Every single year I get excited about a fair amount of records, exclaiming that each one is easily the best of the batch without any question. Then November hits and I realize I've either forgotten what came out that year because I'm stuck on a particular record or I can't play favorites because each record is great in it's own way. So I sit at my desk and deliberate for an extended period of time, listening to all the records that might make my list. Then I come up with an order and explanations and proceed throw it out. A lot. Ultimately I'm conflicted as a fan because I let my mood dictate what "the best album" is on any given day.
That being said and all things considered, I think I've finally nailed this list in the most objective way I possibly can pertinent to my overall opinions. Objective subjectivity, if you will.
It's worth noting that throughout the course of 2013, there were a few decidedly "non-metal" albums that really stuck with me. Those records are on this list. This isn't an effort to be a counter to the slew of metal albums listed by other authors. Instead, I'm listing these records because they genuinely deserve to be listed and talked about. They're great records by great artists, and who knows? Maybe you'll check out my favorite jam off them and dig it too!
Or you'll just get super buttmad. Either/or. On with the list!
15. The Ocean – Pelagial
Pelagial is an accomplishment, plain and simple. Between the brilliant story-like lyrical content and music that comes off like a well-thought-out symphony, The Ocean nailed it. I love that they even thought to make the record slower and lower as it goes along to emulate depth and weight. Brilliant! Just brilliant! Grab some headphones and throw this record on if you're in the mood to slowly be crushed by the limitless weight of heavy, beautiful music.
Listen "Bathyalpelagic III: Disequillibrated"
14. Ulver – Messe I.X-VI.X
I wasn't prepared to enjoy Ulver's Messe I.X-VI.X as much as I ended up doing so. I got the promo and it just sat on my desktop for about a month before I decided, "well I have the good speakers down here, so I might as well give it a spin." One spin turned into about seven consecutively and here we are. The thing that makes me love Messe I.X-VI.X is that it's emotionally all over the board without beating you over the head with it, resulting in a nice, even listen that rivals many of it's contemporaries in the drone and ambient world.
Listen "Glamour Box (Ostinati)"
13. Heart of a Coward – Severance
Heart of a Coward nailed that rhythmic eight-string on Severance with such a unique, groovy style that it's hard not to love the record. There's plenty of catchy choruses, interesting vocal harmonies, riffs that I wish I wrote, more riffs that I wish I wrote, and sick riffs! Did I mention the band can write a riff? Severance was a late addition to this list, but it deserves a spot. I can't seem to step away from this record for an extended period of time.
12. Carcass – Surgical Steel
On the flip side of what I just said about Ulver, I was fully prepared for Carcass to properly rock my face right off. Surgical Steel is everything I have ever loved about Carcass wrapped up into one 47-minute, gore-soaked, bloody, vile, disgusting, putrid package. The grindiness of their earlier stuff like Reek of Putrefaction and Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious is extremely prevalent on the record, but there's enough melodic runs and harmonized shred to satisfy those who swear by Heartwork.
Listen "The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills"
11. Extol – Extol
This is the record I have been waiting for Extol to do. An incredible sounding, vocal-harmony-laden, heavy, slightly experimental record that felt like a culmination of their career. On Extol, the band mix it up just enough to breathe new life into their music after eight years of silence, but stick close enough to their guns that it's instantly identifiable as them. This is the sound of a band that's invigorated and excited about what they do just as much as they were when they were pumping out records every two years.
Extol "A Gift Beyond Human Reach"
10. Katatonia – Dethroned and Uncrowned
I had a hard time justifying this one since it's just Dead End Kings re-imagined, but in the end Dethroned and Uncrowned is just too good to leave off this list. Case and point for my justification being it's so much more than "just a re-imagining." Dethroned and Uncrowned is the twin brother that you're 100% convinced isn't even related to Dead End Kings. Everything about this record is different, even down to a few arrangement alterations. Katatonia proved with this record how versatile they are as musicians without going off the deep end and dropping something dumb on us. Dethroned and Uncrowned deserves to be looked at as it's own entity completely.
9. Ovid's Withering – Scryers of the Ibis
Scryers of the Ibis is exactly what an orchestral metal record should be. There's not a heavy focus on either the orchestra or band, nor the electronic elements. What you get is an even spread of the aforementioned in such a heavy way that it's almost unbelievable nobody's beat Ovid's Withering to it yet. Scryers of the Ibis is a meticulously written, pored over album that radiates quality through every aspect of it. Oh, and the fact that this is a debut record just blows my mind.
Listen "Winter In Tomis"
8. Alkaline Trio – My Shame Is True
Alkaline Trio has always been an amazing punk band, save for the past three years where they fell a little short. I was initially skeptical that My Shame Is True would be another collection of lukewarm punk songs served up on a fancy plate and a hefty price tag. What I got was filet mignon-status jams on a white-and-pink plate. Matt Skiba keeps the guitar work to a minimum to save room for his catchy, well-sung vocal lines, and behind him is one of my favorite punk rhythm sections bassist Dan Andriano and drummer Derek Grant. My Shame Is True is a testament to the band's ability to still kill it after almost twenty years.
Listen "The Temptation of St. Anthony"
7. Maximum the Hormone – Yoshu Fukushu
Full disclosure- I have no idea what the fuck this record is about. Maximum the Hormone could be singing about how dumb I am for listening to this and I'll still be jamming just as hard, even if I got the whole thing translated. The bottom line is Yoshu Fukushu is a record unlike I have ever heard before. It's a little bit punk, a little bit death metal, a little bit nu-metal, a little bit pop, and a whole lot of amazing. Every single song on Yoshu Fukushu has gotten me up and moshing about the place, and that's a full 61-minutes of pure energy. This record deserves to be heard by everyone multiple times… per day.
Listen "Yoshu Fukushu"
6. Deafheaven – Sunbather
What makes Sunbather a great record to me is that it doesn't sound like it's trying too hard to tread the line between shoegaze and black metal too hard. There isn't that element that makes you roll your eyes and wonder if there's going to be any more cheesy attempts to be "unique" on the record or not. Sunbather is a honest record that doesn't seem like it was out to blow everyone's mind, but just written as a natural progression in Deafheaven's sound and it happened to be amazing. I'm also secretly hoping this spawns a whole "romantic black metal movement," because I'm a fuckin' sap.
Listen "Dream House"
5. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats – Mind Control
I'm sure if Charles Manson wasn't in jail for all the stuff he did and continued on his musical path, this is what it would have sounded like. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats at their core are a retro-kind-of blues metal band ala Black Sabbath. Beyond that core, they're excellent plot writers that should be making grainy horror flicks. The music on Mind Control is amazing (especially since they didn't fall into the usual pitfall of stereotypical "retro riffs"), but the magic lies in the lyrics and the murderous, faithless, godless stories they tell. Mind Control should not be overlooked.
Listen "Mind Crawler"
4. Haken – The Mountain
I put on The Mountain and waited. I waited for the moment Haken finally dropped a boring passage or lame vocal line. It had to happen given their 2011 debut and 2012 sophomore effort were perfect in every way. For the third consecutive time in the band's career, it just never happened. The Mountain is progressive metal done right with a little bit of goofiness in there and a whole truckload of hooks. This is the album Haken came out of their straightforward progressive metal shell and experimented with glitchy drums, acapella sections, soaring major key themes that hardly dip into darker areas, and an ending that actually didn't resolve in the character's favor. Yet somehow, despite the vast experimentation, they nailed every aspect. Dear Haken, you are perfect. Thank you for The Mountain. I love you too.
Listen "Atlas Stone"
3. A Wilhelm Scream – Partycrasher
Is technical punk rock an accepted thing yet? What about progressive punk? Because A Wilhelm Scream have been doing it since 2007 and showcase their mastery of said genre on Partycrasher in terrifying proportions. Whereas the band's older material has had some slower songs and segments on them, Partycrasher is hurdling out of your speakers at a million miles an hour the whole time and taking you along for the ride. Which almost sucks, because you never once get the chance to pick your jaw up off the floor. The playing on Partycrasher is intricate and commendable to the point that even if you're not a huge fan of the music, you're going to be awestruck by the musicians. Outside that, every single song on this album will get stuck in your head to the point where the "repeat album" button is the only option.
Listen "Born A Wise Man"
2. Caricature – The Sound of One Man's World Collapsing
I gave this a solid review back in July and my opinion on it hasn't wavered in the slightest. The Sound of One Man's World Collapsing sounds like the genuine confessions of someone who has a lot to get off their chest over top excellent riffs and a wide range of guitars and keyboards. It evokes images of an old, dusty home, people reminiscing over times lost through old, faded photos, and heartbreaks and life lessons that feel so damn real. Yeah, the music on the album is great. It's what a lot of bands with an eight string and a solid grasp on keys try to do and fail miserably taken to an entirely new level, but what gets me is the feelings and imagery this record brings up. Astounding work, especially considering it's all written by one guy.
Listen "A Long Term Illness"
1. Ghost – Infestissumam
Since April 10, the day it came out, to right this very moment, Infestissumam has been on a regular rotation with me. Ghost have taken everything great about eclectic heavy music, the idea of a retro sounds, a wide variety of keyboards, orchestral and choir elements, anti-religious lyrical content that feels genuine, and surf music (because that happens for a bit), threw it against the wall in their studio and mapped out how to make the best damn album of 2013. Infestissumam is so much more than some "goofy gimmick" to get you to buy the record, as it's been perceived. It's poppy metal that invokes a certain evil and does so with such finesse you can't possibly resist. Enough defense of it, right? The reason I love this record is simple- it's extreme unique and isn't afraid to constantly tread new waters with confidence and ability.
Infestissumam is the shit, if I had to put it so eloquently.
Listen "Secular Haze"