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CVLT Nation’s Top 6 Albums of 2012 Reader’s Choice

This year has been a huge one for us, and most of all it’s thanks to our readers! You have given us a reason to write, and your feedback and support has been invaluable. There is no way to thank you for the support you have shown for the independent musicians, artists and artisans we cover here at CVLT Nation, but just know that you are keeping the underground alive! We decided that instead of telling you what our favorite six full-lengths of 2012 were, we would ask you, and your response was huge! After going through all the submissions, we tallied your top six albums and have the countdown starting below…

Number Six: Old Man Gloom – No
Review: Cheryl Prime

Old Man Gloom’s brand of experimental sludge has been making waves since the band formed way back in 1999 with Aaron Turner – guitar/vocals – (House of Low Culture, ex-Isis) and Santos Montano on drums (Zozobra). The band soon expanded to include Nate Newton on guitar/vocals (Doomriders, Converge) and Caleb Scofield – bass/vocals – (Cave In, Zozobra) and they released consistently mind-bending records up until 2004. Old Man Gloom took an extremely extended break and when it was announced they’d be back with a new album (recorded by Kurt Ballou) and a handful of live dates….oh how the hells rejoiced. NO comes eight years after last record Christmas but Old Man Gloom have lost none of their visceral edge and pure intensity during that hiatus.

Moulding ambient sounds around harsh electronic layers of high-pitched resonance, NO begins with the deliciously melancholic “Grand Inversion.” Organ-style notes filter through the aura of despondence and a heavy gloom falls across the beginning of this record. Of course that beautiful calm doesn’t last long, and soon “Common Species” bursts forth with dense creations of noise and the familiar vocal of Turner breaks the tranquil energy. Faltering and stuttering guitar progressions fill the thick and rich atmosphere; slow and lumbering with a tangible weight and altogether furious in its extreme moments, this track pulls the elements of Old Man Gloom into one gloriously heavy place.

Review continued after the jump…

“To Carry The Flame” betrays the bands hardcore roots with a sublimely aggressive vocal and a filthy bass line; clean vocal sections lift the otherwise forceful nature of the track and lie behind suitably monumental walls of guitar and pounding dreams before playing out on tinnitus inducing electronic feedback. The quieter moments of NO are still deeply painful and it’s this countering style that gives Old Man Gloom a deadly power. Imposing and dominant in the midst of serenity, this is a band that pushes through ambient textures with a lethal command of their sound and the closing seconds of “The Forking Path” that segue deftly into “Shadowed Hand” rumble with a poisonous energy.

Beginning with unnerving and deep rumbles of human construction, “Rats” feels as though it was recorded in a fathomless pit of dark despair. Hollow and echoing with a truly terrifying pulse, the “vocal” is consuming in its unrecognisable form. Yawning (quite literally it would seem), waves of undulating and horrific proclamations build with a potent intonation before convulsive beats kick the track into submission and the droning buzz of “Crescent” appears on the horizon. The dread doesn’t stay and an antithetic sweetness ushers in a gentle acoustic guitar line and an enchanting clean vocal drips with a mournful essence before the vicious “Shuddering Earth” advances with a destructive stomp. Again this track features seconds of calm that are perforated by shouts of absolute desolation. Almost no instrumentation is heard at times, but the vibrating tones of human suffering are plain to hear through the eerie cold. Closing NO with seven minutes of pure, concentrated noise, Old Man Gloom play out their fifth full length in the most difficult of ways. It’s raw and excruciating in length but this is what Old Man Gloom does best. They lull with exquisite misery and then decimate with infinite fury.


Number Five: Amenra – Mass V
Review: Haxan

Words don’t flow that easy when the opportunity to speak about AMENRA comes. Ever since I found this band, back in 2004, i never stopped following their steps. Albums like “Mass III” and “Mass IIII” definitely left a mark on me, so big that I still occasionally have the pleasure to revisit them once in a while. Soon came to my ears, from some friends who were touring in Belgium at the time, words about this ridiculously heavy band and a curious vocalist who sang with his back faced against the crowd. Speaking of AMENRA is not only about the music they make, but all that surrounds it. Since very early the band showed a special care and concern about visual aesthetics that serve as a complement to their sound. Making their live shows an unforgettable experience, both sonic and visual, to those to witness such performance. Everything this band makes, they put in their blood, sweat and tears into. Everything is thought to the smallest detail: every word, every image, every sound. Everyone i know that has seen AMENRA live, always tell me about how it was the best live experience of their lives coming out from a band. It goes beyond the skin, beyond the flesh, deep into the soul. No wonder their live performances are known as “rituals”. Their contemporary view offered through their music makes the most experienced and faithful listener renounce to their personal definition of music. Our body and soul are stunned by the crushing, repetitive chords layered with the sweet distressing sermons preached by the charismatic lead singer, and his unique vocal tone.

Added to the Neurot clan in July 2011, AMENRA saw this opportunity as a dream come true. Following Neurosis on tour, the relationship between the two parties only grew stronger as they prepared themselves for an upcoming release, first by their new home. In last November the band wandered by their neighbor countries in search of inspiration for their next work. This trip took them to the village of Wissant in northern France, where they discovered a place carved by time, still carrying visible scars caused by the several battles that occurred during the Second World War. This decimated and devastated scenario would be the muse that invoke and stimulate the band to create “Mass V”.

The band revealed the following personal testimony on how they achieved the concept for the album:

“In November 2012, we left wandering by our own and neighboring countries. Looking for the perfect backdrop for the artwork for the new album. Few days after our trail ended at the village of Wissant in northern France. The site is a meeting of the destruction of World War II bunkers. Force and strength from these weathered buildings was overwhelming. Concrete blown to bits, hundreds of bullet holes everywhere, salt and sand before they were covered in blood.

We draw about these stone temples, this time, was a world of pain. We stayed overnight at the place and slept in one of the bunkers so that we are swallowed by the sea as the tide came in and when dawn brought the first light, Stefaan Temmerman took the picture, I knew it would be perfect to represent our MASS V.
It was a long, cold night ” – CHVE

In May, the band entered the La Chapelle Studios, a former chapel now converted into a professional studio to create and write this new chapter in their career, assisted by engineer Billy Anderson (Eyehategod, Neurosis, Melvins, Sleep, Swans) that would refine and take AMENRA’s sound to another level. “Mass V” presents us an AMENRA with a more stripped, sincere, intimate sound. Almost if a layer from the band was peeled off and we now face it’s raw flesh. Although we’re facing another surface, the whole essence in its pure form, still lies within.

As soon as the first notes of “Mass V” are poured slowly, the first sensation that hits me is that, sound-wise, it doesn’t exhale that same suffocating atmosphere that we have witness in the previous “Masses”. But although the sound presented here received another treatment, the whole pain, solitude and anger are deep inside patiently waiting for the right time to come out. Knowing that this would be the debut album coming out by the hand of Neurot, the expectation was very high and the anxiety increased as more and more details about “Mass V” were revealed. But on the other hand I remained peaceful knowing that “this is AMENRA”. I was sure that the band would never disappoint the fans.

Mingling minimalist atmospheric melodies with the most pummeling and powerful sludge, we move at a very slow pace into “Mass V”.

Starting with some very slow guitar chords, “Dearborn And Buried”, begins by outlining the path to perdition and it doesn’t take long until the distressing and unmistakable voice of Colin grabs and guide us into the depth of this brutal track where slow, dragged riffs fall upon us just like heavy waves breaking in slow motion. During the 9 minutes that this track lasts we completely lose track of time and space as well, as we are sucked down. “Boden” begins with that familiar style so characteristic of AMENRA, where the chords of the guitar get more and more tangled, increasing the anxiety and expectation in the listener. Because if you’re familiar with this band then you will know exactly what will happen next, you just don’t know when. And behold, the mountain collapses and falls upon our heads, its impact makes our soul shake in such a way that it almost shatters like glass. Monolithic riffs are thrown at a very slow pace until a crack of light breaks through this darkness as Colin’s voice soothes us, bringing some peace in a nearly spoken-word register but it won’t take long until we are swallowed by darkness again through these massive stuffed riffs.

“A Mon Ame” has its beginning in a sort of a environmental introduction reminding me one of the side-projects from members of the band, Sembler Deah. It draws these smooth atmospheric layers giving shape, in my mind of images that revolve around the concept of the album. A lucid black and white dream. After the battle, bodies lie on the sand, the blood flows into the sea and silence reigns. While this whole peaceful atmosphere penetrates deep inside, the whole band up with Colin’s voice, leads us into this almost trance-like state. Again, the fusion of the weightness with the more minimalist sections are made brilliantly and in a graceful way. The contrast between the anguished shouts and the whispering voice that speaks to us in a moribund tone, causes in us an inexplicable feeling of sadness and loneliness, embodying once again the eternal struggle between life and death, light and darkness, one of the recurring themes in the lyrics of AMENRA’s music.

“Nowena | 9:10” the last, and in my opinion, the majestic track of this album, begins in a register as heard in the “Afterlife” EP, smooth acoustic notes pulls us into a more serene and intimate record when suddenly, everything falls apart. As if someone had passed us the worst news in the world making everything collapse and fall apart around and inside of us. Our emotions are thrown to the ground repeatedly, lying there, dying. As we watch, incredulous and helpless. Stripped of all emotions, the whole energy of this track runs through our body, recycling all of our feelings. It is impossible listening to “Nowena | 9:10” without feeling a strong shiver that runs through our body from head to toe. Every time I hear it I get goose bumps and I’m pretty sure that Colin’s screams will haunt me for the next months to come. This track perfectly expresses the ideology behind AMENRA, about the pain that resides in and out of us. The eternal solitude that moves and gives us strength to face the pain. Never trying to escape and get away from it. Instead, looking her straight in the face, eyes to eyes, and pushing forward. Fearless. One of the highlights in track is the special appearance of Scott Kelly on vocals, certainly a dream come true for the band, the fact that one of their idols participating in one of their tracks. The result of this collaboration is at sight. Wonderful.

This is probably the slowest, heaviest and intrinsic album to date. During about 40 minutes, our emotions are swept and swallowed in this maelstrom of feelings that is “Mass V”. With this fabulous album the Belgian band puts another glorious milestone in their career. A brilliant album that leaves us completely hooked and begging for more. If you are still blind, hear “Mass V” and witness with your own eyes one of the most magnificent albums of the year.

Number Four: Swans – The Seer
Review: Tom Breihan via Stereogum

As a music dork, two of the most transcendent, quasi-religious experiences you can have are going to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Neurosis live. And after I saw Neurosis a few years ago, something occurred to me: The two shows are pretty much negative mirror images of each other. Both bands are full of grizzled bruisers who play in the dark, slowly building up to massive and crushing climaxes before ebbing into another long astral-contemplation bit of ambiance. Both use film projections as a crucial component to their live show. Both leave behind any ideas of song-form. And both have flown under the radar for a long, long time, but they still pack people in on the rare occasions that they play shows. But from the one Godspeed show I saw nearly a decade ago, the one image that remains burned into my head is the word “hope” flickering on the screen behind them, as the show finished. When I saw Neurosis, a different image lingered: Wolves running toward the camera, the gritty black-and-white film stock doing nothing to hide the malevolent glint in their eyes. Both of those shows were about transcendence, but one moved toward happy and hard-earned bliss, the other toward soul-saturating dread. And I’ve come to think of the new Swans album The Seer as something similar: The heart-eating, spirit-crushing, apocalyptic flipside to the 1999 Boredoms masterpiece Vision Creation Newsun.

Bear with me a minute here. Boredoms had been around more than a decade by the time they got around to making Vision Creation Newsun, moving gradually from booger-flecked broken-pop explosions to astral psychedelia. And that album was the moment that their latter-day sound stretched to its dizzy drum-circle natural conclusion and transformed itself into an altar to the very concept of love. It’s a deliriously beautiful piece of work, one that rushes into a headlong blur of joy. The songs don’t have titles, just shapes, and they all melt into one holistic composition anyway. It’s an album for spinning around in grassy fields and staring at the sky. Boredoms have stuck around since then, but unless we’re counting 2004′s two-song Seadrum/House Of Sun, they haven’t released a proper studio album since then. They don’t need to. They already got it right.

The Seer, for its part, has similar ideas about structure. The massive two-hour monolith of an album hangs together perfectly, but it refuses to contort itself to suit anyone’s idea of an album. One song stretches out past half an hour, and a couple of others come pretty close. Songs will go full-on noise-drone for 10 minutes at a time before suddenly becoming monastic incantations, or death-country lullabies. You can’t just throw it on while you’re cruising the internet; you need to carve out the time to sit and listen it, to let it dominate your soul. But rather than the wordless summery bliss of Vision Creation Newsun, Swans have given us a massive slab of all-consuming hate and disgust. It’s an album made for spending time in dark and dank basements, staring holes in the wall, holding your hand above a candle flame, imagining the death of the world. It’s heavy stuff.

“Heavy stuff” is, of course, pretty much what Swans have been doing since their early ’80s inception, as they moved from soul-grating proto-industrial clangor to classical-infused dramatic creep. When he got a new version of the band together after more than a decade off, bandleader Michael Gira wrote that he never intended Swans to get back together but that he missed something about it: The ecstasy of doing these shows, of summoning those vast walls of noise. And in the interviews he’s been doing lately around this new album, he’s talked about The Seer as the final culmination of everything he’s done with the band, the one where he applied every last production idea he’d picked up over the year. And god knows, this thing is bursting with sounds, bells and choirs and feedback and martial drum-roil. He released a live album just to benefit the recording sessions behind this one, and he put all the money he raised to great use, pulling symphonies of darkness into every track.

But Gira is also a deeply instinctive bandleader, one who knows just how much all-consuming pummel the listener can take before the band needs to pull back for a quick dose of beauty. “Song For The Warrior,” a gorgeously slow and sad ballad with a tremulous Karen O lead vocal, is probably my single favorite thing here: An eye-of-the-storm break to breathe before the fury returns. And Gira himself is also a vocalist of tremendous presence and charisma, a barrel-chested moaner whose intonations conjure pure religious fear. After seeing Angels Of Light, the band he led during Swans’ absence, absolutely obliterate a small Baltimore club some years ago, it occurred to me that Gira might be the closest living vocal peer to Johnny Cash, a voice that seems to emanate from a dark forgotten time. And on The Seer, he masses that voice, uses it to pant or mutter or howl, in multitracked choir, at the moon. He’s someone who could pull you into a black place with nothing more than that voice an an acoustic guitar, but on The Seer, he’s assembled armies of the damned, and arranged a piece of music that brings a very dark version of the transcendence he always talks about seeking. If you’re willing to give yourself over to The Seer, it’s one of the greatest musical achievements in recent memory. It’s not an easy album to mentally process, but it’s one that leaves a deep mark.

Number Three: Neurosis – Honor Found in Decay
Review: Jonathan Keane

For many, many years Neurosis have been synonymous with words like transcendent, intense and beautiful, epitomising musical evolution in every way with a solid line-up for all these years that, when together, always create something truly awe-inspiring. It’s been five years since Neurosis released a record but their presence has never once faltered. These six luminaries have burrowed a hole in the consciousness of heavy music and taken up residence for the foreseeable future, such is the impact of their emotionally, and even at times physically, taxing music. In 2012, with album number ten, Neurosis emerge with Honor Found in Decay and prove once again what a relevant and utterly vital band they are.

Wrought with an overwhelming sense of reality, Steve Von Till has described this album as maintaining their honour in times of decay – “when things are falling apart, where people show their true colours”. With the backdrop of social decay, economic turmoil, severe poverty and civil wars, Honor Found in Decay takes its inspirations from very real places, places that are devastatingly affecting and palpable. Honor Found in Decay, like much of Neurosis’ post Through Silver in Blood material, strikes a seemingly delicate balance between the harsh and the serene, showing the dichotomy we all live in between these everyday horrors and the possibility of something much more inspiring. The truth is that balance is actually harnessed with great strength by the band’s principal songwriters in Scott Kelly and Von Till, whose abilities to swan in and out of skull crushing heaviness and cerebral atmospherics has always been their calling card.

Honor Found in Decay is not Neurosis’ heaviest record, compared to works of yore, but the band has put an even greater attention on crafting atmosphere and the quiet/loud shifts. This is all evidenced by the affecting contributions of keyboardist Noah Landis, whose dizzying keys and washes of ambience are utilised to near perfection on this record. Of course, they would be nothing without the towering structures built painstakingly by Kelly and Von Till’s guitars and bellowing voices but still shine beautifully through this multi-layered entity, but Neurosis’ components have always been complementary and nothing within these seven songs exists on its own or for its own gain.

This is no more true than on the captivating album highlight My Heart For Deliverance where initially destructive sludge-laden verses power along before descending into a simply heavenly ambient mid passage helmed by Landis and sleek guitars that eventually soar into a thunderous instrumental crescendo where guitars are twisted and mangled into something strikingly beautiful.

At The Well, a song featured in the band’s setlists last year and released online a number of weeks ago, is another shining example of modern day Neurosis at their beguiling best as dejected broody verses once again tear down the gates for a fierce crescendo, helmed vocally by Scott Kelly.

Honor Found in Decay has elements that span their entire career, showing a band that is by no means reluctant to look to the past as fuel to move forward in the future. Shades of Souls at Zero can be heard fraternising with Times of Grace, in turn enveloping components from their post 2000 output, all for the great goal of creating something new. Neurosis’ ability to harness their maze of strengths into one engrossing composition, every time they pick up a guitar or drumstick, or whatever it maybe, still amazes to this day.

It’s a sense of astonishment that is endless straight through to Raise the Dawn, which may be the album’s shortest song but suitably ups the pace a little to close, with a simmering string arrangement joining the band to beckon the album’s time to wilt away leaving us all in awe.

Honor Found in Decay is awe.

Number Two: Pallbearer – Sorrow and Extinction
Review: Sean

On Febuary 21st, Pallbearer will unleash their new album, Sorrow and Extinction, onto the the universe via Profound Lore. So many thoughts and words come to my mind when I listen to this record, and it’s been hard to decide how am I going to describe it to the world. My first thought is of a sunset, where the the sun meets the ocean and the sea shows you how vast the world is. Pallbearer’s songs are never-ending bodies of water, that are heavy but flow in beautiful motion. Sorrow and Extinction is a record that will rain melodic soul down all over you and allow light to break through the clouds of your aura. In this age, where everything is pre-fab and artificial, Pallbearer have created an album that is a vehicle to a different mindstate. When did I realize that this would become one of my new favorite albums? I think in the first two seconds of the first song, “Foreigner.” The guitar intro to this song is so fantastic, it make this ugly world not seem so bad. The same tune opens up into the sky and becomes a huge storm with enchanting vocals and a mesmerizing baseline. What’s impressive about this band is that you can hear their influences, but at no time do you ever feel like they are not being honest with you. The sweet wall of feedback that greets you at the beginning of “Devoid of Redemption” is the bong, the groove that this song packs is the best bud I have smoked all year, and Brett Campbell’s electric vocal performance is the fire. When I hear this song, I see the light. Since all of their compositions are over 8 minutes, that gives them time for the mammoth breakdowns! Make sure to buy your ticket to everywhere, because the riffs on this album will have you travel to some far out places. Under all of the magic lies the monolithic drumming that holds all of their songs together. What do I want this summer? An outdoor festival, bong loads, loved ones, weirdos and Pallbearer playing this album in full. Now that’s what I call a good day!

Number One: Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind
Review: Bruce Wolfbiter

“All We Love We Leave Behind” is Converge at their finest. Converge, as a rule, represents nothing but the finest metalcore. This time we are treated to so much more. “AWLWLB” channels “You Fail Me” with a passion that at times exceeds the latter, even at points challenging the monumental sorrow of “Jane Doe.” What is most refreshing about “AWLWLB” is that it is just Converge. I enjoyed “Axe to Fall”, but I found that the guest musicians muddled up much of what could’ve been an even better record. There is a cohesion to their long standing lineup that should never be disturbed. This latest entry is testament to that.

Opener “Aimless Arrow” is Converge at their most melodious, matching it with a style akin to the classic “Last Light.” “Arrow” leads into the aggressive, sweeping “Trespasses”, a symphony of duelling vocals and smattering drum work. “Tender Abuse” is short, sweet and a slaughter, hitting you with a fleeting abrasiveness not heard since “Concubine.” True to its name, “Sadness Comes Home” slows itself to a thundering trudge, revealing the track as one of the record’s most impressive. Reminiscent of “Dark Horse” in riff and voice, “Sadness” is when this record begins to command your attention. A personal favorite, “Empty on the Inside” is traditional Converge that melts into bass-heavy military march 40 seconds in, a successful tinkering with aspects present on “Cruel Bloom.” “Sparrow’s Fall” is all fury and beauty, an acrobatic song that heralds the “Glacial Pace” to come.

At this point, “AWLWLB” sheds some of its rage in favor of contemplation, giving way to “Glacial Pace”, a furious but quiet interlude. Converge has always had a near-godly ability at expression through sound and this is most notable here, as “Glacial Pace’s” scope ascends into the punk-infused, aptly titled “Vicious Muse.” Surf rock compliments the earliest moments of “Veins and Veils” before the band blesses the song with its signature freneticism. Based on early reviews, “Coral Blue” was personally one of the most anticipated songs off of “AWLWLB.” The album’s elegant, longest track, “Coral Blue” deliberately feels like a superior sequel to “Cruel Bloom” in more than one way. A whispering dirge that constantly lingers on the fringes of somber excitement, “Coral Blue” is the album’s best track.

A distant storm of fills heralds the uber-pissed “Shame in the Way”, which, along with “Trespasses” and “Tender Abuse”, stands as one of the piece’s successful sucker punches. Just so, since the album takes a turn for the downright melancholic with the instrumental, tender “Precipice.” Converge has a history of pushing the boundaries of each record’s self-contained sound with their title tracks. “All We Love We Leave Behind” is hands down one of the best, succeeded only by the insurmountable “Jane Doe.” The record’s best aspects find their way onto “All We Love We Leave Behind”, making for the record’s strongest “holy shit” moment. Closer “Predatory Glow” in comparison is a bummer given its positioning on the tracklist, but is still a face-splitter of an ending.

October 9 is, as of this writing, a long arduous week away. Thankfully, Converge has made “All We Love We Leave Behind” available for streaming below via a video replete with Bannon’s art. Sit down and enjoy, this is heavy music’s record of the year and is nothing short of beautiful, terrifying and entrancing.

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