Cat Jones’ Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2013
I live in Portland, Oregon, and in 2013 I did a ton of traveling for work-related purposes in the rock n’ roll world. So I have admittedly spent my year with my head gleefully up the ass of the underground heavy-music scenes of the Pacific Northwest and England. With a couple of exceedingly deserving exceptions, this list is going to reflect that. I suppose that was more of a disclaimer than an intro, but nevertheless, here we go:
I’m not sure if I’m even allowed to put a compilation on this list, but hey. This is hands-down the most important compilation I have ever gotten my hands on. This tape was put out when Josh and Seth of the band RABBITS decided to dig up the grave of the then-defunct Portland record label Eolian Empire and revitalize it. They called up 26 of their close friends and people who had been involved with the label in the past and asked for an exclusive track. With the exception of a couple of bands who happened to already have an extra song lying around, every single one of the bands got up off of their asses, waded through the seas of PBR cans in their living rooms and not only wrote but also recorded and mastered a song by the deadline. The kind of dedication these guys inspired is insane. The result is essentially the bible of underground heavy music in Portland with bands like Lord Dying, Gaytheist, Norska, Sioux, Honduran and a bunch more. Also, in case you need any more motivation to check this thing out, Red Fang’s John Sherman was the very first one to order a tape.
Listen: “Drink Drank Drunk” by Rabbits
Two of my favorite sludge bands made a split record. Each band plays one original song, one cover of a famous band’s song and a cover of a song by the other band. Get it? They’re roasting each other. Let’s just say Limb does a sludge cover of “Psycho Killer” by the Talking Heads and it’s one of the more entertaining things I’ve heard this year. Additionally, this was one of the most original ideas I’ve seen for making a split and I thought it was pretty darn great.
Listen: “Sophisticate” by Gurt
I read a review earlier this year that called this record “doom prog,” and I thought it was the most apt usage of a scrambling-to-describe-a-genre, doom-hybrid situation I’ve seen. The thing that makes these guys a cut above the majority of modern doom is that the two guitarists in the band harmonize perfectly weird jazzy chords that somehow always fit into the song like a puzzle piece despite being a bit unorthodox. Or maybe that’s exactly why they work. The riffs on For Water Or Blood are slow, driving, monolithic and at times epically melancholy, making it undeniably a doom record, but I can’t help feeling like if Yes ever listened to Candlemass, they’d come up with something like Diesto, too.
Listen: “Edge of the World”
Jesus Christ! Did anyone predict Monster Magnet making a gargantuanly massive album such as this? Or one this incredible? This record has everything: Riffs, bluesy breakdowns, Jim-Morrison-esque spoken-word, psychedelic jam-outs, and some parts that are frankly downright danceable, all while oozing pure rock and roll swagger and sex appeal out every speaker. The kind of record that makes me want to throw on some mirrored aviators, do power slides and and yell, “ROCK AND ROLL, MOTHERFUCKERS!” at strangers.
Listen: “Last Patrol”
I have two theories about Naam: A) They’re musically inclined space aliens disguised as Brooklyn longhairs or B) They seamlessly operate in a parallel universe, occasionally crossing into ours for their own entertainment (and, incidentally, ours). They’re definitely pulling inspiration from somewhere that is not Earth. If you want to know what drugs are like without actually doing any, pick up any Naam album! Listening to this year’s release, Vow, is like taking a solo magic carpet ride across a distant planet filled with synthy, ethereal riffs.
This album explodes out of the gate right off the bat. I’ve never actually had an album make me want to go for a jog just to listen to it, but that actually happened when I first got it. It’s rooted in Pacific Northwest hardcore and punk, but somehow made the crossover into the best parts of approximately 3,452 other rock and roll subgenres along the way. Punk shouts meet sludge riffs meet hardcore screams in this nuclear blast of a dirty, heavy-rock amalgamation.
When my friend Ben first heard this album from these fuzzy UK stoner metallers, he said, “This album makes me wish I had tits so I could play with them whilst listening to it.” They thought that quote was so funny that they put it on a giant banner at Download Festival. I can’t top that, so I’m just gonna leave that there. The album is heavy and thunderous, yet easy to sing along with—some qualities every stoner rock album should have. However, the song “Liquid Gold” also has an especially melancholy twinge to it, which makes it a personal favorite to blast while thinking about the preposterous amount of fun I had while hanging with these guys in London:
Listen: “Liquid Gold”
These dudes play some intensely teeth-gnashing, skull-pureeing metal. They’ve got equal roots in doom and thrash, so their riffs and vocals can pretty much appeal to any type of metal head. I’ve seen them play to all kinds of audiences this year, and they can win over just about anyone from the metal heads to the punks to the prog elitists. They’ve got some SERIOUS shred-skills, too, so be prepared to pick your jaw up off the floor when the record is done.
Listen: “Summoning the Faithless”
Conan and Bongripper are without a doubt two of the heaviest bands I have ever seen. And, dudes, I have seen enough heavy fucking bands to make your mother run screaming into the hills (and mine, believe me). They are so brutal and so minimalistic and so primitive in their approach that they have earned the right to have “CAVEMAN BATTLE DOOM” emblazoned on the back of their shirts. This split with Bongripper is a perfect example of two bands from the UK who want to absolutely crush you sonically. And just so we can nip this in the bud now: Do I think “Bongripper” is a stupid name? No. Every movement in modern rock and roll has had its own ridiculous theme. Get over it.
Listen: “Beheaded” by Conan
This EP sounds like someone compressed the hypnotic heaviness of the first Queens Of The Stone Age record into three epic, psychedelic, ‘90s-esque rock and roll tracks. The connection between the two bands is a reality, too—as their brother band with whom they share a singer, guitarist and drummer, Black Pussy, spent a great deal of this year touring with ex-Kyuss heroes Vista Chino AND had a record produced by Brant Bjork. Black Pussy’s success has (understandably) put White Orange on the backburner for a bit, but this record hasn’t left my stereo since I got it. Additionally, the song “…And I Leave The Circus” has some seriously bad-ass kazoo-playing. What more could you want?
Listen: “…And I Love the Circus”
This band sounds exactly like what it is: A bunch of punk dudes on the southern beaches of England playing sludge metal. They’ve got anthem-like shouts and a completely DIY ethic that make them undeniably punk, but incorporate the tastiest, gnarliest sludge riffs that make it obvious that some serious metal influences went into getting them where they are. The entire experience is so aggressive that even if I listen to Riding With Demons alone in my living room, I want to start fights with my furniture. They’re playing next year’s Desertfest London and I hope I can make it over there just so I can mosh with drunk, burly English dudes and shout “WAR WOOOOOLF COOOOOOMETH!” with our fists in the air. Mmmm, I can see it now.
I kept hearing how great this album was, but I, admittedly, slept on it a bit too long. But once I got around to it, I became the friend who bombards everyone with, “HOLY SHIT! YOU NEED TO HEAR THIS IMMEDIATELY!” Even though it’s not necessarily my #1, it’s a definite contender for most perfectly crafted album of the year. You’ve gotta hear it to believe it, but basically it’s a seamless suite of heavy harmonies with a bit of sludge thrown in here and there for good measure (or “goddam heavy experimental sleaze rock,” as the band says). The album operates on a cohesive, ominous yet singsong-y central theme about heading underground to survive the apocalypse. It builds like crazy and keeps your attention for a 100% excellent block of 31 minutes. Also, who couldn’t be curious about a band called Trippy Wicked & The Cosmic Children Of The Knight?!
Ancient Warlocks remind me of a grunged-out Fu Manchu, which is appropriate, considering they play loud, fuzzy wizard-rock from Seattle. The first moment I threw their new record on and heard the first notes, I knew it was what I’d been looking for all year long. Heavy, catchy, entertaining and full of enough warm guitar tones for you to bathe in. I always describe good stoner rock and roll music as sounding “heavy as possible without being negative,” and this is the ultimate example of that. You cannot feel bad listening to Ancient Warlocks. It defies physics. Just like wizards do.
Listen: “Into the Night”
The first time I ever saw the singer of Drunk Dad, he casually sauntered out of a bar, glanced around, violently puked into the gutter and went right on back inside to order another drink. This was at 5 p.m. A few months later I saw them live for the first time and discovered that that’s exactly the same attitude they have onstage. These guys absolutely do not give a fuck. And why should they? Their band spits on not only genres, but also the need for genres in the first place. Their bizarre brilliance is utterly mesmerizing. I could sit here and go on about how they’re some weird amalgamation of hardcore and punk and grindcore and sludge and everything in between and beyond but that doesn’t even begin to encompass what this band is about. Just listen to “Guts.” All of it. The entire thing.
This album was one of the most unexpected of the year (the project’s existence and KILLER lineup of Aaron Edge, Mike Scheidt and Tad Doyle, was announced only a month or two before its November release) and I didn’t even expect it to be on this list, let alone #1, until very recently. The album was written entirely by Aaron Edge about his struggles, anguish, and physical and emotional pain of living with Multiple Sclerosis. He invited Mike and Tad to help him record it over one weekend, and the end result is an intensely powerful story encapsulated in a 24-minute doom-laden, hardcore-influenced LP, complete with Aaron’s screams, Tad’s bellows and Mike Scheidt’s inimitable, unmistakable wail. Using doom and hardcore to express raw human pain is the ultimate example of art as catharsis, and it’s perfect.
Listen: “Day One”