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Justin Donnelly Best-of 2012

By: Justin Donnelly

2012 will go down as somewhat of a lost year for me, with my writing taking a backseat for the better half of the year to spend time with my family. But while Iíve been absent on the written word front, it hasnít meant that Iíve totally tuned out any of the countless albumís released throughout the latter half of the year.

As in life, the music offered up throughout 2012 has been a mix of jubilation, disappointment, and unexpected surprises. Suffice to say that if this year is anything to go by, the business model of music may have changed dramatically over the course of the last 12 months, music seems to be in abundance within the metal scene.Anyway, thatís enough of my cryptic rambling. Below I humbly offer up my final thoughts on the best, the worst and most surprising releases from 2012.

1. Killing Joke Ė MMXII (Spinefarm)
Iím a big fan of Killing Joke, but not the kind of fan that believes everything that has emerged from the band is pure genius. But I will go as far as to say that this is without a doubt one of the bandís finest releases in years. Unlike their scattered Absolute Dissent from 2008, Killing Joke sound more focussed, driven and inspired than they have done in years, and it certainly shows on their latest release. Not bad for a band thatís been around for more than thirty years.

2. Europe Ė Bag of Bones (Hell & Back/earMUSIC)
Since reforming in 2003, Swedish hard rock outfit Europe just seem to be making stronger and more confident sounding releases. 2009ís Last Look At Eden was always going to be a challenge for the band to follow up, but to everyoneís surprise, the band traded in the orchestral elements of the past, threw in a heap of blues influences and come up with a serious classic hard rock album that easily ranked as one of the bandís finest to date.

3. Ginger Wildheart Ė 555% (Independent)
Ginger Wildheart is without a doubt one of the most underrated singer/songwriters in the rock scene today. In fact, I would go far as to say the guy is a living legend. Few would release a triple album in this day and age, let alone cover virtually every genre known within the music realm the albumís thirty tracks. Only someone like Ginger would. Itís an album that takes time to fully absorb (it is a triple album after all!), but well worth the time invested. A must have for Wildheart fans everywhere.

4. Katatonia Ė Dead End Kings (Peaceville)
Is Katatonia capable of making a disappointing album these days? On the strength of their latest album, the answer would be a resounding ĎNOí! Although not straying too far from the sound the band have called their own for the last decade, Dead End Kings has just enough differing elements and influences to prove the Swedes arenít going through the motions and churning out the same old music for those already converted. This is another first class release in a long line of classic efforts from the moody/melancholy/depressive rockers.

5. Rush Ė Clockwork Angels (Roadrunner/Anthem)
In recent years, thereís been a heightened awareness of Rush. And with good reason Ė Rush are legends. The band have weather the ups and downs of their four decade career like true gentlemen, and their music for the most part has been nothing short of perfection. With the years getting longer between releases, every new release from the band is an absolute gift from the Gods. And Clockwork Angels is another absolute masterpiece from the band. While the Canadian trio are getting on, their passion for making music hasnít diminished one bit. If this is Rushís swansong, then all I can say is that itís one hell of a way to go out.

6. Borknagar Ė Urd (Century Media)
Borknagar is one of those bands that seem to divide opinions amongst fans as to which album most consider to be their most acclaimed. But I think most fans would agree that Urd is without a doubt one of their strongest in years. With bassist/vocalist ICS Vortex back into the fold after a decade away, Borknagar sound reinvigorated and more inspired than they have done in years. Diverse, progressive, cinematic and blackened in equal measure, Urd is classic Borknagar at their best.

7. Napalm Death Ė Utilitarian (Century Media)
U.K. grindcore/punk/death metal pioneers Napalm Death are one of the few acts that seem to buck the trend of slowing down and relying on past glories to maintain their existence in the scene as the years roll on. Utilitarian is yet another crushing and unbelievably heavy release from the band, and showcases their determination to continually push their sound forward rather than remain idle. With its brief forays into experimentation, relentless passages of all-out grind, death metal template fused with a distinct punk edge and lashes of melody amongst the entire platter of chaos, Utilitarian is every bit as essential to Napalm Death fans as any one of their early classic releases.

8. Converge Ė All We Love We Leave Behind (Epitaph)
Converge are one of the few metallic hardcore outfits that have pushed their sound with every new release. After a string of near perfect albums (everything the band have released since 2001ís Jane Doe has been amazing), I had high expectations of All We Love We Leave Behind. And sure enough, it lives up to them. The album is raw, aggressive and live sounding, and yet is full of depth and feel. Converge is without a doubt one of the best acts in todayís saturated metallic hardcore genre, and their latest album is solid proof of their continued relevance and importance.

9. Skunk Anansie Ė Black Traffic (100% Records)
After eight year apart, U.K. alternative punk/metal rockers Skunk Anansie returned in 2010 with Wonderlustre. And if the truth be told, I was bitterly disappointed with the album. So with their second post-reunion release, I was a little concerned that the bandís best days were behind them. But lo and behold, the band have rediscovered their hard edged sound (and cut down on the slower/ballad direction of the past), and released one of the surprise kiss-ass rock albums of 2012.

10. Paradise Lost Ė Tragic Idol (Century Media)
Paradise Lostís new album is a bit of a no-brainer for my top ten albums for this year. After a few years spent in the wilderness (in which time the band produced some great albums I might add), the Halifax legends marked an almighty return to form a few years ago with In Requiem (2007). Since then, the band has maintained their heavier sound and consistent song writing, right through to their latest effort. Thereís no real new territory unearthed by the band on this latest release, but if you enjoyed their last couple of releases, youíll understand just how enjoyable Tragic Idol is.

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