Sunday, December 22, 2013

Best Albums of 2013

# 15 - Demonical - Darkness Unbound
 Cyclone Empire

Demonical's latest offering "Darkness Unbound" doesn't really venture into new territory for the band but is undoubtedly a solid slab of Swedish death metal.  Their conventional approach is somewhat reminiscent of Dismember or Grave. IE:  Never straying too far from their core sound.  There is however one aspect of "Darkness" that differs from its predecessors - a bit more emphasis on melody.  It's also great to hear some faster blast sections brought back into the mix ala "Servants of the Unlight" (personal favorite.)

The vocals more or less parallel the classic LG Petrov approach.  Very well executed but a bit more variety would really add a lot to their sound.  Regardless, this is an excellent addition to the Demonical catalog.  Definitely one of the better modern Swedish death metal acts.

Standout Tracks:  The Order / Contempt and Conquest / The Healing Control

Listen Here

# 14 - Deeds of Flesh - Portals to Canaan
Unique Leader Records

California’s Deeds of Flesh don't have any bad albums per se but I find most of their music sounds too similar to hold my interest.  "Of What's to Come" seen the band slightly alter their formula; a welcomed change.  Their latest submission "Portals to Canaan" continues in same direction except this time around they managed to produce a more memorable and cohesive album.  The music on “Portals” is still highly focused on fast technical arrangements and start-stop time changes yet there seems to be more thought put into the song structures; incorporating some mid to slower paced sections with some really catchy guitar harmonies that flow with precision. 

The sound on PTC (handled by Zack Ohren) is well mixed and produced but maybe a bit sterile.  Regardless I think it works for a band like Deeds and doesn't take away from the album as a whole.  The only real downfall I can see is that some of the sample / instrumental sections drag on for too long.  Over all a solid effort from Deeds of Flesh.

Standout Tracks:  Amidst the Ruins / Rise of the Virvum Juggernaut / Hollow Human Husks

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# 13 - Bodyfarm - The Coming Scourge
Cyclone Empire

Hailing from the Netherlands, Bodyfarm play classic Dutch style death metal akin to Asphyx and Hail of Bullets with hints of early Swedish death.  Initially "The Coming Scourge" seemed a bit lackluster but after a few spins, its luster was slowly revealed.  Musically the band takes a stripped down, straight forward approach which works very well with their brand of death metal.  The songs aren't overly technical or even original but the emphasis on writing catchy heavy riffs really makes this an enjoyable listen.  They finish the album with a cover of Bathory's "Enter the Eternal Fire"; a nice addition.  I would love to see Bodyfarm get more notice in the future and secure a place in the Dutch metal scene.

Standout Tracks:  The Coming Scourge / The Well Of Decay / The Frozen Halls

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# 12 - Hypocrisy - End of Disclosure
Nuclear Blast Records

Hypocrisy are one of my all time favorites so how could I have a best of list and not include their latest release?  Coming in at # 12, "End of Disclosure" is definitely a strong album but I feel it's a bit tame compared to 2009's "A Taste of Extreme Divinity" or even its predecessor "Virus".  The band describes it as a step back to the old school Hypocrisy sound (which is great) but I can't help but think what they've done on the previous 2 is absolutely amazing and probably more suited to them at this point in their career.  EOD still delivers with some great songs, excellent guitar work and Peter's signature diverse vocal performance.  Not to mention some sick cover artwork done by one of my favorite artists Wes Benscoter. 

Standout Tracks:  Tales of Thy Spineless / United We Fall / Hell Is Where I Stay

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# 11 - Devourment - Conceived in Sewage
Relapse Records

This is exactly the album I wanted from Devourment.  As much as I love "Molesting the Decapitated", this sound/style has been done to death by 1000+ shit copycat bands.  "Conceived" plays more like straight forward death metal with a little less focus on the slam sound that they help pioneer. The songs here are more aggressive with the uptempo intensity of "Butcher the Weak" - probably my favorite from these guys.  Mike's vocals are brutal and more varied than ever; something that kind of lacked on the last album.  Erik's drumming is top notch as usual and Ruben's guitar work is more discernible and interesting than anything they've done to date.  The production, courtesy of Erik Rutan, is massive and perfectly complements their sound. 

If you're not stuck in the "MTD or nothing" camp check this one out. 

Standout Tracks:  Legalize Homicide / Conceived in Sewage / Today We Die, Tomorrow We Kill

Devourment @ Bandcamp

# 10 - Ade – Spartacus
Blast Head Records

"Spartacus" is the second album from Rome's metal warriors Ade.  They incorporate traditional instruments into their music to produce an epic and atmospheric style of death metal.  Although not an entirely new idea, they do manage to merge the use of these instruments very well, letting the guitar, bass and drums be the focal point to the listener.  One of the highlights of "Spartacus" is that Ade knows how to balance slower, more memorable pieces with their dominantly fast paced sections; something that many bands in this genre don't always do well.  It’s also great to hear George Kollias (session drums) do something a bit different from the blast focused style of his main band Nile. 

My only small issue here (minor as it is), is that vocals are a little bit one dimensional.  The addition of some lower style vocals would have made things more interesting.  However I think that Flavio's voice has improved significantly from their debut and did a great job on this album.  

I expect Ade have a bright future ahead of them.  Interested to hear what else they have in store. 

Standout Tracks:  The Endless Runaway / Dueling the Shadow of Spartacus / Mars Unpredictable Favour

Spartacus on Bandcamp

# 9 - Eternium - Repelling a Solar Giant
Blast Head Records

Out of nowhere comes Eternium with their debut offering "Repelling a Solar Giant".  Bands in this genre are few and far between for me but these guys really managed to produce something with soul.  Although their influences are quoted as Emperor, Sacramentum and Dissection, I also hear a bit of early Cradle of Filth in their sound.  Probably most evident in their orchestral sections such as the beginning of "Aura Infernum: The Flight over Massless Soul".  The music is somber and often melodic.  Markov's over the top, sinister vocal approach is a highlight for me.  They really add a lot character to the music and the overall atmosphere.

Although there are some really great standout tracks, this album is best enjoyed in its entirety.  Despite a few minor flaws (some "off" sounding string sections in "Aura Sentium" and a somewhat sterile drum sound), this is a damn impressive first effort for Eternium. 

Standout Tracks:  Aura Infernum: The Flight Over Massless Soul / Aura Noir: Repelling A Solar Giant

Repelling a Solar Giant on Bandcamp

# 8 - Nonexistence – Antarctica
Candlelight Records

Nonexistence is the output of mastermind Philip Santoll who handles most of the instruments and composition on "Antarctica" (session drums & bass were performed by Tuomas Saukkonen of Wolfheart.)  The music is a mix of symphonic black, doom and Finnish death metal.  Kind of like Old Man's Child meets Black Sun Aeon or Swallow the Sun.  The albums’ focus is mainly on dark atmospheric doomy passages fused with melodic riffs, short blasts of speed and even some clean vocals.  The performance and arrangements on this release is very impressive.  It’s the type of album that demands multiple plays to fully absorb and appreciate everything that it has to offer.

It's a shame that Nonexistence didn't get more notice.  Makes me wonder how much promotion Candlelight gave to it.  Definitely an underrated 2013 release.  Highly recommended!!

Standout Tracks:  Hope Dies First / Shroud Of Distress /Darkness Shining

Antarctica on Bandcamp

# 7 - Suffocation - Pinnacle of Bedlam
Nuclear Blast Records

The brutal death metal masters return with most likely their strongest post-reunion album to date.  "Pinnacle of Bedlam" captures the aggression and brutality of the early material yet retains the technical approach they've been developing since their inception.  From the first few seconds of "Cycles of Suffering" you can tell they're on top of their game.  One of my favorite things about "Pinnacle" is the sound production.  The master is heavy on the high end so everything sounds crisp and sharp.  The drums are extremely hard-hitting and Frank sounds as vicious as ever.  The cover art (done by Raymond Swanland) looks stunning and ties in with the lyrical concept of the album.  Definitely a top shelf 2013 release.

Standout Tracks:  Purgatorial Punishment / Eminent Wrath / Rapture of Revocation

Listen Here

# 6 - Amorphis – Circle
Nuclear Blast Records

Since enlisting Tomi Joutsen on vocals, Amorphis has released 4 very consistent, high quality albums - My favorite of which being 2009's "Skyforger". The change in vocalist seemed to bring back that much needed edge that was lacking on the previous few releases.  With "Circle", Amorphis steps even further back to their roots and produce their heaviest offering since "Elegy".  The album perfectly encapsulates their modern prog/folk sound with the chuggy riff oriented meat of their early material.  This is by no means a return to "Tales” or "Karelian Isthmus" but it's definitely worthy of fist pumping metal head fury.  The heavier elements are best showcased in tracks like "Enchanted by the Moon" "Nightbird's Song" and even the opener "Shades of Grey". 

Production duties for "Circle" were handled by Swedish mastermind Peter Tägtgren (Hypocrisy).  Having Peter at the helm most likely had some influence in the making of "Circle" which is by no means a bad thing.   The guitar tone is sharp, drums punchy and never have I heard Tomi sound so brutal.  His approach in the verses of "Enchanted" even seem a bit reminiscent of Peter's varied vocal approach; again not a bad thing IMO. 

In summary, another top shelf 2013 release from Finland's Amorphis.

Standout Tracks:  Shades of Grey / Mission / Hopeless Days / Enchanted by the Moon

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# 5 - Ghost – Infestissumam
Loma Vista

Unlike most devout Ghost fans, I discovered their brilliance after hearing promo tracks from this year’s "Infestissuman" album.  This of course prompted me to revisit their debut and after one listen to "Ritual" I was hooked.  "Infestissuman" sees Ghost incorporating more 70's prog rock influence and somewhat stepping away from the rawer, straight forward rockin Sabbath/Mercyful Fate approach.  Some fans were disappointed with the change in direction but personally I think it was a great move.  The songs are still catchy-as-fuck but more layered and mature.  Papa's vocals are truly fantastic and you just can help but sing along to the chorus of a song like "Year Zero".  Although not my standard fare, I've probably listened to this one more than any release this year so I thought it deserved a spot in the top 5.  Curious to hear what's next for Ghost. 

Standout Tracks:  Secular Haze / Ghuleh, ZombieQueen / Year Zero / Monstrance Clock

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#4 - Kataklysm - Waiting for the End to Come
Nuclear Blast Records

If you're a fan of their post-Sylvan era then you pretty much know what to except from Kataklysm.  With this album however, we see them step up their game and inject a few new elements into their sound.  The overall execution on "Waiting" is a bit more extreme and the riffing more technical then anything they've done to date.  The extremely tasteful performance from session drummer Olivier Beaudoin adds a new and welcomed dimension to the music.  The production is clear, thick and punchy which works really well with their style.  Really I can't say enough good about this release.  Like Grave's 2012 "Endless Procession of Souls", I think this is probably their most well-focused album they've released in a while. 

Standout Tracks:  Fire / If I Was God...I'd Burn It All / Kill The Elite / Elevate

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#3 - Exhumed – Necrocracy
Relapse Records

As much as I love "All Guts, No Glory" I have to say that "Necrocracy" maybe a stronger offering from Exhumed.  It's darker, heavier and has that "Anatomy is Destiny" vibe with a slight touch of the "Gore Metal" sound.  The songs are more focused on meat heavy riffs as opposed to snare numbing speed.  The mix of dark melody and sheer brutality is well balanced and the bass perfectly complements the guitar with a grindy distorted thickness. 

The vocal performance here is probably one of my favorite aspects of “Necrocracy.”  Rob Babcocks' lows fit perfectly with their style and of course Matt sounds as fierce as ever.  Another highlight is the return of Bud Burke; this time on guitar and backup vocals.  Bud contributes some exceptional lead work which meshes very well with Matt's. 

Once again another awesome release from Exhumed.  These guys can truly do no wrong!! 

Standout Tracks:  Coins Upon the Eyes / The Shape of Deaths to Come / Necrocracy / (So Passes) The Glory of Death

Exhumed @ Bandcamp

# 2 - Wolfheart – Winterborn

I discovered the music of Tuomas Saukkonen when he released "Rise of the Phoenix" with Before the Dawn last year.  Since then I've searched out anything and everything he has been involved in.  "Winterborn" continues in the vein of Black Sun Aeon with a bit of Before the Dawn thrown into the mix.  The music is enormously epic, full of atmosphere and treads more on the side of BSA than his other endeavors.  The songs are fused with memorable meaty riffs and tonnes of melodic rhythmic lead sections.  The use of keyboards is effective yet subtle and the lead work (courtesy of Mika Lammassaari) is some of the catchiest I've heard in recent memory. 

The drum performance on "Winterborn" is truly excellent.  Tuomas has always been a solid percussionist but he's really developed his style over the years.  I kind of miss the clean vocals that were present in his previous bands but I think they weren't necessarily needed for these songs.

This album definitely exceeded all my expectations for Wolfheart's first release and will see many-a-motherfuckin'-spins in years to come.  Hail Routa!

Standout Tracks:  Hard to pick but maybe - The Hunt / Routa Pt 2 / Ghosts of Karelia / I / Chasm

Winterborn Full Album Stream on Soundcloud

# 1 - Carcass - Surgical Steel
Nuclear Blast Records

When I first heard word that Carcass was writing a new album I, like many, was skeptical.  We all know how many post-reunion albums end up.  As its turns out, Carcass managed to thwart all expectations and release a truly impressive slab of death metal.  "Surgical Steel" sees Carcass revisit their "Heartwork" era sound mainly focusing on melodic intricate guitar harmonies; yet retaining some of the aggression of "Necroticism" (Captive Bolt Pistol) and even the groove elements of "Swan Song" (Mount of Execution.)  If you've followed the band over the years then you know their sound has constantly evolved with each album.  The music on “Surgical Steel” seems like the logical evolution for them at this point in their career. 

One of my main complaints about modern metal is that too many bands are focused on writing the most brutal, technically proficient songs possible.  Memorability is completely lost in the process.  Thankfully Carcass did not forget that.  "Surgical Steel" is smorgasbord of catchy riffs, vocal lines and memorable moments.  Everything is well balanced with speed, brutality and melody.  Jeff's vocals are rife with character as always and new drummer Dan lays down a fantastic performance.  According to Jeff, no triggers were used to record the drums on this album.  A huge win from my perspective. 

"Surgical Steel" is pretty much perfection and is well deserving of "album of the year" status.  Bravo Carcass! 

Choice Cuts:  A Congealed Clot of Blood / Noncompliance to ASTM F 899-12 Standard / The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills / 316 L Grade Surgical Steel

Listen Here


Other stuff I've enjoyed this year not included in the top 15:

Afgrund - Corporatocracy
Amon Amarth - Deceiver of the Gods
Coffins - The Fleshland
Nebulous - The Quantum Transcendence of Death
Perversion - Pillars of the Enlightened
Revel in Flesh - Manifested Darkness
Scordatura - Torment of the Weak
Sulpher Aeon - Swallowed by the Ocean's Tide
Anciients - Heart of Oak
Black Sabbath - 13
Ghost - If You Have Ghost EP
Powerwolf - Preachers of the Night
Voivod - This Target Earth
Witherscape - The Inheritance
Grave - Morbid Ascent EP (vinyl only release)
Defeated Sanity - Passages into Deformity
Entrails - Raging Death
Fuck the Facts - Amer EP (vinyl only release)
Gorguts - Colored Sands
Krypts - Unending Degradation
Man Must Die - Peace Was Never an Option 
The Ruins Of Beverast - Blood Vaults
Toxic Holocaust - Chemistry of Consciousness
Zombiefication - At the Caves of Eternal
Antigama / The Kill / Noisear-Split

1 comment:

  1. I bbought Ghosts based on this article, I read it, went out, saw Ghosts sitting on the shelf as soon as i went in to record store. Cheers

    - Adam
    PS - You gotta get DISQUS commenting system :P