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Matt Coe Best-of 2012

By: Matt Coe

Coe (left), with the late, great Adrian Bromley (center)

The past year has been incredibly productive from a reviewing standpoint. Now that the bulk of promotional albums have moved into the watermarked, digital spectrum, it seems like you have at least 10 releases a week (or more) hitting the in box. And I love heavy metal. But doesn’t it seem a bit strange that as record label budgets decrease due to less physical product being sold, that we now have more product flooding the market place than ever before?

So when it comes to tallying my picks for an end of the year list, I don’t necessarily go by the ones that received the highest marks from me at the time the review hits the internet. In order to hit my top 10, the album has to have proverbial legs and staying power - an album that I can listen to again and again months (or years) down the road and never grow tired of its riffing, songwriting, musical chemistry, vocals, lyrics, the overall package from first intro to a trailing end. Enough bantering...on with the picks!

1. Love.Might.Kill – 2 Big 2 Fail (Massacre)
This melodic metal act may be a newcomer to most. Drummer Michael Ehre was in Metalium, and recently took over the drum slot in Gamma Ray. This second album though touches all the right classic 80’s buttons in terms of catchy vocal melodies, large hooks in the guitar department and rock solid grooves. Ideal for people into John Sykes era Whitesnake and any era of Pretty Maids - 2 Big 2 Fail lives up to its promise.

2. Accept – Stalingrad (Nuclear Blast)
The Teutonic traditional veterans prove Blood of the Nations wasn’t a one hit return wonder. Wolf and the boys know how to take the listener in with a flurry of fast, mid-tempo, and occasional slower, more brooding anthems. You’ll be chanting the choruses at home, at work, or if you ever witness the band live.

3. Testament - Dark Roots of Earth (Nuclear Blast)
Selling a staggering 20,000 copies in the USA out of the gate (not an easy feat in these digital times), the Bay Area thrash band still prove that keeping one ear on the underground has rewarded them with legitimacy and longevity. Gene Hoglan delivers blast beats on the drums, Skolnick and Peterson trade leads a few times, and Chuck Billy pushes his vocal chords to the limit for the benefit of all. Makes the commerciality of The Ritual a far distant mirage.

4. Ne Obliviscaris - The Portal of I (Code 666)
Kudos to fellow staffer Dan Barkasi for the recommendation on this Australian act - Ne Obliviscaris shake up the lines of technicality and brutality with The Portal Of I. Violins, avant-garde, jazz, flamenco, black, thrash, death - it’s all in there with long arrangements that make you excited for the next maneuver. This is only the beginning of a long, productive road for Ne Obliviscaris.

5. Orden Ogan – To the End (AFM)
Power metal comes, and power metal goes. The cream always rises to the top, and these Germans have hit a benchmark with To the End. The speedy guitar harmonies of Blind Guardian going toe to toe with Gamma Ray-like chorus work and anthems that Running Wild would be proud to create...it’s all in there folks, and so much more.

6. Red Moon Architect - Concealed Silence (Inverse)
Another band from Finland featuring classic doom with low tuned guitars, sinister keyboards, and inhuman extreme growls; there are only five songs but they sink into your cranium and will stick to you for weeks on end. Swallow the Sun certainly has another contender for the melodic doom throne here.

7. The Chant - A Healing Place (Lifeforce)
Finnish atmospheric rock with metal nuances, Helsinki’s The Chant hit the jackpot in terms of songwriting on this record. Aspects of Katatonia, Anneke-era The Gathering, and a world of alternative sounds enter from this seven piece act. Feel the hair rise off your neck and the goose bumps surface at songs like “Riverbeds” and closer “Regret."

8. Circus Maximus - Nine (Frontiers)
Progressive metal needs acts willing to work on their technique as well as their craft. You can be as dazzling and impressive as you desire, but in the end for most music aficionados, it boils down to great songs. Nine from Norway’s Circus Maximus is their third album and their finest to date - melodic, moving, exciting, and transporting us to the next level like their compatriots Pagan’s Mind, just with more of an AOR edge.

9. Vanderbuyst - The Flying Dutchmen (Van)
This Dutch trio may not be well known in North America, but through the course of 200 live shows in the past three years and this third album, I doubt they will remain a mystery to our shores much longer. Imagine the best of 70’s hard rock: UFO, Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple, etc. – with the spirit of early British heavy metal in their hearts. This is a great party album and could be a gateway record for some to get into this movement.

10. Kreator - Phantom Antichrist (Nuclear Blast)
Yes, they make us wait three years between albums due to their long world tours crisscrossing all four corners of the earth. But this time Germany’s Kreator decided to add a little bit of Maiden guitar harmonization to their thrash proceedings, and as a result, have created their most memorable album in well over 15 years.

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