The Best Metal Albums of 2013

[27 December 2013]

By PopMatters Staff

Bands across metal’s subgenres reached their full potential, be they acts coming into their own, making crowd-pleasing comebacks, or even bowing out at the top of their game.

—Adrien Begrand, Dean Brown, Chris Colgan, Brice Ezell, Benjamin Hedge Olson, Erik Highter, and Dane Prokofiev

 


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Dark Tranquility

Construct

(Century Media)

20

Dark Tranquility
Construct

As the only one of the Big Three of Gothenburg’s melo-death scene that has not split up so far or lapsed into a downward spiral of mediocrity (cough—In Flames—cough), Dark Tranquillity’s existence has been as meaningful as it has been consistent. A far cry from its raw and mostly guitar-driven melo-death albums of yesteryear, Construct is a melancholic sonic trip through atmospheric and heavily keyboard-driven melo-death terrain. One is sure to be mesmerized by the interplay between frontman Mikael Stanne’s emotive clean singing and agonized growls, which occasionally steals the spotlight from the hauntingly beauteous keyboard melodies. In meme lingo, this album simply has too much feels. Dane Prokofiev

 


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Heaven Shall Burn

Veto

(Century Media)

19

Heaven Shall Burn
Veto

There are very few bands that are as consistently good as Heaven Shall Burn. Following in the footsteps of Iconoclast and Invictus, Veto‘s most prominent features are thrilling guitars, well-executed technical elements, and some of the best lyrical compositions known to the entire metal world. Marcus Bischoff is one of the best at writing lyrics that speak to social, environmental, and historical issues, and he addresses many on Veto. If you’re looking for an album that has excellent music and thought-provoking lyrics, then Veto is exactly what you need to hear. Chris Colgan

 


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Atlantean Kodex

The White Goddess

(20 Buck Spin)

18

Atlantean Kodex
The White Goddess

The White Goddess represents a quite rare example of contemporary traditional metal that does not devolve into either masturbatory shredding or absurd He-Man posturing. Drawing on a wide range of traditional metal styles, Atlantean Kodex allows us to enter into a fantasy world infused with magic and pagan wonder. The guitars stir the heart, while always serving the greater good of the song and not overpowering the music with needless noodling. The vocals are clear and powerful, without being shrill or goofy. This is traditional metal that the listener can believe in. Benjamin Hedge Olson

 


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Exhumed

Necrocracy

(Relapse)

17

Exhumed
Necrocracy

“Necrocracy” would literally mean a form of government in which the power to rule over the people under its jurisdiction is vested in the dead. That made about as much sense as some random slam death metal band’s name, right? But despite the silly title and somewhat cheesy-looking album cover, Necrocracy is loads of aural fun. Disgustingly vomited vocals, attention-hogging riffs, creative drumming patterns, and face-scrunching guitar solos will make you return to this excellent, gore-obsessed death metal album over and over again. Dane Prokofiev

 


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Shooting Guns

Brotherhood of the Ram

(Easy Rider)

16

Shooting Guns
Brotherhood of the Ram

Instrumental psychedelic doom from the Canadian prairie, Shooting Guns rumble, hiss, squeal, thunder, pummel, befuddle, and charm on their second full-length release. Encompassing everything from hypnotic space-rock to motorik chuggers to disconsolate doom, it’s the dark mirror of progressive rock; no lofty heights, no clean air and soaring majesty. This is regressive rock: deep mud, primordial ooze with a miasmatic fug. Brotherhood of the Ram is a declaration of ill intent, and woe be to anyone who stands in their way. Erik Highter

15 - 11


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Lycus

Tempest

(20 Buck Spin)

15

Lycus
Tempest

Evocative, stately, and sublimely structured, Lycus’s full-length debut Tempest transcends the soul-sucking tropes typically associated with funeral doom. Instead, Tempest transposes the listener to another realm—vividly captured in all its grotesque grace by cover artist Paolo Girardi—where the emotional and physical weight of funeral doom’s flames caress the depths of death’s abyss. The forlorn call of a violin delicately entwines itself around each of the three compelling compositions that comprise “Tempest”, and the Oakland trio’s absorption of black metal, sludge, and drone—immaculately melded throughout the 20-minute crush of the title track—speaks of future greatness. Dean Brown

 


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Kataklysm

Waiting for the End to Come

(Nuclear Blast)

14

Kataklysm
Waiting for the End to Come

Kataklysm recently celebrated their twentieth anniversary, but they’re not showing any signs of age on their latest album. Waiting for the End to Come has the band in top form, building on the successes of Prevail and Heaven’s Venom to create one of the best death metal albums of the year. The blend of melodic guitar hooks with crushing riffs and solos is perfect, and the addition of ex-Neuraxis drummer Oli Beaudoin gives this album a degree of technicality that others can only hope to achieve. Like fine wine, Kataklysm is only getting better with time. Chris Colgan

 


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Deafheaven

Sunbather

(Deathwish, Inc.)

13

Deafheaven
Sunbather

Don’t let the Metascore fool you. While the Bay Area metalgazers of Deafheaven wowed many with their marriage of My Bloody Valentine’s warmest guitar tones and Emperor’s most soul-piercing shrieks on their sophomore LP Sunbather, not everyone took kindly to it. Amongst the PopMatters staff, there was a wide range of opinion. Years down the road, Sunbather‘s marriage of beauty and utter, despairing darkness will be remembered as risky. But in “wanting to dream”, this band made a triumphant, unpretentious record that, in its juxtaposition of opposites, invites controversy. Love it or hate it, Sunbather is that metal album of 2013. Brice Ezell

 


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Russian Circles

Memorial

(Sargent House)

12

Russian Circles
Memorial

Memorial captures the emotional volleys of life, death, and everything in between. Russian Circles have, over the course of now five studio outings, steadily risen to become post-metal’s best outfit, all the while refining their sound to a degree of perfection few in the genre have ever achieved. Like any good instrumental album, it says a great deal using no words at all; the trio of Mike Sullivan (guitar), Brian Cook (bass), and Dave Turncrantz (drums) are silent wordsmiths of beautiful, heavy melancholy. And then there’s Chelsea Wolfe, whose reverbed vocals on the title cut take Russian Circles’ music to near angelic heights. Brice Ezell

 


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Clutch

Earth Rocker

(Weathermaker)

11

Clutch
Earth Rocker

Metal is, above all, about the riff. On Earth Rocker, Clutch has rediscovered that primacy and made an album that is built on riff upon riff upon riff. However, they don’t discard the swing and shuffle discovered through a near decade of mixing Southern rock and Texas blues into their stoner rock jams. Behind those riffs and Neil Fallon’s hellfire and damnation preacher’s bellow, the groove is so deep, it’s a miracle the needle doesn’t fly off the platter. Erik Highter

10 - 6


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Skeletonwitch

Serpents Unleashed

(Prosthetic)

10

Skeletonwitch
Serpents Unleashed

Ohio’s famous blackened thrashers have stared deeper into the abyss this time round—deep enough to be possessed by the Norwegian black metal spirit. Tracks like “This Evil Embrace” and “Beneath Dead Leaves” evoke the chilly atmosphere and grim majesty of old school Satyricon and Darkthrone. But that is not to say that they abandoned their thrash roots. Their music still has blazing tempo, apt brevity, and contains numerous catchy grooves. And best of all, the guitar solos have grown more intricate and melodic. It’s impressive how they mash black and thrash metal together to create a musical hybrid that sounds so damn good. Dane Prokofiev

 


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Kvelertak

Meir

(Roadrunner)

9

Kvelertak
Meir

In its native Norwegian, Kvelertak means “stranglehold”. It’s a word that Meir, the sextet’s sophomore studio LP, lives up to in spades, and not just for its blastbeats and sledgehammer riffs. The real feat of Meir is its dizzying display of knowledge about all things classic rock, traditional heavy metal, and blues. On highlight “Spring Fra Livet”, black metal tremolo picking and blastbeats coalesce with Joe Perry-esque guitar riffs. And it all makes sense—all the while being an absolute blast. A tour de force of heavy music’s history in 50 minutes. Brice Ezell

 


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Oranssi Pazuzu

Valonielu

(20 Buck Spin)

8

Oranssi Pazuzu
Valonielu

Black metal has been going through a lot of cross-pollenization in recent years, as musicians tinker with the formula, bringing in more outside influences to offer a fresh perspective on one of metal’s most rigidly traditionalist subgenres. Krautrock and black metal have become particularly cozy bedfellows as of late, and the extraordinary third album by the eclectic Finnish band is a daring combination of savagery and psychedelia. Like “Hallogallo” and “Mother Sky”, the emphasis is on experimentation through repetition on tracks like “Vino Verso” and “Tyhja Tempelii”, yet at the same time the sound is rooted firmly enough in blackened sounds to avoid sounding contrived. Adrien Begrand

 


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Altar of Plagues

Teethed Glory and Injury

(Profound Lore)

7

Altar of Plagues
Teethed Glory and Injury

At the time of its release in April, little did anyone know Teethed Glory and Injury would be final album from Ireland’s Altar of Plagues. Yet when the news broke, the decision made complete sense considering the towering, unsurpassable epitaph Altar of Plagues has left us with. Teethed Glory and Injury will go down as a modern extreme metal classic, and Altar of Plagues has at last made an individualistic mark on the world—even though its genius will take years to reap the full acclaim and reverence it so rightly deserves. “Art” is a misconstrued word these days, but this swan song is a real artistic statement, regardless of genre. Dean Beown

 


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Darkthrone

The Underground Resistance

(Peaceville)

6

Darkthrone
The Underground Resistance

After a series of albums that shifted focus from black metal to straight-ahead crust punk, Fenriz and Nocturno Culto dug even deeper into their musical backgrounds on their fifteenth album. Essentially, The Underground Resistance finds Darkthrone playing the music the guys listened to as kids, and it feels liberating as a result. Channeling the speed and intricacy of Mercyful Fate and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, as well as the slower, morbid sounds of early Celtic Frost, and highlighted by the glorious, 14-minute “Leave No Cross Unturned”, it’s the sound of an ingenious band reinventing itself once more, and ultimately reminding audiences why heavy metal is so appealing in the first place. Adrien Begrand

5 - 1


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Gorguts

Colored Sands

(Season of Mist)

5

Gorguts
Colored Sands

Backed by denizens of boundary-blitzing extreme metal—Kevin Hufnagel (guitars), Colin Marston (bass), and John Longstreth (drums)—Luc Lemay has finally gifted his salivating fans with the first Gorguts album in 12 years, Colored Sands. A concept album based on the oppression of Tibet by the Chinese regime during the 1950s, Colored Sands is thematically fascinating. But most importantly, the music is just as technically proficient, progressively centered, and outrageously imaginative in terms of its melodic eeriness and total death metal brutality as anything we’ve heard from this legendary band in past. This is a truly spectacular return to consciousness. Dean Brown

 


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Shining

One One One

(Prosthetic)

4

Shining
One One One

It would have been hard to fault Norway’s resident blackjazzers Shining had they not lived up to Blackjazz, its 2010 masterpiece that crystallized the band’s now signature sound. That album is the product of migrating from ensemble jazz to gonzo, industrial-spiked prog metal, and in culminating that journey it still feels triumphantly definitive. But leave it to Shining to wow the world by taking Blackjazz‘s sonic innovation and channeling it through the framework of the pop album, churning out songs as catchy as they are viscerally heavy. One One One is a metalhead’s summer pop record, with equal measures infectious songwriting and technical prowess. Brice Ezell

 


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Carcass

Surgical Steel

(Nuclear Blast)

3

Carcass
Surgical Steel

The return of grindcore and death metal legends Carcass is everything that fans hoped it would be and more. Surgical Steel is simply masterful in every way, bearing the signature of each album that preceded it (yes, even Swansong) and creating the all-encompassing Carcass experience. Whether it be the infectious groove of “A Congealed Cot of Blood”, the buzzsaw speed of “Thrasher’s Abattoir”, or the towering grandeur of “Mount of Execution”, everything on Surgical Steel will enrapture listeners completely. This is a career-defining album for a genre-defining band, and it doesn’t get much better than that in the metal world. Chris Colgan

 


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SubRosa

More Constant Than the Gods

(Profound Lore)

2

SubRosa
More Constant Than the Gods

SubRosa’s haunting new record More Constant Than the Gods comes wafting through your speakers like a soggy she-ghost intent on relating to the world of the living the unfortunate circumstances surrounding her untimely demise on some lonely beachhead or misty salt flat. Although there are clearly recognizable elements here, mainly drawn from the doom and sludge subgenres, on their second bewitching record SubRosa have crafted a sound all of their own. Driven by skillful songcraft and the emotive wail of violinists Sarah Pendleton and Kim Pack, More Constant Than the Gods fascinates and hypnotizes. Benjamin Hedge Olson

 


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In Solitude

Sister

(Metal Blade)

1

In Solitude
Sister

So assured did In Solitude sound on the second album The World. The Flesh. The Devil. that listeners could sense the potential for great things. It was a very good record, but undeniably slavish in its Mercyful Fate worship, and it was clear the young band had plenty of growing up to do if they wanted to shed any hint of novelty status. Two years later the Swedes have done just that with an astonishing album that takes those early ‘80s influences and creates their own distinct sound. While plenty heavy, Sister‘s sound has been streamlined and made subtler, allowing more room for cleaner, gothic melodies to creep into the music, with singer Pelle Åhman sounding more confident than ever, displaying genuine showmanship on standouts like “Pallid Hands”, “A Buried Sun”, and the title track. Flamboyant, theatrical, darkly melodic, powerful, and menacing, no album in 2013 better represents the defining characteristics of true heavy metal than this album does. And to think these kids are just getting started. Adrien Begrand

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/176995-the-best-metal-of-2013/