Farewell, 2013: Alkahest’s Top 20 Albums Of 2013

alkahest

Here we are at the end of our fifth year at Heavy Blog. I remember at one point in high school (circa 2005-2006), I listened to Avenged Sevenfold and Bullet for my Valentine and thought death metal was unmelodic noisey garbage that tried way too hard to be offensive. I even wrote a rant about the matter on my MySpace blog, which served as a precursor for Heavy Blog. Embarrassing, I know. So why talk about it now?

I feel like if you look back on every year-end list I’ve done for this site (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012), you can see an evolution take place from metalcore kid just getting his feet wet in the online metal community to someone who I feel is more well-rounded and respective of all genres. You won’t just be catching prog and djent, I assure you. This list has more diversity, and likely includes the heaviest albums of any list I’ve done before. This blog has some depth in that regard, as you can chart the taste of our writers as they change over the years. I like to think that’s pretty neat, and it allows for this site to grow and change with the genre we all associate with so closely. Thankfully, music taste is fluid, and I’m glad that there’s more and more music available every year for us to enjoy.

2013 was an insane year. I graduated college, landed my first job from of my major, and started living on my own. With so much going on, you may have noticed a bit of a dip in content once summer rolled around. That wasn’t a coincidence. Even with a 8-4 job, I still try to keep Heavy Blog afloat, though I’ve considered stepping down or closing our doors on more than one occasion as the stress got a little hard to handle. Who knows what 2014 will hold, but I do know that 2013 was unforgettable. I can’t believe it’s almost over.

So without further ado, here’s an arbitrarily numbered list of awesome albums from 2013. Remember: it’s okay to not like thing.

Albums that didn’t quite make it, but still ruled:

AntigamaMeteor || ByzantineByzantine || CelesteAnimale(s) || CloudkickerSubsume
GhostInfestissumam || NailsAbandon All Life || Oranssi PazuzuVelonielu
Protest the HeroVolition || Vestiges / PanopticonSplit || RevocationRevocation
VildhjartaThousands of Evils (EP)

Author-Punisher-Women-Children-Artwork20. Author & Punisher – Women & Children

Seeing the one-man industrial drone act Author & Punisher was a great highlight of 2013. Engineer Tristan Shone builds his own monstrous midi controllers at his home studio and hauls them out across the world to create one of the most unique live shows in the world of metal. The man sits surrounded by a laptop, sliding machinery, an array of pedals, and a vocoder to create music that sounds like it sits at a crossroads between Godflesh and Sunn O))). Women & Children continues the pumping and buzzing, but with more traditional song structure and instrumentation, at times reminiscent of early Nine Inch Nails. It’s easy to let an album like this fall through the cracks because of its niche, but don’t let this moody record pass you by.

death-grips-government-plates19. Death Grips – Government Plates

Death Grips were a hard sell for me at first. Hip-hop isn’t exactly my forte, and until recently my appreciation of the genre pretty much started and ended with Aesop Rock. However, this year the notorious experimental hip-hop group finally clicked with me. It’s off-the wall, aggressive, and damn near close to a soundtrack of non-sequiturs. The free download of this unannounced release isn’t the only thing surprising about Government Plates; the album is largely centered on instrumentals. While MC Ride’s presence is missed for most of the Government Plates, the album is still an enigmatic blueprint for what I feel hip-hop should strive to be — intelligent, extreme, progressive, and completely out of the ordinary.

Cult of Luna - Vertikal18. Cult of Luna – Vertikal

Cult of Luna‘s Vertikal is complicated and seriously dense, so it took a while to sink in. Even now, almost a year after I first heard it, I find it hard to talk about; I just know that I love it. Based on the classic film Metropolis, Swedish post-metal mainstays Cult of Luna have absolutely managed to capture the film’s dark and somber tone through progressive sludge, industrial drones, and introspective atmospheres. Making it past the third track has been a challenge for me — 12 minutes in, the band tosses out the 19-minute ‘Vicarious Redemption’ and still manages to have almost 40 minutes following — but it has always proven to be a journey worth taking. This was actually the first great album of 2013. Quite the honor!

Defeated Sanity17. Defeated Sanity – Passages Into Deformity

This is one of those instances of the shift in my musical taste that I mentioned above that you’ll notice on this list. One of the heaviest bands I’ve come to love is Defeated Sanity, who take the thrill of tech-death and the ridiculous brutality of slam to create music that is truly challenging in pretty much every facet from conception to exhibition. Passages into Deformity came very early in the year, and following Cult of Luna, it’s the second great album of 2013! Don’t let this early entry slip you by; this album very well could be seen as a classic as we move on, obscurity be damned. Don’t late this one slip through the cracks. TECHSLAM!

Wormed - Exodromos16. Wormed – Exodromos

Exodromos was actually my introduction to the madness that is Spain’s sci-fi slammers Wormed. Since being wowed by their avant-garde flair and general weirdness, they have become one of my favorite death metal groups. It’s no coincidence that Wormed follows Defeated Sanity on this list; any time a brutal death metal record is released from Willowtip Records, it’s sure to be a blast and a step above the rest. Exodromos gets the edge on Passages Into Deformity on a production standpoint. You see, Wormed operate on the other side of the same token as Defeated Sanity, where instead of raw and muddy production, glossy and mechanical tones help aid the futuristic sci-fi atmosphere and concept. This album is disorienting in its excess of brutality and technicality, but there’s more to Exodromos than weedles and BREEs. TECHSLAM IN ZERO GRAVITY!

Ulcerate - Vermis15. Ulcerate – Vermis

I’m going to be totally up-front: I thought Ulcerate‘s 2011 album The Destroyers of All was better than their latest offering Vermis, despite the band’s reach towards a slightly darker tone. Setting the bar that high for yourself is a great problem to have, and luckily they’ve not fallen terribly short. The post-death metal sound (deathgaze?) just works, even though on paper, brutality and open atmosphere don’t necessarily go hand-in hand. Ulcerate continue to prove otherwise, and the spacious sludge found in Vermis makes the moments of pure hatred that much more devastating. This writhing amorphous mess of matted fur and broken bones is unsettling, absolutely brutal, and beyond intelligent. Don’t let the fact that Gorguts released their praised comeback record overshadow the accomplishments these rabid Kiwis have made on Vermis.

Fleshgod Apocalypse - Labyrinthe 14. Fleshgod Apocalypse – Labyrinth

Fleshgod Apocalypse‘s evolution wasn’t a surprise to me, but I know their latest effort Labyrinth disappointed a few folks. I don’t understand where it’s all coming from; Labyrinth is epic death metal, from the lyrical concept borrowing from Roman folklore to the massive symphonic orchestrations and crushingly brutal death metal that the band have been increasingly interested in. The growing abundance of clean vocals hasn’t swayed me either, as the authentic operatic soprano of Veronica Bordacchini helps the band settle into their niche even further. The male clean vocals are sorely lacking, but that doesn’t stop Labyrinth from being one of the best and most ambitious death metal albums I’ve heard this year.

gorguts colored sands13. Gorguts – Colored Sands

I didn’t listen to this album nearly as much as I should have, but even I know that Gorguts‘ return to glory was everything we hoped it would be. Gorguts picked up where they left off as if they haven’t been largely inactive for a decade, and Colored Sands continues to push the envelope. We’re standing a little too close to see the big picture, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Colored Sands influences a new generation of death metal just as their celebrated classic Obscura has. Post-death metal is going to catch on, I’m telling you.

Deafheaven - Sunbather12. Deafheaven – Sunbather

I’ve enjoyed Deafheaven from the start, but I never actually thought they’d make it as far as they did with their latest record Sunbather. Not because they are undeserving, but because Deafheaven have managed to exceed all expectations and delivered on the nearly unobtainable amount of hype they’ve been able to generate since signing to Deathwish, Inc. Now these post-black metal acolytes are now at the forefront of the genre, and getting all kinds of press for it. Don’t let all the attention and hype fool or discourage you; Sunbather is phenomenal. This isn’t a regurgitation of genre tropes, this is dreamy and romantic black metal with all of the sincerity and none of the cheesy angst or religious overtones. Definitely refreshing.

 

Dillinger Escape Plan - One Of Us Is The Killer11. The Dillinger Escape Plan – One Of Us Is The Killer

I finally got to see The Dillinger Escape Plan perform live this year, and stood among the chaos in the front row, to boot. The Dillinger Escape Plan are hands down among my top 5 bands of all time, but for some reason One Of Us Is The Killer didn’t quite crack my top 10 despite its excellence. On some levels, this record is definitive DEP, with a blend of off-kilter and chaotic mathcore and enough hooks to leave a long-lasting impression. Nothing gets my blood pumping quite like the fast-burning vitriol of a more hardcore The Dillinger Escape Plan track, and their growing diversity pulling from the likes of Faith No More and Nine Inch Nails makes One of Us is the Killer a dynamic record with tracks that are good as crowd-killers and easy listening.

Mandroid Echostar - Citadels10. Mandroid Echostar – Citadels

Mandroid Echostar are my favorite up-and-coming unsigned band of the moment. Their recent EP Citadels is their best work yet, and the EP’s haunting acoustic introduction ‘A Death Marked Dream’ is almost enough to land the release on this list by itself, but fortunately the group’s Protest the Hero-meets-Coheed and Cambria style of prog causes Citadels to excel. With three guitarist weaving together riffs and melodies and one of the best vocal performances you’ll hear all year, this release deserves far more attention than it received. Help me correct that, okay?

disfiguring the goddess 201309. Disfiguring The Goddess – Deprive / Black Earth Child

These albums literally came out like a week ago, so it might seem a bit unfair to include them so high on this list. However, Cam Argon’s Disfiguring the Goddess project is too infectious to not include, and released two of the best death metal records I’ve heard this year. Where Deprive is more progressive and influenced by electronic music, Black Earth Child is just filthy straightforward brutality. No matter what your ear for death metal is, chances are, Disfiguring the Goddess has something for you within these two records. Cam’s making great strides in the furtherance of death metal, and you’ll be hard pressed to find slams catchier than this. SLAM!

an autumn for crippled children - try not to destroy everything you love08. An Autumn For Crippled Children – Try Not To Destroy Everything You Love

This album was a surprise for me this year. I’ve heard of An Autumn For Crippled Children in passing before when I first delved into that post-black metal scene and found the band peculiar and interesting, but Try Not To Destroy Everything You Love clicked with me as soon as the opening track ‘Autumn Again’ exploded in euphoric synths and programmed blastbeats. This is a rabid love affair between synth pop and black metal, with an ethereal avant garde tone that makes this quite possibly the most unique metal record I have heard all year. Everyone’s going on about Deafheaven, and while that’s all well and good, An Autumn For Crippled Children are making great strides in the genre.

Last Chance To Reason - Level 307. Last Chance To Reason – Level 3

This album took far too long to see the light of day thanks to the band more or less dissolving and moving onto other things, but they managed to go out of that phase of their career in a high note. Level 3 is the phenomenal sequel to 2011’s Level 2, ramping up on their progressive shred and continuing their existential conceptual universe. Vocalist Michael Lessard has dialed down on the harsh vocals, but you won’t miss them because his soulful cleans bring the digital world the story inhabits to life.  Last Chance To Reason have been downsized to studio project instead of fading away, and hopefully we’ll be able to hear Level 4 in the future.

 

fit for an autopsy - hellbound06. Fit For An Autopsy – Hellbound

In 2013 I never thought that a non-progressive deathcore album would have made it this far up my list (or on my list at all!), but Fit For An Autopsy‘s Hellbound is an undeniable practice on how to make the sound work without all the ignorance often associated with the genre. Instead of songs comprised almost entirely of breakdowns, this band does justice to the roots of their genre by combining legitimate death metal elements with a hardcore attitude and song structure. Atmospheres, actual riffs, groove, pure hatred — this album has it all. ‘Thank You Budd Dwyer’ is my song of the year of the moment (yes, I know), and it makes it impossible for me to drive safely by the time the song reaches its pivotal breakdown. BLEGH!

05. Altar of Plagues – Teethed Glory & Injury

Altar of Plagues - Teethed Glory and Injury

For the life of me, as I write this list I cannot think of a better swan song than Teethed Glory & Injury. Altar of Plagues have always been on the cutting edge of black metal, but they leave quite a legacy in their final album. With a sound best described as industrial post-black metal, Teethed Glory & Injury is an unbelievably dark and twisted record that has at times legitimately frightened me. This is hands down my favorite black metal record of 2013, and I’m certain that there is no way this record won’t be looked back on as a classic.

04. Arsonists Get All The Girls – Listen to the Color

arsonists get all the girls - listen to the color

When Arsonists Get All The Girls were dropped from Century Media and the band announced the return of former vocalist Remi Rodberg and made public their intentions to return to their more grindcore-influenced roots, I got a little nervous. Prior to 2013, my favorite Arsonists record was easily Portals. I wasn’t even too fond of their early material, so I just expected their self-released effort Listen to the Color was not going to resonate well with me at all. Clearly, the opposite happened; this short-but-sweet opus of theirs is a psychedelic trip through prog, grind, and deathcore with more dissonant guitars and whacky keyboards you could ever hope for, with a brief pitstop to your Nintendo for a round of Mario Kart for good measure. This album was not only a fun listen, but it inspired me on a musical level with my own project Behaviorist, but more on that in the future.

03. Tesseract – Altered State

Tesseract - Altered State

This entry is far from surprising, I realize. Djent’s on the way out, and there haven’t been many releases in the genre worth caring about, but like metalcore, some acts will remain afloat after the wave has passed. Tesseract were always my favorite band adopting the sound, and they’ve not suffered the sophomore slump with Altered State. The whole album is brilliant, but the first three tracks in particular — the ‘Of Matter’ suite — have got to be the best thing Tesseract have done so far in their career. The band have gone a bit more mellow, but I’m not complaining. The atmospheres and vocal melodies make this album chillingly emotive and absolutely haunting.

02. Coheed and Cambria – The Afterman: Descension

Coheed and Cambria - The Afterman: Descension

I know many of you are going to feel cheated that a record from a non-metal group even made it this high, but Coheed and Cambria have crafted what might be the most compelling concept albums I’ve ever heard, and easily their opus thus far. Last year, we were introduced to astronaut Sirius Amory with The Afterman: Ascension, and in 2013, we saw his journey come to a powerful close in Descension. Not only does the lyrical journey resonate with me unlike any other album on this list, but the music is also top notch; from the funk-rock by way of Pink Floyd tinge of ‘The Hard Sell’ to the tear-jerking power ballad ‘Dark Side Of Me’ and playful WHAM! inspired ‘Number City,’ this is a shockingly diverse collection of songs that just works. The Afterman double-album is my favorite rock album since Faith No More‘s Angel Dust. It’s just that good.

01. The Ocean – Pelagial

The Ocean - Pelagial

We live in a world where a band called The Ocean wrote an album about the ocean, and it was deep. Based on the classic Russian sci-fi film Stalker, the band uses oceanic depth zones as a metaphor for the film’s journey to the source of all our desires. Musically, Pelagial is The Ocean’s most ambitious work to date, playing almost like a single continuous track which gets deeper and darker as it unfolds. We also dodged a bullet on this one; originally planned as an instrumental record, vocalist Loic Rosetti stepped up and delivered an amazing performance that would have been sorely missed. I’m a psychology nerd as well, so that really helped to sell this album to me as well. I was always hoping The Ocean would write an album about Jungian psychology, and Pelagial is close enough for me. This is a monumental record and quite the artistic statement. Assuming the band keeps up with the two-year album cycle, 2015 can’t get here fast enough.

Aside from a surprise in the works, that’s it for us at Heavy Blog for 2013. I sincerely hope you folks have an amazing Christmas and a New Year. We’ll see you in January!

– JR

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