The shorter form of musical output, be in the 7″ vinyl, an EP or demo, or even a split release, seems to be the way to go for more and more upcoming bands, and indeed more established artists too, as 2012 has proven. Last year, our list was packed with quality releases and we had real trouble deciding our number one – you can read 2011’s best of list for short releases here.
This year, our number one was decidely easier, we felt, simply based on its overall quality – which isn’t to say the others fell that far behind it. Not at all. 2012 has been a phenomenal year for those with slightly shorter attention spans, seemingly being the way to go to get noticed and to make a name in vast swathes of the underground scene. Without further ado, here’s our countdown of the top short-form releases we’ve had the pleasure of listening to this year:
10. Mutagenocide – Mutagenocide (self-released)
While thrash wasn’t a bad year for established bands like Testament, Destruction, or Municipal Waste for that matter, new bands don’t seem to be coming to attention as often, perhaps a sign the thrash revival has had its day. But with enough finesse and indeed, attitude, new blood still seeps upwards from the porous underground, and Mutagenocide, a quintet from Witney near Oxford, delivered a beefy package of killer thrash grooves with a progressive edge which nodded to the likes of Nevermore as well as some of those mainstays of thrash.
9. Iron Witch – Post-Vegas Blues (Thirty Days of Night)
The winners of our 2011 short release list (for ‘Single Malt‘) don’t repeat the feat in our list this year, but there is no mistaking the quality shown in their second offering, a three-song, two-track assault on the ears that doesn’t expand too much on the band’s original template, or necessarily shy away from those Eyehategod comparisons. Simply, it delivers on all fronts, whether they brazenly punk out or wallow in the sludge cesspool. They’ve already got another 7″ primed for early next year. Sweet.
8. XII Boar – Split Tongue, Cloven Hoof (self-released)
2012’s most improved award surely has to go to XII Boar. Their demo was alright but still a little rough around the edges – who could have expected this from them though? ‘Split Tongue, Cloven Hoof‘ was four tracks of beer-fuelled blues rock smoked through a thrash pipe with plenty of sludge tar to really get a party going. Case in point being ‘Slamhound’, a ridiculously good riff fest with one of those big ‘fuck-yeah‘ solos in the middle, one of indisputable uderground anthems of the year. Somebody get these guys a deal, a bus, and a shit ton of beer. This party must get bigger.
7. Fat Janitor – Lurk (self-released)
Way back at the start of the year, these Scottish lads dropped ‘Lurk‘, a steaming hot dark slab of noise rock that jangled, jarred and sawed through the ears of a few. If only that few were many; Fat Janitor are undoubtedly one of the best new bands to emerge this year, discreetly yet noisily from the darkness, and its only to be hoped that more turn onto their murky world soon enough. ‘Lurk‘ is still on their Bandcamp for free, so what are you waiting for?
6. Graf Orlock – Los Angeles (Vitriol)
‘Heat‘ was one of the great movies of the 90s, never quite achieving the plaudits like, say, ‘The Godfather’, but a headline cast with Al Pacino AND Robert de Niro was not to be sniffed at. Nor is Graf Orlock’s latest sample of movie-grind. The true follow-up to the ‘Destination Time Trilogy’ is still to be delivered, but ‘Los Angeles‘ is a classic ‘Heat‘-themed spin-off. The samples are bob on, using De Niro’s ‘Dead Man Talking’ speech to launch the opening track of the same name, switching up 12 minutes of classic Graf-grind that finished with the dual segmented ‘Quick on the Trigger’, which shifted to a slower and no less heavy assault amidst a hail of gunfire. As Steve Cram said when Mo Farah crossed the line for Olympic 5,000m gold, beautiful!
5. Coilguns – Stadia Rods (Dead Dead Dead)
Despite containing members of post-metal stars The Ocean, there was little fanfare to begin with when Coilguns put out their debut EP ‘Stadia Rods‘, something that rapidly changed following its release. At times Coilguns coarsed with downward pressure, making bass-reliant bands look, and their vocalist Louis has one of the fiercest roars surely known to man – the outro to ‘Witness the Kern Arc’ alone . The comparisons to Botch and The Dillinger Escape Plan aren’t far off, and there’s no reason for them not to earn even more plaudits next year at this pace.
4. Oblivionized – Nullify the Cycle (Grindcore Karaoke)
Oblivionized already presented their potential through live performances and their ‘Abhorrent Evolution‘ EP. Yet it was here on ‘Nullify the Cycle‘ that they truly showed the signs of being a maturing and evolving force. Only three tracks long, with two absolutely devastating cuts of technical death-grind, followed with a clean minimalist track solely of piano, effects and vocal that showed exactly why these guys are on the up and up. So much so that a recent member change will hardly have an effect on them. For all the naysayers of technical metal, I say this is what can be achieved with the right focus and intensity.
3. Knife Crimes – Complete Discography (Church of Fuck/Witch Hunter)
Once upon a time, hardcore used to be so full of unity, belief, hope, and positivity. To a large extent it is, but increasingly there’s an element that have gotten tired of waiting for things to improve. Hardcore has never sounded as bleak, rejecting and cold as ‘Complete Discography‘, the entire six-song body of work by short-lived glue-sniffing, Satan-worshipping (according to their shirts) Mancunian lot Knife Crimes, who had already split after originally releasing their three-track demo. Forlorn and grim, but not frostbitten despite its blackened edge, Knife Crimes scowled at our cold, dying world and the false promises religion and optimism burden us with.
2. Down – IV: Part 1 – The Purple EP (self-released)
Four years on from ‘III: Over The Under‘, Down returned to the recording studio seemingly with a focus on the supernatural. This made for a refreshing change, with this being the first in a four part series of short releases over the coming year, and it didn’t disappoint. Musically shorn of excess fat, this was the Louisiana troupe exploring a darker side and loving every minute of it. Stylistically, they still sound the same, but those grooves sound tighter, leaner and meaner than before, evidenced on tracks such as ‘Witchtripper’ and the appropriately named ‘This Work is Timeless’. And the best part about Down’s foray into short-form releases is that another three parts of ‘IV’ are due in 2013!
1. Tree of Sores – A Cry of Despair (Witch Hunter)
Last year felt like a close call deciding on our favourite short release, such was the standard on offer. Inevitably the bar has been raised, but this year one short form release stands well above the rest. Take a bow Leeds trio Tree of Sores, whose singular, twenty-seven minute track ‘A Cry of Despair‘ was undoubtedly that highlight. Beautifully crafted, both harsh and vulnerable, powerful and at times forlorn, this seven-phase monster transcended between moods with combinations of bleak minimalist notes and surging riffs from guitarist Matt Faragher, ably backed by the thunderous grooves of bassist Joe Hall (ex-Wiht) and the apocalyptic, cacophonus drive of drummer Ben Hague. Not a single second is wasted as the band play out the soundtrack to the most tormentous of depths, grieving and plunging ever further into darkness even as it rings out its final notes. This is still a free download on Bandcamp, so if you still haven’t heard it, get over there now and right that wrong.