(I once again successfully prevailed upon Ben C, the proprietor of the immensely entertaining Church of the Riff, to share with us his year-end list of 2013′s best albums.)
Looks like I made it through another year more or less intact, with a whole new collection of music to boot. 2013 proved to be a pretty solid year for me, both in new releases and discovering old classics. It was also the year I decided to plunk some money down on a second-hand stereo setup that doesn’t suck, so I’ve been able to not only rattle my brain but the neighbour’s as well.
The next 15 albums cover the majority of metal’s extended family, from grindcore, sludge, and doom all the way through to throwback stoner rock. I also decided to put together my choices for riff, chorus, and solo of the year – an idea I had been toying with since I published my last list. So without wasting any more time, here are 15 more albums some random guy on the internet thought were pretty swell.
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels
Words: Run the Jewels is a new duo formed by two very different but complementary MC’s, Killer Mike and El-P. Both released killer albums last year (RAP Music and Cancer 4 Cure, respectively) and their self-titled collaboration is equally matched. El-P is responsible for the aggressive, electro-heavy beats, with both artists donating their rhymes to the mix. Most of the tracks are aggro-brag rap with tongue firmly in cheek. Bass-heavy, filthy and unrepentant, the best part of the whole package was having this album dropped as a free download, making it one of the best deals of the year.
KEN Mode – Entrench
Words: A follow up to their Juno-winning album (Yeah seriously, they won the Canadian Grammy), this Winnipegian trio are well on their way to perfecting their sound of jittery mathcore annihilation dragged along at a nail-biting pace. Exhaustingly quick riffs and a bellowing low-end serve as the soapbox for KEN mode to scream bitter obscenities at the world. Scathingly complex and equally heavy, nothing goes quite as well with -30 degree winds across a barren tundra as Entrench does.
Maeth – Oceans to Ashes
Words: The debut release from a group of post/prog-metal young bloods, Oceans to Ashes is a wonderful arrangement of brooding harmonies and crushing guitar sections, creating a sound the band defines as “crunch and cream”. Maeth do a solid job of balancing their sections of expansive ambience with some tasty grooves, showing they can have their metaphysical cake and eat it too. They also have a thing for flutes, with the instrument being worked into several tracks along with getting its own solo time. Both cosmic and grounded, with just the right amount of mind-bending, I’m excited to see what they crank out in the coming years.
Primitive Man – Scorn
Words: Scorn was fucking scary. Piss-your pants, blood-stained palm prints down the front door, peel your face off with a box cutter kind of scary. Lurching monsters of noise that have the audacity to call themselves songs pummel your weak and fleshy body into nothing but a filthy smear on the street. At points something resembling sludge or doom metal comes through, but for the most part Primitive Man have made something more akin to the sound of a thousand butchered carcasses than actual music. It’s an exhausting listen that will do its best to remind you why people should be afraid of the dark.
Nekrofilth – Devil’s Breath
Words: The flat-out nastiest album I’ve heard this year; clearly composed by a group of people who probably don’t even have the faintest clue what “tasteful” means. It sounds like drowning in waves of garbage, oozing streams of biological runoff and medical waste populated with broken condoms and dirty needles. An ignorant and ugly hybrid of death metal and crust punk, frothed along by the kind of lyrical genius that just begs to be crocheted onto throw-pillows. “Oh I’m a degenerate; I’d like to cum on your brains.” Classic.
Kvelertak – Meir
Words: The follow up to their incredibly popular debut, Meir might not have caught everyone by surprise like before, but it fermented their combination of black metal and classic rock to ‘shine levels. They still bring the ridiculously high fun-factor to their music and back their studio outputs with some of the best live sets I’ve seen. Seriously, if they ever tour near you, go see them. Though the album is a righteous piece of work, having seen them live twice this year is what really cemented their place on my list. That and the entire back half of Meir rocks harder than an industrial strip mine.
Nails – Abandon All Life
Words: Nails are angry. Not just angry, insatiably furious. The kind of fury that melts through steel girders just as easily as it does faces. White-hot waves of sound that blister the air before even reaching your ears, Abandon All Life is more a motto than an album title. Nothing but pure, distilled rage from start to finish, these are ten tracks chiseled from hate designed to make your insides boil. The real standout tracks for me are the longest; “Wide Open Wound” and “Summ Cuique” are superb combinations of doom, sludge, and grind, pounded out at some truly tortured rhythms.
Tumbleweed Dealer – Tumbleweed Dealer
Words: Tumbleweed Dealer are a band with a sound that is perfectly described by molasses. Not just in the usual sense of slow pacing but in everything else as well, from viscosity and colour to sultry sweetness. Their music is an inky black lazy river of the stuff, ambling along under dark and unforgiving skies, taking its time to craft the kind of jams that will be locking you into your couch like a hit of OG. Southern post-rock that actually sounds southern, conjuring up images of dead cowboys, burning ranches, and desolate wilderness, this is an enthralling album that will have you glued to your seat before you even realize what happened.
Clutch – Earth Rocker
Words: The grandfather kings of stoner rock, Clutch have been writing national anthems for bikers and lumberjacks since year one. They’re like that one burger joint that has been making the same recipe for thirty years, but it’s so consistently tasty you don’t ever want it to change. Earth Rocker isn’t anything special, just 11 tracks of lean and mean pure rawk fury, hammered out by (still) some of the best in the business. It’s this utter lack of complexity and compromise that has kept it spinning continuously through my rotation since its release.
The Bronx – IV
Words: The Bronx have been writing the book on melodic punk rock since the early 2000’s, a quest only aided by spending two albums in sombreros and matching suits. IV is their first punk album since 2008 and it is a damn fine return to form. Howling anthems of double-speed riffs and vocal lines with the kind of hooks that will have you humming along for days, The Bronx define themselves not only by being able to deliver their songs with ear-biting ferocity, but also with the kind of panache you don’t usually see in the genre.
Take Over And Destroy – Endless Night
Words: Endless Night was one of the best surprises this year, brought to my attention by The Needle Drop to come hammering out of my speakers soon after. A textbook combination of Sabbathian occult, black metal and the sweetest tinges of classic rock, all wrapped up in a gristly package of high-distortion fury and served hot like freshly spilled blood. It’s as if everyone showed up to the Tuesday-night ritual sacrifice in duits instead of hooded cloaks. The perfect accompaniment to drawing a ketchup pentagram on your kitchen floor and headbanging furiously until your mother/wife/sister walks in and asks what in the fuck you are doing.
*For the uninitiated, Duit = Denim Suit, sleeves optional*
Shining – One, One, One
Words: After Shining grabbed everyone by the balls with Blackjazz, we all wondered what in the hell this jazz-turned-metal ground was going to pump out next. What they released turned out to be quite a surprise, with many of the more avant-garde elements replaced for a groove-centric industrial sound. I personally loved the change, as there is more of an even balance between outright mind-melting and comprehensible heaviness. Some people described the album as feeling “poppy”, which does make sense under the condition you accept “poppy” as being defined by four black-clad maniacs with saxophones and an ocean of distortion at their disposal.
Siberian Meat Grinder – Versus the World
Words: Another year and another Siberian Meat Grinder EP on my year end list. I’m hoping this becomes a pattern since they are holding it down from the Motherland with some of the finest crossover thrash to get thrown through your window. Classic thrashin’ tempered with hardcore fury and played fast enough to peel the goddamn enamel off your teeth. A kick to the head of sonic adrenaline, SMG write the soundtrack to a stampede of sixteen-foot grizzly bears with chainsaws and broken glass for teeth.
The Heavy Eyes – Maera
Words: This album is a bit of cheat considering it came out in December of last year, but it came out after my year-end list had already been published and there was no way I was letting it slip by without giving it the attention it deserved. A textbook combination of fuzz-saturated groove, riffs seared to a golden brown, and just the right amount of snarl in the vocal delivery, it’s goddamn butter to the ears. “Mind”, “The Times” and “Goodnight” are infectious on the pandemic level, earworms that dig their hooks in real deep. This is the kind of music that will make you want to stand up a little straighter, keep your chin high, and be an old fashioned badass, McQueen style.
Whores – Clean
Words: Clean was the best goddamn record I heard this year. All the albums on my list were excellent releases in their own right, but nothing grabbed my attention as aggressively as these six tracks did. Tough as nails foundation-shakers pounded out at punishing volume levels, Whores bring a frothing-at-the-mouth furor to their music that is sadly lacking in their genre. They channel their hate and frustration at the world through a filter of distortion and noise, blasting the results through your skull with reckless abandon. I said it before and I’ll say it again; punk might be dead to the world, but it still lives on in the hearts of three guys from Atlanta.
I’m almost done wasting your time, I swear. These last three tracks represent the best riff, chorus, and solo I heard this year. Keep in mind there was a huge quantity of awesome choices but these are the three that really grabbed me by the hair and threw me through the wall.
RIFF OF THE YEAR
Siberian Meat Grinder – “Die on the Road”
I thought riff of the year would be a tricky choice with so many tasty licks from all of the bands on my list. However this was not true, as the first time I heard this track there was a moment of “That right there. Fuckin’ riff of the year,” and many months later I still feel the same. An absolute monster of a track, pack the fine china away and move to the center of the room before you give it a listen, else you’re gonna have one hell of a repair bill in three minutes and thirty-eight seconds.
CHORUS OF THE YEAR
The Bronx – “Under the Rabbit”
My criteria for chorus of the year: it had to be something that I always sang out loud, regardless of the time, place, or social conditions. While there were a couple close contenders, “Under the Rabbit” ended up as the clear-cut winner once I started belting it out on a crowded bus at 8 AM. Listen and don’t scream along, I dare you.
SOLO OF THE YEAR
Take Over And Destroy – “Endless Night”
While riff and chorus of the year fell into place rather easily, solo of the year took a lot more deliberation. In the end, it was the titular closing track from Endless Night that ended up making the cut with a couple sweet little doodles before getting down to business in the last minutes of the track. I don’t rank solos by technical wizardry or skill level, I rank them by fun factor and how hard they make me air guitar. In the case of “Endless Night” the air never even stood a chance.