Thursday, 27 December 2012

2012 in Media

With 2013 just a few days away, I think it's worth looking back on the year that was. While it may be tempting to do this from the perspective of movies, I think that this was actually a rather disappointing year overall (or, at the very least, underwhelming). I mean, we had more than our fair share of mindless cinematic drivel (Wrath of the Titans, Resident Evil: Retribution, etc), extremely disappointing films (Taken 2, The Amazing Spider-man, etc) and decent films which didn't reach their potential (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, PrometheusLooper [the 3rd act was horrible in my opinion], The Dark Knight Rises, etc). To top it off, Dredd bombed at the box-office. That said, there were some great films, but aside from Skyfall, The Avengers and Argo, most of the good stuff seemed to be skewed towards the first couple months of the year.

Anyway, I really didn't start writing this to mope about the year in movies. I wrote to say that 2012 was the best years in music I can remember as most of my favourite artists not only released new albums, but they were almost universally amongst the best material in their discographies. Now I'll preface this by saying that while taste in movies tends to be more agreeable, it seems like almost everyone has their own segmented tastes in music. I mean, my tastes are focused largely on various forms of rock/hard rock/Christian rock/metal, but even in that niche then there's a good chance my tastes don't overlap with most people. So while I had an amazing year in music, you might have had a terrible one, or you had an amazing one for completely different reasons. In any case, let me enthusiastically take you through my epic 2012. :)

Beginning the year was the very odd, but nevertheless catchy, Gorillaz/James Murphy/Andre 3000 collaboration, "DoYaThing". The song was completely bonkers, but there is an unusual charm to it that grows on you with subsequent listenings (sort of like Gorillaz's previous Plastic Beach amendment, "Doncamatic"). It wasn't amazing, but I'd give the song a 6.5/10.


Next up was a busy April, which had 3 releases: True Defiance by Demon Hunter, which released the same day as Fighter by Manafest, and then the Chemicals E.P. by Love & Death at the end of the month. I was never much of a fan of Demon Hunter, but one of my friends recommended that I check them out again, and I'm glad that I did. True Defiance was a good album, amongst my favourites of the year. True Defiance opens with a bang with "Crucifix", an amazingly intense headbanger of a song. The album is just strong throughout, carrying through to the melodic closer, "Dead Flowers". If you love metal, then this is definitely worth checking out, even if you aren't a Christian. I'd give it an 8/10.

As for Fighter, I admittedly have been a bit more cautious of Manafest since Citizens Activ came out. He is now 3 albums removed from his amazing Glory, but hasn't recaptured the (ahem) spirit of that epic release. Fighter doesn't really inspire any renewed confidence that he will be doing so anytime soon, and really feels like Manafest is just coasting off of his past success. The album sounds a lot like The Chase did. While it sounds like I really didn't like the album, this isn't really the case. It certainly is decent to listen to and has some catchy songs, but it's nothing new. It's a 6.5/10 for me.

Rounding off the month of April was Love & Death's Chemicals E.P. I first started listening to Brian "Head" Welch about a year or 2 ago, and was blown away by Save Me From Myself. Naturally, I awaited his next album with bated breath. While the Chemicals E.P. isn't as good as his previous album, it's a decent interlude while we see how things shape up. I give it a 6.5/10.

After the packed month of April, May was where the trifecta of awesomeness began with Sabaton's Carolus Rex. Some friends of mine introduced me to Sabaton a couple years ago, and while I liked a few of their songs, most of their albums were very weak... well, until I listened to The Art of War and Coat of Arms anyway. Each of these albums had built upon the others and produced some legitimately good music as a result. Of course, I wondered if Sabaton would continue this evolution, or if they would fall back into formulaic war-songs again. Luckily for all of us, they unleashed Carolus Rex, easily their best album, bar none. The album features a host of amazing tracks, including "The Lion From the North", "A Lifetime of War", "The Carolean's Prayer" (their best song imho), "Carolus Rex" and "Long Live the King". Hell, even the album's b-sides are amazing, as I constantly find myself blasting their covers of "Twilight of the Thunder God" and "Feuer Frei". All-in-all, Carolus Rex is a freaking landmark for Sabaton, firmly establishing themselves as a legitimately awesome metal band and giving themselves a major challenge to overcome next time they release an album. A 9/10, easily.

The 2nd entry in the trifecta of awesomeness was one which I had awaited for years, P.O.D.'s Murdered Love. P.O.D. has been my favourite band for over a decade now, through ups and downs. When I heard they were going to be returning to their hard rock/rap/reggae roots, I was stoked and the end product did not disappoint. Murdered Love is the best P.O.D. album since Satellite (which happens to be my favourite album, period... questionable taste maybe, but refer back to the 2nd paragraph please). The album features some great tracks, especially "Murdered Love", "Lost in Forever" and especially "Babylon the Murderer", while the other tracks are mostly solid. The only two which are questionable are "Bad Boy" (which is stupid but enjoyable) and "Panic and Run" (which I found "meh"), but they hardly sink the album. Also, the album spawned a fair bit of controversy for the song "I Am", but that's a matter for a later date. All-in-all, Murdered Love sated my P.O.D. appetite, and hopefully is a portent of greater things in the future. I give it a totally biased 8.5/10.

Rounding off the trifecta of awesomeness was Project 86's Kickstarter-funded album, Wait for the Siren. Project 86 are an unfortunately under-appreciated hard rock band, but they have never had a bad album in their 15+ years as a band. Wait for the Siren doesn't disappoint in this respect, delivering a characteristically strong and very heavy war-call to the masses. P86 are also known for changing up their sound on each album, and this one sees them experimenting with unorthodox instruments (mandolin, glockenspiel, etc), in addition to flowing between different tones and degrees of heaviness. The album opens on a very strong note with "Fall, Goliath, Fall", and doesn't let up once. I also quite enjoy "The Crossfire Gambit" (if only because it features Brian "Head" Welch) and "Take the Hill" (my favourite on the album). Wait for the Siren just goes to show that Andrew Schwab knows what he's doing, crafting another excellent album and cementing P86's legacy as a force to be reckoned with. 8.5/10.

With summer nearly done, August was rounded out by tobyMac's newest release, Eye on It. tobyMac was actually one of the first Christian artists I heard and liked, and I count myself as a fan to this day. Welcome to Diverse City is one of my favourite Christian albums, period. Almost every song on it was a hit, and Portable Sounds basically carried on the same unique sound. I was worred that tobyMac was going to become stale, but lo-and-behold, he reinvented himself with a more modern sound in Tonight, making me believe he had the future in hand. However, when I found out that he was releasing his new album, Eye on It, a mere 2 years later, I was a bit worried (he typically runs on a 3-year rotation). Furthermore, toby was now taking inspiration from... dubstep artists. Blehhhhhhh. The finished product confirmed my suspicions: tobyMac had finally screwed up. Eye on It, put simply, sucked. I can honestly say I did not like any of the songs on the album (that's not to say they were awful, but they failed to break the level of mediocrity). This was a combination of the dubsteb editing ruining the songs, the fact that most of them feel incredibly uninspired, or just plain stupid lyrics. Formerly, stupid tracks like "Whoopsi-Daisy" were forgivable because they were insanely catchy, but somehow toby seems to have lost that magic. Even the songs which are obviously being pruned to be singles ("Me Without You" and "Eye on It") fail to differentiate themselves. Eye on It was a massive disappointment, and (thankfully) the only album this year which I can honestly say I hated. I'd give it a 4/10.

After the disappointment that was Eye on It, I was a little more cautious about the remaining releases of 2012 (of which there were still plenty). One of these I eyed most suspiciously was Showbread's Cancer. I like Showbread, but they have always been an odd band and I am always apprehensive of their newest release. However, I really liked Who Can Know It?, and so decided to back their Kickstarter campaign. Thankfully, I wasn't disappointed by the end result: Cancer was very good, sort of like a cross-section of Showbread's past. The message is similar to Who Can Know It?, with the instrumentation of The Fear of God and Age of Reptiles (a little bit of ...No Sir, Nihilism is Not Practical too) with frequent tonal shifts, leading to a very diverse album. It tooks a couple listen-throughs to come to a final decision, but from the start I knew I enjoyed Cancer. It's a very strong album, probably their most solid since Age of Reptiles. 7.5/10.

Rounding out 2012 was another duo of albums released on the same day, Anberlin's Vital and Dethklok's Dethalbum III (was there ever a more paradoxical pairing?). Anberlin have been gaining mainstream momentum the past few years and are quite prolific, putting out a ton of quality work despite quick turn-around times. The latest result of this is Vital, which certainly lives up to its name. Cities was a fantastic album (and "(*Fin)" is amongst my all-time favourite songs), and Vital stops just short of surpassing it. The songs are all strong, with particular highlights being "Self-Starter", "Other Side" and "God, Drugs & Sex" (which is hypnotic and really kicks into overdrive when the duet begins). Vital is another feather in Anberlin's cap without a doubt. 8/10.

Finally, Dethalbum III by Dethklok finished off 2012 in "brutal" fashion. I am a fan of Metalocalypse, and while The Dethalbum featured some fun songs, it was largely a light-hearted affair and clearly not meant to be taken to seriously. However, Dethalbum II reversed this trend, delivering an epic metal album which could easily be taken on its own merits. Dethalbum III follows in this pattern, although it's not quite as strong as the previous album was. However, there are some very good songs on display which are instantly recognizable from the show, particularly "I Ejaculate Fire", "Crush the Industry" and "Impeach God". 7/10.

All-in-all, 2012 was a great year for me in music as you can see. It was almost better though, but unfortunately Love & Death's first full-length album was delayed to January 2013! Damn... well, hopefully that's just the start of another epic year - Love & Death and RED are both confirmed to be putting out new material, and with any luck we'll see a new album from Disturbed (please get off hiatus!), Guns N' Roses (lol), Art of Dying, Gorillaz and Mastodon!

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