Those of you who follow me know every year I do a series of best of lists from the year. I do these with the intention of helping to share stuff that has affected me or inspired me in someway throughout the year. Word of mouth is important for creative types and the best stuff is always shared by somebody. I consider myself lucky to have friends and colleagues who share stuff with me so I want to return the favor. I love year end lists as I always find tons of incredible stuff I missed out on.
First up is my list for the best metal albums of 2013. This year was an incredible year for metal music. It seemed like every time I turned around another great release was coming out, from great classic bands dropping incredible “comeback” albums or new bands redefining what I thought metal music could be. While last year there was a clear favorite for me (Panopticon’s Kentucky) this year there was just to much stuff that was amazing to try and determine what fell into a particular numbered spot. It was hard to get 20 as I felt I left a lot out, which you will notice is why the honorable mentions is so ridiculously long. So without further ado I give you my top 20 metal albums of 2013, in no particular order. If anything strikes your fancy, click the title of each number and it will take you to the bands page. I tried to get as many links to Bandcamp as possible because they are an amazing site for great bands and music in general.
This band took me by storm this year. A totally new discovery for me I immediately got all I could by them based solely on their new release. Agrimonia have taken a crust/death metal approach and fused it with some good old fashioned european doom, some blackened bits and melody you won’t believe. The songs on this album are long and winding taking you to the peaks of brutality and down again to the valley of calm and enchanting but not leaving you there long before they punch you right in the face again. “Hunted” is a perfect example of this clocking in at roughly fifteen minutes but making you wish it was longer. Christina’s vocals are unforgiving and moving all at the same time and a perfect compliment to the music the band is making. A band that doesn’t wear their influences on their sleeves but rather makes their influences into something new to create something unique and fresh.
This was probably in my top ten most anticipated albums for 2013. After a 12 year hiatus Gorguts came back with a fervor feast of technical death metal. Not that it wasn’t expected. With most bands who are gone for a while it’s almost expected their new material won’t match or even live up to the standard of the old. With Gorguts it was a pretty safe bet they would do something amazing and of course they did. While a lot of “tech” metal bands seem like they are showing off, Gorguts schooled them all, and schooled most other bands, this year while being insanely technical but writing crushing, epic songs that are more than just complex timing and crazy drums.
A new album from Inquisition is like a gift from the gods. You know that it’s going to be a top notch black metal listening experience. The only question is just how awesome will it be? Obscure Verses for the Multiverse may have eclipsed their previous tremendous album Ominous Doctrines Of The Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm, which is quite an impressive feet considering how amazing that album was. Inquisition delivers the black metal goods in spades but also takes the time to get some of that “black n’ roll” melody in there as well. Dagon’s “croak-als” are ever present and always awesome. Black metal done right and with amazing skill.
This album was given to me by a friend. I had no previous knowledge of the band when I fired it up. This album has soared to be one of my most listened to albums of the year. Stuffed to the brim with sci-fi like sounds and atmospherics this album is a black metal journey through the future, but not the Hollywood style future where everything is cold and sterile. This album writes its own future and leaves all lesser bands stuck in the past, swimming in circles. When people say an album is a “headphones” album, this is the definition of that. Put on some headphones and have your concept of music changed.
This album hit me like a ton of bricks and was one of my go to albums of 2013. You know when you can’t decide what to listen to and you think you have no good music to listen to? When that happened I put on Saor. Atmospheric like you wouldn’t believe. Folky like nobodies business and epic to boot. There was few black metal performances as captivating as this one in 2013.
I got really burnt out on melodic death metal pretty quickly. There seems to be a lot of formula followed in that genre but every now and then some bands throw caution to the wind and do something amazing with it. This year that band is Battlesoul. Mixing in some folk element and atmospherics and cranking everything up to 12 puts them ahead of the melodic death metal bunch this year. Plus I have a weakness for the folk element in all forms of metal. There’s even a tinge of power metal in there send it over the top.
Epic is a word that gets thrown around quite a bit nowadays but I’m at a loss as to any other way to describe this album. This album hit while I was anxiously awaiting the new Summoning album and kind of stole their thunder. Caladan Brood beat Summoning at their own game, which is a hard thing to do considering the new Summoning is awesome as well. By their game I mean transcendent, folky, EPIC, fantasy black metal. The music sounds like some form of ancient army standing ready with swords and battle axes drawn and the album takes you through all of their battles. Intensely instrument, dizzying melody, soaring, and earth shaking vocals Caladan Brood produced a classic album this year and while Summoning is still an amazingly impressive band, Caladan Brood edged them out.
Nails is a full on audio assault guaranteed to leave you dazed and confused for the the 17 minutes this album spans. Grindcore, hard core, power violence, whatever Nails are is devastatingly heavy and intense but without sacrificing song writing talents.
Every so often an album comes out that completely transcends its genre, taking on a life of its own and upping the bar for other bands so high it seems unattainable. Seidr’s new album is that album for 2013. Long and swirling, combining multiple styles of metal into something original and epic (there’s that word again) Seidr reminds us that there are masters of music hidden in all corners of the industry. Band wish they could produce half the quality Seidr does with any one song on this album.
While Gorguts brought back their punishingly unique take on technical death metal, Ulcerate went another direction with theirs. Ulcerate constantly pushes the limits of death metal (and music in general) with staggering technical prowess and song structures that could snap your neck with their sudden changes. Ulcerate dismantles what we think music should be, how we think it should sound, and rebuilds it in their own image, fractured, dizzying, brutal but all the same mesmerizing.
Horn takes a natural route to his version of black metal. It’s more than the typical atmospheric, folky black metal. Weaving elements of traditional black metal in there as well, Horn has crafted a simply beautiful album full of chaos and harmony. The songs cover multiple languages, helping to add to the earthy, natural sound that is prevalent on this album.
Gris has written a very serious album. This album commands your attention and requires more than a casual listen. It clocks in at just around 80 minutes and every second of it is captivating, introspective and brilliant. It might get labelled as depressive black metal and that would be a fair tag but Gris is offering more than just mournful wails and moody atmosphere. The songs weave together to take you on a journey inward if you have the mindset to go there with them. This is what the best of music does, makes you think, reflect and ponder. Gris has made a masterpiece.
Oranssi Pazuzu is bound and determined to take black metal to another place and damned if they didn’t succeed this year. Through slow, plodding repetition, psychedelic atmospherics and a dash of Krautrock they’ve managed to craft not only a great metal album, but a truly unique album which is refreshing in these days of throw back worship.
The Ruins of Beverast have crafted 3 pervious albums that are masterworks in metal. Not just black metal but metal as a whole, so the expectations for this album couldn’t be higher. Each previous album presented a singular idea and this one is no different, focusing on Heinrich Kramer, Inquisitor and witch hunter. This album takes a more doom-ish, methodical plodding path and is almost circular in it’s narrative, as opposed to the previous albums which were much more in the journey taking style of black metal. The vocals are gutteraly low, imposing and creepy. The songs are dense, atmospheric and at the same time echanting. And to think this is all done by one guy. Amazing. Blood Vaults is another amazing album in the Ruins catalog, which is shaping up to be one of the best catalogs in heavy music ever.
There are a lot of metal bands out there that try to present themselves as scary. Most of it is just posturing. Portal is a band that scares the living daylights out of me. Not just with their image but also with their experimental take on death metal. Experimental is how most describe what Portal does but it seems more than just musicians tinkering with sounds. Portal maybe straddling the lines of what can even be perceived as music. Sure you can recognize all the instruments but the sound they are producing may actually be from some evil, alternate dimension. Furiously brutal, guitars played so fast it makes your mind collapse, but also dizzying lows that echo in the bottom of your stomach. This band is not to be taken lightly, nor is their new album, which boggles my mind its execution and presentation.
I think overall, power metal had a particular weak showing this year. Of course when I listen to power metal it’s more like eating comfort food. I just crave that over the top indulgence. Gloryhammer is comfort food. They aren’t reinventing the power metal wheel but the wheel they’ve crafted is so solid it will get you where you need to go for years to come. Gloryhammer is the project of some of the Alestorm guys so if you are familiar with Alestorm’s brand of pirate themed power metal you might have an idea of where Gloryhammer is going. While it falls more into the traditional power metal scope you can definitly hear the Alestorm sound a bit. The album focuses on a mythical kingdom called Fife and some of the inhabitants there. And that is where this album sintches the title of power metal album of the year. Gloryhammer isn’t satisfied with just an homage to classic power metal, they want to craft their own world. Yes it’s cheesy, yes it’s nerdy, yes it’s over the top and those are all the best qualities of power metal and Gloryhammer delivered that in spades this year.
This one seemed to fly under the radar a bit. This is an Indonesian band making some incredible melodic, folk black metal. What really drives this band is the guitar work. The songs are epic in length but the guitar keeps everything moving right along. They interweave beautiful classical acoustic guitars with blistering tremolo picked black metal guitars to create a very warm and inviting black metal sound. Not so typical with a lot of black metal. The production is top notch and even though this is their first album, it sounds like a seasoned band. I can’t wait to see where these guys go next.
I have a fondness for Rotting Christ. One of the first black metal bands I got into outside of the Scandinavian clan, Rotting Christ opened my eyes a bit more to what can be done with the genre. While their newest release is far from their original black metal roots, it’s still a dark and heavy style. The music is more orchestrated and layered. They are adding in all sorts of traditional and folk instruments to round out their sound, which fits nicely with the chanting style of lyrics prevalent on the album. Rotting Christ is a band I always have my eye on and am always anticipating what they are doing. Sometimes they shoot and miss, sometimes they score big.
This album hits like a megaton and clocking in at 3 songs and 22 minutes long that is no small feet. Bolzer are taking death metal into their own hands and doing what they please with it. Dare I say they might have crafted the catchiest, most intense 22 minutes of death metal this year? I dare. It’s still brutal, nasty, and dirty in all the ways you want death metal to be but there is something more going on here then brutality. It’s fresh and crushingly heavy. It’s not throwback or worship music. It’s unique and well crafted and it’s very welcomed.
There seems to be a lot of talk surrounding this supposed American “Post Metal/Post Black Metal” genre. Some people seem to label it as hipster garbage and some people say it isn’t black metal at all. Vattnet Viskar seem to get thrown into this crowd. Regardless of label or scene politics I’m a fan of this band and was eagerly awaiting there first full length. They rely heavily on atmospherics and doom elements but they are creating some of the most engaging and entrancing black metal around. Black metal can be completely abrasive, frenetic, and aggressive and I love that side of the music, but it can also be introspective, encompassing and transcendent. Vattnet Viskar fit into that later description. A great album from an up and coming band.
Panopticon/Vestiges – Split
Atlantean Kodex – The White Goddess
Red Fang – Whales and Leeches
Obliteration – Black Death Horizon
Oak Pantheon/Amiensus – Split
Ayreon – The Theory of Everything
Occultist – Death Sigils
Castevet – Obsian
Nocturnal Graves – …From the Bloodlines of Cain
Falkenbach – Asa
When Bitter Spring Sleeps – Coven of Wolves
Deafheaven – Sunbather
Neige Éternelle – Neige Éternelle
Amiensus – Restoration
Skeletonwitch – Serpents Unleashed
Stratovarious – Nemesis (Power Metal)
Hammerforce – Access Denied (Power Metal – Honorable Mention)
Vhol – Vhol
Power Trip – Manifest Decimation
Cult of Fire – मृत्यु का तापसी अनुध्यान
Craven Idol – Towards Eschaton
Djevel – Besatt av Maane Og Natt
Tribulation – Formulas of Death
Witherscape – The Inheritance
Twilight of the Gods
Voices – From Human Forest Create a Fuge of Imaginary Rain
Lightning Swords Of Death – Baphometic Chaosium
Vorum – Poisoned Void
Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance
Magic Circle – Magic Circle
Cultes des Ghoules – Henbane
Overkill – The Electric Age
Howling – A Beast Conceived
Hypocrisy – End of Disclosure
Altar of Plagues – Teethed Glory and Injury
Ghost – Infestissumam
Woe – Withdrawal
Lychgate – Lychgate
Aosoth – IV: Arrow in Heart
Blood Ceremony – The Eldritch Dark
Summoning – Old Mornings Dawn
Autopsy – The Headless Ritual
Lantern – Below
Manegarm – Legions of the North
Thrawsunblat – Wanderer on the Continent of Saplings
Ereb Altor – Fire Meets Ice
Sauroctonos – Our Cold Days Are Still Here when the Lights Are out
The Howling Wind – Vortex
Thy Light – No Marrow Shall Dawn
Watain – The Wild Hunt
Warlord – The Holy Empire
Take Over and Destroy – Endless Night
Next up will be my favorite non metal albums from 2013.
Stay Creepy My Friends!