The 10 Best Bay Area Metal Albums of 2012

Our year-end listmaking continues with a look at the heavier side of things. Featuring venerable greats as well as brand-new bands -- and even some freaks in heavy costume -- here are our picks for the 10 best local metal albums of 2012:

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High on Fire
De Vermis Mysteriis
[E1]

Convoluted as the premise for High on Fire's sixth album might sound -- the twin brother of Jesus dies at the moment of birth and becomes a Quantum Leap-style time traveler -- the songs on De Vermis Mysteriis find guitarist Matt Pike and company hitting a new apex of focus and ferocity. From the cannonade drum fill that kicks off brutal opener "Serums of Liao" through the equally frenetic "Bloody Knuckles" and "Fertile Green" (maybe the most violently hectic ode to smoking pot ever laid to tape), the first 15 minutes blast by with a scorching intensity that would do Slayer proud. On slower numbers like the instrumental "Samsara" and "King of Days," High on Fire has never sounded heavier or more majestic. -- Dave Pehling

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Testament
Dark Roots of Earth
[Nuclear Blast Records]

S.F. thrash titans Testament made fans wait quite a while for the follow-up to 2008's Formation of Damnation (which itself came after a nearly decade-long gap between albums), but Dark Roots of Earth proved well worth the wait. Bringing monster drummer Gene Hoglan back into the fold after injury waylaid longtime member Paul Bostaph helped push pit-churners "Rise Up" and "True American Hate" into the red on the aggression meter. With singer Chuck Billy and the blazing guitar tandem of Erik Peterson and Alex Skolnick sounding as fierce as ever, the album's mix of hook-heavy riffs, melodicism and total brutality ranks Dark Roots of Early among Testament's best efforts.-- Dave Pehling


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Early Graves
Red Horse
[No Sleep]

You may have noticed a lot of apocalypse-themed records this year, but you probably didn't hear one as deeply apocalyptic-sounding as Early Graves' Red Horse. By hybridizing Entombed's thrash 'n' roll with a careening punk aesthetic, Early Graves have fashioned an album that feels as dangerous as driving under the influence of a fifth of Old Crow and a homemade speedball. That there's a rather sophisticated melodic sensibility beneath that madness goes a bit of the way towards explaining this record's thematic paradox: lyrical misanthropy delivered with life-affirming enthusiasm. A total banger of a modern heavy metal record. -- Alee Karim


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Om
Advaitic Songs
[Drag City]

Drifting further from the sternum-rattling mantras of earlier efforts, Sleep bassist Al Cisneros and his Om drumming partner Emil Amos embrace an ever-broadening instrumental palette on Advaitic Songs. The second recording to feature auxiliary members Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe (vocals, tambura) and Jackie Perez Gratz (the cellist for similarly experi-metal outfit Grayceon), the album introduces more lushly orchestrated strings and layered vocal harmonies on "Gethsemene" and a sampled chant on "Sinai." Cisneros still occasionally kicks his bass into overdriven mode, but Om has learned to achieve a different kind of heaviness on the band's most fully realized collection of songs to date. -- Dave Pehling


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