Chuck Schuldiner Project

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Dan's Top 10 Albums of 2013

2013 has been a big year for heavy metal music. Metallica came out with a 3D movie, Jeff Hanneman died, Black Sabbath put out a new record with three fourths of the original lineup,  and after seventeen long years Carcass has finally put out a new record which is receiving rave reviews. While not quite as many of my personal favourite bands put forth releases this year as last year, there was certainly no shortage in volume of releases, and a number of these were truly fantastic albums that I'll be listening to for years to come. I had to cut some albums I really liked to get this list down to ten records, but what's left is the creme de la creme. These are the ten best albums released in this mammoth year for heavy music.

10. In Solitude - Sister
The past few years have been huge for Doom and trad metal as sub-genres, so it comes as no surprise that these cadaverous swede's meeting right in between the two have been taking of like a rocket on amphetamines. "Sister" brings a potent mixture of creepy occult menace invoking old 70's rock with King Diamond style heavy metal to create something which is as evil sounding as it is catchy and accessible. Despite being far from mainstream in the U.S. it sounds at times like the sort of thing that you might hear on a particularly good classic rock station, before sharply transitioning into Doomy metal awesomeness with enough diminished fifths and augmented fourths to make Slayer blush. From the acoustic almost "Hotel California" like "He Comes",  to the heaviness of "Horses in the Ground" or the mixture of the two in "Inmost Nigredo" this album captivates the listener, and doesn't let go.  With a great mix of sounds and atmospheres, an intriguing sense of menace and danger, and insanely catchy hooks, its no surprise they've been getting the amount of attention they have, or that this was one of my favourite albums of the year.

9. SuidAkra - Eternal Defiance
SuidAkra have been something of a hit and miss band over the past decade. After releasing the breathtakingly good Caledonia in 2006, and the following departure of lead guitarist Marcel Schoenen, they released two pretty lackluster albums in the forms of Crogacht and The Book of Dowth. But holy shit my friends, believe me when I tell you, they are back. From the beautifully medieval sounding classical guitars, the fast epic riffs conjuring up images of mounted warriors riding to battle, and the top notch clean vocals from both Sebastian Hintz and Tina Stabel, this album had everything I felt was missing from the last two. The masterful bagpipes of Axel Römer also return, bringing an excellent Celtic flavor to these German warriors battle hymns. It also includes several extremely catchy and powerful choruses which get you ready to storm the walls of Rome, sword in hand. It may not be Caledonia, but its damn close, and its a great record

8. Týr - Valkyrja
While perhaps not reaching Devin Townsend levels of insanity,  Týr's output over the past few years has been pretty impressive and, at times, hard to keep up with. It comes as no surprise that while releasing a new album every other year there's been a number of slow shifts and changes in the sonic direction of the band. Following the prog-heavy "Land" the band went in a decidedly more straight up heavy metal direction, which while it produced some truly awesome tunes ("By The Sword in My Hand" is badassery incarnate), did remove a number of the elements which made Týr so awesome; the Faroese lyrics, the insanely intricate solos, interesting meters, use of traditional folk melodies, etc. As a result I nearly wept a single metal tear of joy when I first listened to Valkyrja and heard everything I loved about albums like "Eric The Red" and "Ragnarok" returning, in addition to a number of new and interesting song types and riffs. While still incredibly heavy, a lot of the prog and folk influences have returned for this record in full force, leading to epic anthems like "Another Fallen Brother" and "Blood of heroes", two tracks which I can only imagine will be spectacular live. Then they throw in surprises like "Mare of My Night" which is not only awesome but also sounds completely new with its overtly sexual lyrics and slow pulsing rhythm. Encompassing both the strengths of their past and innovations of their future, Valkyrja has proved that Týr have a bright future ahead of them and a number of things left to show us, including one of the best albums of the year.

8. Holy Grail - Ride The Void
One of the pioneers and exemplars of the trad metal trend of the past five years or so, Holy Grail have been intriguing since their inception, with their mix of classic Iron Maiden/Judas Priest style heavy metal with death metal riffs and drumming, and intricate shredding solos that would put some prog metal bands to shame. Unfortunately as a result of studio problems that would put a wrench in the works for any band, their debut album "Crisis in Utopia" while good, and containing a few truly excellent songs, had a few pretty disjointed tracks and problems despite all its positives. This is not the case on Ride the void, and its clear to see that Holy Grail are in top form and ready to take the metal world by storm again. From "Bestia Triumphans" to "Crosswinds" this album encompases everything metal is about. Ultra-heavy guitars combine with death metal war drums and catchy hooks and shrieking vocals too create something awesome, unique, and metal as fuck. With a set lineup, and a killer record under their belt, the future looks bright for these guys, and with their unique mix of the best of the old and new in metal, I'm sure they've made the likes of Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson proud. 

6. Mount Salem- Endless
Let me start by saying that this album has possibly one of the best beginnings of any record I've ever listened to when it comes to setting the right tone. An echo of feedback and a slow sinister bass line lead into an eerily fitting quote from none other than Charles Manson, which in turn gives way to a heavy pounding distorted guitar riff which in the wake of the quote creates a powerful sense terror and wrongness. It's perfect. This was a big year for doom metal, particularly for the occult doom scene spearheaded by bands like Electric Wizard, and these newcomers to the scene from Oregon do not disappoint. Songs like "Lucid" and "Full Moon" have the kind of perfect melodies, bluesy guitars, and great atmospheres that make them feel like instant classics, even with the bands underground status. Emily Kopplin's powerfully raw vocals add a lot to the sound and give the songs a sense of urgency and unease which takes songs like "Good Times" over the top, as do her smoky, sultry lows like on tracks like "Full Moon", and the other members all help create the total package with the pounding drums, dark plodding bass lines, and memorable guitar hooks each doing their part (plus they have a hammond organ which ALWAYS helps). If there's one new band you check out this year, make it these guys, as with this EP, they've released truly one of the best records of 2013.

5. Jex Thoth - Blood Moon Rise
Jex Thoth are another band making a lot of headway in the previously mentioned occult doom scene, and its really no surprise. The beautiful distinctive vocals of their singer Jex, and the enigmatic, cold atmosphere and production of much of their work makes for a unique listening experience. "Blood Moon Rise" takes the cold and somewhat melancholic atmosphere even farther, with tracks like "Psyar" almost sounding like something Agalloch might dream up. The driving bass throughout the album is a notable idiosyncrasy, with it playing a very prominent role in establishing the tone of the songs, as is the minimalistic but perfect percussion, with huge ringing toms, lots of symbol use, and clever use of muted notes and tambourines to create Jex Thoth's distinctive sound. The touches of hammond organ, and Jex's voice continue to add a touch of 70's psychedelia to their sound, which combined with the cold atmosphere and expressive and original guitar melodies pulls you to a unique place of cold winter wonder. It's a perfect album to throw on and walk through snow strewn streets or an ice covered forest, and became one of my favourites to listen to this year.

4. Protest the Hero - Volition
Protest the hero are just stupidly talented. They're one of those bands with not only no weak links but no non-fantastic links, from the brain milting guitar licks, the jazzy slapped bass, the crisp technical drums, and the jazzy clean vocals demanding your attention, they're a tight musical unit that I'm pretty sure its impossible not to like, and on their new album Volition they are showcasing once again just how good they are at what they do. It goes without saying at this point but the guitar licks on this album are astounding, the kind of thing I listen to and just think "how the fuck did they play or even come up with that", but there's new ground broken here. Solos like the one in drumhead trial are progressive in a way that feels new for the band, with the two dueling guitars sounding so uniquely voiced and distinct from one another, and with the sheer control displayed on all of the instruments, with very little ring coming from anything, and all of the notes starting and stopping exactly where you know the musician wanted them to with sniper rifle precision. This is also a relentlessly heavy album both musically and lyrically. The songs are almost all fast pulse-pounding tracks with sweeps and taps from the guitar throughout, sweeping you up in a never-ending whirlwind of sound. The lyrics on the other hand take PtH's tendency to deal with social commentary in their lyrics and dedicate to it even further, dealing with society's sexual norms, the dangers of wealth, and even the misguided way in which many trying to ban the ownership of the animal view pitbulls. The album is interesting on a number of levels and a really fun listening, so if you haven't picked it up yet, do so now, because you're missing out on one of the years best.

3. Watain - The Wild Hunt
I think I can say without hyperbole that Watain are the new kings of black metal. Surpassing even some of their best peers in taking the torch from early Norwegian black metal bands and bringing forth that same level of intense ferocity and sincerity which made the early days of black metal so compelling. With "The Wild Hunt" they have cemented this spot, taking their sound in completely new and unexpected directions and proving that black metal is indeed a genre without the limits many would apply to it. There are a number of great tracks on this album, with tracks like "All That May Bleed",  "Sleepless Evil", and "The Child Must Die" serving as the sonic soundtrack so a satanic nightmare from which the band refuses to let you wake. There is no shortage of merciless tremolo, and wicked howls to satiate the most die hard of black metal fans here. But what makes this album better than simply good, and raises it to the level of a classic is one song, "They Rode On". Inspired by the novel "The Blood Meridian" by Cormac McCarthy "They Rode On" on is perhaps my favourite song of the year, and one which I would never had expected from Watain. It is a ballad, drawing heavy influence clearly from 70's rock, but with a sense of darkness, melancholy, and foreboding, which could only come from a black metal band. It's enigmatic lyrics, absolutely perfect atmosphere, and haunting vocals are simply breathtaking. The song is nothing short of a masterpiece, and while the album is also fantastic otherwise and would have made a solid successor to their previous ode to the adversary "Lawless Darkness", this song causes it to rise above, and if there is any justice, will lift Watain to the level of admiration and reverence which they deserve.

2. The Ocean - Pelagial
Many Critics have said that the age of the album is dying, with singles and internet releases making the art of creating an hour long auditory experience for the listener no longer being relevant. With "Pelagial" The Ocean have proven that this is unequivocally false, and that there are bands still able and willing to take their listeners on sonic journeys which they will remember for years to come, and which can change how they think about music. The concept of pelagial is utterly unique, with each song representing a level of the ocean, from Epipelagic to Benthic. With each track the band and the listener journey further down descending into the black depths of the water to the very base of the oceans floor devoid of light. The musical mirroring of natural sounds and physical experiences on this album is nothing short of spectacular, and in the instruments of the band one can almost hear chittering dolphins, bellowing whales, rushing water, crushing pressure, and all encompassing-darkness. If you close your eyes and simply sit back and listen through the record without distraction you can almost feel the water around you, almost see the sunlight refracting through the waters surface. There are standout songs, and I certainly found myself listening to "Mesopelagic: Into The Uncanny" and "Hadopelagic II: Let Them Believe" a hell of a lot this year, but the best way to appreciate this album is as it was intended, as a single piece, as a journey, and if you let them take you on it, you're in for a completely unique experience which you won't soon forget.

1. Blood Ceremony - The Eldritch Dark
......Listen I said there was gonna be a lot of occult doom okay?!? Lay off! After finally discovering this Toronto based coven of musicians earlier this year, Blood Ceremony has quickly become one of my favourite bands. Being raised on Jethro Tull and other 70's rock, i immediately loved their sound. Their marriage of 70's psychedelic rock, doom metal, and early prog creates a concoction I find impossible not to love, and their newest album "The Eldritch Dark" is by far my favourite work of theirs thus far, with every single song being great in its own right, and with new ground tread by the quartet. Multi-instrumentalist Alia O'Brien brings her absolute A game here, with her distinct voice, fun and virtuosic hammond organ witchery, and Jethro Tull-esque flute solos all helping immensely to make the band stand out from the rest of the crowd. The grooving basslines of Lucas Gadke, and unforgettably catchy riffs of Sean Kennedy, and the perfect drum parts of Michael Carillo which I DARE you not to air-drum to also do their part in making this albums delightful witches brew an unceasingly enjoyable ride. The songs styles are also quite diverse on this record, with "Lord Summerisle", a folky acoustic duet between Gadke and O'Brien, "The Weird Sisters" a true ballad despite the distorted sound, telling the tale of the narrator's encounter with a coven of witches, and the instrumental jam "Faunus" all adding variety to this great album and its more straightforward occult doom anthems like "Goodbye Gemini" and "The Eldritch Dark". Above all though, this album is both fun and pretty much incapable of being boring. Blood Ceremony's lyrics, sound and atmosphere bring the listener back to a 60's/70's approach to the occult in music, with sex, magic, drugs, and satanism oozing from the lyrics in an unspeakably fun way that makes for an incredibly enjoyable listen. This was the album I couldn't stop putting on this year, in the car, during walks, or anywhere else, this was the album I put on when I wanted to have a good time and get my mind full of witchcraft and mischief, and for these reasons, it is my absolute favourite record of 2013

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