Friday, January 31, 2014

Lost Horizon - A Flame to the Ground Beneath

Sam Jewkowsky

This is another one I don't think I'll ever fully understand.  Lost Horizon, once upon a time, was probably the most hyped power metal band in the universe (at least on the corners of the internet I frequent), and they're still cited as one of the few examples of great Europower from people who can't stand Europower.  Now I, as a noted Europower fanatic (stop lying to yourselves and embrace Rhapsody and Nightwish already, dammit), this filled me with conflicted anticipations.  On one hand, surely they must be one of the most impressive bands in the style if they can transcend fandoms so seamlessly, but on the other hand, there must be something wholly different about them that makes them so easily removed from their geographical scene.  After nearly a decade of listening to this album roughly once a year, I think I can finally speechify my feelings towards Lost Horizon.

They rule, they suck, they're middle of the road, and most of all, they're disappointing.

Honestly, I still struggle to give a concrete answer as to how I view them from a qualitative standpoint.  I think there's a ton of potential at play, and there are some stunningly brilliant moments thrown around from time to time, but there are also long stretches where I find myself checking how much time is left in the song because it's just starting to bore me so much.  The band tends to be both awesome and lame at the same time, and at the end of the day I think the most poignant phrase I can use to describe them is "wasted potential" or "high-quality disappointment".

I know I have a habit of letting hype taint my views of a band, but I'm not even letting that in when discussing Lost Horizon.  They're so disappointing to me because Daniel Heiman is, without a doubt, one of the most talented vocalists I've heard in all of power metal.  Seriously, I don't think I've ever heard a more sublime balance of power, control, and range.  There are guys who have some qualities but lack others, like Joacim Cans of Hammerfall who is magnificently controlled, but wimpy as shit and sports what seems to be a half octave range, or Jens Carlsson of Persuader who sports a fairly impressive range and enough power to provide electricity to a small village, but sometimes flays wildly around like he's just lost himself entirely (in this case I don't view it as a bad thing, but from a technical sense it's not as impressive as Heiman).  Heiman is incredibly strong and incredibly clean at the same time, punctuating his performance with eardrum bursting high notes surprisingly tastefully.  He also uses his voice as a third guitar for many moments, notably "Highlander", where he has several moments of choreographed flourishes where his voice is carrying a melody that most other bands would logically use a guitar for.  I seriously cannot stress enough how impressive he is as a vocalist and how tastefully he showcases his talents.

This is such a bloody shame because the rest of the band is about as by-the-numbers and dull as you can imagine.  This band gets a lot of love from non-Europower fans for odd reasons like "they're Europower without the faggotry" or "they're just better, obviously", when really this is about as gay as any random Italian flower metal band.  I don't know what qualifies as the "gay" elements in the style, but there's no lack of major scale melodies, huge synths, soaring vocal melodies, double bass, catchy choruses, it's all here.  The only difference is that all of it is dialed back to the point of tedium.  The band takes the idea of Swedish/German flower metal and just saps all of the batshit insanity out of it.  There are no booming symphonics, only subtle keys.  There are no obscenely poppy or catchy numbers, just moments where you'll catch yourself subtly nodding your head or tapping your foot.  There are no grand sweeping choruses, only simple melodies that, while effective, just kind of happen at a pedestrian pace and never do much to grab the listener.

But BH! You've basically just described German speed metal, which you always say is your favorite niche scene!

Yeah, kinda, except not at all.  Flower metal is usually just the foundation of that early speed metal I love so much with dozens of layers of sugary fun on top.  Constant double bass, huge melodies and bombastic orchestrations.  The problem is that Lost Horizon doesn't have those superfluous elements, nor do they even have that base.  They're not fast, they're not over the top, and they're not ridiculous or fun.

But BH!  That just sounds like USPM then, since it's based more on riffing prowess than melodies or vocals!

And oddly enough, USPM fans really seem to flock to Lost Horizon.  I can kind of understand why, since (while guitar/synth melodies aren't completely absent  (check something like "Think Not Forever")), the guitars seem to take a rhythmic focus most of the time.  If you take the goddamned immaculate vocals out of the equation, you're left with almost nothing of interest.  The rhythmic showcase is dull as shit because there are almost no interesting riffs to be heard.  This is why I can't fathom the USPM fans adoring A Flame to the Ground Beneath so much.  Blue collar USPM bands like Omen, Jag Panzer, Helstar, Manilla Road, and others are just loaded with neck breaking and creative riffage.  Whenever the pace picks up to a higher tempo, Lost Horizon just does the generic flower metal thing of just simple chord progressions with a ton of palm muting, and whenever it's at a more mid pace (which the band seems to be most comfortable with), it's just dull chugging or uninteresting meandering.  I feel like the band themselves understood that Heiman was the main draw here, and so nearly everything they do is simply a backdrop for his vocal acrobatics.  There is pretty much only one thing I can give the band credit for outside of the obviously brilliant frontman, and that's that the solos are insanely good.  When the guitarists decide to just let loose, holy crap they can really melt faces. 

I keep comparing Lost Horizon to scenes they're not really a part of, but the reason for that is that they come off to me like they're trying to play one style with the vision of another at times.  It's hard to tell which is leading which, but it comes off as kind of awkward.  Are they trying to take the over the top bombast of Europower and filter it through the more sophisticated lens of USPM?  Or are they taking the simplistic, down-to-earth attitude of USPM and putting it through the more grand scope of Europower?  It feels like both at times, and it just comes off as a worst of both worlds.  And really, the only reason I'm trying to compare the two styles is because of where the band's popularity stems from.  The real scene they fit into perfectly is the northern European prog/power scene, with bands like Tad Morose, Morgana Lefay, and Pagan's Mind.  Granted, I don't really like any of those bands all that much for the same reason I find myself so conflicted with Lost Horizon.  Musically, they just bore the crap out of me.  A Flame to the Ground Beneath is loaded with great moments that all involve one member, and the rest of the band does next to nothing interesting or worthwhile.  There are a whopping six real songs that aren't ambient interludes, and half of them are 8 minutes or more.  They're structured creatively and Heiman is entertaining as always, but they just drag on for what seems like forever, and whenever it's at an instrumental section I just find myself yawning, waiting for the singer to come back.

That's the biggest problem with A Flame to the Ground Beneath to me.  It's focused on things like "maturity" and "songwriting", and I'm putting those words in "air quotes" because they so frequently seem like codewords for "boring" and "not at all entertaining".  Maturity is paying your mortgage on time and reading the newspaper every morning over coffee, having fun is spending all of your money on beer and samurai swords and reading fantasy novels before leaving to go join your friends for an all night session of "let's see who can climb this tree and jump into the lake with the most backflips".  I know what I'd rather do, is all I'm saying.  It's no different here, the songs are presented as something like a "thinking man's metal" but it just comes off sloppy and trite until Heiman shows up and wails like a banshee.  The problem is that so much of the album's running time is taken up by mid paced banality, with no instrumental segments seeming to try to break out of the greater whole of mediocrity.  There are moments of great songwriting, like the chorus of "Lost in the Depths of Me" or the final stretch of "Highlander", but on the whole it just feels like filler in between the vocal showcase.  Honestly, all of the most cliche parts (when the band goes for a more straightfoward section with double bass and big melodies) are all the highest points of the album.  This is a band that could benefit from being more predictable and typical.  Honestly, if they embraced the ideals of sugary, over-the-top flower metal, they could easily reign as a top tier band.  I get that fun wasn't really the aim of the band, but this isn't fun to listen to.  There's no sense of entertainment from the vast majority of the album.  Something like, I dunno, The Crimson Idol isn't fun at all, but it's rewarding in some capacity.  A Flame to the Ground Beneath is not rewarding in any way apart from the one obvious element that I can't stop fawning over.

I've been struggling to quantify exactly what percentage rating I'd give this album, and it's really because the good parts are extraordinarily good, but the majority of the album is just not worth listening to.  This was initially going to be part of my Jerking the Circle series (back when it was supposed to be seven reviews in seven days, before I got impatient), but I really can't bring myself to bestow the series title onto this because I kinda like it in a way.  If you took Heiman out of the equation, and replaced him with literally any other vocalist, this would score unbelievably low.  Like 20 or 30 percent.  But that's where the draw of the album comes into play, because he is so damn good that he makes the unbearably dull instrumentals and uninteresting songwriting just seem like a goddamn masterpiece.  But since he is the frontman, there is at least a small amount of enjoyment to be gleaned from the album.  I really, really wish he could find a more energetic and entertaining band to front, because he deserves to be in front of something that can actually get your blood pumping.  So in the end, a score in the fifties will have to suffice.  It's not a negative score, because this isn't a bad album, but it's not really worth recommending apart from the experience of just sitting in awe of Heiman's voice.

RATING - 55%

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Lvcifyre - Svn Eater

Reviews like this don't just happen

Oh lord... here it comes again... I can feel it.  This rumbling, this warm, distant cacophony from deep within my gut.  It's becoming a frequent thing, especially over the last several years.  Perhaps it's the enhanced amount of fiber in my diet, or maybe it's simply a new routine I've been working myself into.  But regardless, this feeling is unmistakable.  I try fighting it, but the buzz grows louder with every passing moment.  I hear the dim rememberings of voices past and present in the darkest cockles of my subconsciousness.  "Dude, just go", "You won't regret it, seriously!", "I can tell, this one is going to be different", "Bill, I just shit myself".  Eventually, I can't fight it any longer, as the buildup has been immense.

I run to the bathroom.

Initially, the slow churning and grinding was moving along at a rather deliberate pace.  It felt as if the demons inside were preparing for their assault moreso than actually carrying it out.  Maybe it was a bluff?  Maybe there was no such violent attack planned in the first place? It felt like an eternity, I sat there, jaw agape, neck straining, waiting for something, anything to materialize.  All I could hear and feel were the distant rumblings of an all-too-familiar entity; a slowly awakening beast, sleepily pawing at the light at the end of the tunnel, trying to remember why it was even awakened in the first place.

It took slightly over nine minutes of drawn out, rumbling foreboding.  I felt the walls begin to bow outwards, and I knew it was time to put down my Gameboy and brace myself.  The Volcano Badge would have to wait, for I had my own Vesuvian catastrophe to worry about.  I curl my toes and and clench my fists, bracing myself for the inevitable supernova.  And sure enough, it delivered.  The initial eruption of burning malice was nothing short of inhumane.  It is a pain of the most middingly pleasurable kind.  The kind of thing I would not subject myself to frequently, but when it happens on its own, I gladly endure it, for I know the spoils are usually worth the struggle.  This blackened wretch of filth wasn't doing much to stand out from the other floods of vitriolic scorn that I find has become ever so prevalent as of late, but it was proving itself formidable nonetheless.  This violent purge was based in the death of all things, as if the very essence of life was pouring out of me.

Like most experiences of this nature, what lasted was a forty to fifty minute expunging of bubbling vehemence.  Despite the upfront nature of the beast, it (like most of these nasty things) feels to be off in the distance when in progress.  Despite the fact that the pummeling ferocity of the experience might cause me to grab the edge of the toilet seat for support while my skin flushes and all strength drains away in a maelstrom of fiery hatred from within the confines of my own bowels, it all feels to be emanating from a distant cavern in which I have zero plans of spelunking.  In a way it's almost frustrating because at no point in this expulsion did the pace ever change after the initial crescendo.  A fifty minute plateau of virulent sadism ends up being a rather unfulfilling sequence of events when there is so little time to breathe between the suffocating atmosphere of malice.  From the beginning to the end, you could have taken any snippet of this whole ordeal and played it back to me, and I'd've never been able to tell you how far along in the torturous endeavor I was.  I would take a minor courtesy flush every once in a while, but it's only a temporary reprieve from the demonic malediction.

And of course, when it all was over, I felt unsatisfied.  Color began to return to my cheeks and feeling to my fingers, but after the cleanup, there was no story to be told.  Yes, I'm well aware I'm telling you this story now, but this has become such a frequent occurrence that this really could have been any one of the dozens of other times I've sat through such an experience.  I mean, it's not something I dislike.  The beefy tones of utter demolition as they resonate off the porcelain are satisfying in that they rarely sound like there is no greater passion behind the push, and the far-off ululating of the demon at the forefront of this almost always sounds like something to be feared, but the utter indifference to the ideas of pacing and thematic variation within the vast annals of my lower intestine just end up being overwhelmingly dull.  At the end of the day, all I can really say is that I took a really big poop.  The poop wasn't more impressive than any of the other big poops I find myself experiencing, and it's quite a decent poop, but it's a poop I've pooped many times before, and if nothing else, maybe eating some Cap'n Crunch Oops All Berries to the stew some more vibrancy in hue would be welcome.

And I just wrote an entire review comparing Lvcifyre and the Dark Descent Records/OSDM Revival scene to taking a really nasty shit.  What have you done with your day?

RATING - 70%

Friday, January 3, 2014

Strapping Young Lad - City

I'm so fucking sick of all you sick, stupid people

January 18th, 2007

This is a special date for me.  Not only because I was sixteen years old and didn't have a single goddamn thing to stress over (being an adult sucks, best headbutt the sidewalk while you can, kids), but because I was stressing out anyways.  At this point in time, I was fighting some really rough undiagnosed depression/anxiety problems and struggling with an uncontrollable temper.  Basically I was any given stupid teenager, but I couldn't deal with any problems very well, no matter how small.  Everyday life was just impossibly difficult for me, each little misstep would result in me dwelling on it for days and just self flagellating myself in retaliation.  Every single day was just another exercise in trying to fight through legitimate mental issues via sheer willpower, convincing myself that these things I was experiencing were normal and that I was weak for struggling with it.  I was also experiencing those oh-so-embarrassing initial pangs of young love (not anything sweet or romantic of course, it was obviously more of the Arsis variety).  Poor choices and pathetic musings, that's basically how you can sum up all of my memories of high school.  But in the middle of all this existential self-loathing, there was this particular date.  The reason it's so important to me is because it was on this day that I published one of my very first reviews on MA.  It was a terrible review, but the standards were lower back then and I pretty much just emulated some (who am I kidding, just one) of the more popular reviewers on the site, so it got through.  And until today, it has sat there, a relic of a time passed and a grim reminder that even the most gloriously talented and sexy of us can have odd missteps early on.

That review was for City, by Strapping Young Lad.  I'm revisiting this because there is honestly maybe only one other album I can think of that deserves absolutely all of my effort in the scope of reviewing.  City is one of the most monumentally important albums of my adolescence and young adulthood, and the only way to really understand/share that opinion is to be or to have been in such a low, pitiful state of mind that it connects on an emotional level for you.  This connects for me, simple as that.

Of all the metal musicians out there, I truly believe that Devin Townsend is likely the most genuine one out there.  From his songwriting, to his lyrics, his vocals, and his guitar playing, everything about him just oozes out pure emotion and complete open heartedness.  He's a manic-depressive, bipolar, drug addicted madman who just happens to be a musical genius at the same time.  All of his numerous projects are basically just him coping with his erratic emotions and uncontrollable swings between euphoria and malaise through his music.  I know he's a polarizing figure for his low brow humor, self indulgent prog epics, juvenile lyrics, and countless other quibbles people have with him, but I really don't think anybody can make a case for him being phony.  Nobody bares their soul quite as often and quite as fervently as Devin.  You know the kind of records where a band or artist will go on about how emotional and personal it was for them to write and perform the songs?  An album like, say, Here, My Dear by Marvin Gaye or World Coming Down by Type O Negative.  Devin Townsend has released that album twenty fucking times.  That kind of down to earth openness is just an amazing thing for a songwriter to have, and Devin makes full use of it with every outing.

And with City, the emotion he is expressing is pure, unbridled frustration.  And believe me, if you've ever struggled with the same shit he has (like I have), you can relate to this in one of the most uncomfortable ways possible.  It's like a musical manifestation of The Catcher in the Rye.  Most young men can see a lot of themselves in Holden Caulfield, and it doesn't paint a very pretty picture.  City here is just the audial manifestation of mental illness and genuine anger.  At no point is the band putting on airs about their attitude, Devin is 1000% behind the themes here, he is feeling this shit just as much as we are hearing it.  Those who have been in that place will understand it, and that's what makes it so special.

Sometimes, when fighting against depression, bipolarity, heartbreak, loss, or whatever, one can find it immeasurably difficult to control their emotions, including anger, and that's what this album revels in from the get go.  From the very opening of "Velvet Kevorkian", we are thrust into the pit that is Devin's uncontrollable frustration with... well, pretty much everything.  "Fuck sleep, fuck all of you".  One thing this album gets a lot of shit for is the absolutely obscene levels of childish profanity.  If you don't want to hear a grown man scream the F word about seventy five times in a half hour, I totally understand.  But to me, it works marvelously because I've been there and it makes complete sense.  I've certainly had those days where I fight the urge to strike everyone near me with a tire iron and instead vent my frustration by running outside and screaming FUUUUUUUUUUCK so loud and so long that I see stars.  I'm a fairly grandiloquent dude, but sometimes the most succinct way you can express yourself is just a string of monosyllabic profanity rivaling any Rob Zombie script.

Another thing people seem to misinterpret about depression is just how erratic it can be.  The whole romanticized take on it you'll see in a lot of fiction/crappy death/doom (days in darkness, drinking wine and writing poetry by candlelight, the whole world a dreary shade of grey) just isn't accurate.  Sure, there are moments of such times, but at any given time you could be happy and carefree as well.  Sometimes you'll become aware of where you are and you can genuinely want to make a change for the better before eventually succumbing to self-doubt and general fuckery.  That's what "All Hail the New Flesh" represents.  It's actually a very optimistic song.  It rides along at a fast pace and the intro builds to a blisteringly chaotic cacophony of blasting and straight up death metal riffage before breaking into one of Devin's trademark screams.  I love these because (especially given the context of this album) they never come off as merely a style of vocal.  Nay, they're the sound of him just genuinely belting out with everything he has.  This first one is one of the most heartfelt on the album, and at the same time one of the least frustrated.  The entire theme of this first real song seems to be the point where one would realize "Wow.  I'm mad at the world and all, but I see that I put myself here and I desperately need to improve myself", and then not even halfway through the song you can just feel how this newfound optimism starts eroding and eventually giving way to that ever present frustration with the world around you.  There's a feeling of cognitive dissonance, as the music gets lighter and lighter while the lyrics get more and more pessimistic.  I'll see you pricks in HELL.

As the album goes on and on, it continues to explore, both sonically and thematically, different stages and flavors of these various mental illnesses.  The unbridled fury of "Underneath the Waves", the pure frantic self loathing of "Detox", the hopelessness of "Spirituality", City runs the gamut in terms of the emotional scope of depression, everything from the lethargic futility to the passionate hatred.  The middle stretch of the album (from "Oh My Fucking God" to "Home Nucleonics") is probably the strongest segment, likely because it's the most furious and uncompromising.  The lyrics of all these show that, while he's frustratedly lashing out at the world around him, Devin still acknowledges that most of his hatred is for himself, and that's something that I can relate to.  The music represents this as well.

I realize I've gone this far and only vaguely touched on what the music even really sounds like, but part of that is because the music itself isn't necessarily what makes City so special to me.  In order to really dig in to what makes the album so effective, you really need to step away from the music and look at the more peripheral aspects.  But with that in mind, the music contained herein is very good.  The band gets a lot of shit for basically being faster, heavier nu metal, which is a demonstrably bullshit argument.  "AAA" is really the only offender for such a thing, riding on a low, very groovy riff and vocal pattern.  Even then, it works much better than most funk-infused nu metal for the simple fact that the main riff is, while simple, very ear catching and well written.  Like most everything else on the album, there are no frills involved.  It's a very stripped down groove metal song with a lot of swearing, and so it gets mistaken for a nu metal song frequently.  One listen to a song like "Home Nucleonics" or "Underneath the Waves" should quickly dispel such a notion, since they're nothing less than industrial infused death/thrash metal with the rare sample.  I feel like death/thrash is a bit of a misnomer, but I really can't think of what else to describe it as.  I mean, that bridge of "Oh My Fucking God" is pure death metal chaos with an unnaturally trebly guitar tone, and the main riff of "Detox" is just... goddammit I don't know.  It's this bizarre, nebulous style that I suppose is just least-inaccurately described as death/thrash.  Those industrial samples are also a brilliant touch, with the manic glitching and third party monologues representing very well how difficult it can be to control yourself during these times of horror and loathing. One minute you're trying to focus on your world history test, then the next thing you know you just hear a faint click in the back of your mind and suddenly all you can do is ball up your fists and do everything in your power not to spear tackle whoever Annabelle Gobelcocque (your one and only for realsies twoo wuv) is crushing on at the moment and pound him into cowboy sauce.  That was an every day occurrence for the 16 year old BastardHead.


Man, if you haven't been here, you're not going to understand why this is a top 10 all time album for me.  City needs to connect on that special emotional level in order to fully realize its potential.  And the weirdest part is that, deep down, I really want to hate this album.  I want to hear the juvenile blitzkrieg of obscenities and scoff at how childish it is.  I want to hear the themes and frustration with petty bullshit and turn up my nose at how something so pointless can make somebody so pissed off that he has to write an entire album about it.  I want, more than anything in the world, to be able to not relate to this album.  The fact that I can still listen to this album, seven years after I wrote my first review for it, and still feel like it communicates with my inner demons so perfectly, the fact that it syncs up so well with my own psychoses, the fact that the journey of steely optimism quickly turned furious self loathing quickly turned into hopeless futility still resonates so strongly within myself that every time I spin the album I find myself revisiting all of my worst memories... all of this.... all of this adds up to tell me that I'm still not over my own problems.  To not relate to City any longer, to me, is to succeed in growing past my issues.  When I have control over my anger, my depression, anxiety, and just my life and emotions in general, that is when I will have made the steps towards making myself happy that I so desperately need.  When I can't listen to "Detox" or "Home Nucleonics" and feel my blood start to churn with the burning familiarity of a dozen high school rage-induced burnouts, that is when I will finally have overcome my mental roadblocks that keep me pinned down in this rodent infested pit that I've dug for myself.

I have no ending for this review, much like how this album doesn't really have an ending either.  Just like how "Spirituality" offers no climax, no closure, or anything of the sort, this review will just putter out just like how those of us who can connect with this album do at the end of every cycle.  It's just the album running out of anger, and instead closing on a denouement of  hopelessness, lying down to sleep, still mentally swinging at apparitions while your arms are too tired to actually throw any more punches.  Perfect symbolism, like always.

I can't make y'all understand this if you don't already, so it's time to give it a rest.  Goodnight, I love you.

RATING - 98%

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!