Kip Wingerschmidt’s Fifteen Sexiest Albums of 2013
I keep asking Vince whether there are simply more great releases this year than usual or if I’m just paying more attention. He thinks the latter but I disagree — for the first time in my many years of making these lists, I actually struggled with who to exclude this year, leaving a bigger list of worthy runners-up than ever before. But decisions must be made, and here you have it. Feel free to tell me how very wrong I am in the comments below (as if you needed an invitation).
I’m going back to bed. Wake me up in 2014.
Picking up the sludge-gaze mantle that ISIS laid down a few years ago, seven-member’d Swedish post-metalizers CoL came back strong this year with not one but TWO releases: the magnificent, moody full-length Vertikal, and a half-boring companion EP aptly entitled Vertikal II. The full-length is lush, dense material with the murky vicissitude of night swimming in quicksand. Nice to see these guys resuming their journey…
Leave it to a Norwegian band to remind me how much I miss breakdowns. As Benea Reach did on its spectacular two previous albums, Alleviat and Monument Binothean, deep grooving fury is well contrasted by rich melodies and it’s difficult to NOT bop your head when the shit kicks off. Bust out the Acquavit and invite over some tweens!
13. Whores — Clean (Brutal Panda)
I enjoyed this band’s first EP Ruiner just fine, but never quite saw it as the noise-rock saviour-release so many critics and fans claimed it to be. The second time around, the hype has cleared way for a solid (allbeit small) collection of nasty, baddass songs that conjure the Helmet of yesteryear and fuse it with an Unsane-level of grime and attitude. When guitarist-vocalist Christian Lembach screams “I hope this breaks your heart” you can tell he really means it, and whaddya know? Mission accomplished.
Meatier than a deep dish pizza, this Chicago band’s sophomore album will attack all your organs and simultaneously give you heartburn, gas and crabs — in the best possible way. Czar manage to make icy cool genre elements sing with fire as sprawling snowy soundscapes are infused with purity and heart. Kind of like drinking a peaty single-malt scotch while ice fishing. Wrap yourself up in a blanket by the fire and check out the band’s unique sonic assault while the kiddies go sledding with Satan in the blizzard.
East Of The Wall continue to do the impossible, and we continue to love them for it. Still the smarterest thing to come out of New Jersey since ever, EOTW truly astound me every time I see them live; no matter how many times I may have heard one of the band’s songs, there is always something new to be found. My jaw consistently drops in awe of the triple guitar attack, meaty bass, sharply contrasting clean/heavy vocals, and Bill Bruford-esque drumming. Here’s hoping 2014 is the year when these guys expand their fanbase to the nth degree and take over the progressive metal-sphere…
Listen: Redaction Artifacts
Wait a second — you can make black metal happy? Why the fuck hasn’t anyone done this as well before? Leave it to a band from San Francisco to comfortably push the genre envelope further than we expected and create shimmering sounds that you could probably pull off blasting at the beach. Well maybe that’s a bit of a stretch but somehow Winter’s favorite genre got a Summer Jam update, to dizzyingly bubblegum results. Somebody toss me a Sunkist!
If you really want to mess with your neighbor…blast The Dillinger Escape Plan. If you really want to bend space and time in a spazzcore context…blast The Dillinger Escape Plan. If you really want to woo that special lady you just met…don’t blast The Dillinger Escape Plan. Unless that particular lady is out of her fucking mind, and you’re not fearful of getting cut in the bedroom. Slightly more more insane than Jersey Shore, DEP’s latest album takes the band’s mad-math approach and opens it up even further, as it has cumulatively done so on the last couple outings to remarkably emotional results – when muscleman Puciato favors straightforward singing in lieu of his trademark manic yelp, it’s difficult not to want more of this brooding, beautiful gentle giant shiz. Where will they go next?
Listen: One Of Us Is The Killer
Well, your deadbeat uncle would probably sound like The Beatles meets Black Sabbath too if he dropped so much goddamn acid! This reclusive Cambridge (UK) outfit struck psychedelic-stoner gold in the Spring with its third album Mind Control, an earthy, fuzz-friendly, classic-rock-meets-doom collection of groovy tunes that frankly feels a bit like tripping in the 1969 sunshine. This is retro done right; with an organic vibe that fits in just as easily today as it would have forty years ago, UA&tDs have created a deliberate ode to yesteryear that gets a little tedious by the end but comes out mighty strong as a vinyl-friendly, old school-sounding odyssey of hallucinatory jams. Looking forward to experiencing this band live if they’d ever care to come stateside, AHEM…
Listen: Mind Control
Surprisingly, most of the time jazzy progressive instrumetal irks me. Something about the super-sleek subgenre usually strikes me as overly sterile or disingenuous, as if the flashiness of the playing overshadows any level of real emotion or forward-thinking compositional elements (as opposed to pure wankery). But Exivious manage to transcend this dilemma, and truly skate the line between fusion and metal without sacrificing the creativity and heart one might expect from such a fusing of genres (even though said fusing is subtle, for the most part). Liminal has plenty of unbelievable virtuosic moments, but the band thankfully roots its collectively astounding instrument skills in a consistent level of passion. The year’s best instrumetal by far.
Almost out of nowhere, Anciients has ascended several rungs on the metal-hierarchy ladder all of a sudden. From opening stints on Death To All, Lamb of God/Decapitated, and Tesseract/Scale the Summit tours this year, to slots on the upcoming Sepultura tour and Roadburn 2014, it seems nothing can slow down this runaway freight train. And for good reason: Heart of Oak is a rich, multifaceted album that offers plentiful morsels of progressively rocking jamband metal. Emphasis on the prog — save for a single one minute acoustic interlude, every song on this album is over six minutes long. If the band can incorporate more of the dazzling Allmans-inspiration they display on album closer “For Lisa” and progress towards a comfortably concise approach to songwriting, there will be no stopping it. Here’s hoping Anciients can effectively avoid the sophomore slump and keep rising.
Listen: “Raise The Sun”
What can you say about death metal that is clearly from another planet? Luc Lemay (and new cohorts Kevin Hufnagel & Colin Marston from Dysrhythmia and John Longstreth from Origin) somehow broke the sound barrier and the speed of light at the same time. Shit is so ridonk that the median song on the album is actually a rousing dramatic classical piece that sounds like armies about to go to war and fair maidens crying back at home. But that’s not to say that there aren’t abundant entries of vibrant, inventive br00tality throughout. It may have taken twelve years for this album to see the light of day but thankfully it was well worth the wait.
Listen: Colored Sands
Our delightful German overlords are back once again with more deliciously hooky progressive metal wrapped up in the headiest themes you can possibly imagine. Mastermind Robin Staps really knows how to blend a fiercely intellectual concept with supremely baddass riffage, and package it in a way that makes the music palatable in an intriguing and largely accessible way. Vocalist Loic Rossetti does another magnificent job keeping up with the rest of the band and grounding the songs in delirious melody. It is bittersweet to see guitarist Jona Nido and powerhouse drummer Luc Hess departing the band after its current tour, but with Staps at the helm I am confident that this exciting collective will bounce back stronger than ever and keep on fighting the good fight.
As a longtime fan of this band, I was beyond relieved to hear Habitual Levitations (Instilling Words With Tones) and remind myself that the journey has all been well worth it. Hearing this group evolve has been a thrilling process, and for me, this album brings it all together. The ‘naut’s grooves have never sounded so balanced between buttery laid-back-ness and astonishingly complex mathematical runs; and the “heavy-not-aggressive” clean vocals continue their evolution to bring the deepest emotive deluge yet. Plus Danny Walker’s drumming is a treat every time; homeboy makes it seem so easy, even in the most advanced musical moments. Be down.
Listen: “Sore Sight For Eyes”
It is so sad that I didn’t truly get into this band until this album; difficult to remember what life was like before ASG had infiltrated my mind and heart though. Picking up right where its amazing prior album Win Us Over left off, this Southern-fried outfit — to my ears — sound like almost the perfect crossover band: Jason Shi’s soaring melodic vocals avoid cheesiness in favor of rich hooks, and when the dude screams you will most definitely take notice. The guitarmonies/dual riffage attack is the best guitar playing of the year, and the rhythm section never falters as a rock-solid support system. I could happily listen to Blood Drive a hundred thousand more times in a row. Literally.
I have been a fan of emo-core mainstays Norma Jean for years (Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child forever), and this year saw the band continuing the return to form it began a couple of years ago (with Meridional) with flying colors. New album Wrongdoers strikes so many chords (no pun intended) of a broad spectrum and could rouse Marilyn herself out of the grave with its phenomenal blend of melody and might. NJ can flip on a dime from throaty, abrasive — yet supremely, deliciously riff-heavy — hardcore to dense, hook-laden melodic passages that could almost find their way onto popular radio, if such a thing still really existed or mattered. But it’s when the band finds the balance between these realms that they truly shine. And it’s all done in such a matter-of-fact, by-the-way kind of stylistic vibe — jerky stops to end songs, casual buzzing/feedback to start songs, one break in the middle of a rocking jam to simply cough — we are reminded time and time again that these are merely mortals making this music. Furthermore, I’m continually struck by the rawness/grit of so many of the guitar tones; unsurprising really, considering how dirty Jesus himself was. Did I just say that? Holy shit. Religiosity aside, this is an amazing band that deserves your ears and, if you grant them that privilege, will command your attention unflinchingly.
2013 ALBUM OF THE YEAR TO GET STONED TO:
The contemporary stoner rock power trio to play us off into the apocalypse, Earthless rip and shred and jaaaaaammmmm for days with ever really sounding too noodly — an unbelievable feat in and of itself. Isaiah Mitchell is the guitarist we all wish we were, riding that strat to freedom over and over again while fiery rhythm section Mario Rubalcaba and Mike Eginton hold down the fort with the sturdiness of the Great Wall of China and the wirey bend of my step-uncle’s coke habit. Smoke two joints to the dome and melt into that couch while Earthless takes you for a proverbial ride…
Listen: “From The Ages”