So it is done, another year and another round up about what has really made its mark with the music we love in 2013. This is everyone’s most difficult task of the year and it seems that this one has been harder than ever. Why? Well the general consensus is that there were simply too many good albums over the last twelve months. The year started off strongly and simply did not let up. Yes you really will read that one of us listened to somewhere in the region of 500 releases over the year and they probably were not alone. Honing things down to a top ten caused a huge amount of frustration, gnashing of teeth and even dissent (yes Gizmo I can count to ten) and it felt like cutting my right arm off cleaving my original top 20 done for another publication in half.
2014 looks like it should be equally busy with new albums on the way from Iced Earth, Alcest, Primal Fear, Kampfar, Blaze, Chrome Division, Grand Magus & Within Temptation and that’s just in January. Naturally we will be taking you through as much of it as we can physically cram in and be back here doing the same this time next year. I have a prediction that we could well find a certain band called Triptykon very high up the pecking order when we do but until then it’s time to stop prevaricating and give you our 2013 albums of the year.
1: Rotting Christ – Kata Ton Diamona Eaytoy (Season Of Mist)
2: Carcass – Surgical Steel (Nuclear Blast)
3: Twilight Of The Gods – Fire On The Mountain (Season Of Mist)
+3: Clutch – Earth Rocker (Weatherman)
5: Atlantean Kodex – The White Goddess (Cruz Del Sur)
6: The Ocean – Pelagial (Metal Blade)
7: Motorhead – Aftershock (UDR)
8: Hell – Chapter and Curse (Nuclear Blast)
+8: Amorphis – Circle (Nuclear Blast)
10: Avatarium – ST (Nuclear Blast)
Individual Top Ten Lists.
Encapsulating everything good in the Greek band’s impressive oeuvre thus far, this is the multi-layered sound of an unrelenting legion marching into war. A demonic, divine and deliriously dark delight and one that backed up live only consolidated its position in the top spot.
2: Ministry – From Beer To Eternity (AFM)
Necessitated due to the sad death of Mike Scaccia From Beer… was album that should have never been but one that saw a drug free Al Jourgensen at his most potent. With some of the most incendiary and downright volatile songs heard from the band in years, whether it is a genuine swansong remains to be seen.
3: Altar Of Plagues – Teethed Glory And Injury (Candlelight)
Another swansong as AoP combusted as they hit their creative peak. Experimental, extreme and undeniably complex. This is a work that takes many listens to unravel as it reconstructs all previous ideas and templates within the expansive framework of post black metal and comes up with something new and original, perhaps never to be repeated again.
4: Arckanum – Fenris Kindir (Season Of Mist)
Unleashing the inner wolf on a fantastic cosmological journey, Shamaatae injects a huge wealth of Tolkien etched atmosphere from the dark side of the mythos with drive, determination and howling might. A compelling call, once heard impossible to ignore.
5: Watain – The Wild Hunt (Century Media)
There’s no let- up in Watain’s assault as they deliver another formidable disc of cloying occult malevolence. Pushing the template further with some majestic clean sung songs did this no harm either and The Wild Hunt is another chapter that will stay the distance and be considered a classic occult Swedish black metal release in years to come.
6: Vulture Industries – The Tower (Season Of Mist)
Vulture Industries have expanded their song writing here and kept their avant-garde muse unfettered resulting in a dark and fantastic opus and a veritable carnival of delights. Throwing convention out the window and watching it plummet to the earth this tower is certainly no crumbling edifice.
7: Inquisition – Obscure Verses From The Multiverse (Season Of Mist)
Hardly breaking new ground but injecting their already darkened masses with a dark anti religiosity that is hard not to bow down to. Casting toad croaking spells as it weaves around deep Lovecraftian depths with a huge aura and atmosphere this was a late call in 2013 that was hard to ignore.
From right back at the beginning of the year Voivod returned to form and stayed the distance with a re-invigorated hunger and brace of thrashing sci-fi enthused parables. This is their best album in years and catching them live twice during helped prove its strength. 3 decades down the line Voivod still have a mighty roar!
9: Voices – Voices From The Human Forest Create A Fugue Of Imaginary Rain (Candlelight)
Schizophrenic, dizzying and faultlessly played extreme metal from a new British band with deep roots and a sound that defies easy categorisation. This along again with some live shows really made me sit up and take notes at its jaw dropping deluge of contorted sounds. Chaotic, crazy creativity never sounded quite so good.
10: A Pale Horse Named Death – Lay My Soul To Waste (SPV)
Sometimes (especially with most of the rest of my list) it’s the simple things like a well-structured catchy song that you can just lose yourself in its depths and deliriously find yourself singing along without a care in the world that count. That’s exactly what we got here with an album that there’s absolutely no letting go of.
Honourable mentions to Imperium Dekadenz, The Prophecy, Germ, Dark Throne, The Earls Of Mars and Beelzefuzz and finally EP wise to Hexvessel.
It may not be the heaviest album but “In Crescendo” has the most exciting and heart-warming collection of songs of all the albums I’ve heard this year. Every one of the nine tracks from these Italian masters has sophistication and colour. I find myself living and breathing every movement of “In Crescendo” every time I listen to it. I simply sink into the world of this dramatic progressive adventure
2: Persefone – Spiritual Migration (Vicisolum)
This band from Andorra has pulled off a major coup. Soaring majesty is the result of this collective effort featuring massive waves of progressive death and black metal, symphonic metal and birdsong. This is a work of devastating completeness.
3: Hybrid – Angst (Deepsend Records)
This is an album of stunning originality. Brutal deathcore with subtleties and surprising delicacy shouldn’t sit together and thus make “Angst” so progressive and almost incomprehensible. It is to this Spanish band’s great credit that they manage to sustain boundless levels of energy, bring this experimental package together and create an irresistible force.
Managing to bring beauty into bleakness, Fen communicate majestic atmospheres and visions of worlds where nature is the dominant force.
5: Haken – The Mountains (Inside Out Records)
I was slightly disappointed with Haken’s previous album “Visions”, but “The Mountains” is a monster. The delicate and thoughtful progressive patterns that Haken execute so well are there, but they integrate the core sound with playfulness, jazziness and a mixture of vocal styles. It all adds up to a consummate listening and emotional experience.
6: Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days (Noise Art Records)
I kind of expect disappointment with each Mercenary album, but it never happens. Here’s another rip-roaring collection of melodic progressive metal tracks with all the usual energy and a level of catchiness to drive you demented.
7: Playgrounded – Athens (Glassville Records)
An amazingly emotive and balanced work from Greece, “Athens” is all that you would want a great progressive metal album to be – full of highs and lows but always smooth, delicate and sensuous.
Soilwork manage to perfect what they already excelled at on this ballsy, catchy, melodic and drama-filled album of epic songs.
9: Ajuna – Prisoner of the Sun (Quality Steel Records).
Ajuna from Denmark brand their work as psychological and pre-conscious. “Prisoner of the Sun” is chaos personified. It’s turbulent, dark, noisy and intense, all wrapped up nicely in a massive production.
10: King Bathmat -Truth Button (Stereohead Records).
King Bathmat from Hastings have released two excellent albums this year. Both are progressive works filled with imagination and twists and turns, recalling Pink Floyd and Cynthesis in parts. “Truth Button” is delicate, delightful and quirky in the most interesting way.
2013 has, by my reckoning, been stupid. I have NEVER had so many albums that have been career bests from brilliant bands or outstanding debuts released in the same year. Frankly it got ridiculous. Look at the names below my Top 10 and you will see what I mean. Last year any of them would have made it in and all are superb albums. That’s how good my year was.
Live wise I thought Mael Mordha at Warhorns in York were going to get my gig of the year but then Rotting Christ blew Damnation apart with an outstanding, glorious triumph of a performance.
It is impossible to overstate the enormity of this album both in sound and scope. The lyrics and themes are more than up to it, too, and the melodies and atmospheres are overwhelming creating a sense of fin de siecle or even fin du monde. This is a truly staggering, mature, complex achievement that will cast a glorious shadow over epic metal of any sub-genre for a long, long time. It is already a stone cold, absolute classic to me. From conception to execution and even packaging this simply ruled 2013.
2: Twilight Of The Gods – Fire On The Mountain (Season Of Mist)
The most common phrase I have heard about this lil’ supergroup who started out as a Bathory tribute, is that it is “Heavy Metal like it used to be when you were a kid”. An anthemic, rousing riff machine and each and every member is on top form here. You just can’t stop grinning when you put this on.
3: Clutch – Earth Rocker (Weatherman)
Not one duff song. Not one filler. Not even fucking close. The album kicks like a mule with personal space issues and there is no way, NO WAY, that a band as old as Clutch should possibly return to form with an album this bloody awesome. Honestly? Lyrically and musically this is what I always wanted Clutch to be. This is, frankly, brilliant.
4: Procession – To Reap The Heavens Apart (High Roller Records)
Dark and gothic with a small g, the Chilean doomlords rose to the challenge of their previous debut Destroyers Of The Faith and brought us six tracks of epic, imperious, thunderhead doom. With vocals to die for and riffs as heavy as a thundercloud this has put them right at the top of the doom metal tree. And that title track sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it.
They sound like a band eight feet tall and built like bears, their musical hand stretches out over a land’s history to show seas in red crested turmoil and lashing treachery. You kind of feel small in their presence as they share and interpret the world they lay before you, and history never felt so real. With melodic hooks like grappling irons and unique, superb vocals this is one that won’t let you get away. They have worked their bollocks off here and it shows.
6: Athelstan – The Ride (Seven Kingdoms)
Beautiful, emotional, thoughtful and often even pretty. To me this is an album about memory; the memory held fast by places. We may no longer remember their names but the land remains and, maybe, it will gift us with just a glimpse now and then of what has gone before.
7: From The Bogs Of Aughiska – Roots Of This Earth Within My Blood (Human Jigsaw Records)
Grim, bleak ambient with roots deep into the land and with the spirit of black metal, this is a stunning, enthralling piece of work. Truly worthy of the attention of anyone who loves the atmospheric.
This is Portal at their most surreal; pieces of sound lurch and twist at you but pull the riff with them. If you have never dared Portal then simply beware because to follow the thinking of Lovecraft, this is stepping off our blissful isle of ignorance into vast seas of what should not be. Without gore or other carnival sideshow shocks this is death metal that is, simply, utterly, Wrong.
9: Rotting Christ – Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy (Season Of Mist)
In some ways this feels like a coda to Theogonia and Aelo, sharing their deep rich melodies and punishing but uplifting rhythmic approach but in a more direct and hard edged attack. This doesn’t mean that it is a lesser album however; far from it this is another stunning album from the Greeks. Dense, dark and majestic it proves that melodic black metal can still be full on black metal without compromise and that Rotting Christ are still the pinnacle.
10 =: Chthonic – Bu Tik (Spinefarm)
If anything this is harder and more direct than Takasago Army whilst still raising the melodic bar and leaving the emotional impact intact. There are more classic metal lead breaks here, cutting through the thrashing and more hooks than any sane band could produce. The more I listen to this the more I believe that Taiwanese warriors Chthonic have given us their masterpiece. Fifteen years on the throne and still ruling by right.
10 =: Asomvel – Knuckle Duster (Bad Omen)
Asomvel are a heavy metal rat bike, a basic, stripped down metal rock ‘n’ roll machine held together by alcohol, gaffa tape and belligerence. As fancy as a knee to the groin and as prog as banging rocks together but they write goddam songs and that, friends, is a towering skill in this framework. Knuckle Duster, their first album without the physical presence of J J Winter, is stuffed full of them and proof that heavy metal is all about spirit and soul.
Equal 11th and unfair I couldn’t get any more in the Top 10 as all these deserve your money and admiration (A-Z): Benedictum, Church Of Misery, Corsair, Cursed 13, The Devils Blood, Down Among The Dead Men, Helhorse, Jex Thoth, Midnight Messiah, Monarque, Motorhead, Mountain Throne, Olde, Orchid, Raven Black Night, Slegest, Speedtrap, Tengger Cavalry, Uncoffined, The Vision Bleak, Voices.
You know the only good thing about having to do my Albums Of The Year 2013? The fact that Solstice only released an EP. A bloody brilliant one, but it’s an EP anyway so I didn’t have to try and wedge it in somewhere. But ‘Death’s Crown Is Victory’ is a fantastic return, make no mistake.
2013: Also the year that I sadly came to the conclusion that sludge has become this year’s metalcore; dominating small to medium festivals and populated by endless boring, samey, cookie-cutter bands. Hard music to play well, easy to play averagely. A severe cull is needed. A SEVERE one. Honestly I finally had my fill of wandering in to a gig and being sedated by another average sludge band with post-rock pretentions staring at the floor or backs turned to the audience and playing a 15 minute song that sounds just like their last 10 minute song only longer… In danger of ruining a fine, important genre.
2014? All about the gigs I predict. Temples Festival debut, Damnation’s birthday and the rumour that Atlantean Kodex, Solstice and Procession might all be on the same bill somewhere…
2013 so far has turned out to be my most productive year in terms of album reviews, with nearly 200 encountered across various outlets. When I also consider personal purchases made, this was a tough year to whittle down to a mere ten full album releases (no live, no re-issues, no demo, no EP releases – those are the rules people!).
This is laden with fantastic vision and musicianship with many textured layers to challenge your mind, an awesome release; it blew me away on so many levels.
2: Sulphur Aeon – Swallowed By The Oceans Tide (FDA Rekotz)
Another nautical tale like my first choice, this is the perfect hybrid of both light and darkness reflecting classic death and black metal that’s intertwined into one hell of an effort with one result – impact!
3: Cathedral – The Last Spire (Rise Above)
These UK legends have signed off with a stunning release that encapsulates all of their earlier material. Long may they be remembered.
4: Carcass – Surgical Steel (Nuclear Blast)
This is a major comeback release and a perfect natural progression to where the band left off in the 90’s. If you know metal, you will know Carcass.
North East NWOBHM legends return with a much anticipated release showing the pretenders how it is all done and how it should be done. If you like NWOBHM, then I would expect you’ll already be spinning this one.
6: Pretty Maids – Motherland (Frontiers)
This Danish band use melody to great effect through solid hard rock and metal. This is a very warm release leading to favourable comparisons to some of their considered classics from their early career whilst continuing to move forward.
7: Iron Curtain – Jaguar Spirit (Heavy Forces)
A Genuinely exciting Spanish band playing speed and early heavy metal influenced material presented with denim, leather and bullet belts!
8: Enforcer – Death By Fire (Nuclear Blast)
Much more metal than their more commercial predecessor, but still filled with melodic vocal hooks and more excitement than you can shake your denim cuts offs too.
You either love them or hate them; ‘In the Minds of Evil’ is a return to classic Deicide with some excellent guitar work and Benton’s trademark lyrical blasphemy.
10: The More I See – The Disappearing Humans (Earache)
TMIS are not metalcore, they are not pure thrash, they are a metal band with vision. This is an album that showcases intricate song arrangements upholstered by infinite talent and a fresh new look and line up.
Near misses –
Lord Dying – Summon the Faithless (Relapse Records), Age of Taurus – Desperate Souls of Tortured Times (Rise Above) and Acid Deathtrip – Acid Deathtrip (Reflections).
Top 5 Demo/EP’s 2013
Ranger – Knights of Darkness (Ektro)
Night Demon – Night Demon (Self-Released/Shadow Kingdom)
Lightning (Peru) – Demo 2013 (self-released)
Ambush – Demo 2013 (Self Released)
Lord Fist – Wordless Wisdom of Lord Fist (Ektro)
1: Atlantean Kodex – The White Goddess (Cruz de la Sur Music)
Much has been written about this album and rightly so – a monumental slab of rich and truly epic metal, these Bavarians deploy colossal riffing, stirring hymns and ludicrously catchy hooks to awe-inspiring effect. It’ll be some time before anyone tops this.
Even by the lofty standards of this one-man project, ‘Blood Vaults’ is a sprawling, dense piece of work. Take time to penetrate its stygian, labyrinthine depths however and a genuinely disturbing, dark slab of blackened doom awaits. One of the few artists who can truly absorb you into his world. Transcending.
3: Obsidian Tongue – A Nest of Ravens in the Throat of Time (Hypnotic Dirge)
A real coming-of-age record from this US duo. Blending obscure, twisted chords and Agalloch-inspired reflection with a sense of mournful melody, this is a bold album that eschews the by-now saturated tenets of ‘post’ black metal for something far more affecting.
4: Ulcerate – Vermis (Relapse)
Jesus. Taking the Gorguts/Deathspell Omega progressive extreme discordance ball and running with it, the New Zealanders have upped the ante somewhat here by adding in their own brand of colossal brutality. Thunderous percussion underpins a seriously impressive album that never sacrifices atmosphere for extremity.
OK, yes, it’s a ‘supergroup’ of sorts but don’t let that put you off – this one beast of a record. Fusing dense Weakling-styled BM ferocity and Voivodian riffage with a shot of crust-punk abrasiveness was always going to go down well with me and this record certainly delivers in spades.
6: Argus – Beyond the Martyrs (Cruz de la Sur Music)
Perhaps a little unfairly overlooked in the wake of labelmates Atlantean Kodex’s offering, ‘Beyond the Martyrs’ is a thumping slab of fist-raising metal in its own right. The storming vocals of Butch Bailich are the standout feature here, elevating these pumping anthems to new heights.
7: Carcass – Surgical Steel (Nuclear Blast)
Right, enough scene-ing around and moaning that this doesn’t sound like ‘Reek of Putrefaction’ and down to business – in Surgical Steel, after being out of the game for 17 years, Carcass have put out perhaps the most ‘complete’ album of their career. Much better than it had any right to be, Messrs Steer, Walker and Wilding have crafted a record that simply OOZES Carcass-ness. Don’t listen to the moaners – it’s great.
8: Portal – Vexovoid (Profound Lore Records)
More – much more – than ‘that band whose singer used to wear a clock on his head’, Portal specialize in relentless, suffocating discordant pummelling. ‘Vexovoid’ is perhaps a little more dynamic than what has come before, offering up numerous twists and turns within the tumultuous churn of their attack.
A really focussed effort this time from the Frenchmen, Aosoth really underline their ability and intent on ‘IV’. Bursts of genuine ferocity entwine with searing riffs and blizzard-like percussion but it’s the composition dexterity that impresses most on this release, switching gears and atmospheres effortlessly to devastating effect.
10: Finnr’s Cane – A Portrait Painted by the Sun (Prophecy)
Three years on from their glittering debut and The Bard, The Peasant and The Slave return with another captivating collection of windswept, haunting hymns. Very much sticking to their sound on this record, the Canadians continue to hone their reflective take on atmospheric black metal with aplomb.
And some honourable mentions that probably would have made the grade had I had a chance to listen to them properly:
Gorguts – Coloured Sands
Code – Augur Nox
Queensryche – Queensryche
Bolzer – Aura
Tribulation – Formulas of Death
Grave Miasma – Odori Sepulcrorum
2013, My first year with the venerable team at Ave Noctum. Thanks for making me feel so welcome and helping to make it great fun! I realize though (as I look at a large pile of still un-played CDs that I’ve bought this year) that it would be a little unfair if I included in my Top 10 stuff that I haven’t given as many listens to as the ones I’ve reviewed. For instance, Sirenia, Arven, Horisont, Tarja and Orchid should all be in my top 10 – but I haven’t played them enough yet to know where they rate and……I’m over-thinking this aren’t I? Well, basically, my Top 10 is compiled just from the releases I’ve reviewed and that’s not down to ego, laziness or a lack of imagination…I promise.
A fantastic return to form. Such a great album. It’s dark and it’s sinister, yet it’s up-beat and it’s fun.
2: Free Fall – Power and Volume (Nuclear Blast)
My fave Retro-Rock/Metal album of the year, everything just gelled for me. I just don’t tire of hearing it.
3: ReVamp – Wildcard (Nuclear Blast)
No need to mourn the passing of After Forever if this is the standard we can expect from Floor Jansen. What a voice, backed up by excellent song-writing.
4: Silent Force – Rising From Ashes (AFM)
Pretty much the blueprint of how to write an ideal Melodic Power Metal album. Everyone on top form, it just gets better the more I play it.
Dan Swano on top form in all guises, great musician, great producer, great songwriter. ‘Nuff said.
6: Rhapsody Of Fire – Dark Wings Of Steel (AFM)
A total surprise from a band I thought had nothing left to interest me, and a valuable lesson in not dismissing anything beforehand!!
7: Lonewolf – The Fourth And Final Horseman (Napalm)
If Running Wild are going to bugger about with stadium rock then I’ll stick with Lonewolf thanks very much.
Managed to hit all my Folky buttons (oo-er missus). Traditional instruments with Metal drums and bass, all done to the highest degree.
9: Cronian – Erathems (Season Of Mist)
The best album Borknagar never did. Great to see their two mainstays re-visiting past Bork-glories under the Cronian tag.
10: Ashes Of Ares – ST (Nuclear Blast)
Top Class Power Metal, as you would expect from the people involved. A lyrically exhausting listen that packs a real Metal punch.
Another year of music, another batch of highs and lows. There’s been a load of good music, a load of mediocre, and a whole bunch of stuff that gets one play from me and then gets deleted. So, in another year where the retro rock sound is starting to creep from the fringes into the mainstream, and it’s time for another top 10, with addenda.
Scorpion Child – Self Titled (Nuclear Blast)
Two very different bands I’ve seen twice this year, and each time they were alternatively headlining or supporting, both on Nuclear Blast. In so many other ways, they are polar opposites: Hell, a veteran band producing cutting edge metal; Scorpion Child, a young band with a distinctly retro feel. Hell have a stage show enhanced by theatricality and effects; last time I saw Scorpion Child the vocalist was jabbing at the lone stage spotlight in a venue under a rail bridge whilst the only special effect was the Crazy Legs Crane dancing of bassist Shaun Avants. What both share is excellence and the hunger to play, a drive that in the case of Hell was battling on regardless of technical hitches at their headlining Derby show to produce arguably the gig of the year, or with Scorpion Child’s co-headliners Blues Pills pulling out and a scant turnout where I was most of the people at the front of the stage playing as if it was a sold out arena. Both so different, each so worth supporting.
3: Beelzefuzz – Self Titled (The Church Within)
Step on back to my beloved era of The Old Grey Whistle Test and US retro rockers could have so easily been introduced by Whispering Bob Harris. Laid back vibes, hook laden riffs, and near perfect harmonising meant that in a year with so much by wearers of flares, Beelzefuzz insinuated themselves to the fore.
4: Motorhead – Aftershock (UDR)
When the apocalypse comes, rumour has it only cockroaches, and Lemmy Kilmister will survive, and it’s a fair bet that Lemmy will be the one that the rest will worship. Another Motorhead album has arrived, and to paraphrase the man himself, it is Motorhead, it is rock and roll. None of the 14 tracks on CD were influenced by trends and ad men, but each was superbly crafted, the stand out being the emotion laden, ‘Lost Woman Blues’.
Talking of Motorhead; I’ve heard some folks try and dismiss Asomvel as nothing but a tribute act, but that doesn’t honestly reflect the band. Fist in your face punk ‘n’ roll tied to pints of attitude and lyrics reflecting modern frustrations make Asomvel a band worth catching, be it on album or live.
6: Orchid – Mouth of Madness (Nuclear Blast)
Second full length release of US would be time travellers, a band who have 1974 in their sights and a Volume IV setting on their amps is nothing but excellent. Not a note is out of place, building solidly on the sound of their début Capricorns.
7: Brutus – Behind The Mountains (Svart)
Scandinavian doomsters firmly stake their claim at the vanguard of the retro movement. From start to finish, the production is designed to keep the band’s sound rooted firmly in the days before pro tools and auto tune. Stripped back and just crying to be experienced live.
8: Clutch – Earth Rocker (Weathermaker Music)
Most years a new release from Clutch would be atop my list, but beyond the first two choices, the rest are so inseparable as to make the rankings a lottery. Heavier and faster then more recent releases, the blues bayou influence of the band still permeates each track on this superlative release.
A massively mellow Dave Wyndorf leads the latest lineup of the band through a chilled out journey into outer space and inner consciousness with a fine addition to the band’s back catalogue. My advice is to buy the digipack for the two storming bonus tracks.
10: Devil – Gather The Sinners (Soulseller)
Continuing to champion the burgeoning lo-fi sound, this album oozes class, and promises to be reproduced live without the aid of auto tune, sampling, or other modern influences, and for that it is to be commended. If you like the metal without airs and graces, this is the album for you. When I reviewed this album at the start of the year, I said, “with 2013 being a year promising the return of Ozzy with Sabbath, if I could only afford one album, which would I buy, Black Sabbath or Devil? Well, Devil wins.” Having bought 13, I stand by my original decision.
Orange Goblin – Eulogy For The Fans – Candlelight
I was at Bloodstock 2012 when this live CD was being recorded, but having not seen Testament supporting their ‘Dark Roots of Earth’ album I stayed at the main stage for a hour of pitting mayhem, and by the time I limped over to the Sophie Stage for the last half of this set the tent was rammed. Live CDs are often hit and miss, but this release encapsulates the raw energy of the band. In the first year of their 17 history as full time musicians, they give it their all, proving why they are so much more deserving of success then so many corporate sponsored trendoids. Orange Fucking Goblin baby!
Blues Pills – Devil Man – Nuclear Blast
If not an EP, it would be riding high in the list. As it is, it is a taster for what promises to be a highlight of 2014
Trippy Wicked and The Cosmic Children of the Knight – Underground – Superhotrecords
Excluded only by the self defined EP status of this release, the goddam heavy experimental sleaze rock pedallers again prove their worth.
Well, my number one spot this year goes to an album which around 5-6 years ago I’d all but lost hope for. I worship Gorguts’ earlier works, so had always kept hoping for more from Luc & co. – after 12 years since their previous studio album I was not left wanting with the arrival of ‘Colored Sands’. Only Gorguts can go from sounding like a mechanical beast wanting to devour your face one moment to a blissed out opium den of jazz shuffle the next. Prime!
2: Tribulation – The Formulas of Death (Invictus Productions)
Tribulation have come a long way since their Swedeath infested debut album back in 2009. I mean, I thought that album was good, but this… this is something else entirely. ‘The Formulas of Death’ is a twisted slab of psychedelic death/black metal, wrapped in a thick cloud of carcinogenic carnage. Drink up, shoot in, drop out.
3: Grave Miasma – Odori Sepulcrorum (Sepulchral Voice)
Grave Miasma blew me away with this album, wrapped as it is in a dark amalgamation of Lovecraftian sickness and antediluvian miscreancy. ‘Odori Sepulcrorum’ rumbles with ancient hatred and unspoken evils, easily drawing the listener in to its unforgiving world forevermore.
4: Immolation – Kingdom of Conspiracy (Nuclear Blast)
One of the most consistently good death metal bands in my opinion, Immolation’s ‘Kingdom of Conspiracy’ floored me as their work usually does. Their shifting time signatures, twisting and crunching riffage, harmonic squeals and ghoulish solos make for yet another grade A slice of religion bating death metal in my book.
5: Exivious – Liminal (Season of Mist)
This album stands out like a sore thumb among the majority of dark death & black metal on my list, but I love it every bit as much. I was a huge fan of Exivious’ debut album which harked back to the proggy death of Cynic’s debut and Atheist’s best works. ‘Liminal’ sees the band move firmly into prog/noodle mode, and it’s catchy as hell. The wife says it sounds like Sonic the Hedgehog’s music. I give not one shit.
Somewhat of a surprise for me, as I was expecting Carcass’ return to take a slot in my top ten this year, but I actually think the apprentices have the edge over the masters in 2013 (though, the Carcass return was pretty banging too to be fair). Grimy, grungy and gorefilled death/grind with a good stack of melody, Exhumed are 2013’s kings of bloodletting.
7: Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen (Candlelight Records)
This was another unexpected entry for me, as I really didn’t get on so well with Ihsahn’s previous solo effort, 2012’s ‘Eremita’. ‘Das Seelenbrechen’ however, found an instant and comfortable compatibility with my brain and dug its avant/prog hooks in deep to the core of my grey matter for many, many joyful spins.
A huge album in intent and scope, Battle Dagorath’s double album of epic, atmospheric deep space black metal really needs to be heard to fully understand the sheer majesty of it. The magnificence which ebbs and flows from its many ambitious musical soundscapes are rarely bettered.
9: Cultes Des Ghoules – Henbane (Hells Headbangers)
Black metal is one of a number of well-worn sub-genres these days, so it takes something extra to stand out amongst the graveyards of monochromatic corpses and Dark-zum/Bur-throne clones. Cultes Des Ghoules manage this with their 2nd album ‘Henbane’, conjuring the primal riffage and the creeping, neck hair raising feeling that only the true among the masses manage. Kvlt.
10: Avatarium – Avatarium (Nuclear Blast)
Being a big Candlemass fan, I was always likely to enjoy Leif Edling’s ‘new’ project. ‘Avatarium’ however is a piece of doom-laden, 70s rock encrusted beauty, which sounds fresh and most importantly – genuine. The sparkling vocals of Jennie-Ann Smith are fantastic, and the touches of psychedelia amongst the doom are just the icing on the cake to what is a fantastic release.
I freakin’ love this album. I was apprehensive when the teaser of ‘Leave No Cross Unturned’ was leaked, but upon receiving a promo copy for review, a few weeks before it was released, I was hooked. I’ve listened to this album at least once a week since getting it and I don’t see that changing any time soon, hence why it’s at the top spot.
2: Light Bearer – Silver Tongue (Halo Of Flies)
Light Bearer, for me, are one of the most emotive metal bands out there; their debut full length ‘Lapsus’ stole my heart and ‘Silver Tongue’ had me wet-eyed and goose pimpled on just my first listen. This band are a pleasure to listen to both live and on record and I’m eagerly anticipating a third release.
3: Crown – Psychurgy (Candlelight)
I was originally given this to review and wasn’t expecting much – I was totally blown away on first listen and completely went out of my way to make sure I got to interview the band by any means possible. Honestly one of the most crushing experiences live and I genuinely don’t care that they use a drum machine – the rest of the music more than makes up for it.
4: Chelsea Wolfe – Pain Is Beauty (Sargent House)
Chelsea Wolfe is a pretty recent discovery for me – I’d heard other people talking about her music for the last year or so and never gotten around to checking out, mainly because I thought she’d just be a passing fad. However, I checked this album out about a month after it was released and have listened to barely anything else since then. Chelsea, you’ve made a fan for life.
Well, we’re halfway down the list and I’ve not yet named a doom band, so this was bound to happen really, wasn’t it? No surprises here, Windhand consistently release good material and are excellent live, so I knew before I’d listened that this would inevitably end up on my album of the year list, and here it is!
6: Carcass – Surgical Steel (Nuclear Blast)
This inclusion may be gracing many a list this year, but I cannot disguise my surprise at it making an appearance on mine. I’m not a fan of death metal, let alone Carcass, however, upon listening to this out of curiosity it went straight on my iPod and, I have to say, I’m really enjoying it. Credit where credit’s due, this album is sensational, even if you don’t like death metal.
7: Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats – Mind Control (Rise Above)
Another favourite of mine; while this release may not have the same garage rock charm as the previous album, it’s still good fun and eerily psychedelic. Recently watched these guys supporting Black Sabbath and I felt myself swell with pride at how far they’ve come – I watched them at their first ever London performance at the Garage and then again at Hellfest the same year – three pretty huge stepping stones in a short period of time. Super excited to see what they do next.
I’d heard people raving about this and seen the article in the Guardian, so my interest was already peaked upon this dropping into my inbox. I must admit, it didn’t hook me on first listen, however, once it got me it got me hard and I’ve not been able to turn it off since. I will inevitably make myself sick of this album at some point, but until then I’m happy to enjoy the hybrid of Joy Division meets Queens of the Stone Age.
9: Cathedral – The Last Spire (Rise Above)
Another doom inclusion and a sad one for many – the last ever Cathedral record; admittedly not their best work, but still a corker due to tracks such as ‘Cathedral of the Damned’ and ‘Pallbearer’. I’m including this on my list for sentimental reasons.
10: High Priest Of Saturn – High Priest Of Saturn (Svart Records)
Another promo to drop randomly into my inbox and take me totally by surprise; dreamy, ethereal sounding doom from Norway – I fall in love with this record all over again every time I play it. It’s wickedly haunting and bridges a gap between retro 70’s psychedelia and 21st century mental.
Motorhead – it’s fucking Motorhead so it’s the best of the year alright? Probably the best album they’ve done since ‘Inferno’ and, despite Lemmy being a touch poorly, contains some absolute ragers! Single ‘Heartbreaker’ is classic Motorhead and ‘Lost Woman Blues’ & ‘ Dust & Glass’ are simply fantastic bluesy numbers that show off the more emotional side of Lem’s voice. Phil (most underated guitarist in rock) Campbell’s axework is exemplary and Mikkey D’s drum assault is up to his usual high standard. Best album of the year…. Or you’re deaf!
2: Chestburster – The Ultimate Experience In Gruelling Terror (Nailjar Records)
The best band you’ve never heard of. A 3 piece horror film obsessed hardcore / grindcore band from Braintree. I’ve been a Chestburster nut since seeing them support Napalm Death last year. They are stalwarts on the Colchester metal scene and their live shows are immense fun. This is their second album (their first being ‘They Mostly Come Out At Night…. Mostly’) and shows a marked improvement in the song writing – yeah there’s still 30 second songs like ‘ John Saxon’ & ‘Brundlefly’ but tracks like ‘Fuel Injected Suicide Machine’ and ‘Horror Hag’ seem positively progressive in comparison and contain some fantastic riffs. Do yourself a favour –check these nutters out or better still come see them live – I’ll see you down the front for ‘Tar Man’.
3: Hail Of Bullets – III The Rommel Chronicles (Metal Blade Records)
Crushing. The most apt word for Hail Of Bullets full on heavy as fuck old school death metal assault. When that riff kicks off the first track ‘Swoop Of The Falcon’ it’s like you’ve been run over by a Tiger 2. Immense. The quality of musicianship on display here is first rate – Stephan Gebedi & Paul Baayens guitar work is amazing. Full on, fast as fuck death metal riffage one minute – crushing you with Bolt Thrower style heaviness the next. Ed Warby’s drumming is spot on and for my money there’s no better drummer in death metal today. Add to this Martin Van Drunen’s unmistakable howl and you’ve got the best death metal album of the year.
4: Deicide – In The Minds Of Evil (Century Media)
Pushing Hail Of Bullets for the top death metal release this year is the Benton Brigade with newie ‘In The Minds Of Evil’. A stripped down back to basics approach with a polished production and RIFFS. Evil never sounded so good or so spiteful.
5: Hell – Curse And Chapter (Nuclear Blast)
Assured, confident, essential. This second album by Sneap resuscitated NWOBHM legends is the corker in needed to be to follow the incredible ‘Human Remains’. These fellas smash out classic after classic always with a theatrical flair, flamboyant panache and a truly British sense of humour. Everything is stepped up a notch from the debut and has a more epic feel. Get the deluxe cd/dvd combo in a brilliant fold out ‘ouija board’ – quality!
I’m not the biggest black metal fan and to be honest I find a lot of it to be well, a bit shit but Watain really capture the imagination and along with their incendiary live shows, their albums never disappoint. ‘The Wild Hunt’ is no exception. Not as instantly gratifying as previous record ‘Lawless Darkness’, The Wild Hunt is a one hell of a grower and rewards you with new layers every listen. Never mind being the best Black Metal band right now, Watain are surely in the running for best metal band full stop.
7: Torture Killer – Phobia (Dynamic Arts Records)
In my opinion leagues ahead of ‘Sewers’ and ‘Swarm’ this groovy Barnes approved Finnish death metal powerhouse nailed it this year with ‘Phobia’. Songs like the title track and ‘Written In Blood’ are peerless examples of this type of groove laden death metal that, for my money dumps all over any of your ‘brutal tech death’ shite. Songs. Groove. Riffs. Hard to believe they started out as a Six Feet Under covers band.
Take 5 of the biggest names in extreme metal and listen with joy as they tear out seven songs of pure epic METAL! A mixture of Manowar, Bathory & Rainbow which when shaken up gives us an album of uplifting, anthemic true heavy metal music played by masters who truly love it.
If you don’t like this you can fuck off and buy Smash Hits, wanker!
9: Facebreaker – Dedicated To The Flesh (Cyclone Empire Records)
Best Swedish DM album of the year – Facebreaker (along with Entrails) deserve to be so much bigger. This fourth album is full of proper old school, no frills, fist in the throat death metal with hooks and grooves aplenty. Listen to the crushing ‘Zombie Flesh Cult’ and tell me I’m wrong.
10: Nails – Abandon All Hope (Southern Lord Records)
My number one grindcore album of 2013 – this furious torrent of aggressive hate is short (less than 20 mins) and anything but sweet. A record to break speed limits to or just come home, press play, have a spaz-fit and smash up the house. The most bile filled, spiteful album of the year…..in a good way.
2013 has been an unbelievable year for albums with all genres producing phenomenal albums from stalwart purveyors of the scene to newcomers hoping for a piece of the metal pie so to speak. Getting myself into the instrumental rock and metal scene has been thoroughly enjoyable this year culminating in two albums seeing top ten positions from me. Narrowing down the 500 plus albums I managed to listen to purely from 2013 was no mean feat and there are some tasty albums that in another year would certainly have made the top ten such as Hail Of Bullets, Beyond Creation, Protector, Autopsy, Abominant, Watain, Rhapsody Of Fire, Artillery, Aosoth, Lightning Swords Of Death, Kataklysm, Amon Amarth, Darkthrone, Powerwolf, Neaera, Artlantica, 8 Foot Sativa, etc, etc so you see plenty to go at making the choice of top ten damn difficult indeed but here is mine for what it’s worth. I can already see the new Behemoth album “The Satanist” being in my top 10 next year seeing how utterly devastating it is having heard it already.
Uncompromisingly brutal but saturated with supreme intelligent power Immolation can do no wrong, they write death metal songs like scriptures for others to behold and quiver in their wake.
2: Imperium Dekadenz – Meadows Of Nostalgia (Season Of Mist Records)
Prime exponents of manifestly emotive black metal this German act has an unerring ability to pull those dark embittered heartstrings taut to breaking point with this their most accomplished release to date.
3: Amorphis – Circle (Nuclear Blast Records)
Where do these Finnish metal folk-lore heroes go from here, pinnacle after pinnacle is attained, and surpassed with skilful ease it is often bewildering as to what this band will do next, but I for one am totally hooked on their melodic driven rock and metal.
4: Pentagram Chile – The Malefice (Cyclone Empire Records)
A debut after 30 years in existence is a long time to wait, but it’s been worth it as this Chilean band sends you time warping back to a time when death metal was nasty, dangerous and enslaved by the mistresses of malice and evil.
5: Battle Beast – Battle Beast (Nuclear Blast Records)
A chance encounter in hearing this Finnish band had me infatuated with their ballsy power metal driven by hooks galore and a vocal performance that will shatter your spine with its unyielding pitch perfect delivery.
Everything Leaves’ Eyes has done previously has been captured exquisitely on this their most indulgent and masterful exhibition of symphonic metal the band has ever done and all set within those wonderful vocalisations that are unmatched in the scene.
7: The Ocean – Pelagial (Pelagic Records)
A release that will sensitise every aspect of what you absorb within the music from the lyrical perceptions, to the artful production of the products and of course the multi-layered conceptualisation of all these components, The Ocean are unrivalled in writing sumptuous post metal and rock albums.
Leif Edling does what most musicians strive to do all their lives when writing albums that instantly carve their songs into your memory for eternity. This debut is topped by some of the most wondrous vocals I’ve heard in a long time as Jennie-Ann Smith has a voice that could melt rock and send the sun supernova encapsulated in an affluent doom soundscape.
9: The Shaking Sensations – Start Stop Worrying (Pelagic Records)
Danish rock instrumentalists whose talent for conveying their songs without the need for lyrics or vocals is delicately played but packs enough punch and a wealth of supremacy that will envelope you in multi-sensorial melodies, harmonies and heart wrenching solos.
10: Exxasens – Satellites (Aloud Music Ltd)
With this fourth album Spanish band Exxasens’s demonstration of instrumental post-metal is epitomised with their infatuation with the cosmos taking you on that cosmological journey where stratospheric lead work and hooks morph synchronously with the complex and addictive rhythms of their song writing.
Some years are clearly better than others when it comes to music, but in 2013 I have felt absolutely spoiled. There have been some real disappointments out there as well, with Gehenna, Sodom, Rob Zombie, In Solitude, Kataklysm and Satyricon amongst those that never got close to troubling this list despite their pedigrees. Trying to whittle down a collection of the top albums of the year has been an excruciating and maddening experience with the final list having some glaring omissions that just don’t seem fair or just, but there comes a point where you have to stop obsessing over the order and just draw the line, so this is it. My final order. Almost definitely.
For a year with so much choice I don’t think I’ve ever had an easier pick for the top spot. I’ve never enjoyed Clutch as much on record as I have live, but in Earth Rocker they have captured the magic that makes them such a brilliant live act and brought it to the studio. Earth Rocker is not just my album of the year, it’s one of my favourite albums outright. An absolute masterpiece!
2: Twilight Of The Gods – Fire On The Mountain (Season Of Mist)
Well this one blindsided me a bit! From Bathory covering supergroup to the saviours of traditional heavy metal in one fell swoop. This album not only managed to capture the rabble rousing rebellious spirit of 1980’s heavy metal but also the sense of excitement, determination and pride that music instilled in an impressionable youngster at that time. This is a heathen metal call to arms.
3: Amorphis – Circle (Nuclear Blast)
I did worry that it was going to be the start of a downhill slope for Amorphis after their distinctly tepid previous album, but Circle is a perfect mixture of traditional metal bombast, aggressive death and Hobbit bothering folkiness. A stunning album, and a return to the exultant form of Skyforger.
4: Procession – To Reap Heavens Apart (High Roller)
Procession. I absolutely fucking adore this band, and this was the album I was expecting to take the top spot this year. The fact that it didn’t is no slight against it, and this is the best doom release of the year by my favourite doom band of the moment. The riffs, the voice, the whole experience is almost perfect. Incredible stuff.
From the ashes of one of my all-time favourite bands Usurper comes Scythe, picking up where Usurper stopped. Subterranean Steel is a 40 min long musical concussion grenade likely to leave you with the short term effects of a hangover headache, a fist planted firmly in the air, and a silly fucking grin plastered all over your chops.
6: Rotting Christ – Kata Ton Diamona Eaytoy (Season Of Mist)
As disappointed as I was with Aealo, I figured that this would be more of the same, but instead Rotting Christ have bounced right back with an album that stands proud among their best work. Wonderful to have them back on such excellent form.
7: Mountain Throne – Stormcoven (Cyclone Empire)
This was another of those albums that I had very high expectations of and it absolutely delivered. One of the two classically styled heavy metal albums to really hit the mark this year, the mixture of rock, metal & doom ticks all the right boxes and makes for one of the most consistently enjoyable albums in recent memory.
Never before have I been quite so nervous about a band’s ability to deliver as I was before the release of this. Despite all the concerns and my initial reactions to it, with the dust finally settled I’m pleased to say that I feel that 13 stands up to scrutiny alongside Sabbath’s other work. Tony Iommi is still and shall always be God.
9: Goatess – Goatess (Svart)
As a fan of Christian Lindersson’s work with Count Raven, Lord Vicar and Saint Vitus, this was always going to be right up my street, but I wasn’t expecting it to be quite this good. Slow and bluesy doom to soothe the soul, and Chritus has never sounded so good. Looking forward to seeing them on tour next year.
10: Orchid – The Mouths Of Madness (Nuclear Blast)
This one suffered a little from the weight of my expectation as I loved their previous album Capricorn as if it were my own child. Whilst not quite as good as its predecessor this is still an awesome collection of Sabbath inspired doom, if not quite the world beater I had hoped for.
2013 was a great year for music. I discovered some great bands and rediscovered some old ones. Listing top albums of the year is always tough especially as I rarely consume music by the album. A track from one band here a soupcon of a different genre there. I am always looking for great tracks to play on my radio show or to add to a playlist to accompany me on the way to work. There are few albums these days that I afford the time to listen to in their entirety more than a handful of times. I reckon this is pretty standard these days. What follows then are my top ten. The numbers are meaningless as the order changes daily . 2014 is looking pretty bright already!
A brute of an album. Nocturno Culto sounds great. The riffs are gorgeous. Radio faves “ Strange Pungent Odyssey” and “Ugly”
2: Slegest – Loyndom (Karisma Records)
This release has been described by many as Satyricon with better riffs. Dunno about that but the riffs are tight as a Norwegian scarf in January. Deliciously frosty galloping metal. Radio fave “ Faceless Queen”
3: Avatarium – Avatarium (Nuclear Blast)
Leif Edling of Candlemass get’s his Dooom back on with Jennie Ann Smith on vocals. Lead heavy riffs with a folk vibe . Simply spiffing. Radio Faves “ Moonhorse” and “Boneflower”
4: The Monolith Deathcult – Tetragrammaton (Season of Mist)
The voice of Optimus Prime. Blast beats . Industrial Death Metal at it’s best. Radio faves “S.A.D.M” and “ Drugs Thugs and Machetes”
Big Dumb and full of aplomb. I thought ST were past it. I thought I was past it. This got me wearing a bandana again. Damn fucking fine. Jam packed with Cyco Myco classix. Radio Faves “ Shake it Out” “This Ain’t a Celebtation”
6: Ulterior – The Bleach Room ( Dependent)
Don’t use the G word. These London Sisters fans offer up a sci fi dystopia with big beats and great choons. Is it EBM? Is it G***? Is it arty post punk? Lables be damned this is good music to dance to. Radio Fave “ Body Hammer”
Black n Roll is a lazy label but it fits. This album pummels the ears and makes the neck snap and fist pump.Radio Fave “ The Reap”
8: Zud – The Good the bad and the Damnned (Self release)
This 5 track album grabbed me like no other in 2013. I hate prog and I am not a huge black metal fan and supposedly can’t stand Prog. Well this Proggy, Bluesy Black Metal album knocked me for six. It had me listening to 9 minute tracks and wishing they did not end. Punky enough in approach to retain cred with younger self. Love it Radio Faves “ Skull Shaped Bell” and the amazing “Dendrite Fumes”
9: Noothgrush/Coffins Split (Southern Lord)
I am saying this is an album as it is too huge to be an e.p. Two titans of sludge clash in the middle of the Pacific like a Michael Bay movie on slow mo. A delightful journey into the primordial soup. Radio Faves – Noothgrush “ Jundland Wastes” Coffins “ The Wretched Path”
10: Cathedral – The Last Spire (Rise Above Records)
So this is it from Lee and the boys and my final entry for best of 2013. Cathedral waved goodbye with this mighty opus. It is relentless from beginning to end and the riffs surely cement Gaz Jennings as one of the maestros of metal. Ear crushing beauty. Radio Faves “ Tower of Silence” and “ Cathedral of the Damned”
Honourable mentions go to 7.5 Tonnes of Beard for their superb E.P. Denied the Basics ( Mr Woods sez no EPs allowed – fascist!) and Steak for “ Corned Beef Collosus”
2014 lurks with treats in store from Stahlsarg, Devilment and Savage Messiah.
The Reverend Darkstanley
A tough year for top ten list and some albums I just assumed would make it in didn’t – Falkenbach for example. I should give a special mention to the EP I was sorely tempted to put Helrunar’s split with Árstíðir Lífsins ‘A Mythological Excavation’ (Lupus Lounge) on my main list as the best thing I’ve heard this year but, strictly speaking, as an EP, it belongs in the ‘honorary mention’ category. Brutality, melancholy and a life affirming richness that confirms to me listening to heavy metal just gets better and better. Anyway, on with the main list.
1: Rotting Christ – Kata Ton Diamona Eaytoy (Season of Mist)
Few bands have come close to Rotting Christ in recent years. The fact that the last album Aealo didn’t quite have the total perfection of Theogonia just made the arrival of Κατά all the more sweet. A unique, heavy and sublimely gothic experience all at the same time.
2: Aosoth – IV: An Arrow In Heart (Agonia)
If dark, evil and unsettling is what you think black metal is about then look no further than Aosoth. The musical equivalent to walking up in the afterlife to find out your eternal punishment is about more than a few hot pokers and a bit of sodomy.
Plundering the Acherontas back catalogue has been one of the joys of the year. Like several of their Greek countrymen, they strive to provide an all-encompassing musical experience rather than shoving a few of their best tracks onto a silver disc. Amenti sees the eponymous front man and his cohorts in overdrive on a journey through smoke-filled souks and demon haunted caverns beneath the city.
4: Altaar – Altaar (Indie Recordings)
Ever had that sinking feeling? You will if you listen to Altaar. Drone, sludge, whatever this is, begins as a seemingly innocent bit of guitar strumming shoe gaze before slowly turning in to a 34 minute, constantly evolving head-f*ck during which no second is wasted. Find something firm to hold on to and put down whatever that is you’re smoking. You won’t need it in here.
5: Monolithe – IV (Debemur Morti Productions)
As above but with less of the wicked intent. The fourth and final part of Monolithe’s brave and adventurous journey into the event horizon which the word ‘ambitious’ simply doesn’t even begin to cover. Each of the four albums has been a single piece of music and has been as warm and enticing as they have been accomplished.
It was difficult to see how TMDC could top 2008’s Trivmvirate, but they did it. A coke-induced, death metal rampage though a Transformers video game that will get up the noses of death metal purist’s in a completely unstimulating way. Impossible to ignore so why bother?
7: Progenie Terrestre Pura – U.M.A. (Avantgarde Music)
This French band is the point where Pink Floyd-meets-Norway’s church burning maniacs. An organic, enveloping sci-fi sound that helps demonstrate how black metal can cover so many emotions and textures.
8: The Crevices Below/Tempestuous Fall/Midnight Odyssey – Converge, Rivers of Hell (I, Voidhanger Records)
Showing us what it is possible to do by combining gothic funeral doom with black metal, Australian gloom merchant Dis Pater brings all his three side projects together to create a dark, enveloping Odyssey through the five rivers of Hades. Sounds bonkers? It isn’t. More a carefully navigated journey that risked over committing itself but actually succeeds largely because of the obvious talent of the man at its centre.
Album opener Cold Wave Eruption might just be one of my favourite tracks of the year and, unbelievably for me, the closest thing my ‘best of’ list gets to power metal this year. It helped make Erathems the best thing from the Vintersorg/Brun camp since Empiricism. Black metal meets progressive power metal on an endless frozen landscape
10: Zgard – Astral Glow (BadMoonMan Music)
Black metal taken to its ambient extreme from the depths of Ukraine. I must admit I mostly listen to this in the same way as the new age crystal-nonsense brigade listen to whale song. Cathartic and distracting – as long as the sound of a flute doesn’t leave you boiling over. This album will forever be overlooked but contains more self-belief, depth and hooks than hundreds of bands that won’t. Sit back, pour yourself a glass of wine / cup of hot cocoa and let your imagination take a walk across the steppers under the night sky.
Finally I also have to mention Danzig’s double-London show which was the best form I’ve seen him on for years. Truly, my faith is restored, I will die happy and I will never ever doubt you again, oh master.
Fast, bombastic, anthemic, groove-riddled and utterly addictive, Man the Machetes’ debut long-player Idiokrati is a behemoth of Norwegian punk n’ roll. From the fire and swagger of opener “Sluk Det Rått”, through the “Slagen” gang chants and short rhythmic pauses for breath to the joyful menace of “Hjemkomst”, these Norwegian’s prove themselves more incisive than Kvelertak and more explosive than Oslo Ess. Their album is the very definition of “grip it and rip it”.
2: The Safety Fire – Mouth Of Swords (Century Media)
Both soothing and vicious, Mouth Of Swords glows with a fluorescent vitality. The constantly burbling, rise-and-fall guitar work, the crisp tone and accurate switch-up from ripped invective to soft melody is TSF at their finest. They have developed into a unique, inspirational force and the verve of this album has rightly set the benchmark, not just for them, but for much of their competition.
3: Steak Number Eight – The Hutch (Indie)
Prepare for luminescent flourishes à la Torche, Isis-rich thundering and cherry-picked moments from the entire Baroness’ discography. Prepare for slack-jawed, clean vocals, thick, rotational riffs and dark melodious washes. Then, as malcontent is piled upon upon disillusionment and ‘core edges are sharpened, prepare to acknowledge The Hutch as nothing less than the organic masterpiece that it is. It is SN8’s “coming of age” album; a deal-maker.
Secrets Of The Sky fearlessly dive into their subject matter of death with real abandon and without restriction. By doing so, they treat us to monstrous production and five forms of vocal attack. The combined force of this results in an atmospheric, doomy, subversively black, richly progressive and bollock-janglingly heavy debut that marks these Californians out as real forgotten heroes.
5: Pelican – Forever Becoming (Southern Lord)
Rather than lament guitarist Laurent Schroeder-Lebec’s decision to move on, Pelican have come out fighting and their fresh, beefed-up approach has resulted in a conveyor belt of riffs and wave after wave of warming euphoria to bathe in. Acceptance and absolute absorption in the rhythmic drive is essential; achieve that and you’ll reveal an absolute tour-de-force.
6: Dark Buddha Rising – Dakhmandal (Svart)
Mile-thick chants that sound like they come from the throats of a coven of hooded giants. Know that Dark Buddha Rising’s latest, no matter how gloriously trance-inducing it may seem, is pure evil and as such it should be restricted to small amounts and is definitely for personal consumption only.
7: The Ocean – Pelagial (Metal Blade)
It is not by chance that you can sense the increasing depth, pressure and diminishing light as you progress through this album. What we have here is a conceptual masterpiece with genius to be found in both its shifting, beguiling, expansive post-metal wash and in those thick, dark brushstrokes that produce such thunder. Performed live, it has transformed The Ocean from an all-too-wieldy wall of screaming sound into an absolute tour-de-force of atmosphere.
This ambient-minded supergroup’s debut is littered with moments that remove your capacity for resisting emotion and motion – your heads will nod, your hair will stand on end and your spine will shiver.
9: Clamfight – I Versus The Glacier (Maple Forum)
Not just a pretty name, Clamfight’s latest is one hefty statement of intent. First they ram it home with absolute power. Next, they open it all out into strong, hook-laden tracks and then they take their collective foot off the accelerator. Impressive stuff.
10: Spirits Of The Dead – Rumours Of A Presence (The End)
It was inevitable that after producing such a brilliant debut, SOTD would become one of the finest of the current crop of retro bands. Rumours Of A Presence rams that thought home by worshipping at the twin altars of doom and prog; reinventing their forbear’s artistic touches to fit a thoroughly modern template.
A perfect meshing of blues, gore and insanity which for my money is the band’s best full-length since ‘Mental Funeral’. To use that old cliché: you’ll be slaughtered by the beast!!!!
2: Carcass – Surgical Steel (Nuclear Blast)
It must be tough when all your diet consists of is riff sandwiches. But this is Carcass we’re talking about, on their return. What more is there to say?
3: Suffocation – Pinnacle of Bedlam (Nuclear Blast)
As much as Mike Smith is Suffocation, Dave Culross’ reintroduction to the band provides us with the logical follow up to ‘Despise the Sun’. In a word: crushing.
4: Pestilence – Obsideo (Candlelight)
‘Obsideo’ was definitely the album from 2013 which had me picking my jaw up off the floor. It seems that all the recent criticism of Mameli and co. provoked this response. Thanks internet!
Like some beast from the abyss, Krypts emerged with its terrifying debut to make walls shake and hi-fi systems implode. An ordeal, for sure.
6: Master – The Witchhunt (F.D.A. Rekotz)
‘The Witchhunt’ continues Paul Speckmann’s mission to bring down the system. Stripping back the sound, it meshes old school values with ferocious musicianship.
7: Immolation – Kingdom of Conspiracy (Nuclear Blast)
Unusually I didn’t rush out to get the new Immolation on its release. Better late than never though, as this eclipses its predecessor and sees the band at its most opaque for quite some time. One which I’m still getting my head round…
The elite death metal squad returned with a biopic of Erwin Rommel. Just like the tanks of the Desert Fox, ‘III…’ brings swift destruction to all in its path.
9: Just Before Dawn – Precis Innan Gryningen (Chaos Records)
Another brilliant WW2 album for 2013. The clever use of different vocalists to recount its various tales particularly struck a chord. However, it’s also impossible to ignore such steamrolling death metal.
10: Koldbrann – Vertigo (Season of Mist)
Beating the likes of Rotting Christ, Jex Thoth and Blood Ceremony to number ten this year is Koldbrann. The Norwegians’ decision to diversify their sound has definitely paid off.