Exclaim!'s Best Albums of 2012: Metal and Hardcore:
Vanquish in Vengeance
Though they've almost never had the same line-up between releases, Pennsylvania's Incantation are still kicking and screaming. With 20-plus releases in two decades of aggression, Vanquish in Vengeance may be their finest hour yet. Each of the ten gloriously blasphemous tracks reeks of massive road experience, thoughtful musicality, and the band's resolution not necessarily to outdo themselves, but to show fans that they still rule the death metal world. And rule they do, with guitarist/vocalist John McEntee cranking out some of his most memorable chordage since 1998's Diabolical Conquest. "Invoked Infinity" and "Progeny of Tyranny" are quick blastbeat hallmarks, and "Haruspex" is as fresh as the glistening entrails eviscerated by an ancient diviner. "Transcend into Absolute Dissolution" is a standout cut that takes a slow, deep and hard swipe at death/doom, while "Profound Loathing" borrows a few riffs from old My Dying Bride before McEntee erupts in a tasteful solo. With ominous imprecations in the background, "Legion of Dis" is a ten-plus-minute exercise in sustained chords and feedback.
14. The Chariot
Hymnal choruses, galloping romps through western territory, desperate piano ballads and freaking Charlie Chaplin speeches all surprisingly find a home amongst a bevy of noisy, chaotic metallic hardcore. Not only do the Chariot deftly manoeuvre these transitions with Between the Buried and Me-esque dexterity, they open the door for other bands to do so. Departures from the norm were formerly restricted to the realm of genre innovators, not imitators. However, the Chariot shattered that by ignoring genre conventions and devising their own path to a sonic maelstrom. After losing their bassist and deciding to soldier on as a four-piece, the Chariot have burdened themselves with the task of performing these songs live. However, given that previous albums basically served as an appetizer for the band's intense live show, it seems like a challenge the band will take on headfirst: literally.
Despite their increasing disinterest in the more abrasive side of the genre, Florida's Torche still pack a walloping metallic punch. The enthusiastic riff-slinging foursome draws from the rich lineage of psychedelic and progressive heavy music pioneers of the '70s, the positive bombast of '80s hair metal (minus the cheese) and the breakneck pace of punk on their aptly titled third full-length album. It's not just the carefully arranged dual guitar squall the title refers to; highly atypical of modern metal music, the songs of Harmonicraft are drenched in glorious vocal harmonies. Coupled with pummelling drums and the anchor of relentless throbbing bass, the resulting sonic palette is a tonally rich tidal wave of meaty glee crashing from the speakers, but one that never obscures the crystalline individuality of each sound source. It's no small achievement to bend the tools of aggressive music into the service of expressions of invigorating joy and that's exactly what Torche accomplish here. Doom and gloom are but passing emotional colours employed to create tension that enhances the exuberant cathartic release that bursts from these 13 tracks. Torche demonstrate judicious taste in letting each of their idea babies determine its own lifespan; no song feels too short, or too long. Exemplary in its efficiency and fearlessness, Harmonicraft is a metal album for anyone who likes aggressive music with a deceptive undercurrent of complexity and a healthy sheen of ear-pleasing unapologetic musicality.
Scott A. Gray
It's a rare case of a thrash band getting better over time that this latest from long-running German thrashers Kreator is as insanely memorable as it is, and more raging than ever (the insanely titled "Death to the World" lays down double-kick commands and razor-wire riffs like never before... which says a lot for this band). A case can be seriously made for Kreator 2012 crafting what is alarmingly close to a perfect actualization of what extreme music can be, the sonics finally nearing the perfection that we hear in our heads. Kreator has expressed in thrash something we can hold on to, congratulate, give a high five to and fake-punch in the gut because we don't really know how to genuinely thank it for all it's given us.
On their sixth full-length, respected Winnipeg political punkers Propagandhi dive deeper into the obscure and the astute. But it's the complete disregard for their legacy that makes this so appealing: not only is this worlds apart from their pop-punk roots, it's worlds apart from even their last album and from any sub-genre of hardcore, metal, or punk as we know it. Instead, it's somewhere between classic crossover, political thrash, and emotionally charged dark music. It's just music, so honest it hurts (guitarist/vocalist Chris Hannah's thrashing childhood memoir "Devil's Creek"), amazes (tear-inducing dose of reality "Unscripted Moment"), and inspires (bassist Todd Kowalski's amazing "Dark Matters"). And "Rattan Cane," the craziest, best song of the year, hands down: from its Immolation-worshipping sludge metal intro to frantic hardcore middle to ballistic, barbaric breakdown finale, this is what it's all about, melodies underneath giving sly winks at the keen listener, bass line propelling unbelievably, drumming of Jord Samolesky reaching new heights of fill-laden mania. Countless listens in, this album continues to provide me with the energy needed to fight the daily fight and keep a positive outlook facing an always uncertain future. Plus, it rocks.