Thursday, January 2, 2014


Well kids, 2013 has come to pass.  Was it a good year?  Sure.  The way I see it, the best albums this year, are better than the best albums last year (excepting Sigh, who released one of the greatest metal albums in the past twenty years), but overall 2012 was stronger.  Basically, 2012 was Imaginations from the Other Side, 2013 was Nightfall in Middle-Earth.  So for the sake of consistency, I've decided to cement my yearly lists with 13 entrants, though I found myself not leaving off any albums I felt were entirely worthy (unlike last year where it physically hurt me to leave off Stormrider).   The only rules I have for this list are A) No EPs; full lengths only (which excludes the fabulous Astral Sabbat from Jess and the Ancient Ones (it would have ranked fifth or sixth, had I included it)) and B) metal only (to an extent).  I realize one of these isn't really a metal album, but it's undeniably heavy and I found myself really enjoying it, so it truly does deserve a place (this rule excludes Common Courtesy from A Day to Remember, because fuck you that is an awesome album).  With that out of the way, let's just get a move on.  I want to get this list over with so I can go back to shotgunning bottles of NyQuil.


13: Exhumed - Necrocracy
Right out of the gate we just have an absolute monster of an album.  I sang my praises for their previous record, but in all honesty only a couple songs REALLY grabbed me and made me hurt innocent bystanders.  This one, oddly enough, has less songs that really stand out, but overall the entire album is just one plateau of intensity and violence from start to finish.  It's structured a little less chaotically, the songs are a little less unhinged, but the maturity of sound, for once, actually sounds like a band trying harder instead of getting more boring.  They'll never reach the dizzying heights of Slaughtercult again, but for a more mature reimagining of that album, Necrocracy is exactly what it should be.

12: Suffocation - Pinnacle of Bedlam
This one had me worried.  Just like Exhumed up there, this was a veteran band taking a different approach to a tried-and-true formula.  Unlike the awkward Blood Oath, this one worked marvelously.  I know it's going to sound cliche since Culross is behind the kit once again, but this is basically the full length interpretation of Despise the Sun I've been craving for years now.  Pinnacle of Bedlam shows a simpler Suffocation, with less twisting morbidity and more straightforward violence.  Yeah it's a little overproduced and yeah the cover is pretty cliche by modern standards, but the music contained is the most punishing Suffo's managed since the reunion.

11: Monolithe - Monolithe IV
Like I recently mentioned, funeral doom is a treacherous genre because it's so simple in theory and execution, but at the same time so easily mediocre as a result.  Monolithe present a very specialized and themed brand of the style, with every album just being one monumentally long and gargantuan track, and unlike most funeral doom bands, Monolithe is very busy and riff centric.  Monolithe IV is no exception, launching out of the gate with a twenty minute buildup and worthy climax.  All riffs all the time.  It's strange for the style, but Monolithe shows how excellent it can be when done right.

10: Eyeconoclast - Drones of the Awakening
The spiritual successor to Deathrace King, thirteen years later.  The Crown is goddamn awesome, but they've never topped that magnum opus.  Enter this Italian mostlydeath/kindathrash monstrosity, which follows the same idea, but with a huge helping of that Italian tech death flavor I love so much.  It's no coincidence that some members of Hour of Penance can be found here, one of my absolute favorite salad shooter tech death bands and a constant contender on these lists I do.  It reminds me a lot of fellow countrymen, Natron, who sadly haven't released an album of new material since 2009.  Eyeconoclast helps fill that void.

9: The Browning - Hypernova
And here stands that controversial pick I mentioned earlier.  Yeah, it isn't metal, so logically I shouldn't have included it since I mentioned this year was metal only, but that rule was really just to keep A Day to Remember off the list since you buttholes would probably hang me for ranking it higher than Monolithe.  Everything wrong with Burn This World has essentially been fixed.  The atmosphere from the self titled independent debut is still conspicuously absent, but the simplicity of its predecessor has been refined to more ear catching tunes, and even some more variety within the songs themselves (check out "Breaking Point").  Really, this is the album The Browning should have released as their major label debut, because this sounds like what Burn This World should have been.

8: Iron Reagan - Worse than Dead
ONE TWO THREE FOUR.  God damn, this one is a ripper.  Twenty five straight minutes of unrelenting, vicious crossover thrash, more on the hardcore punk side most of the time.  Really, it wasn't a very good year for thrash overall (the next highest album besides this one would be Manifest Decimation, and that's like twenty or thirty places down, and it's got a huge hardcore influence as well).  This is a side project of members of Municipal Waste and Darkest Hour, and it shows.  If you don't like MW, you won't like this.  If you do, you'll be glad to hear the best thing they've touched since Hazardous Mutation.  This is really the point in the list where we stop touching on "great albums" and more on "best albums".  This point last year was around spot number 16 or 17.

7: Light Bringer - Scenes of Infinity
This pick could also be seen as controversial, but that's only if you're afraid of yourself.  A super kawaii bombastic power metal band from Japan?  You bet your ass I'm on that shit.  What this basically sounds like is a super poppy, super cute Nightwish, with much better vocals than Annette and some absolutely absurd instrumentals.  The amount of ridiculous basslines are just off the charts, it's almost Hibria level.  Power metal of the highest order, and it deserves a lot more love and a lot less dismissive handwaves as weeaboo shite.  Granted, it is exactly that, but it completely fucking rules and "Venus" is currently the greatest song ever written.  Non-negotiable.

6: The Black Dahlia Murder - Everblack
These guys have been on a pretty consistent "good album, meh album" flip flopping since their inception (though Deflorate did admittedly have two of their best tracks ("Black Valor" and "I Will Return")), so I wasn't too excited for Everblack.  Amazingly, it blew me away by managing to be the band's best album since Nocturnal, and potentially their best ever.  There are so many tracks that are destined to be classics within their catalogue.  "In Hell Is Where She Waits for Me", "Map of Scars", "Every Rope a Noose", "Raped in Hatred by Vines of Thorn", it's just a melodic death metal classic all around.  The amped up meloblack influence is another contributing factor.  It just fucking rules.

5: Battle Beast - Battle Beast
Now, when I'd learned that these fun loving Finns had ousted the fat girl with Messiah Marcolin hair and replaced her with a pretty young blonde, I was pretty skeptical.  Nitte Valo was great as the frontwoman, and Noora Louhimo had some enormous shoes to fill.  Amazingly, she does a fantastic job and contributes to an album that actually ends up better than the debut.  The choruses are more anthemic, the fast songs are more fun, the epic songs are more grandiose, just everything has been dialed up to eleven.  The new girl even has a very similar Doro styled screech that made Steel stand out so much.  It's a simple, balls to the wall heavy metal album and there's nothing more I could logically ask it to be.  It does what it does better than everybody else.  Fans of 80s Priest should take heed.

4: Enforcer - Death by Fire
Look, I'm not a huge Enforcer fan because I love how original they are, I'm not deluded.  I know they just reuse ideas that better bands championed thirty years ago, but fuck they just do it so wellDeath by Fire here is unbelievably fun, simple, and aggressive.  If Metallica and Motley Crue had learned to get along in 1983, Death by Fire is the kind of album that could have resulted from such a collaboration at such a point in time.  This is really just Diamonds with a shot in the arm, it's old school trad metal with no pretenses.  It's just bare knuckle, meat and potatoes fun.  This has no epic touches like Battle Beast up there, but it doesn't need any.  This just takes the Mercyful Fate route and wastes no time pummeling you with riff after riff after melody after hook after chorus.  It's amazing.

3: Protest the Hero - Volition
Yeah yeah this isn't metal either shut your fucking face.  Whatever hodgepodge of mathcore, metalcore, prog, whateverthefuck you want to call them, Protest does it better than any other band in the genre.  What makes Volition so special, apart from simply being their best album so far (and that's saying a lot), is the background behind it.  The fact that it's fully fan-funded, the fact that nearly every track features guest vocals by fans, the part in "Animal Bones" where they pretty much explicitly thank the fans for being so wonderful, featuring all of them in that moment, and then throwing back to "Sequoia Throne" from Fortress...  This is an album for the fans, and really, it's by the fans as well, and it's better than any amount of studio financing could have inspired them to be.  We made this happen, and they made it worth our while.

2: Gotsu Totsu Kotsu - Legend of Shadow
I called this one early and it wound up sticking.  One theme I'm sure you've noticed this year for me is simplicity.  I've loved the most simple albums the most.  Fuck complexity, fuck extreme technicality, just give me some awesome music with superbly written songs.  That's what GTK manages here, this is probably the most organic death metal album written since the early 90s.   Every moment is so fluid, every segment feels so goddamn natural, it's basically a barely choreographed jam session that happened to result in a bunch of awesome songs.  The vocals sound like Agamo angrily hurling fire and boulders down upon his Polynesian worshippers, and the slap bass is both overdone and completely tasteful.  This is exactly what you'd imagine if Bolt Thrower had been Japanese.

And the winner is...

1: Tengger Cavalry - Black Steed/The Expedition
This is kiiiiiinda cheating, since Tengger Cavalry released two albums this year, but really and truly it's just the same album twice.  Normally I'd call something like this an underhanded cash grab, but I'd be lying if I said that The Expedition isn't the best album I've heard all year.  It's getting the nod above Black Steed because that album was basically just a glorified EP with two tracks from the previous Sunesu Cavalry disc from Cavalry FolkThe Expedition on the other hand, is that same EP, with two new tracks, and the two bonus tracks being from the acoustic/ambient Mantra disc from that previous two-disc album.  The calming atmospheric songs add a brilliant denouement to an intense, galloping riff fiesta.  I don't even know what to call this.  It's folk metal, sure, but that gives one the
impression of something silly like Korpiklaani.  The metal bits are some nebulous mix of trad/black/death/trash/everything metal.  It's like Melechesh in that it's very hard to define, but the folk elements are very, very strong.  Horsehead fiddles and dombras galore, complete with (and I'm so glad somebody finally managed to make this sound awesome in the context of a metal album) Mongolian throat singing.  This is basically what would happen if I had any talent and had attempted to write an album based off the Dynasty Warriors games I've been so hopelessly addicted to for the last decade.  I'd love to keep gushing but it'll just turn into a regular old review if I did, so I'll have to rein it in here.  Congratulations, Tengger Cavalry, you've earned the prestigious (yes it is, shut up) BH Award for Album of the Year 2013.

While we're here...


Jess and the Ancient Ones - Astral Sabbat: Like I mentioned, this would have easily ranked very high if I ever allowed myself to rank EPs on my final list.  JATAO shows once again why they're the reigning kings of this recent trend of psychedelic occult doom rock bands.  The climax of "More than Living" is one of the greatest things ever.

A Day to Remember - Common Courtesy: Fuck you guys, I love this band.  They're basically one part Yellowcard, one part Killswitch Engage, and this latest album (finally released amongst years of delays and label fuckery) has proven why I find them so worthwhile.  The songs are all well written and catchy, and unlike the last album, the light and heavy sides of the band are blended marvelously instead of being entirely separated between songs.  Another one that would have ranked on the list if I had allowed myself to include it.

Children of Bodom - Halo of Blood: This is the album we Bodom fans have been hoping for since 2005.  It's unspeakably refreshing to hear the band putting so much effort into their music again, after spending the better part of the last decade coasting on how good their previous albums were.  The power metal side is amped up again, the solos are back to being as ridiculous and self indulgent as they were before, it's just the successor to Hate Crew Deathroll that I've been waiting for since I was a teenager.

Motorhead - Aftershock: Man you know exactly what this sounds like.  That means you also know how awesome it is.  Lemmy's health has been deteriorating lately, and with the passing of greats like Peter Steele and Dio in these past few years, I've been kinda bracing myself for the inevitable.  If this ends up being his swansong, it'll be a worthy one.

Gamma Ray - Masters of Confusion: Another great EP.  I don't like how there are really only two new songs (thus making this the most needlessly padded single in history), but those two new songs are very, very good.  It's a welcome surprise after the last two albums of uninspired, pilfered nonsense.  There's still some noticeable plagiarism ("Empire of the Undead" just straight up bases itself around the main riff of "Hit the Lights"), which is lame, but the spirit of the band is so high that it overpowers the deja vu, just like on Majesty eight years ago.


Diamond Plate - Pulse: Man how can one band have consecutive releases on my disappointments list?  Shouldn't my hopes have not been high this time?  Especially after how little I liked the last album and how bitter I was about the ousting of co-founding member Paul Baloff?  Everything that made this band so great back when they were starting is pretty much wholly gone.  I predict the next album to be a completely faceless prog album that nobody except total nerds care about.  RIP DP, you used to be my shining light.

Hibria - Silent Revenge: BOOOOOOOORING.  This band just can't stay consistent for the life of them.  It seems like every odd numbered album is going to rule and every even numbered one is gonna be faceless and lame.  Maybe this is why Brazil is probably my least favorite major country when it comes to power metal.

Hail of Bullets - III: The Rommel Chronicles: This is honestly my first Hail of Bullets album, and after years of hype I've heard about the band, I just can't fathom it based on this album.  I swear nothing interesting happens, and it's a bummer because I was prepared to love this.  I guess I just have to admit that I'm a spineless dweeb and I'm not really much of a fan of anything van Drunen seems to be involved in.  Hopefully the rest of their discography is great, because this just does absolutely nothing for me.

Skeletonwitch - Serpents Unleashed: Ehhhh, I dunno.  I have a raging boner for Beyond the Permafrost and Forever Abomination, but this one just doesn't do much for me.  It feels like a band going through the motions most of the time.  It's just not nearly as memorable as those previous two albums are, and it ends up on a plane of slightly-above-mediocre with Breathing the Fire.  Mayhap they should just stick to coloring their album covers green?

Manilla Road - Mysterium: For as much shit as I give this band, I do genuinely want to like them.  The Deluge is a great album and it showcases how the band can make their quirkiness work, but Mysterium here is just completely devoid of the magic of the aforementioned record.  The solos still rule, and the ballad is great, but I still hate Shelton's voice and most of the riffs are really tired, boring, plodfests.  It's disappointing because the hype was huge and I actually bought into it.  This band really needs to retire, Shelton is in his fucking sixties.  He could be Tom Araya's father.

Chorniy Nimb - Vlada Temryavy: This is just some completely random, woefully obscure Ukranian band, but they're billed as "symphonic thrash".  I've been wanting to hear that for so long, aaaaand the album just ends up being a really dull thrash-by-numbers album with no urgency and terrible MIDI strings every few minutes.  I'll just wait for some other band that doesn't suck to give the style a try.

Now, last year I had enough horrible albums to crank out a second list of the ten worst albums of the year, but really, this year had less clearly offensively horrible stinkers, and just a slew of extremely boring, faceless, not-worth-caring-about dreck.  So instead I'm just going to shorten it to five, because you know how impossible it would be for me to NOT be an asshole to people who put a lot of hard work into their art.


5: Turisas - Turisas2013
Apparently the only thing worse than an offensively bad Turisas is an offensively boring one.  This is bad.  It's very bad, but even then nothing happens in it.  Just... how is that possible?  To be the two things I hate the most in a bad album (both shitty AND boring) is almost a feat in itself.  Just fuck this album and fuck this stupid band.

4: Metal - Proving Our Mettle
I'm not even going to talk about this one.  You know exactly what it sounds like already.

3: Giant X - I

2: Humanity's Last Breath - Humanity's Last Breath

1: Saruman - Whatever his shitty album was called

 *pops Prozac like they're Skittles*

And there we have it, my fourth annual year-end list published on Lair of the Bastard.  I'm actually a bit shocked to see I've stuck with this for so long now, but I'm glad I have.  You guys are all wonderful, beautiful people.  Despite the staggeringly high quality of the top five or so albums here, here's to hoping 2014 gives us even more great music on the whole!  See y'all as we go!

1 comment:

  1. Why no mention of Kalmah's "Seventh Swamphony"?