2 Jan 2014

2013, Part IV: Top 10 - 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 IV: Top 10 - Metal
2013 has been an incredible year for metal. The previous years it was at times almost a struggle to come up with the most worthwhile albums, and many established bands ended up disappointing with their latest efforts. This year I found it incredibly tough to narrow my choices down to 10 of the best albums. Quebec surprised with a ton of awesome new black metal releases from bands like Gris, Neige Éternelle, Monarque and Sombres Fôrets, and several old timers in metal marked their return to the scene with albums of surprising quality - Most notable of which are, of course, Carcass, Gorguts and Black Sabbath. Suffice it to say there's something for everyone.

10: Slaughtbbath - Hail to Fire
When a Chilean band like Slaughtbbath slave ever onward, working on new black metal material to wreck your ears, and it culminates in one album 10 years after the first offering, you should know you're in for a treat. The Chilean trio bid you to open your eyes so that you may see the true face of Satan with unhinged black metal that chaotically encompasses the feelings and atmospheres of both the Scandinavian and the South American scenes, and is the product of decades of musical evolution, ruled by bands like Bestial Mockery, Angelcorpse, Blasphemy and Bestial Warlust. True to the blasting temperaments of bestial black metal bands, Slaughtbbath is a tempestuous acquaintance with the fierce drumming almost getting out of hand while the dense guitar tone threatens to blow your speakers in a torrent of black metal of death. A convincing and surprising effort indeed!

9: Defeated Sanity - Passages Into Deformity
Defeated Sanity have steadily released album upon album of great brutal death metal. With the band's fourth album they deliver exactly what you have come to expect from them: The heaviest of brutal death metal. And with Passages Into Deformity they cement their place among the heaviest of todays bands. It's about gurgling vocals, guitars tuned lower than low, blast beats and wicked bass-lines, and that's what Defeated Sanity have always been about. The newest album epitomizes their earlier efforts, and that's exactly why it's so great. Catchy songwriting and brutal death metal are often seen as direct opposites (though originators like Suffocation or Dying Fetus have always had their fair share of hooks), but on Passages Into Deformity there's only malformed, misshapen and grotesque guitars and bass-lines, all of which make the album a memorable experience of magnitude barely contained within the confines of vinyl or CD.

8: Enforcer - Death By Fire
This last decade or so heavy and speed metal have once again taken control of the black masses with many Swedish groups leading the assault with Exciter and Judas Priest worship. Enforcer have since the release of the hugely successful Into the Night debut in 2008 been one of the most prominent bands within the movement, and with good reason. Every album so far has featured several incredibly memorable songs from the hands of the Wikstrand brothers, and with Death By Fire they aren't about to break traditions. There's nothing new under the sun, and Enforcer are sticking with what works, for better or worse. Into the Night brought us Black Angel, Diamonds gave us Nightmares, and like those modern classics Death By Fire has spawned an instant classics, namely Take Me Out of This Nightmare, as well as several other memorable songs. Unlike the bands Enforcer worship their music has taken on a more clear sound which, I admit, fits really well and provides the album with a measure of power that makes it a towering monolith of 9 speed metal tracks that many similar bands can't quite procure.

7: Abyssal - Novit Enim Dominus Qui Sunt Eius
Portal arguably stands at the very forefront of the recent wave of Incantation-inspired death metal bands relying on a cavernous, esoteric sound, and while Vexovoid (Portal's newest album for those of you living under a rock) did deliver just that, they must now give way to newer bands. Abyssal arguably have a much more black metal-oriented sound, but the music calls forth the same awful feelings of dread and panic. On Novit Enim Dominus Qui Sunt Eius, the band's second album, we are treated to blackened metal chords segueing into droning, funeralesque doom riffs, once or twice embarking on an adventurous journey into yet more experimental territories, exploring fusionesque time signatures. Even when Abyssal are feeling adventurous the music itself is filled with purpose and a sense of direction that is indeed laudable for a band in this niche of a genre. The British band know how to express themselves in shuddersome phrases aided by an incredibly focussed and powerful execution.

6: Katalepsy - Autopsychosis
Russia is home to a whole lot of slam bands, most well known of which is probably Abominable Putridity who reinvented themselves with a more technical approach to an otherwise simple genre last year with their sophomore album "The Anomalies of Artificial Origin". This year their countrymen in Katalepsy ditto Abominable Putridity's move and have evolved from simplistic brutal death metal to technically apt death metal with an intrinsic amount of well-placed and daring slams. Katalepsy have undergone several vital line-up changes over the years - So many, in fact, that no original members remain - and this has resulted in the new blood taking the band to the next step, and they have finally found a sound and style that is definitely KATALEPSY. They're obviously a tight-knit group of musicians resulting in some seriously thrilling and electrifying songs. I have often seen bands within the genre succumb to boring and repetitive songwriting, simply because their style don't hold up all that well on an entire album, but the Russians have gotten it down to an art form to keep things fresh by switching from traditional brutal death, to slam, to tech-death and back again in a fashion that doesn't come off as forced.

5: Inquisition - Obscure Verses of the Multiverse
The Colombian band has distilled and refined their songwriting to create a black metal album very close to absolute perfection with their trademark songwriting and sound. Some may even argue that the fact that Inquisition delivered a stupendous album was a given, and on the Colombian (now based in Seattle, USA) band's sixth album there is no sketching and no vagueness. Obscure Verses of the Multiverse shows a band sure of themselves and their songwriting formular, and as a result thereof the album feels like a seamless whole, a finished product with amazing depth. When the dark chords transition into sinister tremolos, thereafter progressing into their mutated take on traditional black metal, one can clearly hear that this is where Inquisition's songwriting comes into its own. Focusing on an empyrean and cosmic aspects has always been one of the main strengths of Inquisition, and the latest album is a product of their sound being the hands down most recognizable in modern black metal.

4: Beyond - Fatal Power of Death
In my experience top 10s often end up having a large number of new releases by older, or at the very least previously known, bands. But we must not forget that new bands joining the field of battle often brings to the tabel the freshest ideas! The keyword with Beyond from Germany is intensity. You take equal amounts of Possessed and Morbid Angel, then add an unhealthy amount of European filth and a dash of black metal, and you get Fatal Power of Death. Beyond is death metal to the core, covered with a layer of black metal aesthetics, and vice versa. The German band's debut moves from the realms of high-speed blast beats and dense blackened death metal riffing with raw, reverbed vocals Fatal Power of Death into slowed down thrashier interludes with deeper growls and back again. These paces are what power the album, and the whole thing boils over from pure energy and enthusiasm, just as I do whilst listening. All the parts that make up Beyond's sound are there to underline the ruthlessness of the rest, and this is exactly why debuts are often more exciting.

3: Toxic Holocaust - Chemistry of Consciousness
The last couple of years have been turbulent for TH mastermind Joel Grind with him having several releases reissued, touring the world with Toxic Holocaust, and writing new material for his solo project. Presumably this means there's a lot of hit and miss involved, and it seems funny that the same man can produce one of the most disappointing and one of the best albums the same year. The new Toxic Holocaust is a true return to form - Chemistry of Consciousness has the balls that Conjure & Command lacked and sounds more like a follow up to An Overdose of Death, expanding on the expression and sound of that album like An Overdose did with Hell On Earth. Chemistry of Consciousness is raw, fast paced, powerful, balls to the wall, crispy, filthy, punked up thrash metal, just the way we like it.

2: Nocturnal Graves - From the Bloodline of Cain
Connoisseurs of the fine arts of blackened thrash metal will nod appreciatively at the mention of Nocturnal Grave's 2007 album "Satan's Cross". Since 2004 they've been giving Desaster and Deströyer 666 a run for their figurative money (because everyone should know that playing in a black/thrash band is the shittiest get-rich-quick schemes in existence). Naysayers will judgmentally call them a "super group" because of their shared members from Denouncement Pyre (who also released a worthwhile album in 2013), Razor of Occam and Deströyer 666 among others, and the return of Nocturnal Graves does indeed see Shrapnel, previously of D666 fame, added to the line-up. From the Bloodline of Cain has the band focusing on brutal songwriting instead of trying to be different or innovative. The Conqueror's Flame features some of the most ruthless riffing in modern metal, the guitars have edge, the production has balls. Nocturnal Graves' new album is barely a half an hour of confrontational attitude, and it's fucking great.

1: Devil - Gather the Sinners

The time has come to gathe the sinners and to repent yet again. Go nuts or sit back and relax to the warm 70's sound of Devil's fuzzy doom melodies. Forsake the antics of modern metal and let yourself become bewitched by their occult tunes. Gather the Sinners is a refreshingly unpretentious, unceremonious mix of traditional heavy metal and old school doom metal - Straight back to the very roots of metal with equal parts Blue Cheer, Iron Butterfly, Lucifer's Friend, Sir Lord Baltimore, Black Sabbath and Pentagram! With riffs so traditional it's almost innovative, Devil's newest album is a worthy follow up to the equally timeless debut Time to Repent. The album is equal parts awkward vocal melodies and voluptuous guitars and bass and is as self-indulgent as it is expressional. An album of the year if I ever heard one, Gather the Sinners will live on forever as a masterpiece of mesmerizing doom.

Which albums were your favourites this year? Leave your choices in the comment section below

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