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These are what I rank as my favourite releases of 2012. If you think there’s any underground gems or even mainstream masterpieces I’ve somehow missed, please tell me in the comments below so I can rectify this. Anyway, to the list!

5) Harmonicraft – Torche

This was my introduction to Torche and I am sure as hell glad that someone recommended it to me. The album so far seems to be have an insanely high replay value. This was something which I discovered after I spent an entire weekend (more or less) listening to nothing other than Harmonicraft. Heavy, sludgy, poppy, awesome, this is a great release and hands down one of the best albums of the year.

4) Brendon Small’s Galaktikon – Brendon Small

As this list will show, I was really into the fun, easy-to-digest (relatively) releases of 2012. Mastermind Brendon Small on guitar and vocals is backed by drummer Gene Hoglan and bassist Bryan Beller. The trio also performs together as a band called Dethklok, which you may have heard of. Galaktikon is a concept album with an interesting and over-the-top storyline, which lends the lyrics more weight, in my opinion. Musically the album is a more melodic, rock-based affair than Dethalbum III (and Dethklok in general).

3) Epicloud – Devin Townsend

Devin Townsend is once again proving that he is one of the greatest producers, singers and composers to have walked our earth, this time through the poppy metal sounds of Epicloud. More than anything, this brings to mind a more advanced and varied version of Addicted. In a word: Fun.

2) Long Live Heavy Metal – 3 Inches Of Blood

I find it difficult to believe that I will ever get tired of these Canadians or their sound. This album was a true return to form for the band after the departure of Jamie Hooper and the slightly disappointing Here Waits Thy Doom. The solos are top notch, the riffs are great, Cam is soaring, the drumming is tight and the production is nigh on perfect. This album is perfect for the fools, the doubters and the naysayers who are convinced that metal is a thing of the past. This album not only proves that metal yet lives, but that it is stronger than ever and getting stronger still.

1) Down IV Part 1 – The Purple EP – Down

First things first, despite this being an EP, it’s also one of the greatest releases I have ever heard, so I’m including it regardless. Returning to the music at hand, this is one of the greatest collections of riffs I have ever encountered. The song-writing is top notch and both the drumming and bass-work are of interest, but for me it goes back to the amazing playing of Kirk and Pepper. This EP isn’t carried by its riffs. It is launched from their backs into the halls of greatness.

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About eighteen months ago I was in what passes for my local record store, browsing around for a copy of the classic Judas Priest album, Sad Wings Of Destiny, which I had, for one reason or another, never heard in its entirety (this has since been rectified). After a few minutes of fruitless searching, I gave up and turned to leave, but a CD on the shelf caught my eye. The cover art was insanely cool and both the album title and the band name convinced me that it was worth taking a risk on and purchasing. About an hour later I had realized just what a good decision it had been to buy Fire Up The Blades by 3 Inches Of Blood.

The Canadians absolutely destroyed. Every single song was awesome on the first listen. Fire Up The Blades was definitely not an album which had to grow on me. In fact, I loved the album so much, I listened to it at least a dozen times over the next week, despite the fact I was meant to be working on various assignments. While not a unique experience this has only ever happened to me a few times before (Persistence of Time, Screaming For Vengeance and NOLA). Which says something for how highly I rate this CD.

While every track on this album is more than good, the track Trial of Champions stands out even among these gems. The organ sounds sick and really furthers the sheer awesomeness of such a song. In fact, since buying this album, the only songs which have lost any appeal to me are Infinite Legions and Black Spire. That being said, this must have been after listen number fifty-and-something when I decided those two were no longer pleasing to me.

One of the albums many highlights is the vocal performance. The two duelling vocalists Cam Pipes, who sings falsetto brings an old school feeling to the band, whereas Jamie Hooper provides a far more modern screaming style. The contrast between these two is essentially the basis of their trademark sound. Guitarists Justin Hagberg and Shane Clark as a duo can stand up to the likes of KK Downing and Glenn Tipton or even Angus and Malcolm Young going by their great riffs and solo trade-offs (see Assassins Of The Light). The bass, played by Nick Cates, performs a mainly supporting role and rarely brings much to the table, however this works well in context. Alexi Rodriguez, the bands drummer, is the final piece of the 3 Inches of Blood puzzle and performs his role amazingly – The Goatriders Horde in particular showcases his skill.

The album is produced by Joey Jordinson, drummer for Slipknot, who brings out the 3IoB’s sound and style very well. The mix is good and all the instruments sound clear without becoming part of “the loudness war” that so many albums in the current music environment get caught up in. In short, the production on Fire Up The Blades is perfect.

To end this review, I’ll leave you with some of the coolest and most poignant lyrics on the album, taken from the song Forest King: “The earth grows quiet, all plant life will dominate again. When every structure falls, you’ll know the forest is king.”

9.5/10