2013 is a pretty strange time to be a metal blogger. Big-time labels won’t send me CDs that probably cost all of a dollar to manufacture, but small labels that probably struggle just to break even don’t hesitate to send me the cassette and vinyl releases they’ve obviously put a great deal of time and effort into, effort that goes far beyond the pressing plant cranking out “product” like so many widgets out of a factory. With these releases comes a far more intimate relationship; personalized e-mails rather than e-mail blasts from publicists, and a genuine sense that these labels and artists actually care about what I have to say and genuinely appreciate my support. It’s been an absolute joy to work with the likes of Gilead Media, Sygil Records and Caligari Records, but to be honest when people are so gracious, kind and above all patient, I’m pretty darn hesitant to call my interactions with them “work.”
It’s true that I’ve wondered aloud whether the cassette revival is getting out hand, but the fact is there are a handful of folks getting it right, and they will always have my support as a fan of the format. I’ve only come around to vinyl in the past few years, but in spite of being late to the party, I’ve come to appreciate this format as an opportunity for bands to create a vessel for their music that is a work of art in and of itself. Furthermore, it pleases me to no end that an appreciation for physical formats and the ritual that is the physical act of putting on a record is thriving in the age of the download.
So, in honor of the labels and bands that have so graciously deemed me worthy of receiving physical copies of their releases for review, as well as those who put an unreal level of blood, sweat and tears into their art, I present the top 10 cassette and vinyl releases of 2013 to kick off THKD’s year-end festivities. Without further ado and in no particular order…
1. Lord Time – Drink My Tears (Universal Consciousness)
Hands down my favorite US black metal release of the year. Lord Time mastermind Andorkappen is clearly influenced by everything from psych-rock to post-punk in addition to the absolute scuzziest of scuzzy black metal, making for one hell of a wild ride. Oh and did I mention he spattered his own blood on all one hundred copies of Drink My Tears? Modern black metal could use more of this kind of dedication and fearless experimentation. (FULL REVIEW HERE)
2. Ash Borer – Bloodlands (Gilead Media)
After the more polished (by black metal standards, natch) Cold of Ages, Ash Borer return to the rawness and punk rock-derived reckless abandon they made their name on for Bloodlands. Scathing, atmospheric and expertly constructed, Ash Borer continue to impress with these two lengthy tracks of barely-controlled fury, presenting listeners with just over thirty minutes of bloodthirsty black metal that serves to put just about every other USBM band out there on notice. (FULL REVIEW HERE)
3. Chthe’ilist – Amechth’ntaas’m’rriachth (Graceless Recordings)
Hailing from Quebec, Chthe’ilist channel filthy Finnish death metal (especially the goddamn mighty Demilich) on their debut demo, dispensing with caverncore mush in favor of discernible riffage designed to punch you in the gut and kick you in the teeth simultaneously. This burly, bruising shit is caked in so much grit ‘n’ grime that you’ll probably want to take a shower after extensive listening, but no amount of scrubbing will wash away the power of Phillipe Tougas’ devastating riffcraft and hideous vocal vomit.
4. Unru – Demo MMXIII (Caligari Records)
Noisy, blackened chaos from the depths of the German underground, Unru are going to fuck your shit up in a most unrepentant manner for all twenty-five minutes of this vicious little bastard of a tape. Splitting the difference between ultra-distorted free-form harsh noise clusterfuck and hungry, punk-infused black metal, the quartet have created one the year’s most memorably malevolent albums. (FULL REVIEW HERE)
5. Avakr – A Word from Within (Sygil Records)
Avakr’s awesome A Word from Within was originally quite the bittersweet affair; the band announced via social media that they were calling it a day not long after this excellent slab of hellishly raw yet hypnotic black metal landed in my lap. However, word on the street is that the band has reformed with Charnel House skin-basher Adam Sommer behind the kit, making A Word from Within an unbelievably intense and hungry-sounding debut, rather than a scathing swansong. (FULL REVIEW HERE)
6. Cold Blue Mountain – s/t (Gogmagogical Records)
Cold Blue Mountain fuckin’ rocks, plain and simple. On their self-titled debut, this California quintet brings out a hefty brand of sludge that recalls the likes of High on Fire and Mastodon, but they’re not afraid to reach back further and peel out a riff that reminds of vintage Soundgarden or the Melvins. In fact, these guys often sound like they’d be right at home kickin’ it hard ‘n’ heavy with those bands in the early nineties, which instantly earns them the THKD seal of approval.
7. DeathCult – The Test of Time (Caligari Records)
Thirty-five skull-splitting minutes of hot rockin’ black thrash is what you get when you pop DeathCult’s The Test of Time into your tape deck. It’s not what you’d typically expect from a one-man black metal project, but that’s just part of what makes it so awesome, the other part is the barrage of kickass riffs that songs like “Mutant Generation” and “Born to Lose” ride deep into the night. If you’re into headbanging, fist-raising and beer-slamming, The Test of Time is the tape to get. (FULL REVIEW HERE)
8. Arnaut Pavle – s/t (Vlad Tapes / Fallen Empire Records)
Mysterious black metal of the Darkthrone-derived variety, these Finnish scumbags came out of nowhere with this tape, which quickly sold out from their original label (the equally mysterious and awesomely named Vlad Tapes) only to be picked up by those purveyors of quality black metal cassettes at Fallen Empire. Arnaut Pavel aren’t doing anything you haven’t already heard, but they do it with a level of skill and conviction that’s largely absent from today’s black metal scene. (FULL REVIEW HERE)
9. Charnel House – Black Blood (Sygil Records)
I’ve stated on multiple occasions that Sygil Records is a label that can do no wrong, but of all their roster, the band that has impressed me the most is without a doubt Charnel House. The duo of Hellfire (vocals/electronics) and Adam (drums) together create pulsing black oceans of sound so beautifully, hauntingly ugly that one can’t help but be entranced by them. Black Blood is their definitive statement, a stripped-down exploration of their black/ambient/noise/doom aesthetic taken to its logical conclusion and beyond. (FULL REVIEW HERE)
10. Rituaal – s/t (Parasitic Records)
Featuring Justin Stubbs of Encoffination and Father Befouled, Mike Meacham of Loss and Jake Rothlisberger of Vesicus, the lineup alone for Rituaal’s self-titled debut seven-inch is enough to make you pay attention. But this dear reader isn’t any underground “super group” bullshit; this is an all-too-brief thirteen minutes of pitch-black doom metal of the most ungodly variety. These gents know how to create a legitimately depressive atmosphere, but they also know how to bring the heavy, and these two tracks perfectly balance black metal’s pure hatred with doom’s oppressive sorrow. When comes the full length?
Teratism – La Bas (Negativity Records)
Recluse – s/t (Graceless Recordings)
Hexer – s/t (Gilead Media)
Fister – Violence (Gogmagogical Records)
Krawwl – Nihil MMXIII (self-released)
Torture Chain – Mutilating Astral Entities (self-released)
Of course, this is only scratching the surface. There’s a lot of killer stuff released this year, especially on the cassette front, that I haven’t even gotten around to yet. I know Yellow Eyes’ Hammer of Night and Lake of Blood’s Omnipotens Tyrannus have been getting some serious praise heaped on them, and I’ve still got this killer Fuoco Fatuo tape to fully digest. I haven’t even heard one track from the most recent Rhinocervs tape… I must be slipping. I’m hoping to make this list a regular year-end feature going forward, and I promise I’ll try to make them even more comprehensive going if at all possible. It’s the least I can do in return for the effort these bands and labels are putting forth year after year. Please feel free to let me know what I missed this year in the comments.
Well, that wraps it up for part one of THKD’s year-end extravaganza. There will be one more “bonus list” mid-month before the finale (top fifteen metal albums list) rears its ugly head to close out 2013. The fun’s just starting kidz, so stay tuned!