Top 50 Albums of 2012: 20 to 11

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For an explanation of how we determined our Top 50 albums of 2012 (and for a look at albums 75 to 51), see our first post in the series, Top Albums of 2012, 75 to 51.

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20. Christian Mistress – Possession

As ’80s as a mound of nose candy and far more addictive, Possession’s retro sweetness stood tall in a year packed with throwbacks. Their secret? Transcending mere imitation in favor of innovation. From opening barnburner “Over & Over” to one-two knockout punches “Black to Gold” and “There is Nowhere”, six-string duo Ryan McClain and Oscar Sparbel thread old school rhythms and leads through a decidedly modern prism. Christine Davis expands her inner monologue lyrics to potent topics like religion and self-control, her husky voice lending the words equal parts heavy metal gravitas and HxCx soul-bearing. Relapse issued the promo a full two months before its February release date and I’m still jamming Possession on multiple formats on a weekly basis. I need an old priest and a young priest . . .
— Greg Majewski

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Christian Mistress – “Pentagram and Crucifix”

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19. Nachtmystium – Silencing Machine

Blake Judd has just about come full circle. After half a decade in the pop-metal wilderness, he and his current team of Chicago journeymen (members of Lord Mantis and Indian, plus Sanford Parker) have penned a set of tunes that recalls Instinct: Decay, Nachtmystium’s breakout effort. It’s a sound worth returning to; Silencing Machine’s pairing of relatively conservative black metal with layers of delicate noise suits Judd’s strengths better than cocaine disco jams ever did. — Doug Moore

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Nachtmystium – “The Lepers of Destitution”

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18. Enslaved – RIITIIR

Enslaved continue their evolution on RIITIIR, experimenting with dynamics and textures in a way that makes their earliest releases seem one-dimensional. Kjellson’s growls are as comforting as they are grotesque; Ice Dale’s leads tear through to the heart. The album progression feels natural and inviting. Listen carefully for the roughness of each layer in the mix. As polished as this album is as a whole, it still contains the raw reminders of Enslaved’s badass roots. — Julia Neuman

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Enslaved – “Roots of the Mountain”

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17. Black Breath – Sentenced to Life

Life need not be all intellect all the time. Metal, at its core, is music born of and about aggression. Black Breath don’t write ‘intelligent’ music, but they have aggression in spades. They channel the sound of fist against face, of stagediving faceplant, with stunning results. Sentenced to Life, powered by HM-2 pedals, D-beats, and a Norwegian black metal sense of nihilism, might be the most compulsively listenable record in Southern Lord’s catalog.
— Joseph Schafer

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Black Breath – “Feast of the Damned”

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16. Gojira – L’Enfant Sauvage

There are two ways to look at L’Enfant. First, it’s the sound of a band running in place, not knowing how to top their own masterpiece, but not willing to progress and risk a dud. Second, it’s the sound of a band so good that they can rest on their laurels and still write one of the year’s best albums. A little more melody, a little less weirdness, a bit less heft, and great songs; that’s L’Enfant. — Richard Street-Jammer

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Gojira – “L’Enfant Sauvage”

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15. Deathspell Omega – Drought

How ironic that an EP entitled Drought, as if it were devoid of brilliance, is perhaps the most relatable Deathspell Omega album to date. Whereas normally conceding to DO as superhumans here to remind us of our incompetence, Drought is the centerpiece that lays bare the band’s intricacies, and as such it’s a touch more relatable and a tad more organic than the beautiful clusterfuck of past glories. Opener “Salowe Vision” is total Neil Young gone black metal. — Aaron Maltz

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Deathspell Omega – “Salowe Vision”

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14. Meshuggah – Koloss

It’s been four years since Meshuggah released their last album. During that period, modifying or simply copying their approach has become a niche genre unto itself. Koloss makes it clear that they who did it first still do it best. Brainy rhythms and insectile solos abound, but this album finds its strength in shrewd songwriting and sheer aggression—two qualities that Meshuggah’s imitators typically lack. — Doug Moore

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Meshuggah – “The Demon’s Name is Surveillance”

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13. Asphyx – Deathhammer

With equal measures fierce brutality and slow-rolling menace, the eighth full-length album by the Netherland’s best death metal band is an awesome tour de force. Songs like the title track and “Reign of the Brute” are swift and fuzzy paeans to denim-clad metal traditionalism, while “Minefield” and the gloriously tongue-in-cheek “We Doom You To Death” bring the band’s patented melancholy drone. Modern bands, take heed—this is how death is done. —Scab Casserole

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Asphyx – “As the Magma Mammoth Rises”

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12. Grave – Endless Procession of Souls

On their tenth album, Grave offers no surprises. Why should they? The formula works. It’s Swedish. It’s death metal. It’s old-school. It’s Grave. While Endless isn’t quite as strong as Burial Ground, they did record it with two new members. Even so, it’s not that different. And sometimes, that’s just what you want. — Vanessa Salvia

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Grave – “Passion of the Weak”

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11. Neurosis – Honor Found in Decay

Whether it be the work of Neurosis or one of their numerous side projects, Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly pour an effort into their music that can only be described as earnest and honorable. It only makes sense that Neurosis’ tenth album (and fifth with producer and all-around musical mastermind Steve Albini) is called Honor Found In Decay. Sludgy but sparse, this post-metal record is all muss, no fuss. And stand-out tracks “At the Well” and “We All Rage in Gold” expertly highlight the bleak and parched desert of sound that is Neurosis. After all, nothing gold can stay, Ponyboy. — Kelly Kettering

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Neurosis – “Honor Found in Decay”

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