Raymond VanRiette Best-of 2013Tuesday, 17th December 2013
2013 seemed like a year of unexpectedly good albums from long-running bands I haven’t paid much attention to in a while. Rotting Christ, Tad Morose, heck – even the godlike Katatonia all delivered albums that got me more jazzed for those releases than I had been in years. That’s a super swell feeling, as there’s nothing I love more than being pleasantly surprised.
On the other hand, I also found some new (to me) things to be excited about. I’d listened to Shining here and there but never dove in the way I did with One One One, and along with Mammoth Grinder I now have lots of good back-catalogue digging to do. Rivers of Nihil was a pleasant surprise as well, and I look forward to good things from them in the future.
1. Shining – One One One (Prosthetic)
I’m a very “keep your goddamned saxophones out of my metal” kind of guy, so understand it is not lightly that I place a #1 in front of this quirky, raucous affair. Full of great songs front to back, this reminds me a lot of The Haunted’s varied, brooding RevolveR. Similarly, One One One employs a range of tempos and sounds to detail fantastically negative journeys through harsh yet accessible songs. I think I’ll be singing these ones for a long time to come.
2. Enshine – Origin (Rain Without End)
Everything Jari Lindholm touches is gold. From Slumber to AtomA and now with Enshine, he and his group of super-pals continue to weave awe-inspiring textures of rapturous beauty. Heavy, incredibly emotive guitars and melodies of crushing weight that nonetheless make me feel like I’m soaring. Through space. These bands all feature some of the consistently best production I’ve ever heard, so do yourself a favor and grab your best pair of headphones and go listen to this in a dark room.
3. Rivers of Nihil – The Conscious Seed of Light (Metal Blade)
These guys caught me by surprise. I love high-concept stuff, and a four-part death metal cycle of the seasons certainly qualifies. Elements of Behemoth and Morbid Angel abound, with machine-like drums powering churning guitars and bile-soaked vocals. Musically varied without watering down the delivery, Rivers of Nihil puts out an impressive debut LP which manages to showcase brawn, malice and regal majesty.
4. Avatarium – Avatarium (Nuclear Blast)
Doom-laden and dripping with personality, Avatarium instantly occupied a near unassailable place in my driving playlist. The dreamy, tinkling notes of this stellar debut dance and give way to gargantuan guitar tones. The album plays like a fever dream, and the lilting female vocals carry the listener back and forth between quietly beautiful passages and crushing sinister nightmares. I hope this is the beginning of a long list of stylish releases.
5. Mammoth Grinder – Underworlds (20 Buck Spin)
Messy, belching bursts of punk-infused death metal punctuate this 30 minute rager, stamping and snarling with equal parts scum and charm. The balanced low-fi production allows the instruments to shine with grease and gristle, and the cavernous, subterranean vocals bring literal truth to the name Underworlds. Eminently listenable.
6. Rotting Christ – Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy (Season of Mist)
Great atmosphere front to back. Rotting Christ are downright diabolical when they’re at the top of their game, and the titanic weight and reach of this record attests to it. The cagey Greek vets are able to maintain their mastery of sinister melodies while hefting on ton after ton of ornate iron and sharpened steel.
7. Tad Morose – Revenant (Despotz)
Sometimes you just can’t keep a good band down. Revenant is an aptly titled and powerful resurgence for the powerful metal of Tad Morose. Lineup troubles finally conquered, the boys get right back to business cleaning house like they never left. Great contemporary power/classic/traditional metal with meaty riffs, great hooks, and soaring vocals. This album plays like a beefier, harder-edged Queensryche and fits nicely into the hole in my heart left behind when Nevermore called it quits.
8. Cathedral – The Last Spire (Metal Blade/Rise Above)
Grueling trudges through punishing riffs and powerful drums are the order of the day here. The Last Spire is an evil-tinged fantasy piece delivered with dramatic flair, and Cathedral is serving up piledrivers. The sludgey blood runs thick and slow through these veins, but rowdier sections stomp through frequently to throw a chair against the wall and prevent things from drifting into drone territory. Longer songs are still the rule, but memorable moments abound on this marble coffin of a record, and the production has such bite your attention is unlikely to wander.
9. Katatonia – Dethroned and Uncrowned (Kscope)
Katatonia is one of my all time favorite bands, but I’ve not been blown away by their last two. Dethroned… was a great concept and the acoustic reworkings, added synths and rearranged vocals really helped me get into and appreciate songs that I had not yet come to love. Kudos for trying new things, boys.
10. White Wizzard – The Devil’s Cut (Earache)
Fun, modern Maiden-worship – what else can you ask for? Great riffs and classical lines run alongside dexterous leads and creamy tones that ring in upbeat epic metal in the grand old style. Wailing vocals whip by like winds through the hair of a warrior riding across Valhalla. Sure, there’s a lot of guys doing the retro thing lately, but the Wizzard manages to pull it off with an authentic verve that few can match.
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