(Amazingly, my comrade Andy Synn thinks I left off some deserving tunes from my list of last year’s most infectious metal songs, and what follows is his supplement.)
Ok, so that title might be slightly inaccurate – what I’ve actually chosen here are ten of my favourite songs from last year that were cruelly, inexplicably overlooked by the NCS “Most Infectious” list/s, not necessarily the top ten all-time best-ever songs of 2013. Subtle but distinct difference.
In all honesty, you’d probably be better off calling this “Andy Synn’s List of Ten of the Most Distinctive Songs of 2013”. They might not be my absolute top ten favourites (though there’s definitely a significant cross-over), but they’re the ones that just felt right to talk about.
I’ve tried to avoid repetition as much as possible – though there are a few artists here who did make an appearance on the main list. Largely, however, I’ve tried to use this as an opportunity to highlight some songs that deserve more attention and that (for whatever reason) didn’t get it on any of the preceding NCS lists!
First off we have three songs that are a little bit more rare than the others:
A Hill To Die Upon – “Manden Med Leen”
Released early in 2013 as a stand-alone single, this is an absolute crusher of a track – dark and menacing and thunderously powerful. Those subtle keyboard touches, married to that central tremolo melody and some frankly massive riffage, all meld together into something truly titanic. Oh, and that doomy, tom-heavy outro, with its eerie acoustic melody line? Perfection.
Keep of Kalessin – “Introspection”
Anyone remember when I got to see the premiere of this video in Oslo early last year? When it was not only announced that the band were continuing on without long-term vocalist Thebon, but that main-man Obsidian C. himself was going to be taking up the vocal duties? A big shift certainly, but it quickly became clear that the good ship Kalessin was still as strong as ever – the song positively bursting from the speakers with its unashamedly epic vibe, fluid, technical riffs, nuanced bass lines and frankly fantastic drum work. Obsidian’s voice was a pure pleasure too – effortlessly mixing soaring, proggy melody with a palpable feeling of aggression and frustration. I cannot wait for more.
Hate – “Hatehammer”
A bonus track to the much-loved (and yet, much under-rated) Solarflesh, “Hatehammer” is the sort of phenomenal, self-defining anthem that the Polish behemoths should rightfully have unleashed as a stand-alone single. Huge riffs, devastating drums, and an undercurrent of bleak, melodic desolation all lead up to a humongous chorus of frankly monstrous vocal growls and cataclysmic chords that simply explodes with power and might.
Now how about some songs drawn more from the black end of the spectrum:
The Howling Wind – “Dissonance In The Atmosphere”
The Howling Wind are, in all likelihood, probably one of my favourite black metal bands. Utterly vicious and savagely nihilistic, their raw and uncompromising sound is as distinctive as it is depraved, going from a noxious, sludgy crawl to a blitzkrieg black whirlwind at a moment’s notice. Like all their songs “Dissonance in the Atmosphere” is both incredibly hooky – barbed, rusty, and gangrenously infectious – and thoroughly, unrepentantly nasty.
Satyricon – “Walker Upon The Wind”
And speaking of my favourite black metal bands… Doomier and more melancholy the new Satyricon album may be, but it also rips when it has to. “Walker Upon The Wind” is part-Nemesis Divina, part-Rebel Extravganza, and part–Volcano, a synthesis of many of the sounds and elements of the band’s career thus far, with riffs that rend and tear and drums that blister and fracture with scathing force. And, sweet zombie jesus, that chorus is just unstoppable.
Vreid – “Way of the Serpent”
“The Reap” might be the catchiest and most infectious song on the album, but my personal pick is definitely “Way Of The Serpent”. It is, quite simply, furious. Blasting drums, sinuous, coiling bass-lines, ravenous riffs, and vocals that drip with pure venom… it’s a vicious assault which, through some clever sleight of hand trickery, conceals a plethora of fanged hooks and a thrashy melodic bloodline, culminating in an unforgettable conclusion of searing lead guitar work, writhing tremolo runs, and pinpoint-precise, pummelling drums.
What about songs that are the exception to the rule? Here’s two that feature All Clean Singing:
Leprous – “The Valley”
Bilateral by Leprous is quite probably one of my favourite albums of all time. Coal didn’t (for me) reach quite the same heights, but it continued to experiment and stretch the band’s sound in new ways, not least this strange beast — a mix of stuttering electronica, Blade Runner-esque keyboard layers, and tense, minimalist drumming that suddenly erupts into a skyscraping chorus of utterly captivating melody and irresistible, staccato guitars. That long, drawn-out mid-section of strange, otherworldy ambience and thrumming bass lines simply seizes your attention and builds and builds the tension until the song’s booming, bombastic climax. Just a fantastic song.
Amiensus – “I Am”
Closely followed by “Become The Fear”, “I Am” was one of my most listened-to songs of last year, and the album it comes from was one of my favourite discoveries. The song is an absolutely beautiful composition, its smooth, progressive ambience and ethereal sense of melody has burrowed its way into my brain and refuses to leave. My favourite part? When the drums make their way in at 01:49. That slow build and that simple, but oh so effective fill to bring in the beat — perfection. In fact, the song just gets better and better as it progresses.
And let’s finish off with two songs that have much more personal meaning attached to them:
Omnium Gatherum – “The Unknowing”
Just an amazing melding of melody and restrained intensity, “The Unknowing” is one of the best songs that Omnium Gatherum have ever recorded and reminds me of long journeys to new places, of new friends, and new experiences. It’s just so intrinsically tied up with those memories that the emotional experience of the song itself – already incredibly deep due to its multi-faceted and multi-layered melodies – is, and probably always will be, incredibly strong.
Soilwork – “Rise Above The Sentiment”
Maybe not my favourite song on the album, but it’s the one that’s become intrinsically tied to a specific moment in my life. You see the first time we all gathered in Seattle for The First Annual NCS Quorum was a pretty life-changing experience, and that last day when we all parted… was a sad day. I remember being sat in the airport lounge, staring out of the window at the early evening sun and being overcome with sadness. I honestly didn’t want to leave. To make matters worse, my iPod was on the fritz and I couldn’t access a lot of my music. But thankfully I could play the new Soilwork album, and I must have listened to this song about 50 times while waiting for my flight, and it still reminds me of the people I left behind, some more than others.
But, like the song says, “I tend to always come back in the end…”