2013 was an amazing year for metal, particularly among the experimental and doom metal genres. Here are the ones that grabbed my ear and wallet. Enjoy.
Windhand – Soma (classic doom metal)
Amazingly depressive, sludge doom with haunted, distant vocals, heavy-as-hell guitars and a backbeat that ties together songs that are just long enough to get the job done. In a genre rife with Sabbath knockoffs, Windhand have carved their own niche and do so without the weed affectations most modern doom acts seem to rely upon. This might be the best pure doom metal album of the year. Enjoy Windhand’s “Orchid” (official)
Wine from Tears – Glad to be Dead (gothic metal)
If you like the Peaceville Three, mid-period Draconian or latter Lacrimas Profundere, you’ll love Russia’s Wine from Tears. Following on the heels of the excellent “Through the Eyes of a Mad,” this release keeps some of the doom-death spirit of the earlier work, while intentionally paying tribute to the Peaceville gang (Hell, WFT even covers My Dying Bride’s “Light at the End of the World.”) These are some seriously sad tunes, tastefully done. Not particularly original, to be sure, but what WFT do, they do very well. Enjoy Wine From Tear’s “What Are You Waiting For”
My Dying Bride – A Map of All Our Failures/The Manuscript (atmospheric doom-death)
Speaking of the Peaceville Three, what can be said about My Dying Bride other than the fact that, like a 2005 La Rasina Brunello di Montalcino, they get better with age the more we try to place them in the cellar. Map and Manuscript are exactly what we come to expect from MBD: prog chords and progressions, thematic harmonies that weave the album into a coherent tapestry, silence and sparing guitar lines, the trademark dissonant violin parts, and of course the lyrical pathos that makes MDB not just a band with great lyrics, but poets of the first order. I love this band, and I love these albums. Enjoy “The Manuscript”…caveat it’s 27 minutes long, but absolutely worth it.
Suffocation – Pinnacle of Bedlam (classic death metal)
Speaking of legends, it was a very good year for the old standard bearers. One that was perhaps overlooked with the Carcass and Voivod releases was the new Suffocation album. This ain’t tech death kids; this is rawly visceral hatefucking. In 38 minutes, on ten tracks, Suffocation lays waste to the experimental DM scene. The songs are recorded so aggressively, that you can hear the bass slap back on flesh, and the guitar notes go sharp as they’re being pounded. Juxtaposed with the gargled glass vocals and the mechanized drum tone, and you have one of the year’s best albums. Enjoy Suffocation’s “My Demise” (IMO, the most brutal track on an exceptionally brutal album)
Aborym – Dirty (experimental black metal/industrial)
This is the soundtrack for the apocalypse, and easily one of the heaviest, most interesting albums of the year. Descriptively, Aborym are an Italian orchestral black metal band with scads of industrial music thrown in to complete a sound that may not be music so much as the noise of a dying world. Without losing my metal cred, suffice it to say that having a drummer of note like Bard both play live drums and program percussive parts is -for lack of a better word, just plain neat. It works. Like DHG, and now Aborym, the admixture of musicians both playing and programming what they would otherwise play, is likely to be the next wave of heavy music. And, when done well, you get a fantastic album like “Dirty.” Enjoy Aborym’s “Raped by Daddy,” which is creepy as hell, and showcases just about everything the album has to offer.
Lightning Swords of Death – Baphometic Chaosium (blackend/black)
Oh, you know, just your run of the mill, decade-long, overnight sensation. LSoD are modern black metal/blackend band playing both genres at an extremely competent level. But, LSoD do not hail from the cold shores of Norway, or the bleak Swedish forests; they’re from LA, dispelling the notion that Americans generally, and SoCal specifically, don’t “get it.” Baphometic Chaosium is stylistically similar to the melodic modern black metal acts like Immortal or Emperor, with all the Hail Satan of Gorgoroth, yet, they combine the virtuosity and (GASP) lead guitar work of blackend metal like Behemoth. Don’t let the cheesy name or the hometown fool you, this is a fantastic band, a fantastic record, and it’s damned good to see LSoD finally get the acclaim they deserve: The Devil loves this album. Enjoy LSoD’s title track “Baphometic Chaosium” (official).
Nekrogoblikon – power (experimental extreme)
I know that I said Aborym put out one of the most interesting albums of 2013. The reason it’s not the most interesting is because Nekrogoblikon exists, and power was released this year. There is no way to describe this band that does them justice. They are fabulous musicians that combine damned near every musical convention, while simultaneously shattering them. I could say that Nekrogoblikon are a melange of nu metal, grindcore, prog rock, cabaret and melodic death metal and that would mean nothing. Suffice it to say, this is a risk-taking album, by an act that is criminally under-appreciated -and are also well known for high energy, gonzo live shows a la Slipknot. That said, check out the rest of the catalog at http://nekrogoblikon.bandcamp.com and thank me later. For now, enjoy Nekrogoblikon’s “Powercore,” with particular attention to the metal accordion!
Blood Red Throne – Blood Red Throne (extreme death)
Combining the extreme metal of grindcore, dark metal themes, and a guitar tone straight from the bowels of Entombed, this album takes no zero prisoners. Strap yourself in and prepare for unreal speed, lethality and some of the most hateful vocals you’ll ever hear. The real fun starts when the band slows down and unleashes amazing riffs that you can’t help but thrash around to. Enjoy Blood Red Throne’s “Deatholation” which has one of the heaviest verse riffs you’ll hear all year. Fans of Vader will dig this.
Carcass – Surgical Steel (tech-death)
After a forever-hiatus, the progenitors (with Death) of the tech-death genre, and the band that made you grab your thesaurus in the 1990s, returned with what can only be described as a masterpiece of song-writing, execution, and a complete game-changer. I could review it, but honestly, no words need to be added to the many excellent reviews already out there. Musically, it bridges the gap between Heartwork and the (to many) disappointing Swan Song. Logically, it should have been an album produced 15 years ago. Better late than never, and we are damned fortunate to have Carcass back. Enjoy Carcass’ “Wraith in the Apparatus,” which does not appear on the UK/US release.
Deicide – In the Mind of Evil (classic death metal)
After spending the better part of a decade meandering through mediocre albums and apparent boredom, Deicide dropped a late-year release on us that, frankly, didn’t get nearly the attention or love it should have. This album is, depending on your tastes, one of the quintessential Deicide albums. Glen Benton, chugging along with God/Daddy issues for 20 years now, still has it: the lyrics and delivery are as vengeful as you’d ever hope for. The guitars and riffs are simply amazing, addictive and have an instinctive thrashability to them. The drums, if anything, have gotten faster over the years. Along with Suffocation and Blood Red Throne, this is the most hook-laden, catchy album of the year. Deicide is back…though I’m not sure they ever went anywhere. Enjoy Deicide’s “Thou Begone (official)”
BEST OF THE YEAR (TIE):
Mourning Beloveth – Formless (melodic doom-death)
In a fantastic year for doom metal and depressive albums, Mourning Beloveth -long considered one of the very best of the genre, released what may be their defining album. These are five brilliant tracks, each one thematically-strong, and each one carried out to its logical and musical resolution. The lyrical content, long a MB staple, has -if anything- gotten smarter, far more poetic. “Nothing has a Centre” has one of the most moving descriptions of fading, slow death, and a reintegration into the circular firing-squad of people-as-organic-life:
The hollow of night drifts like the slowest sea of all
the edges failed every fragment rushed away
thrown around the centrifuge of space
disintegrating set of cells disintegrate space
woven back together with chemical thread
cord which makes us live
While not as heavy as Dust or Circus, the expansion of Darren’s vocal range, and increased clean-tone guitars, make the power chords even more powerful when the distortion does kick in. And, as with My Dying Bride, the drums are amazing, filling sonic space yet simultaneously creating a negative space which makes the moments of silence all the more fulfilling. If there is any band lying in wait for the Peaceville Crown, it is Mourning Beloveth, and particularly this album. Beyond merely satisfying, Formless is an emotional marathon, not a sprint.
Enjoy Mourning Beloveth’s “Ethics on the Precipice”
Stomach Earth (funeral)
Bleak. Unsettling. Inhuman. Helpless. Crushing. Haunting.
There is simply no way to describe Stomach Earth’s exceptionally powerful, dark eponymous debut, nor can you really pigeonhole a genre for this Mike McKenzie one-man project. The beats are plodding, thunderous; the guitars intentionally atonal; and then the vocals…my god, the vocals. It doesn’t matter what McKenzie is saying, suffice it to say that it hurts, he hurts. The juxtaposition of these elements, punctuated by its sometimes near-tender moments (as on the track “Claimed”), makes every second of vast aching the more-powerful. And when the tracks are not slowly grinding you into a font of despair, they are -frankly, just plain frightening.
I really wish words could justice to the awful and disquieting soundscape that is Stomach Earth, but I don’t think that I -or anyone, truly can. Some bands speak of the dank cold of the grave, of angry loss, of the press of the soil around your decay…but this is what it sounds likes.
This album is a dead child’s bedroom, untouched for all years yet still decorated for moments long ago.
We’ve never heard anything this stark, and frankly I doubt we will again.
Enjoy (?) Stomach Earth‘s “Void Angel Ritual.”
TEN HONORABLE MENTIONS:
Gorguts Colored Sands (avant garde tech-death, reviewed previously);
Ihsahn Das Seelenbrechen (melodic black metal from Emperor guitarist Ihsahn);
Altar of Plagues Teethed Glory and Injury (post-black metal)
Panoptic/Vestiges Split EP (Blackgrass, see BHAM FM’s review of Kentucky for an idea what you’re getting into);
Nails Abandon All Life (hardcore-sludge)
Red Fang Whales and Leeches (hard rock);
Voivod Target Earth (progger-than-thou; not for everyone, but a good, if mixed, record)
Agrimonia Rites of Separation (post-metalcore/sludge-crust)
Cathedral (stoner/doom…good news, less stoner, more early doom a la “Forest Equilibrium”).
Lycus Tempest (blackened-funeral doom)
FIVE OVERRATED ONES:
Deafheaven Sunbather (overindulgent, feigned post-black metal/shoegaze)
Intronaut Habitual Levitations (Meshuggah clone is Meshuggah-ish)
Gorguts Colored Sands (yup, it makes both lists)
Ghost B.C. Infestissumam (I liked it better when Blue Oyster Cult did it)
Black Sabbath 13 (This breaks my heart, but Sabbath died a decade before Dio did).