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Matthew Bowling Best-of 2012

By: Matthew Bowling

There is no way Bowling doesn't use a beard trimmer.

2012 has been a year of absurd resurgence and stagnation in equal measure. Trends have risen, fallen, bottomed out, merged with other trends and managed to spit out all manner of phenomenal and incorrigible abominations. My beloved black metal has seen a continued renaissance of growth and experimentation across both sides of the Atlantic, particularly in regard to marriages with unrelated genres. The progressive trend is alive and well and there is no time quite like the present to be a lover of all things metallic (unless of course it’s Metallica, and their slide into the irrelevant continues).

My indulgences usually trend toward the progressive and unorthodox, lacking the particular love for ‘songs’ that many here on Blistering prefer. Many of the releases featured here aren’t metal all, for while my love for metal is enormous, at any given point it only constitutes about half of the full range of things I listen to (and during certain periods like early summer or during the end of a semester, I don’t indulge it at all). As such there are no arbitrary rankings or number assignments, these are simply my ten favorite releases from this year in no real order.

The Devil’s Blood – The Thousandfold Epicentre (Metal Blade/Rise Above)
A controversial move, certainly, as in Europe this album released in late 2011. It didn’t see domestic release until January, however, and no release has spent more time in rotation for me this year than this. Classic rock flavor awash in occult themes and no small amount of love for our dark lord and master, all the right notes are hit with this release. Pulsing and ornate all at once, this sprawling release (73 minutes!) is a lovingly exhaustive affair.

Ihsahn – Eremita (Candlelight)
The progressive nature of Ihsahn should be well known to anyone familiar with the man, whether with his early Emperor work or stretching into the complete left-field insanity that was Peccatum. Eremita is both a logical continuation of what he touched on with After and further explorations of the unknown and untouched. While the fretless love of Lars K. Nordberg was certainly missed, the newly-found 8-string assault combined with the continued mixing of jazz and black metal underpinnings made for an exhausting and endlessly rewarding listen.

Sigur Rós – Valtari (Parlohphone)
This release caught me off guard, mostly because with the ‘sunnier’ turn of Sigur Rós after ( ) I’d admittedly lost a bit of interest in the group. Leave it to front-man Jónsi Birgisson's solo work to exercise the need for sunny-dispositions as Valtari marks a tangible return to a much more dense and melancholy sound, awash in dirges and funerary march tempos. Soundscapes and glacial melodies are the name of the game the same as ever, but something sinister lingers beneath the surface, something that has always held Sigur Rós close to me.

Deftones – Koi No Yokan (Reprise)
After how fantastic a release Diamond Eyes turned out to be, there was some trepidation and concern in whether or not Deftones would be able to sustain their new found rhythm. Once second single “Tempest” became available though all fears were assuaged and anticipation blown through the proverbial roof. It was only a taste as the album that followed it destroyed all expectations and made them seem quaint in comparison. Deftones blew everything up with this monster and it’s been an absolute pleasure to lay back and soak in the waves of ridiculous that pulse out of Koi No Yokan.

Anathema – Weather Systems (The End/K-Scope)
What can I really hope to say about this group that the other voices of Blistering haven’t already lovingly laid down? Slowly revealing itself to be a fuller and more intense work than 2010’s enormous We’re Here Because We’re Here, Anathema continues their glorious ascent into the realm of art-rock immortality. Who would’ve seen that coming in 1993? This release gets almost daily listens still, over half a year since it first emerged from the dark.

Deathspell Omega – Drought (Season of Mist)
After the tour-de-force that was Paracletus, I openly salivated at the prospect of new material from the group over the summer. When Drought finally found me, only awe was left in its wake. Across the 20-odd minutes that make up the EP sees DSO relentlessly tear through dissonance and fury like only they can, only to wrap it up in a searing and melodic way the likes of which not even they had touched on before. As I noted at the time, I struggle to picture a better black metal group on the planet at present, these guys are on another level entirely. The biggest shame, of course, was that this was only an EP.

Between the Buried and Me – The Parallax II: Future Sequence (Metal Blade)
Long and sprawling albums have been BTBAM’s thing since 2007’s Colors, but The Parallax II took things to an entirely different level. Dialing back the need to combine 4000 different directions that dominated the past couple albums and instead taking a much more thematically unified route worked wonders for the band. Though still stuffed to the gills with absurd instrumentation and filled with an endless array of left-field and WTF moments, Parallax II is something else, though a more refined and focused something else. Prog-tastic from start to finish, I’m still discovering new things with each listen.

Chromatics – Kill For Love (Italians Do it Better)
Discovered thanks to the fantastic soundtrack that accompanied last year’s stellar film Drive, my love affair with Chromatics parallels my ongoing love for all things derived/inspired by 80s synthpop, no matter the flavor. Kill For Love is an enormous and sprawling (77 minutes!) work that encompasses every possible emotion and mood, all the while delivered in a shimmering and at times absolutely frigid sound. Often gorgeous and always blanketed in a kind of dreamy haze, Kill For Love is the sound of desolate city streets and rainy nights alike, no album better for driving around in the dark.

The Gathering – Disclosure (Pyschonaut)
The post-Anneke world of The Gathering continues on without missing a beat with Disclosure. Unquestionably stronger than an already fantastic The West Pole, experimentation with long and drifting jams dominates the majority of Disclosure and it’s so easy to get lovingly lost in all of them. Airy, infinite, warm – all appropriate but yet come up just short of really doing justice. Just listen. Listen and become lost in this magical piece of work.

Storm Corrosion – Storm Corrosion (Roadrunner)
This one took most everyone by surprise and surprised no one all at the same time. It was easy to see how this fit in with the releases from both Steven Wilson and Mikael Åkerfeldt’s Opeth last year, and yet it was something else at the same time. Mercurial throughout, it takes a great many listens to settle in and really make any kind of sense to the listener. Once it does, though, the rewards are mighty and enduring. Now over half a year from its release it still sees continual listens, especially in times of quiet when the need for something beyond simple blasting is very much needed.

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