2013 has already been a hell of a year for metal. Unlike last year, which saw an overwhelming avalanche of stellar releases, 2013 so far has been more akin to 2011, which was all about quality over quantity. Granted, we’re only halfway through, but at this point I’m still finding it very easy to separate the wheat from the chaff, which certainly wasn’t the case at this time last year. I’m not particularly interested in make lists at this point, but I am interested in taking a look back at what’s transpired so far; it’s always good to recap in order to keep things fresh in your mind and fight the urge to fall back on listening to old shit.
According to my Last.Fm profile, I’ve listened to Black Sabbath more than any other band in the past 6 months. A good chunk of that listening has involved their classic material, but I’ve also spent a great deal of time poring over 13, the first Sabbath album since 1995′s Forbidden (unless you count Heaven & Hell’s The Devil You Know from 2009, which really was a Sab album in all but name). I don’t want to say to much about this one here, because I’ve already written a fairly exhaustive review, but I do want to point out that 13 is part of a wave of veteran bands who’ve released good-to-great albums in 2013, among them: Voivod, Suicidal Tendencies, Immolation, Summoning, Suffocation, Manilla Road and Autopsy. Perhaps gravitating towards new releases from metal’s elder statesmen is a symptom of the “shit was better back then” mentality, but I firmly believe that 2013 is already going down as yet another year where old dudes are absolutely killing it.
That said, there are plenty of young upstarts out there kicking ass and making a strong case for spots on our year-end metal lists. Sygil Records, which I’ve referred to often as the most interesting label to come to my attention within the past year, has released the excellent Black Blood from Charnel House, as well as A Word from Within, the debut/final album from the sadly defunct Avakr. Both of these bands present unique takes on the blackened, lo-fi arts that are extremely worthy or your attention, and if there’s any justice in this world, Black Blood will lead to bigger and better things for Charnel House. Sygil also has quite an impressive back catalog which should be explored by any discerning fan of off-the-radar metal and/or experimental music ASAP.
The other, equally excellent label that has me hooked this year is Caligari Records, who’ve kicked things off for themselves with a pair of fantastic tapes. The first is DeathCult’s The Test of Time; gnarly Chicago black thrash of the highest order which should have fans of stuff from Midnight to Desaster frothing at the mouth, and the other is the debut demo from Germany’s UNRU (review coming soon), a band that combines filthy black metal with chaotic, noisy riffs that to some extent recall Converge or DEP back when they were still good, and then mires it all in some seriously nasty-ass production values. Caligari is showing other cassette labels how it should be done; you won’t find them sticking their tapes in gunny sacks with twigs or some fucking bird bones they found out in their backyard or some shit, just straight-up killer black metal on pro-printed tapes with excellent artwork. You need both of these, NOW.
Deafheaven’s Sunbather seems to have everyone talking, in spite of only being out for a few weeks as of this writing. These guys are the first to do the black metal/shoegaze thang in a way that I personally find pleasing, maybe because they’re obviously not at all concerned with honoring any of black metal’s time-honored sonic or aesthetic devices and pretty much go full-on Slowdive/My Bloody Valentine, with the exception of the drums and vocals. I’ve written about this one at length in my USBM column for the Summer issue of Backlit zine (which should be out sometime in July or August), so I won’t say much here, other than that even though I’m not sure that Sunbather is the second coming some are making it out to be, it is definitely an album that will have you questioning what black metal is and what can be accomplished within the genre paradigm.
Moving away from the blackened end of the spectrum, 2013 has really been a great death metal year; I already mentioned Suffocation, Immolation and Autopsy, but they aren’t the only death dealers out there getting the job done. Sweden’s Sorcery hauled themselves out the grave to release Arrival at Six, their first album since 1991′s Bloodchilling Tales, and my hands-down favorite death metal recording of 2013 so far; it strikes a balance between all-out rumbling Stockholm-style heaviness and a catchy songwriting sensibility that’s going to be tough to beat this year. Russia’s Katalepsy owns the slam subgenre with Autopsychosis and Denmark’s Cerekloth seemingly came out of nowhere with the ultra-deathly In the Midst of Life We are in Death, both of which are about a thousand times better than whatever murkily-produced, no-riffs-allowed caverncore (I’m stealing that term from you, UA, since you never write anymore :P) you’re currently listening to. Willowtip doesn’t even need to release anything else this year, so excellent are Wormed’s Exodromos and Defeated Sanity’s Passages into Deformity, two albums that absolutely annihilate the brutal/tech-death competition, albeit in very different ways. The surprise of 2013 as far as death metal is concerned though might be Six Feet Under’s Unborn. Do yourself a favor, put aside whatever preconceived notions you might have about Chris Barnes and his merry men and give this bad motherfucker a listen, because the man that brought you such poetry as “Entrails Ripped from a Virgin’s Cunt” sounds positively rejuvenated here.
For something completely different but no less devastating, New Zealand’s Beastwars unleashed their second album Blood Becomes Fire back in April, and this is an album that should be getting a lot more attention stateside. It’s a towering inferno of dark, noise rock-inflected sludge that fans of everyone from High on Fire to Unsane are quite likely to enjoy the hell out of. Blood Becomes Fire reeks of the ’90s in the best way possible, and its songs haven’t left my head since first hearing them back when it was released. These guys don’t seem to have any distribution here in the good ol’ US-of-A yet, but I can think of several stoner rock/sludge/doom labels that could do wonders for this, uh, beast. The good news for those of us that can’t find the physical product in stores is that it’s available on Bandcamp.
This is just a small sampling of what I’ve listened to and liked so far this year. It probably seems like a lot, but you’ll just have to trust me when I say that it’s a much smaller, more manageable pool than what I was working with at the halfway point of 2012. There’s some stuff still on the horizon that I’m really looking forward to, namely new albums from Gorguts, Watain, Exhumed and the goddamn mighty Inquisition, and apparently Peste Noire dropped a record at some point that I had no idea was even coming out and still haven’t heard… so much for having my ear to the ground.
I know I said I wasn’t about making a mid-year list, but there are a handful of other great 2013 releases that I want to at least mention, and this thing has already gotten way too fucking long, so I’m listing them out here, for your convenience…
Ghost - Infestissumam
Clutch – Earth Rocker
Church of Misery – Thy Kingdom Scum
Portal - Vexovoid
Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance
Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats – Mind Control
Lychgate – s/t
Ash Borer – Bloodlands
Cultes Des Ghoules – Henbane
Arnaut Pavle – demo
The Beyond – Frostbitepanzerfuck
Teratism – La Bas
Thou Art Lord – The Regal Pulse of Lucifer
Sacriphyx – The Western Front
Evile – Skull
Havok – Unnatural Selection
Satan – Life Sentence
Queens of the Stone Age – Like Clockwork
Alice in Chains – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here
Run the Jewels – s/t (token non rock/metal entry, but goddamn is it a good one)
What are your favorite albums of 2013 so far? What am I forgetting about? What am I overlooking? Let me know in the comments.