Excretakano’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2013
In creating a year-end best-of list, I found myself making a distinction between albums that were objectively high quality and those that connected with me at a more personal level. It’s hard to deny the massive appeal of the ever-growing Skeletonwitch or the thunderous Revocation, but in the end such giants of core-values heavy metal fell to the soul-penetration achieved by the following records. I also chose to eliminate a few gorgeous but ultimately non-metallic additions to my 2013 playlist. With so much incredible break-out brilliance and return-to-form perfection filling the past twelve months, these lists cut deep enough to score bone. No sense putting it off any longer. Let the heart-rending commence!
A music writer colleague of mine was fishing around earlier this year for reviews of this record by his friends in in Missouri’s (misery’s?) Fister. I’m glad he hit me up. Everyone deserves a good brow-beating, and Fister deliver by the shit-ton. I could mention acidic sludge-doom with the most painful vocals this side of a barbed-wire-wrapped swine shriek, but that description hardly covers the bases. There’s genuine musicality buried in all the torture-friendly sonics, whether in the form of a downcast piano interlude or a damaged blues solo. Ignore the name. Experience the power of Fister.
How did this get here? Sure I like black metal, but nothing this orthodox, this brittle, belongs on a year’s best list in 2013. Now where did these come from? What can I possibly do with a bread knife and a beer stein? AMSG’s prime mover, Angelfukk Witchhammer, raised the bar a bit with ear-raping noise and the occasional saxophone, and I just need to be careful so the knife point cleanly opens the whole vein. I know I can direct that ruby stream, can keep from spilling any out of the glass if I just keep my attention on those snake-pit guitar lines and shattered vocal patterns. Now I know why it’s called black metal, everything’s getting so dim, but it’s all for you, Great Lord, just put your twitching lips to the cup and drink, drink, driiiii…
It bothers me that music this claustrophobically subterranean can be made by people who live hundreds of miles apart. Instrumentalist Matron Thorn and vocalist Ascaris, Aevangelist’s desecrated duo, should bunk together in some collapsed catacombs a thousand feet underneath some forgotten aboriginal ruin, and their recordings should only be available via scattered news bulletins about freak Richter spikes and spectacularly rhythmic avalanches. Maybe this is death metal, or maybe it’s some sentient plaque on my brain stem heralding the cosmic approach of the Great Chaos and the final unwinding of this stained universe. Either way, corporeal survival seems unlikely.
Major chord despair is not a country often visited. Musical norms derive from some deeply rooted shared cultural experience, and while we as extreme music orthophobes might wish to upend and shred all tradition, there are just some sonic pairings we expect and others we reject. Sunbather’s blend of grating misanthropy, droopy-browed yearning and outright heart-rocket sky-bursting can be confusing, and some listeners will never accept it. Whatever. Let them have their easily identifiable emotions. We self-consciously complex and misunderstood souls have our Deafheaven.
Listen: “Dream House”
Imagined (and anglicized) conversation between Monolithe mastermind Sylvain Bégot and pal circa 2001:
Bégot: I think I want to tell a story with music.
Pal: Cool! How much music, you think?
Bégot: Four albums ought to do it.
Pal: Wow, that’s ambitious. About how many songs will that be, in total?
Pal: Uh, that doesn’t sound like it’ll take very long. How much time you plan to spend on it?
Bégot: Probably about ten years, give or take.
Pal: For four songs? How long are these things gonna be?
Bégot: About an hour each sound right?
Pal: [walks away shaking head]
Monolithe’s final (for now) hour of doomy decimation is a profoundly beautiful crawl through every universe’s end times scenario. Don’t miss out on the heat death (and rebirth) of us all.
Listen: “Monolithe IV”
A recent survey of the Top 100 Black Metal Albums of All Time conducted by our thoughtful Deci-bros did not include any mention of Alexander von Meilenwald’s Ruins of Beverast. That’s fine. When you’re expected to fellate the Great Old Ones (meaning – in this case – Venom, Bathory, Darkthrone, Burzum, et al) several times over, how can you possibly secrete enough saliva to lube up for third wave heresy? Like its predecessors, Blood Vaults hesitates at the border of black metal and everything that lies beyond. The pure, possessed horror of the vocal processing pairs with fractured religious overtones to imbue the record’s doomed smear with a far weightier character than 98% of the extreme posturing of this year or any other.
Listen: Full Album
Ten years ago, did we think we’d see a year that gave us new Gorguts and new Carcass? What next? New Morbid… Ouch! Ah, never mind. Colored Sands is an apt title: waves of nauseating dissonance swirl over the more grounded rhythmic attack, then the whole dune shifts aside for a shadowy low-end exploration or dramatic piece for (gasp!) string quartet (and not the electric, distorted variety). It’s not an album for all moods; the harsh density requires dedication, but it also rewards those capable of keeping their heads in the game.
Listen: “Colored Sands”
In the crush of metal dabblers on Bandcamp and sprouting-like-weeds boutique labels (many of which are exceptional and worth your time, by the way), as well as the gaggle of mix-n-match supergroup side projects, a certain amount of reliable recognizability goes a long way. Rotting Christ don’t build many new bridges on their 11th album, but they do shore up their most passionate tendencies and pour out performances that absolutely entrance the ravening fan. The broad mythical research that Sakis Tolis put into this record could have produced much more uneven results, but c’mon… It’s the mighty Rotting Christ!
Listen: “In Yumen/Xibalba”
Teethed Glory and Injury reigns as the best WTF album of the year. Altar of Plagues’ latest appears to be descended from a bastardized mix of the northern European black metal masters, industrialisms a la Godflesh, Isis-grade post-metal, and a compositional density any musicology major could be proud of. The 17th listen reveals no more of the band’s motivation than the first, but each sparkling moment is bewitching enough so that the album’s hermeticism hardly matters. I named this a mid-year favorite and assumed I’d have a better handle on it by now. I don’t. But I still love what it does to me.
Listen: “God Alone”
I am not OG. While the knees of tape traders and zine fiends were bound to hit the floor, I remained skeptical. Until I pushed play. Opening salvo “1985” is perfect. A couple punchy grind bits follow it up, then the album stretches out and plays to all of Carcass’s strengths: righteous solos, gritty vocal ambushes out of serrated-teeth-catchy rhythms, leads with tones right out of the serial killer handbook. (What the hell does that mean? Don’t know, but it sounds badass!) I haven’t jammed this hard to a list of numbers (“The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills”) since Deftones dropped White Pony. You know those forgivable moments where every great record is allowed to lose a little steam before picking up momentum again? Yeah, Surgical Steel doesn’t have any of those.
Listen: “Captive Bolt Pistol”
New DEP has, for a few albums now, incurred the exact same initial impact: don’t I have this record already? Not that we couldn’t use another exploded bag of bile in CD form, but we’ve been indulging in fucked machine-shop chords and amped-up lounge melodies for years, right? But then, months down the road, you reach for the DEP album most likely to satisfy and it turns out you’ve (okay, I’ve) grabbed the latest scourge of songs by Weinman and Co. Killer whips by with hit after excellent hit of melody-mashed metallic hardcore. The title lies. All of them are killers.
Listen: “When I Lost My Bet”
Picking at Cult of Luna’s rejection of the attention-challenged with their near-20-minute “Vicarious Redemption” is low hanging fruit, indeed. The best post-metal makes song length debates irrelevant, and Vertikal is the best post-metal to drop in a long time. Beyond quiet-loud, beyond clean-distorted, and quite beyond all expectations, Vertikal delivers a sonically engaging monstrosity that lives up to its conceptual framework (Fritz Lang’s Metropolis). While predecessor Eternal Kingdom sounded like a band resting on reputation and past accomplishments, Vertikal launches a scintillating musical journey that goes a long way toward establishing CoL once and for all as a respectable entity independent of any neatly packaged scene.
Listen: “Passing Through”
Lots of albums with brilliant moments stacked up front tend to stagnate or outright suck as song wears away into song. Not this Swedish knockout. Gorgeous melodies pile up around apocalyptic crust and passages oozing with frayed tension. Some seriously non-metal instruments (piano, pretty synths) play into the emotional sweep without ever sacrificing the core bestial violence bred into every track. Truly epic songs lengths are filled out with consistently compelling movements that always add up to a captivating experience. The vocal performance never approaches the same quality as the rest of the music, but what chance did it have? Do not let this one pass you by.
Whenever a band weaves styles this adeptly, with absolute mastery of every blackened twist, every doomy thrum, every deathly roar and transcendental melody, it’s time to wake up and take note. The focus here is uncanny: four controlled but organic songs, each between 8 and 14 minutes long, every one swelling and climaxing within itself but also building from and supporting its brethren for a single head-spinning experience. To Sail Black Waters rises from the talent and attention of a relatively untried band; here’s to smooth sailing into a rewarding future.
Meteor might be the extreme record I listened to most since interviewing the band back in the spring. I approached it as a Polish grind neophyte. I returned frequently as a convert. In a style that trembles ever on the verge of obsolescence, Antigama find fresh paths for their porous, punishing space grind. Noisy chords, relentless riffs, molecular-bond-shattering drums, gorilla-droid vocals, all in the service of the most enjoyable anxiety-inducing album of the year. Stop reading. Launch yourself into Meteor.
Listen: “Fed by the Feeling”