Top Albums of 2013, by Richard Street-Jammer
Since I only started blogging and keeping these kinds of lists two years ago, when I say that 2013 is the best year in recent memory for metal, I’m being earnest. My apologies if it comes off as hyperbolic instead. My memory’s not what it used to be and my zest for organizing isn’t either, which is to say that I forgot to listen too a lot of albums that came out this year. In 2011 and 2012, I think I listened to over 250 new albums each year. This year, maybe 100.
So, that’s two apologies in one paragraph and indirect evidence of why I’m bad at dating. Anyway yeah, 2013 was a great year for heavy metal. Every genre had high quality efforts. In prior years, my lists were composed of a few albums that towered over the competition, and then about 15 other choices that were good but interchangeable as it concerned their rankings. This year, my patent pending internal ranking system indicates that the top 14 albums all towered over the competition, although it must be said that the top 3 are taller still. The albums ranked 15 through 20 could easily have been interchanged with two dozen other releases not appearing here. Numbering among those are bands precisely nobody reading this blog gives a shit about, like Born of Osiris, Huntress, and Legend, to better known names like Toxic Holocaust, Exhumed, and Aosoth, to lesser known but relevant bands like Christicide, Tank, and Pyrexia. I hope to write about some of the relevant and lesser known bands soon via a series of Metal Mulligans posts. (Some may have already posted.)
As I get older, I find myself gravitating more and more towards bands that write songs. Unstructured technical wanking and formless churn that sounds like digestive noises get boring fast. I also find myself giving music less time before I pull the plug on it. Gorguts, Ihsahn, Pestilence and other musically complicated bands didn’t make this list because I forgot about them until mid-November and because I like them enough from prior releases to stick with their respective new efforts.
Generally though, if clean vocals and cleaner production are not to your taste, this won’t be a good list for ya. Hopefully though you’ll find something to enjoy.
20. Rocka Rollas – Heavy Metal Strikes Back (Stormspell Records, Sweden) (Listen here)
19. Volture – On the Edge (High Roller Records, USA) (Listen here)
18. Witch Cross – Axe to Grind (Hells Headbangers Records, Denmark) (Listen here)
17. Arroganz – kaos.kult.kreation (Blacksmith Records, Germany) (Listen here)
16. Saxon – Sacrifice (UDR Music, UK) (Listen here)
15. Attacker – Giants of Canaan (Metal on Metal Records, USA) (Listen here)
14. Inquisition – Obscure Verses for the Multiverse (Season of Mist, USA) (Listen here)
13. Tengger Cavalry – The Expedition (Metal Hell Records, People’s Republic of China) (Listen here)
12. Asomvel – Knuckle Duster (Bad Omen Records, UK) (Listen here)
11. White Wizzard – The Devil’s Cut (Earache Records, USA) (Listen here)
10. Deez Nuts – Bout It! (Century Media, Australia)
Bout It! is the most entertaining hardcore record that I heard all year. It’s boisterous, bombastic, and boastful, just like a Hatebreed and gangster rap cross-pollination should be. I suspect the tales of hard drug use, partying and tough-guy antics are more posturing than truth, but it doesn’t matter. I’ll probably catch some shit for listing this, but as the band themselves would say, go fuck yourself.
9. Onslaught – VI (AFM Records, UK)
Stylistically, Onslaught’s been all over thrash metal’s map. VI is just plain old thrash, and it reminds me of Sodom’s Agent Orange. It also kicks all the nu-thrash beginners, even the good ones like Toxic Holocaust, right into the weeds. It’s a near perfect mix of aggression, control, technicality, and hooks.
8. Powerwolf – Preachers of the Night (Napalm Records, Germany)
Why would you want to hear a corpse-painted power metal concept album about Catholic exorcist werewolves? Just because! At least, I think that’s what the album’s about. What I do know is that I had the chorus of literally every song on this album, whether that chorus was in German, Latin, Russian, or English, stuck in my head for over a month. The parts in between the choruses are charging power metal that perfectly balance melody and power. Yeah, there are keyboards, but you won’t really notice them.
Also, in case you were wondering, “Coleus Sanctus” translates roughly to “holy balls.”
7. Voices – From the Human Forest Create a Fugue of Imaginary Rain (Candlelight Records, UK)
After Akercocke underwent one of the quietest split-ups in memory, two former members went on to form Voices. Many of Akercocke’s strengths are on display here – the latent weirdness, the anything-goes approach to songwriting, and screwball melodies are all present. The sexual tension and ritualistic feel are gone though, and are replaced by fury, jarring dissonance, and manic outbursts. Akercocke always felt like tunes from a Satanic hymnal. Now we know, via Voices, that they were hallucinating all those demons, and they’re having a mental breakdown afterwards.
6. Satyricon – Satyricon (Roadrunner Records, Norway)
Satyricon spent three albums roughly skirting the line between black metal and rock ‘n roll. With this self-titled effort, they’re wandering all over the path. Heavy metal albums are usually just a collection of songs, similar in style, conveniently packaged together. Satyricon is an actual album. Will the next song be black metal? Black metal riffs over loose rock grooves? Will it be black metal vocals over scratchy rock? Will it sound like “The Saints Go Marching In”? It could be any of those things. Musically there’s less black metal here than ever before, and yet this is the most interesting and black metal-feeling music Satyricon have created.
5. Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance (Peaceville Records, Norway)
Fenriz and Nocturno keep rummaging through their record collections, but now they’ve really gone back to the ’80s. The Underground Resistance switches referencing ’80s metal for actually incorporating ’80s metal. Unlike most retro-fetishist albums, this one’s not covered with dust to obscure a lack of quality. It should have cross-genre appeal, too; you can get your dose of true metal and King Diamond vocals, but both Fenriz and the production croak and groan enough to keep things gritty.
4. Carcass – Surgical Steel (Nuclear Blast, UK)
Surgical Steel is a jaw-dropping display of how to write good, catchy, flashy melodic death metal without turning saccharine. Just listen to those leads on “Unfit for Human Consumption”. Over the last decade and a half, how many bands have tried to replicate Carcass’ greatness by aping the Heartwork sound? Dozens? Hundreds? And then Carcass reform and release an album that might as well be precisely 47 minute and six seconds of a voice saying, “You are moot”.
3. Magic Circle – Magic Circle (self-released, USA)
Turns out Darkthrone aren’t the only band that can jump styles and still put out quality. Magic Circle’s a bunch of punk rockers and hardcore guys playing doom, which shouldn’t work, and yet Magic Circle immediately puts the band in contention for the honor of brightest rising star in doom metal. The music’s pretty mournful, but the vocals are an anguished howl. Can we have another album, please?
2. Satan – Life Sentence (Listenable Records, UK)
At this point in the list, I’m running out of compliments to give without repeating myself. Satan deserve better, so here we go. First, this record features the exact same lineup that cut Satan’s debut classic, Court in the Act. Second, it’s also a dark record. 9/11 tribute “Tears of Black Blood” is the darkest track, and generally the lyrics deal with death, oppression, confinement, torture, and more death. Third, while time’s passage has changed Satan’s sound, like Surgical Steel, this is damned near as good its predecessor(s). Stylistically, some of the NWOBHM has disappeared, so the overall sound is closer to modern Saxon — a mix of power metal and that hard-to-define ’80s metal sound. As such things are wont to do, the vocal performance is a standout, but by no means does it leave the rest of the band behind. In year with plenty of great music by ’80s and ’70s veterans, Satan topped them all.
1. A Sound of Thunder – Time’s Arrow (Mad Neptune, USA)
When A Sound of Thunder’s Nina Osegueda sings, “Let’s start a fire/let’s watch it grow”, she could’ve been referring to her band’s career trajectory. A Sound of Thunder’s core sound is power metal, but not the espresso shot version that Powerwolf plays; this is more a tall Americano, a mix of things, something to be savored. In other words, like the Satyricon record referenced above, Time’s Arrow is an actual record, not just a slapdash conglomeration of songs written in the same three-to-six-month period.
This band has so much talent that they can outright pull off songs about fantasy and sci-fi, namely the title track and “Reign of the Hawklords”, but then cut a self-empowerment anthem and a heartfelt power ballad about a zombie apocalypse. Seriously, I’m not making that up. Succinctly, Time’s Arrow is how you fucking do a power metal record.