Fred Phillips’ Top Albums for 2012: Metal and Hard Rock

For hard rock and metal, 2012 certainly wasn’t the best year that I can remember. In all honesty, there were only a few albums that came across my desk that really excited me.

The ones that were good were really good, but where I’m usually deciding which ones to toss out of my top 10, this year it was more a case of deciding which ones to put in …

No. 10

SHADOWS FALL – FIRE FROM THE SKY: This is really the record that I wanted from Shadows Fall after their stellar 2002 release The Art of Balance, which had me proclaiming them the next big thing in metal. They disappointed me on that count with a string of mediocre records, but this one kind of gets the fire back. There’s a nice blend of heaviness and melody, and while some people were disappointed by the heavy dose of melodic singing, I think it offers a great contrast to Brian Fair’s hardcore bark. The album is filled with killer riffs and rocks from start to finish.

No. 9

LACUNA COIL – DARK ADRENALINE: Since the Italian goth rockers released personal fave Comalies in 2002, I’ve been a bit disappointed in the more commercial direction their records have taken. Dark Adrenaline brings back a little of the darkness that I loved about their early stuff. And Cristina Scabbia is still the best female voice in metal.

No. 8

LILLIAN AXE – XI: THE DAYS BEFORE TOMORROW: I don’t like this record quite as much as I did when it was released. It certainly didn’t have the staying power of comeback record Waters Rising, but I still think there are some really good songs here. It’s a continuation of the more progressive approach the band has taken since 1993’s Psychoschizophrenia. New singer Brian Jones takes some getting used to, as his style is a bit different from previous singers, but he does a good job.

No. 7

TENACIOUS D – RIZE OF THE FENIX: This was certainly my favorite comedy album of the year, though I was reluctant to put it on this list. But what the hell? It is one of my favorite records of the year, and it is hard rock, so there you have it. This is The D in fine form, back after a little lull, and rocking again.

No. 6

DOWN – IV, PART 1: THE PURPLE EP: I was less impressed with the first installment of Down IV than I hoped I would be, but a mediocre Down song is still better than most of what’s out there. With the exception of “Witchtripper,” which immediately got my head banging, it took a little while for the songs here to grow on me. It’s a good start, and I’m waiting eagerly to hear the rest of the record, along with Phil Anselmo’s solo album, next year.

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No. 5

TEXAS HIPPIE COALITION – PEACEMAKER: I’ve always liked THC, but they haven’t put it together before the way they do on this album. All of the various influences they bring to the table have their moment on this record, and there are some great nasty grooves and big hooks.

No. 4

VAN HALEN – DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH: David Lee Roth is back, and so is the fun. Many people cried about the band pulling out old songs and redoing them for this album, but who cares? It’s a great record, and it rocks like Van Halen hasn’t rocked since the early 1980s. Isn’t that more important than whether or not they wrote the songs last year?

No. 3

SLASH – APOCALYPTIC LOVE: Hands down the best thing to come out of any element of the Guns n’ Roses camp since the band split up. I wasn’t sold on Myles Kennedy’s vocals for the style after his first collaboration with Slash, but I am now. This is an album full of great hard rock songs, including some that will bring the original G n’ R lineup to mind.

No. 2

NIGHTWISH – IMAGINAERUM: I’ve never been a big Nightwish fan, but this record, released in 2011 overseas and in January in the U.S., grabbed my attention right away with first single “Storytime,” which ranks among my favorite songs of the year. It’s one of those numbers that, at least lyrically, I really wish I’d written. “Ghost River” and “I Want My Tears Back” are not far behind. (Now former) Singer Annette Olzon took the vocals out of her predecessor’s soprano mode and made the songs connect with me a little more.

No. 1

TESTAMENT – DARK ROOTS OF EARTH: I thought Testament had hit its stride again with reunion album The Formation of Damnation, but I had no idea how good the band could be again. Dark Roots of Earth brings together a lot of the elements of the band’s sound over the years, delivering aggressive thrash, some bashing blast beats thanks to drummer Gene Hoglan and plenty of tasty melodics. The only weak point is the ballad (which, strangely, is usually a strong point for Testament). This album ranks with any from their catalog.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Pharaoh – Bury the Light: You pretty much know what you’re getting with Pharaoh, and they delivered again on this record: Prong – Carved into Stone: Probably the comeback album of the year, Prong gets back to the hooks, melodies and thrash that made their early albums so appealing: Firewind – Few Against Many: Guitarist Gus G does what he does. They’re the most consistent act in the the power metal genre, and nothing changes here; Crazy Lixx – Riot Avenue: This release took me back to my teens with some fun, 1980s-style hard rock; Jackyl – Best in Show: This is the best release in a while from the raunchy Atlanta rockers. It brings back the fun and hooks of their first few records; Lamb of God – Resolution: The groove metal successors to Pantera’s crown took a few chances and tried some different things on this album. They didn’t always work, but it’s still a solid record; Eluveite – Helvetios: The Swiss folk metallers’ first concept album, dealing with the Gaulish Wars, was perhaps a bit more melodic and stretched their boundaries just a little. Good stuff.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT:

AEROSMITH – MUSIC FROM ANOTHER DIMENSION!: They had 10 years to write it. Producer Jack Douglas, responsible for some of their best albums, was back on board. I expected more. There are a handful of good songs, a handful of bad ones, and a whole lot of mediocrity.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

TRIXTER – NEW AUDIO MACHINE: I wasn’t a fan of the band the first time around, and I made fun of this release before I heard it. Turns out I had to eat my smart-aleck words.

MOST ANTICIPATED ALBUM
(THAT MAY OR MAY NOT COME OUT THIS YEAR)

Flotsam and Jetsam – Ugly Noise: The clips that I’ve heard from this album sound really, really good, and I wanted to hold off on this list until I had it in hand. But as of this writing, it has been pushed back until at least Dec. 24, and may not make this year. It will have to wait for my 2013 list.

WISH LIST FOR 2013

Holy Grail – Ride the Void: Their last outing, Crisis in Utopia, was one of my favorites of 2010 and has only grown on me since. Due in January.
Soilwork – The Living Infinite: For me, Soilwork rarely disappoints. Due in March.
Phil Anselmo – Walk Through Exits Only: We’ll get a taste of it in January on a split with Warbeast from his Housecore Records. The full-length is due in March, though that’s always subject to change.
Down – IV Parts 2 and 3: We’re scheduled to get the second and third parts of this one next year, but as with Anselmo’s solo record, we all know that’s subject to change.
Jon Oliva solo album: Tentatively scheduled for a March release, the fanboy in me can’t wait.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Gutter Ballet or Romanovs: Been looking forward to both, and we’ve heard some remakes of the original Savatage tunes on tour, but having learned from Night Castle, Paul O’Neill’s not saying when they will be here.
New Black Sabbath album: Will it happen? Will it fall apart? Who knows?
New Queensryche album: I like the snippets I’ve heard so far and am hopeful for a return to metal.
New Metallica album: Yeah. I know it’s not going to happen because even if the pieces were in place it takes them a year and a half, but I can hope.

Fred Phillips

Fred Phillips is a veteran entertainment writer with a love of hard rock and heavy metal. He has written music reviews, columns and feature stories for several newspapers, Web sites and a national wire service, while running a stand-alone site called Hall of the Mountain King in various places and incarnations since 1997. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.