Friday, December 20, 2013

Lister's Top 15 Metal Albums of 2013

2013 is drawing to a close, and with the end of the year comes the obligatory end of the year list. This year has seen a lot of awesome new metal albums, some that I couldn't fit on this list, but are still worth checking out (Vorum, Terminate, Darkthrone and Hail of Bullets all come to mind). Of course, this is all just my opinion and I'm sure there are going to plenty of people mad that I left off some albums that have been praised by many in the metal world as amazing (Gorguts, Autopsy, Carcass and Exhumed for instance). As always, I highly recommend that you check out these bands if they sound like your cup of tea. 

#15. Zombiefication - At the Caves of Eternal (Death Metal)
         Label - Pulverised Records

Last year, Zombiefication made me a fan of their brand of Dismember-worship style of death metal with their "Reaper's Consecration" EP. This year, however, the band delivered an awesome album in "At the Caves of Eternal" that I certainly did not foresee. This isn't to say that their EP was bad, rather, their sophomore full-length is just really, really good. While I wouldn't call the Mexican duo an incredibly original band, they do evoke an atmosphere unlike most of the old Swedeath bands of the '90s, which helps them stand out a little more. In a world where every death metal band tries to recreate "Left Hand Path" and "Into the Grave," Zombiefication are taking a more refreshing approach to the old style, and have created one of the better death metal albums in 2013. 

Highlights - At the Caves of Eternal, Soul Collector, and In the Gallery of Laments. 

#14. Enforcer - Death By Fire (Heavy/Speed Metal)
         Label - Earache Records

Enforcer have been one of the better bands in the 21st century when it comes to playing heavy/speed metal in the vein of the old, as any of their fans can attest. Their debut album "Into the Night" was one of the few albums that helped kickstart the whole resurgence. Fast forward to 2013, and the Swedish group have delivered their finest effort yet, with "Death By Fire." The speed is still here, as are Olaf's high-pitched shrieks, but there's more substance to the material now, and the music is more memorable. There are riffs for days, melodies and harmonies that come in plenty and lead guitarwork that will have the listener playing along on their air guitar for the entire record. The songwriting is also much better than on the band's previous records, leaving very little room for filler, and making time for excellent songs like "Take Me Out of This Nightmare" and "Silent Hour/The Conjuration." After listening to this album, a death by fire doesn't sound so uninviting...

Highlights - Death Rides This Night, Take Me Out of This Nightmare, and Silent Hour/The Conjuration.

#13. Birth AD - I Blame You (Crossover)
         Label - Unspeakable Axe Records

2013 saw the spawning of a new underground label that is already well on its way to establishing itself as one of the best around. Unspeakable Axe Records (a sister label to the mighty Dark Descent Records) came out swinging with its first release, "I Blame You," the debut from crossover cretins Birth AD. Crossover is without a doubt, one of the toughest genres in today's metal world to do right, simply because it's such a simple sound that was done right the first time by DRI, Wehrmacht and Cryptic Slaughter, and then later bastardized by Municipal Waste, amongst others. Only, Birth AD have managed to ride that fine line that the pioneers who came before did, making for some pissed-off, and awesome music. Normally I don't allow the lyrical content of music boost or worsen my impression of a band's music, but I had to make an exception for this record, because the lyrics and the way that they're spit out over the music, really make "I Blame You" so damn good. Birth AD and Unspeakable Axe Records both had strong a 2013, but the future should be even brighter for this partnership. 

Highlights - I Blame You, Wrong Again, and Kill Everybody. 

#12. Nocturnal Graves - ... From the Bloodline of Cain       (Black/Thrash)
         Label - Hell's Headbanger's Records

Major props go out to Nocturnal Graves who continue to be an excellent representative for the Australian scene, as they prove that they're still one of the finest black/thrash bands around. "... From the Bloodline of Cain" is a scourging record that crushes much like you would expect the band would. If you're a fan of the band's older material, you'll love this one too because they are killing it much like they always have. And a quick honorable mention must be made for Decaylust and L.Wilson's other band Denoucement Pyre who released a stellar black/death album this year as well, that just missed the list. 

Highlights - Slave Annihilation, Through the Devil's Flesh and The Great Adversary. 

#11. Lantern - Below (Death Metal)
         Label - Dark Descent Records

The equation of Finland + death metal + Dark Descent Records has been one that almost guarantees quality every time, and in the case of Lantern, it's once again correct. The duo's debut "Below" is definitely a different record to experience than most Finnish death metal albums, and that's because of the desolate atmosphere that is present throughout. It's a brilliant combination of the production, bleak and heavy riffage, morbid melodies and Necrophilos' vocals that create the constant empty feeling, creating a perfect backdrop for the Finnish duo's haunting metal of death. This is without a doubt, one of the more unique death metal albums you will hear in 2013, and one that manages to live up to its hype. Chalk that up as another epic win for Dark Descent Records and their ability to find excellence from Finland.  

Highlights - Rites of Descent, Revenant, and Manifesting Shambolic Aura. 

#10. Toxic Holocaust - Chemistry of Consciousness (Thrash)
         Label - Relapse Records

In 2011, Toxic Holocaust released what I believe to not only be their best album, but a modern thrash classic in "Conjure and Command." In 2013, Joel Grind and company have unleashed a slightly less impressive record with "Chemistry of Consciousness," but a killer release nonetheless. The collection of music here is fast, ugly and abrasive, much like most of the band's previous material, only there's more substance to the riffs, compositions and lyrics than usual, making for one of the group's best albums to date. If you like Toxic Holocaust, than there's no reason you won't dig this, it's that simple. 

Highlights - Rat Eater, Acid Fuzz and Chemistry of Consciousness.

#9. White Wizzard - The Devil's Cut (Heavy Metal)
       Label - Earache Records

Aside from all of the stupid drama that saw this band break up (though, that's become a pattern for this group) they went out on a high note with "The Devil's Cut." White Wizzard managed to craft a memorable heavy metal record in 2013 that didn't rely heavily on being occult or evil, nor did they blindly ape those who came before. The music speaks for itself, with songs like "Strike the Iron" and "Torpedo of Truth" driving ahead at full speed, making for fun headbangers, while the epic "The Sun Also Rises" closes the record out with the band's finest song to date. Whether or not the Wizzard rides again, "The Devil's Cut" will remain one of the finest offerings of 2013. 

Highlights - Strike the Iron, Torpedo of Truth, and The Sun Also Rises. 

#8. Obliteration - Black Death Horizon (Death Metal)
       Label - Relapse Records

When there are albums out there with as much hype as "Black Death Horizon" had, they usually fail to live up to the grandiose comparisons and statements made by everyone. Luckily, Obliteration are more than happy to back that hype up with some splendid, and rather original death metal. This music is dark, heavy and twisted, which is exactly how I like my death metal. Each song hits hard, but this is an album that has to be listened to in its entirety to truly appreciate. Without a doubt, "Black Death Horizon" is one of 2013's best releases, and with time, this could be remembered as one of the best death metal albums of the 2010's. 

Highlights - Goat Skull Crown, Ascendance (Sol Invictus), and Sepulchral Rites. 

#7. Nekrofilth - Devil's Breath (Death/Crossover)
       Label - Hell's Headbanger's Records

Very much like Zack Rose's other band (Nunslaughter), Nekrofilth takes a while to release a full-length record, but when they do, it's very well worth the wait. Devil's Breath is simply vile and wicked. Everything, from the Repulsion-esque riffage, to Rose's venomous vocals, as well as the demented lyrics, make this record one of the best of the year. I hate to keep comparing these guys to Nunslaughter, but much like them, Nekrofilth makes music that is as simple as it gets, yet they do it so damn well you just want to play their releases over and over again. 

Highlights - Crave the Grave, I'm A Degenerate and Devil's Breath. 

#6. Warbringer - IV: Empires Collapse (Thrash)
       Label - Century Media Records

Warbringer continue their onslaught with "IV: Empires Collapse," a record that is driven by the same ferocity that the band has become known for, but also taken in a new direction that the group hasn't gone before. They've added some epic touches  to their thrashing violence ("Towers of the Serpent" and "Horizon"), gotten even more violent ("Scars Remain"), and have created some new material that is just straight up awesome ("Black Sun, Black Moon" and "Hunter-Seeker"). This album will probably piss off some guys who want Warbringer to keep re-writing "Total War" over and over again, but for those who appreciate music that is well-written and memorable, "IV: Empires Collapse" is well worth your time. 

Highlights - Hunter-Seeker, Scars Remain and Towers of the Serpent. 

#5. Craven Idol - Towards Eschaton (Black/Thrash)
       Label - Dark Descent Records

During the month of October, I was way too distracted with the new Toxic Holocaust and Warbringer albums (along with the #1 ranked album) to listen to anything else, placing Craven Idol on the backburner. To say I was pleasantly surprised with "Towards Eschaton" would be a massive understatement. Craven Idol are as legit a black/thrash band as any other out there, though they're definitely a bit more epic than the others, and they have made me a true fan of the band. This UK group deal up some material that's incredibly dark and haunting, but also barbaric and crushing, making for some excellent music throughout the entire album. This is definitely a top 5 metal album that you should not miss out on. Just look at that fucking artwork by the Madman Paolo Girardi himself and know that the music will be as amazing as the art that graces its cover. 

Highlights - To Summon Mayrion, Craven Atonement and Codex of Seven Dooms.

#4. Borrowed Time - Borrowed Time (Heavy Metal)
      Label - High Roller Records

Most of today's heavy metal bands either look towards Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Mercyful Fate for inspiration, or they just suck. And then there's Borrowed Time, who play what they call "Arcane Heavy Metal," and I would have to agree. They play their heavy metal in the vein of bands like Manilla Road, Warlord and Liege Lord, where the riffs are almost always terrific and the melodies are always stellar. The falsetto vocals conjured up by Jean-Pierre also make the music as epic, and sometimes elegant as it is. If you're a fan of classic heavy metal that goes beyond just galloping riffs and soaring vocals, Borrowed Time offer you an album full of twists and turns that makes for a truly pleasurable listen. 

Highlights - Dawn For the Glory Rider, Pygmalion and A Titan's Chain. 

#3. Satan - Life Sentence (Heavy Metal)
       Label - Listenable Records

I hardly ever find newer releases from older bands to be all that great, simply because they've already set the standard way too high with their older releases. But every once in a while, a band from the past shocks the hell out of me and delivers the goods. In 2011, it was Deceased with their brilliant opus "Surreal Overdose" and this year it's Satan with "Life Sentence." I could not believe how good this record was, and still can't. Satan did what so many bands from the past couldn't do, and that was recreate the magic that made them legends in the first place. If you like "Court in the Act," you will love this album in all of its old-school magnificence too. 

Highlights -  Testimony, Life Sentence and Another Universe. 

#2. Tribulation - The Formulas of Death (Death Metal)
       Label - Invictus Productions

After what seemed like waiting forever for new material from Tribulation, they finally released their follow-up to the monster record "The Horror." "The Formulas of Death" is very different from their debut, yet it's still incredible death metal. The band has progressed from being the savage group that recorded "The Horror," to creating an album that ascends to insane highs and descends to dark and murky depths. As time has gone on since I first heard this album back in March, it's gotten better, and it definitely needs to be experienced if you're a fan of top-notch death metal. 

Highlights - Wanderer in the Outer Darkness, When the Sky is Black With Devils and Spell. 

#1. In Solitude - Sister (Heavy Metal)
       Label - Metal Blade Records

In Solitude released my favorite album of 2011, and they've done it again two years later. "Sister" isn't quite as phenomenal as "The World. The Flesh. The Devil.," but it is still a tremendous album. The music on this record definitely isn't as heavy as the material that came before, but the strangeness and weirdness that made the album before this so good is still in tact. The melodies, riffs and vocals make the music mesmerizing at times, and haunting at others. It was tough picking between "Sister" and Tribulation's newest effort, but in the end, In Solitude prevailed with their newest collection of weird and truly great songs to claim the top spot once again. 

Highlights - Death Knows Where, Sister and Horses in the Ground.