Best Music Of 2013

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10 Favorite Metal Albums Of 2013

America should listen to more Manilla Road. i i

America should listen to more Manilla Road. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the artist
America should listen to more Manilla Road.

America should listen to more Manilla Road.

Courtesy of the artist

Let's crunch some not-so-scientific numbers, shall we? Of the ten metal albums featured here, five of them are by bands pushing 15 years of periodic existence or, in most cases, much longer. Three albums are shorter than 30 minutes while one fills the CD's maximum storage capacity (79 minutes). Two are debut albums. One features a completely bizarre and puzzling cover that continues to give me nightmares. What does all of this mean? Most tellingly, established bands continue to show that metal is a lifelong pursuit; young'uns will forever run up a hill strewn with bloody corpses like Sisyphus in a Saxon tee.

But in thinking about 2013 in metal, it's hard to ignore the damn-near universal love for Deafheaven's scene-smashing Sunbather. Even my not-so-metal colleagues loved it enough to place it on NPR Music's Favorite 50 Albums of 2013. That's a tremendous thing when I think about it. Even if Sunbather barely got lopped off my list of personal favorites the year, I hold crossover albums in high esteem, as they turn new ears onto heavy music. We all started somewhere — some lucky enough to have been there for the release of Metallica's Kill 'Em All or Death's Scream Bloody Gore; others finding their way through late '90s alt-metal; younger-skewing audiences karate-moshing to metalcore. The true seekers then dig and, like the grizzled vets featured here, stick around for life.

Lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the one metal song that I listened to endlessly this year: "One Last Chance" off High Spirits' 2013 tour demo. Chris Black is heavy metal's unsung champion of that classic '80s sound, with an attention to melody so deft that he makes it all seem so effortless. How he will top this demo version of "One Last Chance" I don't even know.

Because numerical ranking is silly, this personal top 10 list is in alphabetical order. (If you're aching for more than 10 albums, head on over to my blog for the metal records I hated to cut.)

10 Favorite Metal Albums Of 2013

Aura

Bölzer, 'Aura'

  • Song: Entranced by the Wolfshook

In Swiss German, "bölzer" is something like a cross between a thunder bolt and a bulldozer, which is a self-fulfilling prophecy for this band if I ever heard one. In an unrelenting and hypnotic 23 minutes, Aura is a death/black metal album in the realm of Celtic Frost and Incantation — fueled by scrolls of complex riffs and drawn to doom. But there's also something alien about Aura — the way the guitarist holds onto a phrase and waits until its breaking point to bend it, or the desperate howls often accompany those moments.

Aura is available from Iron Bonehead.

Bone Sickness

Bone Sickness, 'Alone In The Grave'

  • Song: Scraping The Bones

You have 18 minutes to contemplate your life. You choose to listen to Bone Sickness. (Wise choice?) It's a reckless and filthy death metal record that claws at the blood-soaked dirt, that snare thwack a relentless reminder of past failures. Now dig your own grave.

Alone in the Grave is available from 20 Buck Spin and Bandcamp.

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Song
Scraping The Bones
Album
Alone In The Grave
Artist
Bone Sickness
Label
20 Buck Spin
Released
2013

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Carcass.

Carcass, 'Surgical Steel'

  • Song: Captive Bolt Pistol

Carcass' imprint on melodic death metal is deep. Seventeen years past Swansong, bands like Exhumed and Arsis have evolved and refined the style, both with 2013 releases worth seeking out. However, original Carcass members Jeff Walker and Bill Steer have written an infectious and anthemic ("The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills," you kidding me with those meaty hooks?) record that doesn't so much aim to show up their proteges (although it does) but rather shows that Carcass past and present is vital to death metal. They even manage to end the album with a mid-tempo, country-tinged tease that seems to say, "Yeah, maybe we've got other ideas up our smocks. Come at us."

Surgical Steel is available from Nuclear Blast.

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Song
Captive Bolt Pistol
Album
Surgical Steel
Artist
Carcass
Label
Nuclear Blast
Released
2013

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Moksha.

Cloud Rat, 'Moksha'

  • Song: The Needle and the Damage Done

Released way back in the nether months of January, Cloud Rat's Moksha is one of the few records that never left my ears in 2013. It's a feral, fearsome and fearless piece of work that tears away at the trio's past with domestic abuse, drugs and broken homes. (The band's topical, yet still surprising cover of Neil Young's "The Needle and the Damage Done" makes the implicit sonically and caustically explicit.) But in all of Rorik Brook's buzzing guitar work, Adrian Manges' dynamically punishing drums and Madison Marshall's seared vocals, there is a point of light that begs not to go out.

Moksha is about to get its third pressing on Halo of Flies, but is now available digitally on Bandcamp.

Extol.

Extol, 'Extol'

  • Song: Wastelands

Confession: The first-ever real metal show I ever saw that didn't involve a -core suffix was Norway's Extol, touring the U.S. on Burial in 1998. From the first coordinated hair windmill, Extol had me in its melodic, yet extreme grasp. The Christian metal band went through a number of styles — black, technical death, progressive thrash, rock — in its first wave of existence, as if to conquer them all, then disappeared after the divisive and more rock-oriented Blueprint Dives in 2005. But eight years later, Extol returned with a remarkable self-titled album that makes sense of its diverse discography. Extol does what Extol does best, mostly because guitarist Ole Børud's back in the fold, composing exploratory riffs that zig when they should zag, while retaining a certain amount of stateliness to the complex structure of songs like shapeshifting epic "Wastelands" and the impressive ballad, "Faltering Moves."

Extol is available at Facedown Records.

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Song
Wastelands
Album
Extol
Artist
Extol
Label
Facedown

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Sister.

In Solitude, 'Sister'

  • Song: Sister

After two strong albums that took cues from heavy metal band Mercyful Fate and its dark ringleader King Diamond, In Solitude's Pelle and Gottfried Åhman sought their own solitude in the Swedish wilderness and came back renewed with Sister. Every song grows with desperation, digging more into the Gothic atmospheres of Sisters of Mercy with hooks like Thin Lizzy. Half of the time, you don't even realize you're singing along to love songs written for Satan.

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Song
Sister
Album
Sister
Artist
In Solitude
Released
2013

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Cover for There Is No Land Beyond The Volga

Jucifer, 'за волгой для нас земли нет'

  • Song: Shame

Nothing was louder than за волгой для нас земли нет (roughly, "There is no land beyond the Volga" in Russian) in 2013. Nothing. And for a band that worships at the white wall of doom, there sure is some fascinating subtlely to Jucifer's unrelenting sludge. That's largely been to key to the nomadic duo's staying power — 20 years, in fact. With a concept album that tells the story of Volgograd (formerly known as Stalingrad) through its soldiers, land and people during and after WWII, Jucifer gets pretty heavy with its subject matter alone. But like 2008's deep-dive into the French Revolution with L'Autrichienne, the duo investigates this history with rigorous compassion.

за волгой для нас земли нет is available on Mutants of the Monster (CD), Alternative Tentacles (vinyl) and Bandcamp.

Mysterium.

Manilla Road, 'Mysterium'

  • Song: Only the Brave

Mark "The Shark" Shelton has been at this capital-h Heavy Metal game since 1980's Invasion and Manilla Road still bigger in Europe than in his American homeland. I would say that it's a crying shame except that the band's performance at Maryland Deathfest in May was one of the most warmly received sets of the weekend, fans several rows back singing along to 1983's "Necropolis" like it was "We are the Champions" (it's better, in fact). After 2011's more proggy Playground of the Ground, Mysterium keeps the songs and guitar solos compact. Shelton's guitar work, in particular, is rejuvenated, pushing and pulling riffs with melodic choruses and, as always, solos with the song in mind. Meanwhile, America: Listen to Manilla Road.

Mysterium is available from Shadow Kingdom Records on CD and vinyl.

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Song
Only the Brave
Album
Mysterium
Artist
Manilla Road
Label
Shadow Kingdom Records
Released
2013

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Satan.

Satan, 'Life Sentence'

  • Song: Siege Mentality

On the way to my bachelor party out in the middle of nowhere, I requested but two albums be played on our bachelor van of doom: Noisem's Agony Defined and Satan's Life Sentence. Looking back on it now, that wasn't meant as an ill omen for my nuptials, just that a party was about to start and I needed sustenance. For that, hell bless this '80s heavy metal band for returning after 26 years and ignoring everything that has changed in heavy music. Life Sentence is just riffs upon ridiculous riffs that spiral with careless speed. Come on, just listen to "Siege Mentality" and don't grin ear to ear.

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Song
Siege Mentality
Album
Life Sentence
Artist
Satan
Label
Listenable Records
Released
2013

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Cover for More Constant Than the Gods

SubRosa, 'More Constant Than The Gods'

  • Song: Ghosts of a Dead Empire

More Constant Than the Gods is gorgeous. It's okay to say that about a metal album, right? There's a certain grace entwined in the Salt Lake City band that few of its doom ilk achieve. Maybe it's the dueling violins that act like lead guitars, maybe it's genuinely thoughtful lyrics worth pouring over, or just the majestic composition that pervades these lengthy tracks — whatever it is, More Constant Than the Gods is a record that constantly reveals new wonders upon each listen.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Ghosts of a Dead Empire
Album
More Constant Than the Gods
Artist
Subrosa
Label
Profound Lore
Released
2013

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Best Music Of 2013