The Best Punk and Metal/Hard Rock of 2012 is our second to last feature in our Best of 2012 series. Earlier in the week we talked about our favorite Pop/Rock, Electronic and Hip-Hop/R&B, and Experimental and Ambient/Post-Rock albums. Tomorrow we'll discuss the hands-down best albums of the year.

Top 5 Punk Albums of 2012
Surprisingly, we had a hard time putting together our Best of Punk category this year, but there were at least a few albums that really stood out. What we ended up with was a diverse five album list, with modern and classic hardcore bands Converge and Off! as well as Ian MacKaye and Amy Farina's band The Evens. Justin Sinkovich brings his 90s punk experience with Unwound, and Bill Ross brought in the lesser known Basement. Feel free to contact us if you want to share your punk rock with us, we're all ears.

1. Converge: All We Love We Leave Behind [Epitaph]

All We Love We Leave Behind opens with the pummeling "Aimless Arrow," which leans heavily on the band's lone guitarist Kurt Ballou for his ferocious and lightning-fast output. In many ways, Ballou is the driving force behind Converge, dictating the territories they explore with each new track. "Aimless Arrow," "Trespasses," and "Tender Abuse" all bleed together, though not in a bad way. That's all shaken up when "Sadness Comes Home" enters with a tight, sludge-y riff. He brings the crew back to their signature driving punk with a finger-tapped, metal-influenced piece that reoccurs throughout the song. On top of Ballou's guitars, Nate Newton's bass parts, and Ben Koller's bombastic drumming, vocalist Jacob Bannon manages to find the space for his heavy, meaningful lyrics. In "Sparrow's Fall" he spews, "(don't) live as the echo / but thrive as the sound / don't let your future / writhe in our past." He goes on to discuss what it means to have loved, and not specifically just another but more so anything, and to have lost. The 11th track, "Coral Blue," is the only song on the record without screaming. Jacob quietly wallows into the mic during the verses, and sort of howls without screaming during the chorus. This is one of the many examples in which Converge doesn’t necessarily hop genres, yet takes a less typical approach than many of their peers. All We Love We Leave Behind is an essential cog in their discography.
--Zach Pollack

2. The Evens: The Odds [Dischord]

While Fugazi, Minor Threat, and The Warmers may be things of the past, you can still catch Ian MacKaye and Amy Farina in their project The Evens. The duo is a great musical pair, and they happen to be husband and wife. The Odds is their first album since 2006, and they are back with more energy and cleaner, more powerful recordings.

The Odds starts off strong with “King of Kings,” which offers the compelling line “If you want to catch a butterfly, just hold your finger still.” I imagine this must be inspired by experiences with their son, whose silhouette graces the cover of the album. “Wanted Criminals” feels like a throwback to Fugazi, thanks to MacKaye’s infamous yell and choppy guitar strumming. The lyric “Jails in search of prisoners” touches on America’s influx of prisons, prisoners, and security jobs. “Competing With the Till” works toward the sarcastic advertising pitch “Our audience is your clientele” over a kind of lounge melody. “Timothy Wright” features a section that sounds almost like it could be in a musical, with the line “Jesus Christ, it would be nice, if he knew where his next meal was coming from” before reverting back to a more punk style. “Kok” closes out the album as a sort of reprise to “King of Kings.”
--Parker Langvardt

3. Off!Off! [Vice]

These days, no one is repping classic 80s hardcore like Off! Featuring vocalist Keith Morris of Black Flag and Circle Jerks fame, Off! burn through fast-paced punk jams in two-minutes or less, making their sixteen track album average just under a minute per track. Hot Snakes and Rocket From the Crypt drummer Mario Rubalcaba keeps things moving along while Steve McDonald of Redd Kross adds the glue between Rubalcaba and guitarist Dimitri Coats.

Morris yells through light distortion throughout album, and it’s clear that he’s as cantankerous as ever. Both “Wiped Out” and “Cracked” see Morris unraveling, and he seems to have a lot of people to tell off (“I’ve Got News For You,” “Wrong,” and “Feelings Are Meant to be Hurt”). “Elimination,” “King Kong Brigade,” and “Vaporized” are among the more political tracks. While there isn’t anything intensely deep or wildly innovative on Off!, the band does a good job of keeping hardcore fun, noisy, and concise.
--Parker Langvardt

4. Unwound: Live Leaves [Kill Rock Stars]

When Unwound’s singles on Kill Rock Stars and Gravity came out in the early 90s, I was hooked. We were a part of the same music scene, but they were light years ahead, forging a breathtaking sound that smashed together spacey art noise and mathy post-punk. Their tour and release schedule were relentless throughout the 90s, and I shared many stages, beers, and conversations with them before they disappeared for years prior to their final LP, 2001’s Leaves Turn Inside You. While their previous albums had a tight, angular sound, Leaves Turn Inside You was a blurry, meandering head-trip. Noticeably recorded at home, the double LP was a commitment in patience.

As I sat with the band before their Chicago show on the tour for Leaves Turn Inside You, I recognized that they were unraveling. What unfolded was as beautiful as it was unsettling. Live Leaves is very similar to the set I saw, and one of the tracks from this release is actually from the Chicago show. I still listen to Leaves Turn Inside You more than any other Unwound records. To have great live documentation of an album and band so important to so many people, and after so many years, is a real treasure.
--Justin Sinkovich

5. Basement: Colourmeinkindness [Run For Cover]
This short-lived emo-punk group from Ipswich breathed new life into a genre that has greatly tapered off in innovation in recent years. Basement’s second album, Colourmeinkindness, makes emo sound more badass than it ever has. Channeling legendary bands like Jawbreaker and Sunny Day Real Estate, Basement fuses full, burly production with raw punk attitude in this collection of dark, catchy love-lamenting anthems. Every song could be a single, each one hitting at least as hard as the last.

Colourmeinkindness is built upon a theme of trust issues. It opens with the wailing guitar sweeps and driving rhythm of “Whole” supporting a refrain of desperate cries, “Lie to me, lie to me, make me see.” The album continues to revel in emotion and skepticism, from the painful vocals in “Covet” cutting through bass-driven verses, to the ominous admission in “Black” proclaiming, “I tell lies / If I didn’t you’d be horrified / I’d rather die than have you find out what I’m trying to hide.” In their short tenure as a band, Basement managed to master the nostalgic allure of emo while adding its own dark pinches of punk innovation.

Honorable Punks:
BATS The Sleep of Reason
Ceremony Zoo
Comadre Cold Rain EP
Jogging Take Courage
Lasers and Fast and Shit Second: Cat Fight

Top 5 Metal/Hard Rock Albums of 2012
On the other hand, Best of Metal/Hard Rock was a difficult beast to tackle for entirely different reasons. With so many sub-genres, we could have made a list of twenty albums if we had it in us to write all the blurbs. If you think we missed it, chances are we considered it.

1. Eagle Twin: The Feather Tipped the Serpent's Scale [Southern Lord]
Eagle Twin is easily one of the most crushing and mind-bending metal bands to release an album in 2012. The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale builds on both the sound and the myth that began on their debut, The Unkindness of Crows. Eagle Twin has created a conglomeration of myths and philosophies from around the world, revolving around snakes and crows. Their music is dense, psychedelic sludge metal that one would never guess is created by only two musicians.

Vocalist Gentry Densley creates both guitar and bass parts with his guitar, with two chains of pedals that control volume, pitch, loops, and, of course, distortion. His vocals are most relative to throat singing, and not only does it blend well with his guitar, it is also a great relief from the plethora of growling and screaming that takes place in nearly every other metal band. Drummer Tyler Smith provides appropriately minimalist rhythms, flourishing when the time is right. Adding to the duo’s metal credentials is their relationship with Sunn O))) (and hence their signing to Southern Lord) and the fact that they construct their own high-end amplifiers and speaker cabinets.
--Parker Langvardt

2. Obsidian Kingdom: Mantiis [Self-Released]
Barcelona’s Obsidian Kingdom seriously nailed the flow of their 2012 album Mantiis, accomplished by crafting cohesive tones, varying their style from ambient up to metal, and dividing what could have been extremely long tracks into manageable pieces. Mantiis opens with the ambient number “Not Yet Five” before entering “Oncoming Darkness,” which focuses on acoustic guitar and clean vocals before sliding gracefully into quick, consistent bass drum and chugging guitars. The mysterious bass guitar and mallet percussion of “Through the Glass” continues out of “Oncoming Darkness” without missing a beat, building in aggression to welcome the last piece of the first suite - the dark, relentless “Cinnamon Balls.”

“The Nurse” introduces to the second suite of songs, with electric piano, a brushed snare drum, and ambient guitar. “Last of the Light” begins like it will be another “Cinnamon Balls,” but quickly drops into an ambiance that gives way to guitar and trumpet solos before ending on an intense note.

Dreamy synthesizer and soft vocals close out the otherwise aggressive “Awake until Dawn,” allowing the instrumental epic “Haunts of the Underworld” to enter with rhythmic breathing. “Fingers in Anguish” is the next track to feature vocals, with dense, dark eruptions underneath. Marching snare opens the grooving, growling “Ball-Room,” which is paired with the straighter rhythms of the album closer “And Then It Was.”
--Parker Langvardt

3. Baroness: Yellow & Green [Relapse]
Baroness took a major step forward with the release of its latest double-album, Yellow & Green. With a much more refined style than previous releases, the Savannah, Georgia group has achieved a new level of artistic prowess. Yellow & Green feels bigger and grander than 2007's Red Album or 2009's Blue Record, evolving from heavy, gritty riffage into a far more grandiose metal symphony. The result is a metal album with something of a pop charm, exchanging raw aggression for calculated aggression. But cleaner production and mainstream appeal does not come at the expense of creativity. The band experiments with various new styles, most notably in the driving, dance-like rhythms of tracks like "Little Things" and "Psalms Alive." Baroness seems to have reached a conceptual summit with Yellow & Green, filling out the color wheel and finally perfecting a solid signature sound.
--Bill Ross

4. Neurosis: Honor Found In Decay [Neurot]
It's easier than ever for musicians to get lost in the shuffle of mediocrity and convolution, especially in heavier genres like metal and punk where differentiation and widespread accessibility are constant challenges even for the most gritty, seasoned veterans. But what seems like an arduous task to most can sometimes be achieved with quiet ease by some, as evidenced by Neurosis' tenth studio album Honor Found In Decay, a flawless sludge metal album that is thematically and aurally stunning yet built wholly upon the most basic sludge fundamentals.

Neurosis does everything right with Honor Found In Decay, providing a striking lesson in rudimentary sludge metal artistry. Brutal guitar sounds, ferocious vocals, lower-than-low bass, tenacious drums, folk motifs, an overall mood of aggression and doom - it's all there on this album, carried out with a masterful finesse not often heard in this style of music. No frills, no fancy production, no vanity; just intense, heavy-hitting sludge, making Honor Found In Decay one of the most powerful and gratifying metal albums in recent memory.
--Bill Ross

5. Royal Thunder: CVI [Relapse]
Remember your Led Zeppelin phase? Well, Royal Thunder never left theirs, and that’s not a bad thing at all. Taking a more metal-influenced approach to a varied blues rock sound, Royal Thunder’s 2012 opus CVI builds upon what they set out to encompass on their 2009 self-titled debut. "Parsonz Curse" opens CVI with a moody, glacially-paced guitar riff that is quickly accompanied by the howl of frontwoman Mlny Parsonz, leading the song into a polished, high-energy chorus. Just like any great blues rock effort, CVI boasts a natural ebb and flow between downtempo sections and its more exciting numbers. The band keeps the energy high until the slow, sludgy “Sleeping Witch,” and despite the second half of the album’s generally slower and softer sound, it is not without its peaks; "South of Somewhere” creeps in for almost four minutes before ending in a psychedelic fury. “Drown” takes a less eerie approach to a similar build, and the album closes intimately with “Minus” and “Black Water Vision.”
--Zach Pollack

Metal of Honor:
Amenra Mass V
Horseback Half Blood
Ihsahn Eremita
Kowloon Walled City Shipping Containers
Pig Destroyer Book Burner