Joshua Overbey Best-of 2013Thursday, 19th December 2013
Overall, 2013 was quite an interesting year to be a metal fan (that would be Josh on the far right – ed.) . We got a little bit of everything: younger bands continuing on an upward trajectory into modern legendary, stalwart veterans further expanding their voluminous legacies, and returning titans who still hold the flame of inspired imagination. As any fan will point out, metal—for being a primarily underground genre—is deceptively prolific, so narrowing down only the ten best of the year is a challenge, but one worth undertaking.
As has been mentioned previously in top-10 lists like the one that follows, my personal selection for the best albums of 2013 revolves around one single question: Does the album keep me coming back for more? Much akin to movies, video games, and television, it’s quite possible to listen to an album that is perfect in every way but that you only wish to experience once. Then, there are the albums that plant some kernel of dependency in your mind, and whether through a personal identification, an air of intrigue, or just the understanding that certain compositions need to be heard and analyzed multiple times before you can truly appreciate what you’re hearing, you’re compelled to revisit them time and time again. Below are the albums that met this criterion for me; some made me think, and some just thrilled me, but all make me proud to say in reminiscences of 2013, “Ah, yes, 2013, that’s the year I heard ___.”
1. Carcass – Surgical Steel (Nuclear Blast)
How does a band really make a lasting statement with its first album after a nearly two-decade hiatus? By releasing what may be the metal album of the year, of course. While Carcass’s track record speaks volumes by itself, and has firmly cemented their legacy in the hearts and minds of extreme metal enthusiasts the world over, the level of quality incumbent in this comeback recording is invigorating. Bringing the melody, the soul, the extremity, and the occasional sardonicism that has come to be the group’s calling card, Surgical Steel easily stands tall with the rest of this revered outfit’s catalogue and indicates these gents still have a lot to offer.
2. Korn – The Paradigm Shift (Prospect Park [Universal])
I fully expect to catch some flak for mentioning this album in a top-10 list (and right behind Carcass at that!), but for what it’s worth, I don’t pretend to include this album for anything other than completely selfish reasons. The fact of the matter is, Korn is the band that got me into heavy music in the ’90s, and after a string of mediocre offerings following Brian “Head” Welch’s departure, to see Welch return to the band he helped form and drop what is easily Korn’s best music since 2003 was incredibly exciting. This is not a retro album, though, as the group combines its signature old-school sound with the more industrial and dubstep influences it’s picked up over the years. For any other children of the Korn (I know you’re out there), this one may just restore your faith in a band whose magic we thought had dissipated a decade ago.
3. Deals Death – Point Zero Solution (Spinefarm)
The latest release from Sweden’s Deals Death was a great surprise as it showed the band break new ground in forming its own sonic identity. With previous releases, both praise and criticism hinged on the same general comment: “These guys sound like Children of Bodom.” But this is the case no longer. With more complex arrangements, more fully fleshed out orchestral sections, and some fantastic hooks, these guys have evolved tremendously in a short span, proving they’ll be a band to keep track of in the melodeath scene.
4. Soulfly – Savages (Nuclear Blast)
As I mentioned in the introduction to my top-10 list, the test of a great album is if it sticks with you after the first listen and keeps you coming back for more, and Soulfly’s latest is a case in point. While I initially offered light criticism on the fact that this album focuses a bit more heavily on the old-school Soulfly style, the power of the songwriting is undeniable, and subsequent listens have actually made Savages one of the most memorable entries in the entire Soulfly catalogue. With boundless energy, slamming grooves, and unrelenting aggression, this offering is certainly worth paying attention to.
5. Death Angel – The Dream Calls for Blood (Nuclear Blast)
There’s no doubt about it, thrash metal vets Death Angel’s reformation was not an exercise in vanity or nostalgia; these guys are back with a vengeance and have put the metal community on notice with their post-reformation output. This year’s outing follows that trend and delivers what is easily the best thrash album of 2013. With diverse song dynamics and plenty of pure thrash riffage, this album is fodder for the mosher in each of us and is guaranteed to keep your pulse elevated to hazardous levels the entire play time.
6. Black Sabbath – 13 (Universal/Republic)
I think it’s safe to say that no one knew for sure what to expect from this one. Ozzy’s solo efforts can be hit or miss, Heaven and Hell’s The Devil You Know (Ronnie James Dio’s superb vocals notwithstanding) sounded a bit tired and stock, and Bill Ward was dropped from the reunion package altogether. Despite all this uncertainty, though, the group released a strong album that can stand proudly with many of its classic records. It may not have the longevity of Paranoid, but the disc sounds inspired, culls together influences from throughout the Sabbath discography (including the oft-underrated Tony Martin years), and serves as a great return to form for the Ozzy-fronted incarnation.
7. Sepultura – The Mediator between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart (Nuclear Blast)
Sacrificing the cleaner production and hookier songwriting of Kairos, Seps compensates in spades with raw, unfiltered aggression this time around. The album is an aural assault, bringing a wall of sound that quickly descends on and overwhelms the listener. Combining thrash elements with the trademark tribal grooves, chromatic riffing, and death metal tonality throughout, Sepultura offers an extremely varied record that will appeal on some level to listeners of any era of the band. While other works from the Derrick Green–fronted incarnation of the group are not shy about delivering aggression, this album presents that intensity in its most dynamic and coherent form to date.
8. Warbringer – IV Empires Collapse (Century Media)
One of the bands at the forefront of the thrash revival movement happening right now, Warbringer has a consistent track record of delivering premium thrashery to the masses. This album doesn’t deviate from the formula but sees the band take some interesting steps in their musical development. While the band have never slouched on their instruments, this latest work displays a greater focus on technical proficiency as guitar solos and harmonies are noticeably more intricate and airtight in execution. Additionally, and to some fans’ chagrin, Warbringer has injected a healthy amount of melody and hookiness to their brand of thrash, and while this may seem antithetical to the thrash ethic for some, the end result is a varied record where each song carves out its own identity and contributes to what is arguably the most satisfying and musically accomplished Warbringer album yet.
9. Amon Amarth – Deceiver of the Gods (Metal Blade)
Amon Amarth is one of the most consistent bands in the metal scene today, and their latest release is just another testament to their unerring power to deliver at a monumental level. Naturally, the perennial Viking and Norse mythological themes are back in full force. And while the epic, heroic riffing is once again omnipresent, there is a greater focus on dual guitar melodies and more intricate leads than in past efforts, resulting in strong Iron Maiden–esque musicality. Combine this with fantastic song dynamics and pacing through the album and Amon Amarth delivers a progressively minded, but traditionally grounded, release that stands as another high mark in their exemplary track record.
10. Portal – Vexovoid (Profound Lore)
Those who have yet to experience the music of Australia’s Portal are missing out on one of the most intriguing and innovative units going. Pushing the boundaries of extremity in every way, Portal combines doom, death, and black metal in a hitherto untapped way, creating an atmospheric soundscape for an unsettling horrorshow. Their latest release continues this MO and pushes the group to even darker sonic territory. Whether this album is meant to represent a descent into hell or an awakening into the void of nonexistence is unclear, but whichever the case may be, the end result is disturbing, nearly nauseating, and ultimately, absolutely brilliant.
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