Man did 2013 pass quickly or what? It feels like it was just last week that I was composing this same list for my albums of 2012. Speaking of which, this year sure does kick last year’s ass all kinds of ways when it comes to the music. In fact, in my experience they were complete polar opposites – 2012 delivered lots of good albums, but few truly great ones, whereas in 2013 I found myself digging way less music quantitatively, but almost everything I did end up liking was just amazing.
Well, scratch that, there probably was just as much good stuff released but I simply didn’t have the time for it. I completely missed a lot of albums that I have a sneaky suspicion would be up my alley (Scale the Summit, Exivious, Havok, Doomriders etc.), and I definitely have a ton that I enjoyed but still haven’t spent much time with. So yeah, let’s begin with those, and then get to the juicy part.
Rosetta – The Anaesthete
Mutoid Man – Helium Head (I mean, it’s Ben fucking Koller)
Persefone – Spiritual Migration
Shade Empire – Omega Arcane
Eyeconoclast – Drones of the Awakening
Pomegranate Tiger – Entities
Rivers of Nihil – The Conscious Seed of Light
And on to the main course!
Psycropsy Unhuman – Unhuman
Youri Raymond (ex-Cryptopsy) took a while to assemble a worthy cast of Canucks, but when the final product is pretty much the most insane death metal release of the year, who cares? Unhuman packs some of the quirkiest riffs this side of Psycroptic, and a better Chalky-esque vocal performance than even Chalky himself offered up this year (on a side note, his work on the new Mephistopheles is also excellent). This album is the soundtrack to a zerg rush, and it is amazing.
Favorite songs: ‘Once Again’, ‘Douces Pensees…’
14. Ulcerate – Vermis
In a year where Gorguts stole the spotlight with their comeback, I still found myself much more captivated by their kiwi compatriots in Ulcerate (to be fair though, neither band deserves the overdone comparison, as both are excellent in their own right). Vermis a record that’s menacing and atrocious in the best way possible. It is also a perfect continuation of the band’s sound, keeping the same aesthetic and style, yet coming off wildly different from its predecessors.
Favorite songs: ‘Clutching Revulsion’, ‘Cessation’
13. KEN Mode – Entrench
I still stand by what I said in my review of Entrench — it is a fantastic album, yet one of the most divisive of the year. Not to say that it’s polarizing or a hate-it/love-it affair; no, I mean literally divisive. This is an album that’s pretty much two EP’s under the same name. And while I appreciate the aesthetic of the slower, atmosphere-driven songs, I’m pretty sure I like the loud, frantic, riff-driven EP better. Either way, I found myself frequently rocking out to both.
Favorite songs: ‘Counter Culture Complex’, ‘Why Don’t You Just Quit?’
12. Hybrid – Angst
Speaking of bonkers death metal, Spain’s Hybrid was definitely a game changer for the “genre” this year. Spicing up the traditional truckload of brutality with frequent jazz motifs, ambiance, and ventures into saxophone and didgeridoo land, Angst makes for one of the most intriguing extreme metal albums of 2013 without sacrificing any of its bile or angst (sorry, had to).
Favorite songs : ‘Cuando el Destino Nos Alcance’ , ‘Flesh Fusion Threshold’
11. The Dillinger Escape Plan – One of Us Is the Killer
I can’t say much about this album other than that it’s a Dillinger Escape Plan album, but that should be quite the statement anyway. This is yet another solid chapter for a band that has consistently kept up a near-perfect balance of thoughtful instrumentation and balls-out insanity. Granted, there is a song or two here that doesn’t offer much, if anything new to the table (‘Magic that I Didn’t Fall Asleep’, I’m looking at you). Still, One of Us is the Killer is ripe with infectious, diversely written songs and the substance to back them up.
Favorite songs: ‘When I Lost My Bet’ , ‘One of Us is The Killer’
10. The Burial – In the Taking of Flesh
In the Taking of Flesh will probably go down as my sleeper hit of 2013. It was only when I stumbled upon a review of it on Metal Injection that I decided to give The Burial a shot. But man am I glad I did. This is one of those albums that you just can’t dump any genre tags onto. It’s just…metal. Sure, it’s technical, it’s progressive, and it’s melodic. And metalcore, and death metal, and thrash, and “modern metal”….you can see where I’m going here – at the end of the day, this is just ripping, kickass metal.
Favorite songs: ‘Wretched Restless Forms’, ‘Thou Knowest’
9. East of the Wall – Redaction Artifacts
I had high hopes set for East of the Wall after 2011’s unbelievably good The Apologist, yet when I got my review copy, I knew better than to judge on first listen. After all, it took a year for that album to grow on me, and that’s one part of why I love it so much now. Alas, even after so many playthroughs, I just cannot connect with Redaction Artifacts in that same way. This is largely due to the worsened production, but also because the songwriting is just not as exciting this time around. Yes, I’m criticizing this album despite putting it on my year-end list and giving it a 4.5/5, but I still liked it more than most albums this year. There are plenty of heart-gripping moments and classic EotW spazz-outs, and it’s so stupidly good that it makes my mind boggle how this band can still be so underrated.
Favorite songs: ‘Obfuscator’s Dye’, ‘Fractal Canopy’
8. Wormed – Exodromos
With Exodromos, 11th dimensional space metallers Wormed managed to not only get back on track after a seven year hiatus, but even one-upped an album that was already considered a niche masterpiece. While Exodromos might be just a tiny bit less inhumanely br00tal than Planisphaerium, its perfectly done production and otherworldly riffs make it light-years more enjoyable and unique. What makes it even better is the album’s immense depth, whether it be the conceptual lyrics, absurd playing, or its sheer density. For me, Exodromos is in a league of its own, as it is the most brutal-yet-sophisticated album I’ve had the pleasure of subjecting myself to all year.
7. Fleshgod Apocalypse – Labyrinth
Labyrinth was a very difficult, yet very important record for Fleshgod Apocalypse to pull off. Coming off of a complete overhaul in style as well as the likely high point of their career, the symphonic metal maestros had a lot to prove on two fronts…and delivered in spades. Although it uses a very similar formula to that of its predecessor Agony, Labyrinth is still distinguishable and every bit a worthy successor as fans could have hoped for. The transition into epic mythological concepts fits the band perfectly, and the entire album is an ideal score to the story it portrays.
Favorite songs: ‘Minotaur (Wrath of Poseidon)’, ‘Under Black Sails’
6. The Black Dahlia Murder – Everblack
I’m not much of an avid melodeath fan, and prior to this Summer, I wasn’t much of a The Black Dahlia Murder fan, either. But Everblack completely won me over. While it might not be as expansive and intricate as some of my other picks, it’s far from simplistic, too, as the musicianship is wholly respectable and makes for one of the more technical albums in the band’s repertoire. And besides, part of its charm lies in how meat’n’potatoes it is – a perfect dose of no-nonsense metal to counterbalance those other said albums. The best thing about Everblack, though, is how easy of a listen it is despite being in murder mode all of the time – the production has just the right amount of polish, the riffs and leads are disgustingly catchy, and the whole damn thing reeks of high-octane energy.
Favorite songs: ‘Every Rope a Noose’, ‘Into the Everblack’
5. The Ocean – Pelagial
This record is just amazing. Its cohesive flow as a single body of art is unrivaled by any album of 2013, as well as any album in The Ocean‘s back catalog. The production, songwriting, lyrical concept, and instrumentation are all handled beautifully. Loic’s vocals feel more passionate than ever, and the group’s patented brand of sludge, prog, and post-metal is honed to perfection. Each song has a distinct, vivid identity despite being lumped into movements of the same name, or featuring sections that reappear throughout multiple songs. Pelagial is the perfect representation of The Ocean – a sprawling progressive masterpiece that does justice to the band’s name, and will prove to be their album to beat in the coming years.
Favorite songs: ‘Mesopelagic: Into the Uncanny’, ‘Bathyalpelagic II: The Wish in Dreams’, ‘Hadopelagic II: Let Them Believe”
4. The Safety Fire – Mouth of Swords
Having fallen out of love with Grind the Ocean, I would have almost missed out on The Safety Fire‘s next outing entirely. I was certainly disinterested when the hype train started rolling, but later on I came back to the album and was pleasantly surprised. Whereas its predecessor delivered plenty of awesome moments but was hampered by shaky songwriting, Mouth of Swords is its polar opposite – its greatest strength lies in its consistency. Well, that, and the superb rhythm section, ethereal atmosphere, and what might be the best vocal performance all year long. Overall, this is a huge step up for a band that already did more things right than wrong, and with the enormous talent each of its members possesses, who knows where they’ll go next?
Favorite songs: ‘Yellowism’ (my video of the year, too!), ‘Glass Crush’, ‘Wise Hands’
3. Intronaut – Habitual Levitations (Instilling Words with Tones)
And here’s a band that simply cannot do anything wrong. To me, Intronaut are the epitome of what progressive should be, and one of the most interesting bands in the genre. Their sound always shifts from one release to the next yet never loses its identity, nor its brilliance. That trend continues with Habitual Levitations. In fact, at times I feel like this album is barely metal…but then again it also undeniably is. Surely there are other albums/bands that do this (see #4), but none do it as uniquely as Intronaut. It’s not just that Habitual Levitations is as empowering as it is soothing, or as intelligent as it is approachable, but it’s how unconventionally this balance is achieved. Take leading single ‘Milk Leg’, for example, which takes an approach to song structure that is the exact opposite of most modern prog epics centered around a crushing climax – and then ‘Eventual’ comes up and sets a clinic on how to outdo all said epics while barely raising its tempo. Its moments like these that prove Intronaut is unpredictability and innovation at its finest.
Favorite songs: ‘Milk Leg’, ‘Killing Birds with Stones’, ‘The Way Down’
2. Protest the Hero – Volition
Though another feels-heavy record, Volition takes a much different route to inspiring emotional reactions than most of its competitors do. There are sparse moments of serenity on here indeed (the outros on ‘Mist’ and ‘Plato’s Tripartite’ are just sublime), but what really generates the feels is the impossibly positive and joyous vibe. Still, this isn’t the album’s only drawing point, because holy fucking shit you guys, every member’s performance here is incredible! I’m not even talking about technicality, even if it’s present in abundance. Every element of the music just hits that sweet spot of musical goodness, from Rody’s absolutely stellar vocals to the ridiculous guitar work of Luke Hoskin and Tim Millar. The songwriting is amazing, too – each song has a handful of sections that could pass as “dat moment”, but the way they’re all tied up makes staying along for the ride just as enjoyable. In short, I freaking love Volition, and judging by the shockwaves it has sent across the community (hey, not every record makes an entire economic model trendy), a lot of other people love it, too. The more, the merrier!
Favorite songs: ‘Drumhead Trial’, ‘Animal Bones’, ‘Plato’s Tripartite’
1. Revocation – Revocation
This should hardly come as a surprise to anyone that’s even slightly acquainted with my musical taste. Revocation have been my favorite metal band for the past three years, and I was sure Revocation would be my #1 album of 2013 since pretty much the first time I heard it. I already wrote a review for it that exceeds Heavy Blog’s own “suggested” word limit, but I could still go on for days how Revocation are simply unmatched in today’s metal scene. Revocation is everything a metalhead (or any music fan really) could ask for and so much more: progressive, catchy, dynamic, emotional, energetic, heavy, fun, epic…the list goes on. It might come a single hair short of matching 2011’s Chaos of Forms, but it is somehow still an improvement over it. Every song on this album gets my adrenaline through the roof even after dozens upon dozens of listens. To top it off, I saw the band live for the first time a couple of months ago, which was, needless to say, one of my highlights of the year and, even though it lasted a measly half-hour, an experience I’ll remember my entire life.
Favorite songs: ‘Spastic’, ‘Numbing Agents’, ‘The Gift of Guilt’, ‘Arch Fiend’…all of them really.
So there you have it! Overall, 2013 was an amazing year for metal. But it was good for other music too! Like last year, I figured I’d talk separately about the non-metal albums, although this time around I did a proper list of my top five records. I didn’t rank them numerically so as to avoid confusion with the metal list, but they are pretty much ordered from least to most favorite.
Top 5 non-metal albums of 2013:
Shpongle – Museum of Consciousness
Shpongle is a UK-based psychedelic trance/ambient duo consisting of Simon Posford and Raja Ram, both of whom enjoy legendary status in the realm of trance music. Their early albums under this name, however, transcended the tropes of the genre and electronic music as a whole. Their second album in particular, Tales of the Inexpressible, is among my favorite music albums of all time, and puts pretty much any metal album to shame in terms of its ambition and grandeur. Museum of Consciousness, on the other hand, leans a bit more towards standard trance, but that’s completely fine as it still ended up being my favorite electronic album of 2013.
Favorite songs: ‘How The Jellyfish Jumped Up The Mountain’, ‘Brain in a Fishtank’
The Cat Empire – Steal the Light
The Cat Empire is probably one of the most original and exciting bands out there in today’s music scene. Their sound is a melting pot of just about every genre you could think of: folk, latin, jazz, ska, reggae, and world music all blend together seamlessly in a way that’s always innovative yet completely accessible. Think of the theatrical musings and wild genre transitions of Diablo Swing Orchestra meeting the folky, laid-back aesthetic of some singer-songwriter a la Paolo Nutini. Yes, fusion music can often be a total mess, but when it isn’t it’s usually brilliant, and thankfully that’s the case with Steal the Light.
Favorite songs: ‘Sleep Won’t Sleep’, ‘Brighter than Gold’
Foals – Holy Fire
A latecomer to the UK indie rock/post-punk revival, Foals were nonetheless quick to distinguish themselves from the countless bands that achieved commercial success using the same basic template. Their third release, Holy Fire, marks a turn for the more accessible in both lyrics and music, but still has a progressive flair to it and contains some of the best songs the band has ever released. There’s something here for everyone to enjoy: catchy melodies, tasteful playing, varied song structures, and even the occasional heavier section (see ‘Inhaler’).
Favorite songs: ‘Inhaler’, ‘My Number’
The Aristocrats – Culture Clash
It’s hard to deny that The Aristocrats are one of the most talented bands on the planet right now. The progressive rock/jazz fusion trio consists of Marco Minnemann, Guthrie Govan, and Brian Beller, all of whom have endless résumés and have long been regarded as some of the best players on their respective instruments. In fact, the best thing about The Aristocrats is that these guys are at a point in their careers where they have nothing to prove so they are free to compose whatever they think of, which just happens to always be something awesome. Case in point: Culture Clash.
Favorite songs: ‘Louisville Stomp’, ‘Ohhhh Noooo’
Dubioza Kolektiv – Apsurdistan
This Bosnian band might seem obscure, but they’ve grown to be one of the biggest acts here on the Balkans. They play a cross-breed of dub, rock, funk, and Balkan folk, and are notorius for their political-yet-comical lyrics. It seems like a hectic mix, but the music is extremely simple and twice as catchy and energetic. Apsurdistan always puts me in a good mood and makes for a very enjoyable listen. The songs never get tiring and most of them have become staples for me by now. Readers of the site probably won’t understand Dubioza Kolektiv’s appeal, but I think they’re amazing, as is this album.
Favorite songs: ‘Prvi Maj’, ‘Volio BiH’, ‘Kažu’
With that I bid thee adieu. If you happen to lose your merry spirit during the holiday season, just remember that this happened this year!