(We welcome back guest contributor and fellow blogger BreadGod with another of his year-end lists. I’ve taken the liberty of adding full-album streams for all of his picks.)
The metal scene sort of blew its collective load back in 2012, what with all that fear of the apocalypse and whatnot. They released a bunch of awesome albums in anticipation of an event that never happened. This means that there wasn’t a lot of good metal this year. Of course, that was only if you were looking at the topmost layer of the underground. If you took the time to dig deeper like I did, then you will have found lots of awesome new releases. Here are my top ten releases of 2013. Enjoy.
#10: Abyssal – Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius
The list begins with the year’s first album. On New Year’s Day, I received an e-mail from the band Abyssal that contained nothing but a download link and a single sentence: “The time has come.” When I pushed play, I was instantly enshrouded in a miasma of chaotic evil. It’s far more diabolical than their debut, Denouement. The production is a colossal wall of sound that will crush the life out of you, the drums offer up both ravenous blast beats and slow and sinister doom rhythms, the vocals sound like the grumbling of an ancient and vile entity that lurks in the deepest reaches of the earth, and the guitars run the gamut from vicious black metal tremolo riffs put through a death metal filter to slow and wicked chugs. I regret not putting these guys in my top ten list last year, because they have made something that is both evil and grand.
#9: Situs Magus – Le grand oeuvre
I normally don’t care much about funeral doom metal. If you ask me, their songs drag on for way too long. But you combine funeral doom metal with black metal, I’m all over that shit. The French band Situs Magus released their debut album, Le grand oeuvre, way back in January, and the black metal they have made is dark, nasty, and gruesome, but it’s also pretty epic in its scale, and I mean epic in the classical sense, not the internet sense. The drums play an excellent mix of black metal blast beats and pounding funeral doom rhythms, the vocals consist of wicked rasps and growls that remind me of Deathspell Omega, the guitars are dissonant and unorthodox, and the entire thing feels both sinister and bombastic.
#8: Dead in the Dirt – The Blind Hole
I was drawn to this album by the ominous cover art. It looks like something Sunn O))) would use. This actually makes a lot of sense as Dead in the Dirt are signed to Southern Lord Records, which is owned by the members of Sunn O))). As for the music, Dead in the Dirt play angry, violent grindcore. The drums offer up a diverse mix of simple hardcore rhythms and raging blast beats, the bass is thick and gritty, the vocals consist of an evil growl and a chaotic scream, and the guitars play a great range of riffs that are influenced by hardcore, doom metal, and black metal. The Blind Hole is a savage experience that will ravage your butthole.
#7: Sadhaka – Terma
For some inexplicable reason, Cascadia (the mountainous area that encompasses Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia) has become a hotbed for atmospheric black metal. Some of them are good, most of them are boring, but there are a small number of bands that are just plain magical. Sadhaka is one of those bands. Their debut album, Terma, is a work of art. The production sounds warm and enchanting, the drums offer up a nice mix of mid-paced rhythms and blast beats, the vocals consist of a ghostly shout and low, droning clean vocals, and the guitars play both dark and morose riffs and powerful and triumphant riffs. This album is an amazing audio journey through the natural realm. My personal favorite song is “Padmasambhava”. The riffs at the beginning remind me of the Fear Factory song “Archetype”.
#6: Delete the Mass – Μάζα
Greece is bankrupt and the people are angry. What better way to express your anger than through metal? Delete the Mass certainly has the right idea. Their debut album, Μάζα, is a vicious and chaotic grinding assault that pays homage to the great Nasum. The production is gritty and hits you in the balls with the force of a train, the drums are rapid and relentless, the growls are deep and brutal, and the screams sound almost as crazy as !T.O.O.H.!. Best of all are the guitars. They have this thick, crunchy tone to them, and the aggressive riffs they play just tear shit up. On top of all that, the music is rather infectious.
#5: Theoria – Mantra
We now enter the top five with Mantra, the debut album from Syrian black metal band Theoria. Despite being in the middle of a war zone, these two intrepid men have found the time to create dark, blasphemous black metal. Guess what? It’s awesome. The production has this classic Norwegian quality and exudes a powerful atmosphere. The drums are raw and harsh, constantly letting loose a torrent of stripped-down blast beats and rapid double bass that create swirling mayhem. The hoarse, gremlin-like rasps give the music an unearthly feel. The guitars play rapid tremolo riffs that sound like a swarm of hornets as well as slow and depressive riffs. They top it all off with some keyboards that give the music a desert quality. Many black metal bands like to talk about war, but they’ve never experienced it. These Syrians are right in the middle of a war zone, so the dark emotions they express on this album are genuine.
#4: Amiensus & Oak Pantheon – Gathering
Amiensus is a progressive black metal band whose debut album, Restoration, I absolutely adored. Oak Pantheon is an atmospheric black metal band from the same state as Amiensus. I loved their EP The Void, and their debut full-length From a Whisper was pretty great too, even if it was vastly different. One day, these two bands got together and said, “Say, we’re both getting rather popular in the black metal underground. Let’s release a split together and become even more popular!” So they did, and it’s fantastic. Amiensus plays a fantastic mixture of black metal and progressive metal that features powerful production, atmospheric guitars, angry rasps that sound almost exactly like Emperor, and amazing clean vocals. Oak Pantheon, on the other hand, offer up a great mix of atmospheric black metal and post-metal. The drums are upbeat, the rasps are low and gravelly, and the riffs are infectious and atmospheric. Both bands put on an awesome performance.
#3: Aylwin & Stellar Descent – Farallon
One of my favorite new black metal bands is Aylwin. I’ve been telling people to listen to them ever since they released their first demo last year. These guys have been really busy this year. They’ve released several splits, but my favorite split was the one they did with another great new black metal band called Stellar Descent. This album is called Farallon, and it’s fucking beautiful. Aylwin’s sound is harsh and lo-fi, but it still manages to sound powerful and atmospheric. The drums are complex and have a sound that reminds me of Panopticon, the rasps feel like sand paper, and the guitars play riffs that sound both dark and wondrous. Stellar Descent is a much different beast. The music they play features graceful, echoing post-rock clean guitars, powerful and intricate drumming, and agonized, reverb-drenched screams that sound similar to Austere. The performances from both bands are powerful and graceful, and make for one of the best black metal splits ever released.
#2: Ævangelist – Omen Ex Simulacra
Last year, Ævangelist released De masticatione mortuorum in tumulis, an album that was so evil, it made Portal look like the Care Bears. This year, they have returned with Omen Ex Simulacra, an album even more evil and diabolical than its predecessor. The bass sounds like the writhing of acres of flesh, the drums constantly lacerate you with malicious energy that you cannot comprehend, the vocals sound like they came from a realm where darkness and misery reign supreme, and the guitars play riffs that are so dark and vile, it would make Incantation jealous. Listening to Ævangelist is a life-draining experience, but their music is absolutely incredible. Matron Thorn really knows how to make music that forces me to question existence.
#1: Vallendusk – Black Clouds Gathering
Indonesia is fast becoming one of the best metal scenes in the world, and Vallendusk is proof of that. When I listened to their first EP last year, it was obvious to me that they showed a lot of promise, but their full-length debut, Black Clouds Gathering, easily exceeded all my expectations. The production is absolutely superb, as the sound is clear and warm and all the instruments shine through with ease. The drums play lots of amazing blast beats and double bass that sound like torrential rain. The rasps can easily compete with the best atmospheric black metal acts from America. Best of all are the guitars. Their tone is warm and resonating, the tremolo riffs sound graceful and melodic, and they mix in a lot of influences ranging from post-rock to Norwegian black metal. There’s just something inherently beautiful about this album, which is a quality that few metal bands could ever hope to replicate. It was this wondrous quality (as well as the fact that their music is just plain awesome) that made me place Black Clouds Gathering at the top spot of my list.