Albums of the Year for 2013

I thought I would start out with my best of for 2013. It’s a warts and all list, including pics of inconsistent sizes, my personal take on genres, and (probably) a typo or two.

Enjoy.

1) Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen
(Tellurium – Norway)
Candlelight Records – 2013/10/21

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Tellurium is the heaviest of the metalloids, and it is the best term I could think of for this super-heavy, but not truly metallic album. Prog rock; jazz; minimalism; noise; and drone all mingle, while Ihsahn’s blackened roots lurk in the shadows. An ominously composed, willfully improvisational, achingly heartfelt exposé of one man’s soul. And, depressingly for us mere mortals, he makes it sound effortless.
Try before you buy: Tacit

2) Hacride – Back to Where You’ve Never Been
(Progressive death metal – France)
Indie Recordings – 2013/04/19

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Literally breathtaking, this album left me holding my breath in anticipation of what it was going to do next. Like most prog, it’s technically complicated, but its complexity is in its nuances. The song progression often sneaks up on you, and only afterwards do you realise what the hell happened. Masterful.
Try before you buy: Overcome

3) Hail of Bullets – III: The Rommel Chronicles
(Death metal – The Netherlands)
Metal Blade Records – 2013/10/28

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Hail of Bullets are the best death metal band of the new millennium. On Divine Wings and …Of Frost and War should be proof enough, but The Rommel Chronicles puts even those albums to shame. Brutal, chaotic riffs are married with relentless, artillery-like drums, with intelligently themed lyrics perfectly growled over the top. Furious and wild, this is warfare in aural form.
Try before you buy: The Desert Fox

4) Clutch – Earth Rocker
(Hard rock – United States of America)
Weathermaker Music – 2013/03/15

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I expected this album to be good, but I couldn’t have dreamed it would be this good. Clutch, in Earth Rocker, have put together one of the great hard rock albums. A heavy blues influence underscores all the tracks, which gives the album a soul sorely lacking elsewhere. The band like to use the phrase pro-rock, and this is pro-rock indeed.
Try before you buy: The Face

5) SubRosa – More Constant than the Gods
(Stoner doom metal – United States of America)
Profound Lore Records – 2013/09/17

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This starts off with gentle, female vocals and soft violins, sounding like any number of faintly occult rock albums. Then that bass tone kicks in. What unfolds is one of the best doom albums in recent memory. There’s an uncomfortable honesty to it; other stoner doomsters layer misanthropy with dope smoke, but SubRosa sounds like they pound cones to mask serious trauma. Beautiful yet tortured melancholia.
Try before you buy: Fat of the Ram

6) True Widow – Circumambulation
(Shoegaze – United States of America)
Relapse Records – 2013/07/23

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The drums are mesmerising, the guitars are hypnotic, and the vocals are enchanting; there is definitely something magical about this album. True Widow put out music they call ‘stonegaze’, which is essentially downtuned shoegaze, and it sounds amazing. The way the tunes loop and merge is like a delta; you’re aware of its complexity, but when you’re down in it, you can only go where it leads you.
Try before you buy: Four Teeth

7) Church of Misery – Thy Kingdom Scum
(Stoner doom metal – Japan)
Rise Above Records – 2013/05/21

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Songs about serial killers shouldn’t be this much fun. The riffs are monstrous, the rhythms are infectious, and the vocals are delivered with a Phil Anselmo-esque growling drawl. It sounds like it came staight out of NOLA. For sheer balls out intensity, Church of Misery really should be a staple of any metalhead’s collection.
Try before you buy: All Hallow’s Eve

8) 铁骑 [Tengger Cavalry] – 黑骏 [Black Steed]
(Folk metal – China)
Dying Art Productions – 2013/02/25

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Well, this is a pleasant surprise. This is amazing folk metal with a distinct Chinese edge. Mantouqin and Mongolian throat singing combine with high tempo guitars and drums to create a rollicking high plains soundtrack. All I can think of when listening to this are riders on the plains, riding high in the saddle.
Try before you buy: 出征 [Expedition]

9) Kvelertak – Meir
(Blackened hardcore – Norway)
Roadrunner Records – 2013/03/26

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Meir inhabits a wonderful alternate reality where black metal didn’t go down the humourless path laid out by Bathory, keeping instead the exuberance of Venom. It also manages to build on the previous album by injecting some hard rock sleaze. Play it loud, maybe learn Norwegian so you can join in.
Try before you buy: Bruane Brenn

10) Monolithe – Monolithe IV
(Funeral doom – France)
Debemur Morti – 2013/10/18

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Monolithe takes doom metal to its logical conclusion. They do one long, crushingly heavy track and they do it damn well. Clocking in at 57 minutes, Monolithe IV is not an album for casual listening, but it is worth investing the time. The glacial riffs and the desicated growls are monstrous, while the distorted choral sections lend the album an otherworldliness. But the greatest achievement is this one song is never dull.
Try before you buy: the first five minutes. If you don’t like it by then, you’re not going to like the remaining 52 minutes

11) Gevurah – Necheshirion
(Black metal – Canada)
Profound Lore Records – 2013/05/28

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It’s a rare thing when you can safely say the worst part of an album is that it’s too short. Gevurah’s debut EP is a five track monster. Beaming with Luciferian pride and displaying a mastery of atonal melodies, this is a display that puts many longer established bands to shame. Profound Lore was right to get in early. Expect big things.
Try before you buy: The Essence Unbound

12) Ghost B.C. – Infestissumam
(Heavy metal – Sweden)
Loma Vista Recordings – 2013/04/09

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Owing as much to 70s US hard rock as it does to NWOBHM, Infestissumam is the sort of album that’s just good fun to listen to. It’s got the riffs, it’s got the hooks, it’s got what you need. The gimmick they have put together only adds to the fun. How often can you say that and mean it?
Try before you buy: Jigolo Har Megiddo

13) Deafheaven – Sunbather
(Post-black metal – United States of America)
Deathwish Inc – 2013/06/11

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There is something malevolently unwholesome about this album. The melodies could well be from the world of pop/rock, but they are buried under layers of tremolo picking; blastbeats; and screeching vocals, turning them into twisted mockeries of popular fare. The songs are dragged out, so that when accoustic relief does come, it feels even more unsettling. A riveting listen.
Try before you buy: Sunbather

14) Necrophobic – Womb of Lilithu
(Black metal – Sweden)
Season of Mist – 2013/10 /25

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I almost made a gaffe in reviewing this; I came so close to accusing them of mimicking Watain and joining in a bit of Dissection worship. But I remembered that they are no mere idolators. They are contemporaries of Dissection and are very much the real deal. Their infernal blackened fire is liberally stoked with elements of death metal, creating a blaze that reminds us why they’ve lasted the test of time.
Try before you buy: Furfur

15) Watain – The Wild Hunt
(Black metal – Sweden)
Century Media – 2013/08/14

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Satan’s great high priests are proselytising once more. Few black metal bands can match what they do musically and none do it with such zeal. The Wild Hunt takes what Watain has done before and builds on it, creating an album that is unmistakably black metal yet thoroughly individual. Moreover, there is an experimental side to this album that shows Watain are far from done.
Try before you buy: All That May Bleed

16) Gris – À l’Âme Enflammée, l’Äme Constellée…
(Post-black metal – Canada)
Sepulchral Productions – 2013/07/09

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It’s black metal, but not as we know it. Gris’ closest contemporaries would be Alcest or Wolves in the Throne Room, but even that doesn’t quite cover what they do. Subtle orchestral movements are overlaid with spaced out guitar rhythms, which are in turn juxtaposed with wailing vocals and downtuned, sinister passages. It’s a journey of the soul into dark, melancholic realms.
Try before you buy: Igneus

17) Shining – One One One
(Avant-garde jazz – Norway)
Indie Recordings – 2013/04/06

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This is a tight album. These mental Norwegians have trimmed the excess from their metallic jazz, leaving behind nine tracks of convoluted brilliance. The swirling, free form saxophone; the syncopated drums; and the cryptic vocals all combine in a perfect amalgamation of their metal influences and jazz history.
Try before you buy: The Hurting Game

18) Leprous – Coal
(Progressive metal – Norway)
InsideOut Music – 2013/05/20

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Leprous are Ihsahn’s live band, but hopefully Coal will give them the opportunity to shine on their own. The orchestration and arrangement of their music is just phenomenal. The music itself is unusually evocative and the vocals serve to complement an overall musical narative. Very sophisticated stuff.
Try before you buy: The Valley

19) Oranssi Pazuzu – Valonielu
(Psychedelic black metal – Finland)
Svart Records – 2013/10/11

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An anecdote. I was driving while listening to the last track, and just as the evening sun emerged from behind a building, the track transitioned from ethereal psychedelia to an aggressive, blackened cacophony. For just that instant, all my senses peaked. No drugs needed. As far as psychedelic music goes, this is a big hit of the brown acid. It’s not a happy trip, but it does possess a certain indescribable power.
Try before you buy: Ympyrä on Vilva Tomussa

20) Horseback – A Plague of Knowing
(Psychedelic noise – United States of America)
Relapse Records – 2013/08/20

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Damn well nearly unclassifiable, this fantastic compilation of Horseback’s various splits, singles and rarities comfortably genre hops between ambient; drone; noise; and sludge, often within the same track. But the amazing thing is it works. Despite the creative a.d.d and the breadth of sources, this compilation sounds coherent enough to be an album. A three hour plus monster of an album.
Try before you buy: TV Eye (Live)

21) Accu§er – Diabolic
(Thrash – Germany)
Red Shift – 2013/04/12

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Accu§er is one of many thrash bands in the shadow of the Teutonic Big 3. Diabolic is an album that shows how grossly unfair the previous statement is. With ten tracks way out on the heavy end of thrash, Diabolic doesn’t pull any punches. It’s album designed to ignite furious mosh pits and promote shameless air guitaring. In a particularly solid year for thrash, Accu§er truly are the stand out.
Try before you buy: Cannibal Insanity

22) Sepultura – The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart
(Thrash – Brazil)
Nuclear Blast – 2013/10/25

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Quite possibly the most ridiculous album title for 2013. But moving past that, Sepultura have produced quite possibly their best post-Max album. Eschewing the stylistic tinkering in favour of raw, brutal thrash was the most sensible decision the Brazilian four-piece have made in a while. It’s an album that doesn’t try to justify their continuing existence, but rather it revels in it and cuts a ten song path of destruction.
Try before you buy: The Bliss of Ignorants

23) Dream Theater – Dream Theater
(Progressive metal – United States of America)
Roadrunner Records – 2013/09/24

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What does Dream Theater the album tell us about Dream Theater the band? It tells us that they are brazen enough to wear their influences openly, while being skilled enough to sound thoroughly original. Petrucci can still play at bpms set to ∞, Mangini is more than fit to fill Portnoy’s stool, LaBrie sounds like he’s finally used to his damaged vocal chords, and Myung and Rudess still shine bright. An album worth putting their name to.
Try before you buy: Surrender to Reason

24) Carcass – Surgical Steel
(Death metal – United Kingdom)
Nuclear Blast – 2013/09/13

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I’m always a bit wary when big name bands come out of retirement. All too often it’s the lure of filthy lucre that compels them and the results are mediocre at best. Carcass bucks this trend. Surgical steel is a fantastic comeback, combining their traditional love of the medical with melodic, almost rocky riffs. Good to see the old guard still holding their own.
Try before you buy: A Congealed Clot of Blood

25) Ulver – Messe I.X-VI.X
(Classical – Norway)
Jester Records – 2013/08/01

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Ever eclectic, Ulver is a classical group this year. Recorded live with the Tromsø Chamber Orchestra, it has been mastered like a studio album to add that extra bit of polish. It is a good thing too; losing any hint of clarity would be a crying shame. The music itself touches on religious elements, but is predominantly focused on the all too human conditions of doubt and desperation.
Try before you buy: Son of Man

26) Man’s Gin – Rebellion Hymns
(Dark Americana – United States of America)
Profound Lore Records – 2013/03/26

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This album comes across like Johnny Cash for the apocalypse. There is nothing about this album that does not meet the criteria for Americana; it’s very much blues and roots meets rock. But it’s put together in a way that makes it wholly separate from it’s contemporaries. In spite of how it sounds, it feels like a metal album. It’s certainly darker than much of the bubblegum that passes for metal nowadays.
Try before you buy: Never Do the Neon Lights

27) Autopsy – The Headless Ritual
(Death metal – United States of America)
Peaceville Records – 2013/06/24

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If Macabre Eternal was a statement of intent by a reborn Autopsy, then The Headless Ritual is a venomous delivery on that threat. It is the definition of ugly music, from the bloodthirsty rhythms through the nasty vocals to the sinister doom passages. Autopsy know how to lay down an unpleasant slab of nastiness. Perfect death metal fare.
Try before you buy: She is a Funeral

28) Tesseract – Altered State
(Djent – United Kingdom)
Century Media – 2013/05/27

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A pretty extraordinary album from one the founding members of the League of Extraordinary Djentlemen. Ten tracks in four movements which can be seen as songs in their own right, which in turn make up an album that sounds like a single cohesive track. Think Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, but metal. The audacity to try it is phenomenal, but to actually pull it off is amazing.
Try before you buy: Of Matter: Retrospect

29) Devourment – Conceived in Sewage
(Brutal death metal – United States of America)
Relapse Records – 2013/02/19

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Conceived in Sewage is that rare brutal death album that rises beyond interchangeable chug. It’s fast, brutal and grim to be sure, but there is a quality to the musicianship and composition that sets it apart from the slavering hordes. What you’re listening to are actually songs. Distinctly individual songs. Given the limitations of the genre, it’s an impressive achievement.
Try before you buy: Fifty Ton War Machine

30) Rotting Christ – Κατά Τον Δαίμονα Εαυτού [Kata Ton Daimona Eautou]
(Blackened folk metal – Greece)
Season of Mist – 2013/03/01

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A blackened folk examination of underworld mythology. The complexity of the subject matter is matched by the polish that Rotting Christ put into their work. The songs are instantly memorable, even if you can’t understand Greek or Russian or Sumerian.
Try before you buy: Gilgameš

31) Enforcer – Death by Fire
(Speed metal – Sweden)
Nuclear Blast – 2013/02/01

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The New Wave of New Wave Heavy Metal’s glitzy poster children, Enforcer have produced an album as polished as it is over the top. As horribly pretentious as this sounds, Death By Fire is a cracking album that works because it’s immensely fun to rock out to.
Try before you buy: Mesmerized by Fire

32) Ensemble Pearl – Ensemble Pearl
(Drone – Japan/United States of America)
Drag City – 2013/03/19

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Ensemble Pearl is a collaboration between members of Sunn 0))) and Boris, but it is more than the sum of its parts. It lacks the raw bass destruction of Sunn 0))) and the eclecticism of Boris, but makes up for it through an unlikely combination of the beautiful and the sinister. It is an album that rewards the listener, but not before its humming feedback and monotonous riffs take their toll.
Try before you buy: Giant

33) Windhand – Soma
(Stoner doom metal – United States of America)
Relapse Records – 2013/09/17

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The mark of a good stoner band is being able to hear their thought processes as you listen to them. It’s not about the lyrics or the melody, although these are pretty fantastic on Soma. It’s about hearing the amzingly stoned brains alternating between pulling bongs and penning fat riffs. And that’s what Soma is all about: fat spliffs, fatter riffs.
Try before you buy: Woodbine

34) The Meads of Asphodel – Sonderkommando
(Experimental black metal – United Kingdom)
Candlelight Records – 2013/04/06

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Metal, much like any art form, must sometimes challenge us; must occasionally be uneasy to listen to. A concept album based around the life of the Sonderkommando is just that. The degradation of humanity, from the brutality of the Nazis to the despair of the Jews, is explored with vigour. Haunting and discomforting.
Try before you buy: Sins of the Pharaohs

35) Hatebreed – The Divinity of Purpose
(Metalcore – United States of America)
Razor & Tie – 2013/01/29

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Do you see any other metalcore on my list? No. And there are reasons for that. It’s an uninspired, highly derivative genre populated by incessant breakdowns, lazy song writing and pointless lyrics. The Divinity of Purpose is the polar opposite, hence it’s on the list.
Try before you buy: Idolized and Vilified

36) Evile – Skull
(Thrash – United Kingdom)
Earache Records – 2013/05/27

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Evile are the new thrash titans. Forget the Big Four and their litany of dramas, Evile are the business now. Nine tracks that prove that classic thrash isn’t just holding on, but is still alive. Vital. Even the now obligatory thrash ballad is an example of awesomeness. It’s not a whiny piece of wuss rock, rather it’s a centrepiece for the album; a chance to highlight their many strengths.
Try before you buy: Tomb

37) Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance
(Blackish metal – Norway)
Peaceville Records – 2013/02/25

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Darkthrone have once again put out a thumping good album that thumbs its nose at the kvlt yet oozes the blackened goodness. It’s more black ‘n’ roll than their recent punky output, but that shouldn’t matter. It’s music to throw horns to.
Try before you buy: Valkyrie

38) Blood Tsunami – For Faen!
(Charred thrash – Norway)
Indie Recordings – 2013/03/08

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For Faen! is an album that actually lives up to its genre: it thrashes. It thrashes hard. But why say it’s charred? Because it’s not quite blackened. It’s fierce nonetheless. With tempos bordering on crossover, its meaty, violent tracks don’t give you a chance for a let up.
Try before you buy: In the Dungeon of the Rats

39) The Dillinger Escape Plan – One of Us is the Killer
(Mathcore – United States of America)
Party Smasher Inc. – 2013/05/14

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Dillinger keep pushing the limits of what can reasonably be called music. Strictly speaking, they haven’t abandoned narative song structure; it’s more like a narative of a paranoid schizophrenic – horribly disjointed and yet menacingly cohesive. Truly a work of twisted genius.
Try before you buy: Paranoia Shields

40) Vhöl – Vhöl
(Blackened crust – United States of America)
Profound Lore Records – 2013/04/09

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A supergroup put together by members from Agalloch, Hammers of Misfortune, and Yob. Given how ponderous the parent bands are, it might come as a surprise that this album is so immediate and visceral. But it is. It’s an album of thrashing punk, pulled and distorted through a filter of black metal.
Try before you buy: Grace

41) Trivium – Vengeance Falls
(Core-tinged thrash – United States of America)
Roadrunner Records – 2013/10/15

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Time once again for my ‘Keep Matt Heafy Employed’ appeal. I know Trivium gets under some people’s skin, but Vengeance Falls may be their best album and is well worth a listen. Heafy’s vocals are pretty well spot on, having mostly abandoned the growls, and the instrumentals are polished like an expensive mirror. They will never truly ditch their metalcore roots, but don’t let that cloud your judgement. Give it a try.
Try before you buy: Strife

42) Altar of Plagues – Teethed Glory and Injury
(Post-black metal – Ireland)
Profound Lore Records – 2013/04/30

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A stark audio landscape that portrays a story of alienation and creeping dread. But this is no concept album. The listener is given no clues or assistance in putting the narative together, thus adding to the sense of alienation and making the pervasive despair feel more intense. Or you may draw your own conclusions about what it means.
Try before you buy: Twelve Was Ruin

43) Nails – Abandon All Life
(Grindcore – United States of America)
Southern Lord – 2013/03/18

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Some albums give you a friendly slap to get your attention, others punch you in the face to make sure you listen. Abandon All Life takes a sledgehammer to you and all your stuff. Seventeen minutes of concentrated vitriol that makes you hate everything, especially the band that penned it.
Try before you buy: God’s Cold Hands

44) All Pigs Must Die – Nothing Violates This Nature
(Crust – United States of America)
Southern Lord – 2013/06/28

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Crust is a tough genre to explain, but Nothing Violates This Nature exemplifies it. It’s a hostile brand of punk; as furious as grindcore or powerviolence, but where those genres have an immediacy, this dwells on its fury, broods even. There are few more potent examples of an album purely driven by anger. No hatred. Nothing esoteric. Pure, bloody minded anger.
Try before you buy: Primitive Fear

45) Gorguts – Colored Sands
(Technical death metal – Canada)
Season of Mist – 2013/08/25

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Gorguts’ return from a lengthy hiatus is a fitting addition to their unhinged back catalogue. Avant garde melodies that would be equally appropriate in the kvltest of black metal are meshed with rhythms harking back to the early days of Florida death metal. It’s a sonic assault that, while more accessible than Obscura, is just as intense as their masterful career high point. Welcome back, you mad bastards.
Try before you buy: Enemies of Compassion

46) Human Improvement Process – Deafening Dissonant Millennium
(Technical death metal – Italy)
Memorial Records – 2013/09/10

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Warning: some sources list this band as deathcore. Not true. What is true is that HIP incorporate elements of punk into their energetic brand of techdeath, but it has nothing to do with the pig squealing breakdown shitfest that deathcore lampoons itself with. The songwriting is sophisticated, the musicians are top tier, and the vocalist growls; shouts; and sings like a seasoned pro. Remember: techdeath not deathcore.
Try before you buy: Architecture of a Dying Sun

47) Fleshgod Apocalypse – Labyrinth
(Symphonic death metal – Italy)
Nuclear Blast – 2013/08/16

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Had to give this album a few extra spins before I could write about it; the combination of the complex arrangements and the very intense double kicks makes it seem overwhelming on its first turn round. But once you get into it, once you realise that the music is as labyrinthine as its namesake, you will soon come to appreciate the majesty of this album. Symphonic doesn’t always equal lame.
Try before you buy: The Fall of Asterion

48) Skeletonwitch – Serpents Unleashed
(Blackened thrash – United States of America)
Prosthetic Records – 2013/10/28

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Blackened thrash. Corpse paint in Cons. Except most of them don’t wear corpse paint, but you get the point. Skeletonwitch are my go-to band for demonstrating the genre and Serpents Unleashed is another fine addition to their canon. What they manage to achieve, that so many others fail to, is a seemless blending of the blackened and the thrash. Quick fire melodies, sinister vocals, and razor sharp rhythms are the order of the day.
Try before you buy: I Am of Death (Hell Has Arrived)

49) Voices – Voices From the Human Forest Create a Fugue of Imaginary Rain
(Deathly black metal – United Kingdom)
Candlelight Records – 2013/03/11

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Rising from the ashes of Akercocke comes Voices. Sliding along the metal continuum from blackened death metal to deathly black metal has yielded an unusual yet highly satisfying result. Jarring avant-garde movements sit comfortably next to darkly gothic passages, all held together by a driving, infernal pulse. Very impressive stuff.
Try before you buy: Fragmented Illustrations of Anger

50) Blockheads – This World is Dead
(Grindcore – France)
Relapse Records – 2013/01/22

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This is an album sold to me on the promise that it was the most brutal grind album since Insect Warfare’s World Downfall. A bold claim to be sure, but it does its damn best to deliver. Harsh vocals, buzzsaw guitars and relentless blastbeats are standard grind fare, but Blockheads do it so well. It inflicts a serious sonic ass kicking.
Buy before you buy: Digging Graves

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