5. Robocop/Detroit split: Dead Language, Foreign Bodies
Robocop has emerged as one of contemporary powerviolence's more interesting voices, and part of the reason for that distinction comes from their willingness to experiment with the form. What's normally a down-and-dirty genre gets the audiophile treatment on Robocop's side of this split, and the result is a twitching, mutant punk that incorporates saxophones, echoing noise and whatever else it can wrap its tentacles around into a strange, satisfying experimental powerviolence gestalt. The Canadians in Detroit, while opting for a more traditional approach to powerviolence, ramp up the violence and anger with a moshing, throat-bursting kick-in-the-teeth of a B-side that occasionally gives way to 90's post-hardcore sincerity ("Day After Day," the second half of "Pusher"). All that, plus a Jennifer Lopez cover. A well-made, varied split that also happens to come with some of 2012's best cover art and packaging.
4. The Afternoon Gentlemen/Suffering Mind
The boozegrind/slackerviolence of The Afternoon Gentlemen is a stinking ball of fastcore, grind and powerviolence pickled in cheap alcohol and crust punk. Pissed-off, irreverent (and in moments like the Fukushima Daiichi disaster-referencing "Nuclear Terror," truly funny: "Leaders speak to calm our spirits/Crust bands write piles of new lyrics") blasting for the burnt-out crusty in all of us. Suffering Mind, arguably this year's king of splits and per-volume one of the most consistent bands working in their genre today, blast out four shots of Insect Warfare and Discordance Axis-inflected shrapnel (one of which is an Assück cover) with the ease of true A-list grind lifers. Together, these two keep the grind alive on ten tracks of low-stakes but highly enjoyable punk noise.
3. Sete Star Sept/Rotgut
Among the year's most controversial extreme music releases was the sprawling, uninhibited noisegrind omnibus that is Sete Star Sept's Vinyl Collection 2010-2012. For most listeners, it was a hard piece to approach because of its sheer size alone, and many walked away from it as perplexed as when they started. As the enjoyable-ness factor of SSS's side of this split (featured on the aforementioned collection) shows, in small bites, the unhinged and left-field nature of these Japanese grinders can be immensely satisfying. On the flip side, Malaysian grind 'n' roll newcomers Rotgut serve up a classic-sounding set of nasty, lo-fi Asian grindcore heavier on attitude than speed (and surprisingly enough, all the better for it). The perfect 2012 split to satisfy your inner Neanderthal noisehound, these tracks sport a sound that would fit in chronologically anywhere from the mid-90's to last week.
2. Gripe/Diseksa: Indefinite Detention
Politically and socially conscious grindcore, by its nature, rests on one side or the other of the line between pertinent and painful, depending on its execution. Thankfully, then, the overtly socially charged Indefinite Detention (and with a name like that, how could it not be?) sits comfortably on the former side—and happens to rule musically, as well. Gripe's outraged, high-caliber grind is one of my personal favorite recent examples of the form, and the lyrical content of songs like the anti-rape "Ballbuster," the title track and "You Can't Spell Dead Without D.E.A." prove that all that griping comes with some very solid arguments. Diseksa (the second set of Malaysians on this list, further illustrating South Asian grind's continued ascendance) smash out raw, boombox-in-a-room-fidelity crust-grind that does fun as well as it does fuck you (and so well that I'm willing to forgive their use of the first "Oh my God, they killed Kenny!" sample that I've ever heard). An effortless-sounding grindcore tutorial that, especially at the impossible-to-pass-up price of a free download, is a must-have blastbeat-fest for this year.
1. Cloud Rat/Republic of Dreams
I've already said a lot about this split, but considering how much I love it, I'm willing to say a bit more. Cloud Rat might be my single favorite recent grind act, and considering the fact that they seem to get better with each release, stand to hold that honor for the foreseeable future. The mixture of punk, doom and memorable grindcore riffs on their six tracks stuck with me like nothing else did this year (I liked this record enough I almost considered saving it for my top LPs list instead of top splits) and each track oozes emotion and energy in a manner I've mainly encountered on Pig Destroyer's strongest material and Jon Chang's Discordance Axis and Gridlink releases (and the lyrics are at least up to par with the ones from those records). I'll admit that's it's the second side, by screamo newcomers Republic of Dreams, that was the real surprise for me. Every bit as cohesive as the Cloud Rat side, RoD's side made me love a genre I don't usually pay a lot of attention to, and while I'm too much of a Cloud Rat fan to say that this is the superior side, Republic of Dreams is going to be on my new release radar from here on out. Long on atmosphere and emotionality (and longer on catchy riffs), these tracks swing from one polarity to another with more blasts than you'll find in your typical screamo album. This is a split that's determined to avoid any limitations conferred by the form, and if it isn't sitting somewhere in your record crates/on your shelves, do yourself a favor and buy it as a late holiday/early New Years present. No split even came close to this one this year, and if either of these bands' 2013 releases are anywhere as good as this (Moksha already has a tentative place on HaaSL's Best LPs of 2013 list and I've only heard one song from it) expect to see them both on my lists this time next year.