Farewell, 2013: Brian Shields’ Top 20 Albums Of 2013

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Disclaimer: I never know what it means when people say one band or one album is “better” than another.  There’s no giant scoreboard in the sky that gives Necrophagist 150,000 Awesomeness Points and Barry Manilow negative 2,000,000 points.  So for me these are the new releases (albums and EP’s) that brought me the most pleasure in 2013.  You can argue about what bands are best but you can’t argue with me about what brings me pleasure.  Chances are by this time next year I will be in love with a record from 2013 that’s not on this list because I wasn’t cool enough to know about it at the time.

Also I have two lists.  One is of more established bands, the ones that came out on larger labels or that have a national or international following.  The second is my “Great New Metal” bands, emerging acts that it’s my mission to help more people discover.

I hope you enjoy living in “The Golden Age of Metal” which I maintain is right fucking now!

Great New Metal Bands

10. Underling – Breathe Deeply

Fallujah bassist Rob Morey is among the friends who have long been urging me to explore Black Metal and turning me on to the more atmospheric elements of the genre.  He needs no better demonstration than this record that pairs him with Alex Bent, one of the great young death metal drummers of our time, and vocalist Antonio Palermo.  This is atmospheric music for the connoisseur.

 

09. Ovid’s Withering – Scryers of Ibis

For years I have resisted the siren’s call of Black Metal, too much of which seems to me to be akin to bad rock opera.  This record is among the music that in 2013 grabbed me by the balls and forced me to listen, appreciate and enjoy.  Show some support for Ovid’s, er I mean, Ovdi pls.

 

08. Robots Pulling Levers – Zong!

Justice Potter Stewart defined pornography as “appealing to the prurient interest”.  Well if amazing guitar playing gets you excited, you will join me in celebrating this record as the “Guitar Porn” Album of the Year.  Zong! is the brainchild of shredder extraordinaire Mark Hawkins with help from an all-star line-up including A Loathing Requium, Infieri, and Diskreet shredder Malcolm Pugh, the legendary Vishal Singh and many others.  If you get off on listening to great, imaginative guitar players fondling their fretboards in public, you cannot miss this record.

07. Bispora – The Pineal Chronicles – Phase One: Furtherance

It’s such a delight to live in a post-Between the Buried and Me age when there are no rules for what can and cannot go in a metal song.  Bispora proves this in a visionary record that travels from death metal to jazz to grunge with lots of unexpected stops in between.  If you look for variety and creativity in a metal context, you must listen to this record.

06. OBLIVION – Called to Rise

It’s always a pleasure when musicians who “know better” apply their talents to death metal.  OBLIVION’s Dr. Nick Vasallo is not only the vocalist on this wonderful record, he’s a recognized academic composer.  Paired with ex-All Shall Perish guitarist Ben Orum and with phenom Luis Enrique Martinez powering the rhythms (see above) this is a smorgasbord of metal delights you don’t want to miss.

05. The Zenith Passage – Cosmic Dissonance

Expect great things from this band with the recent additions of ex-Fallujah rhythm guitarist Rob Maramonte and OBLIVION’s Luis Enrique Martinez on drums.  This record was made prior to their arrival on the scene and so in many ways showcases the playing of founder Justin McKinney.  This is music that is both heavy and beautiful, both brutal and sensitive, and somehow is always capable of delight.

 

04. Dissonance in Design – Sentient

The Brothers Patuto, with essential help from a couple of members of Denver’s Vale of Pnath, are back to again challenge the limits of progressive death metal.  This is music that is imaginative, inspired, and still a lot of fun to listen to.  These are musicians who spend a lot of time thinking about and honing their compositional skills creating challenges for themselves to overcome as players.  They pull it off brilliantly.  Keep an eye on these guys.

03. Parasitic Ejaculation – Rationing the Sacred Human Remains

2013 was the year I finally got my slam on all the way and this was the record that convinced me.  Produced by Max Zigman of Son of Aurelius and Inanimate Existence fame, this is perhaps the cleanest production you will ever hear from this genre.  That helps in getting past the overwhelming aural assault to detect subtleties in the bass lines, the powerful riffage and dos slams.  I’m hooked.

02. Aenimus – Transcend Reality

Another band that’s been on the Great New Metal radar for years that pays off with an outstanding record.  In some ways, this release is a snapshot in time with the insane shredding of Brian “Deebs” James powering many of the more jaw-dropping elements of this record.  James has now departed for Fallujah but Aenimus has replaced him with some outstanding players. Bassist Seth Stephens is ultimately the heart of this band and the driving force behind this record. Let’s hope Transcend Reality is just a preview of more brilliance to come.

01. Wrath of Vesuvius – Revelation

When you watch emerging artists grow, there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a band with great potential fulfill that promise.  That’s just what WoV has done with this release.  Combining precise technical guitar playing, a dominating bass line, drums that entertain, and, in Trevor Peeples, one of the most fascinating frontmen in death metal, Wrath of Vesuvius has put out a clear winner here.  It’s too bad drama with the label marred and distracted from the release because this is one of the most compelling albums of the year from anyone.

Established Acts

10. Reflections – Exi(s)t

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Honestly, as you can see from the rest of this list, this is not usually my kind of music.  Still, there’s something so infectious and compelling about this record from the gentlemen from Minnesota.  It’s music capable of putting a smile on my face and there’s a value in that.

 

brian-9-ulcerate09. Ulcerate – Vermis

I love music that can surprise and astonish me and Ulcerate pulls it off every single time.  This is much more than just brutal death metal, it’s a blanket of sound that wraps itself around you and you can’t escape.  A very satisfying experience indeed.

 

brian-8-conducting08. Conducting from the Grave – Conducting from the Grave

Great artists have great visions and they need the freedom to pursue their unique directions.  The crowdsourcing movement is now giving bands that flexibility and CFTG’s self-titled, self-released, self-financed album proves it.  Who knows what the label wanted this record to sound like but I’m thankful that so many metalheads came together to support an artist’s vision and I suspect this is a much better record than if the big label had released it.

brian-7-exivious07. Exivious – Liminal

I suspect most American prog metal listeners know Tymon Kruidenier and Robin Zielhorst originally from their work on Cynic’s Traced in Air which gives them instant cred.  Hopefully that opens the doors for these Dutch dudes who are at the ramparts of the “fusion” of metal and jazz.  Unlike too much instrumental prog, this is a record that is always pushing forward and exploring fascinating territory.

06. Deeds of Flesh – Portals to Canaan

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Tech death has spawned a zillion spinoffs and variations but it’s always satisfying to come back to the roots of the genre.  On Portals of Canaan, the band makes a statement of what brutal death metal should and will always be at its core, powerful, in your face, and yet at the same time full of subtlety and imaginative riffing and shredding.

05. Last Chance to Reason – Level 3

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This is another record that unfortunately had to compete not just against the other releases of this year but also against my expectations based on the masterpiece that was Level 2.  But a fresh listen to this record, on its own merits, definitely confirms its place as a top five album for the year. Evan Sammons’ vision combined with new The Contortionist vocalist Michael Lessard’s powerful presentation alone makes this great music.  Unfortunately both guitarists left immediately after the release of Level 3, lead player Michael Abdow going to Fates Warning (Mike’s solo record “Life Symbolic” is an honorable mention for 2013) so the future remains unclear but Level 3 is definitely worth re-visiting.

04. Evan Brewer – Your Itinerary

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Evan Brewer‘s first solo album “Alone” was exactly that, him by himself playing the bass, or sometimes two basses at once.  It was a masterpiece and so when this record came out of him working with collaborators, it took me a while to warm to it.  A closer listen shows this is still very much bass driven and bass centric music but the addition of Evan’s former Animosity teammate (and ex-Animals as Leaders drummer) Navene Koperweis frees the compositions to explore new territory.

03. Scale the Summit – The Migration

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How could Scale the Summit possibly get any better?  How about letting them loose in a studio with BTBAM producer Jamie King and seeing what kind of amazement results.  King’s influence is palpable throughout the record which grabbed me because it is so much more up-tempo and aggressive than their last few works.  But if you ever doubted in today’s bedroom studio culture the value of a great producer to make awesome music better, listen to this record.

02. Fallujah – Nomadic

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Yes Nomadic was “just an EP” but in 2013 it became a tipping point as these talented men made a statement by singlehandedly creating their own sub-genre of atmospheric tech death.  And after touring Europe with Suffocation and doing a full US with TBDM, Fallujah graduates onto my “major releases” list.

01. Gorguts – Colored Sands

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Back after 12 years and with something approaching an all-star death metal lineup, Luc Lemay and Gorgots hand us Colored Sands, one of those records that is so full of wonder and subtlety that it might have taken the entire year of dedicated listening to get all of it.  Behold the Arctopus and Dysrhythmia‘s Colin Marston’s touch is audible throughout both in his dominating bass playing and in his mixing and mastering.  Definitely the richest death metal meal of the year.

-BS

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