Another year has come and gone. Music was had and enjoyed by all. Some of it ruled. Some of it sucked. Some of it was okay. What follows is the opinion of one writer fortunate enough to broadcast his opinions on a site that cares about it.
So here you go.
BRING FORTH THE NUMERICALLY CATALOGED ORGANIZATION OF EXCEPTIONAL MUSICS.
20. Flatbush ZOMBiES – BetterOffDEAD
We shall begin with something decidedly not-metal, yet still hard hitting and aggressive. Flatbush ZOMBiES are a New York, New York hip-hop trio that are part of the burgeoning East Coast scene Beast Coast, that also sees groups acts such as Joey Bada$$ and The Underachievers, both of whom also released stellar mixtapes this year. Great flow and killer beats are abound on this mixtape, with each three members of the group with widely different voices and styles, which keeps everything interesting. As with all mixtapes, it is free, and you can download this here.
19. Rotting Christ – Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy
While Rotting Christ are known for their signature black metal style, they made a decidedly different brand of record in Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy. It blurs the line between genres, deftly switching between black metal, melodic death, punk, and balls-to-the-wall rock. It’s the best record on this list for instilling a primal feeling within you; it makes you stomp your feet on the ground and raise your fists in the air.
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18. Agrimonia – Rites of Separation
Primarily a punk record, but able to mix melodic death, post-rock, and black metal influences, Swedish supergroup Agrimonia have created a dense record that oozes emotion and feeling. Many of the riffs are incredibly melodic and very easily shifted from one to another. It’s a fabulous showcase on how a relatively stagnating genre can feel new again with some inspired songwriting.
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17. NAILS – Abandon All Life
Pure hate. This is the best way to describe the sophomore effort from Californian band NAILS. This four-piece just keep coming after you with unforgiving riff after unforgiving riff, fleshed out with stellar production by prolific producer Kurt Ballou. It also provides an aggressively superior vocal performance by Todd Jones.
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16. Carcass – Surgical Steel
Perhaps the most anticipated metal record this year, Carcass did not disappoint with their first album since the universally panned Swansong, which was released 17 years ago. Featuring a super melodic and vicious guitar performance by Bill Steer, as well as Jeff Walker’s charismatic vocal performance, this record is catchy, powerful, and an extremely worthy addition to Carcass’ legendary discography.
15. Deafheaven – Sunbather
Deafheaven had a truly monumental task trying to follow up their debut LP Roads to Judah, but they managed to do that by releasing Sunbather, a record that can hardly be considered black metal, but can hardly be considered anything else. This may end up being the go-to gateway LP for people looking to get into black metal and, given time, may very well influence the sound of black metal itself.
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14. Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen
Legendary musician Ihsahn continued his success by releasing Das Seelenbrechen, his 3rd album in 4 years. Over the 50 minute runtime, he deftly switches from progressive rock, dark pop, fusion, and avant-garde, channeling the free-form aesthetic of Kayo Dot on “Tacit 2“.
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13. Gorguts – Colored Sands
Along with Carcass, Gorguts reunited with an all-star lineup featuring constant member Luc Lemay, John Longstreth (Origin), Colin Marston (Krallice), and Kevin Hufnagel (Vaura). What they delivered can be arguably considered their best album. It is a claustrophobic, dynamic, progressive death metal masterpiece that rewards multiple listens.
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12. Germ – Grief
Germ is the solo project of one Tim Yatras, who worked with D. on Woods of Desolation on my all-time favorite black metal record Torn Beyond Reason. On this record, his second, he exudes emotion and feeling with his beautiful melodies, often major-keyed, harrowing scream, and electronic interludes. A beautiful release.
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11. R.A. the Rugged Man – Legends Never Die
Long Island rapper R.A. The Rugged Man released his sophomore album this year, his first in 9 years. R.A. astounds on Legends Never Die with his incredible wordplay and fast technical flow, and some often hilarious lyrics (the top-tier self-diss track “Shoot Me in the Head“). The album also features some killer guest spots by notable hip-hop artists such as Talib Kweli, Tech N9ne, and Brother Ali, among others.
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10. Cult of Fire – मृत्यु का तापसी अनुध्यान
Featuring the former drummer of Lykathea Aflame, Prague’s Cult of Fire have managed to create a very interesting and well-blended mix of middle-eastern influences and black metal with मृत्यु का तापसी अनुध्यान, which means “Ascetic Meditations of Death”. It’s well-produced, doesn’t overstay it’s welcome (it’s only 48 minutes over eight tracks, which is relatively short for this style), and is overall extremely well-written, possessing the ability to switch between lush, Deafheaven-esque soundscapes to intense, relatively traditional black metal passages without any form of hiccup.
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9. The Ocean – Pelagial
With Pelagial, The Ocean fully realizes their potential as an art-metal band, with a overarching storyline, using the human mind as a metaphor for the sea, impeccable production from Jens Bogren, and fabulous vocals from Loic Rosetti. The songwriting is impeccable, with many repeating melodic passages. There isn’t much to fault with this record; it’s just exceptional.
8. Seidr – Ginnungagap
“In Norse mythology, Ginnungagap (“mighty gap”) was the vast, primordial void that existed prior to the creation of the manifest universe”, according to Wikipedia. And when listening to Louisville, Kentucky doom metal band Seidr’s masterpiece of the same name, you feel that you are in that vast, primordial void. Beautiful soundscapes, lush reverb, and occasionally overwhelming brutality overtake you on this double-CD release, which features Panopticon‘s Austin Ludd (who released an exceptional split with Vestiges that you should also check out). A masterwork.
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7. Death Grips – Government Plates
While I do miss the extreme hip-hop sound that put Death Grips on the map, I have absolutely no problem with them experimenting with different styles with Government Plates. With their new, abrasive release, the band is as esoteric as ever. MC Ride comes off as a eccentric old hermit and Zach Hill is as absurd as ever, but this record belongs to Flatlander, and his unbelievable way with melodies, beats, and loops, using MC Ride’s vocals as loops for a good portion of this release. Enjoyed best loud.
6. Submotion Orchestra – 1968
After releasing a truly stellar remix album last year, electronica group Submotion Orchestra have released five new original tracks with their EP 1968. Featuring extremely smooth beats with some exceptional trumpet work, the real star of the show is Ruby Wood and her incredibly smooth, low key vocals. The album just oozes a lounge feeling, even with the drive of the low end. Catchy and memorable, it ranks as the best EP released this year.
5. CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe
When you hear the opening hums of vocalist Lauren Mayberry in opener “The Mother We Share”, you know you have a particularly special synth-pop album. CHVRCHES‘ debut is filled with beautiful synths and catchy hooks. The album has different atmospheres, and can go from sugar-sweet (“Lungs“) to incredibly dark (“Science/Visions“). Truly impeccable for a debut.
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4. Inquisition – Obscure Verses For the Multiverse
It’s only right that Inquisition‘s debut for Season of Mist. the biggest label they’ve been one, is their best record. Infectious riffs and unbelievable songwriting prowess spearhead the duo’s sixth full-length, and it creates an atmosphere that is nearly unmatched by any black metal record released in the past five years. Read my review of this truly phenomenal record here.
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3. Ayreon – The Theory of Everything
Arjen Anthony Lucassen returned this year as Ayreon after a very successful solo effort last year. His first Ayreon record in five years, Arjen brought in a host of amazing vocal talent, such as Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), JB (Grand Magus), Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil) and John Wetton (Asia). With a story following a mathematical savant’s struggle to cope with life and a father who is trying to find the titular theory, the album’s story is as engrossing as it’s music, which is immensely powerful. Talent runs through this albums veins, and it absolutely does not go to waste. It’s as good as a progressive rock opera gets.
2. The Ruins of Beverast – Blood Vaults (The Blazing Gospel of Heinrich Kramer)
Incredibly chilling. Suffocatingly huge. Strangely inviting, yet challenging. There is a lot to dissect in Alexander von Meilenwald’s (Nagelfar) sprawling 79 minute epic. Doom, black metal, post-black; all of this is present with dreary gothic overtones. But what is truly present is a true love for one’s work. Meilenwald clearly labored over each song as if it was it’s own album, making sure each note had an emotional impact, whether that emotion was a chill or a release. What results of this obsessive attention to detail is a metal album that is truly unmatched.
1. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels
El-P and Killer Mike, who both released unbelievable records last year, formed an alliance to create the best record of this year. Between El-P’s absurd flow and veiled lyrics and Killer Mike’s aggressive, in-your-face delivery, The duo absolutely murder nine tracks and create a perfect synchronization between one another. And it’s free on Fool’s Gold Record’s website, so get it and get it now.
Overall, 2013 was 10/10 would bang again.