(In this post, NCS staff writer BadWolf delivers his list of the year’s best albums.)
Every year I make one of these lists, and every year it comes out different, probably because my feelings on year-end lists changes. Honestly, guys, we’ve had an absolute wealth of information on this site and others over the past month, and more album streams than anyone could possibly wade through (though, god help me, I’m trying to listen to everything Austin Lunn recommended). I know I’ve missed tons of underground shit. Honestly, If i’m going to recommend anything obscure, I’d rather do so by itself, in a full review, than buried in one of these lists. Ultimately, I didn’t want to give anything a meaningless rank. Rather, I wanted to highlight those albums that I feel are worth revisiting this year.
So, here they are, my top albums of the year, presented in alphabetical order, and at the end my personal favorite (which should come as no surprise). Bon appetit.
Altar of Plagues – Teethed Glory and Injury
I had disregarded this band before—the previous Altar records felt like retreads of sounds I preferred from other bands. But this thing! On their final record, Altar took an oblique, rhythmic left turn into some of the most upsetting-but-fascinating music in the past few years. I’m sad to see them go, but what a send-off.
Batillus – Concrete Sustain
Maybe the most oppressive-sounding album released this year. If the heart of a fascist sings, this is the voice it sings in. Few records actively scare me, but this did… and at the same time, I feel better after sitting through it.
Code – Augur Nox
I thought this group was no more, but then they drop this monster. Cryptic and boisterous at once, like a Russian novel, this thing requires hours of careful study to pick apart, but the devil—and the joy—is in its hurricane of hidden details.
Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance
I don’t care how hard he trolls me so long as Fenriz (and partner Nocturno Culto) keep putting out records like this—tough as nails old-school heavy metal. Venom wishes they wrote a hook as good as “Leave No Cross Unturned.”
Dillinger Escape Plan – One of Us Is the Killer
Less pop, more rock—exactly what Dillinger needed to do at this point in their careers. My favorite DEP album since Miss Machine made me a die-hard.
Enabler – Shift of Redemption / Flies EPs
Fuck an album. This Minneapolis crust-core outfit dropped two fucking amazing EP’s this year, and you don’t even know how furious they are—the band lists their genre as “Fuck Today,” for crying out loud. Hooks, melody, and some of the most vitriolic lyrics I can think of—this is what I want out of hardcore.
Glorior Belli – Gators Rumble, Chaos Unfurls
Glorior Belli’s last album, The Great Southern Darkness, was one of my favorite albums of 2011. Gators Rumble, Chaos Unfurls clears up that album’s murk, but traffics in meaner, bluesier riffs. Tough, funny, and even psychedelic at times, this record plays the long game.
Gorguts – Colored Sands
2013 was the golden year for what I like to think of as depressive-technical death metal, and Colored Sands absolutely weeps. If anyone you know feels that metal can’t be intelligent, heartfelt, or nuanced in the way, say, jazz and classical are, then those people need to hear Gorguts.
Hail of Bullets – III: The Rommel Chronicles
Diet Bolt Thrower actually delivered the goods! Van Drunen’s dehydrated-smoker rasp perfectly fits the album’s North African concept, while his supergroup backing band finds some of their most mosh-able grooves (Holy shit, guys, “DG-7”). And, so seal the deal, they actually develop their own sense of melody, instead of living in the shadows of their heroes.
In Solitude – Sister
The best decision these satanic throwback metal boys made was embracing goth rock. Sister’s a big old tease—it’s clearly got the pop hooks, but holds out on big, cathartic moments, and leaves the listener mired in hooks and atmosphere. The most original old-school-metal album I’ve heard in years.
Inquisition – Obscure Verses for the Multiverse
Truth: I used to hate this band, but Obscure Verses for the Multiverse just clicks with me. The album folds space and time so that it skirts the boarder between black thrash, psychedelia, and big ass 80’s metal—I didn’t even know that border existed! Well played, Inquisition.
Inter Arma – Sky Burial
Just when I thought a big-riff sludge group might never surprise me again, Inter Arma prove me wrong. They serve their cocktail blackened and chilled, with a long pour. And the garnish? An absolutely jaw-dropping drum performance.
Kvelertak – Meir
On their sophomore slump, Kvelertak are still the best party band in the world, and this time they took their genre hopping into more eclectic and melodic territory, sometimes throwing off their pop sensibilities in favor of extended jams.
(stream four tracks here)
The Lions Daughter & Indian Blanket – A Black Sea
This year’s most powerful left hook came from two St. Louis little-knowns. Their collaborative album had me head over heels on first listen. If any album here deserves your money, it’s this one.
Man Must Die – Peace Was Never an Option
At the beginning of the year, it looked like these Scottish death-grinders wouldn’t get the chance to release this record, but all the trouble that went into its incubation pays off in the final product. This album radiates righteous indignation. In a year where most death metal beat me down, this album pumped me up.
The Ocean – Pelagial
Robin Staps and his band of merry musicians feel very comfortable here—the most comfortable they have since the band changed from a ‘collective’ to an international touring band. Pelagial comes across as more personal and colorful than The Ocean has in the past, and makes for a perfect companion to their last masterpiece, Precambrian.
Oranssi Pazuzu – Valonielu
Holy crap, a Finnish band I like. These creeps play loose and slather their black metal with big, shiny synths—the results go into great, obnoxious 70’s prog territory, especially on the two longer tracks. This record made me a fan.
Palms – Palms
Palms, the collaboration between most members of Isis and Chino Moreno of the Deftones sounds precisely like you’d expect, and all the better for it. Their debut self-titled unfolds as a shimmering, dreamlike aural massage.
(stream the album here)
Power Trip – Manifest Decimation
It seems like every year Southern Lord rolls out some amazing thash-meets-core album that becomes my go-to gym soundtrack, and this year that honor goes to Power Trip. These five Texans just sound unreasonably pissed off in all the right ways, from the riffs, to the massive drums, to the over-the-top gang vocals.
Skeletonwitch – Serpents Unleashed
I rep this band harder than anyone I know, and I feel like Serpents Unleashed was the reward for my loyalty. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still feel the ‘witch have an absolute classic in them, and this is not that yet… But it’s so close that I can taste it.
SubRosa – More Constant Than the Gods
One of the most unconventional doom metal bands around (clean female vocals, two violins) penned a profound, sorrowful journey in More Constant Than the Gods. The lyrics and melodies on this thing haunted me, and returned to my mind in the most elegiac of times.
Surachai – Embraced
Embraced is a fitting title—Surachai’s three tracks of industrialized black metal atmosphere come across as enveloping and warm as an ocean wave. Smartly, the record never overstays it’s welcome, so you keep wanting more. Oh, and it packs some of the best guitar solos I’ve heard all year.
Tengger Cavalry – The Expedition
Tengger Cavalry ought to have raided more villages with this one, a powerful mix of old school metal and Mongolian folk music. Their horse-riding heritage shows through in their fathomless mastery of the gallop. And the acoustic third act? Beautiful.
Tribulation – Formulas of Death
Two years ago these guys were just another Swedish Death Metal band. This year, they got creepy, spiced things with a little melodic black metal and a whole heap of… Jazz and surf rock? Formulas of Death sounds like the extreme metal album as directed by Dario Argento.
Ulcerate – Vermis
The title of this records means worms, and that’s what we are, compared to the monolithic steel-toed boot that is this album. Not quite the exploding sun that was The Destroyers of All, but then again that album wasn’t quite as pitiless and morbid as this one.
The real album of the year:
Carcass – Surgical Steel
Some of my co-writers here disagree with me about the pinnacle of sheer awesome that is this album. They’re entitled to their opinions. However, after so, so many listens, I’ve yet to find a note of music on this thing that doesn’t fit. I got this baby on vinyl right when it came out, and almost want a second copy, just to frame and mount on my wall.
Surgical Steel is the result of pure craftsmanship, it moves like an atomic clock, and it simply feels like an instant-classic. I can’t be more precise than I was in my initial review, but I will say that sometimes, things are worth the wait, and exceed expectations. Sometimes, the cream actually rises to the top. This is one of those times.