Full disclosure: I really hate doing these lists. Actually, what I should say is I hate ordering these lists. Throughout the course of the year, these are the albums which have impacted me most, whether it be on an emotional level, intellectual level, or on a just plain enjoyment level. I really can’t say that I think any one of these albums is better than the other, because they’ve each played an equally important role on my impression of music in 2013.
I’ve been doing my best to prepare for this time of year by keeping a running list of albums I’ve enjoyed throughout the year, but unfortunately I can’t put 112 albums on my list. I’ll also admit that the publishing of year end lists on other metal media outlets has forced me to revisit a number of albums over the past few weeks, just to be sure there wasn’t an album I missed or didn’t quite “get”, and has also put an unspoken pressure on me to include albums that other prominent writers have deemed the best of the year. That being said, diversity (or is it variety?) is the spice of life, and one thing I need to realize is that we all as metal journalists have different tastes, and while there may be some overlap with the dreaded year-end lists, it’s not at all required. We are all individuals, our own entities, and one of the many beautiful things about music is the variety of interpretations and impacts it can have on each of us as individuals.
Inevitably, there will be a handful of readers who express their discontent with my list and every other Heavy Blog writers’ list in a threatening manner, and to those people I say: grow up. Make your own damn list, and enjoy it for yourself. I can guarantee you that I won’t agree with everything on your list, but I’m not going to think any less of you because we don’t share the same musical taste. Music is supposed to breed community, not hostility, and we should all just learn to appreciate each others’ individual tastes and have civil conversations about it, and perhaps in the process, experience some of the excitement of discovering a new band that tickles your musical fancy just right.
And thus ends my soapbox on the subject. Now, onto the list!
20. Norma Jean – Wrongdoers
Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child is considered a staple of metalcore, and rightly so. It blew people away when it was released way back in 2002, and honestly, it’s remained my personal favorite Norma Jean album…until now, that is. Wrongdoers is easily the best thing Norma Jean have done in their career as a band, and it sets them up for an even more promising future. They manage to strike a perfect balance between raw guitar riffage, deafening feedback, and beautiful, unforgettable melodies. Simply put, this album does no wrong. (see what I did there?)
19. Fit For An Autopsy – Hellbound
Hoooly crap. Talk about a perfect deathcore record. The first time I listened to Hellbound, I was blown away by the flawless songwriting and absolutely punishing grooves and breakdowns. Will Putney is not only one of the finest producers in modern metal, he’s also one of it’s best composers. It’s no wonder so many bands are enlisting him to fine-tune their own music; the dude has a deep history with hardcore and metal, and he just really gets what works and what doesn’t. This album is also, dare I say, catchy and begs to be sang along to (“So bury me in the back of the fooorest!!”) With Hellbound, Fit For An Autopsy has taken everything great about modern metal and molded a masterfully concentrated cacophony of chaos.
18. Kvelertak – Meir
Yes, I know Meir wasn’t as critically well-received as it’s predecessor, but I still loved it. This, my friends, is what classic rock masters such as Led Zeppelin, The Who and 38 Special would have sounded like had they ever been exposed to black metal. Seriously, this album is just so much fun; it’s full of that good old rock n’ roll boogie that makes classic rock so timeless, and of course, the Kurt Ballou production job and gorgeous John Dyer Baizley artwork makes it all the more appetizing. And even though I have no flippin’ clue what they’re singing about or saying, I still have the urge to shout along.
17. Grave Declaration – When Dying Souls Scream Praise
With so many great black metal albums released this year, many of you fine readers are probably wondering why, of all of them, I included Grave Declaration, a Norwegian band who really isn’t a “trve black” metal band. Well, I’ll tell you why: because this album freaking rules. This entire album reminds me a lot of the Dimmu Borgir classic Death Cult Armageddon, which we can all agree isn’t a bad thing. Lead guitarist, vocalist, and primary songwriter Thor Georg Buer is a black metal prodigy, and despite his personal convictions being totally opposite of all of the black metal greats, he can most certainly keep up with the best of them musically. I’ve only scratched the surface of black metal, and this album helped me to understand the genre a little better.
16. Havok – Unnatural Selection
I have a huge soft spot for good ol’ fashioned thrash, and in this writer’s humble opinion, nobody does it better than Denver’s own Havok. Now, I may be a bit biased because I was born and raised in the Mile High City, but I’ll be damned if this album isn’t an absolute thrashterpiece. I’ll admit, Time Is Up is a little bit better of a record, but I still absolutely adore this album, and it’s impossible for me not to headbang my short little locks of hair every time “I Am The State” or “Worse Than War” comes on. This album perfectly emulates and captures the 80’s Bay Area mentality and spirit of thrash, and for that, it’s one of the best of the year.
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15. Sevendust – Black Out The Sun
Ah, Sevendust. So many “true” metalheads hate these guys, but it’s their loss. Ever since the return of the mighty Clint Lowery, Sevendust has been on fire, and Black Out The Sun holds it’s own weight against their classics. Sevendust know how to groove harder than pretty much EVERYBODY, and I know it’s been said on multiple occasions that all of these djent/ prog bands wouldn’t exist without 7Dust; a fact with which I couldn’t agree more. Morgan Rose continues to cement his status as one of the best drummers in metal history, and Lowery continues to be a musical genius. If you don’t listen to the Dust for fear of damaging your credibility as a metalhead, then it sucks to be you.
14. Wormed – Exodromos
Alien gutturals and interplanetary slams. Need I say more? Xenomorphs would probably tango to the sweet 4/4 grooves of “Stellar Depopulation.”
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13. Everything In Slow Motion – Phoenix
Hands’ Give Me Rest was a masterpiece of an album that left many, including myself, clamoring for more. Unfortunately, shortly after the album was released, Hands called it a day. However, Hands frontman and primary songwriter Shane Ochsner retained a strong urge to write more music, and in turn, Everything In Slow Motion was born from the ashes of Hands. Their debut album, Phoenix, had been a long time coming, and it was well worth the wait. This is a beautiful album full of some of the most powerful songs of the year. Album closer “Proxima” is one of the most moving songs I’ve ever heard; goosebumps run up and down my arms every time I listen to it. Phoenix is full of moments like this. Deeply personal and challenging lyrics from Ochsner add to the power and weight of this record. Essential listening.
12. Killswitch Engage – Disarm the Descent
Killswitch Engage and I have a long history. One of my introductions to metal was by way of The End of Heartache, and I’ve been hooked on them ever since. There’s just something about the way the combine heavy and beautiful that gets me every time and puts a smile on my face. Many were shocked at the departure of Howard Jones, but that was nothing compared to the shock of who would replace him: original vocalist Jesse Leach. What many thought would never happen became a reality, and in turn, Killswitch crafted their best album since what many consider to be their masterwork, Alive or Just Breathing; not surprising, considering it was the last album with Leach on vocals. Disarm the Descent is vintage Killswitch Engage, complete with punishing riffs, beautiful melodies and soaring choruses that will never leave your head.
11. Living Sacrifice – Ghost Thief
“Legendary” is not a term to be thrown around lightly, but in the case of Living Sacrifice, it seems appropriate. These guys single-handedly bridged the gap between Christian and secular metal, and continue to do so without skipping a beat. I’ve always found it funny that some people don’t listen to Christian metal because of it’s convictions, because I listen to and enjoy secular metal all of the time, even though I don’t always agree with their lyrical underpinnings. Whatever, it’s their loss; Ghost Thief stacks up well the rest of Living Sacrifice’s classics, what with it’s undeniable groove and fantastic Slayer-worship. I was beyond excited when Living Sacrifice reunited a few years back, and on top of all of their OTHER classics, Ghost Thief proves they still have a few more in them yet.
10. Hope For The Dying – Aletheia
On some parts of this record (“Through a Nightmare, Darkly” in particular), the Blackwater Park/ Ghost Reveries-era Opeth influence is so palpable, you’d think this might be the record Opeth would have followed Watershed with had they not moved away from their signature progressive death metal sound. Even so, Hope For The Dying are an absolutely fantastic young band from Illinois who deserve your attention. Apart from the aforementioned Opethian leanings, their technical brand of progressive metal is complimented nicely by symphonic elements which really add to the epic-factor of each song. Add in ripping guitar shredding, epic riffs and passionate vocal melodies, and you’ve got yourself one of the sleeper albums of 2013.
9. Last Chance to Reason – Level 3
I listened to this album a few months after it came out, and shame on me for not being able to spend more time with it, because it might be even higher on this list. Level 3 serves as a direct sequel to the video game-themed concept introduced on Level 2, and sees Last Chance to Reason further expanding upon they style the progressed to on that album. Borrowing as much from Cynic as they do Between the Buried and Me, Last Chance to Reason still retain their own sonic signature, and Level 3 is their best work yet; their use of heavy riffage, shred fests, ambience and synthesizers enhance the concept of the album. Unfortunately, shortly after the release of the album, Last Chance to Reason announced they would become a studio-exclusive project, since vocalist Michael Lessard joined fellow progressive metal act The Contortionist as a full-time member, so Level 3 could potentially be their swansong. However, tragedy aside, it would be a heck of an album to go out on, and it’s one of the best of the year.
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8. The Burial – In the Taking of Flesh
THIS FLIPPIN’ BAND. My favorite discovery of 2013, The Burial are a supremely talented tech-death outfit hailing from Champaign, IL, and if you’re a fan of metal at all, then you owe it to yourself to listen to this album and their previous one, Lights and Perfections. The first time I heard In the Taking of Flesh, I was totally floored, and continue to be with each repeat listen. Lead guitarist and vocalist Elisha Mullins wrote every bit of music on this album, making him an absolute musical genius, and the rest of the band are no slouches, either. These guys are masters of their craft, displaying exceptional technical prowess coupled with finely-honed compositional abilities, and it is my sincere hope that more people begin to pay attention to this band.
7. Aether Realm – One Chosen By The Gods
So, I got really, really, really into folk metal this year by way of Wintersun, who are the greatest band ever, and my newfound love for folk metal led me to this awesome band. One listen to One Chosen By The Gods, and I knew it was going high up on my year-end list. Every time I listen to this album, I feel like donning a Viking outfit and charging into battle against an entire army of orcs. Aether Realm is so true to the Finnish schematic for folk metal set forth by Ensiferum and Wintersun that you’d think they were born and raised in the same village as Jari Mäenpää. They even have a disclaimer on their Facebook page stating “WE ARE NOT FROM FINLAND”. The epic Finnish melodies combined with razor-sharp riffing are just perfect, and this album overall really hit the sweet spot for me.
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6. Intronaut – Habitual Levitations (Instilling Words With Tones)
I only started listening to Intronaut last year, and I was extremely disappointed in myself for doing so, because I was depriving myself of one of the very best bands in existence. I can honestly say that since then, I’ve fallen in love with all of their albums, and Habitual Levitations is no different. This album is a masterpiece. Intronaut somehow juxtapose Meshuggah with sludge metal, and the results are outstanding. These guys have come such a long way since Void, and Habitual Levitations is the perfect blend of each of their albums. Make no mistake, this is a band full of virtuosos who understand their instruments better than most people understand their bodies. Danny Walker solidifies himself as the best drummer in modern metal, Sacha Dunable and Dave Timnick give fantastic performances both with their guitar interplay and vocal harmonies, and Joe Lester spruces everything up with his tasteful and jazzy bass playing. “Milk Leg” is one of my absolute favorite songs of the year.
5. Soilwork – The Living Infinite
When Peter Wichers announced he was leaving Soilwork for the second time, I became weary of their upcoming album; after all, Wichers was the primary songwriter for melodeath staples A Predators Portrait and Stabbing the Drama, and the one album they released without him, Sworn to a Great Divide, just wasn’t up to par with the classics in their catalogue. When Soilwork announced that their next album would in fact be a double album, my hopes really dropped, because often times double albums end up being too ambitious for their own good. Turns out, though, I had absolutely nothing to worry about, because in spite of Wichers’ absence, The Living Infinite is, in my humble opinion, Soilwork’s best album to date. Wichers is not an easy member to replace, especially when the bands signature sound was built upon his ideas, but guitarists David Andersson and Sylvain Coudret have proved that they are more than capable of taking over the reigns for the melodeath giants. These songs have been stuck in my head ever since this album came out in February, and I still find myself going back to listen to it, in it’s entirety. That’s saying something, especially for a double album. Vocalist Björn “Speed” Strid has never sounded better, and Dirk Verbeuren gives one of the best drum performances of the year. The Living Infinite is filled to the brim with smart, groovy riffs and unforgettable, timeless melodies, and it is the very definition of an instant classic.
4. Carcass – Surgical Steel
Yes, I know everybody and their mother is putting Surgical Steel on their list, but there’s a reason for that: Carcass is freaking BACK and showing all these new-school cats how it’s done. This album is everything that metal should be and so much more. Half of the metal bands that exist today wouldn’t be here without the genius of Jeff Walker and Bill Steer, and Surgical Steel might just be the best Carcass album ever. There is no shortage of savage, carnal riffs on this album, and dissecting each of them is worth the price of admission alone. Carcass already held a “Death Metal 101” masterclass way back in the late 80’s/ early 90’s with their classics, and now they’re doing it again in the new millennium. Young padawans, take note: THIS is how you pay death metal.
3. Protest the Hero – Volition
Volition rekindled my passionate love affair with Protest the Hero. I remember seeing the music video for “Heretics and Killers” back in high school, and I went and bought Kezia the very next day, which to this day remains one of my favorite albums of all time. Then Fortress came out a few years later, and completely blew my mind. I’m convinced that Fortress played a huge part in spearheading the growth of the huge progressive metal scene that exists today. Scurrilous wasn’t as well received as their previous records, but whatever missteps they made were surely rectified on Volition. Luke Hoskin and Tim Millar are the best guitar duo in modern metal today, and Rody Walker is one of the best vocalists. Oh, and for all you music nerds out there, let’s not forget the fact that Lamb of God’s Chris Adler tracked drums for the album and gave the best performance of his career thus far, or the fact Luke Hoskin does a dueling guitar solo with the legendary Ron Jarzombek on “Drumhead Trial”. Protest the Hero perfectly blend the showmanship of tech-metal with the catchiness of pop, sprinkled with the genius of some of the great classic composers. I love you, Protest the Hero. <3
2. Extol – Extol
2013 was a year of comebacks by some of the greatest metal bands of all time, and though Carcass and Gorguts both released exceptional albums, the standout for me by far was that of the legendary Extol. Extol simply do not get enough credit for what they’ve done for progressive metal. Each of their albums is very different from the last, yet there is a common thread which binds them all. The most exciting part of Extol is that it saw the reunion of the three core members of the band, all of whom recorded on Extol’s first three albums, and all of which are considered to be classics of the genre. Guitarist Ole Børud’s fingerprints can be heard throughout much of the modern-day progressive metal scene, and Extol’s ability to integrate beautiful melodies with brutality is also quite commonplace these days. Extol borrows elements from the entirety of Extol’s diverse back catalogue to create the definitive Extol album. This is a perfect record.
1. Ovid’s Withering – Scryers of the Ibis
This album came out of left-field and totally caught me off guard. I wasn’t even anticipating it’s release, but had I known how much I would fall in love with it, I would have been counting down the seconds until it was released. Ovid’s Withering are everything that modern metal should be, and Scryers of the Ibis is a true masterpiece, a magnum opus, if you will. They take elements from all ends of the spectrum, be it tech-death, symphonic metal, djent and even slam, and brew a magical potion of death metal perfection. This is an extremely dense record that begs to be experienced over and over again, otherwise you’d never be able to pick up on all of it’s nuances. Sure, it’s a little on the longer side, but I promise you there’s not a dull moment to be had. It’s packed to the brim with pounding groove, and each second spent listening is rewarded tenfold. The symphonic elements are much more than just a gimmick; they are a living, breathing element of the music, and they truly add to the mythological theatrics of the album, which were penned by guitarist Aaron Rodriguez. The versatility that JJ “Shiv” Polachek displays as a vocalist is staggering, and guitarists Mark Gonzalez and Rodriguez are absolute beasts. It’s quite baffling to me that this is Ovid’s Withering’s debut album, because they perform and compose like a band who’ve had years and years of experience. For all of these reasons and so much more, Scryers of the Ibis is my album of the year. I absolutely urge to you to experience this album.
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Best EPs of the 2013:
Pyrithion – The Burden of Sorrow EP
Maranatha – Spiritless EP
Monotheist – Genesis of Perdition EP
Vomitous – Empires of Great Enslavement EP
The Zenith Passage – Cosmic Dissonance EP
Animal Giant – The Glory EP
Scale the Summit – The Migration
Arsonists Get All The Girls – Listen to the Color
Oceans of Slumber – Aethereal
Dissonance In Design – Sentient
Exhumed – Necrocracy
Krimh – Explore
Suffocation – Pinnacle of Bedlam
Tyr – Valkyrja
Delusions of Grandeur – Efficacy
Nails – Abandon All Life
Stray From The Path – Anonymous
Skeletonwitch – Serpents Unleashed
Toxic Holocaust – Chemistry of Consciousness
Broken Flesh – Warbound
Genocide of Prescription – Genesis
The Black Dahlia Murder – Everblack
Kalmah – Seventh Swamphony
Defeated Sanity – Chapters of Repugnance
Devourment – Conceived In Sewage
Pathology – Lords of Rephraim
Unhuman – s/t
Deeds Of Flesh – Portals to Canaan
Tribulation – Formulas Of Death
Watain – The Wild Hunt
Gorguts – Colored Sands
Chimaira – Crown of Phantoms
Rivers of Nihil – The Conscious Seed of Light
Leprous – Coal
ASG – Blood Drive
Clutch – Earth Rocker
Into the Flood – Vices