25 Dec 2013

2013, Part III: Top 10 - Non-metal

For the past couple of years I've done top 10's as well as some other stuff in one long post. This form just isn't very easy on the eyes, so this year I've decided to split the end-year post into 5 parts, which are as follows:

Part I: Stuff I Missed in 2012
Part II: Disappointments of 2013
Part III: Top 10 - Non-metal
Part IV: Top 10 - Metal
Part V: Honorable Mentions & Runner-Ups

Part III: Top 10 - Non-metal:
Metal is where my allegiance lies, but picking 10 of the best non-metal albums in 2013 was tougher than I thought it'd be. Working retail in a store that sells music means I get to listen to a lot of different kinds of music during the year, meaning that I often discover albums I wouldn't otherwise have listened to. Some of the albums on this list are testament to just that, though many of them I have discovered by pure coincidence.

10: Slasher Dave - Spookhouse
With an arsenal of synthesizers and sequencers Slasher Dave of Acid Witch fame releases his first album of late 70's and 80's horror flick worship. His eerie sound is obviously highly influenced by John Carpenter and Fabio Frizzi, and is sure to fill the needs of any horror enthusiast with its subtle nods to Goblin and Halloween-infused synth "soundtrack". The album more or less came out of nowhere and surprises with immersive sounds, overwhelming production and spooky as well as epic compositions in authentic 80's style.

9: Spids Nøgenhat - Kommer Med Fred
The Danish psychonauts in Spids Nøgenhat are back with their first album since the release of the debut "En Mærkelig Kop Te" from 2001, 12 years ago. The members of the band are known for their involvement in other Danish psychedelic rock groups, most notable of which is Baby Woodrose. Kommer Med Fred is characterized by the band's transcendence from raw, fuzzed-out, piercing psychedelic rock into a sound more akin to that of the more melodic, psychedelic folk rock groups of the 70's like Grateful Dead and The Incredible String Band, while still maintaining the dopey, tripping trademark style. As a whole Kommer Med Fred is more easy-going and easily accessible than the preceeding album, and Spids Nøgenhat's return to the scene is marked by some of the most memorable folk rock songs in recent times and will for years to come, I think, be considered a modern retro classic.

8: Wardruna - Runaljod: Yggdrasil
Just when you thought Wardruna had ceased to exist they drop the bomb and release the second part of the Runaljod trilogy: Yggdrasil. 4 years has passed since the release of Gap Var Ginnunga, and on Yggdrasil the group - consisting of prominent Norwegian musicians, most well-known of which is arguably Gaahl of Gorgoroth fame - further delves into the interpretation of the Elder Futhark runes, continuing their epic journey through traditional, ritualistic Nordic folk music. Like Gap Var Ginnunga, Yggdrasil offers immersion, depth and songwriting at a level seldom heard in the world of non-electronic ambient music.

7: Lazerhawk - Skull and Shark
Taking a break from the usual 80's inspired outrun-electro of the first two albums, Lazerhawk's soundtrack for Dave Rapoza's upcoming neo-noir, maggot-ridden sci-fi horror comic "Skull and Shark" provides horrifyingly eerie electronic goodness. The music of Lazerhawk's latest opus is best described as panicking gothic tunes over gut-wrenching electro beats, and every track is at the same time distinctive as well as a continuation of the previous one. Skull and Shark has it all, from eerie atmospheric tracks like Chaos, to punchy electro-synth monsters as King of the Streets more like earlier works by Lazerhawk, and either way I imagine this album being the standard to which similar albums will be held in the future.

6: Jex Thoth - Blood Moon Rise
When I heard the Jex Thoth debut I was sold immediately. But coming out in a time where female-fronted occult doom-laden 70's hard rock groups were popping up all over the place meant that bands like Coven, Jess and the Ancient Ones, Sabbath Assembly, Blood Ceremony, Jex Thoth and The Devil's Blood all kinda blended together. Nevertheless I found Jex Thoth to be one of the better groups; A notion that has since been made concrete by the release of Blood Moon Rise in 2013. Moving quite suddenly from standardized, fuzzy riff-driven 70's hard rock to a style that relies more on thoughtful and deliberate psychedelic elements. Blood Moon Rise has a slower pace than previous material where every strike of the drum and every strum of the strings feels considerate. The good ol' Jex Thoth vibe has been retro-modernized to sound a bit more akin to stuff like Pink Floyd's trippier songwriting with a dose of acid fuzz in there, and Blood Moon Rise in all its spiritual glory is their most psychedelic and most original piece yet.

5: Riitaoja - Manterelle
Insane amounts of incredible music coming out of Finland seems to be on a rise this year. On this list alone you will find 3 Finnish releases, all of which are placed fairly high. Riitaoja's Manterelle opened up a world I didn't think existed. A world of hypnotic, meditative folk-inspired music. Manterelle explores a sombre universe of little rhythmic quality, that instead relies on pulsating bass-lines, various folky instruments like mandolin and banjo, and weird, crisp guitar melodies that gives it a trippy, relaxed feeling reminiscent of a more tenebrous and slowed down take on traditional folk and country, sometimes with a jazzy feel to it, which makes it a captivating listening experience.

4: Spock's Beard - Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep
Spock's Beard is a household name to all fans of progressive rock with their extensive discography stretching back to the mid 90's. They have previously been lauded for the sheer amount of variety and the epicness of their songwriting, and true to their reputation they return to that form with their newest album, Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep. The album delivers refreshingly varied bass-lines at the forefront with the guitars providing the details, while the vocals in conjunction with the proggy keyboards provide a melodic backdrop with amazing depth. Whoever engineered this record deserves a beer, because this is some of the most incredible sound works I have ever come across. Every element of Spock's Beard's melodic and powerful soundscape speaks of great musicianship, and especially so because the production lets every instrument come forth without anything else having to take a step back. The 9 minute epic "A Treasure Abandoned" is among my favourite tracks of 2013, and together with albums like Rush's "Clockwork Angels" and Symphony X's "Iconoclast" they form a strong front of modern progressive rock/metal.

3: Beastmilk - Climax
Thought post-punk was over? Think again. Beastmilk from Finland had previously released a few EPs, but with the release of Climax through Svart Records they took the scene by storm. Climax is just what it promises to be: One long climactic experience of gothic, punked-up rock music with a sound that is remarkably non-British and unmistakably BEASTMILK. International vocalist Kvohst, who has previously been part of Code, Hexvessel and other projects, does an amazing job at the haunted 80's vocals that permeate the Finnish band's music, and the melodic choruses are indeed one of the strongest points of Beastmilk, while the shoegazey guitars, booming bass and powerful drums form the easy-to-recognize and highly atmospheric soundscape. Only very few bands manage to capture the sound of post-punk in the same manner as Beastmilk. I am now under their control!

2: Clutch - Earth Rocker
Clutch has been around since the early 90's, moving from a hardcore-influenced style and to the more stoned out heavy rock style of Earth Rocker. With the simple songwriting of the latest album and Neil Fallon's powerful gruff, powerful vocals Earth Rocker may not be the most original album this year, but it is among the most enjoyable. The Clutch-recipe feels derived from stoner rock groups with a more noticable lean on hard rock tendencies and less trippy elements, though "Gone Cold" reminds me of the psychedelic "Planet Caravan" by Black Sabbath. In a way Earth Rocker is the climax of several influential groups and waves with Clutch giving it their own spin, often going from straight up hard rocking balls-to-the-wall music on one song and slowing things down to a grinding halt on the next track.

1: Death Hawks - Death Hawks
So here it is, non-metal album of the year 2013. I've given this some thought, which seems only appropriate because the album itself seems so thoughtful. The Finnish band Death Hawks released their debut full length, Death & Decay, in 2012. This album was a tribute to the classic acid-driven rock music of the 60's and 70's, paying homage to Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd and especially The Doors through their brand of retro psych-influenced rock music with a plethora of Finnish country-folk elements, which by now seems like the go-to thing to do for Finnish indie bands. Ultimately that album, while well-written and interesting, didn't hold up terribly well simply because it sounded a bit too ordinary, like something any other band could've done if not for the Finnish sound that made it stand out. This year Death Hawks maket their return with their sophomore album, the self-titled Death Hawks. The album is only 35 minutes in length, but these are among the best 35 minutes you could ever spend listening to a record. The Finnish band have progressed into minimalist territory, exploring a world of hypnotizing and meditative psychedelic folk tunes. They utilize a number of traditional instruments, but the tribal rhythm section - which only seldomly consists of actual drumming - and the mostly acoustic guitar work is what forms the main components of the album. The fact that only a few songs feature vocals enhances the trippy, cosmic feeling like flying through the universe or star gazing and brings to mind the most psychedelic periods of Pink Floyd and The Doors. Death Hawks is a unique experience of phenomenal songwriting and a display of flow and consistency unrivaled in todays scene.

What are your non-metal favourites of 2013? Leave a comment below!

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