(Our friend Professor D. Grover the XIIIth, the founder of the late, lamented The Number of the Blog as well as the proprietor of Occulus Infernus, agreed to share with us his list of lists for 2013.)
Greetings and salutations, friends. It’s your Honorable Professor returning to bestow upon you the ever-expansive list of my favorite releases of the year. Due to increased responsibilities from my new employment and my newborn son (the handsome little devil you see pictured), I will be keeping the descriptions of most of these releases brief, briefer than usual, but I will still give my best attempt to justify just why you should listen to them anyway.
Also, and I realize that this list is being published at No Clean Singing, but this list is in no way, shape, or form a list dedicated solely to metal. I listen to a wide variety of music, and to omit everything that’s not metal would be to do myself and all of you a great disservice.
This is everything that wasn’t long enough to be considered an album. In a few circumstances, it’s only a song or two. A number of these are available for free, and I’ve attempted to include links of some sort for each regardless of price.
20 – Panther – Ride The Ice
The surest sign that my taste in music has shifted a great deal: I like Panther. A few years ago, I would have hated the poorly-recorded, poorly-produced thrash-punk of Madison, WI’s Panther, but there’s something oddly compelling about it.
19 – BAT – Primitive Age
Speaking of poorly-produced thrash-punk… BAT have better riffs and better production than Panther, and are damn entertaining as well.
18 – Bones – Demo 2013
Blistering old-school death metal still lives, and Bones are living proof.
17 – Fantasy Panther – Fantasy Panther
If the Napalm Death font in the logo wasn’t a dead giveaway, Fantasy Panther play grindcore, and actually had one of the best grind releases of the year.
16 – Bölzer – Aura
Aura wound up being one of the more interesting black/death releases of the year, with a distinctively odd guitar tone that helped set it apart.
15 – Pig Destroyer – The Octagonal Stairway
Pig Destroyer’s only real grind release of the year (their Mass/Volume EP was Natasha-style doom), this lone track was released through Adult Swim, and it will destroy your very soul.
14 – Steel Bearing Hand – Demo
Holy balls. Steel Bearing Hand emerged from nowhere (well, technically they emerged from Dallas) to blow me away with their 2013 demo (as well as their self-titled 2012 demo). Some of the best death metal riffs of the year are contained within these two songs.
13 – Jess And The Ancient Ones – Astral Sabbat
The retro-occult-rock fad has hit its breaking point in a short period of time, it seems, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t quality releases to be had. Astral Sabbat is a perfect example, as Jess And The Ancient Ones evoke the likes of Coven and Jefferson Starship without feeling overly derivative of either.
12 – The Grammar Club – Bioavailable
A collaboration between nerdcore rapper Beefy and singer/songwriter/remixer Shael Riley may not sound like your cup of tea, but it most certainly is mine. Throw in guest appearances from MC Frontalot, Kabuto The Python, Jesse Dangerously, Wordburglar, Adam WarRock, and Wheelie Cyberman, and you’ve got a recipe for brilliance.
11 – Infiltrator – Infiltrator
This might be cheating, because I’m pretty sure Infiltrator’s demo made my list last year, but they re-recorded it and added both a new tune and a Bathory cover, and fuck it, they’re great.
10 – War Master – Blood Dawn
The tags on Bandcamp include “Bolt Thrower” for a reason. This is pure Bolt Thrower worship, and if you’re not already headed over to their Bandcamp page to listen then you’re probably not going to understand.
9 – Jesse Dangerously – A More Blessed Perfection
This is the only real release from Jesse Dangerously, aka Canada’s finest rapper and one of my personal favorites, and it’s only a single track, but it’s incredible and features a beast-mode cameo from The Mighty Rhino, a rapper whose style is made all the more impressive given that he has cerebral palsy. The accompanying video will appeal to rap-lovers and bear-lovers alike.
8 – Total Fucking Destruction – Monsters
One of my favorite grind tunes of the year, the title track from Monsters actually has a guitar solo (something of a rarity in the grind world), and it’s a beauty.
7 – Four Fists – 6666
The combination of P.O.S (of the Doomtree crew) and Minneapolis alt-rapper Astronautalis proves a potent one, as 6666 features two brilliant, moody, unforgettable tunes. There is a full-length release coming at some point from these two, and I cannot wait.
6 – Rotten Sound – Species At War
It’s Rotten Sound, condensed into 6 tracks of HM-2-laden grindcore madness. That should be all you need to know.
5 – Scandroid – Salvation Code
Klayton from Celldweller joins forces with Varien to create a retro-futuristic electronic track that simply lodged itself in my mind and refused to leave. I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to this track, waiting for them to release more, but I can’t get enough for some reason.
4 – Ranger – Knights Of Darkness/Combat Metal
Helsinki-based Ranger appear to have come straight from the 80s in their approach to speed metal, and the end result is perfection. I list both their Knights Of Darkness EP and their Combat Metal demo here because both were released this year and both are excellent.
3 – I’ll Eat Your Face – The Life And Work Of Jean Vauvais
The laser-shooting-swan-song of my favorite Irish oddballs, The Life And Work Of Jean Vauvais is something that I’ve discussed here on NCS already, but it remains worth mentioning because it’s so weird that we may never see the likes of this sort of music again, and that’s a pity.
2 – House Of Atreus – Into The Brazen Bull
There is no doubt in my mind that these are the finest death metal riffs of the year. It’s a bit like Arghoslent minus all the racism. Now, if they’d only sell the damn thing on their Bandcamp page.
1 – K.Flay – West Ghost/What If It Is
My favorite EP of the year is actually a pair of mixtapes from K.Flay, who is not only one of the best female rappers out there, but one of the best rappers out there period. She also consistently comes up with consistently brilliant beats, insightful and brutally honest lyrics, and delivers it all with a distinctive vocal style that I love. It’s an odd choice, but given how much I love both of these releases, it was an easy one to make when the time came.
You know what albums are. This year there are 40 of them, because it was very difficult for me to narrow things down, and so I decided not to. I went through and kept picking the albums that affected me the most this year until I had a nice round number.
40 – Altar Of Plagues – Teethed Glory And Injury
Altar Of Plagues deviated from their atmospheric past style in an entirely new direction, occasionally bordering on industrial, and the end result is one of the most harrowing listens of the year.
39 – Skeletonwitch – Serpents Unleashed
What can I say? Skeletonwitch know how to write riffs, and they bring it on every release. Serpents Unleashed is no different, and in a year where I found myself listening to a lot of blackened thrash, they stood out more than a lot of others.
38 – P.L.F. – Devious Persecution And Wholesale Slaughter
The irony of a band calling themselves Pretty Little Flower, then going out and making one of the year’s finest grindcore releases is not lost on me.
37 – Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats – Mind Control
Mind Control may have been an uneven album, with the second half bogging down in spots, but the rest of the album more than makes up for it. Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats once again deliver hazy, fuzzed-out stoner riffing goodness.
36 – Shining – One One One
After the impenetrable oddness of Blackjazz, for Shining to release an album as straightforward as One One One is either brilliant or foolhardy, and I’m inclined to go with the former. There’s still plenty of the Blackjazz sound to be found, but it’s streamlined into something more closely resembling a rock record, and the resulting combination works extremely well.
35 – Verminous – The Unholy Communion
At this point, there are a lot of bands rehashing the various branches of old school death metal, but that doesn’t mean that bands like Verminous aren’t worth a listen. The Unholy Communion is Swedeath that is surprisingly light on the HM-2 usage, but it’s still bludgeoningly heavy.
34 – Blockheads – This World Is Dead
The auditory equivalent of a nailbat to the head, This World Is Dead is a cathartic release of utter rage.
33 – Cnoc An Tursa – The Giants Of Auld
The world needs more Scottish black/folk metal. Fortunately, Cnoc An Tursa are here to help. The music here feels distinctly Scottish, with an epic feel to the entire thing that defines the best folk metal releases.
32 – Brent A Petrie – The Void
I forget occasionally that The Void is a 2013 release, because I’ve actually been listening to it since 2012, but this criminally underrated album combines instrumental metal, post-rock, and electronic experimentation to create a varied, engrossing sound.
31 – Jex Thoth – Blood Moon Rise
Jex Thoth left the retro-occult stylings of Sabbath Assembly behind to return to her eponymous doom project, but Blood Moon Rise certainly bears some of Sabbath Assembly within. Jex’s old-soul vocals are absolutely perfect.
30 – Lantern – Below
In spite of the intentionally flat, low-budget production, Lantern turned in one of the year’s most harrowing death metal experiences with Below, a murky, twisting descent into some Lovecraftian subterranean world.
29 – Death Grips – Government Plates
By now, everyone knows about Death Grips, and yet somehow they still manage to surprise everyone by doing things like releasing Government Plates for free with no warning. The sound is an amalgamation of everything Death Grips has done before, mixing the utter atonal brutality of No Love Deep Web, the more accessible danceability of The Money Store, and the sheer rage of Ex-Military into another unpredictable album.
28 – Dessa – Parts Of Speech
Doomtree member Dessa, one of my favorite female MCs (actually, one of my favorite MCs regardless of gender) showed her more contemplative side on Parts Of Speech, an album featuring more singing and less rapping than its predecessor, but given her skill at both and her utterly poetic lyrical genius, the end result is still a release that hooked me from the first moment I heard it.
27 – Dropkick Murphys – Signed And Sealed In Blood
Boston’s kings of Celtic punk returned and delivered another quality release. There aren’t a lot of surprises on Signed And Sealed In Blood, but if you’re looking for surprises with Dropkick Murphys, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
26 – Tribulation – The Formulas Of Death
I had never heard Tribulation prior to Formulas Of Death, and in listening to their past work I can see just how much of a shift in sound Tribulation represents, with death metal sliding over to make room for prog much like Enslaved did with black metal. I do know that Tribulation definitely got my attention and held it.
25 – Condor – Condor
Koboltn thrash duo Condor put out the best black-thrash album of the year with its self-titled release, a blistering riffstravaganza that packs most of its 32 minute runtime (intro and outro notwithstanding) with balls-out thrash metal destruction.
24 – The Uncluded – Hokey Fright
The combination of rap genius Aesop Rock and folk oddity Kimya Dawson is a strange one, and Hokey Fright can be a bit uneven, but it’s also gloriously weird and incredibly entertaining. Aes’s non-sequitur lyrics and dense flow don’t always mesh with Dawson’s anti-folk leanings, but more often than not the result is brilliant.
23 – Control Human Delete – The Prime Mover
There’s something I find indescribably compelling about Control Human Delete and their heavily electronic approach to black metal (although to be fair, The Prime Mover is an album that is only tangentially black metal). The synths and programmed drums, interspersed with jagged guitars, appeal to my very soul in a way I can’t explain.
22 – Polkadot Cadaver – Last Call In Jonestown
With the news that a new Dog Fashion Disco album is coming in 2014, Polkadot Cadaver may be relegated back to being a mere remnant of the DFD sound, but Last Call In Jonestown still bears the best elements of the DFD sound (which is to say that they borrow heavily from the likes of Mr. Bungle and Faith No More, with a much more psychotic bent).
21 – Five Horse Johnson – The Taking Of Blackheart
Toledo’s finest returned with their first album in 7 years, and I was happy to see that their take on blues-rock is still wonderfully intact. Their influence on Clutch’s recent albums is still obvious (and for the second album in a row, Clutch drummer JP Gaster handled kit duties for FHJ), and the concept of the album (about an outlaw on the run) is wonderfully carried in the lyrics.
20 – The Creepshow – Life After Death
Replacing a singer like Sarah Blackwood is no easy task, and yet The Creepshow, Canada’s finest psychobilly band, did just that with Kenda Legaspi, who has a similar enough style to pull off the old songs while adding her own touch. The songs may not be as strong as the classic Creepshow tunes, but the album is still excellent.
19 – Cage – Pilots
For a gimmick band (grindcore based on Nicolas Cage’s movies, featuring plenty of soundclips), Cage managed to make some incredibly entertaining music. I found myself returning to Pilots well after the amusement factor should have worn off.
18 – Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks
Trent Reznor has mellowed in his old age, and at times Hesitation Marks feels a lot like How To Destroy Angels, as opposed to a return to The Downward Spiral-era NIN (which was something I kind of was hoping for when I saw the album art). That said, it’s still Nine Inch Nails, and Trent Reznor still knows how to make amazing music.
17 – Amon Amarth – Deceiver Of The Gods
It’s an Amon Amarth album, but it’s also probably their best since With Oden On Our Side, and that should be enough of an explanation.
16 – Mindless Self Indulgence – How I Learned To Stop Giving A Shit And Love Mindless Self Indulgence
Mindless Self Indulgence is an old guilty pleasure for me, and while they have yet to reach the sheer demented brilliance of Frankenstein Girls Will Seem Strangely Sexy, they actually came closer with How I Learned To Stop Giving A Shit And Love Mindless Self Indulgence than they ever have. Simultaneously courting the Hot Topic crowd and savaging them, as they’ve done with their last few releases, MSI remembered how to write good, weird songs, and I was pleasantly surprised with how good this album ended up being.
15 – Antigama – Meteor
Easily the best grind album of the year. Antigama throw in some curveballs with their sci-fi-influenced death/grind. The final product is relentlessly brutal, a little groovy (in a Napalm Death sort of way), and just weird enough to keep the listener guessing.
14 – Motörhead – Aftershock
I did not see this coming. Motörhead released what turned out to be their best album in at least twenty years, and they accomplished that by going back to basics, writing straightforward, hard-hitting songs, and just kicking ass. Lemmy and co. sound better than they have in a long time, and Aftershock turned out to be a welcome surprise.
13 – Koffin Kats – Born Of The Motor
My other favorite psychobilly band, Detroit’s Koffin Kats, continue to churn out quality releases. Born Of The Motor takes some of the road-weary lyrical content of their last release and reintroduces a lot of the horror-based imagery to the mix. The album art is once again basic and terrible, but the music is the key, and it’s a worthy addition to their respectable discography.
12 – Finntroll – Blodsvept
This album fell off for me a bit since its release, and perhaps it didn’t strike quite the same chords as its predecessor, Nifelvind, but maybe I’m just spoiled by my love of Finntroll. On its own, Blodsvept is a great album and a perfect encapsulation of what Finntroll do, but it blends into their back catalog a little too seamlessly and lacked a few standout moments. And yet, here it is at #12 on my list.
11 – Tyrant Goatgaldrakona – Horns In The Dark
Here’s another album that came out of nowhere (well, Hungary) and blew me away. On the surface, I can’t really identify anything in particular that sets Tyrant Goatgaldrakona apart from the legions of other old-school death metal bands out there, and yet, somehow, I keep coming back to Horns In The Dark. I can’t really put my finger on it. It just draws you in and pulls you under.
10 – Satan – Life Sentence
The classic lineup from Court In The Act got back together after a long, long time, and it was like nothing changed. Life Sentence is a brilliant bit of NWOBHM, frozen in time and as vital as Court In The Act, and it represents firm proof that not all musical reunions are a bad idea.
9 – How To Destroy Angels – Welcome Oblivion
Of Trent Reznor’s two projects to release music this year, this was not the one I expected to take the higher spot on my list. Still, here it sits, based on the hypnotic power of the decidedly more atmospheric tracks and the haunting vocals of Reznor’s wife Mariqueen. The entire mood of the album is one of beauty with a hint of foreboding, and strong emotional currents flow and eddy throughout.
8 – Black Fast – Starving Out The Light
Revocation may get all the hype, but Black Fast easily have the best thrash riffs of the year, and for me it’s not even close. Starving Out The Light is actually closer to Vektor than Revocation, with a strong technical flair that really elevates the entire album, and the instrumentation is top-notch, with some nicely audible bass complementing the razor-sharp riffs and solos. If there is one album on this list that you haven’t listened to and decide to check out, this should be the one.
7 – Rotting Christ – Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού
The brilliance of Rotting Christ continues, as they follow up AEALO with another powerful, expansive, and yes, epic album. These Greeks have long ago transcended mere black metal and have instead become something that is entirely their own, symphonic and engrossing.
6 – Rob Sonic – Alice In Thunderdome (Leaked Demos)
I confess, this album isn’t even out yet. I downloaded the leaked demos for Alice In Thunderdome quite some time ago, and when the final tracks do see the light of day they may not really resemble the tracks on this demo. What I do know, however, is that Rob Sonic is an utterly brilliant rapper and a perfect counterpart to Aesop Rock, and that if the final tracks sound exactly like these demos I will have absolutely no complaints whatsoever.
5 – Protest The Hero – Volition
I have an abiding love for Protest The Hero, and I was even surprised at how good Volition turned out. Maybe it was the presence of Lamb Of God drummer Chris Adler, who handled studio drumming, but there was an added sense of heaviness to the entire album. Rody Walker’s vocals, an acquired taste for some, are on point here, and the usual technical instrumentation is ratcheted up a notch. They may not be the most tr00 kvlt band out there, but I don’t care.
4 – Bad Religion – True North
Much like Motörhead, Bad Religion released their best album since Against The Grain by going back to basics. In this case, basics means two-minute songs, fast punk riffing, and of course, the usual intelligent Greg Graffin lyrics combined with layers of vocal harmonies. Bad Religion reminded me just why they are my favorite punk band of all time, and they showed that after 30 years, they’ve still got it.
3 – Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels
The combination of El-P and Killer Mike, already proven to be solid on Mike’s album R.A.P. Music due to El’s production, gets elevated to a whole new level on Run The Jewels, a true collaboration. Stripped down and meaner than El-P’s brilliant Cancer 4 Cure, the resulting tracks dwarf pretty much every other rap release of the year (Eminem and Kanye West only wish they could come up with something this good). Killer Mike’s lyrical bluntness proves a perfect foil for El-P’s more off-kilter wordsmithing, and the beats are sheer perfection.
2 – Pryapisme – Hyperblast Super Collider
OK, so this is definitely my biggest surprise of the year. Hyperblast Super Collider is an absolute musical clusterfuck of metal, jazz, 8-bit chiptunes, programmed drums, and brain-melting avant-gardeness, the auditory equivalent of a mixture of LSD and PCP. And yet, somehow, there is beautiful method to Pryapisme’s madness, from the spastic opening moments of ‘Un druide est giboyeux lorsqu’il se prend pour un neutrino’ to the utterly jaw-dropping finale, a 9-minute electro-metal version of Mussorgsky’s ‘Night On Bald Mountain’. It’s not at all an accessible album, but it is incredibly rewarding if you take the time to decipher its mysteries.
1 – Clutch – Earth Rocker
This was all but a foregone conclusion. Like Bad Religion and Motörhead, Clutch stripped things down and got back to basics on Earth Rocker, as appropriate an album title as I’ve heard in quite some time, and the end result is not only the best album of the year, but possibly one of the best albums of Clutch’s nigh flawless discography. I would put Earth Rocker on a similar tier as Blast Tyrant, which I view both as Clutch’s best album and an all-time top 5 album as far as I’m concerned. It’s really that good. It blasts out of the gate, rarely relents, and is simply perfect from beginning to end, with some of the year’s most infectious riffs and massive grooves. I had a lot of internal debate about the rest of this list, but with Earth Rocker, there was no doubt.
SOME RANDOM OTHER FAVORITES –
Because this list should comprise a little bit more than just music.
Video Of The Year: Five Iron Frenzy – ‘Zen And The Art Of Xenophobia’
Five Iron Frenzy are a relic from my distant past, a time when I listened to Christian music and more ska and punk than metal. They were always more than just a Christian band, with intelligent lyrics and a mischievous streak that I always loved. When I discovered that they had a new album out, I was excited, and while on the whole it was a bit of a disappointment compared to my memories (aside from the horns, the ska elements are all but gone), ‘Zen And The Art Of Xenophobia’ is easily the best tune, and the video is hilarious good fun at the expense of American attitudes. Also, it