Only five records on the best of list this year. Does that mean I have been lax in my listening duties? Maybe a bit, but I haven’t heard a heck of a lot of songs this year that prompted further listening. And as always, I do not pad the list to reach a round number. I only mention albums I feel are truly worth having in your collection.

Top Heavy Metal and Hard Rock of 2012

Ahab – The Giant

The Giant is Ahab’s third release and it’s so damn heavy I can’t even lift the CD. Bad jokes aside, everyone is raving about Pallbearer this year as the big doom metal release but in my book Ahab exceeds any other doom band or any metal band for that matter this year. Their prior two albums established their style of nautical death/doom, based on Melville’s Moby Dick and the inspiration for Moby Dick, the wreck of the whale ship Essex. With The Giant however, they have sailed beyond their prior records. They have moved past solely using death metal vocals to great effect. The record starts off slow and pensive with Daniel Droste’s melancholy clean vocals and acoustic guitars. This somber mood lasts for over four minutes setting up a massive crushing blow when the heavy guitars and monstrous death growls kick in. Drove’s death vocals evoke images of a giant with their markedly deep guttural bellows. This masterful use of dynamics and over the top heaviness alone is not what makes The Giant so successful. Ahab displays master song craft on The Giant. Drove’s melodic sense is impeccable both in the vocals and guitars. The bleak atmosphere evoked through growled melodic vocal passages, desolate acoustic guitars and Phrygian melodies coupled with the titanic heaviness make this a punishing musical journey. And I haven’t even mentioned the lyrics! The Giant is a concept album based on the writings of Edgar Allen Poe and the music and words mesh perfectly creating a unique blend of Ahab’s established nautical doom and Poe’s dreary horror.

Anathema – Weather Systems

Took me a while but I am finally an Anathema fan. They showed up on my radar when Anathema’s principal songwriter Danny Cavanagh performed and recorded an acoustic show with Anneke van Giersbergen. They performed Anathema’s “A Natural Disaster” and it was stunning. I bought their two latest albums, both are fantastic. Weather Systems is more airy and depressing than We’re Here Because We’re Here which is somehow more uplifting. A somber atmosphere pervades most of the album. The last song, “Internal Landscapes”, especially brings me to tears. It begins with a man recounting a near death experience, but when it reaches the song proper and Lee Douglas sings “Goodbye my friend, Love will never end” I nearly lose it every time, overwhelmed with thoughts of my recently departed friend Michael Grant. Regardless of your own personal experiences however, I think the emotional impact of Weather Systems is undeniable.

Royal thunder – CVI

Royal Thunder shows us how to work within an established style and still sound fresh and compelling. This quartet from Atlanta packs a huge emotional wallop with their debut album CVI, a barnburner tearing it up with ass kicking hard rock and roll. All four of them adeptly use their instruments to maximum effect with no wasted notes, overplaying, or showiness. As you as you hear the first few bars of their music you feel it. Pretty magical. Most immediately affecting is the voice of lead singer Mlny Parsonz; she sings with the passion and torment of a wounded soul. The captivating arrangements of these lengthy songs elevated the impact of Parsonz’s voice to stratospheric levels of passion. Fantastic.

Rush – Clockwork Angels

After a long series of mediocre to poor releases Rush has returned with a gem. This one has more than just solid musicianship. This one has it all. Excellent lyrics, great vocal melodies, superb guitar solos, exciting arrangements. Every song on Clockwork Angels works. And it’s a concept album, hearkening back to Hemispheres with some groovy scifi lyrics and meaty riffs. Yep. Rush is back.

Dysrhythmia – Test of Submission

Dysrhythmia is another band that’s been around for years and hasn’t hit my radar until recently. They are an instrumental band out of Philadelphia PA. They’ve been tagged as avant-garde, progressive, with elements of jazz. I see them a part of the Voivodian wave of metal currently experiencing a small level of popularity in the scene; bands such as Ulcerate, Portal, and Castvet. More recently Dysrhythmia recruited Colin Marston on bass, a prominent producer/bassist in this scene; he’s worked with Castevet, Krallice, and Gorguts. With these comparisons you are probably expecting a jumble of helter skelter, disharmonic riffs in odd time signatures, and that’s pretty much correct, but Dysrhythmia achieved compositional success with these wild elements; the songs have purpose. They are notably devoid of lead guitar wankery and any kind of technical displays for the sake of ego. The arrangements are structured such that the odd riffs become memorable. The tunes have a mysterious quality. You almost feel like you’re uncovering some strange criminal plot. Or maybe travelling to a far reaching galaxy populated by a race of silicon robots or underwater world teeming with scampering trilobites. Dysrhythmia’s music conjures up all sorts of imagery; it’s a record that will provide hours of new discoveries.

That’s my five favorites for 2012. There are a few that are pretty good that either haven’t totally sunken in or will never really compel me, Pallbearer, Graveyard, and High on Fire come to mind. Unfortunately this list is missing Enslaved, that brings me to my Disappointment of the Year.

Disappointment of the Year

Enslaved – Riitiir

I have absolutely loved the recent output of Enslaved, even Vertebrae which many did not like. Riitiir, which has been universally lauded by the metal press, falls way short of normal Enslaved excellence. I bought the record but hardly ever find myself wanting to spin it. There are many moments of brilliance on Riitiir, but only a couple of the songs really shine from start to finish; these are the opener “Thoughts Like Hammers” and the closer ”Forsaken”. The rest of it is a series of hit and miss riffs, the bane of the album. Ivar just missed the boat this time around. And Grutle’s vocals seem a bit tame as well. Herbrand’s melodies are generally great although familiar sounding at times; moreover some of the production on his vocals sounds a bit clumsy to my ears. Riitiir is a good album, Enslaved is too talented to produce anything worthless, but Riitiir is a low point.

See you in for the best metal albums of 2013.