Top Albums of 2013, by Greg Majewski

Between settling into a new city and starting a new job in said new city, I sort of fell behind on my listening this year. Thus, I didn’t get around to many of the more hyped albums of 2013 until much later. The records I did enjoy, however, I feel very much attached to. I’m sure there will be about 20 other albums I’d like to add to this list in about six months after I’ve finished checking out the rest of this year’s bounty. My resolution for 2014 is simple: listen to more music. Here’s to wearing my eardrums thin next year!

— Greg Majewski

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10. ZIRAKZIGIL — BATTLE OF THE PEAK (Anthem Records, US)

3 songs, 50 minutes, one take. If Battle of the Peak sounds like a demo recorded in some dude’s garage, that’s because it is. The tracks pan at odd times, there’s tape hiss everywhere and I’d be surprised if more than three mikes were used to capture the aural wizardry. Get it on cassette for maximum cult points. And for the fact that it’s packaged like a Super Nintendo game cart. And it’s based on a pivotal moment in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. And it sounds like an unholy triad of Rush, Mastodon and High on Fire.

9. DEAFHEAVEN — SUNBATHER (Deathwish Records, US)

If there’s such a thing as a summer black metal album, Sunbather is it. San Francisco’s controversial quintet fused swift, breezy blast beats and blindingly bright melodies to transcend genres and forge the most talked-about heavy album of the year. Whether you appreciated Deafheaven’s sophomore LP for the further accessibility over its predecessor or despised it for embodying the perceived height of “hipster” black metal, you listened nonetheless. We all did. Three years into their career, Deafheaven would be equally comfortable sharing a bill with Mayhem as they would My Bloody Valentine.

8. EIGHT BELLS — THE CAPTAIN’S DAUGHTER (Seventh Rule, US)

Leave it to former members of defunct Bay Area psych rock greats SubArachnoid Space to create a work as emotional as it is technical. “Fate and Technology” is the album’s true standout, Haley Westeiner’s intimate vocals breaking through the rollicking jam session. The build is as epic as they come, and the payoff is even greater. Westeiner’s haunting croons are slowly consumed by Melynda Jackson’s delay pedal-induced madness before Chris Van Huffel blasts his way through, double bass leading the charge. Brutal and beautiful.


7. THE OCEAN — PELAGIAL (Metal Blade Records, Germany)

To think, Loïc Rossetti’s damaged pipes almost deprived us of the strongest vocal performance of the year. The Ocean decided to add the Swiss singer at the 11th hour, after conceiving Pelagial as an entirely instrumental album. Why don’t I remember this guy on Heliocentric and Anthropocentric? And why isn’t he being recruited like a stud quarterback by every radio rock act across the globe? His grit flows into “Bathyalpelagic II the Wish in Dreams”’s massive hook like the fathomless depths that lend his band its namesake, and weaves in and out of its sequel’s blast-beaten ebb and flow like schools of fish swaying to the current.

6. CRAVEN IDOL — TOWARDS ESCHATON (Dark Descent Records, UK)
Stream on Bandcamp

Australian black thrash from foggy London town? Sure, why not? Dark Descent hits another one out of the park with Craven Idol’s vicious debut. From the triumphant, sanguine leads of opener “To Summon Maryion,” Towards Eschaton bound Deströyer 666 hooks to mid-period Behemoth’s crispness. Riffs come fast and sudden, split by screaming solos and winding leadwork. And they’re not afraid to go old school with “Aura of Undeath”’s whirlwind of Immortal tremolo. With everyone losing their minds over the new Inquisition, Towards Eschaton was the real black metal guitar record of 2013.


5. SUBROSA — MORE CONSTANT THAN THE GODS (Profound Lore, US)

With increased confidence and an improved range, SubRosa mastermind Rebecca Vernon opens her band’s third full-length with one of her trademark declarative refrains: “All of my life / I’ve been waiting for you” before towering, fuzzed-out guitars tear the grim ritual in half. The rift is blown open, and an aggression and experimentation hinted at on 2011’s stellar No Help for the Mighty Ones is now in full view. From the unexpectedly catchy “Cosey Mo” — with its methodical, trudging central riff — to the wispy hammered dulcimer that closes “No Safe Harbor,” More Constant than the Gods is the sound of a frontwoman and a band taking risk after risk and hitting their stride along the way.

4. TRIBULATION — THE FORMULAS OF DEATH (Invictus Productions, Sweden)

Did Frank Zappa return from the grave to jam with the dudes from Entombed? Nope, but the album-spanning weirdness on Tribulation’s sophomore effort would have us think otherwise. With a pronounced horror theme haunting its spacious, organic interior, The Formulas of Death was the most unexpected turn from a previously obscure act this year. After setting the creepy stage with instrumental opener “Vagina Dentata” (Google it), the swinging Swedes get to work, with drummer Jakob Ljungberg effortlessly flipping between traditional blasts and surf rock shuffle and generally playing the living hell out of his hi-hat. Who’d have thought back beats could be so spooky?

3. MAGIC CIRCLE — MAGIC CIRCLE (Armageddon Records, US)

Mark another win for Richard Street-Jammer. IO’s resident keeper of all things old school and doomy clued readers and writers alike in on this self-titled debut from Boston’s Magic Circle. The hardcore super group turned Sabbed-out riff maniacs delivered a two ton slab of plodding, tri-tone inflected occultism more bristly than Iommi’s mustache. Perhaps the largest compliment is that not one reviewer has dropped the dreaded “I” word: ironic. How could they? One listen to Brendan Radigan’s wail over “Rapture”’s NWOBHM stomp and groove will sell the most ardent traditionalist.


2. MOUTH OF THE ARCHITECT — DAWNING (Translation Loss Records, US)

Pelican guitarist Laurent Lebec once famously claimed “We are a fucking triumphant band,” the statement becoming his band’s de facto slogan. With all due respect to the Windy City instru-metal heroes, Mouth of the Architect raise more goosebumps per square inch than just about any act in the post-metal landscape. If more moments on Dawning were as harrowing as “Patterns”’ closing collapse and crush, it might just have secured the top spot. After a tom-heavy first half punctuated by outright crooning and arpeggio lead interplay, the band lays its mantra atop a bed of keys: “A pattern is revealed.” One pregnant pause leads to sky-stretching tremolo and seemingly every vocalist in Dayton, OH bellowing at once.


1. A PREGNANT LIGHT — DOMINATION HARMONY (Colloquial Sound Recordings, US)

The Saturday after I ordered a batch of his latest releases, Colloquial Sound Recordings mainman Damian Master sent me download links to the three albums. That night I cracked open a few beers and loaded APL’s EP, hit “play” and proceeded to hit repeat after the 15 minute runtime was up far too soon. The next thing I know I’m awake at 5 a.m. after a few cool ones and about 20 rotations of Domination Harmony burying themselves in my subconscious. Bleary-eyed but inspired, I force myself to stay awake for another couple loops before finally hitting “stop” to get a few more hours of sleep. After a playcount that I can only assume now numbers in triple digits, the rollicking blackened post-punk charging its way through “The Pregnant Life” is happily tattooed on my mind.