Joshua Overbey Best-of 2013Thursday, 19th December 2013
We truly appreciate our music in metal, and by and large, most metal fans (myself included) would much prefer to listen to an album in its uninterrupted entirety, allowing the record to take them on a journey much like the sprawling compositions of the classical era would have done. But in today’s fast-paced world, that’s not always possible, so we gravitate toward those one or two songs on each album that we turn to most frequently when we find ourselves gifted with an unplanned five minutes of additional listening time. What follows is exactly that, a summation of the songs I’ve found myself listening to most often this year.
I enjoy songs that either represent the absolute pinnacle of what a band’s traditional sound can produce or reach that pinnacle and add a new element, reinventing the sound—even if only slightly—to facilitate musical growth. Either one is a lofty goal, but if a song reaches it, I’ll keep coming back. The tracks that follow, in my opinion, meet the criteria. If you haven’t heard some them, check ’em out and let us know what you think.
*Click on LISTEN…to listen*
1. Black Sabbath – “Zeitgeist” (from 13)
While the latest Sabbath is full of the vintage doom-riffing and bluesy stomps fans have come to expect, it’s the melancholy ballad whose hooks sink the deepest. Strongly reminiscent of “Planet Caravan,” this trippy bit with its vocal and instrumental distortions and ethereal qualities is enough to take the listener out of this world. The song’s placement in the middle of the record provides a nice respite from the heavier numbers bookending it, but the strength of songwriting here is enough to keep you coming back, and when you only have time to sneak in one Sabbath song from the new record before you have to clock in for a day of toil, this one will never disappoint. (LISTEN)
2. Generation Kill (pictured above) – “Death Comes Calling” (from We’re All Gonna Die)
Generation Kill’s mid-album southern-style doom number is exciting for several reasons, one of which is Exodus frontman Rob Dukes’s exhibition of some pretty strong vocal chops he’s rarely able to show off in his thrashier outfit. Also, though, it’s rare to find a song where the lyrics and music complement each other so well that they’re almost impressionistic, creating vivid sights, sounds, and smells in the listener’s mind. But when Dukes sings of how he’s “drowning in alcohol,” one feels as if they’re seeing through a haze and smelling the unflattering aroma of stale cigarettes and whiskey breath. Strong, strong imagery with this one. (LISTEN)
3. Necrophobic – “Marquis Phenex” (from Womb of Lilithu)
While Necrophobic’s latest release wasn’t a trailblazer in regard to the band’s direction, it nevertheless contained a smattering of notable tunes, and “Marquis Phenex” is one of the standouts. While much of the album goes for a very straightforward black metal approach, this one utilizes much more melody and comes off in the style of a latter-day Satyricon black ‘n’ roll song. The drive and attitude of rock ‘n’ roll, the malevolence of black metal, how can you go wrong? (LISTEN)
4. Soulfly – “K.C.S.” (from Savages)
Featuring guest vocals from Napalm Death guitarist Mitch Harris, “K.C.S.” is easily the heaviest track on Soulfly’s latest record. Containing the trademark Soulfly groove and Max’s more guttural vocal approach juxtaposed with Mitch Harris’s maniacal high-register screams, one can easily see this song providing the soundtrack to a street riot. As if to acknowledge how much this track beats the listener over the head, it ends with a minute or so of soft instrumental work, similar to many of the tracks on Prophecy, giving us a short breather before casting us headlong into the rest of the album’s brutal assault. A kind gesture, indeed. (LISTEN)
5. Carcass – “Mount of Execution” (from Surgical Steel)
While Carcass’s latest is replete with the crushingly heavy and the blindingly fast, it’s this midtempo track that stands out in some interesting ways. The acoustic intro gives way to electric variations on the same melodies, sounding a bit like early Rush in certain moments, before turning into the grandiose, airy chord–driven verses well practiced on Heartwork and elsewhere on this record. Just when you get comfortable with the pacing, though, it makes another drastic turn into an almost proggy ’60s hard rock territory. Overall, it’s an extraordinarily diverse and exciting track perfect for closing out one of the great comebacks in metal. (LISTEN)
6. Warbringer – “Horizon” (from IV Empires Collapse)
Kicking off Warbringer’s latest in brute fashion, “Horizon” somehow seems to combine and condense the dynamics of the entire album into one song, as if it serves less as an opening song and more as an overture. Neoclassical melodies, blasting drums, frantic thrashing, and an acoustic outro to top things off converge in this bona fide tour de force that will leave you feeling as though you’ve just emerged from the heat of a vicious battle. Don’t get too comfortable, though, because you still have ten songs to go. (LISTEN)
7. Amon Amarth – “Hel” (from Deceiver of the Gods)
While Amon Amarth’s latest material as a whole is certainly worth looking into, “Hel” proves to be one of the most interesting songs on Deceiver of the Gods. It’s the slowest track on the record, driven by consistent midtempo riffing, and introduces some unique elements for AA, such as certain passages that exhibit an almost Middle Eastern tonality. Add to this some clean guest vocals from ex-Candlemass singer Messiah Marcolin and you have a truly immersive listening experience. Voyages to the Norse underworld rarely sound this good. (LISTEN)
8. Deals Death – “Facing the Echoes” (from Point Zero Solution)
Beginning with an entrancing keyboard intro and evolving into a heavy but eminently catchy number, juxtaposing rhythmically powerful verses with a woefully melodic chorus and a guitar solo that echoes of Dream Theater in certain moments, this could easily be the best song in the Deals Death catalogue. It constitutes a self-contained odyssey, taking the listener on a dramatic series of ups and downs that reminds us, regardless of the premium we may place on heaviness and boundary-shattering concepts, there are very few substitutes for traditional songwriting and structure when it’s done this well. (LISTEN)
9. Sepultura – “Trauma of War” (from The Mediator between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart)
When it comes to punching the listener in the teeth with a dynamic opener, it’s hard to outdo the latest Sep record’s first-round knockout. The inexorable drums, tremolo-picked guitars, and howling vocals combine to make one of the most aggressive songs from this camp in some time and prove that few bands can truly match these vets in sheer intensity. Filtered through a rawer production style, this track sounds like rage incarnate. (LISTEN)
10. Keep of Kalessin – “Introspection” (from the Introspection EP)
Norway’s Keep of Kalessin will undoubtedly continue to earn much ire with “Introspection,” the title track from their EP released earlier this year that signals even more of a departure from the group’s black metal roots. They’re not leaving black metal for bluegrass, though, as the group’s recent predilection for epic fantasy-based metal is developed further here, but with some more atmospheric elements, somehow creating a lulling pseudo–Pink Floyd quality amid the underlying blast beats, a feat that’s aided greatly by the eerie clean vocals presented in the chorus. Much of Kalessin’s post–black metal material has been top notch, and if this is an indication of where they’re heading, the future is quite intriguing. (LISTEN)
Biggest surprise of 2013: Morbid Angel’s Covenant 20th anniversary tour. Needless to say, when Morbid Angel announced that they would be touring in honor of the 20th anniversary of their landmark album Covenant, playing the album in each entirety at every show, old-school extreme metal fans had much reason to rejoice. Countless death metal bands today cite Morbid Angel as one of their main influences, and when pressed as to which album had the biggest impact on them as young death metalers, well, you can probably guess what their answer was. For fans who were fortunate enough to catch Morbid Angel on this tour cycle, they witnessed one of those great moments in metal history and learned that 20 years later, Covenant has aged unbelievably well and can still stand up to anything out there in the metal world in intensity and creativity.
Best newcomer of 2013: Rivers of Nihil. Attentive readers may recall that I offered a fair amount of criticism regarding Rivers of Nihil’s debut album, but I also gave credence to the fact that the group is obviously composed of extremely talented musicians who are capable of greatness, and seeing new young talent with a creative imperative for metal is always exciting. While some songs did fall into the void of repetitious fret-abuse that many newer bands are wont to practice, several tunes clearly exhibited distinct purpose and—most importantly—feeling. Not to mention these guys are like modern-day Vivaldis, planning a series of releases based on the cycle of the seasons, which makes us classical music enthusiasts all gushy for sure. With lofty ambitions and the talent to meet them, Rivers of Nihil are looking to make a statement, and they’re certainly worth keeping an eye on.
Biggest disappointment of 2013: Thebon’s departure from Keep of Kalessin. While Torbjørn “Thebon” Schei’s departure from Kalessin might not be as devastating as if he had been an original founding member, he has been a mainstay since 2006’s Armada, a pivotal album for the group that saw them start to break away from the black metal niche they started in. With a unique vocal style and strong stage presence, his contributions in both the studio and live environments were palpable. And though fans are certainly relieved that Thebon wasn’t lost to the African wilderness, as initially alleged, it’s still a shame that he’s having to move on from a group that’s heading in such an interesting direction, apparently because of internal politics. While the new Obsidian C.–fronted incarnation of the band has already shown great promise—their track “Introspection” even making my best songs of 2013 list—moving forward, one can’t help but wonder what might have been.
Most anticipated album of 2014: Killer be Killed. The prospect of a supergroup consisting of Soulfly’s Max Cavalera, Mastodon’s Troy Sanders, and The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato is intriguing enough, but add in the diverse backgrounds and musical offerings each one of these guys can bring to the table, and we might be on the precipice of something great. Whether the musical disparity between these three musicians is too great or is able to gel in a coherent way is the primary concern, and naturally one of the inherent risks when starting a project such as this. But at a time where many musicians are sticking to their proven formulas a little too closely, this kind of experimentation is what brings excitement and a sense of danger to music once again. Regardless of the outcome, many of us cannot wait to hear the result of this venture.
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