Normally, this is the part where I get all reflective regarding the year in metal. I had a scathing year-end rant all ready to go, an ice cold glass of haterade to throw in the faces of the all the people and things that annoyed, dismayed and pissed me off in 2013… and then I read what I’d written and realized that I sounded like a complete dick. What’s the point in dwelling on the negative when there was so much good this year? I had one hell of a hard time whittling down my list to just fifteen albums, and there’s still a lot out there that I’ve either yet to hear or yet to fully digest. It’s pretty darn easy to ignore the mountain of crap when there’s an equally tall mountain of greatness staring you in the face, and yet sometimes I forget that… I guess that’s what my anti-depressants are for.
So, without further ado, let us celebrate the metal majesty of 2013, ferrying it on to those hallowed golden halls where winged unicorns shit rainbows and cupcakes for eternity, and I heap a metric fuck-ton of hyperbole on the fifteen albums (in no particular order) that grabbed hold of my crank and kept on yanking…
1. Carcass – Surgical Steel (Nuclear Blast)
I didn’t review Surgical Steel because honestly, did the world really need another Carcass review this year?! The resurgent Brits were everywhere, and rightfully so, because this is an album that lives up to all the hype that was heaped upon it and then some. The weird thing is, I always liked Carcass, but I never went gonzo apeshit over Carcass until Surgical Steel came out, and only in the last month or so have I finally taken a break from listening to it. This is a perfect metal album to my ears, brimming with killer songcraft, plus righteous riffage and solos, and on top of all that, it’s catchier-than-herpes and clad in a crystal clear, razor-sharp production scheme. In other words, it’s everything that major league heavy fucking metal regardless of subgenre should aspire to be in 2013 and beyond.
2. Ghost – Infestissumam (Loma Vista/Republic)
Are Ghost even a metal band? With their ultra-Satanic lyrical shtick and groovy ghoulie costumes, they’re probably shock/horror rock more than anything else. But, having been raised on KISS, Alice Cooper and Rosemary’s Baby, it was pretty much a forgone conclusion that I was going to love the album with all my black, shriveled-up little heart and include it on my top albums list, genres be damned. You see the thing is, just like the aforementioned KISS and Alice Cooper before them, Ghost write great songs; strip away the costumes and make-up and you’re still left with Satanic pop perfection. (FULL REVIEW HERE)
3. Thou Art Lord – The Regal Pulse of Lucifer (Nuclear War Now! Productions)
I wasn’t particularly familiar with these Greek veterans prior to The Regal Pulse of Lucifer, but I’m inclined to check out just about anything NWN! puts out, so what a pleasant surprise to have my ears blown off by some seriously gnarly black thrash. For those who might be as uninformed as I was, Thou Art Lord includes members of Rotting Christ, Necromantia and Ravencult, and rest assured they can more than hang with those Hellenic scene luminaries in the ass-kicking department. This is RIFF-worship of the highest order, executed by musicians who’ve collectively spent the better part of two decades honing their craft. Get into it. (FULL REVIEW HERE)
4. Satyricon – s/t (Nuclear Blast)
Ok, I admit it, I’m a bit of a fanboy when it comes to Satyricon; they could put out an album of Frost farting on a snare drum while Satyr plays the kazoo and I’d at least give the thing a fair listen. Fortunately, the Norwegian duo haven’t stripped their sound down that far yet, but their self-titled eighth album does see them continuing to simplify their approach even further, resulting in black metal re-cast as a hazy, opium-fueled lullaby, all soft edges, blurry, smeared distortion and distant drums. Satyricon still bring the fury on occasion, but they’re at their best here when they mellow out and get a little weird, like they do on the clean vocal-driven “Phoenix.” (FULL REVIEW HERE)
5. Wormed – Exodromos (Willowtip)
2013 was a pretty stellar year for ultra-brutal death metal, but one band stood head and shoulders above all others, and that band was Wormed. These Spaniards effortlessly unleash a torrent of mind-bending, science fiction-influenced DM that’s as crushing as it is calculating, leaving just about every other band out there in the space dust. Seriously, Wormed is so far ahead of the curve one can’t help but wonder if they’ve been entrusted with some extra terrestrial musical knowledge, and are applying it towards unleashing the genre’s most mind-boggling riff-workouts and sickest of slo-mo slams. (FULL REVIEW HERE)
6. Inquisition – Obscure Verses for the Multiverse (Season of Mist)
Before I even heard Inquisition’s latest, I knew they would have a spot on my year end list, because they are quite simply the best active pure black metal band today. On Obscure Verses for the Multiverse, guitarist/throat Dagon and drummer Incubus prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they’re worthy of such lofty accolades, crafting an album that while not quite as immediate as 2011’s Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm, weaves a web of blackened, Voivod-ian riffage that’s nothing short of utterly mesmerizing. The majestic, controlled chaos theory of these songs is simply unlike any other black metal you’ll hear in 2013.
7. Black Sabbath – 13 (Universal)
To say I struggled with 13 would be an understatement. First, I hated it. Then, I kinda liked it. The next thing I knew, I couldn’t stop listening to it. Granted, Black Sabbath’s first album with Ozzy Osbourne on vox since 1978 isn’t without its flaws; well actually, one major flaw: no Bill Ward. But make no mistake, this is a thoroughly enjoyable set of songs that find Riffmaster General Tony Iommi and bass god Geezer Butler with plenty of gas left in the tank, and while I’m sure Ozzy gets a hefty assist from “studio magic,” he sounds a hell of a lot better here than he has on any of his utterly dismal recent solo albums. The track where it all comes together for the Sabs circa 2013 is “Damaged Soul,” a demonic blues jam that truly captures the spirit of days gone by. (FULL REVIEW HERE)
8. Sepultura – The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart (Nuclear Blast)
Are you surprised to see this album on my list? Believe me when I say that no one is more surprised than I am. Like many metalheads, I gave up on Sepultura after Max Cavalera left and the remains of the band released a string of underwhelming albums with new vocalist Derrick Green. I hadn’t heard any new Sepultura in about twelve years, but something about The Mediator… made me want to check it out, and I’m glad I did, because as far as I can tell, this is the best thing the boys from Brazil have done since the crushingly awesome Chaos A.D. Andreas Kisser’s approach to the guitar has become an angular, atonal, noisy thing of perverse beauty, Green turns in a burly vocal performance befitting his massive frame and the songwriting shows off a band who’s got the fire back and then some, propelled by ferocious new drummer Eloy Casagrande. Gentlemen, welcome back.
9. Gorguts – Colored Sands (Season of Mist)
Colored Sands was without a doubt my most anticipated release of the year. How could I not salivate over the return of the band that created Obscura, an album that still to this very day blows my fucking mind whenever I put it on? Colored Sands isn’t as utterly alien-sounding as Obscura, but it is every bit as magnificent, a technical post-death metal work of art that reveals new facets of itself with every listen. I think what I like best about this album is that the insane level of musicianship on display is always in service of the compositions and creating atmospheres and textures, never degenerating into a “Hey, look what we can do!” masturbation session, which is the downfall of so much technical/progressive metal. All in all, this is one of the rare instances where an album not only lives up to the hype, but blows it out of the water.
10. Beyond – Fatal Power of Death (Iron Bonehead Productions)
While most folks were soiling themselves over Bölzer’s Aura EP, their Iron Bonehead label-mates Beyond quietly put out one of the year’s best pure death metal albums. These Germans aren’t reinventing the wheel, but they are writing some hellish riffs and coating them in a churning, filthy production scheme that has plenty of grit but never turns into caverncore crud. Dynamic songwriting and some seriously fucked up solos that make Slayer sound like Beethoven only serve to sweeten the pot. Basically, if you’re looking for an old school death metal face raping, Fatal Power of Death of Death is just the album to hand it you; the scary thing is, this is only their debut.
11. Voices – From the Human Forest Create a Fugue of Imaginary Rain (Candlelight)
I still can’t get over the fact that more people haven’t picked up on this band. Voices pick up right where the mighty Akercocke left off, creating wildly progressive psycho-sexual black metal of a most wicked variety. But whereas Akercocke were almost stately in their aural assault, Voices come off as being on the verge of slipping into utter insanity, making From the Human Forest… a mind-bending blast of total savagery, brutalizing the listener in ways that drummer David Gray and guitarist/vocalist Peter Benjamin’s previous outfit could never fathom. Word is these guys are already working on another album, and I can’t wait to see what corridors of madness they take us down in 2014.
12. Doyle – Abominator (Monsterman)
If you know anything about me, chances are one of the things you know is that I worship the Misfits. So naturally when I caught wind of ex-Misfits guitarist Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein unleashing a solo album, I had no choice but to check it out; the power of the Crimson Ghost compels me. As it turns out, Doyle’s solo record sounds like the bastard child of an unholy ménage à trois between Danzig, Michale Graves-era Misfits and Pantera, and where I come from, that ain’t no bad thing. Doyle makes his guitar scream like a murder victim in the throes of being stabbed, while frontman Alex Story howls about killing girls, having sex with dead girls and killing girls and having sex with them. In other words, Abominator is a fiend’s feast of big evil riffs and campy horror lyrics that fans of Herr Frankenstein’s previous work should find much to their liking.
13. Suicidal Tendencies – 13 (Suicidal Records)
I’m not sure what has compelled so many bands to name their albums 13 (or variations thereof) of late, but trust me when I say that of all the recent metal albums called 13, Suicidal Tendencies’ is by far the most fun to listen to. The long-running thrash/crossover band sounds positively rejuvenated, most likely due to the fact that vocalist/founder Mike Muir has surrounded himself with a group of young guns in order to keep Suicidal Tendencies going into the 2010s (whatever happened to Rocky George?). In spite of all the new faces though, things haven’t changed much, meaning ST still packs a wallop that bridges the gap between hardcore punk mayhem and heavy metal precision on songs like “Shake it Out” “Cyco Style” and “Slam City.” Now, can someone please get me a Diet Pepsi?
14. Sorcery – Arrival at Six (Xtreem Music)
With Entombed still MIA and Dismember out of commission, recently reformed old schoolers Sorcery were kind enough to release the Stockholm-style Swe-death bulldozer that is Arrival at Six this year. This album is all the Boss HM-2-fuelled rumble and chug you’d expect, but Sorcery impart their songwriting with a degree of catchiness that’s off the charts, meaning that tracks like “We Who Walk Among the Dead” “United Satanic Alliance” and “Arrival at Six” will get stuck in your head as they flatten the fuck out of you. Unfortunately, this album hasn’t been promoted particularly well (does Xtreem Music actually promote any of their releases?), meaning that this is another excellent 2013 metal album that’s likely to barely register a blip on the radar.
15. Motörhead – Aftershock (UDR Music)
Considering the health issues God (aka Lemmy) has had this year, we’re pretty goddamn lucky to have a new Motörhead album at all, let alone one that features some of their best work since the mighty Inferno reared its ugly head way back in 2004. Indeed, Aftershock surprisingly sees the band firing on all cylinders, and is aided by a clear ‘n’ crunchy production scheme that allows one to hear all the gritty nuances of prime Motörhead cuts like “Going to Mexico” “Queen of the Damned” and “Heartbreaker.” I sincerely hope that this isn’t Lemmy and Co.’s last hurrah, but if it is, then they’re going out on one hell of a high note that we should all be very grateful for.
1. Portal – Vexovoid (Profound Lore)
2. Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance (Peaceville)
3. Exhumed – Necrocracy (Relapse)
4. Tyrants Blood – Into the Kingdom of Graves (self-released)
5. Uncle Acid and The Deadbeats – Mind Control (Rise Above/Metal Blade)
6. Immolation – Kingdom of Conspiracy (Nuclear Blast)
7. Summoning – Old Mornings Dawn (Napalm Records)
8. Beastwars – Blood Becomes Fire (self-released)
9. Manilla Road – Mysterium (Shadow Kingdom)
10. Suffocation – Pinnacle of Bedlam (Nuclear Blast)
11. Church of Misery – Thy Kingdom Scum (Rise Above/Metal Blade)
12. Nocturnal Graves – From the Bloodline of Cain (Hells Headbangers)
13. Katalepsy – Autopsychosis (Unique Leader)
14. Deafheaven – Sunbather (Deathwish)
15. Watain – The Wild Hunt (Century Media)
Top 10 Non Metal Albums
1. ÄÄNIPÄÄ – Through a Pre-Memory (Editions Mego)
2. Lycia – Quiet Moments (Handmade Birds)
3. Queens of the Stone Age – Like Clockwork (Matador)
4. Run the Jewels – s/t (Fool’s Gold)
5. Death Grips – Government Plates (self-released)
6. Beastmilk – Climax (Svart)
7. Alice in Chains – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (Capitol)
8. Clutch – Earth Rocker (Weathermaker)
9. Monster Magnet – Last Patrol (Napalm)
10. My Bloody Valentine – MBV (self-released)
Well, I reckon that wraps it up for THKD’s year end shenanigans, but my list would never be complete without a few shout-outs to the people who make this metal thing worth doing. First of all, thank you to my lovely and talented wife, who has somehow managed to still love me after putting up with my shit for all these years. I love you more than anything babe! Thanks to UA of The Ash Eaters for being such a rad friend the last few years, I look forward to the day when we can raise our glasses together in person. Thanks to my phenomenal comrades in the Backlit crew and especially my partner in crime/brother from another mother Brandon Duncan, for making one hell of an awesome e-zine with me. Additional thanks to: Jordan Campbell and all the goddamn maniacs at Last Rites, Jon and The Inarguable, Max and Metal Bandcamp, the crazy kidz at Violent Resonance, Lurker’s Path, Inhale the Heavy, Steel For Brains, The Sludgelord, Black Metal and Brews and American Aftermath, Tony, David and Fiends at Feast, The Beyond, Adam and Gilead Media, Hansel and Caligari Records, Adam and Sygil Records, Jake and Mike at Graceless Recordings and all the killer labels that deem me worthy to send stuff my way to review: Profound Lore, Century Media, Metal Blade, Napalm, Peaceville, Candlelight, Season of Mist, Willowtip, Gogmagogical Records, The Flenser and scores of others I’m forgetting, the kickass PR peeps that always steer me towards amazing music: Dave and Liz at Earsplit, Brian at Fresno Media, Nathan T. Birk, Nikki Law at Century Media, Vinny at Willowtip, Enrique at Season of Mist, assorted awesome fellow writer peeps and internet metal bros/bro-ettes: Mike Nelson, Doug Moore, Andy O’Connor, Farhaad Esfandiary, Alee Karim, Lars Gotrich, Hank Shteamer, Megan Halpin, Sophie Penrose, Adrien Begrand, Beth Winegarner, Leigh Newton, Matt Altieri and tons of others I’m surely forgetting right now… please don’t be mad if I forgot to mention you by name, you know I got nothin’ but love. All my awesome “real life” peeps both metal and non metal who probably don’t want their names plastered on a website called That’s How Kids Die for personal and professional reasons (you know who you are!). Last but not least, many, many thanks to everyone who keeps coming back to read THKD even though about 99.9% of what I write is total bullshit. Your support this year and beyond means the world to me. I always say, “Without y’all, I’m nothing,” and I mean it.
Take care all, and be excellent to each other.