(We again invited recording engineer and musician Sean Golyer (Oak Pantheon) to give us his year-end list of personal favorites, and he again agreed.)
As is customary for three years now (wow, really?), my list primarily consists of the albums that got the most spins, as well as a few blasphemous unmetal picks for those willing to explore a bit. This may leave out otherwise very choice albums from a year jam-packed with crazy good metal. Seriously, 2013 has been extraordinary, particularly for those of us with a penchant for the blackened side of things. Unfortunately, as of late I’m just too busy in my personal life to check them all out or give them more time. But these are the albums that stood out to me the most and kept my interest well beyond the first listen.
Caladan Brood – “Echoes of Battle”
What’s there left to say beyond what I’ve already said over at Metal Bandcamp? This album came out of nowhere early in the year and I’ve been listening to it pretty regularly ever since. All the coolest, heaviest parts of Summoning wrapped into a very well-produced and mixed package. One of those few examples that truly live up to the title of “epic”. Feathers might be ruffled, but I enjoyed this release far more than the actual Summoning album that came out this year. This is always how I’ve wanted them to sound, which is purely subjective and selfish on my part, but hey, we’ve all got our own tastes.
Nerves – S/T EP
In what I can best describe as psychedelic sludgecore, this EP is truly a disturbing (and enthralling) journey through the darkest depths of the human psyche. From early demos to numerous live performances, I’ve watched this group continue to refine their controlled chaos of sound, finally manifesting itself in this self-titled EP. Criminally underrated and unheard of, this beast of a debut deserves far more credit than what it’s been given since its release. If the ferocity of Converge combined with the twangy atmospheres of Mastodon sounds like something you might enjoy, I highly recommend giving this a spin.
Ghost B.C. – “Infestissium”
I hate to hop on board the hype train, but I’ll be damned if I don’t admit to listening to this album more than just about anything else this year. It’s a more chilled-out and matured sound than their debut, but with just as many hooks and throwbacks to the stylings of Blue Oyster Cult to keep me satisfied. The debate over whether they’re “metal” or not is really immaterial to me, it’s just plain fun to listen to and sing along with. It’s close enough to the sound of the early days of heavy metal for me.
Deafheaven – “Sunbather”
If Weezer ever wrote a black metal album, this would be it. Summer-y, upbeat melodies, high intensity walls of guitar, blazing drums, and distant, washy shrieks filled the warmer months of 2013 for me. And yet, there was always something strangely unsettling about the mood of this album. Despite the multitude of decisively Major chord progressions, there was this eerie feeling of emptiness throughout. It was like all that happiness was a ruse that slowly eroded away until reality smacked you in the face. I find that my limited vocabulary struggles to describe it, but by the end of it all I still felt depressed. But that’s when I know I’ve encountered a great album, when it makes me feel something, even if it made me feel like shit. Absolutely superb sophomore release from a handful of extremely talented musicians.
Saor – “Roots”
I don’t know about anybody else, but sometimes I just can’t get enough of that folky, post-black metal atmosphere so many bands are making a name for themselves with. Sure, we’ve got plenty of albums to occupy our ears from the likes of Winterfylleth, Wodensthrone, Skagos, and Wolves in the Throne Room. But it’s still a young sub-genre with plenty of room for more, and Scotland’s Saor is a mighty fine addition if I do say so myself. If the track “Carved in Stone” doesn’t hit you like a ton of bricks, as it did me and so many others, I may have to begin questioning your humanity. Powerful stuff. I eagerly await for more from this young artist.
Blodsgard – “Monument”
Yet another album I wrote about over at Metal Bandcamp. I think I made myself pretty clear about how much I love this album, so I think it’s best you just listen to the music already! If there is a cold, black spot in your soul that needs filling, this ought to do the trick.
Gorguts – “Colored Sands”
This one actually crept up on me at the last minute. I’d been hearing the praises of this album since release and didn’t get around to listening to it until this month. My mind was not prepared for that experience, to say the least. Death metal may not always be my thing, but this album simply crushes the competition. I knew I listened to something great when the second the album was over, I decided to listen to it again rather than move on to other albums to catch up on.
It’s dirty, sludgey, twangy, evil, and atmospheric, all while maintaining the kind of distorted weight that would make a doom band blush. The structure and writing of each song is disgustingly entertaining to listen to and gels together so well. Even the classical interlude “The Battle of Chamdo”, while completely devoid of anything distorted, feels right at home. Now, call me dorky all you want, but I couldn’t shake the vibe of fighting virtual demons in the deserts and tombs surrounding the city of Lut Golein. I really hope I’m not the only Diablo nerd who felt this vibe (NCS regular Deckard Cain ought to back me up on this one, haha). In all seriousness though, this album is one for the ages. A triumphant return and an album I won’t soon forget. This time the hype really did live up to (and exceed) all expectations.
Kauan – “Pirut”
Excerpt from my Metal Bandcamp review:
“While Kauan has always retained some elements of doom throughout their discography, one would be hard pressed to actually call any release since “Tietajan Laulu” as metal. I don’t mean to say that disparagingly either, I truly believe “Pirut” would not be the masterpiece it is without these last 6 years of stylistic shifts, it’s all great music. Having that context in mind really puts this album in a whole different perspective, and I highly recommend listening to the entire back catalog. There are tons of melodies and compositional choices that are strongly reminiscent of both “Kuu..” and “Aava Tuulen Maa”, much to its benefit I might add. I’m envious of such a beautiful mix too. The guitars are heavy, powerful, and foreboding, enough to make any doom fan crinkle a wretched smile. There’s a non-stop ebb and flow to the album with plenty of room to breath and take in the sonic landscape Kauan has so carefully laid out for us.
The sweeping synths and haunting piano work, heart-wrenching string melodies, ear-smashing guitar riffs, and each vocal performance (language barrier be damned!) all comes together to make one impressive and moving piece of art. Kauan always has been and continues to be a statement of how powerful music can be, regardless of language or culture, and Pirut is one of the finest additions to their catalog to date.”
WILD CARDS: (unmetal favorites)