Man, what an INSANE year this has been. I’ve undergone some major life overhauls and taken some huge risks, both personally and with my band The Omega Experiment. So many dreams have been fulfilled this year. The Omega Experiment re-released our debut on Listenable Records in February, appeared in the likes of Metal Hammer, Terrorizer, and PROG magazines, and toured Europe with Fates Warning and played ProgPower and Euroblast. Touring Europe was my first ever time out of the country besides Canada (does that even count?), and it was also my first time ever flying. I switched majors from mathematics to writing (yay), finally moved out on my own again after spending a few years with my dad trying to recover from a haggard ten year drug addiction, moved back in with him for a month between places, moved back out, almost had a nervous breakdown trying to recuperate financially from tour… I’m sure there’s more but that’s the gist of it.
I can’t begin to think how next year will top this year as far as taking risks, change, and accomplishments. So far I’m looking forward to continuing writing our second album, maybe playing a few shows, seeing where I’ll live when my lease is up, and forging ahead with my writing career. But before I venture too far into the future, I’ll reminisce on this past year in music for me. I spent the better part of it listening to and adding to my usual Spotify playlists (80s, black metal, etc.), and sifting through tons of stuff people told me to check out or that I kept seeing in my Facebook feed. I sometimes feel like Facebook is a real killer of music, because if you keep getting fed the same shit everyday and people are raving about something, if you’re anywhere near as rebellious as I am, you’ll run like hell. I adore Deafheaven. I really do. I preordered Sunbather and listened to it all the way through maybe once; one reason being that I was pretty swamped with school/recovery/band/work/etc, but also because people just kept talking about it and talking about it. I still have no desire to put it on and give it the fair shot it deserves. I suppose the same could be said for other albums on my list, but this one in particular was just overwhelming. So it’s not here. Sorry.
The most memorable part of the year musically for me was over the spring and summer, when from out of nowhere Letlive’s album Fake History knocked me on my ass for the first time and instigated a rekindling of the hardcore flame that burns inside me. So I took suggestions from friends and scoured their picks, coming out of it with a new favorite band in Counterparts. This also just in time for their latest album, The Difference Between Hell and Home. This was the best album of the year for me. It spoke to me on a level I haven’t felt from a band like that in a long time, and at a crucial point in my life when I needed it most. The rest of my picks have no particular order. So, without further ado, here are the albums that made this year bearable for me:
Gorguts – Colored Sands
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I was stoked when I found out John Longstreth would be drumming on this album because he is so much more creative than just the blistering speed he is known for in Origin, and he proves it on this album. I’ve loved Gorguts since Considered Dead. I hadn’t paid much attention to them after that until I saw the album Obscura in the used section of a Mom and Pop record shop not too long after its release. So I snatched it up, and when I put it in I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I’m glad to see they’ve taken that sound and ran with it, because they stumbled on to a good thing. Innovative death metal is hard to come by it seems, and Gorguts renews my faith.
The Story So Far – What You Don’t See
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I’ve never been much of a pop-punk fan, but this album knocked me on my ass. Most of what I listen to is very mentally and emotionally taxing, and sometimes I just need to breathe and smile a bit. This album was another “timing” album for me I think; meaning that I heard it at the perfect time to have a huge impact on me. It was summer, and I was spending a lot of time outside, riding my bike near my school campus and just yearning for feel good, fist pumping anthems. This album delivered them in spades.
Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen
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Admittedly, I didn’t hear this album until a few weeks ago, but it’s had a formidable impact on me since. I immediately fell in love with the unashamedly progressive feel, and his use of the Lydian mode, which I’m always a sucker for. It’s been a pleasure to marvel at his progression as a musician over the years, starting with his first flirtations with singing on Emperor’s Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk to now. His voice perfectly fits his music. The production by Jens Bogren is top notch as well, sounding much more open and natural than the tight and compressed sound that one might expect from a “metal” album. I use quotes there because that term needs to be used loosely. A large portion of this album isn’t metal at all, and takes a very avant-garde identity at points.
Hammock – Oblivion Hymns
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This is another album I heard late, but only because of the November 26 release date which made it hard to fully ingest considering my busy schedule. Nonetheless, the melodies inherent immediately made my spine shiver. Hammock’s music tends to wash away into the background for me after awhile; not because it’s boring by any means, but because it’s so consistently ambient I tend to forget I’m listening to it and I get lost in a trance. I do like their last album Departure Songs slightly better, but that small percentage is kind of meaningless when considering the scope of the music’s impact.
TesseracT – Altered State
Yeah, yeah. This one would be on my shit list of albums ruined by my Facebook feed had I not heard it months before its release. I’m sincerely glad they finally settled on a vocalist, and Ashe is a perfect fit. He’s strikingly similar to Dan Tompkins, albeit with a more feminine edge. The production is a thousand times better than One, and the groove and ambiance are much deeper. Everything just feels more consistent. I honestly have no idea what the concept is about, but I know it’s there. Those elements tend to get lost with me if it’s not right in your face like Operation: Mindcrime or The Wall. I might never know this was a concept album if I wasn’t told it was or if I didn’t look at the song titles. Maybe that’s the intent?
Protest the Hero – Volition
Another buzz record that was just too good to deny. I remember laughing my ass off when I first heard Kezia because it was so charisma packed. I’d never heard anything like it, and was actually mad that I didn’t write those songs. Fortress got me through my first year of sobriety, but Scurrilous didn’t do much for me. Could’ve been the timing. Anyway, Volition is the album I wished Scurrilous would’ve been, and seems the more natural follow up to Fortress. Every performance sounds effortless, and the songwriting is some of the best of their career. I wish I had the time I did in early recovery to really sink my teeth and soul into it, because I’m sure I would love it just as much as Fortress, which is my favorite.
Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks
This album was a breath of fresh air; not in comparison to other NIN albums, but in the grand scheme of my daily musical intake. It’s no The Fragile, but it’s got some awesome songs on it. My personal favorite is “Satellite”. Every time I play it I find myself involuntarily bobbing my head like a retarded bird. Highly recommended listening on a nighttime drive.
Paysage D’Hiver – Das Tor
2013 was highly unmemorable in the realm of black metal for me, and I found myself resorting to the classics as per usual. However, I was totally caught off guard by a recommendation of this album from a good friend. I wish I could find the perfect adjectives to describe how this release makes me feel. I remember early summer nights with the window open and the breeze coming through, laying in the pitch black falling asleep to this album and getting windswept to some weird black metal netherworld. Now I can’t listen to it in any other environment. The music is repetitive in the best way possible; almost trance-like, ala Burzum. The wind samples in between songs are the perfect icing on the grim and breezebitten cake.
Devin Townsend Project – The Retinal Circus
Sure, they’re not new tunes, but this is one of the most chill inducing live albums I’ve ever heard. It’s no secret that I have a deep affinity for Devin as a person and a musician, and this album is the live representation of his music I always desired to hear in the days of Ocean Machine and Infinity. I about shit my pants when I saw “Soul Driven” on the track listing because it’s my favorite song of all time and he’s never played it live, but alas it’s only the beginning guitar/vocal line. Either way, I’m grateful for the nod. The older songs are perfectly represented, and those are the ones I really listen to this album for. I do like Dev’s newer music, but it doesn’t hit me near as hard as the old stuff. Call me jaded, call me hipster. That’s just the way it is.
Counterparts – The Difference Between Hell and Home
I heard this band for the first time late last spring, and I instantly fell in love. I’m not sure if I was just primed for a band like them at the time or what, but it was intoxicating to be so infatuated. I played The Current Will Carry Us and Prophets nonstop for weeks until this album came out in July. I wasn’t sure they could top TCWCU, but they did just that. Will Putney’s production is in your face and perfect for their style, and the lyrics and vocal delivery are honest and visceral to the point of goose bumps. The songwriting is brilliant, the riffs are razor sharp…I just can’t say enough about this album. Melodically “Witness” is chill inducing to me, and I swear “Slave” could be a long lost Slipknot song in the vein of “Eeyore” or “Get This”. Brilliant.