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Top Albums of 2013, by Rhys Williams

In addition to my specialized anniversary list (what does thatmean? stay tuned to find out! -ed.), I have also taken the liberty of writing a Top 10 of 2013 list, predicated on nothing but my own personal tastes. You can agree with me or not, but these are the records that really stood out on my playlists of new metal for this year.

— Rhys Williams

Honorable Mentions:

20. Montsegur – Under The Banner Of Witchcraft (Self-released, Russia) (streaming here)

19. Power Trip – Manifest Decimation (Southern Lord Records, US) (streaming here)

18. Rotting Christ – Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy (Season of Mist Records, Greece) (streaming here)

17. Circle of Ouroborus – The Final Egg (Heidens Hart Records, Finland) (streaming here)

16. Botanist/Palace of Worms – Split (The Flenser Records, US) (streaming here)

15. Tengger Cavalry – The Expedition (Metal Hell Records, China) (streaming here)

14. Vorum – Poisoned Void (Woodcut Records, Finland) (streaming here)

13. Immolation – Kingdom of Conspiracy (Nuclear Blast Records, US) (streaming here)

12. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats – Mind Control (Rise Above Records, UK) (streaming here)

11. Aosoth – IV: An Arrow In The Heart (Agonia Records, FR) (streaming here)

10. Killswitch Engage – Disarm The Descent (Roadrunner Records, US)

No, this is not some uber-low-fi demo cassette released through Svn Okklt, so perhaps my kvlt kredentiials are lacking. However, that doesn’t change the fact that, as the first record released following Howard Johnson’s depart from KSE, this is an excellent offering. Jesse Leach lacks Johnson’s range but has an earnestness that fits the music perfectly, and Adam Dutkiewicz’s leads have never been sharper or more on point. Punchy, direct, and lean, without a hint of malaise, DTD proves that KSE are still the undisputed masters of American metalcore.

9. Inquistion – Obscure Verses For The Multiverse (Season of Mist Records, US)

With Obscure Verses…, Inquistion joins Portal in adopting a cleaner, more streamlined production, and like Portal, this has the result of bringing the music right to your face. Dagon’s riffs have never been punchier, and the band’s ear for songcraft puts them well ahead of their contemporaries. Add some cosmic eschatology, and one has a seriously mind-bendingly kickass record. THIS is what the future of USBM will sound like.

8. The Meads Of Asphodel – Sonderkommando (Candlelight Records, UK)

I love weird metal. I also love weird metal that is super controversial. The Meads of Asphodel has always been a weird project, a strange, off-kilter blend of Mr. Bungle and Absu via Akercocke, but on this record, Metatron and fellows produce an album about the horrors of the Holocaust that is at once absurdist but also harrowing. This isn’t “Angel of Death;” this is bizarre black metal about an event too horrible to be comprehended through anything but absurdity. It was a task that could have ended terribly for all involved, but Meads have produced a concept record about the Holocaust that is at once memorable, catchy, engaging, and horrifying, often all at the same time.

7. Summoning – Old Morning’s Dawn (Napalm Records, Austria)

Summoning are a band I have often wavered on. Lugburz is one of my all-time favorite black metal records, but their subsequent drum-machine stuff often leaves me grimacing. However, with Old Morning’s Dawn, Summoning perfectly capture what I feel is the spirit of the Lord of the Rings: epically winsome. The synths here are convincing enough to channel folk instruments and choirs while still sounding unique, and the songs exude real majesty in their riffs orchestration. For me, this is the essence of what Robert Plant was describing when he foretold “the horns shall shake the castle wall.”

6. Vasaeleth – All Uproarious Darkness (Profound Lore Records, US)

I reviewed this when it came out over the summer and my opinion has not changed, so let me say in short that this is murky, dark, organic-sounding death metal that separates itself from the chaff by its massive riffs and excellent production. Of all the OSDM releases this year by bands that were not actually OS (e.g. Carcass), this one was the best.

5. Reefer – Bow Before The Altar Of Drugs (Smoked Productions, Denmark)

Part of the joy of year-end lists is paying homage to those releases that came out of nowhere and completely blew your damn mind. Bow Before The Altar Of Drugs was one of these, a three-song demo from a bunch of Danish stoners that takes the concept of stoner metal and brings it to its heaviest, most intoxicated extreme. The guitars are so low as to produce bowel incontinence, and the vocals make the Demilich guy sound like a castrato. If you don’t feel high by the time this is done, then you probably smoke too much and need to cut back anyway. Reefer have produced the pinnacle in stoned haviness for 2013.

4. Seidr – Ginnungagap (Bindrune Recordings, US) [STREAMING LINK]

I’ve been down with Seidr since hearing their demo back in 2009, and this year’s offering is no exception. It builds on For Winter Fire and other past work by expanding the band’s sonic template while remaining rooted in doom. Riffs weave in and out of drones while playing atop ambience, and the production (the drum sound in particular) is simply gargantuan, mirroring the album’s cosmic scope. And, as always, Seidr love to add ritualistic folks elements to their trademark doom: Chet Scott (Blood of the Black Owl)’s flute intro to “As You Return” gets me every time I hear it.

3. Portal – Vexovoid (Profound Lore Records, Australia)

Swarth was a nightmarish album, but it took a while for the horror to set in, so murky and occluded was the production. On Vexovoid, Portal have found the anti-life equation and have synthesized their impenetrable riffing with a clearer production. It’s the difference between terror and horror: Swarth keeps you guessing about what foul things were behind the gloom, but Vexovoid brings the chaos relentlessly straight to your face.

2. Carcass – Surgical Steel (Nuclear Blast Records, UK)

This was the comeback we were all worried about and simultaneously waiting for. Would Jeff and Bill still have it together after over 15 years and with a new drummer? Could they produce an album worthy of the legacy of Necroticism… or Heartwork? YES. With Surgical Steel, Carcass have taken elements from almost every era of their sound and blended them together to create a true beast of an album. Everything is heavy, everything is distinctly Carcass: the blastbeats, the rushing riffage, Jeff’s lurid growl, all of it. And it sounds truly massive as well: whoever mixed it knew how to do so in exactly the right way to make it sound real but clear as well. The moment that first riff of “Captive Bolt Pistol” came into my headphones, I realized that all was still alright with Carcass. This album will be a classic, absolutely no question in my mind.

1. Black Sabbath – 13 (Warner Bros. Records, UK)

For me, any record Black Sabbath releases with Ozzy on vocals will automatically be better than any other record released this year by virtue of it being Black fucking Sabbath, period. Is this record as good as the classic ’70s Sabbath releases? Probably not. But the riffs are solid, Iommi and Ozzy did not falter, Brad Wilk filled in for Bill Ward beautifully, and, dammit, the mere fact that Black Sabbath released a solid record in 2013 means they fucking earned their place at the top of this list. It’s a mean curve, I know, but I am bound by my faith in metal from doing otherwise. Keep up the bad fight, masters.

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