Chuck & Godless’ Top Fifteen Metal Albums (Each!) of 2013
2013 was truly, truly an epic year for metal – the best since 1991. (Which, by the way, is ranked thusly: (15) Morbid Angel; (14) Kyuss; (13) Pitch Shifter; (12) Warrior Soul; (11) Prong; (10) Overkill; (9) Paradise Lost (8) Entombed; (7) Infectious Grooves; (6) Atheist; (5) Slayer – A Decade of Aggression; (4) Death-Human; (3) Suffocation – Effigy of the Forgotten; (2) Sepultura – Arise; (1) Cannibal Corpse – Butchered at Birth.)
What 2013 offers and 1991 lacks is depth. Even beyond the top five are albums which could have been ranked one or two in any other year. Old bands released the best albums of their impressive careers, new bands released great albums with promise for more greatness to come, and one band released a great album and then called it quits proving, once again, that there is no god.
“1000 Volt” marked Butter’s sudden evolution from joke-band-with-chops to Germany’s greatest export. Straddling the line between radio-friendly metal-pop and electro-noise with less deft and more determination, the result is sometimes ham-handed Kraftwerk (“Mayday Mayday”) but more often genuine genre-busting songwriting and performance (“Pyroman & Astronaut”).
Listen: “1000 Volt”
Abandon All Life reminds me of the first time I heard Carcass’s Necroticism – abrasive, unique – but under all the wonderful noise is a melodicism betraying some incredible musicianship and sonic sensibilities one just doesn’t get anywhere else. Nails are great but they are on the verge of something greater and listening to them grow from album to album is a hell of a lot of fun.
Listen: “God’s Cold Hands”
It’s almost like lead guitarists forgot Joe Satriani wouldn’t be shit without Surfing With the Alien. “Look how fast I can play!” and “Listen to me tear up this arpeggio!” displaces any concern for the listener, if one ever did exist. Scale the Summit take a breath and show off songwriting chops even at the expense of (gasp!) guitar solos. Kudos.
Listen: “Atlas Novus”
Admit it – this opera-style black metal is a hell of a lot better than anything Mayhem or Darkthrone have ever done. Whether it’s Dimmu Borgir performing with a full orchestra or this inventive and progressive collection by Fleshgod Apocalypse, black metal has been co-opted by Verdi fans with better makeup. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
I’m a sucker for unique, dirty guitar sounds. Bands like Muscadine came and went in the 90’s with guitar sounds like the guitar had been beaten and drug behind a hick’s truck. The Anacondas haven’t changed their strings in years. They are making a type of blues – they’ve found a vibe and mood that is awesome, and don’t mind spending the night wallowing in it. I don’t mind either.
Listen: “Cold Blooded, Warm Hearted”
Apocalyze is either metalcore’s last gasp or next guidepost. If it’s the former, it’s an ambitious enough attempt at the latter to gain all our respect. Crossfaith incorporate EDM and dubstep the way Korn feebly attempted to do so on ‘Path of Totality’. There isn’t a song on here as good as “Monolith” from ‘Zion’ but there’s more hooks than most the rest of this list combined nonetheless.
Chthonic are for Asia what Sepultura and Max Cavalera were for South America – a metal band with enough confidence and cultural awareness to seamlessly incorporate their native sounds into awesome metal. Bu’ Tik is Chthonic’s Arise – fully realized, mature, infinitely listenable, and heavy. This might be the most important metal album of the year.
Listen: “Supreme Pain for the Tyrant”
Perhaps the most difficult thing to do in metal nowadays is to put out a great death metal album. Arsis have done just that with ‘Unwelcome’. Song after song bring out the best of James Malone’s technical proficiency and signature songwriting style – fast, brutal, and hooky as hell. From the brutal title track to one of the best metal songs of the year (“Scornstar”) Arsis prove their genre is anything but burnt earth.
Is a band allowed to fully come into its own fifteen years into its career? Most metal greats at 15 years are touring their past glories and releasing uninspired albums to fans with waning interest in new material. DEP are instead releasing ‘One of Us’, an album so frenetic and so ambitious it sounds like a band fifteen years younger, yet so fully realized it could only come from a band with old scars.
Listen: “When I Lost My Bet”
Earth Rocker feels like a reunion record. After a decade of exploring the blues and the limits of my patience, Clutch have returned with their best album since Clutch. On Earth Rocker, Neil Fallon and company lay claim to a sound they had mastered from their Impetus demo, and no one else has been able to touch while they’ve been… gone doing whatever they’ve been doing since Pure Rock Fury.
Listen: “Earth Rocker”
Ireland’s Altar of Plagues are as steeped in Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine as they are in Enslaved. Or, at least, they were. Teethed Glory and Injury is AoP’s swan song, a criminal act considering the combination of excellence and promise in songs like “God Alone” and “A Remedy and a Fever.” Excellent songwriting meets terrifying atmospheres – it’s the most frightening album of the year.
Listen: “God Alone”
If there was any doubt Peter Gabriel’s Genesis is the less commercially successful but more important version of the prog group, let Karnivool’s Asymmetry erase that. Proggier than your creepy, lonely uncle’s LP collection, Karnivool are more adept at their craft, there is nothing forced in their delivery. 7/16 time signatures feel natural, and potentially pop. And damn, that bass sound…
Listen: “We Are”
You’ve heard “Clarity” and no, there isn’t a better song on the album – but there doesn’t have to be.Volition is head-spinning insanity – unattached melodies, disconnected riffs, chaos somehow contained as a metal blender tears it to pieces again. There is a half-life on Volition, making repeated listening energy drink-requisite and challenging, but it’s a hell of a half-life.
Meir is a perfect metal album. Their oft-lauded blend of black metal and punk feels like a natural progression for both genres, but only in Kvelertak’s hands. On Meir, the six-piece brings the rock (“Bruane Brenn,” “Spring Fra Livet”) and prove their debut was not only no fluke but the debut of a band poised to do something truly monumental.
The kings of grindcore must have been unsure their legacy was being properly preserved. They returned to us with the best metal album, not only of this year, but of this century. To call this a “triumphant return” is to underrepresent what Carcass have truly accomplished – they have released an album deserving to sit beside Master of Puppets, Reign in Blood, and Vulgar Display of Power as required of every metal fan’s collection and as a defining moment for the genre. “Sounds like it fits between Necroticism and Heartwork,” they say. No it doesn’t. It sounds like the chick you had the crush on in high school showed up to the reunion hotter than anything you’ve seen before, barely dressed, and desperate to fuck your brains out.
Listen: “Captive Bolt Pistol”
The best albums of the year are, by definition, subjective, and never seem to satisfy all of the aspects of any one listener — hell, most of the time it doesn’t even satisfy me totally. There are albums I forgot, missed entirely in the first place, and others that stuck that probably shouldn’t, based on my own personal preference for that band’s body of work (basically, being a fanboy). That being said, I am comfortable with the list I have compiled due to the bands’ presences in my mind, and in my iPod. Read ’em and troll.
Referencing my opener, BDM is one of those bands who strike a chord in my black heart not just because of their music, but also because of their place in my relationship with metal. After some line-up changes, their future seemed questionable, but they’ve turned expectations on their head with each record. Everblack is a great example of how their formula still works, adapting the vocal style slightly while never losing the overall intensity of the songwriting.
Listen: “Into the Everblack”
Something of an oddity, Shining did something not many of the bands on this list were able to: they created a listenable record for people other than metalheads.Catchy song structures, memorable guitar riffs and more-than-palatable form ensures that one will listen past the single, and the rest of the album drives past their jazz roots into strange regions of metal not explored by most bands. This album exemplifies just what this band should keep doing.
Listen: “The One Inside”
An album that I truly thought could fall flat, Asymmetry stood up as this band’s best. I will admit, this is not really a metal album — though it leans in the right direction with heavy bass runs and tepid crunchiness from time to time, overall, it’s too pretty to be metal. Set that aside, and it is one of the most enjoyable listens of the year, and should be on your to-do list over the holidays if you missed it.
Listen: “We Are”
An album that I almost missed, Unwelcome consumed my listening just before Summer this year. Granted, I was probably just crushing on James Malone, but since the 2008 release of We are the Nightmare, I would be a fan of this band even if Arsis took a shit on the hood of my car and called it an EP. I know I was a little late to the party and diehards tend to lean toward the early incarnations of the band, but this record contains their greatest work (other than the Corey Hart cover, which is still kind of awesome).
If no other redeeming qualities could be found, the fact that they utilized the next big metal instrument, the banjo, in their arrangement would make Revocation’s eponymous release a contender in my book. Revocation is the best band no one will ever know — they have never been able to break through to a mainstream audience, and not for a lack of work. Revocation will tour with you Mom if they could, because they live and breathe performing. The records expose the skeleton of the band, but watching them pull it off in front of your face will make you wanna go to every show they play.
Listen: “The Grip Tightens”
My first collision with this band came unexpectedly during SXSW this year, right when their debut album had been released. Call of the Void didn’t even blip the radar at first, but then I happened upon their show atop a weird club I had never been to in this town — literally on top of the club mind you — and they were mesmerizing. The next day this album hit my ears, and I couldn’t stop listening. Brutal, pointed, noisy attacks shoved into short intense bursts of rage, Dragged Down a Dead End Path better be a phenomenal beginning as they grow into what they’ve already achieved.
Listen: “Napalm Lungs”
If you don’t know, don’t ask, go get it and figure it out.
Listen: “Primitive Fear”
Hard to believe it has only been a decade since this band formed. Skeletonwitch have found some way to keep getting better with every single album. It sounds cliché, but honestly, Beyond the Permafrost was going to be the best album this band could possibly release, but then somehow three albums later, the Garnett brothers have assembled finest collections of brutality yet. I will also admit that some of their song writing traps have overused throughout their lifespan, but it’s still better than 99% of the crap in the melodic death metal genre.
Listen: “Serpents Unleashed”
Time for a no-brainer! The Dillinger Escape Plan continue to impress not only, of course, with their live performances, but with their ability to morph their writing style and mature without completely destroying what they are known for creating. It doesn’t hurt that so many of their songs have had such a varied sound. On One of Us Is the Killer, Puciato’s voice acts like a guardian, spitting vocals that sometimes feel erudite and at other times feel simplistic, and Weinman’s guitar always leaves you questioning what planet you ‘re from. The combination signals another in a long line of awesome DEP albums.
Listen: “One of Us is the Killer”
I have had debates about this band — whether or not they are legit, or should even be given the time of day let alone a dime of my money. But I gladly forked over the dough for their new album. In fact, I have invested more cash in this band than any other in the last five years because I love what they do. Noisy and abrasive, but also bouncy and singable, Nails possesses what many of the band of their subgenre style lack — the ability to write a good hook. You will hear plenty of well-balanced bands, but none of them can do what Nails do: incorporate simple punk and hardcore structure into decimating screams and expressions.
Listen: Abandon All Life
The follow-up to one of the best albums of the last decade doesn’t quite live up to expectations; no matter how great it actually is, I unfortunately built it up in my mind as something better than it ultimately turned out. Crazy thing, mediocre Kvelertak is better than most of the other metal albums released in 2013. Even if they never quite achieve the extreme catchiness of certain songs from their debut (“Mjod,” “Ulvetid,” etc.) Meir is still an incredible representation of the impressive abilities of this band.
Vertikal was one of the first albums I listened to in 2013, and I made sure to mark the time with it. On Vertikal, Cult of Luna have allowed exactly the right amount of time for every single song on the record. Whether it’s a forty-five second interlude or the nineteen-minutes-plus opus “Vicarious Redemption,” no song ends before its entire thought process is complete. Oddly enough, the Vertikal II EP that came out later in the year was, in my opinion, terribly unnecessary. Although, according to the band, these two albums were recorded during the same sessions, I could immediately tell why they left the songs on the EP off the original album. If they hadn’t, Vertikal might not have made the top 5.
With the 2007 release of From Beale Street to Oblivion happened, it seemed that Clutch had decided to change their sound, stepping away from the heavier roots that brought them to many a metal audience. They were taking some major chances — but luckily, the pieces all fit. (Clutch’s brand of heavy rock always possessed a certain blues inspired feel, just with less harmonica and keys.) Strange Cousins From the West began to drift back toward the rock side, but Earth Rocker take it to a new level. Incredibly catchy songs, heavy duty rock attacks, some of my favorite lyrics and small, subtle touches make this not only one of my favorite albums of the year, but also one of the best in the entire Clutch catalog.
Listen: Earth Rocker
Whether or not this album was going to turn out this well almost didn’t matter when you take in to account the way it was created. With a successful crowd-funding campaign under their belt, PTH were able to employ one of metal’s best drummers, Lamb of God’s Chris Adler, and take their time and shop around for a label and retain ownership of their music, basically creating a new model for how you can do this thing we call metal. Luckily, not only did we get a brand new wheel, but the music turned out phenomenal as well. Not sure if not having pressure made a difference, but Volition sounds comfortable, clean, and overall, Protest the Hero’s finest hour. It was difficult to place it at number two, but we have to have winners and losers.
There are not proper adjectives to describe how much I think this album changes the game, not only for Carcass, but for all those people who think there is nothing new going on. Granted, this record picks up right where they left off back in 1996, but Carcass not only remained true to their sound, they grew in a way that did not destroy all that had come before. Since I first listened to Surgical Steel I said it was the best of the year, and it might just be part of my fanboy history of with Carcass, but I have not listened to anything as much as this record this year. And probably won’t in 2014 either… but we’ll see!
Listen: “Surgical Steel”