Well, we're all still here: the year 2012 didn't see the world end, thankfully. And it's just as well -- it's been a brilliant year for music (according to SPB's review data, it's been a return to form after a mildly disappointing 2011). In this roundup of our favorite albums of 2012, we leave no stone (or genre) unturned in our quest to bring you the greatest original releases (no reissues, compilations or EPs here) from the previous year.
A note on production: SPB's top album list is decided on by staff who submit individual lists, which are then automatically number-crunched into this; one list to rule them all. You can see these source lists on the third page of this feature.
Without further ado, here begins Scene Point Blank's top 30 albums of 2012!
Converge offer up another uncompromising album that certainly is further evidence of this group of individuals doing what they do on their terms without having the need to answer to anything or anyone, and there are several songs on this record that some bands will have wished that they wrote. The heavy and crushing “Empty On The Inside” with its dynamic interplay or the standout “Glacial Pace” might be some of the strongest compositions from the band in quite a while. There is more evidence of variation in Converge’s attack, such as the blink-and-you-miss it “No Light Escapes” and its awesome angular guitar lead, showing the band taking a more measured approach to crushing their listeners. All We Love We Leave Behind is a triumph that is further evidence of Converge being at the pinnacle of their powers, standing with a select few groups that consistently demonstrate their name as a b(r)and to be counted on for exemplary albums. (Bob)
Arkansas residents Pallbearer have been a band to watch out for ever since the release of a fantastic three track demo in 2010. Through many a twist and turn, Sorrow and Extinction finally sees the light of day. Pallbearer are here, and oh, how they have arrived. It’s incredible to see a band this early on in their career speak with such wisdom, and be able to wrench such emotion and touch quite so profoundly. It’s genuinely remarkable to think that this is only their first full recording, and where the band go from here is certainly an exciting prospect. Sorrow and Extinction is a record to fall into, the themes held within are universal and immersive and such that Pallbearer have transcended all, and are able to break even the coldest of souls. Magnificent. (Cheryl)
Sweden’s Kristian Matsson first found himself atop a mountain of praise in 2010 following the release of The Wild Hunt, wheedling his way into the hearts of many with soothing melodies and uplifting energy. Relying almost entirely on just his guitar and commanding voice, Matsson’s brand of folk garnered more than a few comparisons to Bob Dylan, but at the end of the day was a niche he fit into seamlessly. Over the course of ten tracks, there’s an everlasting feeling of comfort and familiarity. It tempts thoughts of paths once taken, songs long sung, and nights already spent, but not without the belief in bright horizons. Engrained in the words and chords of the Tallest Man On Earth is an intrinsic charm that permeates every song and sets him apart from the rest. (Nick)
A man such as El-P is an anomaly to say the least. To fully describe his music in genre labels or easily identifiable terminology is almost an exercise in futility as both a music fan and writer. The life long New Yorker and figurehead within the underground hip hop scene manages to make a legitimate argument for hip hop as full fledged artform outside of the art of rhyme or production in and of themselves. His rhyme schemes and almost obsessive attention to detail in both his choice of words and beats has made him something far beyond the norm. This is his record through and through, still very much his own style without being merely an addendum to his recorded legacy. This is something to listen to in the late night hours while feeling the toll of the world. (Jon)
Without a doubt, the same calibre of unbridled, pissed off raw emotion so eloquently displayed over the band’s past 5 albums. Socio-political commentary is draped over wave after wave of pummeling riffs, thundering drums, and droning bass lines. Failed States contains some of the heaviest songs Propagandhi’s ever written, with songs like “Rattan Cane” doing their best at tearing down the world around them with the subtlety of a fighter jet. Failed States is just another chapter in a long, storied, tongue-in-cheek narrative, yet it stands as strong and defiant as ever. From the vicious bass line imbedded in “Cognitive Suicide” to the rambling nods to Kurt Russell and the Toronto Maple Leafs in “Things I Like,” one thing remains clear. This album fucking slays. (Nick)
Weather Systems is a beautifully natural evolution in a career that began in a completely different place, yet Anathema has always been able to make this change seem organic. Their sound and style developed with each successive record but they never lost that sweet despondency inherent in the music. Anathema are truly masters of their field. Able to flow through contradictory emotions and switch from calming moments to all-out rock and vice versa (“The Storm Before The Calm”), this is a band at their peak. Weather Systems will captivate and break you. (Cheryl)
New Jersey quartet Evoken have consistently produced genre defining funeral doom throughout their twenty year career and Atra Mors is a grand and huge addition to such a flawless output. How they manage to outdo themselves every time is a mystery that only the band hold the key to and it allows Atra Mors to flow with a stately passion and a monolithic rage against life. Wildly emotional and profoundly moving, the final track combines Evoken’s ability to punish with huge walls of sound and voice yet break with small touches of melancholy and loss in the delightfully sombre guitar work or the grief-filled keyboard passages. Atra Mors is devastating in its sadness and anguish. Perfect. (Cheryl)
The Menzingers - On The Impossible Past
It's tough to turn tales of depression and downfall into infectiously anthemic slices of rock, but the Menzingers have managed it here on their third record. Lyrically it's maudlin and glass-half-empty in parts, but musically it's chugged back into posi territory in a similar vein to the Hold Steady's uptempo storytelling. A nice mixture of styles and pace keeps things going and really gives the album its confessional/purging vibe, with an admirably open approach to embracing failures. (Matt)
With 16 songs in 17 minutes, this record is shorter than a heart attack. Short, loud, fast, and seemingly named after an insect repellent. This record is a rager, with early ‘80s LA hardcore as the foundation and a relentless energy packing it in. It mixes a bit of that early period destructive tone with slightly more seasoned lyrics that revolve around many of the same themes. The band isn’t wasting time with clever bridges, solos, or mixing up their tempos. They’re jumping straight into the pit and not stopping for a breather. The record is evenkeelangry throughout, without many high or lows, just steady aggression and vitriol. As such, highlights and low points don’t stand out as much as the album runs together as one solid piece. Recommended, especially for fans of “Black Coffee” and “Nervous Breakdown” style hardcore. (Loren)
If there’s anything movies have taught us, it’s that sequels almost always suck in comparison to the original. While there aren’t nearly as many sequels in the musical world, occasionally an artist will go back and revisit one of the ideas that made them famous in the first place. On a rare occasion, an artist will not only create a sequel that doesn’t suck, but a sequel that holds up well in comparison to the original, and, even more rarely, a beautiful album in its own right. Folks, Ian Anderson’s Thick as a Brick 2, a direct sequel to his band Jethro Tull‘s 1972 hit Thick as a Brick forty years on, is one such an album. While not a perfect album, this is so much better than it has any right to be. To end on another film analogy, this album is The Godfather: Part II when we should’ve expected The Matrix Reloaded. (Sarah)
Murder by Death's sixth studio album is their moodiest album yet. It’s a stark contrast to their last record, Good Morning, Magpie—returning to, while exploring, more layers of atmospheric tones. The reoccurring wander and lonesome themes that appear in Adam Turla’s storytelling go along with the different styles as a whole. It’s like you’re following a character into a number of different saloons that are playing different music. It’s always exciting to see where Murder by Death will go with their albums—as they’ll always do something different—and Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon was definitely something fresh while continually building off their previous works and now, I’m ready for another. (Aaron)
Black Breath came out of the depths of the Seattle hardcore scene about six years ago and released a sole demo before getting the eyes and ears of the infamous Southern Lord. Since then they have managed to make a name for themselves playing a well thought out mix of hardcore and classic metal (in this case meaning Motorhead and Slayer). If you consider yourself into the holy terror sound, or just miss the days when metalcore wasn’t simply tough guy vocals backed by psuedo-metal leads and weak breakdowns: this record is for you. (Jon)
As interesting and welcome an event for some that Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s return from a thirteen year absence to drop Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! is, the real proof of the collective’s power resides in the actual music of this album; the timeless nature of their sound which relies on no real “flavor of the day” that could possibly date them. Listening to Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! makes me forget that there was a time when the lights in the Godspeed You! Black Emperor had gone dark because it is every bit as triumphant as any other release that the group has produced in their time. (Bob)
The Diablo Swing Orchestra are without a doubt one of the best avant-garde metal bands around. I’m happy to say that their latest album, 2012’s Pandora’s Piñata, is undeniably their strongest album yet. What’s most amazing about this album is that the Diablo Swing Orchestra have managed to remain as unpredictable and fresh as they were during their debut. Everything about this album is designed in an incredibly effective manner to keep you on your toes until the very end. Just when you think you know where the album is going to go, it will throw a curve ball and smack you upside the head, sending you to first base, at which point I’m no longer entirely certain how the metaphor will continue. This has quickly become one of my most-listened-to albums, period. If you do not enjoy this album, you may not be able to physically experience pleasure. (Sarah)