Let me start off by saying that this list was hard to put together. 2013 has been such a fantastic year for metal with old and new bands releasing absolutely stellar albums, I’ve been like a kid in a candy store. Only a few disappointments reared their ugly heads and were quickly forgotten about in the wave of fantastic tunes that rumbled forth from my sound system. So without further ado, my top ten of 2013 commences below with a special mention to a band that would have made it if only…
Honourable Mention: Astronoid – Stargazer
I want to give special mention to this album because while it’s only an EP and two of the four tracks are atmospheric filler, it’s some of the finest production and catchiest writing I’ve heard all year. The choice to mix clean sung vocals with hammering black metal riffs is not new, but Astronoid‘s presentation is wonderfully slick and I can only look forward to what this band produces in the future!
And now for the real list to start…
10. The Monolith Deathcult – Tetragrammaton
The Monolith Deathcult have been on my radar ever since some enterprising fan at a Winterfest long gone asked me to DJ one of their songs from a sharpie-encrusted mix CD. Their 2013 followup to Trivmvirate pushes all the right buttons and has a great mix of groove, brutality and songwriting chops to edge on to this list. It also is the only album I’ve heard this year to feature solid African instrumentation in a song about the Rwandan genocide. I will admit it’s strange hearing a bunch of Dutch guys elucidate on such a clearly African atrocity, but it doesn’t stop he album from being solid from start to finish.
9. Fleshgod Apocalypse – Labyrinth
The evolution of Fleshgod Apocalypse from a symphonic band to a death metal band has been interesting for me. It’s an unpopular opinion, but their debut album just didn’t do it for me and it was only with Agony and Mafia that my ears really pricked up. Labyrinth takes all of the elements from their previous albums and mashes them together into a heady mix of equally technical classical and metal elements. It’s bombastic to the point of ridiculousness and while lesser groups might succumb to orchestral cheesiness, Fleshgod never do.
8. Leprous – Coal
I was introduced to Leprous as “Ihsahn‘s backing band” and that immediately piqued my interest. Being deemed worthy to keep company with one of Norway’s most prolific metal musicians as well as keep up with the crazy riffing that comes out of Ihsahn‘s head is no mean feat. Each track on Coal swells and grows with a grandiosity that some bands backed by and entire orchestra don’t manage to reach. Leprous‘ off-kilter brand of avant-garde prog metal is fascinating to listen to since there’s always something new to hear with each repeat play.
7. Heaven Shall Burn – Veto
Much like BrutalViking, I feel that Veto exemplifies what modern metal should be doing. The melodies and breakdowns never interfere with each other, each song feels very deliberate and it really feels like Heaven Shall Burn have hit their stride in a great way. It feels like the band has matured quite a lot in their sound and songwriting technique; the songs never get lost or feel disconnected, instead very clear and strong threads tie each part and each instrument’s role together in a really effective way.
6. Carcass – Surgical Steel
2013 saw a lot of bands make triumphant returns to the scene and while Black Sabbath‘s 13 was really a rather underwhelming affair, Surgical Steel feels like Carcass never left. Their first album in nine years, most bands would be content to call it a day or do the Sabbathy thing and just throw a bone to the fans, but this has all the speed, aggression and melodic sensibility of Carcass in their heyday.
5. Germ – Grief
This was probably my most anticipated album of the year. One minute teasers, released singles and delays on the final product meant that I was on the edge of my seat when Grief finally landed. There’s far less synth influence and instead the metal elements really get to shine. Tim Yatras’ vocal range is truly something to behold and the songs feel a lot more cohesive and less repetitive than his previous outings. The duality of uplifting riffs combined with ethereal howls and dark lyrics just hits all the right places. I will admit that the album peters off a little towards the end, but it starts so strong that it jumped to this spot almost by default.
4. Rotting Christ – Kata Ton Daimonia Eaytoy
Being starved of a new Septicflesh album this year, I cottoned on to another Greek band that has been on my map for ages but I’ve never actually investigated; and what a place to start. Kata Ton… is ambitious, grand and truly deserving of the oft-misused “epic”! The sweeping orchestration is backed up by catchy and driving riffing that never gets too technical that you can’t lock into a groove. The songs themselves feel like battle cries to some eldritch kingdom and they just make you want to raise your horns high and headbang like mad!
3. Ghost – Infestessumam
Ghost came out of nowhere for me in late 2010 and firmly sunk their ghoulish claws into my back. Now with their second release, many critics were less than enthused by the slightly more caricature aesthetic employed by the band. In my opinion, it’s perfect; because if you take metal too seriously then you’re doing a bunch of stuff wrong. Ghost‘s retro-styled rock would probably get your mom nodding her head until she heard the lyrics glorifying all forms of Satanic excess and blasphemy. This is a straight up fun album.
2. The Black Dahlia Murder – Everblack
The Black Dahlia Murder is back! At least in my books. Some say they never left, but Ritual just didn’t do it for me; it felt stale and subdued with none of the catchy hooks that make this band so good. With Everblack they seem to have scoured the Necronomicon of old-school death metal with nary a breakdown to be heard. Instead, blistering riffs and seething vocals coupled with clever arrangements and lyrics made this one of my most played albums this year!
1. Deafheaven – Sunbather
Back in April I saw a video of the recording sessions for Sunbather and I already knew it would be my album of the year. There is something so right, so perfect in each of the musical elements of Deafheaven’s post-black metal; it just feels “real”. While a lot of metal is focussed on mythology and other fantastical elements, this release touches on the common man’s philosophies, feelings and life in a way that is often overlooked when seeking escapism. The music is sublime, the vocals are at once tortured and touching and even the filler tracks serve to amplify the atmosphere instead of breaking the experience. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover and listen to Sunbather now!