Saturday, December 14, 2013

Top 10 of 2013

End of the Year

It is hard to keep an end of the year list objective. It is also even harder to make judgments based on one's limited exposure. Even large scale blogs with 6 reviews a day will have some degree of subjectivity, since hearing every release is impossible. Yes, we can never hear everything. With that said, objectivity can be used as more of a spectrum, with a concentration in relevance more suited to a wider audience. I have always seen end of the year lists as tools to be employed in finding more music rather than coming to any sort of conclusion. Those large scale blogs can certainly have their own weight in terms of commercial and cultural narrative, and so can others given the right amount of attention and care. However, the pools in which people pull from are vastly different and, depending on the reviewer, end of the year lists can be used to find new albums, bands, or genres. While there is always a middle ground of overlap that could be suggested to be a common grouping of records people found important, end of the year lists are more like fun waterslides to run up and slide down repeatedly until the close of 2013.

1. Satan - Life Sentence

This album is not in the number #1 position because it was a comeback record from an awesome NWOBHM band whose last album was released in 1987. No, that is actually secondary. The reason Life Sentence is first is because it is an amazing record full of memorial leads, riffs, and hooks that don’t belong to any one metal house but rather from a band that never forget how to write kick ass heavy metal. It is heavy metal as it used to be and much like a time capsule, Satan shows everyone how simple the formula can be with a record that could easily have been released in 1989. It is also important to note that nowhere on this record is there any hint of nostalgia or throwback tones just a genuine artifact that never skipped a beat in their 26 year suspended sentence. 2013 is the year of Satan.

2. Caladan Brood - Echoes of Battle

Before we movie any further, let us all say at once that Caladan Brood sounds like Summoning. This fact is brought up a lot in the band's reviews because Caladan Brood, from Utah, emulates a style made famous by Summoning, an Austrian bands from the 90’s. From slow folk inspired gallops to the fantasy centric universe, Caladan Brood could be thought of as a squire for Summoning and would be content sitting in its shadow. I have no idea why Echoes of Battle made it so much higher than Summoning's Old Mornings Dawn, which also came out this year. I have no idea why I listened to Echoes of Battle so much more than Old Mornings Dawn. There was something more resonating about Caladan Brood and their construction of a Malazan universe rather than Tolkien. Echoes of Battle was released with a feeling of familiarity and immortality as if all extraneous factors made it the continuation of a story already started. Best Erickson based black metal of the year.

3. Oranssi Pazuzu -Valonielu

There is a lot of experimentation in black metal. In fact, on this list are varying entries that take the same style and run as far as they can go. I always feel the best entries are the ones more focused on the craft than on being controversial. Oranssi Pazuzu is weird, but this Finnish act seems to have found black metal as a support group for their weirdness. Or at least would have played the same style even if it never existed. Valonielu comes after a wave of excitement surrounding the group's two previous records. Not only does Valonielu retain the deep riffing that gives the record its strength, it also goes way the fuck out with electronic effects and song structure. I mention tact with experimentation because Oranssi Pazuzu uses it to better the record rather than to be the only one with a funny outfit. There is a reason for it existing as if they were already doing something and then stumbled into black metal.

4. Tribulation - the Formulas of Death

Death. Fun. Death. Sweden’s Tribulation has been in the public opinion ever since their 2009 debut The Horror. This is fitting as there seems to be more and more solid death metal releases that are pushing the style into more effective territory every year. Tribulation accomplishes their task not only by having a rotting foundation of dark riffs but also by making all of that really fucking fun. Where some records, like Grave Miasma, can be entertaining with a deluge of thick production and pure obliteration, Tribulation makes one of the most entertaining death metal records of the year, which is entirely based on kicking ass for 30 minutes. This effective formula, however, is lost on so many, when the simple goal should just be the musical equivalent to an uppercut with a hammer.

5. Altar of Plagues - Teethed Injury and Glory

Teethed Injury and Glory, along with Deafheaven's Sunbather, are the two albums that fit into the category of experimental black metal, which interested a lot of people who are not really into black metal. Altar of Plagues was once a second rate atmospheric black metal band whose album Mammal, aside from being above average, was always listed second after bands like Agalloch and Wolves in the Throne Room. Teethed injury and Glory, however, sets the band apart for their unorthodox mix of truncated black metal with heavy artsy leaning. Taking in all of the hype this record received since its released and the easy way for people to discuss the idea of black metal without getting into more traditional styles, this album is still really fucking good. It is dramatic and bold, something that many records never feel the need to do once they've reach their desired sound.

6. Ruins of Beverast - Blood Vaults: The Blazing Gospel of Heinrich Kramer

Yep, this is it. This is the cracking of the world in which souls become corrupted. This is the vapor of a place which lays far beyond human understanding. This is devastation. Out of many releases in 2013, Ruins of Beverast takes the prize for not only the most ominous but perhaps the most deftly constructed. This is all, of course, in the most evil way possible. Ruins of Beversat is the solo work of Alexander von Meilenwald who provided percussion for the German black metal band Nagelfar. Ruins of Beverast began in 2004 and has systematically been releasing stellar records that explore the thematic world of existential decay through the sounds of black doom. Aside from maybe Cultes De Ghoules, there are few contenders for most devoted to darkness in 2013. There seems to be no turning back with Ruins of Beverast and to open the Blood Vaults is to step inside a world that is incredibly effective, if not entirely unnerving.

7. Atleantean Kodex - White Goddess

Who loves sword and sorcery as well as traditional doom? I know I do. In fact, I do not know if I have to keep writing. Traditional metal, as with it's cousin power metal, always make top 10 lists but usually separate from everything else. No one really travels to these kingdoms anymore. Atleantean Kodex shows everyone still traveling through these misty lands that they are one of the last surviving practitioners of heavy traditional metal as well as this year's most overlooked gems of operatic doom. It would be one thing if the style ensnared me without any objectivity but White Goddess genuinely shines not just in craft but also as a beacon for tradition among a changing landscape.

8. Cultes De Ghouls - Henbane

In terms of broad reaching importance, Henbane is not at the top of the list. As far as effective black metal, there should be no question about Henbane’s inclusion. As far as most vile sound in recent memory, Polish act Cultes De Ghoules has lapped the competition. Much like words spoken about Ruins of Beverast, Cultes De Ghoules cuts in the beer line and goes straight to the stand with all of the animal carcasses, bubbling cauldrons, and bone powder. This is the strangest Renaissance Faire ever. Witchcraft, demonic possession, and black magic are all topics for Cultes De Ghoules but they are enunciated through one of the most unique vocals in recent years. Mark of the Devil’s voice resembles that of a half spectral witch that croaks and slides across the length of this record. With all of this talk about accessibility and non traditional audience appeal, it is nice to hear a record that can scare the living shit out of its listener. Yes, I will take this tongue of rhino and skin of newt.

9. Grave Miasma - Odori Sepulcrorum

Discussion around Grave Miasma is sort of similar to my enjoyment of Cultes De Ghoules. Black metal is usually the style with the most wild experimentation and new audiences. Death metal, on the other hand, still remains the guy in the corner that doesn’t talk to anyone. I feel that the style's anti social nature has lead not only to many misconceptions but also to some occasional notes of brilliance. The last few years has been a wonderful time for death metal and Odori Sepulcrorum offers a swirling vortex of madness for anyone brave enough to make the descent. Though the album is incredibly dense, the entire experience of subterranean horror makes one of the more effective uses of riffs as something to be frightened by. The corners are sharp, the rooms are dark, and behind every corner are horrible things.

10. Inquisition - Obscure Verses for the Multiverse

Realistically, this ten spot could have gone to Vhol's self titled, Darkthrone's Underground Resistance or Lluvia's Premonicion De Guerra. All four of them are interesting black metal that is more than worth your time and money. the fact I went with Inquisition is just from a purely primal rather than historical with Darkthrone, intellectually with Vhol, or emotionally with Lluvia. Inquisition was the one that made me clench my fist the most and grit my teeth to this savage world. I have found that despite me loving to talk about heavy metal, somtimes the best things are the ones I really do not know why I liked this much. 

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