Friday, January 10, 2014

Top 25 Albums Of 2013

Better late than never, right?

I disappeared for the latter half of 2013. It was an awfully busy year and I couldn't find the time or the willpower to keep writing. Unfortunately I'm not sure when I'll be back to write more since I only seem to be getting busier, so treat this as an indefinite hiatus. Part of me wants to continue writing by keeping reviews short and to the point, so maybe I'll do that. We will see. I really have no motivation anymore.

This year was strong for music, and unlike my writing obligations I wasn't able to shirk my undying will to listen to new releases. Here are my top full-lengths from this past year with the usual post-list dubious honors. Enjoy!

25. Beyond - Fatal Power Of Death


I hadn't heard this one until just recently, but Beyond play one of my favorite styles of OSDM - fast, riffy, and frenzied akin to Tribulation's 2009 release The Horror (yet not quite on that level of goodness). Fatal Power Of Death has a more classic '80s sound to it with low-mixed bass and loads of thrash undercurrent. It's endearing, aggressive fun without being all heady like some of the other releases on this list.


24. All Will Gather To The Shores - Deity Of Ruin


My questionably written review for Deity Of Ruin is right below this post. That's how long it's been since I've written anything. This is Bandcamp drone/ambient/doom from Russia with a predictable emphasis on atmosphere. It's how they wield that atmosphere, and how it evokes scenic soundscapes that makes Deity Of Ruin so special. There's something sinister lying under the world they create and it's just hinted at throughout the album.


23. Njiqahdda - Serpents In The Sky


Urrrgh this is a polarizing release. On one side you have hyper-prolific Njiqahdda, who have successfully streamlined their sound from the chaotic black metal noodling of The Path Of Liberation From Birth And Death, and on the other you have...exactly the opposite. I like both styles but the common complaints that Njiqahdda always get are still there: weak, distorted vocalwork and DIY production plague Serpents In The Sky. I don't mind that though, and the more relaxed nature of this album lends it a completely different feel from what I'm used to. Then again I don't listen to each of their umpteen releases each year.


22. Run The Jewels - Self-Titled


Well this is a surprise. I didn't expect to like this at all coming from Killer Mike and El-P since I usually avoid anything with El-P's voice attached to it, but here I found him to be palatable. The best beats on Run The Jewels ("Banana Clipper", "DDFH", "Sea Legs") are the ones he solo-produced. Filled with chromatic melodies and intentionally noise-laden waveforms, there's something subtly aggressive about Run The Jewels too. Frenetic delivery from Killer Mike and fun hooks make it entertaining, yet I've always had a fondness for more topical, disdainful stuff like the lyrics on "DDFH." Definitely excited for the sequel coming later this year.


21. Mark Kozelek & Desertshore - Self-Titled



Singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek has a pretty traditional, very personal folk style on his solo recordings. I enjoy his ruminations, and his collaboration with indie rock band Desertshore was my introduction to his music as well as random west-coast slowcore acts. It's full of memorable little hooks, quotes, and has some varied instrumentation thanks to Desertshore. Riffs reminiscent of lighter math rock and different drum tones make this more than simple lyrical entertainment, although that is a good thing in and of itself.


20. A Million Dead Birds Laughing - Bloom


I could make a case for Bloom being the most disappointing release of 2013. With the departure of vocalist Adam Stewart I was pretty worried for these Australian technical deathgrinders. After all Xen was my album of the year for 2012. The fluid nature of their albums was defined largely in part by his absolutely insane range and catchy phrasing. He made the albums feel like one long track filled with multitudes of ideas. Their new vocalist Darren Leslie isn't bad at all but his vocals aren't as enunciated or as varied as Stewart's were, and I never catch myself singing along despite the rhythmic qualities still being present. Anyway enough talk about the vocalwork. Bloom is still an audial treat from every other perspective, and that's what matters most.


19. The Ruins Of Beverast - Blood Vaults - The Blazing Gospel of Heinrich Kramer


I've always had immense respect for one man bands and Alexander Von Meilenwald seems to be at the pinnacle of his game right now with his incredibly atmospheric, black doom monster Blood Vaults. I kind of wish I had checked him out earlier. I find his use of subtle electronics really fascinating and I wish more artists in the subgenres would experiment with those sounds. I've heard the doom elements on this release are toned down a bit so I should probably get to hearing his previous work. This one has it's slow moments and unfortunately that (and the stupid intro track) is where Blood Vaults is at its worst.


18. Katechon - Man, God, Giant


When your promotional influences "include old death metal, black metal, modern classical music, avantgarde and the darker side of thrash metal," it tells me virtually nothing about the sound of the band. What the hell do they mean by modern classical? Are we talking contemporary, Stravinsky, or Schoenberg-esque? Whatever. Katechon's Man, God, Giant has plenty of ripping, creative riffs. They are more or less the sum of their (apparently enormous) amount of influences, and there's nothing on Man, God, Giant that turns metal on its head, but this album is about the nuances: little snare breaks here and there, bass slides, and the occasional layered black metal riff to compliment the thrashier moments in their overarching macrocosm of death metal. Basically it has a personality a lot of similar acts lack, even if that description probably still tells you nothing about them.


17. Ævangelist - Omen Ex Simulacra


Ævangelist have beaten Portal at their own abysmill (ahem) game. Unfortunately there are a few weak points on Omen Ex Simulacra, such as the long and dull album opener and some of the muddled production values, but there is an underlying brilliance to this release which makes looking forward to Ævangelist's next exciting.


16. Hookworms - Pearl Mystic


I really enjoyed Hookworms' debut Pearl Mystic. The sound is so textured and the whole thing is absolutely saccharine. If peyote came in lollipops and you had synesthesia, this is what those candies would sound like. I particularly like the droning, desert tunes on "Since We Have Changed" and "Form & Function," both reminiscent of tracks on Headdress' Lunes even if the bands have no connection whatsoever.


15. Wormed - Exodromos


The "brutal cyber space-slam" thing is still Wormed's gig alone. Initially I was disappointed with Exodromos but over time it grew on me. More flat production aside, Exodromos is still every bit as well-written as the classic Planisphaerium.  It was pointed out to me that the last track is an amalgamation of riffs from all over the album, which is a neat little fact. It's worth relistening to pick out where each one occurs.


14. Grouper - The Man Who Died In His Boat


Aesthetically dark and charmingly nostalgic, Liz Harris' newest effort is hypnotic and dreamy electro-folk that doesn't get bogged down with an overabundance of instrumentation. There's a lot of subtlety to The Man Who Died In His Boat, and the mood of the album really clicked with me halfway through this year. This is a release that is more "felt" than some of the others on my list -- it's definitely one you have to hear for yourself if you're into this kind of stuff, or if you're all about that branch of the Subpop scene.


13. Obliteration - Black Death Horizon


Obliteration are one of the coolest bands to come out of the old school death metal movement. Their bouncy style might be heavily influenced by Autopsy but I find them to be a different (and at this point in Autopsy's career, more interesting) beast. They have the doom elements and that organic, earthy tone that one associates with Mental Funeral, but there is something distinctly Norwegian about this. Maybe it's the cover art, but I'm reminded ever so slightly of Molested's Blod-Draum. That's probably just my mind playing tricks on me. Whatever. Black Death Horizon is sweet.


12. Antediluvian - Logos


Nuclear War Now! has had a damn fine year. Logos sounds like deranged cavemen hitting drums made of extinct animals' skin. There's also that same odd technicality to Antediluvian's music that isn't readily apparent on first listen. Murkier than their previous full-length, Logos is drenched in the same dark primal atmosphere yet still manages to avoid being one-dimensional Nuclear War Now! fodder like Morbosidad. Riffier tracks like closer "Death Meta" make it hard for me to pick a favorite between this one and Through The Cervix Of Hawaah which I featured back in 2011.


11. Katalepsy - Autopsychosis


Very few bands combine plain ol' death metal and brutal death metal as well as Katalepsy have on this album. With one of the strongest production values on this list and surprisingly traditional vocalwork (mixed with sporadic lapses into rhythmic gurgling brutality), this is not just a catchy, entertaining listen but a well-crafted and rewarding one as well.


10. Cerekloth - In The Midst Of Life We Are Death


As I'm writing this, I'm incredibly disappointed to hear that Cerekloth have decided to go on hold. This is some absolutely killer death metal that filters mid-paced riffing, strong almost-doom grooves, and light progressive elements to create an unholy sonic beast (ex: "Halo Of Syringes"). The songs on In The Midst Of Life We Are Death are well-written and refined to the point that each second feels like it was necessary to convey what the album is all about. That's absolutely commendable in a genre oversaturated with bands and labels who churn out releases that are far, far more than 50% schlock.


9. Abyssal - Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius


More refined and "mature" than their debut. Novit is Abyssal shedding the riffage of Denouement in favor of a thick, black atmosphere. This release is far more dark and dynamic than the debut. One of my favorite things about Abyssal is their inclusion of chromatic semi-slam riffs. They always pop up at the best times, almost akin to the "build-up" formula of some of the better brutal death metal acts. Encase that in bleak atmosphere with whirring guitars and you have a winner.


8. Cultes Des Ghoules - Henbane


The best purely black metal release of the year, and no this isn't tweedly-needly Norwegian-style stuff. Bass and low-end are present on Henbane and the result is a full, captivating sound. The whole thing is just astonishingly well-written, and the inclusion of acoustic instruments adds far more to it than I thought they would. There's almost a tribal, shamanistic vibe to Henbane (see: "Idylls Of The Chosen Damned" and "Vintage Black Magic") which makes it a unique listen.


7. Sacriphyx - The Western Front


I was half-expecting generic "war metal" from NWN! when I heard The Western Front for the first time. Incredibly melodic, I was really surprised by the range of dynamics Sacriphyx bring to the traditional death metal sound. The Western Front almost has more in common with traditional heavy metal than it does extreme metal. This release is also oddly emotive, with plenty of tracks sounding solemn and distant, despite the overarching (and obviously violent) WWI thematic. I could totally picture Hemingway loving this.

6. Gigan - Multidimensional Fractal-Sorcery And Super Science


By far the stupidest looking album cover on this list, Gigan's psychedelic world-destroying onslaught continues. I definitely prefer Eston Browne to the vocalist on Quasi-Hallucinogenic Sonic Landscapes, and this album is much better constructed. While not as strong as the EP or their debut, Multidimensional Fractal-Sorcery is still a very potent dose of technical deathgrind and has some of Gigan's most catchy material. They're one of the most unique bands in the entire extreme metal genre so you owe it to yourself to hear them at least once if you're not one of those "everything after 1993 is bad" idiots.


5. Tribulation - The Formulas Of Death


While not quite as progressive as people like to make out, The Formulas Of Death is a very welcome change of sound for Tribulation. The Horror was nigh perfect for the style. It's unrelenting speed and razor-edged riffing made for one of 2009's best. Tribulation had big shoes to fill and opted to try on a new pair instead. The Formulas Of Death is a bit long-winded, but its chock-full of late '70s-early '80s atmosphere, memorable riffs, and great chord progressions. It's an album I keep wanting to revisit.


4. Gorguts - Colored Sands


Out of all the (literal) revival acts of this year, Gorguts are the one I cared about the most. Luc Lemay is a brilliant songwriter and musician. Each track on Colored Sands is memorable, almost like an album within itself. "The Battle Of Chamdo" is an interesting outing in that it is performed by an orchestra and leads into the second half of the album, spearheaded by the incredibly awesome "Enemies Of Compassion." It has one of the best solos I've heard in years as well as Luc Lemay's infamous rolling rhythms. The whole of Colored Sands conveys the Tibetan thematic (pre-and-post invasion) perfectly, but just as important is that this is a great return for one of (technical) death metal's best.


3. Primitive Man - Scorn


Humorless and noisy, Scorn is absolute disgust with a hopeless race in a meaningless universe. One listen to the title track is all it took for me to order the LP from the band prior to their signing to Relapse (which hopefully means good things in the future!). This is the most wonderfully hateful thing I've listened to in years: "From cardigans to leather vests, you're all shit. And I'm fucking buried in it." Like black arms reaching out from a bloodstained mire, Scorn drags the listener into a hellish, lightless world from which there is no escape.


2. Rorcal - Világvége



Világvége is unrelentingly vicious. Well-written, raw, and combining the best elements of sludge, doom, and black metal, Rorcal assault the listener with frenzied riffs and some of the best drumming (outside of #1 below) around. The album flows and takes the listener along with it, like a caustic stream of frozen acid. "IV-VII-VI" is one of my favorite subsequences in recent memory. I absolutely love how Világvége builds and releases into a dissonant catastrophe before rescinding like the tide.


1. Ulcerate - Vermis


I realize how predictable this is coming from me. I don't care.

Vermis was everything I was hoping for from Ulcerate. This is incredibly layered, dense, churning death metal filled with Ulcerate's signature technicality and angularity. A far cry from the ebb-and-flow of The Destroyers Of All, this is Ulcerate in a more abrasive state, although there are slower moments akin to their previous release. Vermis is most concerned with ripping you apart and scattering your pieces to the wind. At times even the frantic, riff-heavy insanity of Everything Is Fire and Of Fracture And Failure shines through the chaotic layering, yet Vermis remains a completely fresh listening experience despite giving nods to all of Ulcerate's previous work. I'm so glad they don't want to repeat themselves. Keep on making brilliant music guys.


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Honorable Mentions:

Darkside - Psychic (quality electronic - questionable vocals)
Crypt Lurker - Baneful Magic, Death Worship and Necromancy Rites Archaic (heavy as all hell)
The Flight Of Sleipnir - Saga (more of the same but that's always welcome)
Àrsaidh - Roots (I usually don't like this kind of viking metal stuff but this one had more to it than just a flat theme)
True Widow - Circumambulation (might as well be called doom rock)
Zealotry - The Charnel Expanse (DEFINITELY a band to watch in the future - solid, slightly technical death metal from Massachusetts)
Ruined Families - Black Language (Greek hardcore with plenty of feel)
Stomach Earth - self-titled (brooding death/doom with good tone)

Best EPs/Splits:

3. Orbweaver - Strange Transmissions From The Neuralnomicon



You like Gigan? Good. This is for you (love, ex-Gigan vocalist Randy Piro from their debut). Sounds more akin to The Footsteps Of Gigan than anything.

2. Mitochondrion - Antinumerology




PLEASE MAKE A NEW ALBUM ALREADY. My biggest issue with this release was that it was too short. That's not even a legitimate complaint!

1. Bolzer - Aura



This one topped a lot of lists this year. Great underground death/black metal with memorable riffs. Bolzer show enormous promise. Also what's with all these bands and this sites color scheme?

Dubious Honors:

Guilty Pleasure: Reciprocal - New Order Of The Ages. I generally don't enjoy this stuff, but the silly conspiracy theory samples and solid-if-over-extended pacing make it entertaining.

Biggest Disappointment: I guess for most people it was the mediocrity of My Bloody Valentine's return. There were a lot of minor disappointments: Tormented was weak. New Revocation was alright but a step down. Convulse, Carcass, and Autopsy released forgettable albums. I'd probably have to go with Light Bearer's Silver Tongue. Unlike the first with its well-written yet typical crescendo stuff, this one was pretty heavy-handed. I didn't expect it to be amazing since I knew the context of the concept beforehand, but it came out worse than expected. I rarely listened to it and when I did I just wanted to listen to Lapsus instead. Altar Of Plagues' Teethed Glory And Injury might be my second place. It retreads itself far too often.

Most Disgusting Release: Deafheaven - Sunbather. The most polarizing release of 2013. They poorly hybridized a bunch of genres (screamo, hardcore, shoegaze, post-rock, black metal) into a sonically incohesive, boring slop and served it up on a silver platter to ignorant journalists and music fans unexposed to those genres. Personally I'd rather hear one genre done well than a hundred executed poorly.

3 comments:

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  2. finally someone that agrees with me on Deafheaven and Altar of plagues

    ReplyDelete
  3. Many thanks for the excellent and varied list.

    ReplyDelete