(NCS contributor Leperkahn returns to our site with his list of 2013’s best albums.)
Hello all. I want to start by apologizing for how late this list is. I’ve been planning to write this list out for at least a month now, but college applications essays (do I sound like a broken record now? I feel like I’m blaming all of my shortcomings on them) have once again hijacked my days, nights, and weekends. I honestly haven’t left my house for this entire first week of my school’s winter break, except to get the mail. But things are looking up now. I’m finally done with apps, and as I type this I’m on my way to Mammoth Lakes (a.k.a. Valdur-land) to go snowboard and impersonate a giant three-toed sloth.
Anyway, enough of my pouting. Let’s get on with this list of the objectively best music of 2013, as chosen completely subjectively by my tastes and what I had time to listen to. Though before I start, I would like to apologize to djneibarger in advance: I’m afraid I didn’t get to listen to Vexovoid enough to put it on this list. I’ve already administered 20 lashings to myself for this mistake. The same goes for the new Hail of Bullets, Man Must Die, Abyssal, Ruins of Beverast, and a couple other gems (I’m just now getting to the new Tyr and Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats albums as I type).
Also, before you start reading the actual list, drop everything that you’re doing and go listen to these two songs immediately:
Pretty good, right? I tried to limit my list to just albums, but these individual songs are just too good to pass up. And that riff that hits at 2:17 in “The Siege of Jerusalem” might be one of the best of the year.
Now go and listen to this 7” EP by Obliterations. It’ll only take eight and a half minutes of your time, and it’s one of the few releases this year that I legitimately played at least 5-10 times in a row the first time I heard it (I’m normally not much of a repeat listener). Good thing is, they have another 7” coming out in January via Volcom Entertainment (purveyors of jeans that fit me so well it’s scary), and have a full-length that they will supposedly begin recording on the same day.
Okay, now I promise I’ll actually start the list now.
30. Magic Circle – Magic Circle
The only reason this record is so low on this list is that I literally finished listening to it for the first time about 20-30 minutes ago. Like many things, I had planned to listen to this at least a few weeks before I actually did, but alas, at least I actually got to it. I had never heard of Brendan Radigan before about a month ago, when I heard that stupendous “Stone Dagger” track. Now that I find out that he had this platter of epic doom riffage, and even more Dio-esque wails (seriously, brotha’s got some PIPES), I shall forever worship at his altar. Seriously, I got goosebumps the first time I got to the climactic last few minutes of the opening track.
29. Craven Idol – Towards Eschaton
I definitely would never have known that these guys existed were it not for the fine folks here at NCS. Black-thrashing mayhem with some seriously paint-peeling vocals, and riffs and solos for days? Sounds like my cup of tea. Speaking of which, this goes rather nicely with an afternoon cup of Irish breakfast tea.
28. American Sharks – American Sharks
Finding these guys was a matter of complete luck, and a convincing reason to go early to every concert I ever go to. I first heard of them when I went to the House of Blues San Diego to review Clutch’s show there with The Sword (it made for a formidable bill). Yet when I arrived, this mystery band was there, jamming out groovy tunes that got me shaking my derriere like an arthritic octogenarian (my problem, not theirs).
So, I picked up their new album (a bit of a misnomer, since it’s only 20 minutes long), and found within the album what Red Fang wishes it could have made (though Whales and Leeches is by no means a bad record). Songs like “Overdrive” and “Indian Man” recall the party-starting, PBR-guzzling good times of such jams as “Prehistoric Dog” and “Hank Is Dead”. Not to mention that drummer Nick Cornetti makes his five-piece kit (seriously, it’s a kick, a snare, a tom, and two cymbals) sound like Neil Peart’s behind the skins.
27. Ghost – Infestissumam
If you had asked me earlier in the year, this album seriously would’ve had a chance of being in the top 10, yet it was unfortunately overshadowed by a lot of other albums in my playlist as time went on. I personally haven’t given much time to Opus Eponymous, so I came into this one with rather clean ears; and I must say this proves that the sweet spot right in between Darkthrone and ABBA is Blue Oyster Cult.
Cheesy and poppy as this album might be, I’ll be damned if songs like “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen”, “Secular Haze”, “Per Aspera Ad Inferi”, and “Year Zero” didn’t get me singing (to put it euphemistically) along at the top of my lungs. And honestly, who cares about the papal shtick anyway (though I think it’s pretty cool)? As long as the music’s good, that’s all that really matters (it was the same with the extensive image maintenance of Norwegian black metal).
26. Amon Amarth – Deceiver Of The Gods
Am I the only one who thought Surtur Rising was a solid record? Personally, I thought “Tocks Taunt – Loke’s Treachery Part II” was one of their best tracks ever, and “War Of The Gods”, “Destroyer Of The Universe”, “For Victory Or Death”, “A Beast Am I”, and really every other track on it was still solid Amon Amarth. Regardless, the Swedish Vikings (side note: how perfect is it that Johan Hegg will play a Viking in a movie?) have returned with another solid slab of steel, inciting windmilling (and subsequent whiplash) all over again with songs like “As Loke Falls”, “Shape Shifter”, and “Blood Eagle”.
Honestly, I didn’t realize how great this record was until I was playing it in my car CD player when my friend and I were going to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (can I just say: BOMBUR’S BARREL SCENE) and we realized that, five or six tracks in, every single track was an absolute banger. The only downsides to it, I feel, are the cover art and “Hel” (I appreciate and welcome the wish to diversify, I just don’t think the song itself is very interesting). I honestly can’t wait to see these guys with Skeletonwitch (sadly, Enslaved are skipping SD on the tour) on February 16.
Speaking of which, blatant plug time: if you are in the San Diego area, wouldn’t you like to win one of five pairs of tickets to this show, along with such prizes as that Loki bust from the deluxe package for this new album, and all kinds of posters and CDs and such? Then head over to my other site, sdmetal.com, and enter to win! Blatant plug over.
25. Death Angel – The Dream Calls For Blood
This was the first major release I got to review for my new job at SD Metal. Thus, I got to hear this little ditty a good month in advance of its release, which was pretty damn cool. The task of reviewing this album also made me spend a lot more time with this album than I may have normally, which is good, ‘cause this very well might be one of their best.
Mark Osegueda lays down catchy choruses and ball-popping wails, and drummer Will Carroll is an absolute beast behind the kit (especially during his two drum solo/fills on “Fallen”). However, the real story here is the riffs, and they come in spades throughout the album, whether on “Left For Dead”, the aforementioned “Fallen”, or my personal favorite track, “Caster of Shame”. These guys still kill it live, too; I got to see them at one of their CD Release shows in Ramona (thanks for the pick, Rob!), and despite the fact that it seemed like they went on pretty late, they still made it worth it.
24. Fleshgod Apocalypse – Labyrinth
I personally love the direction FA has taken since Agony. There are a lot of bands doing proficient tech-death out there (take Pyrexia, for example), but there sure aren’t many who combine that so seamlessly with orchestral elements to evoke so strongly the oft-maligned E-word. The Italian pasta-purveyors continue that trend on Labyrinth, and further hone their craft with such strong tracks as “Kingborn”, Warpledge”, and “Elegy”. Not to mention, “Minotaur (The Wrath Of Poseidon)” is hands down one of the best tracks of the year (DAT GROOVE); that song alone would put this album on this list, and luckily the rest of the album doesn’t let off either.
23. Leprous – Coal
Lucky for me, I decided to take a chance on this band. I still haven’t gotten the chance to check out Bilateral (it’s on my to-do list), so I once again came in with fresh ears on this one. The vocalist is certainly rather impressive on this disc, and it’s nice to have something I could probably play on family road trips without encountering physical abuse. Stuff’s pretty darn catchy too; I’m getting “The Valley” stuck in my head just thinking about it.
22. In Solitude – Sister
Earlier on in the Listmania process, I decried this album as much less than it was cracked up to be. While I still stand by that in the context of the list presented (seriously Decibel? This isn’t the number 2 record of the year), I must say the damned thing’s been growing on me as of late. Songs like “Pallid Hands” and the title track are catchier than H1N1 (caught that bug on my birthday the year it blew up). The boys sure know how to write a song, and though I’ve heard quite a few complaints about Pelle Ahman’s vocals live, they sound just dandy here on the record.
21. Byzantine – Byzantine
I think this is already the third self-titled release I have on this list. I had only tangentially heard of these lads before this new record – I think I actually first heard of them during the rather extensive coverage that their Kickstarter/Indiegogo got (hell if I remember which website this crowdfunding campaign was on). The riffs on this thang are smoother than a buttered biscuit, gliding smoothly along as you bang your head into submission, and the songwriting is immaculate. This album also does much better than the Carcass record, for example, at transitioning from riff to riff and song to song (Surgical Steel was also chock full of riffs, but many if the transitions left something to be desired, in my opinion). If you haven’t checked out this record, do yourself a favor and listen to literally any song on this album – they’re all equally awesome.
20. Watain – The Wild Hunt
Putting the wild card of ‘They Rode On” onto this album is probably the best thing Watain could have done here: not only is it the best song on the album anyway, but it’s so different and interesting that it compels you to listen to the record again and again, allowing you to familiarize yourself with the rest of the record. Even aside from “They Rode On”, this is easily the most varied album Watain’s ever released, as straight-ahead bangers like “De Profundis” and “Outlaw” mix with much more laid-back, contemplative, even ballad-y tracks like the title track. But seriously: “They Rode On” gives me chills every time.
19. Lycus – Tempest
This was the year that I re-familiarized myself with funeral doom. A few years ago I had dabbled in the genre with Ahab and Ataraxie, and this year I’ve come running (or perhaps trudging through molasses) back, to find a seriously strong crop. Eye of Solitude’s new release just barely got cut from my list (it was #30 until I listened to that Magic Circle album), and here we have Lycus’s monolith in at #19.
Lycus were smart in limiting this to three tracks, as the rather short (for funeral doom) run time of 40 minutes makes this easy to slot into your listening schedule. Yet regardless of time, what really makes this a funeral doom album that still manages to keep your attention is the very keen sense of melody they weave through the album. Where many of their peers can get caught up in the slowness race, Lycus decide to craft quality with evocative and despondent melodies within the funeral doom palate.
18. Battlecross – War of Will
These guys might be some of the happiest guys I’ve ever seen; they honestly appear happier than most Buddhist monks. They seemed genuinely giddy when I saw them open at the aforementioned Death Angel show (thanks for the pick, Tony), and that energy and excitement is absolutely palpable on this record, especially standout track “Flesh & Bone”. Battlecross mix a very European sense of technical precision with some good ol’ fashioned American unbridled gusto. This record is perfect for a quick workout, whether you’re at a gym or just moshing with ghosts around your house.
17. Toxic Holocaust – Chemistry of Consciousness
I was also lucky enough to get this baby through SD Metal, even though I probably was going to get it anyway, ‘cause in my mind Joel Grind can do no wrong. Let me start off by saying that the cover art is positively stupendous; whoever drew it up deserves a solid high-five. The music is deserving of the cover art’s glory, as Grind kicks out some more punked-up blackened thrash to keep us energized, and feed our habit.
16. Dethklok – Doomstar Requiem: A Klok Opera
My obsession with Dethklok is extremely unhealthy. There’s a good chance I would go through what some of their animated fans go through just to see them live someday. One of my favorite tracks from them had always been that one Pickles sings when he’s in rehab; I kid you not when I say that gave me hope he would do a rock opera like this before I knew it was in the works. I particularly love the diversity of the clean vocals that he employs: the Church of the Black Klok priest with the white beard has THE MOST EPIC VOICE EVER, and he makes Offdensen sound pretty damn epic too. I also really love Magnus’s voice; it provides a slightly more blackened side to Brendon Small’s harsh vocals that works really nicely, especially when they play off of Corpsegrinder’s bowel-evacuating growls.
Gene Hoglan continues to be a goddamn machine behind the kit, and the riffs that populate the more metal tracks on this album are easily some of the best Small’s ever written (the guitar duel between Skwisgaar and Toki gives me goosebumps every time). Yet the success Small has with mixing in VERY different genres into this is astounding, though it takes a while for that to dawn on you. Like many others, I was at first disappointed with how little metal was in this release, but the fact that he can weave a Thriller tribute like “Givin’ Back To You” or a beautiful acoustic song like “Abigail’s Ballad” so seamlessly with the metal tracks is something to be applauded. I thought Brendon Small may have hit a peak with how awesome Dethalbum III was, but this release gives me faith that his – and therefore Dethklok’s – music will only continue to get better as time goes on.
This seems like a kinda long list, so I’m going to give you an interlude, in the form of another (much shorter) list.
But first, let’s take a few minutes to watch this totally badass video from Biting Elbows. I’m sorry to say that the video far outshines the music.
Anyway, here’s a few releases that just barely missed the cut:
Eye of Solitude – Canto III
Black Crown Initiate – Song of the Crippled Bull
ASG – Blood Drive
Lost Society – Fast Loud Death
Black Fast – Starving Out The Light
Enforcer – Death By Fire
Aaaaaaaaaaand back to the list:
15. Arsis – Unwelcome
As is the case with most bands, I came rather late to the Arsis party (namely, on this album). Thus, in my eyes they’ve gotten off to a hell of a start (I’ve since gotten into their back catalog, and I generally agree with the consensus on the trajectory of their discography). Maybe part of the reason I didn’t feel like I missed Carcass that much is that Arsis came pretty close to emulating their sound, albeit with a slightly more technical edge to the riffs (but Malone and Walker exist in around the same area vocally).
Speaking of Carcass, this record is stuffed to the brim with some of the best riffs you’ll hear all year, from the opening title track, to “Handbook For The Recently Deceased”, to the best effing cover of the year (if not all time), “Sunglasses At Night” (seriously, this is one of my favorite songs of the year). Also, to whichever member of Arsis yelled out “AMERICA!…” at the end of the Wintersun/Fleshgod/ Arsis show in San Diego, I salute you.
14. Ataraxie – L’etre Et La Nausee
I am so pissed at myself for not knowing that there was an Ataraxie album that had been out for months this year before I finally saw it on a few readers’ lists here at NCS. Needless to say, I have rectified that error, and listen to this hunk quite a few times for just how long it is (not sure if they’re calling it a double album, but it comes as a 2CD). The story with this record is really the same as that of Lycus: funeral doom’s template is injected with compelling melodies and songwriting chops to create a truly moving record; you can genuinely feel the anguish being slowly torn form the flesh, yet it breeds only more sorrow and suffering.
13. The Dillinger Escape Plan – One Of Us Is The Killer
I pretty much knew this was going to be on this list from the moment I went apepoop when “Prancer” really kicks in (I can’t remember if I concussed myself or broke a vase when this happened, or none of the above. I’ll go with the first option, based on my lack of memory of any events that transpired). The rest of this record continues in a fashion similar to previous Puciato-era Dillinger releases, but something about this one makes it seem more vital, whether on the malfunctioning metronome tracks like the aforementioned “Prancer” and “When I Lost My Bet” or some “Black Bubblegum”-y doozies like the title track and “Nothing’s Funny”. Listen to “Prancer” below, but make sure to find an open area first.
12. Gorguts – Colored Sands
One of my biggest mistakes this year was not getting to this sooner. I don’t think I actually listened to it all the way through ‘til November, but once I finally did, there was no coming back. This album reminds me a lot of Ulcerate’s The Destroyers Of All (and in fact acts as a better sequel to that album than Vermis), with a dissonant atmosphere creating a shroud of despondency, somewhat concealing the punishing grooves that exist throughout the disc.
John Longstreth continues to be a machine, and in fact may be the next heir to the “Drum Machine/God” throne after Gene Hoglan, and some of the bass flourishes by Colin Marston add further to the deep, oppressive atmosphere of this disc. However, Lemay is obviously the real story here, as he produces the comeback album of the year with his deeply expressive riff-mospheres. “The Battle Of Chamdo” stands out as an interesting diversion from the deluge, with its strings dually serving as a welcome reprieve and an omen of what’s still to come.
11. Lumbar – The First And Last Days Of Unwelcome
Despite the immense praise this record has garnered pretty much from its announcement, I have to say I really didn’t like it at first. It’s a rather dense expedition to go on, and one that only reveals its true power, the most harrowing source of its agonizing cries, through Aaron Edge’s struggle with MS. Though I normally feel differently, with Lumbar I think it’s necessary to know the back-story of the band in order to fully appreciate the album, and just how heart-wrenching and heartbreaking it truly is.
10. Inter Arma – Sky Burial
Aside from the reasons listed above, one of the reasons I’m happy that I procrastinated in preparing this list is that it gave me the opportunity to read over other lists and rememeber albums I had jammed earlier in the year, yet had somewhat forgotten about as the months went on. This album came out way back in March (which feels like last year for me, since I still think of years in terms of the school year), yet I was able to revisit this, and remember just how awesome this was. The atmosphere on this record is absolutely immense, and serves to draw you in, as you get lost in “The Survival Fires” or “Destroyer”. This is definitely not a record to be played at a party, but its effects on you in solitude under headphones can be harrowing.
9. Cult Of Luna – Vertikal
Turns out I’ve been missing out on these fellas for quite some time. In one of my better trips to the ol’ record store, I picked up this album, Shining’s new effort, and Everblack all in one trip. Continuing with my knack for finding bands right when they re-find their stride (see: Arsis), this one’s being hailed as one of the best in their entire discography. Going off of such songs as the unfathomably infectious yet totally freaking gorgeous “I: The Weapon” and near-twenty-minute colossus “Vicarious Redemption”, I’m inclined to agree. I’m afraid I don’t have much to add to what others have said better.
8. Noisem – Agony Defined
Seeing as this was the first record I ever reviewed anywhere, NCS or otherwise, this will always hold a rather special place for me. My sentimentality, however, is the only kind of emotion you’re going to find in this EP-length hunk of absolutely vicious deathrash. “Voices In the Morgue” never fails to incite brain damage, and the tracks that follow tend to stick to the same formula: breakneck tempos, corrosive howls, and riffing so tight that it could snap your bones. Do yourself a solid and spend the twenty-odd minutes it takes to listen through this thing, unless you have a physical coming up (might skew your results, y’know).
7. Anciients – Heart Of Oak
How did Anciients know that I was going to go crazy if another year passed without a Mastodon or Enslaved record? These guys hit that wonderful sweet spot in between Crack The Skye and RIITIIR with their interesting brand of sludgy, occasionally-black post-prog metal (I’m really sorry for the pretentious description, but simplifying any further would be disingenuous, given their unique sound).
“Raise The Sun” first caught my eye when it arrived in my email (I must have subscribed to something that I now don’t remember subscribing to), and I proceeded to listen to that track approximately 9,082,374,083 times before I finally found a copy of this (I think I also found this for $2) at a record store in New England when I was college-visiting out there. That being said, the rest of the tracks here don’t slouch either, especially the positively beautiful intstrumental closer “For Lisa”.
6. Windhand – Soma
This album, for me, was what Pallbearer’s debut was for me last year: the token doom album to come in out of nowhere and completely blow your socks off (though Magic Circle is a strong contender in this category as well). I think I explained it as well as I could in my review of it a few months back, so I’ll refer you to that lengthy post. Long story short though: The band takes Electric Wizard’s bad acid trip formula, and then removes the acid to leave you with real, inescapable despair (except for outlier “Evergreen”).
5. Shining – One One One
One of my proudest musical finds of late was Blackjazz on CD for $2. However, I actually finally got my hands on that record only after picking up One One One, so I got a somewhat backward progression from them. This disc is probably the best thing Shining could have possibly hoped to do after the mania that was Blackjazz: if they simply repeated Blackjazz’s formula exactly, they likely would have lost their appeal (not to mention they don’t seem like the kind of band that’s conducive to releasing similar material from album to album).
They’ve managed to make an album that has almost poppy hooks embedded throughout it, while still maintaining the paranoid-psychotic-schizophrenic atmosphere, aura, and character from the album’s predecessor. The sax solo that opens “How Your Story Ends” is one of the greatest moments music produced this year, and songs like opener “I Won’t Forget” and “”Paint The Sky Black” will absolutely not leave your head, sticking with you like a stack of ribs (with a side of mental insanity).
4. Skeletonwitch – Serpents Unleashed
I got to hear this one extremely early on at my SD Metal boss’s house when I first met the rest of the staff a few months back. It was in the background, however, and it took me a little while to realize that it was indeed new. After that, I checked my inbox every minute, on the minute, until it finally showed. Luckily, my bated breath and anticipation paid off, as this is by far the best record I reviewed (fully deserving the perfect score I gave it, the only one doled out thus far).
From the very beginning, the title track latches right on to you, yet what really impressed me were the varied tempos and melodies Skeletonwitch employ on this record, occasionally deviating from their “Soul Thrashing Black Sorcery” for some rather slow (i.e., mid-tempo) parts and seriously epic riffage. However, they are definitely still at their best when they attempt to break the speed limit with their guitars, as drummer Dustin Boltjes guides them along and Chance Garnette screeches with vitriol. And oh hey, San Diegan NCSers, remember that giveaway I told you about earlier? The one with tix and other goodies? You should really enter. Blatant plug is now REALLY over.
3. Kvelertak – Meir
Before you decry this album as a lackluster follow-up to their self-titled debut, go watch Dave Grohl’s excellent documentary about Sound City. Then listen to this album right afterward. Worked wonders for me, after indeed finding something to be wanted after the first spin. This album definitely sees the Norwegians embracing the classic rock side of their sound far more, and perhaps toning down the punk elements from the debut (though in no way has the punk disappeared). While songs like “Bruane Brenn” and “Kvelertak” maintain more or less the attitude and atmosphere of the debut, they definitely explore more classic rock with later album tracks like “Tordenbrak” and opening intro “Apenbaring”. All in all, Meir is a much more varied and rounded album than Kvelertak, and is all the better for it.
2. Clutch – Earth Rocker
This is a record to make yourself feel awesome. There is something so very therapeutic about singing along with Neil Fallon, bearded swagger and all, whether talking about posers, the Columbian voyage, or cheating robot ladyfriends. This is complemented by Jean-Paul Gastier asserting himself – in my mind – as the smoothest drummer this side of blues or ‘70’s R & B, and strings-men Sult and Maines laying down luscious grooves and scrumptious and sumptuous riffs. The fact that, when they toured through sunny San Diego, they were able to play every song off of this album without a single dud or lull to be found speaks for itself. Also voted as the best album that can be played in the company of non-metalheads.
1. The Ocean – Pelagial
Though the rest of the albums listed here are certainly great, none of them were going to come close to this. Before Pelagial, I was merely an average fan of the band (though I don’t understand why everyone hates on the –centric albums). Yet on Pelagial, the band take you on an emotionally turbulent journey, mirroring a descent into the depths of the ocean with the descent into madness described by the lyrics. It meshes so seamlessly the ethereal beauty of intro “Epipelagic”, the Mastodon-esque prog metal of “Bathyalpelagic II: The Wish In Dreams”, the heart-wrenching ballad that is “Abyssopelagic II: Signals of Anxiety”, and the anguished, gargantuan sludge of closer “Benthic: The Origin Of Our Wishes”, that you almost don’t realize you are slowly sinking into the abyss of the sea and of the mind.
As good as the instrumental version is, part of what really makes this album for me is the positively mind-blowing performance turned in by Loic Rosetti, who has now cemented himself as among my favorite vocalists ever (I’m talking the Dio/Travis Ryan pantheon level of greatness). His voice adds so much more dynamics to the piece, as he makes the ethereal and climactic moments even more gorgeous, while making the heavier moments even more horrifying and powerful. That’s not to overlook Luc Hess’s subtly magnificent work behind the kit, with his smooth drum rolls and the ability to perfectly complement the riffs of mastermind/genius Robin Staps and the also-departed Jonathan Nido, who will be dearly missed (though I’m intrigued to see what Damian Murdoch and Paul Seidel will contribute).
This album has quickly soared to take up residence next to Opeth’s Blackwater Park and Still Life as my absolute favorite albums ever. This has in no way been put down since its release on April 30, and I’m not sure it’ll ever leave my rotation.