Bridget Erickson Best-of 2013Friday, 13th December 2013
There’s almost always that one song on an album that really sets the hook. Of course, albums in their entirety are ideal for extended rocking out time, but often those more-than-awesome hits stand out as centerpieces of their records. Prominent as they may be, selecting only ten favorite songs from the year is like trying to put a puzzle together when all the pieces are mixed into other puzzles. As excluding as it may be to the dozens of other favorite pieces on my itunes list, only ten were allowed to make the cut.
I chose these songs for varied and particular reasons. Several of these titles are nearly flawless in structure, balance, and dynamics. For metal, such musical qualities demand dark and rich instrumentals, a trace of ambience, and vociferously harsh or otherwise fitting vocals. These top ten picks are representations of the bands and symbols of the albums they belong to, each one significant.
*Click on LISTEN to…listen*
1. Fleshgod Apocalypse (pictured above) – “The Fall of Asterion” (from Labyrinth)
Here is a prime example of Fleshgod Apocalypse’s dynamic variation. “The Fall of Asterion” incorporates both orchestral and death metal qualities, and a masterful fusion of both. It is notable when metal can be presented relentlessly yet symphonically. Pieces like “The Fall of Asterion” are what make Fleshgod Apocalypse a zealous metal ensemble. (LISTEN)
2. Watain – “All That May Bleed” (from The Wild Hunt)
“All That May Bleed,” with gruesome lyrics and wildly robust riffs, is pure hard metal. The first lyrical verse of the song, “Come forth! Come hither! All that may die, all that may bleed!” has a rapidly enticing captivation, not only by the words themselves, but also by the tyrant manner in which they are expressed. Being one of the most brutally wild tracks on the album, and “All That May Bleed” resembles the climax of The Wild Hunt. (LISTEN)
3. Vreid – “Black Waves” (from Welcome Farewell)
In “Black Waves,” Stur Dingsøyr really demonstrates his vocal range in acerbic to nethermost timbres. This piece also expresses the band’s span of dynamics from black, to rock, and some symphonic riffs. Songs like “Black Waves” speak for themselves and explain why Vreid characterizes their genre as black’n roll! (LISTEN)
4. Satyricon – “Phoenix” (from Satyricon)
Satyricon’s “Phoenix” is a notably curious piece. Relative to their former work, “Phoenix” is a fantastically unusual move for Satyricon. The song features Sivert Høyem on vocals, whose entrancing voice in an impeccable match for the transcendent lyrics, and Karl Oluf Wennerberg on percussion, all darkened by the undertones of Satyricon. The divergence between this soulful style and the heavier black metal style Satyricon is revered for expresses the band’s inclusive designs. The energy that emits from “Phoenix” is, in a word, exhilarating. (LISTEN)
5. October Tide – “Emptiness Fulfilled” (from Tunnel of No Light)
The arrangement of this piece is interesting. Rather than starting out mellow and gradually intensifying, a brisk instrumental riff introduces the unremittingly harsh vocals backed by subsequently intense instrumentals, then undertakes a variation between doom to melodic. The alignment between vocals and instrumentals is perpetual in its reciprocal design, as if the parts were conversing or echoes of the other. With its resounding harmonics and sharp tones, “Emptiness Fulfilled” highlights many of October Tide’s best qualities. (LISTEN)
6. Diabolical – “Oracle” (from Neogenesis)
Swedish death metal thrashers Diabolical sets out on an epic course with “Oracle.” The song begins with a mysteriously exotic intro, and then shifts to the thrashing energy that makes Diabolical sound so, well, diabolical. The fierce “Oracle” amply covers death, harmonious, and hard metal merits. (LISTEN)
7. Secrets of the Sky – “Sunrise” (from To Sail Black Waters)
As my second choice newcomers of 2013, Secrets of the Sky radiates a saliently atmospheric presence with differentiating musical and compositional attributes. The seven minute piece “Sunrise” is the shortest, but perhaps most dynamic, of the four on To Sail Black Waters. Traversing influences such as atmospheric, progressive, doom, and black metal, as well as balanced harsh and clean vocals, Secrets of the Sky developed a sinuous sound with “Sunrise.” (LISTEN)
8. Inferno – “The Firstborn from Murk” (from Omniabsence Filled by His Greatness)
The black-metal to orchestral elements of this song are intense. At 6:20 into the song, the transition from the thundering riffs to the atmospheric orchestral phrase is enthralling, even more so at about 8:30 when the guitars, bass, drums, and vocals are fervently reintroduced. The lyrics are in Czechoslovakian, and it’s fascinating to read their ominous, dismal, and necromantic poems (using translators for us who can’t read in Czech). Still, Inferno so passionately expresses their moods and auras through their music that there is hardly a need to read the lyrics to feel the grim vitality of their music. (LISTEN)
9. Lake of Blood – “Tyrannus” (from Omnipotens Tyrannus)
This is a very absorbing piece. It first lulls one into tranquility with its serenely melodic intro, then strikes with rumbling riffs in a lashing canon-like sequence of instruments and vocals. Lake of Blood’s “Tyrannus” is immensely dark with raw strings and hollow screams, as well as scenic in the 12-minute composition.
10. Katatonia – “Undo You” (from Dethroned and Uncrowned)
After releasing Dead End Kings in 2012, Katatonia remastered and stripped down the entire album to a more acoustic and ambient version. Each song is interesting in their modifications, but I want to bring special attention to “Undo You,” which dramatically dropped the mood to an even more despairing level. The acoustics are so sharp that the sound of fingers can be heard sliding over the strings on the neck of the guitars, which effectively elevates the atmosphere in this euphonious piece. (LISTEN)
Biggest surprise of 2013: Kim Carlsson in Hypothermia, Ritualmord, and Kall. I’ve been a fan of Hypothermia since I stumbled upon some of their demos, perhaps more of a fanatic since hearing their full-length albums such as Veins and Rakbladsvalsen. This year was especially surprising with the unveiling of records by all three Swedish depressive/atmospheric black metal bands Ritualmord, Kall, and Hypothermia (who has also been touring over the year). The dexterously untamed raw sounds are deeply defined by ambient tones, steady rhythms, and wild howls; the type of music that can be listened to for hours on end loudly or silently. Black metal prodigy Kim Carlsson (vocals, guitars, and ambience of these projects, as well as other ones) has been really productive this year, and with the collaboration of his bandmates, satisfied his fans with an abundance of newly released material.
Best newcomer of 2013: Traumen – Verzicht Auf Leben (self-released). A debut should offer a strong representation of a band’s capabilities and potentials; sometimes the sound gives too much or not enough distortion, inept audio feedback, obscured balance, and all sorts of other imperfections, but debut albums are rarely a pristine example of a band’s work. Just this last November, German black metallers Traumen self-released their first album Verzicht Auf Leben, which is an exceptionally impressive debut with high-quality sounds and equal balance with each part clearly deciphered from one another with just the right touch of ambient distortion. This album has all the essentials needed for a great black metal work: hardhearted vocals, intensified instrumentals, and profoundly dark intonations. I look forward to hearing future work by Traumen, for they possess a strongly substantial spirit of black metal.
Biggest disappointment of 2013: RIP Jeff Hanneman. I must say the biggest disappointment of the year, and perhaps the most devastating, was the demise of Slayer’s guitarist Jeff Hanneman. The rockstar lifestyle more than often involves an abundance of booze, and he was one to partake in heavy drinking. Inevitably, the alcohol abuse caught up with Hanneman when he died of alcohol-induced liver failure last May. Without the band’s co-founder, original guitarist, and a most brilliant song writer, Slayer will never be the same.
Most anticipated album of 2014: Septicflesh. Considering their last release, The Great Mass, I’m eagerly anticipating SepticFlesh’s new album come 2014. Once again, SepticFlesh will be backed by The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as additional choral phrases (some by children, which will most likely be fairly spine-chilling). The album, with ten new tracks, will assuredly contain all of their epic and uncanny death-symphonic values on rejuvenated flesh.
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