(NCS staff writer DGR makes the third ex-TNOTB writer of the day whose year-end list we’re rolling out. Read on… )
Ah, 2013 draws to a close, and you know what that means right? Its time for DGR to unleash his massive list of bullshit what he done liked in 2013! This year is no different, of course — I cut a bunch of categories out in order to streamline the madness somewhat, yet still managed to create a massive clusterfuck of words. I tend to write my stuff for folks that are trapped at work, so I do apologize for anyone who is glancing at this thinking that it’ll be a quick fifteen=minute read — because there is a fucking ton of music on this list.
It almost looks like if you put out a disc in 2013, then I probably liked it, but that’s not the case… mostly because I didn’t listen to a lot of music in 2013, and I even give those folks some credit at the very bottom. If you haven’t heard many of these releases, then I am happy to expose you to them, and if you have and enjoy them already and are just validating your opinion through your chosen NCS cipher, hey, let’s pop a champagne bottle and celebrate our excellent taste over the other jackbags that claim to write for this shitshow.
I’ve actually included some non-metal breathers as well, for those of us who may be suffocating under the weight of all this heavy metal. Let the chaos begin! Here is my list of Shit What I Done Liked In 2013 (thanks byrd for the title!), beginning with the honorable mentions.
SHIT WHAT I DONE LIKED IN 2013
OVID’S WITHERING – SCRYERS OF THE IBIS
I open with Ovid’s Withering mostly because of the fact that this disc is probably the latest addition to my list, and thus I haven’t had as much time to listen to it and soak it in as I have had with the others on the giant smattering of bullshit that I release every year. Scryers Of The Ibis left a hell of an impression on me even though if I got around to it super late — in my review I continually cited the fact that it took the blackened deathcore, djent, and death metal scenes and combined them, something where most bands drown under the weight of their own ambition. Whilst some of the tracks on Ibis can run a little long, the majority of it is a headbang-heavy, slamming time presented by a band who have grown themselves an almost entirely organic fanbase over the past few years.
Scryers is a fucking impressive debut disc, and if they can keep this momentum going you’ll likely be seeing the Ovid’s Withering name more than enough times to get sick of it within the upcoming years. I think everyone owes it to themselves to at least give “Panikon Deima” and “Murder To Dissect” a spin or two.
EXHALE – WORLD COLLIDE
Worlds Collide was easily my most anticipated disc of this year, built entirely around the strength of the song “Wrath Unleashed” — which hit around this time last year in music video form. As you can imagine, the wait was sheer torture as they wrapped up the recording of Worlds Collide and then got the disc out there for people to here. It came out really good though, combining deathgrind with the sharpness of Swedish Melo-death into an ultra-precise, machine-like beast of a grind disc, showing as much Nasum as it did Rotten Sound in its overall blast of fury. The band even went to the lengths of including some long tunes on there for variety’s sake, but I found my bread and butter in the shorter songs on Worlds Collide. “Machinery”, “Wrath Unleashed”, “Avsky”, and “Illusions” were all up to my speed, and those are the ones that people need to have injected directly into their veins, then go punch through a wall or something. Drywall patch is relatively cheap these days, so feel free to go to town. God help you if you’re one of the poor shmucks who has a cement wall — though you’ll get through it, because Worlds Collide gives you the adrenaline to do so. But I can’t help you with repairs.
KILLSWITCH ENGAGE – DISARM THE DESCENT
Killswith Engage finally bit the bullet and did it. The band released an overwhelmingly pop disc, filled to the brim with catchy choruses, vaguely inspirational and perserverence-targeted lyrics, and three minute and thirty second long songs — if you had the special edition, a fuckton of them. Yet, for some reason this album works like a charm on me. We often make fun of bands who use the pretty-boy gimmick to basically be boy band metal, with just enough screaming to be rebellious but not enough to actually challenge anyone. Yet here I am, swooning over how much I love almost every song on Disarm The Descent and how goddamned catchy each song is.
Seriously, Jesse Leech, Adam Dutkiewicz, and crew know how to write a goddamned hook, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had one song or another from this album stuck in my head. It’s shameless in that sense, which is probably why I don’t rank it much higher on my list, but I have to acknowledge the fact the I enjoy the ever-loving fuck out of this album, even outside of “In Due Time”. “A Tribute To The Fallen” and “You Don’t Bleed For Me” are more my speed, alongside the glorious chorus of “The Hell In Me”. Disarm The Descent is probably the most sugary sweet I got in 2013 and I have zero qualms with shouting it out.
DISTASTE – BLACK AGE OF NIHIL
Gotta give Armin Schweiger credit on this list, dude is one of the few musicians to appear twice. Distaste was his original grind band and he brought the group back in the late aughts and has kept it running strong since then. Distaste are probably the most punk group out of all the bands that the dude is in, but they have a seriously heavy bass presence and Black Age Of Nihil is a dark disc due to that fact. You can feel the death metal aspects slowly creep in, and the times when the band choose to go for the slow crawl as opposed to the machine-gun firefight prove to be pleasant surprises. Like many of the grind albums I listened to this year, I still find myself overwhelmingly attracted to the faster songs, but Black Age Of Nihil was an excellent experience through and through.
Not a fun disc by any means, despite all the d-beat and hardcore drumming on it. It was one of the many discs that hit this year that really highlighted how fucked up and hopeless the world is. Lot of symbolism in that Black Age Of Nihil title, for sure. I recommend “Enslaved” and “Force-Fed Lies” as first experiences if you’re looking to pop your cherry on these guys. If you want that slow bass crawl into utter wreckage I was rambling about in the intro for this, check out opening song “At War With Ourselves” as well as closer “Deuteronomium”.
MUMAKIL – FLIES WILL STARVE
I am attracted to Mumakil like a fly to shit, and unlike the album’s title I did not starve this year, as I got my Mumakil fix in the best way. Flies Will Starve is like the bassier, darker cousin to Behold…The Failure — one that took four years to get out the door, but goddamn was it worth pretending like the time between these discs wasn’t that long. Flies Will Starve continues Mumakil’s trend of burying everything amongst a wall of blastbeats and it’s probably the ugliest, fat-guy grindcore that I listened to this year. Mumakil have a serious ear for the groove, which means that you as a listener have to work insanely hard to find it, but like the smattering of grind releases that I have spread throughout this list (seriously, I guess 2013 was my surface level deathgrind exploration year), Mumakil are the sort of hit you need after you have had a day go to absolute shit.
“Shit Reminders”, “Fucktards Parade”, “Death From Below”, “Unfair For Whom?”, and “Wrong Turn” are all songs that you need to give a spin if you’re looking to get into this disc. Feel free, it’ll probably take up to ten minutes. Flies Will Starve tops out at 35 minutes, so it may just be more worth it to just let it destroy you and come back and finish this shitshow that I call a roundup of the year.
CLUTCH – EARTH ROCKER
Clutch have saved my life numerous times over the past few years when it comes to choosing music to play at work. I can’t blast death metal or anything profane, and Clutch are neither. The group just kick out solid-as-hell rock songs and their last three have brought in such a heavy blues element to the band’s that they have turned around and made gold with it. The group can do no wrong and Earth Rocker pretty much cements their legacy as one of the hardest rocking bands out there. The whole disc is just song after song of sheer goodness.
Thank god I get to limit this thing to strictly metal discs, because otherwise you’d see a whole bunch of heavy metal albums and then Earth Rocker sitting its happy ass right at Number 1 and I would feel zero issue about it. I have enjoyed every moment I have spent with this disc and every song where the band decide to just rock the fuck out, be it “Cyborg Bette”, the titular “Earth Rocker”, or the monstrous hook that is “Crucial Velocity”. The whole CD is just an enjoyable experience from top to bottom. If you enjoy music in general, you should have a copy of Earth Rocker.
Back to the metal!
ROTTING CHRIST – KATA TON DIAMONA EAYTOY
Rotting Christ have long shifted out of something that resembles traditional black metal; instead, they focus heavily on riffs, riffs, and more guitar riffs. They’re morphed their sound into something intensely exotic, pulling heavily from the Mediterranean region. Few bands out there that can pull off a riff and lead like Rotting Christ can, and while they started really planting their foot in the ground for that style on AEALO, the band really honed in on it during Kata Ton Daimona Eatoy.
Rotting Christ are such a gateway band, and I think people refuse to acknowledge it. The group kick out an earworm like no other, and honestly, “Grandus Spritus Diavolos” may be pushed for really hard when it comes time to hammer out the most infectious songs of 2013 for this site. Every listen to this disc is instant headbanging territory. There may have been discs that I spun a hell of a lot more and enjoyed more in 2013, but Rotting Christ had a hell of a year with this disc and every time one of the songs pops up, either by willing listen or by the fate decreed by the shuffle gods, its pure headbanging bliss.
AFGRUND – CORPORATOCRACY
The Age Of Dumb was a fucking great disc, and one of my biggest crimes of last year was not giving it the love it deserved. Corporatocracy is basically more Age Of Dumb plus a couple of covers, and once you get past the initial groan-worthy rant against McDonalds, Corporatocracy becomes a flame-spewing blast beast. This band are another ultra-precise grind group, like Exhale above them, and vocalist Armin Schweiger is such an intense presence on this CD that he might as well have crawled out of your computer and been screaming in your face. Corporatocracy zooms by insanely fast too. The only time I really took note of it ending was when I would hit their cover of Nasum’s “Shadows”, and that’s mostly because even though I’m not a grind expert, for some reason I have a huge fondness for “Shadows” and think that song is impossible to fuck up.
Of the original tunes that I would recommend, I highly suggest the one-two punch of “Earthrape”/”Pact Of Perfection” and then “Scarred Forever” and “Satanic Sativa”. If you listen to those then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what the hell Afgrund are about. And for fuck’s sake, listen to The Age Of Dumb.
AUTHOR AND PUNISHER – WOMEN AND CHILDREN
Here’s where I get to push up my rimmed glasses and tighten my scarf some, due to the nature of this project, in that the music here isn’t produced by the standard metal instruments and is instead an album that is metal in its ethos and approach to music. If you had to define where Women and Children falls, it probably lies somewhere in the drone/dub genres, but the experience of this disc is so incredibly intense that it has to appeal to just about any metalhead worth their salt.
Project owner Tristan Shone has made his own machines that create music, looking like a combination riveter and sowing machine alongside a dj table and other various forms of madness that all produce different percussive noises; he hooks himself into them and becomes the merging ground of man and machine. Much of Author and Punisher’s music feels like the cry for help by a man trapped inside of those machines, slowly merging with them into a singular form. None of the songs on this disc is incredibly fast, but this is the sort of album you just get lost in, one of the few truly atmospheric albums that I have on this list.
“Melee” and “Tame As A Lion” are among my personal faves, especially as the robotic voice kicks in around the two-minute mark of “melee” and the song descends into percussive hell.
AETHER REALM – ONE CHOSEN BY THE GODS
The trend of American bands finally co-opting European melodeath styles and doing it well is a recent one that I have come to love and enjoy. Aether Realm don’t exactly break the mold of the pagan melodeath scene, but what they do, they do incredibly well. One Chosen By The Gods was a hell of a debut – one that showed that the group could stand alongside their idols and influences and play that style of music just as well. There’s guitar leads for days all over One Chosen By The Gods, and on top of it, quite a few earworms as well. The single “Swampwitch” got stuck in my head for many a day and the elder song “Odin Will Provide” is still just as good as the first time I heard it.
It feels strange to say that one of the bands who kept up with Wintersun this year hail from North Caroline, but Aether Realm absolutely killed it, and in a way for me, took some of the shine of off Time when it finally hit. That disc is still fantastic as well, but One Chosen By The Gods is the scrappy underdog, and I have a real bleeding heart for those types of bands. Another highlight to check out: “Oak”, and if you can find the new single, “The Magician” as well. It’s not attached to any disc, but that one is fucking great too.
SHINING – ONE ONE ONE
I own two albums by Norway’s insanity collective Shining, and those two are starkly different experiences. Whereas Blackjazz was just madness from front to back, One One One is pared down to the very basics. They’re another group on this list that feel like an entirely different band made their latest album – yet One One One still contains enough of the challenge that first drew me to the band. “I Won’t Forget” is easily one of the most infectious songs of the years, coming to us like an acid-laced Motorhead song that loses its mind and starts wailing on a saxophone halfway through, before getting its shit together and coming back to us — and the rest of One One One follows in style.
In fact, the whole CD is insanely shuffle-friendly to those of us who like to let our mp3 players choose for us, as each song has a varying mood and a lot of them have the catchy tag attached to it, like it’s been super-glued on. It’s a Shining disc that promises and verges on insanity, but never gets there, instead leaving the listener slowly going mad from the anticipation of catharsis and never reaching it. It bares its teeth to us and makes us clench ours in order to fight back.
THE LUNA SEQUENCE – THE DAY THE CURSE GREW STRONGER
The Luna Sequence claim to make electronic music for people who hate electronic music, and at the moment I couldn’t agree more. Kaia Young made a hard rocking as hell disc with The Day The Curse Grew Stronger this year, really embracing heavy metal and just choosing the heaviest electronic songs to go alongside it, blending them together in a sound that I think few can accomplish. Every song on this disc could feasibly be done as a full-blown metal tune and would be interesting as hell to hear, but the hybrid that is created in The Luna Sequence needs to be heard.
You don’t have to be a fan of the music to really find something to latch your teeth onto with this disc. Hell, there’s even an insanely massive breakdown in “Whitewash Currents” and a constantly whirling headbang riff in the song “Lacerate” that need to be checked out. Wherever this project goes in the future, my loyalty is sealed, especially if this project keeps kicking out the heavy remixes of other songs — right now I’ve been digging real hard on the one for “Visible” from the Donnie Darko soundtrack and the ones from the game Remember Me as well.
Back To The Metal
DARK TRANQUILLITY – CONSTRUCT
Whereas most folks seem more concerned with complaining about Construct, I welcomed the breath of (recycled) fresh air because I think I have come to terms with the fact that Dark Tranqullity really only have two modes: They’re either going to sound like Haven/Projector or they’re going to sound like Damage Done/Character/Fiction. After having to slog through We Are The Void, the band returning to the Haven/Projector sound whilst doing stuff that was generally strange for Dark Tranqullity — like almost entire songs with clean singing — felt really good.
I can absolutely see why people grouse over this disc, but I enjoyed far more of Construct than I did We Are The Void. Its still no Fiction, but thats an especially hard bar to top for me. Hell, “State Of Trust” was the one that stuck out the most on Construct, and thats probably the strangest song on the album. Also, it felt really good to own up to enjoying a Dark Tranqullity disc almost the whole way through — instead of skipping around seeking the faster songs. PS: Andy’s opinion sucks.
ULCERATE – VERMIS
Vermis is like drowning, in audio form. Ulcerate have taken the apocalyptic sound of war and the echochamber sound of post- and combined it into an experience that is truly suffocating. The band have bleeding-edge technicality in their repertoire, but it’s hard to notice because you’re constantly being smothered while listening to the disc. Vermis iterates on The Destroyers Of All, and both are experiences that need to be had. Compared to the violence and brutality of other forms of death metal, Ulcerate can actually be fairly approachable, but the band is a god of atmosphere and that is what they truly build in their albums. Intricate forms recorded in desolate caverns and empty buildings, music for the apocalypse.
I keep a list of albums that I absolutely hate falling asleep to because I know full well they will ruin any dreams that I may have, and Vermis is among them. Most of the other discs tend to be loud and abrasive or contain stupid gimmicks as the end of the CD, but Vermis feels like it could actually trigger sleep paralysis at times. I know dozing off to it proved to be unnerving. It’s such a crushingly heavy disc, so much so that I love the fact that they named a song (and highlight of the disc, too!) “The Weight of Emptiness”.
I reviewed Vermis for NCS and this disc still sticks with me. It may not be a favorite or a constant play, but I believe this one goes in the ‘art’ category as a shoo-in.
PERSEFONE – SPIRITUAL MIGRATION
Andorra came on insanely strong this year in the heavy metal scene. Both Nami and Persefone released some truly amazing stuff in 2013 — for a country many folk are barely even aware of, it’s an incredible feeling to say that you’re a fan of two bands from there. Persefone stepped up their hybrid of prog, melo-death, and a million other styles to a whole other level on Spiritual Migration — eclipsing the already enjoyable Shin-Ken like nothing and just taking us on a wondrously awesome guitar- and key-laden journey. Seriously, the guitar work on this disc and every melody that comes out of that section of the band is just so good, so sweet, it’s like slamming a whole 2 liters of soda right down your face and grabbing another.
Persefone are masterful songwriters and a truly underrated band, and I feel that we really need to get those dudes out there for people to hear because they could really grab an audience, given the chance. Even the intro on Spiritual Migration is insanely strong. “Flying Sea Dragons” is just a bunch of guitar sweeps, yet the band found the perfect melody and scale to build off of, and then they kick right into “Mind As Universe”, and the whole experience is just an absolute rush. It’s like that for the whole CD. It’s so good.
SKELETONWITCH – SERPENTS UNLEASHED
Skeletonwitch were one of those few bands where I felt like I was constantly missing the bus. Everyone sang their praises, yet everytime I listened to them I heard some pretty good thrash and death metal mix but it never quite grabbed me — so much so that I actually willfully ignored the group’s 2011 release and wasn’t going to check out Serpents Unleashed until our very own BadWolf pretty much sang the praises of it to high heaven and back.
I think what really sold me on this disc was that the band pretty much ground themselves down to their bare essence and basically whipped out a whole bunch of almost grind-length songs that were all sub-three-minutes. All of them seem like they were written around one or two incredibly tasty riffs, and then the band decided that they weren’t going to overstay their welcome and punched the fuck out before the song dragged on too long. Thus, Serpents Unleashed feels like Skeletonwitch at their most condensed and furious, moving with quick precision and purpose. I wish the drumming had been a bit more intense to go along with the guitar work, but the disc still punches you in the chest super hard.
MAJALIS – CATHODIC BLACK
Majalis are a sideproject containing two of the guys from In Mourning and two gentlemen from other groups. They’re starkly different from In Mourning, a band more familiar to those who really miss Isis or Neurosis and love any genre with the word post- prefixed to it. They deal in slow, crawling songs with a heavy bit of sludge on top, but they still have an ear for melody and that’s what makes Cathodic Black great. It feels like a disconnected and cold EP. At only three songs, Cathodic Black still reaches into the high twenty minute mark, so there is absolute no lack of music available.
The song “Of Tooth And Bone” creates images of rocky beachs, with skulls long since bleached by the sun resting on them as the waves continually crash over the bone. Not enough to drag them out into the ocean and at least change scenery, but enough to bury them and create a consistent state of drowning if they weren’t already long gone. This is one of those discs where you can close your eyes and let the band drag you on a journey too, and it promises great things if Majalis ever get beyond the EP releases. Cathodic Black is great on its own and a good portent of the future for Majalis.
Non Metal Breather!
STEVEN WILSON – THE RAVEN THAT REFUSED TO SING
Initially, I was scared of picking up on a new Steven Wilson disc this year. Storm Corrosion had left me with a feeling that perhaps he was stretching himself a little too thin between his solo work, Porcupine Tree, and that band. It felt like maybe on Storm Corrosion he was trying a bit too hard to bring music back to the era that he grew up in, and so I wound up trepedatious with The Raven That Refused To Sing. The excited surprise I felt when I started on the title song is almost indescribable, because “The Raven That Refused To Sing” is such an amazing track, full of emotion and depth and so well written. It feels like every piece of that song was calculated to bring the maximum amount of emotion to the listener’s experience. It’s such a cold and haunting song, and it is only one track of six.
The others range from prog wanderings to songs closer to the title track, but the whole CD is enjoyable from beginning to end; it never seems to be stretching for time or gets boring in any way. “Luminol” feels like a flashback song in its opening, but grows into something more — which felt like the theme for the whole CD, as well as my feelings for it. I can happily go back to being a Steven Wilson fanboy.
Back To The Metal
MERCENARY – THROUGH OUR DARKEST DAYS
Confession: I’m probably the biggest Mercenary shill on this site. I try to dial it down to the point of just being a fan providing a fan’s perspective, but I really do love this band. That said, I was iffy on this group’s 2013 release up until the moment it was released. I thought Metamorphosis was a good first disc, but it felt like a collection of singles, written by a band in flux, and therefore you started hearing some of the complacency and comfort riffs that slowly seem to spread into many long running melo-death bands. I didn’t know what to think when it came to Through Our Darkest Days as they were writing it, the group constantly claiming that they were going back to The Hours That Remain time and time again for inspiration.
Look, if they wanted to be my best friend, the group would just release The Hours That Remain over and over again and I don’t think I would care – even as they reached Hours That Remain III: We’re Just Ripping DGR Off and Hours That Remain IV: Journey Through The Mists. What I got with Through Our Darkest Days was Mercenary doing like Killswitch did above. They wrote a shamelessly anthemic, catchy, pop album where almost every song clicks, with the exception of “Generation Hate”. I love “Welcome The Sickness” to death and I love that the band are trying to make a music video for it. I think “A New Dawn” is great. I think Through Our Darkest Days was my comfort food disc for 2013 – the one I went to when I didn’t really feel like being challenged and just wanted that good, solid block of Mercenary that I came to love through all the band lineup shifts. The guys clearly have a really good formula to work with.
CONDUCTING FROM THE GRAVE – CONDUCTING FROM THE GRAVE
This disc was such a nailbiter to see all the way through. I had known the guys were working on something new and what I heard was promising, but man, that whole Kickstarter thing — even though it came out four grand above what they asked for — was just so intense. I’m the sort of dipshit who gets super-anxious about that stuff and I actually got worried I wouldn’t hear a follow up to Revenants, especially one with the super-promising “Honor Guide Me!” attached to it. Little did I know just how death metal the guys in Conducting were willing to go this time around. The group not only came full circle but also really came into their own, confident and not answering to anyone.
The whole disc is just a shredder’s dream, with guitar after guitar bit piled on top of each other until the songs almost crumble under their weight. Not only that, but the rhythm section then turns around and puts out a crushingly heavy and booming death metal performance, smashing drill after drill into each song and making every track instantly headbangable too. Mikey Powell, for all his humbleness, turns in a motherfucker of a vocal performance here — rotating between highs and lows like they’re absolutely nothing to him and introing almost every song with an insanely high shriek. I love the “Dante” and “Tyrant” one-two punch, and “Monster (Part III)” and “Honor Guide Me!” are songs I think the band may be doomed to have added to their setlist until they quit playing live.
CARCASS – SURGICAL STEEL
Getting the obligatory deepthroating out of the way, I think Carcass are a fantastic band with a hell of a legacy and I like almost everything they have done, including a decent swath of Swansong. I think Heartwork is almost unfuckwithable and I was pretty much vibrating like The Flash with anticipation for my first listen to Surgical Steel — and oh my god, was it glorious.
I think just about every band has a deep well of guitar riffs that they go to time and time again that they know will just whip a crowd into an absolute frenzy. What Surgical Steel showed is that the guys in Carcass have one of the best wells out there to draw from. Surgical Steel (like many albums on this list) is just a guitar player’s dream. There’s so many riffs on this album that it almost feels like Carcass came back from the dead in order to deliver a clinic to these lame ass bands that are getting big on one or two really good guitar riffs, by just demonstrating how they can crush you with their pinky by writing an album’s worth of them. Walker and Steer’s vocal contributions are dripping with acid and venom on this disc and drummer Dan Wilding smashes out a hell of a performance.
Probably one of the most ‘traditional’ metal discs I have on this list, but it’s also one that I enjoyed every piece of. Especially “316 L Grade Surgical Steel”. Holy shit you guys, that song is so fucking good. I get bangovers from that song when I sit perfectly still.
REVOCATION – REVOCATION
My story with Revocation is probably one that a lot of people share. I enjoyed the group’s first two discs and tried desperately never to pass up an opportunity to see them live when the group were in town, but they never quite clicked with me — until they released the Teratogenesis EP last year. The band really seemed to be on an entirely different level with that release; every song just seemed to click. Revocation morphed from being an impressively technical thrash and death band to something with a roar to it and a huge penchant for insanity.
That penchant for insanity was one of the reasons why I was so happy when the group released their self-titled disc this year, because it showed they were willing to try a whole bunch of absolute craziness just to see what would happen when it meshed with their sound. It resulted in some absolutely epic blasts of music, some where the headbanging and orb-holding come entirely subconsciously. You can’t help but feel like you’re standing on a building yelling at the sky during “Scattering The Flock” — especially during the key point in which the ‘Shepherd! We have Scattered Your Flock!’ is yelled. Essentially, the band took Teratogenesis and everything I loved about it and blew it up into a full CD full of insane guitarwork and absolutely massive songs.
NAMI – THE ETERNAL LIGHT OF THE UNCONSCIOUS MIND
By the time this list goes up I will have either reviewed or be well on my way to reviewing this disc, because Nami have put out an excellent 2013 release with Eternal Light Of The Unconscious Mind. It represents an entirely different band, despite only one huge lineup shift. This group from Andorra were in an entirely different headspace when they made this than where they were with Fragile Alignments. While that one alternated between a desire for prog-death and straightforward prog, Eternal Light feels like a disc written after a post-metal and progressive rock binge. You can almost immediately pick out the influences and elements on this disc, ranging from Isis, to Tool, to a light Mastodon bit, and a fucking heavy dose of The Ocean. Seriously, anyone who has been all over Pelagial this year needs to listen to this album because the two feel like they run hand in hand, especially since Loic Rosetti appears on the song “Silent Mouth” — easily one of the highlight songs on the album alongside “Hunters Dormancy” and “Ariadna”.
QUEST OF AIDANCE – MISANTHROPIC PROPAGANDA
Misanthropic Propaganda is such a strange album. It could be broken down into a whole bunch of differing descriptors and have absolutely none of them be correct. It’s one of the many bands that feature Christian Alvestam, but he, perhaps wisely, chose to take a breather on the vocal front and keep everything there extremely limited. Quest of Aidance contains contributions from some of the guys in Miseration, so you could say it is something of a Miseration-lite, with the same sense of chaos and grandeur that Miseration’s latest had, but even there you would be wrong. Based on the song “Anyx” you could say it was a grind disc, as that was the lead-off single, but you’d be wrong there too.
Instead, Misanthropic Propaganda is a specific group of guys at their most insanely creative, welcoming contributions from the strange to the awesome, and thus you wind up with a disc that is equal parts awesome and downright weird. Every song on this album is varied, which makes it one of the most shuffle-friendly albums out there. Every song has its own strange gimmick, be it synth from straight out of a gangster rap disc (honestly; this may be a stupid attribution to my personality, but the closing minute had me heavily flashing back to Murder Was The Case, and I don’t think it specifically appears in that song), to theramin, to amazing guitar riffing, to just the overall blastwork of a song like “Anyx”. It was hard to define when I reviewed it, other than loving the hell out of it, and it is still hard to describe now. Obvious spins include “Anyx”, “Sirian Breed”, “Red Dust”, and “Seething Voids”.
Non Metal Breather!
NINE INCH NAILS – HESITATION MARKS
I am not one of those people who jumps onto the “Trent Reznor is a goddamned genius” train anytime I’m given the ability to. However, I do think this guy probably has the highest hit ratio in my mind when it comes to putting out stuff that I enjoy. Even stuff that wasn’t traditionally what I came to Nine Inch Nails for has grown on me quite a bit. My initial reaction to Year Zero, for instance, was one of disappointment, but that one has grown to be one of my favorites in the NIN catalog. Hesitation Marks, however, has made a way better first impression, and as it turns out, the disc has proven to be really electic in terms of the Nine Inch Nails sound.
The album includes a lot of music, and only one or two songs that I really go half-and-half on, the rest I enjoy tremendously. “Came Back Haunted” is alright for a quick radio spin, but for me, the constant promise of catharsis and the never-quite-getting-there experience of the multi-layered “Copy Of A” is fantastic. For a disc that started out as just two songs for a retrospective package, Hesitation Marks fits in really well and it is one of the few industrial/electronic releases that I got the chance to listen to this year. Immensely enjoyable.
Back To The Metal!
So here we are, the massive list of bullshit what I done liked and now we’re down to brass tacks when it comes to the really good stuff on this list. Keep in mind, I really can only stick to the top 5 as a list that I can stand by, and anything between 6 and 15 I waffle on almost daily. So some days, you could probably get me to say that I love The Ocean at number 6, and then other days it’s back at 15. I just really felt that whoever was in the top set really needed to be mentioned as having one of the best releases of the year, because every CD in this group, I listen to almost daily. The humongous mess of honorable mentions at the beginning of this list were also fantastic, but man, everything with a number next to it from here on were some amazing feats of musicianship. I know my lists may tend to look more like mainstream shopping lists by way of Decibel and Revolver, but these artists really did nail it in 2013.
SHIT WHAT I DONE REALLY LIKED IN 2013
15) THE OCEAN – PELAGIAL
Even though this was the year where I came to the conclusion that I was pretty used to how The Ocean did things musically, so some of the lustre was gone, I still found myself drawn to Pelagial — which is a humongous credit to just how good a group of songwriters Robin Staps and Co. are. On top of all this, the initial wariness at the whole release being instrumental was blown away, because somehow the band found a way to add in Loic and release two versions of Pelagial (instrumental-only and not) and both were awesome.
Loic turns in one of the best vocal performances he has ever done with this band on Pelagial, and this time he mixes far better with the group. With Heliocentric and Anthropocentric there was a small sense that they were still finding their feeling with this guy, but hearing them now meshed together as a full band is a truly incredible experience. That moment during “Hadopelagic II: Let Them Believe”, in the last few minutes, where the whole band proceeds to lose its shit is pretty much worth the price of admission alone! But you also get a really good batch of songs throughout the rest of the album, with no real stinker, so you can actually do a full-album run. The “Bathypelagic” series of songs is great as well, even the lead off single “Wish In Dreams”. Pelagial is a heck of a disc.
14) OCTOBER TIDE – TUNNEL OF NO LIGHT
Let me just begin this by saying that even though only two doom discs made my list, this was a pretty big year for that genre for me. I don’t know why, but the funeral march tempos and wounded animal vocals really grabbed hold of me and didn’t let go this year. October Tide’s Tunnel Of No Light was one of the albums that really cemented that feeling for me. The group went through some lineup changes and yet still managed to hammer out a great disc.
Tunnel Of No Light basically took the frail, hopeful creature that was A Thin Shell and then took it behind the barn and shot it. Tunnel is dark and hopeless in comparison to A Thin Shell. Alexander Högbom of Spasmodic and Volturyon fame does a really good job as the new vocalist, really carrying each track with the howls that he attributes to the protagonist in each of the songs. Some of the tracks are truly hopeless; you would be justified in falling into a dark mood after listening to “The Day I Dissolved”, “Watching The Drowners”, “In Hopeless Pursuit”, and “Of Wounds To Come”. The lines from “Of Wounds To Come” about how “Every step is a foot in the grave/Admitting the pain is too profound for the brave” and “The horizon is a reminder/of wounds to come”‘ are overwhelmingly intense, like much of Tunnel Of No Light.
13) THE AMENTA – FLESH IS HEIR
It really sucks that The Amenta are going on a hiatus from playing live after the beginning of next year, because if there is any disc worth of material people need to see by this Australian abrasive-as-hell hybrid of industrial, black, and death metal, it should really be the songs from Flesh Is Heir. For the lineup of the band that exists now, Flesh Is Heir was a flag-in-the-ground moment because they absolutely murdered it on every single song. The band put forth their fullest, richest, full-of-distortion tracks in 2013 — there are so many that have that super-important, instant headbanging groove and riff to them.
“Tabula Rasa” is an epic monster of a song and I truly hope that the band got the chance to play it live, because witnessing it would’ve been absolutely glorious. “Ego Ergo Sum” is another perfect live track, keeping things simple but with enough crushing heaviness that you’re perfectly okay with it. “Disintigrate” is the band’s take on death metal and it pretty much destroys that notion from the very beginning. The way Cain’s voice bounces back and forth during the title track, as well as his general shriek and roar throughout Flesh Is Heir is really good.
The electronic distortion and occasional synthesized mess that weaves its way through each song makes Flesh Is Heir a truly suffocating experience as well – which is a trait that Australia and New Zealand metal bands seem to have mastered. While the future of The Amenta may be a little hazy at the moment, Flesh Is Heir is a massive release that really stands on its own.
12) ENSHINE – ORIGIN
Enshine came out of absolutely nowhere this year, a project consisting of Sweden’s Jari Lindholm and Fractal Gates/Inborn Suffering’s Sebastien Pierre of France. The album produced by this duo was one of the many ethereal and distinctly European doom discs that clicked with me this year. For a band just getting their feet off the ground, Origin proved to be a very ambitious undertaking that sounded really professional. The band don’t go for the patented funeral procession march, and the atmosphere honestly isn’t that suffocating, but the group do manage to evoke the snowy fields and destroyed-buildings images for which I come to this specific brand of doom, and they did so with some beautiful music.
Most songs are growl-filled, melancholic-guitar and keyboard-laden approaches, and I absolutely love them for that. Origin felt a bit like an underdog this year, especially for me, so even though it hit way earlier in 2013 I found myself swearing up and down that I wasn’t going to forget about this disc, and it continued to grow on me throughout the whole year. If you’re seeking a newer doom band and enjoy the sort of melancholic stuff groups like In Mourning, Insomnium, and Novembre put out, then Enshine and Origin will be right up your alley.
11) HEAVEN SHALL BURN – VETO
Stop reading here. Go listen to “Godiva”. Come back. Do you understand why this disc is on my list yet? If not, go listen to it again. Now imagine that the rest of Veto is filled with songs just as good as that one. Veto sees Heaven Shall Burn really going full-bore on the death metal side of their sound and just slamming lead after lead into each song. Every song on Veto has a riff that will get stuck in your head all day.
“Hunters Will Be Hunted” is another example of one that can bore its way into your skull, and I’m almost ashamed to admit it. The song has such a recognizable formula, yet it works and it works so well. There are so many songs on this disc that just leave you circle-headbanging that you almost miss when the band really do something out of the ordinary and crazy. Their cover of Blind Guardian’s “Valhalla” is one of the ballsiest things I’ve heard this band do, and yet it is absolutely glorious. If we were giving out awards for cover song of this year, it would be a seriously close battle between “Valhalla” and Arsis’ take on “Sunglasses At Night”.
Veto is one of those Heaven Shall Burn discs that I will constantly be going back to long after this year is out. It’s one of those albums where if I even hear the opening strains of even one of the songs, I end up just going through the whole disc again (as is the case with many on this list).
10) ARSIS – UNWELCOME
Arsis are one of the few bands about whom I can really say I almost got into them from the ground floor. I have been following these guys since the day Celebration of Guilt came out, so I feel like I’ve witnessed every single one of their ups and downs. They’ve put out some really good albums and some that are debatable, yet Unwelcome was one of the best they’ve done in a very long time. It’s as close as I think the band will ever get to songwriting so good that I actually felt like I did when I first discovered Celebration of Guilt.
On that album they were able to blast past my rose-tinted glasses and just hammer away with incredible songwriting that bounced from heavy, blackened death, to melo-death and thrash, to some serious 80’s cheese that I absolutely adored. For a while, this album got by with me based on the strength of the solos and leads in “Handbook For The Recently Deceased”. The rest of Unwelcome is heavy and headbang-worthy as all hell, but man did that song really work its way into my blood. They even took “Sunglasses at Night” and made it sound like their own song, which was an amazing feat.
Arsis really did kick out a motherfucker of an album in 2013, one of the best in their discography, and this is one of those that you would be profoundly stupid to pass up.
9) MECHINA – EMPYREAN
There are a couple of discs on this list that I swore up and down I was not going to forget about when it came time to forge my year-ender, but none was a more extreme case of memory testing than Chicago-area-based Mechina and their 2013 release Empyrean. This album came out on January 1st. Not only that, but the group plan to release the follow-up disc to this one on January 1st as well — which means if that one is as good as Empyrean, I get to do this whole not-forgetting thing again next year. Thanks guys!
Empyrean is a truly impressive disc for the Mechina catalog because it really sounds like the band put in a ton of work for their follow-up to 2011’s Conqueror. The band really stepped up their use of symphonics and a huge part of that is a credit to Joe Tiberi, who has proven to be a fucking wizard when it comes to programming that stuff. The band keep their spectrum of death metal really groove-heavy and there are a few songs on this disc where everything just merges together gloriously. “Anathema” has one of the most powerful choruses released this year, and I challenge you not to get an adrenaline rush when Mechina kick into the main part of “Eleptheria”.
The story of this disc is insanely ambitious and I’m glad a band isn’t willing to let their own previous limits stop them. Instead, the guys constantly go for broke, and on Empyrean that really worked out for them. It’s a sci-fi metal masterpiece.
8) SOILWORK – THE LIVING INFITE
If you’ve been reading any sort of heavy metal list this year then you can probably skip the next fifty or so words because I’m about to repeat the most common sentiment (that we have yet to rise above) expressed in regard to The Living Infinite. Ready? Here we go: Holy shit you guys, Soilwork fucking pulled off a goddamn double fucking album, can you believe that shit?
After the band had become the stalwarts of consistency, they managed to create a double disc that while, yes, containing a couple of weak songs, has some of the best stuff Soilwork has put out to date. There are so many anthemic choruses packed into this album it’s incredible, especially the front-loaded first disc with all the really fast songs. At least four or five songs could easily slot into our “most infectious” list if I hadn’t been so goddamn impressed with “Spectrum Of Eternity” from the get-go. When that single was first released it was a strange feeling. It felt like a long time coming that I was genuinely excited for a Soilwork album. And then to hear it fulfill its promises was an amazing experience.
With this album you really do have one of the best things the band have ever done, and it kind of wipes away the last one or two whiffs the group put out. I love it when this band goes fast, and man do they get some mileage out of speed on The Living Infinite. On top of that, “Vesta”. Oh man you guys, “Vesta” is great, talk about one of the most glorious choruses of the year.
7) HATE – SOLARFLESH: A GOSPEL OF RADIANT DIVINITY
Boy, that’s a mouthful of an album title. It’s unfortunate how Hate are always treated like a b-list band, considering that they have always put out some of the best blackened death to come out of Poland alongside compatriots Behemoth. Of course, since most folks believe in the Highlander rule, it seems like Hate catch the short straw — and those people are making a fucking serious mistake, especially this year with Solarflesh.
Solarflesh took Hate beyond writing really good riffs and machine-gun blasts and made their music into an exotic ritual — they don’t feel like a band just playing death metal anymore, they feel like a band performing a ritual, and the songs on Solarflesh are a dedication to whatever gods and demons they have chosen to summon. It’s a disc that is supremely strong, and everyone involved with it should be proud — the sort of disc that really captures a band leaving their stamp on the genre… if Hate hadn’t already done so before with Erebos, Morphosis, and Anaclasis.
Solarflesh was one of the albums that I constantly went back to this year and let it spin from end to end. It contains some super-infectious songs, such as the title track, “Alchemy ov Blood” and its slow, wormlike, crawling riff, and my personal favorite, “Festival Ov Slaves”. I love the way that song transitions from its intro into the body of the track. Solarflesh is like having your face grinded off by blasts, and it is great.
6) EXTOL – EXTOL
Religious quibbles aside, Norway’s Extol have always put out some really good music. I think some folks have a knee-jerk reaction to the band because of the Christian element in their music, but I’ve always been a believer that if the music is truly great then it will rise above whatever fairy tales and magical sky wizards may be involved in the lyrics. Extol have always been remarkably brave, but it’s on their comeback self-titled disc that they really got experimental and put out some truly challenging and angular riffs for people to dig into. You’ll occasionally find a headbanging groove, but Extol really don’t stick to any sort of formula or basic song structure. Every song on this self-titled is a journey because of that.
The group even change things up in the vocals as well, making it seem as if half the song is being delivered by a death metal band and then a robotic voice from the future is the one responding to everything. And the melodies delivered can get stuck in your head for months. I seriously cannot listen to “Wastelands” without it grinding its way into my brain and just taking up residence. Hell, even the mention of it sometimes gets it stuck in my head. The effective thing about Extol is that most of the songs on the disc are like that. So if you’re looking for something that takes the metal genre and bends it and breaks it in some really interesting ways, Extol is one to check out.
5) THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER – EVERBLACK
The Black Dahlia Murder have become frighteningly consistent at releasing really good discs. Long ago I had a theory that their odd-numbered releases would be the ones where the band would make huge leaps in sound, and the even ones would just iterate on them. But then Black Dahlia put out Everblack and just smashed that fucking bit of pretentiousness to bits. The one trend that did continue is Black Dahlia’s knack for having fantastic opening songs, with “In Hell Is Where She Waits For Me” just being a full-blown barnburner — but then the band go in some surprisingly heavy directions across the rest of the CD.
If you haven’t figured out by now, I am a massive fan of guitar leads, melodies, and any sort of craziness that a good one of those two may entail, and those are just splattered all over this disc to maximum effect. Not only that, but they decided to stretch beyond their usual blend of melo, brutal, tech, and straightforward death metal to really work some serious black metal elements into their sound. On top of that, they then included some shameless crowd interaction into songs that you feel like shouting along with even if you’re by yourself. With Everblack, Black Dahlia have now given me four discs that I absolutely love and two that I just enjoy a ton.
4) FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE – LABYRINTH
I am a sucker for Fleshgod Apocalypse’s brand of bigger = better when it comes to death metal. As the symphonics have gotten more over the top and ridiculous, I feel like I’m right there, like their music has become catnip. Agony made this band absolutely huge, so it was interesting to see what the group were going to do with Labyrinth with a (presumably) larger budget and the time to do whatever they wished. Unsurprisingly, the band went bigger on the symphonics and more epic in the songwriting, but this time around Fleshgod put a lot of work into hammering out the basic core of the band as well.
The riffs on Labyrinth are really elaborate this time around, and even without the layers of symphonics on top of some of the songs on Labyrinth, they would still hold up. However, it’s the combination of all those elements for which people come to Fleshgod, and goddamnit do they kill it again on this disc. I am convinced that some of the songs on this album were written for the sole purpose of blowing up whatever live venue they are playing at. Lead-off single “Elegy” sounds like it was written in part to be a follow-up to “The Violation”, and to destroy people at the show that night. It’s that epic and fast blast that people love from this band, and on top of that it’s probably the most condensed song on that disc.
That said, the group don’t lose any luster on the longer songs, such as “Under Black Sails”, “Warpledge”, and “Kingborn”. The whole disc is just great, and Fleshgod succeeded in doing better than just releasing Agony… again.
3) MAN MUST DIE – PEACE WAS NEVER AN OPTION
You can’t listen to Peace Was Never An Option and not want to destroy the world. Man Must Die unleash such fury on this disc that you can’t help but feel like you should — and could — grow into a being larger than the planet, take it between your hands, and just crush it until nothing is left but dust. No disc is more effective than a Man Must Die album to remind me that the world is a fucking mess, and they’ve ratcheted that feeling up tenfold in the four-year span between No Tolerance For Imperfection and Peace Was Never An Option.
I knew from the moment the band announced they were going to work on a new disc that it was going to rank up really high with me, especially on the strength of No Tolerance, yet I was still impressed and excited with just how much they succeeded in delivering — multiple tremolo-picked bombing runs, enough blasts to take this album past strip-mining and right into war zones, and one incredibly angry frontman who legitimately sounds like it. They may not be poets in any sense, swinging the symbolism mallet so hard that it tends to hit on moments of brilliance (“Absence Makes The Hate Grow Stronger” being a personal right-on-the-head-moment), but the band can get their message across like no other.
The whole first six songs on this disc are just great nonstop metal, especially when you hit “Sectarian” — which may be my personal highlight whenever I can make it past “Hiding in Plain Sight”.
2) RETURNING WE HEAR THE LARKS – FAR STEPPER/OF WIDE SEA
Jak Noble was one of those bedroom guitarists who really stuck out in my mind during the huge explosion of solo guitar acts in the latter aughts and is one of the few I still enjoy a ton. His project Returning We Hear The Larks has never been really prolific and as of this release had slowed down. Far Stepper/Of Wide Sea is the final release under this project name, and it’s a bittersweet send-off because this disc was one of those albums that sees a musician at his absolute most ambitious and creative.
Taking on aspects of Greek mythology and mixing it with his style of music — and doing so flawlessly — was an impressive act, with the whole release feeling like one really long epic song. It was the kind of album this year where if I heard even one song pop up on shuffle on my .mp3 player, I wound up just starting the whole damned release over. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve listened to this disc, but there’s such passion and creativity in each song that there is always something to go back to.
He and Lauren Krukiel turn in some incredible vocal performances, and Lauren is truly a highlight — because you know that as soon as she comes in, the song is about to shift into something wonderful, especially the first few times she appears in the opening of this disc. This release is a true gem as a “name your own price” download, and you owe it to yourselves to grab it.
1) OMNIUM GATHERUM – BEYOND
There is a lot to be said for having an ear for keyboard and guitar melodies, and honestly, Finland’s Omnium Gatherum do it like no other. Beyond was a demonstration of that talent to an extreme degree. It was an excellent followup to the already really goddamned good New World Shadows, and we here at NoCleanSinging absolutely loved it.
Beyond actually started a trend where I just run through as much of the band’s music as I can at work; it’s so good that it actually makes the rest of their discography look better in retrospect. The group kick out some melancholic, slow-moving songs, and then at other times on Beyond they deliver some of the best, cheeseball, keyboard-heavy melo-death tunes that I have heard in a long time. On top of that, the group really do create some beautiful moments; the album art lines up perfectly with the music that is on the disc inside. The turquoise colors and rocky beach scenery match the music perfectly.
Every song is a highlight. I find myself going back to “Who Could Say”, “Living In Me”, “New Dynamic”, “Sonic Sign”, and “The Unknowing” with such regularity that I might as well just listen to the whole disc. Also, “LuoTo” is such a good intro, and when the band then come full circle on it during “White Palace” it is one of the best moments of music this year. While the album may not have lasted as well with everyone else on this site as the year delivered more and more new releases, I absolutely adore Beyond — it really is fighting its way onto my desert-island album list. If you haven’t had the chance to check it out despite our screaming about it from the rooftops of every city with even a two-story building, much less a skyscraper, then you need to do so now.
PS: The cover of “Subdivisions” by Rush that came out as a bonus track for this disc is amazing.
And finally, here are the two discs that I feel really, really, bad about not getting around to this year. In the case of Psyclon Nine, I almost didn’t catch that the disc was out — especially given the period during which the band didn’t exist. I’ve been saying I’ll get a review for it done here soon, but I think that I have to stop lying to myself and say that I probably won’t get one done before the year is out. That said, Order Of The Shadow sounds like what I really enjoyed out of We The Fallen — which is great. I just really want to have a more detailed take on it in the future, so consider this a spoiler that I like it, I guess.
Hypocrisy’s album, on the other hand, is one that I have had forever, but because I am a fucking awful person, I have listened to very little of it. I heard a ton of “Taste Of Extreme Divinity”, and I loved the fuck out of that disc, so I will probably like End Of Disclosure a ton, yet I just haven’t listened to it enough to have a fully formed opinion. Had I done so though, it probably would’ve been camped out right up there with the Shit That I Done Liked in 2013 section. I’m an idiot. So my huge apologies to these two:
Hypocrisy – End of Disclosure
Psyclon Nine – Order Of The Shadow Act 1
So with that, 2013’s monolith of a list comes to a close. I apologize to all of you for taking up so much of your time, and likewise, if you came to this expecting the even more in-depth ridiculousness that I usually do, I apologize for slacking off a bit here as well. I am writing multiple reviews at this time alongside working on this, so that is my excuse. I look forward to doing the same in 2014, as a bunch of bands just absolutely killed it this year, and 2014 is already looking really bright (The Kennedy Veil are going to be a serious darkhorse with Trinity Of Falsehood).
I wish you all a happy new year and various other holidays, assuming Islander hasn’t passed out on the keyboard and failed to get this posted on time. Also, someone just send a bunch of beer up to Seattle for the guy, he deserves it. No addresses, just send it to Seattle. He’ll find it somehow. He’s like that city’s Batman. He just knows.