Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Autothrall's Top Metal Albums of 2012 +++

The Top 20 Metal Albums of 2012

01. Tiamat (Sweden) - The Scarred People
02. Putrevore (Spain) - Macabre Kingdom
03. Necrovation (Sweden) - Necrovation
04. Horrendous (USA) - The Chills *debut of the year*
05. Head of the Demon (Sweden) - Head of the Demon
06. Occultation (USA) - Three and Sevens
07. Spectral Lore (Greece) - Sentinel
08. Anhedonist (USA) - Netherwards
09. Drug Honkey (USA) - Ghost in the Fire
10. Hail Spirit Noir (Greece) - Pneuma
11. Ævangelist (USA) - De Masticatione Mortuorum in Tumulis
12. Pharaoh (USA) - Bury the Light
13. Sigh (Japan) - In Somniphobia
14. Borknagar (Norway) - Urd
15. Incantation (USA) - Vanquish in Vengeance
16. Corrosive Carcass (Sweden) - Composition of Flesh
17. Anthem (Japan) - Burning Oath
18. Ysengrin (France) - To Endotaton
19. Paradox (Germany) - Tales of the Weird
20. Soulless (USA) - In Death's Grip

In the end, 2012 was unlikely to go down as one of my personal favorite years of exploring metal music, but as has always been the case, there were plenty of high quality releases out there in many niches. I probably heard a good 400-500 new albums, EPs and demos as my sampling group, and reviewed several hundred of those here on these very pages. No 10/10 scores from me (second year in a row), but of the lot that I experienced, Tiamat's latest has really resonated with me the most thus far, both musically and lyrically. A welcome effort, since I wasn't so gung ho for their last couple albums. Otherwise, old school death metal revitalized was the story here, thanks to superb albums from newcomers (Putrevore, Necrovation, Horrendous, Anhedonist, and Corrosive Carcass) and veterans (Incantation, Cannibal Corpse). Even more of a shock was just how 50% of my top choices hailed from my very own U.S. of A. It seemed my countrymen could do little wrong in 2012...fuck, even the latest Six Feet Under astonished me; their first genuinely good effort. As usual, quality was not limited to these 20 releases, so I've got a much more extensive list of goodies you can check out over at RYM, complete with review links where applicable.

The Top 20 Non-Metal Albums of 2012

I've had an unexpected number of requests for including year's end lists for media beyond metal, so I'll do my best here, though the items will be linked to YouTube videos (official where available). As an eclectic listener of ambient, electronica, industrial, and experimental music nearly as often as metal, it's no surprise that many of my choices fall under those categories. That said, there were also some great, unique pop and hip hop records I heard in 2012 which deserved a mention.

01. Squarepusher (UK) - Ufalbum
02. Knife City (USA) - Knife City
03. Desiderii Marginis (Sweden) - Procession
04. Kreuzweg Ost (Austria) - Got Mitt Uns
05. Matryoshka (Japan) - Laideronnette
06. Assemblage 23 (USA) - Bruise
07. Igorrr (France) - Hallelujah
08. Orbital (UK) - Wonky
09. Santigold (USA) - Master of My Make Believe
10. The Mars Volta (USA) - Nocturniquet
11. Yeasayer (USA) - Fragrant World
12. Inade (Germany) - Audio Mythology One
13. Hot Chip (USA) - In Our Heads
14. Sleep Party People (Denmark) - We Were Drifting on a Sad Song
15. Infected Mushroom (Israel) - Army of Mushrooms
16. Crystal Castles (France) - III
17. El-P (USA) - Cancer for Cure
18. Killing Joke (UK) - MMXII
19. Rush (Canada) - Clockwork Angels
20. Sabled Sun (Sweden) - 2145/2146 *TIE*

When I look back on the ordering, it's amusing that Squarepusher sits on top, since that wasn't a hugely well-received record due to feeling a bit more trendy or 'dubstep' in spots than normal (same has been said for the latest Infected Mushroom). But I listened THE FUCK out of that record more than anything else new this year, in any genre of music, so as far as I'm concerned, it earned its crown.

The Top 10 Movies of 2012

01. The Dark Knight Rises. Yeah, this was more of a divisive film than its predecessor, but I absolutely loved it, like all of Nolan's Batman treatments, and the dialog and scenes have resonated with me through multiple revisits to both the theater and my fresh Blu-Ray copy. I was also really impressed how this served as a sequel to BOTH prior films individually, rather than a mere succession. No other film in 2012 made me smile this much, few other comic book-based films fail to insult my intelligence as these have, and if only my other childhood pastimes could be treated with such care and respect...
02. Moonrise Kingdom. Phenomenal, heartfelt, nostalgic, innocent, and hilarious. Another Wes Anderson magnum opus and quite possibly his best to date. The tail end of the film fell apart a fraction, but up to that point it's gold.
03. The Avengers. The best Marvel superhero film to date by an order of magnitude, and the love that Whedon and the writers shone upon this team of titans (most of whom carry their own franchises) and their interactions was an absolute joy to witness. The one caveat for me was that I tend to favor the superhero films with excellent villains, and these were somewhat lacking. Generic, disposable space mooks? Check. A villain that one of the heroes had already thwarted in his own film? Check. I preferred Bane and even, yes, The Lizard.
04. Looper. Bruce Willis needs to hire on for more time travel movies. Need I say more about this?
05. Cosmopolis. Cronenberg really sells this novel adaptation with a strong performance from Pattinson, proving the guy is capable of more than just the sparkly vampire schtick. An excellent film for those into the intense studies of masculinity and sociopathy found in titles like American Psycho, Fight Club, Falling Down, and A Clockwork Orange.
06. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Just got around to seeing this, and was quite happy with it. Sure, there were some needless additions to the core novels so that Jackson could fatten it all up into trilogy land, and some truly some Hollywood getaways and ridiculous, unnecessary scenes, but the actors (especially Freeman and Serkis) sold me consistently, the dwarves were actually great, and even the CGI monsters were pretty kickass as they conveyed emotion and dialogue. Totally fulfilled the Dungeon Master in me much like The Fellowship of the Ring did.
07. Skyfall. As someone who felt underwhelmed by the two prior Daniel Craig installments of this franchise, this film was a real 'coming of age'. I love that a villain is finally hitting home, and we get a reveal of Bond's history, even an incomplete portrait. Bardem is great, but that's no surprise. Also enjoyed how they threw us old school Bond fans a bone or two.
08. Seven Psychopaths. More than almost any other film I loved this year, this one was solely about its personality more than plot. Or should I say, personalities plural, because you won't see an ensemble cast like this elsewhere in 2012. Flawed characters, flawed actions, and you laughing your privates off.
09. The Cabin in the Woods. Takes what I hate about most cliche, formula horror movies, and then kicks it all in the ass with its not-so-subtle overtures. The sort of creativity I miss in 80s Carpenter or like-minded films, and a pure rush with menacing implications. As someone who doesn't normally enjoy Whedon (I disliked much of the Buffy-verse, Firefly was decent if overrated), I have to admit he was knocking it out of the park this year with his involvement in this and The Avengers.
10. The Amazing Spider-Man. Yeah, it's not in league with The Dark Knight Rises or The Avengers, and it's a 'too soon' reboot from a desperate Sony Pictures, but what can I say? This was the Spider-Man I wanted from the Raimi films. Garfield is more of the wise-ass Peter Parker I grew up with, they did a respectable job with The Lizard, and some of the action sequences were absurd (in a good way). Has me excited for the sequel with Jamie Foxx/Electro.

Now, I'm not a film critic, and obviously saw a lot less movies in 2012 than I heard albums, but these were the most fun I had at the theater all year. That said, I have yet to see a few other titles of interest such as Wreck-It Ralph, so it's quite possible I'll be updating this list before too long.

The Top 10 PC/Videogames of 2012

01. FTL: Faster Than Light (PC). A mashup of Star Trek strategic simulation and a roguelike? Why hadn't this been attempted before, and if it had, why wasn't I told about it? Brutally addictive nerd paradise.
02. Fez (360). A beautiful puzzle/platformer that manages to evoke nostalgia for everything we loved about those formative NES/SNES titles. Regardless of what you think about creator/designer Phil Fish, his labor of love features great characters, quirky and amusing dialog, and truly engaging gameplay.
03. World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria (PC). Technically this is an expansion, but this old beast has once again inspired me to level my overload of characters up to the 90 cap, raid with friends, and I did enjoy the new Pandaren race, the Asian flavor, and the new questing content, though as a whole it's not without some balance issues and token-grinding bottlenecks.
04. Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault (PS3). Take what you loved about the first three titles, or Tools of Destruction, and complement the platforming/weapon collecting gameplay with some Tower Defense elements. Another exciting entry in this beloved series, and easily surpasses last year's All 4 One.
05. Torchlight II (PC). Collect gear. Kill shit. Look at the pretty, low-end PC-friendly graphics. I haven't put a hell of a lot of time into this yet, but it's basically what you want if you loved the first game or if you're a Diablo fiend seeking a comparable experience.
06. Mark of the Ninja (360). I've had the least time with this of any title in my top 10, but that they were able to transform stealth-based gameplay into such combat and platforming fun (it's generally a chore) is itself a miracle.
07. On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 (360). Though I loved the first two entries into Gabe & Tycho's foray into the medium that built their empire, this is perhaps a more satisfyingly visceral blend of humor and RPG nostalgia, with its SNES-level graphic appeal and wonderful design from Zeboyd Games who also gave us Breath of Death VIII and Cthulhu Saves the World.
08. Dyad (PS3). A numbingly addictive, oddly beautiful title which combines elements of future racing, shooting and puzzle games in a symphony of psychedelic sound and sights. Deceptively minimalistic and also breeds nostalgia for archaic wonders like Tempest, or more recently Rez.
09. Retro City Rampage (PS3). Grand Theft Auto meets River City Ransom by way of mini-games and outrageously awesome 8-bit graphics and menus. The music is also phenomenal, and there are tons of missions and challenges to keep you in dreamland. Highly entertaining.
10. Legend of Grimrock (PC). Good old, first-person, 3D dungeon crawl here with an appropriate level of challenge. Hearkens back to titles like Ultima Underworld, Dungeon Master, you could even consider it a 3D grid upgrade to classics Might & Magic, Wizardry or Bard's Tale. Nothing new, but it treats its fare with such love that I can only hope Almost Human Ltd. will pump out a few more.

All 'year's end' or best of lists should be taken with a grain of salt, but of my own, this one should be taken with an entire pinch of salt, if only because I was not able to play nearly as many titles as I'd have loved. For one, I got almost no new handheld games this year, and have yet to pick up a 3DS or Vita. Nor have I yet played popular, well-received titles like Borderlands 2, Dishonored, XCom: Enemy Unknown or Diablo III. Needless to say, I expect there may be some changes to this list forthcoming.

The Top Books of 2012

Lastly, books are perhaps the trickiest field to compose a list for. Primarily because most of the 2012 novels I've purchased are still sitting in the reading queue, perhaps because I've still got to read earlier entries in a series; but also because I spend a lot of time reading earlier works from across the past five decades, not to mention some re-reads of classic literature, etc. So, rather than come up with some hierarchical list of titles in order, I'll list a few that I really enjoyed. Bear in mind that my fiction tastes lie almost entirely in the realms of science fiction, fantasy, cyberpunk, steampunk, etc. Other genres only rarely compel me beyond a few chapters.

* Joe Abercrombie - A Red Country
* Lee Battersby - The Corpse-Rat King
* Yahtzee Croshaw - Jam
* Steven Erikson - Forge of Darkness (Kharkanas Trilogy I)
* Michael Flynn - In the Lion's Mouth
* Mark Hodder - Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon (Burton & Swinburne)
* China Mieville - Railsea
* K. J. Parker - Sharps
* Alistair Reynolds - Blue Remembered Earth
* Ian Tregillis - Bitter Seeds

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