Folkways Magazine & Friends Present: Our Favorite Albums of 2012

Best Albums of 2012What happened to Folkways in 2012? We listened to a whole lot of music without ever putting aside the time to write about it!

Chris

My list is in reverse order meaning that it ends with my favorite album of the year, start reading before the suspense kills you.

Jack White: Blunderbuss

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I am a big White Stripes fan. For whatever reason I have not really listened to any of Jack White’s side projects but I had to give this record a listen. It captures the raw energy which White Stripes fans love and pairs it with a varied songwriting which the Stripes often lacked (with the exception of the amazing Get Behind Me Satan).

Swearin’: Swearin

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I saw Swearin’ open for Japandroids and enjoyed their performance way more than the headlining band. They have a sound similar to Superchunk but nothing about it feels derivative. This is one of the most fun records I have heard in 2012 and I recommend it to anyone who grew up with 90s alternative rock radio.

Bat For Lashes: The Haunted Man

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This is actually my first Bat For Lashes album. I love the way these songs are constructed. They all have fairly simple structures which are ornamented with fantastic musical flourishes which invariably heighten their emotional resonance. This is truly an emotional record but it still manages to remain a fun listen. The deeper you delve into these songs the more alive they become.

Of Montreal: Paralytic Stalks

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Of Montreal and I have had a tumultuous relationship over the last decade. I was a huge Elephant 6 fan early in my high school career and during this time, I developed a fondness for Of Montreal’s earlier works. Satanic Panic in the Attic came out when I was in college and I felt an immediate aversion to its new sound. Once Sunlandic Twins came out, I was more accustomed to this new sound and I grew a new appreciation for Satanic Panic. Their album releases followed this pattern from that point forward. Paralytic Stalks is my favorite Of Montreal record of recent memory. It immediately differentiates itself from the releases that came before and finds new ways for Barne’s elaborate lyrics to wrestle pop melodies. Admittedly, it is a far different record than the early Of Montreal albums I like best but it is a worthy addition to their expansive catalog and a great musical moment of 2012.

Cat Power: Sun

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This record was a bit of a surprise for me. I was not a huge fan of The Greatest and then Cat Power disappeared for quite some time. I somehow missed the news that a new record was being made and had the pleasure of discovering it on the shelf of the music store. The album has a really strong opening (the first track has an eagle(?!) sound effect!) and the rest of the songs do not disappoint.

The Smashing Pumpkins: Oceania

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From late elementary through early high school, I was a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan and the fan in me was very disappointed in their “comeback” album Zeitgeist. It was a happy surprise for me to give Oceania a listen. While the album definitely drags at times and some of the keyboard parts sound a bit cheesy, songs like “Panopticon” and “The Celestials” could have been written during their heyday; this is the Smashing Pumpkin sound I was nostalgic for and I am happy it was part of my 2012..

Deerhoof: Breakup Song

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This record was really a grower for me (prepare to read that a few more times if you continue perusing this list). The addition of prominent dance beats is such a change from earlier Deerhoof records that at first it was very jarring. I soon found the songs stuck in my head and knew it would find its way to this list. It is a great way to spend 29 minutes.

Dan Deacon: America

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On first listen, it was obvious that this is Dan Deacon’s most sophisticated album. The USA song-suite could actually be used as a definitive example of “electro-acoustic composition”. The pairing of the traditional instrumentation and electronic elements is so masterful that even less musically inclined people are forced to take notice; oh yeah, it’s also a ton of fun!

Grimes: Visions

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I love this album and if Grimes continues refining the ‘pop’ side of her music I believe she could really have a shot at a crossover hit. Especially with the awesome music videos she has been producing. There’s something so appealing about her voice on this album and after a lot of thought I think it is the lisping on the ‘s-sounds’. Once you hear it, you can’t unhear it.

Grizzly Bear: Shields

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This album was also a ‘grower’ for me. It is not as immediately accessible as Veckatimist in that the growth in songwriting is not as apparent on first listen. The consistency of sound within the ambience of the album is what brought me back again and again. It turns out that the environment the album creates is so engrossing that I had a hard time not listening straight through each and every time. That’s right, this is an Album with a capital ‘a’… don’t come in looking for singles.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor: ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

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The two primary compositions on this album are undeniably beautiful and almost impossible to ignore within the landscape of 2012. It was a huge surprise to receive a new Godspeed album and I am very grateful that we did. My one gripe is the way they released the vinyl version of the album: a 12” containing the two long compositions and then a 7” containing the two shorter interstitial pieces… it kind of ruins the momentum present on the CD version of the album.

Animal Collective: Centipede Hz

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This is the final and most significant ‘grower’ of the year for me. Animal Collective has been one of my favorite bands since I first heard Sung Tongs on a 2004 trip to New Jersey. It would be an understatement to say I was disappointed on first listen to Centipede Hz. I could barely listen to it, it sounded like such a mess that it was literally making my head hurt. Somehow I gave it a second and third listen and thankfully the melodies of the songs found their way out of the noise. I began to listen compulsively and it went from my biggest disappointment of 2012 to my fifth favorite album of the year.

Sigur Ros: Valtari

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( ) has always been my favorite Sigur Ros album. It does an amazing job at creating an engaging musical environment and I love exploring the effect of volume on that particular batch of songs. When the volume is low, they sound peaceful and sleepy but when you turn the sound up, it becomes intensely emotional. I find Valtari has a similar dynamic. The band takes their time in building their compositions but the journeys are extremely rewarding.
Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

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I knew I was a big Fiona Apple fan but I had no idea I would love this album so much. I think it houses some of her best written songs and most passionate performances. I found myself listening to it over and over and finding something new each time. At first listen, the songs sound much simpler than the Fiona Apple we have grown accustomed to but you can take my word that there is A LOT going on here: from the experimentation with percussion to the often jazzy song structures: this is an accomplishment. I encourage everyone to give it a try.

Mount Eerie: Clear Moon / Ocean Roar

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Yes, I have already been told that having two albums in my number one position is cheating but the two albums released by Mount Eerie in 2012 complement one another so well that they might as well be a double album. In fact, the Japanese CD version treats them like a double album! Anyway, Phil Elverum has released some of the most significant albums of my life and Clear Moon and Ocean Roar do not thwart his influence. They do an incredible job at expanding his transcendental philosophy while broadening his musical palette. He has recently purchased a de-sanctified church to record in and the sound that he captures on these albums bodes well for his investment. I always look forward to a new Mount Eerie album and I am always rewarded upon their release.
Honorable Mentions

There were a few albums that JUST missed this list:

  • Beach House: Bloom
  • Jens Lekman: I Know What Love Isn’t
  • Swans: The Seer
  • The Walkmen: Heaven
  • Japandroids: Celebration Rock
  • Actress: R.I.P

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Evan

A cigar smoking man poses with a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of beer, ca. 1900

Top 15 Non-Metal Albums of 2012

Black Moth Super RainbowCobra Juicy

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With my rising appreciation for Tobacco, I have found a new light in which to gaze fondly on BMSR. I have always enjoyed their albums, especially the cohesiveness of the previous two full lengths. Cobra Juicy continues this trend. These songs start very simply, then slowly and deceptively they add different parts that suddenly surround you with an overwhelming psychedelic jelly sound.

 

GrimesVisions

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One of the first albums of the year to genuinely grab my attention, Visions continued to be attached to the mental list I was creating in my head for best albums of the year. Though it started slipping down the ranks as the year went on, it never left the list entirely. One of the more important electronic releases of the year, in my opinion.

 

Sleigh BellsReign Of Terror

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With their second release, Sleigh Bells add another solid effort to their collection. It may not be as hard hitting or explosive as Treats, but ROT does not lose any of it’s catchiness. “Born To Lose,” “Crush,” “End Of The Line,” “Leader Of The Pack,” “Comeback Kid,” “Road To Hell,” and “You Lost Me,” are as strong as anything they’ve written so far.

 

Wild NothingNocturne

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Indicative of it’s name, this album is especially great at night, maybe a cool night, driving a lonely road through the woods with a light fog hugging the ground. This album is also noticeably more meticulous; it is crafted near perfection while maintaining the bedroom sensibilities and dreaminess that caught my attention with Gemini.

 

WoodsBend Beyond

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There’s something about the way Woods creates their music, the way the vocal melodies emit a lilting melancholy struggling to completely let go of the past. Another step forward for the band. Strong songs that incorporate the jam aspects of previous albums without overstaying their welcome.

 

METZMETZ

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Japandroids aside, this is the most hard hitting album of year. Certainly one of the most self assured debuts I’ve ever come across. The energy produced is addicting. Once the album has ended, it’s almost inevitable that it will be immediately started over. These are all similarities that this album has with Celebration Rock, but where as the aforementioned album exudes a sense of raucous community joining to fight together, this album exudes only the raucousness and the fighting, only a chaotic, flailing, anarchism.

 

Mount EerieClear Moon 

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There is beauty in the construction of this album, even though an overall sense of dread seems to permeate throughout these songs. The acoustic guitars clang about restlessly, sliding in and out of the albums pores. Songs like “Lone Bell,” “House Shape,” “Over Dark Water,” and “Clear Moon” bring about feelings of dejection and loneliness, feelings of being lost in a giant, foggy, dark world but feeling somewhat safe, knowing the unfortunate aspects of this existence and belonging to it wholly.

 

Beach HouseBloom

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Beach House does it again with another spectacular album that not only further solidifies their greatness but propels their formula for dreamy indie pop another step in the right direction. Bloom features some of their best songs to date. “Myth,” “Wild,” and “Lazuli,” are an incredibly strong three song combination to kick off the album. The rest of the songs carry the album on upward from there.

 

Sigur Rós - Valtari

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Sigur Rós is one of my all time favorite bands. I have embraced every album without expectations, and loved every single one, separately, differently, for varying reasons. In doing so, they have never let me down, and they never will. Whether they decide to stop making music as Sigur Rós or whether other endeavors will prevail, they have always been a source of happiness and a watermark for music from which I gauge. Valtari is dense, immersive, and gigantic in only a way that they can do. Even though this is a more ambient affair, these songs are produced in such away that they feel alive, like the crunching and melting of snow over a land that continues to thaw and then freeze again.

 

JapandroidsCelebration Rock

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I mentioned earlier the feeling of raucous community when listening to these songs. These songs are filled with highs that get higher and energy that builds upon exhaustion. These are songs to lose your voice to. These are songs to lose control to. These are songs that stop being songs and become anthems.

 

Grizzly BearShields

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If you could take the openness of Yellow House and the tighter song structures of Veckatimest you would have a very interesting Grizzly Bear album. Luckily, they have already thought of doing this, not only thought of it but somehow perfected it. There are jagged edges that seem to be meticulously placed, as if they needed to be there. Only Grizzly Bear could know how to construct songs like this. Thank god they are doing such.

 

Lotus PlazaSpooky Action At A Distance

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I was a very big fan of The Floodlight Collective. I am an even bigger fan of Spooky Action At A Distance. This album was another that stuck with me throughout the entirety of the year. For awhile I thought it would be sitting at the number one spot, and it very well could be. From this point on in this list the decision for number became a very, very difficult one indeed.

 

Crystal Castleslll

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Crystal Castles was brought to my attention by a friend when they released their first album, and although I didn’t fully appreciate their talent until their second full length release, it does not diminish the level of quality they have maintained throughout their career thus far. They have refined their sound throughout three releases and put out some of the most compelling electronic music in the process.

 

Godspeed You! Black Emperor‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

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This album being released was one of the most exciting moments of the year for me. Listening to “Mladic” and being completely amazed once again by the Canadian post-rock masters was like trying to fall asleep to “Dead Flag Blues,” listening to it for the first time, and not being able to sleep until the record ended, and then laying in bed in silence, completely afraid to even move. Welcome back.

 

SwansThe Seer

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If GY!BE are the masters of post-rock now, they certainly didn’t earn that title without a little lesson from Michael Gira and company. If Neil Young is the godfather of grunge, then Michael Gira is the godfather of post-rock. A triple LP you say? A magnum opus that was thirty years in the making you say? A combination of everything that the band has stood for and then ratcheting that end product up two fold? Yes, yes and yes. Best album of the year, no doubt.

 

Top 20 Metal Albums of 2012

Wilds ForlornWe, The Damned

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Everything you get from this album, from the music to the art, is compliments of a one man band from the Netherlands. Exceedingly impressive atmospheric black metal.

 

MglaWith Heart Toward None

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I couldn’t seem to get away from the songs on this record. Great songwriting kept me coming back and the strictures kept to keeping black metal’s kvlt sounds strong and relevant in the ever changing black metal community are what placed this on my list.

 

The SecretAgnus Dei

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I came to know The Secret through their last album Solve Et Coagula, obviously with Kurt Ballou producing it I couldn’t resist checking it out. Kurt is back again and so are The Secret. Another vicious, angry album from the Italian band.

 

An Autumn For Crippled ChildrenOnly The Ocean Knows

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Opening with one of my favorite songs in their catalog to date, “Past Tense,” AAFCC release their third album in as many years, and continue to propel themselves further up the ranks of the atmospheric black-gaze totem pole, or whatever you want to call this genre now.

 

WodensthroneCurse

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Wodensthrone are back, and although they are down one member, their strength and talent prevail. Another epic piece of folk/pagan infused black metal is presented to us, and it is glorious!

 

Anaal NathrakhVanitas

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I was introduced to this band late in the game, unfortunately for me. They are one of the most extreme bands in metal today and they specialize in pummeling blackish grindcore that destroys everything in it’s path. “Forging Towards the Sunset” is the perfect example of how insane this band can be, even with a “beautifully” chanted chorus.

 

GazaNo Absolutes In Human Suffering

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Finally dipping my toes into grind related bands this year brought about some revelations: grindcore is great, and I have already listened to grindcore infused albums and hadn’t even known it. Gaza put out their best album to date this year. And yet another album with Kurt Ballou behind the helm of production.

 

NachtmystiumSilencing Machine

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Blake Judd returns with another great black metal album. One of the best America has to offer in the way of kvlt black metal. Judd returns, somewhat, to his more straight forward black metal roots, that of Instinct:Decay, which was inspired by the likes of Mayhem and Darkthrone. Also, this year Judd marked the return of his black metal supergroup Twilight, with an incredible addition to the band… none other than Thurston Moore! Can’t wait to hear this collaboration!

 

FinsterforstRastlos

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By far the best folk metal album of the year. This is an extremely solid performance by the band, with great songwriting that keeps these long songs interesting all the way through. Also, the usage of an accordion in some of these songs is strangely the perfect piece needed to tie these songs together as a whole.

 

IhsahnEremita

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Another ridiculously strong album from the former leader of Emperor. The saxophone is back and stronger than ever! With collaborations abounding on this album, including Devin Townsend, Ihsahn has offered up another roller coaster of an album. Featuring styles ranging from classically influenced black and death to progressive and even touches of ambience and the occasional field recording techniques.

 

Les DiscretsAriettes Oubliees

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Fursy and company have returned again to show how post black metal is supposed to be made. Dark melodies reminiscent of Katatonia and the softer sides of Opeth mixed with the swirling instrumentation of shoegaze bands like Catherine Wheel, Ride, and of course My Bloody Valentine, make for a perfect balance between the two separate genres.

 

MeshuggahKoloss

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Continuing the trend set with Obzen, Koloss sets fully formed monstrous songs lasting somewhere in the four to six minute range. These songs are huge, Meshuggah haven’t reached this point in their career without proving their sustainability and talent.

 

GojiraL’Enfant Sauvage

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I could not stop listening to this album when I first got it. I have been a fan, not a giant fan, of Gojira over their last two albums. This changed with L’Enfant Sauvage. Being more straight forward and having more groove oriented parts, Gojira have strayed away from the more progressive aspects of their previous albums which could be looked at as good or bad. Either way, listening to this album is a must.

 

WintersunTime I

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Before I begin I would like to get everything out of the way first. Yes, Jari has taken eight years to properly follow up his masterpiece self titled debut. Yes that album was perfection, I would rank it with the likes of: Loveless, Revolver, Pet Sounds, Jane Doe, Kid A, and Ageatis Bryjun. That being said, the wait has been long, the hype has been blown so far out of proportions there’s no possibility in pleasing or surprising everyone like the last album did. What I will say is, the only reason this album isn’t number one is because of the separation of the Time albums into two separate albums (I and II). If both albums were released at the same time as a double album, this release would be number one. Instead, we have to wait until next year. Another complaint, I know.

 

KralliceYears Past Matter

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I have been a fan of Krallice since Dimensional Bleedthrough, and along with Nachtmystium, Nightbringer, Leviathan, Agalloch, and Wolves In The Throne Room, Krallice have been an important part in shaping the American black metal community. Years Past Matter has become my favorite album by the band. The guitars slip and slide like tectonic plates of ice over one of the most impressive and pummeling drum performances of the year. Krallice constructs songs completely different than other black metal bands, and it’s difficult to fully understand how they’re doing it, let alone describe it. It’s forceful, as if they lack the ability to slow down. They’re not falling out of control, but moving downhill, gaining speed and momentum.

 

EnslavedRIITIIR

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Enslaved may be one of the elder statesmen of the Norwegian black metal scene but you wouldn’t know with how incredible their releases continue to be. Not only strong, but they seem to be getting better with each release. I don’t know if it would be out of place saying this, but they’re like the U2 of black metal. It’s okay, I was laughing too while writing that. Either way, RIITIIR is another great record that with powerfully impressive songs. My favorite song so far being, “Roots Of The Mountain.”

 

Blut Aus Nord777: Cosmosophy

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Completing his trilogy, Vindsval has successfully put out three classic black metal albums within two years. This trilogy will go down as a monumental piece in black metal’s storied history. Being on the more experimental, softer, shoegazey, or progressive side of the scale, or however you want to describe this, Cosmosophy continues the same feel of the previous two albums. This album has slower songs that are more expansive and even contain clean vocals. In fact, I believe there maybe more clean vocals on here than his traditional black metal vocals, which isn’t something to sneer at, it works well with what he is trying to accomplish here.

 

AlcestLes Voyages De L’Âme

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With his third full length, Neige continues to evolve his main project, Alcest. This album still has the dreamy shoegazey feeling that previous albums have had, and he is slowly moving further away from black metal standards, so much so that I almost wouldn’t put it on this list if there weren’t traditional black metal vocals used sparingly. Still, the songs are transportive and filled with longing and nostalgia, and the vocals are lofty and ethereal. Pretty much everything that usually draws me to an album or band. And not to look to far into the future but Alcest will be recording their next album at Sigur Ros’ recording studio in Iceland, and I could not be more excited.

 

Devin TownsendEpicloud

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Earlier this year I was lucky enough to see Devin Townsend live, and I must say it was one of the greatest concerts I’ve ever been to. The energy was high and Devin was… well exactly what I expected and hoped for, he was Devin, the perfect crazy front man and leader. Being one of the most prolific metal artists of all time, Devin has amassed an extraordinarily diverse and powerful back catalog. Not stopping the trend with Epicloud, Devin has delivered again, and I’m struggling not to say this is his best. It’s certainly one of the most positive albums I’ve ever heard, one of the most fun, and one of the most grandiose albums of his career, which is saying a lot. The wall of sound that he is known for has been built higher.

 

ConvergeAll We Love We Leave Behind

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And now number 1! If it weren’t for “The Saddest Day” I don’t know where my metal appreciation would’ve come from, if it all, or where it would’ve lead to at this point in my life. Hearing that song all those years ago and then seeing it live, and going completely insane, I can only thank Converge for introducing me to the vast world of metal. They have been the foundation of everything I have come to appreciate about music in general. Tireless effort after tireless effort, they have never let me down. And not only have their releases been great, but as I have mentioned earlier, main guitarist and production wiz Kurt Ballou has produced two other albums on this list. Their effect and influence is enormous. AWLWLB strips away the production techniques and the guest appearances of the last album and shows us just how incredible they can be alone. They’re just as powerful, just as catchy, and just as impressive.

Best Ep’s Of 2012

Daniel RossenSilent Hour/Golden Mile

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BurialKindred

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NecroblasphemeVII: The Deeper, The Better

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Deathspell OmegaDrought

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