As we hurl ourselves ungracefully into the digital swill, we're finding different ways to be heavy at a rate faster than Mick Barr shreds guitar strings. Boundaries broken, banjos and black metal living in sin, cats and dogs singing King Diamond together ... is this progress? If this year has taught me anything, it's not that genre matters less because our share-happy Internet's a flesh-eating black hole, it's that genre doesn't mean a damn thing unless it hurts so good.
With no real trends or whipping posts in 2012, it was, surprisingly, just a great time to enjoy metal on its own terms. In fact, the only unifying theme of 2012 was a strong showing from the lifers who have made metal what it is today. Vital releases by '80s bands like Accept, Asphyx, Saint Vitus, Master, Napalm Death, Kreator and Testament kept the young'uns on their toes. That vintage continues to get more intense and pissed off, proving that while punk's a young man's game, metal's like a fine but festering bottle of wine.
There were some loose ends that don't fit on this list. The heaviest song this year that made me grin ear to bleeding ear more than anything was the harmonica howl of "No Chance" by Unsane, even if you couldn't call it "metal." And in the garbage heap that is the let's-reissue-everything-even-subpar-death-metal-demos race, Hells Headbangers' comprehensive and heftily packaged All That's Fit for Fighting box set rightly rescued Witch Cross from '80s heavy metal obscurity.
Ranking be damned, this personal top 10 list is in alphabetical order. (If you're aching for more than 10 albums, head on over to my blog for the metal records that I hated to cut.)