It’s time for year end lists! Actually it was time for year-end lists weeks ago. I should get an award for being the last blogger to post a best of 2013 list. Well let’s not waste any more time, it’s the best metal of 2013 according to me!
Anciients – Heart of Oak
Anciients released their first full length album this year and it’s an earth shaker. Heart of Oak combines warm and muscular guitars, melodic progressive riffs, mixed death and clean vocals, heavy bass, driving rhythms, and dark transcendent lyrics. The effect is a powerful journey through deadly oceans, shadowy mountains, and the black cosmos.
Hear me now
See the mountain
And the spine
Of the Sky
Claw your insides
These Canadians craft lengthy songs and know how to use mixed vocals and time changes to great effect. The inventive riffs come one after another, and Kenneth Paul Cook’s solos are tremendous. These guys have been compared to Mastodon. They are far, far better.
Portal – Vexovoid
Once again Portal takes the listener to a deranged and obscure place with their latest album. Vexovoid. I’ve heard this described as more accessible than their previous album Swarth; to me it’s every bit as vile and challenging. The Curator has outdone himself with the lyrics this time, basically creating his own language where the words aren’t proper words but you get the feeling behind them. His ethereal yet growled delivery is creepy. Check out Plasm:
This song makes you feel like you’re getting sucked under in a black river of festering ooze. The dissonant riffs, chaotic drumming, rumbling bass; it makes for a harrowing experience. This is metal, dark, wicked, uncompromising, pushing limits, and making people uncomfortable.
Blood Ceremony – The Eldritch Dark
Blood Ceremony are back with one of the most sinister records of the year. Everyone’s drooling over Ghost, fuck that, Blood Ceremony are the wicked occult rockers Ghost wish they could be. For my money Blood ceremony has a uniqueness and an originality Ghost lack. Vocalist flutist Alia O’Brien has turned in a positively evil performance. It’s nice to hear her vocals a bit more up front than their last record. Sean Kennedy’s riffs are less Sabbath-like and the heaviness is dialed back a bit this time. The flute, organ, and guitar work well together to create a retro blend with depth and darkness. The lyrics bring it all together. Again we peek in on the pagan gods and ancient ceremonies like on opener Witchwood:
Black magic has risen in Witchwood
Their devilry takes place within our lonely woods
Such strange words & stranger visions
Forbidden hymns to summon things one never should
I love the creepy vibe. The band stretches on the acoustic tune Lord Summerisle, with bassist Lucas Gadke singing with Alia to great effect. It’s one of many great songs on an excellent album. Enter The Eldritch Dark!
Purson – The Circle and the Blue Door
This record took a while to grow on me, although elements of it are immediately appealing. Rosalie Cunningham’s charming and deep voice, Samuel Shove’s fuzzed out keys and the whole mystical retro vibe of the band’s music. Some of the tunes are instantly likable and memorable like Spiderwood Farm, The Contract, and Tempest and the Tide. Others like Mavericks and Mystics and Sapphire Ward are growers.
Rosalie Cunningham leads this band to great heights with her voice, guitar playing and songwriting. Her voice reminds me a lot of ex-Flowing Tears vocalist Stefanie Duchêne. Their music is a throwback to 70s pomp and prog like Bowie and the Beatles and early hard rock and metal like Deep Purple and Sabbath. The melodies, enigmatic lyrics, and authentic recording make this a real pleasure to listen to.
Sahg – Delusions of Grandeur
After four albums Sahg remains consistently excellent. Their latest, Delusions of Grandeur, may well be their best. Their last was more straightforward; this one is more involved and more epic. It’s a concept record about a person consumed by delusions of conquering and eventually drifting beyond the universe.
This is my realm
My cosmic kingdom
I hold the helm
I drink the venom
The world obeys from underneath
Buckles at my feet
The music lives up to this lofty concept. Sahg’s signature meaty guitar tone is an ominous backdrop to the tremendous vocal hooks. This band is firing on all thrusters, breaking the boundaries of the atmosphere and plunging headlong into the outer threshold of heavy metal; Delusions of Grandeur is a fantastic musical journey not to be missed.
Fates Warning – Darkness in a Different Light
I’m beginning to think Jim Matheos has some kind of super powers. How can one guy come up with so many great albums over so many years? Mind boggling. The music on Darkness in a Different Light is not as mind boggling as Matheos’ last masterpiece, Arch/Matheos’ Sympathetic Resonance, but it is another excellent record. No Exit era Fates veterans Frank Aresti and Ray Alder are back in fine form. Ray, although no longer hitting the sky high notes, is still one of heavy metal’s most passionate vocalists. And it’s a real treat to have Bobby Jarzombek hammering out the drums on a Fates record (although he was also on Sympathetic Resonance).
Darkness in a Different Light is a diverse record. It’s got straightforward heavy rockers like I Am and Firefly, a couple of slower more pensive songs, and an epic that takes a while to digest but I’ve grown to love. The standout for me is Kneel and Obey with its crushing riffs and dark infectious chorus. Darkness in a Different Light is another strong entry in the Fates Warning catalog.
The Winery Dogs
There’s always a need for kick ass hard rock. The dogs deliver! These three veteran virtuosos have combined to make something new, immediate, and raw. I didn’t know Ritchie Kotzen had such a great voice! I knew he could shred of course, but the solos here are more than just noodly doodly. It’s really interesting how he and Billy Sheehan work in the ripping licks into these catchy tunes. Reminds me a bit of Sheehan’s Mr. Big. Of course you can’t ignore Mike Portnoy’s drumming prowess. He really gives this record extra balls. Good idea leaving Dream Theater, this is better than anything they’ve released in twenty years.
Bergtatt – Lagnadsoger
Bergtatt has released a folk metal tour de force with Lagnadsoger. These Norwegians sing in their native tongue but that doesn’t prevent them from connecting with an English only monoglot like me. Damn can their singer Linn Katrin Øygard tear it up! The ladies are making quite an impact on the metal scene this year with some of the stellar vocal performances. Bergtatt’s mix of authentic instruments, distorted guitar, superb melodies, and soaring vocals is perfectly arranged to take the listener on a flight from pensive quiet passages to others of ebullient high energy. The music is sort of a mix of Lumsk (another Norwegian female fronted folk metal band) and early Lacuna Coil with more upbeat songs. The album falters in the last quarter but by then you’re won over by the superior earlier songs.
Here’s few records that are good but just miss the mark for one reason or another
Gorguts – Colored Sands
What fantastic music; dissonant death metal brilliance. Chaotic, creepy, violent, insane with vicious death growls. But what the hell’s with the lyrics? Buddhism, compassion!? “Staring peacefully” “Amongst majestic peaks”. “Nature gave to man contemplation, Leading to divine inspiration.” Sorry but meditation and sand art are not congruent with raging, violent feral death metal.
Windhand – Soma
Here’s yet another really good band this year with a great female singer. This is some fuzzed out doom with the vocals straining to climb on top of the bottom heavy guitars. But why are these songs so long? Riding the same riff for 5 or 10 minutes is a bit much. The last song along is a half hour, and the prior one is nearly 14 minutes; I don’t mind long songs but I do mind songs that are too long.
Avatarium – Avatarium
Leif Edling from Candlemass put this Sabbath inspired doom project together; and yes it’s another female singer. She’s great too; in a Dio style. The Sabbath inspiration is the problem with this record. It’s too much Sabbath. Some of these riffs were on the early Sabbath records, great riffs of course, but I don’t want to hear a new band and be waiting for Ozzy’s vocals to kick in. Too bad; it was almost great.