a much more traditional Coheed sound of progressive rock with pop punk influence.
I really enjoyed this album and saw some of the tracks live, Claudio sounds the best he’s sang in a long time and the rest of the band are on top form. Definite must buy for fans of Coheed and those who love revitalisation in rock music.
Down – Down IV, Part I: The Purple E.P
There are only six tracks but there’s probably six times as many awesome riffs on this E.P than there are on some albums this year. Also yes, though it’s an E.P I’m still including it on this list. I first listened to Down as a promise to my friend that after I’d spent a few weeks getting annihilated to Pantera I’d listen to Down. I was happy I did. The first track must have been Stone The Crow, a Down anthem and one of my favourite songs ever.
Witchtripper was probably the first song I heard of this E.P. I pre-ordered the E.P straight after hearing it. Like I’ve already said it’s jam packed with amazing riffs. But not just that, every song is catchy and memorable in it’s own right for it’s own reasons. The guitar harmonies are prominent and are ‘classic Down’ for me. Guitar solos are included lets not forget, and of course the man himself Mr. Phil Anselmo.
It’s good to hear Phil and the band again. I think the multiple E.P idea is brilliant now that I’ve heard Part I – The Purple E.P. The song writers can focus on just these tracks, get them perfect then work on the next batch. Looking forward to the rest of the releases whenever they get here and I WILL see them live soon at last. Get this albums if you like killer guitar riffs and anything with Phil Anselmo written on it.
Soundgarden – King Animal
Soundgarden made a long overdue comeback over the past couple of years and have finally opened the doors to their rediscovered world with King Animal. After Chris Cornell’s various and risky projects I was glad to hear they’d returned. This album is filled with classic SG riffs, but enough development to see they’ve grown over the past 15-16 years.
Thayil comes up with some incredible guitar riffs. The technicality of some of the instrumental lines certifies that Matt Cameron is one of the best drummers around, popular for being the current drummer for other Seattle grunge band Pearl Jam. Cornell’s voice is a return to form. After some shaky gigs during the Audioslave era it’s good to see he’s dropped what he can’t do any more and has expanded on what he can do. Ben Shepherd’s bass lines in songs like Rowing are sometimes the foundation of the tracks and are definitely under appreciated. All together the band create something so technicality outstanding for what will be called a rock album, they are some of the best musicians alive today.
Thirteen tracks, some people have said this may be too long but for a decade and a half away it’s fine. It’s isn’t as good as previous classic albums such as Superunknown but there’s something for old SG fans as well as something for new arrivals. Groove after groove after Cornell belt after guitar riff. One of the most catchy albums I’ve listened to all year, I think it’ll get better with age. The introduction to By Crooked Steps has an aura of nostalgia about it that some may agree with in their own way. Listen for yourself.
Stone Sour – House of Gold & Bones: Part I
Another album two years after their last release isn’t bad going. House of Gold & Bones: Part I is just as well written as Audio Secrecy if not better in some aspects. Stone Sour have grown so much since their first release and are definitely a force to be reckoned with.
The first two tracks may as well be one as one ends where the other begins and feel almost weird to listen to separately. In fact the album flows so well listening all the way through. HoG&B manages to expand on Stone Sour’s ability to combine crushing riffs with inspiring melodies. Corey sounds more aggressive in some parts whilst managing to stray away from his Slipknot vocals, he manages to separate his two identities very well, as does guitarist Jim Root. Instrumentals are great, the inclusion of strings give the softer sections much more fullness so they don’t pale in comparison to the more metal songs.
There something about Stone Sour that I think they will be fondly remembered long after Slipknot and they already have a nostalgic quality to them. Not that I want to keep referencing only two of the members other bands. Corey is always doing something artistic, and as long as Stone Sour are part of his schedule I’m happy. Looking forward to Part 2 in 2013.
Sylosis – Monolith
Sylosis are the next big metal band. They release their highly anticipated third album Monolith this year, a little over a year after their second Edge Of The Earth. Recently they came off tour with Lamb Of God and are about to return to the UK for a headlining tour.
The album is huge. It’s named perfectly because a Monolith is, as lead guitarist Josh defined the word with Metal Hammer, ‘a huge slab of rock’. A near immovable object. But it is by no way as featureless as a slab of rock. Less of a thrash album than their previous endeavours, other influences like sludge and doom metal are rising to prominence on this album. There are still speed metal sections, but revitalisation is necessary and the freshness layered on top of a familiar sound is a great mix.
Whilst Sylosis will be the next big metal band, Josh will be the next big guitarist. He is incredible, and the fact that he sings whilst playing (and no easy form of singing) is a testament to how brilliant a musician he is. This is no way a detraction from the other members of the band who work so well together, they are all obviously skilled to be able to play these songs live, however Josh is definitely the ‘poster boy’ or ‘face of the band’. Being lead guitarist, lead vocalist, only man live that speaks and maybe main songwriter, it’s hard to stay out of the limelight. The band are incredible though and this album is a reinforcement on the fact that they are brilliant.
For fans of thrash metal, guitar solos and dirty riffs. Buy it.
Gojira – L’Enfant Sauvage
This was my first experience of Gojira. Personally I listened to it because a lot of my friends raved about it and I was finally swayed when Myles Kennedy said he liked it. We also got offered cheap tickets to a gig which sadly I couldn’t go to. I had heard of these before hand but took until now to listen to them, think I heard of them in Total Guitar magazine, same year The Darkness released their second album (may be wrong, also highly irrelevant information)
This album took me completely by surprise. Genuinely blown away by what I heard. If this was their first album then they would instantly become my favourite metal band, I just need to make sure all their other releases are as amazing as this. I love the groove metal influence on this album, it really shines through but there are many other genres of metal that combine to make this Kaiju of an album. Technically the instruments are great without being ‘fret-w****ing’ material. Vocals don’t grate on you after a while like some other harsh vocalists can (to be honest, the annoying ones are generally in the hardcore and metalcore genres)
Sections on the album are passionate and emotive whilst at the same time being unrelentingly heavy. 50 minutes of skull crushing brutality. The opener Explosia is a great 6 minute song. I think Mouth of Kala is one of the stand outs, probably just because it grooves so well and builds up instrumentally fantastically.
Love this album and will keep playing it for many months to come. Look forward to seeing them live.
Flying Colors – Flying Colors
A side project I became familiar with via Mike Portnoy, though you may know them from any of their members as they are all successful and highly respected musicians. I was initially uninterested in this release as I wanted to hear the Adrenaline Mob stuff and was still in my Dream Theater/Progressive Metal phase. It must have been after the E.P release (Adrenaline Mob), maybe even the album I forget the dates, that I became interesting in Flying Colors. A.M wasn’t bad, but it just wasn’t innovative enough, especially considering the technical brilliance and intricacies of Portnoy’s previous band Dream Theater (who I do kind of hope he will return to).
The first song I heard was Everything Changes on a Classic Rock: Prog C.D; called Prognosis 2.3. I liked what I heard and eventually bought the album. It’s better than Adrenaline Mob. It seems like a merging of all things progressive whilst not transcending into something too inhumane and odd. Casey has a great voice and Steve Morse’s guitar solos are brilliant.
It’s great to listen to for something interesting or just to relax to and it brilliantly diverse. Kayla sounded like it should accompanying a medieval film, Shoulda Coulda Woulda being a ridiculously catchy hard rock song with a killer riff, All Falls Down covering heavy prog rock and songs as passionate as The Storm bringing a great emotional release. Not forgetting the ‘progsterpiece’, (people best start using that) Infinite Fire. Really enjoyed this release and wish I saw them when they toured, hopefully hear more from this super-group.
Lamb of God – Resolution
I bought this album after Dom Lawson of Metal Hammer and various other publications reviewed it on his Iron Sandwich (the first time I saw a Lawson video in fact, once more an irrelevant fact). Already familiar with LoG’s work, though not a huge dedicated fan, I thought I’d give it a go. I think it was my first musical purchase of 2012.
The opener Straight For The Sun is a dirty doom track and rather than slowly darkening your emotion before an ass kicking like a lot of metal albums now days this old school method of dropping you straight into head banging was a fresh start. The album is laden with heavy riffs and Randy’s vocals are some of strongest despite his age. Obviously Ghost Walking was one of the ‘catchier’ songs but is by no means the best on the album.
Some say that they write the same song over and over again, maybe true of the singles but this album is more imaginative and has wider, more matured influences than the predecessors. Seven albums in they still have what makes a Classic LoG album.
It’s not necessarily an album I’ll play in it’s entirety but if I’m p****d off or want to break stuff I’ll put this on shuffle and mosh around on my own for a bit. All I need are the kind of friends who love this s**t so we can get smashed and beat the crap out of a house. Hopefully see them at a festival next year, beer + LoG = Awesome.
Neil Cowley Trio – The Face of Mount Molehill
Probably the most obscure on my list, I know my list isn’t very obscure so that’s not really saying much though. I bought this album just because I wanted something that wasn’t metal, so I went on iTunes and went to Jazz on the store and downloaded this straight away. Little did I realise how big Neil Cowley actually is, he played piano on Adele’s 21 album. I have also JUST (as of 17:05 on the 22nd December 2012) realised that I downloaded one of the Trio’s E.Ps (The Revolution) prior to this album, which now makes sense in my mind and again… doesn’t change your life at all.
This albums is a nice and happy piece of work, other end of the spectrum from all the other doom and despair related albums prior to this one on the list. Entirely instrumental. The piano work is amazing, Neil Cowley definitely shows off without being overly self indulgent. The other instruments accompany the piano well and shine when they’re given their moment to. The opening Lament definitely should be an opener to a British indie film or BBC Drama, in fact if I ever write a film or BBC drama I WILL use this song. Though I’d never heard any of the songs before there’s an air of nostalgia to it (you’ve heard that phrase before). The emotions he went through at the time of writing, or wanted to convey must have come through on this album. If you’re like me and use art as a means of expression or you look at the world as a huge entity instead of the basics you can hear the separate levels of emotion and ingenuity on this album.
This is a delicate piece of art and one that I cannot select a single track that is better than the rest. It is more like a soundtrack and goes well with any emotion. To explore your own self-conscious listen to Slims but if you want music that makes you want to build a house on Sims 3 then listen to the title track. I’m not saying there’s something for everyone but definitely a wide array of emotions.
A great piece of work and a pleasure to listen to, makes me feel cultured.
Rival Sons – Head Down
Saw these when they supported Black Stone Cherry in Birmingham and went home and bought their music straight away. These are the next big rock band. They seem to be a cult band at the minute, a Fight Club band, no one talks about them but seemingly everyone knows them and listens.
This album is jam packed with blues, soul, R&B, rock influenced music. It’s great to see music influenced by these genres and crafting it into their own genre but it’s still great to see a band that is seemingly 30 years ‘late’. There’s nothing wrong with being late in art however as if you follow a scene and don’t play what you want you are the reason art becomes tarnished. Also if you’re good enough it doesn’t matter. This band play what they want and don’t care what music they should be playing to get bigger.
The whole thing is like a well conceived jam, All The Way breaks the ‘fourth wall’ and speaks to the audience, Keep On Swinging is a great opener, Until The Sun Comes makes you want to dance, Manifest Destiny is the band gem and masterpiece. Jay has a phenomenal voice and amazing energy, Scott is a great blues guitarist as well, someone to be admired.
A great blues release and one for fans of classic rock bands like Led Zeppelin, a young Led Zep in many ways. They’ll go far.
Joe Bonamassa – Driving Towards The Daylight
Joe Bonamassa is an incredible guitarist. One of the best of our time. Just because he doesn’t sweep picked diminished arpeggios and play in Drop G tuning doesn’t make him bad, which I know is how some people think, it’s how I used to think. He has mastered his trade and is such a fluent layer, if he put his mind to it he probably could play insane thrash metal solos and prog riffs but he doesn’t want to, that’d be ridiculous. Just listen to the guitar solos in Too Much Ain’t Enough Love with Jimmy Barnes and the keyboard/guitar duel in Lonely Town Lonely Street. An incredible array of guitar licks and a really passionate song.
Now not everyone is a fan of ‘the blues’ though strictly speaking this isn’t just blues, its more blues rock. So if you don’t like the blues or the likes of Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan you probably won’t enjoy this but for those that do listen. Bonamassa works hard, he has released a solo album almost every year since 2000. During past three years he’s released albums with Black Country Communion as well, as well as numerous guest appearances.
As passionate as some of the songs are, like Too Much Ain’t Enough Love and New Coat Of Paint, it’s a guitar heavy album. Plenty of solos to go around on so many songs and his fluidity makes them as outstanding as a Vai solo. Now, blues guitarist like Hendrix and even blues influenced players like Slash are great guitarists but their playing style is very ‘messy’. Bonamassa on the other hand is so clean, you can heard him pick every note no matter how fast. There’s also some killer guitar riffs such as on the opening 6 minute track Dislocated Boy.
The backing band are great as well. Very experienced players. That’s the great thing about Bonamassa, he’s so experienced as a musician but he’s only 35. Plenty of life left in the man and many more albums. One for fans of the heavy blues and guitar solos that don’t leave you giving up guitar but leave you wanting to pick up your own guitar and create something as inspiring.
Slash featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators – Apocalyptic Love
Anyone who knows me knows I love Myles Kennedy. As his name is on the album I think I’m allowed to talk about him as much as I’m allowed to talk about Slash. The tracks that Myles sang on Slash’s first solo album were two great songs and live showed Myles’ versatility to adapt to songs sung by other artists. But whilst the album was clever in that it was the opposite of what Slash does on other albums and there were guest vocalists, I didn’t find it astounding. However this album was much better in my opinion, it flows much better with one vocalists as that’s the easiest reference point in music as to who the artist is unless you are a Slash, or Hammett, or Heafy nerd.
I thought that definitely the first two thirds of the album were incredible (I got the Classic Rock Fanpack so I had extra songs making the track count 15) and the latter third was still pretty good. Slash guitar work was ultra catchy and obviously him (despite my earlier point). It’s got similar vibes to Slash’s Snakepit but, most likely as there’s a better voice, it sounds different. A great collection of tracks that are meant to be played live, which by the way I’ve seen them twice and they were brilliant.
A song like Anastasia has so many parts but is probably one of my favourites on the album, the intro is recognisable as it is similar to a riff that Slash used when he played the extended guitar solo live, which in turn is similar to Toccata And Fugue. Halo too has a great riff and there are so many other great parts on this album that you will discover for yourself if you just listen.
Maybe I’m a little biased to this album as, like I said, Myles Kennedy is a huge influence on me. Nevertheless I loved it and though this top 15 isn’t in any order, it’s probably in my hypothetical top 5.
Rush – Clockwork Angels
Though I said I wouldn’t put these in an order I think this is probably my favourite release of 2012 as I seem to be able to listen to it under any mood or influence. I think that’s the power of Rush, there are many films and pieces of media that seem to answer Rush related questions with simply the band name “Why would they do this?” “Because they’re Rush.”. Not growing up with them (even if I did I was born in the 90s, they were well established by then) I have no idea how they gained this ‘accolade’ of seemingly being invincible with whatever they do. I guess it’s respect, respect they’ve well and truly deserved. Whilst writing this I may rant and I apologise but whilst typing I will either be listening to the album or the 3 hour Eddie Trunk’s ‘Holiday Rush Radio Special’ with Mike Portnoy so already I apologise.
Now the album opens with two familiar tracks that were released about two years prior called Caravan and BU2B. These are two great Rush tracks, maybe the best one the album but there’s definitely some other great solid tracks. The album is a concept story and it’s a really nice tale. I read the book, as lyrically I’m not very good at deciphering a concept unless it’s as basically written as the The Magic Key books and that was pretty good but you may want information on the album not books.
To me, a young and new Rush fanatic, the songs sound like Rush. Which is perfect. Tracks like The Anarchist and Seven Cities of Gold are catchy. I read in Classic Rock that Geddy and Alex swapped instruments for a song, maybe just the writing, but I’m unsure which one as listening to it there are no instrumentals that sound ‘weak’. Of course Headlong Flight was the single, brilliant song packed full of adrenaline and makes you feel like flying in your own adventure, which of course the story is about adventure.
To be honest I should probably stop ranting. It’s a great album and like I’ve said in many other reviews, and on parts of this little essay about other works, it has an air of nostalgia to it. I have an accolade with music, and I call it ‘Songs That I’d Want To Survive The Apocalypse’ where certain melodies I think the world wouldn’t be right without and if I had nothing else in the world I’d be happy just to hear these melodies again, there’s definitely some on here, some tracks give me the same feeling of when I heard Tom Sawyer or 2112 for the first time. They probably won’t stand the test of time like those two, but if this were to be Rush’s last release, it’s a very good album to end on.
One of the greatest bands in the world and three of the greatest musicians and people.
Thank you, I hope you enjoyed reading this. If you survived until the end you probably want to go outside and regain your social life. I’m going to try and do the same now. 2012 I think was a great year for music, so many albums by so many great bands, next year has a few promising releases I’ve heard of and there’s many more I haven’t heard about and many hundred great albums I’ll sadly never hear. Hope you all have a great holiday and a great new year, and I’ll be writing much more in 2013 with more album releases. If you like what I say please share with your friends and if you want me to review your album then contact firstname.lastname@example.org.