Before Thanksgiving I submitted my votes for Top 5 releases of 2013 to About.com Heavy Metal. They should be posted, along picks from other writers for the site, later this month. I'll post a link to that article (which also includes things like my pick for most overrated album and best show experience) when it goes online.
But because I'm impatient, I decided to go ahead and post my list of the top 20 releases this year. This is the list I submitted to The Obelisk's readers poll, and of course, after I did, I thought about several other releases that I would have liked to include in some way. Among these are three that really deserve some attention: Seidr's cosmic doom opus "Ginnungagap," Satan's Satyrs' fuzzy freakout "Killing for Satan," and Wolvserpent's dramatic "Perigea Antahkarana."
I will say that I listened to (and saw) a lot of music this year, and still feel like I only scratched the surface of what's out there. That's why I would never call this list a "Best of," and why I really appreciate when folks email or message me regarding bands they think I would be into, because there's a good chance I actually don't know about them.
Show-wise, I was thrilled to go to my first Maryland Deathfest, where I saw too many great performances to list. I wouldn't have expected Pelican to be a fitting coda to the mighty Carcass, but they certainly were. Or maybe I was glad to finally be huddled in a tent after standing in the misty chill all day. Pelican also put on a great show in November at Local 506, after which I found out first hand that running over a stray traffic cone while doing 80 MPH on I-40 can really screw up your car.
This year I also managed to see Inter Arma four times, and would have seen them a fifth if I could have gotten my compadre to skip the Melvins at the Deathfest and head over early to the Baroness show. Twice they played with openers who made the show worth it on their own (with Earthling at Slim's in April and with Windhand at Slim's in June). But I think they put on their best performance at Local 506 opening for KEN Mode.
Then there was Hopscotch, where I got to see Isaiah Mitchell and Golden Void shred at Deep South (regrettably had to miss Earthling for that one), got day-drunk while watching Valeint Thorr at CAM, and saw Sleep rule at Lincoln Theatre. I was so terrified of missing Sleep that I was literally the first person in the door at Lincoln. Literally. I walked up and they just waved me on in as if they thought I worked for Hopscotch. About 10 minutes later someone came and grabbed me (standing by myself completely bored in an empty club) to make sure I actually had a pass.
As for the Pig Destroyer/Gorguts show at Slim's, I'm of two minds on that one. There's no denying it was a great show, and one that everyone who experienced it will be talking about forever, but it would have been great to be there without feeling like I was in imminent danger.
As for 2014, I am already looking forward to the Deathfest (especially for Ulver, Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats and Triptykon) and seeing Carcass once again (with Gorguts, Black Dahlia Murder and Noisem) in Atlanta. In the meantime, here's my list of albums that dominated my iPod in 2013.
20. Lumbar -- "The First and Last Days of Unwelcome" (Southern Lord)
Teeth-rattling heaviness with Mike Scheidt, Tad Doyle and Aaron Edge. Check out "Day Six."
19. Ramming Speed -- "Doomed to Destroy, Destined to Die" (Prosthetic)
"A breakneck romp through thrash, hardcore and NWOBHM, gleefully high-fiving d-beat and grind along the way." About.com review.
18. True Widow -- "Circumambulation" (Relapse)
"True Widow’s Texan “stonegaze” (combining the dusty, desert droning of stoner with the shimmer of shoegaze) carries the same sense of dark foreboding as a Jim Jarmusch film or Cormac McCarthy novel." About.com review
17. ASG -- "Blood Drive" (Relapse)
"ASG has perfected a heavy, but summery vibe that brings to mind driving with the top down, hair blowing in the wind, on a hot summer day." About.com review
16. Mourning Cloak -- "No Visible Light" (Headfirst Records)
Sludgy, crushing doom from Greensboro. Thanks to this Cvlt Nation article for letting me know what was in my own backyard.
15. Sinister Haze -- Demo (Unholy Anarchy)
Bongwater-soaked blues-doom from RVA: Dark, evil, slow and smoky. About.com review. See photos from their show last week at Slim's.
14. Occultist -- "Death Sigils" (Primitive Ways)
"A sucker punch to the throat, propelled mostly by vocalist Kerry Zylstra’s crusty shriek." About.com review
13. Earthling -- "Dark Path"(Forcefield Records)
"Hailing from Harrisonburg, Va., Earthling’s first full length album gallops at break-neck speed through a crusty, blackened, desolate musical landscape. " About.com review
12. Gorguts --"Colored Sands" (Season of Mist)
The year's second greatest comeback album, released just prior to their crazy Hopscotch performance. Looking forward to seeing them again now that I've had a chance to actually listen to the album.
11. Cough/Windhand -- "Reflection of the Negative" split (Relapse)
Double dose of Richmond doom. This release foretold great things from Windhand. Still waiting for the new Cough release. About.com review.
10. Uzala -- "Tales of Blood & Fire" (King of the Monsters)
"Uzala is expansive and atmospheric, while still conjuring a witchy, vintage spirit." About.com review.
9. In Solitude --"Sister" (Metal Blade)
I admit to being late to the party regarding "In Solitude," but the song "Sister" helped me realize just how good this band is.
8. Skeletonwitch -- "Serpents Unleashed" (Prosthetic)
Skeletonwitch is metal's true workhorse band. You won't year anything truly mind-expanding on "Serpents Unleased," but you will have your fist in the air while listening.
7. Kadavar --"Abra Kadavar" (Nuclear Blast)
Well-done Old Man retro rock from Germany. Check out the trippy "Rhythm for Endless Minds" and the funky "Doomsday Machine."
6. Oranssi Pazuzu --"Valonielu" (Svart/20 Buck Spin)
This confounding Finnish blackened psychedelic band seemed to come out of nowhere this fall, with a sound that's as difficult to categorize as their name is to pronounce.
5. Windhand -- "Soma" (Relapse)
On "Soma," Richmond's Windhand transcends the vintage chalice-and-black-candles doomy sound and moves the initiation ceremony outdoors to create an atmosphere that’s natural, cold and forbidding. You get a visual sense of that sound from the album’s cover artwork: a stark, black and white photo of a lonely, hillside barn. Even when punching you in the throat with a groovy, wah-drenched double guitar attack, the music evokes that same sense of isolation, coldness and collapse. About.com review.
4. Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats -- "Mind Control" (Metal Blade)
Like their previous release, "Blood Lust," "Mind Control" album is a loose concept, this time involving death cults, motorcycle gangs and quests for enlightenment. The album kicks off with the slow, chugging “Mt. Abraxas,” which introduces our protagonist (antagonist?) as he escapes from the eponymous mountain after murdering his fellow cult members.
The story goes literally downhill from there, but is relayed with such fuzzy, sickeningly sweet harmonies, and thick slabs of riffage, that it sounds like the most wonderful story ever told. Uncle Acid’s double-tracked vocals sound like Alice Cooper, John Lennon and Ozzy are all fighting for his soul. About.com review. Mann's World interview with Uncle Acid.
3. Toxic Holocaust -- "Chemistry of Consciousness" (Relapse)
Full-on thrash attack. Check out the scathing "Rat Eater" and "Deny the Truth."
2. Inter Arma -- "Sky Burial"(Relapse)
In addition to seeing Inter Arma live more than any other band in the last year, I probably listened to this album more than all the others on this list combined. From the very first second of "The Survival Fires," "Sky Burial" essentially grabbed me by the throat and never let go. Live, Inter Arma is a serious force, and seeing them as many times as I did undoubtedly made me love this album as much as I do. There's no link, but I wrote a profile of the band, which appeared in the March edition of Decibel.
1. Carcass -- "Surgical Steel" (Nuclear Blast)
No surprise here, considering how many accolades "Surgical Steel" has received since its release. This album is not only, in my opinion, the best release of the year, it's the definitive album of Carcass' entire career.