Thursday, December 26, 2013

My favorite albums of 2013

2012 was a great year for music, and yet somehow, 2013 topped it in many ways.  A lot of new bands surprised me, and quite a few bands made comebacks that were above and beyond any expectations I had.  Here were my favorites:

15.  Cult of Luna -- Vertikal.  When Isis called it a day, I was pretty bummed out. However, I wouldn't have been as bummed if I'd have known there were bands like this who could fill that gap.
  -- Favorite Track:  In Awe Of

14.  Portal -- Vexovoid.  The sound of pure evil.  Their previous albums had the production and the theatrics, but this new album brings some memorable riffs that I didn't think they had in them.
  -- Favorite Track:  Kilter

13.  Scale the Summit -- The Migration.  Virtuoso instrumental guitar work.  These guys are consistently amazing.
  -- Favorite Track:  The Traveler

12.  Altar of Plagues -- Teethed Glory and Injuries.  This industrial black metal album took time to grow on me.  It's not an easy listen at first, but it was worth the extra effort to push through the 'idea' of what it should be and to actually appreciate it for what it is.
  -- Favorite Track:  God Alone

11.  Gorguts -- Colored Sands.  A great comeback album from a death metal band that has always been better than their name lets on.
  -- Favorite Track:  Colored Sands

10.  My Bloody Valentine -- mbv.  Speaking of comebacks, it took 22 years for this one to release, but it lived up to my lofty expectations.  No other art-rock band sounds quite like they do.  Not then, and not now.
  -- Favorite Track:  Who Sees You

 9.  The Ocean -- Pelagial.  The most consistent listen in their catalog, and the purest vision of who they are as songwriters.  Call them prog-rock, or post-metal, or alternative ... they're all those things and more.
  -- Favorite Track:  Mesopelagic: Into the Uncanny

 8.  Karnivool -- Asymmetry.  "Australia's Tool" steps away a tiny bit from the easy Tool comparisons.  While not as immediately listenable as their last album (Sound Awake), it still rewards repeated listens.
  -- Favorite Track:  We Are

 7.  Carcass -- Surgical Steel.  Another comeback from a seminal death metal band, and this one washes away the poor aftertaste of their 'final' album (Swansong).  Can't wait to see them tour next spring!
  -- Favorite Track:  Captive Bolt Pistol

 6.  Dillinger Escape Plan -- One Of Us Is The Killer.  After a couple of inconsistent albums that saw them struggling to find a middle ground between poppy spaz-rock and the math-metal genre they helped create, they've finally found the sweet spot.  Their best since Miss Machine.
  -- Favorite Track:  One Of Us Is The Killer

 5.  Spiritual Beggars -- Earth Blues.  The 70's never died!  Their previous albums didn't feel as playful as this one, and it's all the better for it.  Fuzzy production with lots of Hammond organ and cowbell.  Great for long highway drives.
  -- Favorite Track:  Turn the Tide / Legends Collapse

 4.  Alice In Chains -- The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here.  Either I've finally put Layne Staley to rest in my mind, or this is the best full-length album they've released since Dirt.
  -- Favorite Track:  Hollow

 3.  Amorphis -- Circle.  I first heard this Finnish band on their breakout folk metal album "Tales From The Thousand Lakes" in 1994, but I lost track of them when they started experimenting with different genres like electronica.  However, if they have other albums that are as instantly catchy as this, I have a lot of homework to do.   Great sing-along choruses and radio-friendly production?  I'm surprised they aren't more popular.
  -- Favorite Tracks:  The Wanderer / Hopeless Days

 2.  Tesseract -- Altered State.  One of the bands that helped create the 'djent' genre goes through yet another vocalist change, and redefines their feel without losing what makes them who they are.  I still miss Daniel, as his ability to float between aggressive and angelic vocals was inimitable, but Ashe is still a definite improvement over Elliot.  This band continues to get bigger, and I wouldn't be surprised if they're headlining a major metal festival by the time their next album releases. 
  -- Favorite Tracks:  Nocturne / Retrospect

 1.  Deafheaven -- Sunbather.  Someone described this band to me as 'putting black metal, post-rock, and shoegaze in a blender".  What a horrible idea, right?  Then I heard Sunbather, and they've been a mainstay in my ears ever since.  I'm a sucker for bands that can combine beauty with brutality, and Deafheaven might be the best at this since Opeth stopped being a 'metal' band.  The shrill vocals feel oppressive, but the warmth of the production and songwriting draw you in.  It just WORKS.
  -- Favorite Track:  Sunbather

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):

Authority Zero -- The Tipping Point.  Consistently catchy.
  -- Favorite Track:  Undivided

Black Dahlia Murder -- Everblack.  The AC/DC of death metal.
  -- Favorite Track:  Every Rope a Noose

Cloudkicker -- Subsume.  The best one-man instrumental prog band out there today.
  -- Favorite Track:  He would be riding on the subway...

Clutch -- Earth Rocker.  Who doesn't like this band by now?
  -- Favorite Track:  D.C. Sound Attack

Editors -- The Weight of Your Love.  British indie-rock that doesn't sound like it's trying too hard.
  -- Favorite Tracks:  Sugar / A Ton of Love

Living Sacrifice -- Ghost Thief.  Christian metallers' triumphant comeback album.
  -- Favorite Track:  Ghost Thief

Queens of the Stone Age -- Like Clockwork.  Something about this record feels 'off', and I like that about it.
  -- Favorite Track:  I Sat By The Ocean

Ulcerate -- Vermis.  Not as good as their last album, but still soul-crushingly heavy.
  -- Favorite Track:  Vermis

White Moth Black Butterfly -- One Thousand Wings.  Former Tesseract vocalist brings soul to a Massive Attack-like rock group, with surprising results.
  -- Favorite Tracks:  Ties of Grace / Omen

My not-so-scientific predictions for 2014:
  -- February releases from both Behemoth and Cynic will dominate my ears for most of the year, and both will end up high on my 2014 list.
  -- The new album from Skyharbor will release in the fall, and will be my #2.  I didn't hear their 2012 debut (Blinding White Noise) until this year, but they have my full attention now.
  -- The new album from Anathema will release in the summer, and will be my #1 for the third straight release of theirs.

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